Verses to review today: 1 John 5:1-15
New Verse: 1 John 5:16
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (ESV)
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. (KJV)
Greek: Ἐάν τις ἴδῃ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον, αἰτήσει καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ ζωήν, τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον. ἔστιν ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον• οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήσῃ.
Transliterated Greek: Ean tis idē ton adelphon autou hamartanonta hamartian mē pros thanaton, aitēsei kai dōsei autō zōēn, tois hamartanousin mē pros thanaton. estin hamartia pros thanaton• ou peri ekeinēs legō hina erōtēsē.
Literal Word for Word Translation: If anyone should see his brother sinning a sin not toward death, he will ask and he will give to him life, to the those who sin not toward death. There is a sin toward death. I do not say concerning this that he should pray.
Commentary: This verse has baffled many since it is not perfectly clear what the sin is that leads to death. However, context is the king of biblical interpretation and this verse is a part of the closing statement of John of the letter. So we ask as a clue, why was he writing the letter? What might he be addressing as a close? There were many who left the fellowship enticed by a Gnostic version of Christianity. John told how they were not in the light, they denied having sinned, they followed lies, they were not truly of them, etc., and yet the ones he is writing to were in the light, they knew the truth, and they knew they knew it because they had the Spirit (all said by John in the body of the letter). What sin leads to death? Blasphemy of course (Mt 12:31), and that is exactly what these brothers who left the fellowship had done. It wasn’t as much that they spoke against Christ, which could be forgiven, but they were denying the witness of the Holy Spirit and denying everything essential to believing the gospel. They spoke against the gospel in a way that was leading many to stray from the fellowship. John makes it clear within the letter that those who are true believers do not stray from the faith, because they know the truth. But, many were leaving and these may have been ones interested in the gospel at one time, but not really believing it and being swayed to a message that tickled their itchy ears better.
So, John is saying that if a brother is in sin, believers are to pray for him. In the Greek, it says they will pray for him, as in a commandment. But, if that brother is speaking against the gospel and is not open to its truth, then it may be futile praying for that person. It is not in God’s will. That seems harsh considering nothing is impossible with God. However, Jesus also said to not cast our pearls at the swine (Mt 7:6). John may have had in view that these who left and are preaching a false gospel are effectively swine and that there is no redemption for them. The key if in this situation is to let the Spirit guide. If you are convicted to pray for a person who seems to fit this category, then you ought to pray for them. Yet, if you are convicted not to pray, then maybe it would be futile to do so.