I don’t spend a lot of time in James since it includes very little about people going to hell, but noticed this today:
πρὸ πάντων τὴν εἰς ἑαυτοὺς ἀγάπην ἐκτενῆ ἔχοντες, ὅτι ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν – 1 Peter 4.8
γινωσκέτω ὅτι ὁ ἐπιστρέψας ἁμαρτωλὸν ἐκ πλάνης ὁδοῦ αὐτοῦ σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου καὶ καλύψει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν. – James 5.20
Achtemeier has this…
The most puzzling part of the verse consists in the final four words (ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν). While the notion that love covers sin is common in the Bible and early Christian literature, the closeness of this formulation to the Hebrew of Prov 10:12b* and its almost identical form in Jas 5:20* point to the proverbial status of this phrase, a status probably antedating both uses in the NT.1
Using a certain resource, I found a connection to several Clementine letters.
Blessed were we, dearly beloved, if we should be doing the commandments of God in concord of love, to the end that our sins may through love be forgiven us – 1 Clement 50.5
Now I do not think that I have given any mean counsel respecting continence, and whosoever performeth it shall not repent thereof, but shall save both himself and me his counsellor. For it is no mean reward to convert a wandering and perishing soul, that it may be saved. – 2 Clement 15.1
Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both. And love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin – 2 Clement 16.4
and for my friendly gnostic fellow,
All those who anoint themselves with it (.i.e, Truth) take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, | those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still | remain in their bad odor. The Samaritan gave nothing but | wine and oil to the wounded man. It is nothing other than the ointment. It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins.”2
In reviewing the ancient instances of this quote – even those making use of James/1 Peter, it looks like it is a recognized proverb (pardon the expression). We shouldn’t think Peter and James are at odds with one another. While James has the reputation of supporting “works righteousness,” I believe they are both saying the same thing. Both are about rescuing the less-than-sober/self-controlled Christian from sins. One calls this love, one calls this repentance. Same thing. Even the Gnostic version alludes to the recapturing of Truth.
So, maybe the early Church didn’t have too divergent a theology at the beginning? And, maybe that theology included the notion that we can aid in (co-responsible for) one another’s journey?
- Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: a Commentary on First Peter (ed. Eldon Jay Epp; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 295. ↩
- Wesley W. Isenberg, “The Gospel of Philip (II, 3),” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (ed. James M. Robinson; 4th rev. ed.; Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), 155. ↩