Sin Unto Death - Don't Pray For It

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This Is Written That You May Know

13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21Little children, guard yourselves from idols.  (1 Jn. 5:13-21)

30‘But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31‘Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’”

(Num. 15:30-31)

25“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death. (1 Sam. 2:25)

31“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:31-32)

4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Heb. 6:4-6)

26For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 12:26-31)

20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

(2 Pet. 2:20-22)

16“As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you. 17“Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me. 19“Do they spite Me?” declares the LORD. “Is it not themselves they spite, to their own shame?” 20Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.” (Jer. 7:16-20)

13“For your gods are as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to the shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal.

14“Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster. (Jer. 11:13-14)

10Thus says the LORD to this people, “Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; now He will remember their iniquity and call their sins to account.” 11So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12“When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.” (Jer. 14:10-12)

Direction in prayer in reference to the sins of others: If any man see his brother
sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for those
that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray
for it,
v. 16. Here we may observe, 1. We ought to pray for others as well as for
ourselves; for our brethren of mankind, that they may be enlightened, converted,
and saved; for our brethren in the Christian profession, that they may be sincere,
that their sins may be pardoned, and that they may be delivered from evils and
the chastisements of God, and preserved in Christ Jesus. 2. There is a great
distinction in the heinousness and guilt of sin: There is a sin unto death (v. 16),
and there is a sin not unto death, v. 17. (1.) There is a sin unto death. All sin, as
to the merit and legal sentence of it, is unto death. The wages of sin is death; and
cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book
of the law, to do them,
Gal. 3:10. But there is a sin unto death in opposition to
such sin as is here said not to be unto death. There is therefore, (2.) A sin not unto
This surely must include all such sin as by divine or human constitution
may consist with life; in the human constitution with temporal or corporal life, in
the divine constitution with corporal or with spiritual evangelical life. [1.] There
are sins which, by human righteous constitution, are not unto death; as divers
pieces of injustice, which may be compensated without the death of the
delinquent. In opposition to this there are sins which, by righteous constitution,
are to death, or to a legal forfeiture of life; such as we call capital crimes. [2.]
Then there are sins which, by divine constitution, are unto death; and that either
death corporal or spiritual and evangelical. First, Such as are, or may be, to death
corporal. Such may the sins be either of gross hypocrites, as Ananias and
Sapphira, or, for aught we know, of sincere Christian brethren, as when the
apostle says of the offending members of the church of Corinth, For this cause
many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep,
1 Cor. 11:30. There may
be sin unto corporal death among those who may not be condemned with the
world. Such sin, I said, is, or may be, to corporal death. The divine penal
constitution in the gospel does not positively and peremptorily threaten death to
the more visible sins of the members of Christ, but only some gospel-
chastisement; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son
whom he receiveth,
Heb. 12:6. There is room left for divine wisdom or goodness,
or even gospel severity, to determine how far the chastisement or the scourge
shall proceed. And we cannot say but that sometimes it may (in terrorem—for
warning to others
) proceed even to death. Then, Secondly, There are sins which,
by divine constitution, are unto death spiritual and evangelical, that is, are
inconsistent with spiritual and evangelical life, with spiritual life in the soul and
with an evangelical right to life above. Such are total impenitence and unbelief
for the present. Final impenitence and unbelief are infallibly to death eternal, as
also a blaspheming of the Spirit of God in the testimony that he has given to
Christ and his gospel, and a total apostasy from the light and convictive evidence
of the truth of the Christian religion. These are sins involving the guilt of
everlasting death. (Matthew Henry Commentary – 1 Jn. 5:16)

Verses 16, 17 “illustrate the kind of petition we can be sure God will answer” (NIVSB). that sin not unto death . . . a sin unto death—What is the difference between the sin unto death and the sin not unto death? “The distinction is one which John’s readers were expected to recognize. But it is difficult to see how they could recognize the distinction except by the result. Elsewhere in the NT instances occur of sins which caused the death of the persons committing them, when these persons were church members” (Bruce)—see Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:30. But John may not have been thinking of physical death as much as sin that leads to spiritual death. The NIVSB says this:

In the context of this letter directed against Gnostic teaching, which denied the incarnation and threw off all moral restraints, it is probable that the “sin that leads to death” refers to the Gnostics’ adamant and persistent denial of the truth and to their shameless immorality. This kind of unrepentant sin leads to spiritual death. (New Commentary – 1 Jn. 5:16)

      5:16. Verses 16-17 have been much discussed. But they should not have
occasioned as much difficulty as they have. Sometimes a Christian may sin so
seriously that God judges that sin with swift physical death: “a sin that leads to
death.” Ananias and Sapphira are cases in point (Acts 5:1-11). But most of the
sins which one sees a Christian brother commit are not of such a nature, as their
common occurrence shows. For these, a believer ought to pray, knowing that
any sin—if continued in long enough—is a threat to a fellow Christian’s life (cf.
James 5:19-20; also cf. Prov. 10:27; 11:19; 13:14; 19:16). Thus the restoration of
a brother may secure a prolonging of his physical life.

The words, a sin that does not lead to death, can be easily misunderstood.
All sin ultimately leads to death, but the expression “that does not lead to death”
(meô pros thanaton) should be understood in the sense, “not punished by death.”
The distinction is between sins for which death is a rapid consequence and sins
for which it is not.

When a Christian sees another Christian sin in a way that is not fatal, he is
instructed to pray for him and God will give him life. (The word “God” is not in
the original, but it is properly supplied, as in the NIV.) However, John reminded
his readers that there is… sin that leads to (i.e., “is punished by”) death. There
is no need for the word a before “sin.” John was not likely thinking of only one
kind of sin. The New Testament example cited earlier (Acts 5:1-11) was a
flagrant violation of the sanctity of the Christian community. It is not necessary
for a Christian to be absolutely sure which flagrant sins are punishable by swift
death as long as he can recognize many which are not. He is commanded to pray
regarding sins which are not punishable by swift death. Even for other sins,
where a greater seriousness seems attached to them, Christians have the freedom
to pray. John’s words about fatal sin are, I am not saying that he should pray
about that.
But this clearly does not forbid prayer even in the most serious cases.
But naturally in such cases believers will submit their prayers to the will of God.
In contrast, with regard to sins not punished swiftly by death, Christians, on the
basis of this verse, should be able to pray with confidence.  (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

5:16, 17

A believer should intercede for a sinning fellow Christian provided that (1) the
believer sees the brother sinning and (2) the sin does not lead to death. Death
may refer either to spiritual or physical death, though physical death is probably
the case here. give him life: The believer can pray with confidence knowing that
it is the will of God that sinning believers should stop sinning. A sin leading to
may refer to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, rejecting Christ as Savior,
rejecting the humanity or deity of Jesus, a specific sin such as murder (3:12, 15),
or a life of habitual sin. Whatever it is, the sin seems to be a flagrant violation of
the sanctity of the Christian community (see Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:30). In
other words, John is encouraging us to help fellow believers who are straying; we
can be the tools God uses to restore an erring brother or sister to true fellowship.

(Nelson Study Bible)

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life (5:16). There is no satisfactory answer to several questions that 5:16 and 5:17 raise. What does “death” mean here? What is a sin that does not lead to death in contrast to a sin that does lead to death? What specific sins does John have in mind? Why shouldn’t we pray for those whose sins are in the “lead to death” category? Don’t they need our prayers even more than others?

It is probable that no NT passage raises so many questions that commentators agree are, in the last analysis, unanswerable.

Perhaps the best suggestion is that John is thinking of his whole exposition of the Christian lifestyle as one of love and obedience. A person who claims to be a believer, but who resolutely refuses to conform to the Christian way, has set his or her feet on a path which is characterized by death. Christians may slip and fall, and be rescued by our prayers. But the person who adamantly refuses to submit to the Christian way of life shows by his choice that he is beyond redemption, and should not be prayed for as a brother. (Victor Bible Background Commentary)

1 John 5:16

If any man see (dÜí ôéò näw)

A supposed case.

His brother

Christian brother.

Sin a sin (QìáñôÜíïíôá Qìáñôßáí)

Lit., as Rev., sinning a sin. There is no exact parallel to the phrase in the New
Testament. Compare the promise which He promised, 2:25.

Not unto death (ìx ðñ’ò èÜíáôïí)

Describing the nature of the sin. The preposition unto, signifies tendency
toward, not necessarily involving death. See on v. 17.

He shall ask (ákôÞóåé)

In prayer. The future tense expresses not merely permission (it shall be
permitted him to ask), but the certainty that, as a Christian brother, he will ask.
An injunction to that effect is implied.

He shall give

He may refer either to God or to the petitioner, as being the means of
bestowing life through his intercession, as in James 5:20. The former explanation
is the more natural. So Rev.

Him (ášô²)

The brother for whom intercession is made.

For them that sin (ôïsò QìáñôNíïõóéí)

In apposition with ášô² to him. God shall give life unto him (the erring
brother), even unto them that sin. The plural generalizes the particular case
described by QìáñôÜíïíôá Qìáñôßáí sinning a sin.

There is a sin (hóôéí Qìáñôßá)

Rev., margin, better, sin. A sin would express a specific act as such. Sin
describes the character of a class of acts.

Unto death

The difficulty of the passage lies in the explanation of these words. It is
impossible to determine their exact meaning with certainty. Some of the many
explanations are as follows: Such sin as God punishes with deadly sickness or
sudden death. All those sins punished with excommunication (so the older
Catholic theologians). An unrepented sin. Envy. A sinful state or condition. The
sin by which the Christian falls back from Christian life into death. The anti-
Christian denial that Jesus is the Christ.

The phrase ëáâåsí Qìáñôßáí èáíçôïöüñïí to incur a death-bearing sin (A.
V., bear sin and die), occurs Numbers 18:22, Sept., and the distinction between
sins unto death and sins not unto death is common in Rabbinic writings. However
John’s expression may have been suggested by these, it cannot be assumed that
they determine the sense in which he uses it.

Life and death in the passage must correspond. Bodily death and spiritual life
cannot be meant. The passage must be interpreted in the light of John’s
utterances elsewhere concerning life and death. In v. 12, he says: He that hath the
Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. In 3:14, 15, he
says that he that loveth not abideth in death: that he that hateth his brother is a
manslayer, and that no manslayer hath eternal life abiding in him. These canons
of interpretation point to the explanation, in which some of the best authorities
agree, that the sin unto death does not refer to a specific act, but to a class or
species of sins, the tendency of which is to cut the bond of fellowship with
Christ. Hence the passage is in the key-note of fellowship which pervades the
Epistle. Whatever breaks the fellowship between the soul and Christ, and, by
consequence, between the individual and the body of believers, is unto death, for
there is no life apart from Christ. It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all
sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made, as Canon Westcott
observes, between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and
sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God. “All
unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death.” It must be carefully
born in mind in the study of the passage, that John is speaking of sinful acts as
revelations of character, and not simply in themselves. So Huther: “Such sinning
as is characterized, not by the object with which it is connected, but by the
disposition from which it proceeds.”2-13

I do not say that he shall pray for it (ïš ðåñr dêåßíçò ëÝãù líá dñùôÞóç)

Lit., not concerning this do I say that he should make request. So Rev. Prayer
even for this sin unto death is not forbidden, but John says that he does not enjoin
it. Note the sharp distinctness with which that terrible sin is thrown out by the
pronoun of remote reference and its emphatic position in the sentence. Note also
the words make request (dñùôÞów), and compare ákôÞóåé he shall ask. On the
distinction, see on Luke 11:9. ÁkôÝù to ask, is used of the petition of an inferior,
and is never used of Christ’s own requests to God. Hence it is properly used here
of the humble and affectionate petition of a Christian to God on behalf of a
sinning brother. FÅñùôÜù is used of the request of an equal, or of one who asks
on equal terms. Hence it may mark a request based upon fellowship with God
through Christ, or it may hint at an element of presumption in a prayer for a sin
unto death. Westcott cites a very early inscription in the Roman Catacombs as an
illustration of the use of dñùôZí in the sense of Christian prayer for Christians:
dñùôO ›ðcñ ½ì§í pray for us.  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

III. We Know How to Pray with Confidence (5:14-17)

It has well been said that prayer is not a way of overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness. If we know God’s will, we can pray with boldness. This is “praying in the Spirit” (Jude 20), allowing the Spirit to give us the inward witness of God’s will, supported by the witness of God’s Word. See 3:22. John mentions praying specifically for another believer who has sinned in a way that might result in death (1 Cor. 11:30). This “sin unto death” is not some “unpardonable sin” that a believer unwittingly falls into, but a deliberate sin in defiance of the Word of God (Heb. 12:9), something that other believers can see and recognize as rebellion. Jeremiah was told not to pray for the rebellious Jews (7:16; 11:14; 14:11; and see Ezek. 14:14, 20). When we show true repentance and confession, the Father is quick to forgive and cleanse (1 John 1:9-2:2).

True prayer is much more than saying words to God. It involves searching the Word, letting the Spirit search the things of God (Rom. 8:26-28), and yielding to God’s will as we share our requests with Him. There is a price to pay in this kind of praying, but it is worth it. (Wiersby’s Expository Outlines)

1 John 5:16

If any man see (ean tis ideôi). Third-class condition with ean and second
aorist active subjunctive of eidon (horaoô).

Sinning a sin (hamartanonta hamartian). Present active predicate
(supplementary) participle agreeing with adelphon and with cognate accusative

Not unto death (meô pros thanaton). Repeated again with hamartanousin
and in contrast with hamartia pros thanaton (sin unto death). Most sins are not
mortal sins, but clearly John conceives of a sin that is deadly enough to be called
“unto death.” This distinction is common in the rabbinic writings and in Num
18:22 the LXX has labein hamartian thanateôphoron “to incur a death-bearing
sin” as many crimes then and now bear the death penalty. There is a distinction in
Heb 10:26 between sinning wilfully after full knowledge and sins of ignorance
(Heb 5:2). Jesus spoke of the unpardonable sin (Mark 3:29; Matt 12:32; Luke
12:10), which was attributing to the devil the manifest work of the Holy Spirit. It
is possible that John has this idea in mind when he applies it to those who reject
Jesus Christ as God’s Son and set themselves up as antichrists.

Concerning this (peri ekeineôs). This sin unto death.

That he should make request (hina eroôteôseôi). Sub-final use of hina with
the first aorist active subjunctive of eroôtaoô, used here as in John 17:15, 20 (and
often) for request rather than for question. John does not forbid praying for such
cases; he simply does not command prayer for them. He leaves them to God.  (Word Pictures in the New Testament)

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