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Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. —James 5:16

When James is speaking of being healed, is he referring to being healed from a sin, or in the context of the previous verses is he tying sin to sickness?

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I'd always assumed the primary meaning was physical sickness with any "spiritual" meaning being secondary. But I don't have any backing for that at the moment. –  Jon Ericson May 11 '12 at 23:58
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James repeatedly equates physical death with the accumulation of sins, see James 1:13-15, esp. 15. In terms of verse 5:16, he means actual healing as well as the spiritual form of healing. If you read 5:14-16 together, since they are consecutive and all, it is very clear that the meaning is that physical healing may occur due to forgiveness. However, 5:15 is just as clear that this physical healing depends on the faith of the ill person, and that the 5:14-16 process will result in one of two good ends: physical health, or forgiven in death. –  Heath Hunnicutt Sep 17 '13 at 17:58
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Calvin does not treat the issue directly, but seems to understand that by healing, restoration from a sin is meant. This is the interpretation that I am immediately inclined to. However, a strong counter-argument can be made from the context.

13Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. —James 5:13-15

There seems to be a connection between sin and sickness already in verse 15. Henry comments,

Where sickness is sent as a punishment for some particular sin, that sin shall be pardoned, and in token thereof the sickness shall be removed.

I am not sure how this square with the teaching about sin ad suffering elsewhere in Scripture, but the most natural reading of this passage itself it to keep that connection in mind when interpreting 16: when suffering from a sin-induced sickness, confess and pray with brothers, and healing will be given.

Gill says with uncharacteristic brevity,

And pray for one another, that ye may be healed; both corporeally and spiritually.

If this interpretation of the passage is taken, then its immediate application is much narrower than the typical (out-of-context) way I've heard it used.

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