Question 33: Does James 5:16 teach that we are to confess our sins to each other?

James 5:16 says:

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.  (NASB)


Answer:  Concerning the meaning of James 5:16, this verse is not teaching, by way of a blanket instruction, that we should be confessing all our sins to one another. Rather, the verse should be kept in context, which begins with verse 14. Here, James is talking about a specific type of illness—an illness that was the result of divine discipline for a specific sin. When a believer realizes he is being physically disciplined with sickness because of a specific sin, he is then to call for the elders of his church and confess the sin to them, as confession also shows repentance. The elders, in turn, are to anoint him with oil and pray for him. In those specific situations, the healing is guaranteed.

The confessing of sins in verse 16, within this context, is the confessing of the sin that brought on the divine discipline and it is to the elders of the church. So, kept within the context, we are not encouraged to confess our sins to everybody. The general principle is I John 1:9, which teaches that we are to confess our sins to God alone. James 5:16 speaks about a special case, applicable only in the context of sin that led to divine discipline.

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Arnold Answers is a bi-weekly Q & A with founder and director of Ariel Ministries, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.