In the New Testament, in James 5:19-20, we read:

My brethren, if anyone one of you strays from the way of truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns back a sinner from the error of his ways shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:7-8 contains the same phrase:

Now the consummnation of all is here. Be of sound mind, then, and sober in prayers: before all, have a sincere love for other among yourselves: for love covers a multitude of sins.


According to Protestants, what does "cover a multitude of sins" mean?

2 Answers 2


In James 5:20, the expression "shall cover a multitude of sins" means that the sins of the person who has strayed will be forgiven by God. The significance is that if the sinful person listens and repents, eternal punishment will be averted. Linked to this is Jude verse 23:

"Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment." (NLT)

1 Peter 4:7-8 is cross-referenced to Proverbs 10:12 which says:

"Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs."

The emphasis here is on how love promotes forgiveness.

However, because Protestants don't distinguish between "mortal" and "venial" sins, then no reference is made to any explicit sin. All sin is rebellion against God and the Protestant view is that there is only one sin that can't be forgiven by God and that is the sin of rejecting Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Edit for clarification: The Protestant view is that all sins are mortal sins in that even one sin makes the offender worthy of eternal separation from God.

Here is a summary of the Protestant view of justification and salvation as expressed by John Stott:

I have been saved – in the past – from the penalty of sin – by a crucified Saviour: “For in this hope we were saved" (Romans 8:24).

I am being saved – in the present – from the power of sin – by a living Saviour: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

I shall be saved – in the future – from the presence of sin – by a coming Saviour: "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" (Romans 5:9)

  • @Sola Gratia - wow! that was quick. Sorry about misspelling venial.
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 17:16
  • Quick follow up: does "multitude" of sins not implicitly restrict the kinds of sins that are 'covered' by this kind of behaviour (i.e. imlying a distinction between sins)? Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 17:48
  • @Sola Gratia I understand “multitude” to mean any and all, that there is no restriction or distinction implied. Within the context of James 5:20 the one who restores the person who has strayed will cover the many sins of the person who has fallen into error and will be forgiven by God. God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin was satisfied completely at the cross. See Romans 8:24, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 5:9.
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 7:54
  • Just responded to another (old) question you asked on the forgiveness of sin: Protestant interpretation of John 20:23 in light of Matthew 9:8?
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 15:55

I actually think the covering of sins is based on the presumed Juridical Soteriological theory. Many times Salvation is construed in the Western context as how "God looks at out sins"(He imputes us with Christ's righteousness and not according to our past or current state). Here is an example of that thinking, based on the Lutheran theology I was originally raised with.

"According to the medieval understanding of justification, which was derived from Augustine, a person gradually receives divine grace, eventually healing sin’s wounds. But in his mature doctrine of justification, Luther abandoned the medical image of impartation for the legal language of imputation: God accepts Christ’s righteousness, which is alien to our nature, as our own. Though God does not actually remove our sins—we are at the same time righteous and sinful (simul justus et peccator)—he no longer counts them against us. To use Luther’s words, it is a “sweet exchange” between Christ and the sinner: “Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified; learn to pray to him despairing of yourself, saying ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness and I am thy sin. Thou hast taken on thyself what thou wast not, and hast given to me what I am not.’”


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