Thursday, May 26, 2011


A while back I received the following from a friend:

Ok, Bill.

Great information on the Golden Rule… but here is where I am so stuck…. That “love is to cover a multitude of sins” -- I Peter 4:8 and also in Proverbs 10:12 ( I think)..

Definitely,  Christ‘s death on the cross did that, but are we to also cover sin?  It seems to me that lies and deception can also cover a multitude of sins and that certainly isn’t pleasing to God.  Then I read James 5: 19,20.  I guess I am just like Kenny Rogers, how do I know when to “hold ‘em or when to fold ‘em”? 

Then it is time to ask BILL.

I appreciate both of you more than you will ever know.

In Christ I stand,

My reply (with a few changes and additions):


I really love you and appreciate your questions.  You have a way of asking questions no one else thinks of.  Thank you for being a thinker!

The Scriptures you referred to are:

James 5:19, 20:  "My brothers, if any among you should wander from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that he will save his soul from death and 'will cover a multitude of sins.'"

1 Peter 4:8:  "Above all have fervent love for one another, because 'love covers a multitude of sins.'"

Proverbs 10:12:  "Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions."

I think the problem lies in the meaning of the word "cover" in all of these texts.  Both the Hebrew word kasah and the Greek word kalupto have a broad range of meaning like our English word.

In most contexts these words have the meaning of "conceal" or even "cover up."  But not in all contexts.  If we can take a little excursus, look at a few other passages.

Psalm 32:1:  "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
                     whose sin is covered.

Psalm 85:3:  "You have forgiven Your people's iniquity,
                       You have covered all their sin."

Nehemiah 4:5:  "Do not cover their iniquity,
                          And do not blot out their sin before You."

Hebrew poetry is characterized by parallelism.  In a two line verse, the second line either repeats or contrasts with the first line.  We might say that it has rhyming thoughts rather than rhyming words. In all three of the passages just quoted, we have this repetition.  This is a tremendous help in determining the meaning of the words.

In the two Psalms passages, the word in the second line translated "covered" (kasah) is parallel to the word "forgiven" in the first line (nasa, literally "take away"), and is simply repeating the idea that God has totally taken care of David's sin (Psalm 32) and the people's sin (Psalm 85).  God has removed it, covered it.  It's gone!

In the Nehemiah passage, Nehemiah is cursing those who have been harassing the Israelites.  In this passage the word "cover" (kasah) in the first line is paralleled by "blot out" (maha) in the second.  Nehemiah is asking God not to take care of adversaries' sin.

So then, the word "cover" in Proverbs 10:12, actually means something like "forgive."  Both James and Peter are giving a partial quote of this verse, so I believe it would be correct to understand it this way in their letters.

Peter's letter has as its theme the idea that we are, as pilgrims and aliens, to keep our behavior “excellent” (literally "beautiful") among unbelievers (2:11, 12).  In this situation we are to practice "fervent love" for each other.  This love will (or at least should) cause us to deal with them in a forgiving manner, not "covering up" or ignoring their sins; but exercising forgiveness.

James' context is a little more specific.  In 5:13-20, he is speaking about interpersonal prayer, which includes confessing our sins to each other and praying about each other's sins.  I know this is seldom practiced among 21st century Christians, but there it is!  This most likely involves personally approaching a brother or sister in Christ about their sin and helping them to confess it in order to find God's forgiveness.  We are to restore him and thus keep him from suffering God's discipline.

Hope this helps; if not, let me know.

I received this reply:

Thanks so much Bill.  You are so right on.  It is that word cover that I was struggling with.  I sure like the idea that Christ covered it all for me so why not “mirror” that like a small dew drop mirrors sunlight, it is doing it to the best of its ability just on a MUCH smaller scale.  I backed my wagon up to Genesis and considered the fig leaf story it concealed but did not cover up their sin.  I am still meditating on that thought today and how that connects.


gary said...

bill, about james. i always understood this to be in the context with elders or mature leaders who understand some of the root causes of sin that we often deal with but can't put our finger on why we can't get victory.most of us don't know the scriptures well enough anymore to identify these roots. leaders should be able to help those who sincerly struggle with some sins and it is a spiritual battle, therefore pray for god's glory. it is always answered.

Bill Ball said...

Gary: While James 5:19 mentions calling the elders in a specific instance, the whole passage, James 5:13-20 is much broader. Verse 16 says to "confess to one another" and "to pray for one another." Verse 17 speaks of Elijah was "a person with a nature like ours." In verse 19, James addresses "My brothers" and says "any among you." These are pretty broad terms.

I believe we as members of the body have the right, the ability and the responsibility to minister to one another. We are not told that this is the responsibility of only the few. See Romans 15:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14.