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Major Critical Texts of the New Testament
Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robinson & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society
SBLGNT: 2010 Greek New Testament
THGNT: 2017 The Greek New Testament by Tyndale House
GENTI: 2020 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear
The Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI)
20 γινώσκετω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν.♣
The 1550 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
20 γινώσκετω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν.♣
James 5:20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
WH NU GENTI σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου
“he will save his soul from death”
א A P 048 33 1739 syr
Variant 1 σωσει ψυχην εκ θανατου αυτου
“he will save a soul from death itself” (or, “he will save his soul from death”)
Variant 2/TR σωσει ψυχην εκ θανατου
“he will save a soul from death”
Ψ Maj copsa
It is likely that the WH NU GENTI reading (σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου) “he will save his soul from death” was the original reading (PE), and so Variant 2/TR (σωσει ψυχην εκ θανατου) “he will save a soul from death” was an attempt by the scribe to remove the confusion as to who was being spoken of here, the one converting or the person being converted. So, we have scribes simply removing the problem by removing αυτου (“his”). This became the predominant reading, which we then find in the majority of the manuscripts, which we find in the KJV and is still retained in the NKJV. However, we find other copyists moving the pronoun αὐτοῦ so that it comes after ἐκ θανάτου (“from death itself”). There is the slight possibility that Variant 1 could have been the original reading as well, with some scribes choosing to delete it and others transferring it.
Roger L. Omanson and Bruce Manning Metzger,
5:20 αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου (of him from death)
The reading that seems best able to account for the origin of the other readings is ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου (his soul from death), which is well supported by important manuscripts. Copyists were perplexed, not knowing whether ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ (his soul) referred to the soul of the person converted or to the soul of the person who converted someone else. In order to remove this ambiguity, some copyists moved the pronoun αὐτοῦ to follow ἐκ θανάτου (“from death itself”) and others omitted the pronoun entirely.
Many translations maintain the ambiguity of the Greek text. Others, such as NRSV, reflect a clear exegetical choice in the translation: “whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death” (similarly TEV). Since the author probably did not intend his statement to be ambiguous, it may be best to place one interpretation in the text and the other in a footnote. TEV, for example, places the following alternate rendering in a footnote: “or his own soul.”
 Roger L. Omanson and Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 479–480.
EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON JAMES 5:20
James 5:20 … let that person know that the one returning a sinner from the error of their ways saves their soul from death and covers a multitude of sins (γινωσκέτω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν). This verse finishes the thought of the previous one, explaining the results of turning the sinner from their path.53 The confusion here lies, however, in who actually receives the benefit of these actions. The subject of the clause is the substantival participle, “the one returning” (ὁ ἐπιστρέψας)—the faithful Christian who helped to shed light on the path of the sinner. Of this person James declares that they both save someone’s soul and cover someone’s sins, without specifying whose in either instance.
The first question is the simpler one. Whose soul is saved by this action? The answer seems clear because of the parallel uses of αὐτοῦ in both “the error of his/her ways” and “saves his/her soul.” It makes more sense that the soul in danger of being lost belongs to the person who strays from the truth. Meanwhile, the soul of the person who did the restoring would not be saved by this action, as we would assume that such a person already does believe, thus making them want to restore the wanderer. This restoring is more a work that shows their faith than one that creates their salvation. The implication of “saves their soul” may well be that the wanderer never truly believed, and it is in this restoration that they come to their own saving faith. Or James may be using “saved” here in the sense of final, eschatological salvation—they have now been brought safely to the end of the process that their earlier belief initiated.
The second, and harder, question is that of whose sins are covered in this act. The most obvious person would be the one who has strayed. Yet, “Jewish sources are quoted to the effect that the one who turns a sinner to repentance is deserving of forgiveness himself.” But perhaps James left that description purposely ambiguous, so that while the one who strayed appears to have the more immediate need of forgiveness, it does not hurt us to remember that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, all “prone to wander” given the opportunity and right inducement. Thus, in this one act of righteousness in turning another person who has wandered farther astray, we find ourselves drawn back closer to God’s grace and righteousness.
Moo (The Letter of James, 251) concludes:
“if James is indeed something of a sermon in epistolary form, these last two verses are an appropriate conclusion. Not only should the readers of James ‘do’ the words he has written; they should be deeply concerned to see that others ‘do’ them also.” An alternative reading sees Pr 17:9 with its concern about gossip in the background. There, “covers” (κρύπτει) refers to one who refrains from spreading gossip about another, and how that encourages love, while one who spreads slander only brings about further alienation. Perhaps James means to indicate that when a person turns another from their sinful way, it is not that God somehow covers their sins, but the one restoring covers the restoree’s sins by not gossiping about them within the larger congregation (this explanation retains the subject [ὁ ἐπιστρέψας] given in the sentence).
 Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James, vol. 16, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 248–249.
BELOW IS SOME INSIGHTFUL INFORMATION FOR
PERSONS NEW TO NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL STUDIES
Variant Reading(s): differing versions of a word or phrase found in two or more manuscripts within a variation unit (see below). Variant readings are also called alternate readings.
Variation Unit: any portion of text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. It is important to distinguish variation units from variant readings. Variation units are the places in the text where manuscripts disagree, and each variation unit has at least two variant readings. Setting the limits and range of a variation unit is sometimes difficult or even controversial because some variant readings affect others nearby. Such variations may be considered individually, or as elements of a single reading. One should also note that the terms “manuscript” and “witness” may appear to be used interchangeably in this context. Strictly speaking “witness” (see below) will only refer to the content of a given manuscript or fragment, which it predates to a greater or lesser extent. However, the only way to reference the “witness” is by referring to the manuscript or fragment that contains it. In this book, we have sometimes used the terminology “witness of x or y manuscript” to distinguish the content in this way.
TERMS AS TO HOW WE SHOULD OBJECTIVELY VIEW THE DEGREE OF CERTAINTY FOR THE READING ACCEPTED AS THE ORIGINAL
The modal verbs are might have been (30%), may have been (40%), could have been (55%), would have been (80%), must have been (95%), which are used to show that we believe the originality of a reading is certain, probable or possible.
The letter [WP] stands for Weak Possibility (30%), which indicates that this is a low-level proof that the reading might have been original in that it is enough evidence to accept that the variant might have been possible, but it is improbable. We can say the reading might have been original, as there is some evidence that is derived from manuscripts that carry very little weight, early versions, or patristic quotations.
The letter [P] stands for Plausible (40%), which indicates that this is a low-level proof that the reading may have been original in that it is enough to accept a variant to be original and we have enough evidence for our belief. The reading may have been original but it is not probably so.
The letter [PE] stands for Preponderance of Evidence (55%), which indicates that this is a higher-level proof that the reading could have been original in that it is enough to accept as such unless another reading emerges as more probable.
The letter [CE] stands for Convincing Evidence (80%), which indicates that the evidence is an even higher-level proof that the reading surely was the original in that the evidence is enough to accept it as substantially certain unless proven otherwise.
The letter [BRD] stands for Beyond Reasonable Doubt (95%), which indicates that this is the highest level of proof: the reading must have been original in that there is no reason to doubt it. It must be understood that feeling as though we have no reason to doubt is not the same as one hundred percent absolute certainty.
NOTE: This system is borrowed from the criminal just legal terms of the United States of America, the level of certainty involved in the use of modal verbs, and Bruce Metzger in his A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), who borrowed his system from Johann Albrecht Bengel in his edition of the Greek New Testament (Tübingen, 1734). In addition, the percentages are in no way attempting to be explicit but rather they are nothing more than a tool to give the non-textual scholar a sense of the degree of certainty. However, this does not mean the percentages are not reflective of certainty.
- Edward D. Andrews, FROM SPOKEN WORDS TO SACRED TEXTS: Introduction-Intermediate New Testament Textual Studies (Cambridge, Ohio), 2021.
- B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: Appendix (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882)
- Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006)
- Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994),
- Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, ed. Barbara Aland et al., 28. revidierte Auflage. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012).
- Dirk Jongkind, ed., The Greek New Testament: Apparatus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).
- Dirk Jongkind, ed., The Greek New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), Matt. 6:8.
- Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, ed. Barbara Aland et al., 28. revidierte Auflage. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012)
- Philip Wesley Comfort, A COMMENTARY ON THE MANUSCRIPTS AND TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015).
- Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008).
- Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts: Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, 2 Volume Set The (English and Greek Edition) (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2019)
- Rick Brannan and Israel Loken, The Lexham Textual Notes on the Bible, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
- Roger L. Omanson and Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006).
- Wallace B., Daniel (n.d.). Retrieved from The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts: http://csntm.org/
- Wilker, Wieland (n.d.). Retrieved from An Online Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels: http://www.willker.de/wie/TCG/index.html