What does covering sin mean?



This may be a silly question, but I just want clarification on the difference between having a multitude of sins covered and hidden. What is the difference between “charity covering a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8) and “converting a sinner and having a multitude of sins hidden” (James 5:20).


The King James Version was done by a team of translators, but they did not have an overall editing team. This resulted in the same Greek or Hebrew word being translated in different ways, depending on who was doing the translation. The Greek word kalupto means to cover or hide. It was translated as "hides" in James 5:20 and as "cover" in I Peter 4:8, but there is no difference in the meaning.  You will find that most modern translations use "cover" in both verses.

When we break God’s law, there should be a sense of embarrassment that we weakened and fell to Satan’s trap. Adam and Eve hid after sinning. "So he said, 'I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself'" (Genesis 3:10). David also felt the shame of sin after his adultery with Bathsheba. He had trouble forgetting what he had done, even after being forgiven by God. "For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" (Psalms 51:3). Paul was embarrassed about his behavior before he became a Christian and an apostle of Christ. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (I Corinthians 15:9).

The guilt and shame that comes from realizing we have sinned have a purpose. God uses them as a wake-up call that we need to change. "You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scoffing and a derision to those around us. You make us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my dishonor is before me and my humiliation has overwhelmed me" (Psalms 44:13-15). But this is because God wants us to have the right attitude toward sin. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psalms 51:17).

Not only should our sins embarrass us, but we should feel embarrassment over the sins of others. Ezra expressed his shame regarding his nation's sins.

"But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God; and I said, 'O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.  Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day.  But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.  For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. Now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments'" (Ezra 9:5-10).

Joseph thought that Mary had sinned, so out of his love for her, he planned to hide her shame by divorcing her quietly (Matthew 1:19-25). In contrast, when Ham discovered that his father was drunk, he tried to embarrass Noah further by telling his brothers (Genesis 9:20-27).

Sin ought to bother us. We don't want to become calloused to sin and no longer notice when we stray (I Timothy 4:2).  But the wicked are unaware of the embarrassment of sin (Zephaniah 3:5). Therefore, when a brother sins, whether against us, someone else, or only against God and he has received forgiveness, we should understand the shame and help them. "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!" (Psalms 32:1). To "cover sin" is to put what happened out of our mind and to treat the person with the same respect that we gave him before he sinned. We are not protecting the sinner in his sins but the repentant sinner from the shame of his sin. We do not make a mockery of a brother’s weakness. We do not put a brother up for public ridicule. "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). It is a part of being sympathetic with our brethren. "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8).

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