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James 5:16 - παραπτοματα vs. αμαρτιας

(Garth D. Wiebe, 4/4/2017)

This is a footnote to the article, "James 5:16 - confess sins to be healed?"

There is a manuscript discrepancy in James 5:16. παραπτωματα is the word used in all the Byzantine-type majority manuscripts, including the so-called Textus Receptus, which make up the basis for the KJV and other reformation-era translations, the modern NKJV, the ESV, and several others, whereas αμαρτιας is used by the Alexandrian-type minority manuscripts that are the basis of most other 20th century, modern translations, usually translating from the Nestle-Aland text. In both cases, the English translation is usually rendered "sins" regardless of which original word is used.

"Sin" itself is actually a traditional religious word. The usual word from which it is translated, αμαρτια ("[h]amartia"), is actually a word that more generally means failure, fault, or error. So, even with that word, you have to look at context to see what the scriptures are talking about, although it almost always refers to our spiritual/moral failure, fault, or error, since it would be silly to talk about mundane human failures, faults, or errors that have nothing to do with the serious moral, ethical, and spiritual issues that the Bible talks about. In other words, if I try to bake a cake, and leave out an essential ingredient or badly burn it in the oven, that would be an example of αμαρτια. But it isn't what we call, in English, "sin."

I almost never take sides in manuscript disputes, but the majority manuscript basis for the scriptures is quite well established and even providential; it wasn't until the late nineteenth century that it was questioned, and that by men of questionable motivation and spiritual character. I don't mean by this to claim that the majority manuscripts are always right and the minority manuscripts always wrong where they differ; you have to evaluate each discrepancy on its own merit. However, in this case, I don't see how something as specific and as fitting to the context as παραπτωματα could be spurious or a substitution. It looks very much to me that αμαρτιας was a substitution and not the original. The word αμαρτιας doesn't really explain anything; παραπτωματα does. So, in this case, I am sticking with the majority manuscript reading.

One of the reasons for the "substitution" could have been to match the occurrence of αμαρτιας in the verse before (verse 15). The occurrence of αμαρτιας makes sense in verse 15, because it says that the αμαρτιας ("sins") αφεθησεται ("will be forgiven"). However, in verse 16 it is οπως ("so that") ιαθητε ("you may be cured," i.e. "healed"). Sins are forgiven, not cured, whereas afflictions are cured, not forgiven. Sins and afflictions are two different things. Also, it says in verse 15 that the sins will be forgiven (categorically), so why would, in contradiction to that, a proposition be brought up in the very next verse having to do with sins needing to be confessed and prayed over? Nor would it make any sense to suggest that sins must be confessed in order that afflictions be healed when it says in verse 14 and 15 that the "vow of faith" of the elders would accomplish that.

As for the decomposition of παρα-πτω-μα-τα and justification for doing so, Koine Greek is what linguists call a "fusional synthetic" language, where morphemes (the basic units of meaning in a language) are fused together to form words. In Greek it is almost always valid to do so. In fact, if you don't, then you often end up with multiple Greek words being translated as one general English word. That's why I broke it down into παρα + πτω + μα = aside + slip/fall + effect. The key again is the -μα suffix, which means "effect" or "manifestation" or "working" or "result" etc. There is even a Greek word, αμαρτη-μα ("[h]amarte-ma"), which would be failure-effect/fault-effect/error-effect, as well, and usually refers to the effect, or result, or manifestation, or penalty, or out-working, of what we normally refer to as "sin."

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