by Mike Ratliff
16 ἐξομολογεῖσθε οὖν ἀλλήλοις τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. Πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη. James 5:16 (NA28)
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray on behalf of one another so that you may be cured. The petition of the righteous, being effective, has great power. James 5:16 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
Prayer, to me, has always been a very personal thing. Yes, I have always admired those people who can pray those long eloquent prayers publicly, but I am not one of those. When I pray, I do so with a one-on-one between me and God. Of course, there is always Paul’s exhortation from 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
17 ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NA28)
17 unceasingly pray, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
That exhortation is talking about how we walk through each day, that is, with our focus being eternal rather than temporal. I, for one, believe that this is more important for me to do than learning how to pray long eloquent prayers in public. In any case, prayer is important and it is far more important to pray as James described, don’t you think?
Here is how the NASB renders James 5:16.
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. James 5:16 (NASB)
Isn’t it obvious that we often quote the last part of the verse while ignoring the context? Here is the whole context.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 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. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 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. James 5:13-20 (NASB)
So, the context is talking about “the prayer offered in faith,” however, that last part of v16 has caused much confusion. Does it mean to just pray hard? We already know that proper prayer is used by God to line up our will with His so that cannot be the right interpretation. Here is the Greek for the v16b, “Πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη.” Literally, word-for-word, this says, “Has great power the petition of a righteous man being effective.” The first word is the adjective πολὺ, which is the Accusative, Singular of πολύς or polus, which, in this context, “has great” is a very good translation. Next, we have the verb ἰσχύει, which is the Present tense, Indicative mood, Active voice form of ἰσχύω or ischuō, “to have or exercise force.” Next, we have the noun δέησις or deēsis, “a petition: – prayer, request, supplication.” Next, we have the adjective δικαίου, which is the Genitive, Singular of δίκαιος or dikaios. The noun this adjective is defining is, of course, δέησις. So James is referring to the prayer of the righteous. The word “man” is often added because the gender is masculine. The last word in this very important statement about our prayer is the participle ἐνεργουμένη, which is the Present tense, and Middle voice form of ἐνεργέω or energeō, “to be at work, to effect something.” We get our English words such as energy and energize from ἐνεργέω. In its noun form, ἐνέργεια or energeia means, “energy, active power, operation.” In its use in the Septuagint as well as in the New Testament, it is used almost exclusively for the work of divine or demonic powers ( for example: Ephesians 1:19; 2:2).
What is James telling us then here in this passage on prayer? He is not telling us that we accomplish much by our own energy in prayer, but rather that our prayers are strong because they are energized by God. Therefore, a good way to translate v16b would be, “The God-energized prayer of the righteous is strong.”
No matter how wicked the world gets or how unbiblical things get in the visible church, God is still Sovereign and those who are His are the Righteous and their prayers, as they pray according to His will are powerful indeed, even if they are simply private, one-on-one with God prayers in daily devotions in the prayer closet. Shouldn’t that be what we should be aiming for my brethren?
Soli Deo Gloria!