My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
Something that confuses many about this verse is the term, will save his soul from death (sosoei psuchen ek thanatou). The verb, to save (sozo), occurs with soul (psuche) as a direct object in the New Testament eight times1 and not once is it talking about salvation from eternal condemnation. The word translated, "soul" here is psuche and can also be translated, "life."2 In fact, in all eight occurrences, except for the two in James, are translated as life" in the New American Standard Version, the King James Translation, the Darby Translation and others. This verse is not talking about a believer saving someone in the sense of giving him eternal life. Only Christ can give eternal life. James is not writing about justification before God, but rather about saving the life of "anyone from among you" who "wanders from truth."
James starts verse 19 with "My brothers." He calls his audience "brothers" fifteen times in this epistle.3 He does not want the audience to forget his love for them. This also serves as a reminder that James is addressing believers and that this is an instruction for the Church. What follows is not a command to a singular pastor or to several in pastoral offices, nor is it a command to those who are outside the Church, such as secular counselors. What follows is instruction that applies to all who are in Christ.
...if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back...Notice that James does not say "if someone in a pastoral office" or "if a person designated for counseling ministry" should bring the sinner back, but uses the vague someone (Gr. tis). The implication here is that someone does not need to be in a certain position in his local church to be able to bring a sinner back.
James goes on to tell us what good will come from bringing back a sinner "let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." This term, whoever brings back a sinner (ho epistrepsas hamartolon) is a difficult one to render literally into English. This is the only occurrence of the phrase ho epistrepsas in the New Testament. It comes from the verb, epistrepho, which itself is from epi, meaning upon, and strepho, which means to turn. The crazy psas ending means it's a participle (that is, it's a verb that's been turned into a noun or an adjective or something), and it has the word, ho before it, which is like the English word, the. Literally, ho epistrepsas could be translated, "the turner." There are different church offices in the New Testament including pastor, elder, or deacon and there is much variety between congregations as to how we should interpret these positions and institute them in the local church. There is not, however, any mention of an office called a turner. This is because turning ministry does not belong to any office but to every individual member of the Church. Every believer should be a turner.
A turner, as described by James in the first century, is close to what would be called a counselor in the twenty-first century. Counselors today are typically those whose job is to help save people's psuche. In fact, this is where we get the word, psychology (psuche, life or soul, + logos, word). James' turner is one who "will save [the wanderer's] soul [psuche] from death and will cover a multitude of sins." The turner could also be called a counselor in today's terminology. Since James 5:19-20 is applicable to all believers, it is fair to say that all believers should be counselors.1 Mark 3:4; 8:35; Luke 6:9; 9:24, 56; 17:33; James 1:21; 5:20.
2 Speaking of counseling, the word, psychology, comes from this word,
3 James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7 ,9, 10, 12, 19. Each time with the vocative plural form, adelphoi.