Here is a problem which is seldom approached and dealt with. Have you sinned the sin which is unto death? Is it possible that you might do so? How near does it bring one to death?
First of all let us present a fairly literal translation of the passage, as without accuracy we are bound to go astray. "If ever anyone may be perceiving his brother sinning a sin not (mE) unto (pros, toward) death, he shall be asking, and He shall be giving him life—to those sinning not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning that (sin) am I saying that he should be enquiring. Every unrighteousness is sin, and there is (a) sin not (ou) unto death."
John does not state that the sin leads right up to death. We must watch the word he uses, pros, which means toward, in the direction of, facing. The Greek language can express the A.V. "unto death" in six different ways (with eis, unto; heOs, till; achri or mechri, until; pros, toward; and by a dative case without any preposition at all).
The only other occurrence of pros in connection with death is found at John 11:4, "This infirmity is not toward death." The illness of Lazarus was toward, in the direction of, with a view to, something beyond death—the glory of God.
Some of the modern versions do not read "unto death," but "deadly," such as Moffatt and Goodspeed. Whatever the deadly sin may be, it does not necessarily lead one as far as death, but on the way to death.
It will be noticed that the sin not unto death can be apparently deliberate and continued; the brother can be "sinning a sin," going on in his sinning, yet he can be prayed for. But the sin which is unto death appears to be of a much worse nature, more hardened and rebellious and contumacious. There is not the same hope for the person who sins thus wickedly.
We would suggest he is to be found in 1. John 2:22. If possible we ought to confine ourselves to John's own writings, and seek to grasp the train of thought which runs through the whole epistle, without one wasted word, without a flaw in his argument.
John says that the liar is he who disowns that Jesus is the Christ. He is the antichrist, who disowns the Father and the Son. Everyone who disowns the Son, has neither the Father nor the Son. While he who avows the Son, finds he has the Father also.
Some had come out from John's company, because they had never really belonged to it (verse 19). They had pushed too far ahead, and had not remained in the teaching of the Christ, therefore did not have God at all (2. John 9). They did not confess Jesus Christ as One coming in flesh or having come in flesh, when He was begotten of Holy Spirit. John therefore gives a most solemn warning, almost totally neglected today, that such people must not be received into one's house, because to hail such a person is to participate in his wicked acts (2. John 10-11). For a person to claim that he knows God, while yet ignoring the Son of God, is to insult Him. Anyone who can thus insult God, consciously or unconsciously, is capable of all sorts of sins, and John knew that such people were wicked.
In 1. John 5:16, death (thanatos) is compared with life (zOE). Both of these are spiritual here. In verses 11 and 12, John tells us that God gives us life eonian, and this life is in His Son. "He who has the Son has the life. He who has not the Son of God has not the life."
It must be kept in mind that John's pregnant but very simple statements are, cumulative. As we advance through his chapters, we must gather up and retain in mind all that he has already said. Verse 12 therefore helps to explain verse 16.
Just here Romans 10:9-10 comes to our help. "If ever thou shouldest be avowing in thy mouth Jesus (as) Lord, and having faith in thy heart that God rouses Him out of dead ones, thou shalt be saved. For heartwise is faith being exercised unto righteousness, yet mouthwise avowal is being made unto salvation."
If then such an act of faith, and such a confession, lead to righteousness and salvation unto life, it will be obvious that the opposite, a denial of these facts, must be a sin, a deliberate sin, which leads to spiritual death and to further wrongdoing.
The same general principle is found in Matt. 12:31-32. The blasphemy of the Spirit was not to be forgiven in that eon nor in the future one. For the scribes and Pharisees to aver that He who in His flesh manifested God in His life and works, was accomplishing His mighty miracles through the power of demons, amply proved that they were well on the road to spiritual death and lostness.
It may be that 1. John 5:18 should be understood in a cumulative sense. "Everyone who has been begotten of God is not sinning" in the manner just described. He who is born of God will not come short in that respect. He possesses spiritual life, and therefore cannot be on the road to spiritual death. It would be the reverse of the truth to say that those who have been begotten of God do not sin. In many things we one and all offend or stumble (James 3:2). The longer we live, the more we know we come short.
No doubt the sin unto death was something which the Jew would more easily recognize than the Gentile. Yet among the nations there are many foolish men and women whose pride and vanity make them imagine they can discover God elsewhere than in Christ Jesus. Their worldly vanity excludes them from the one source of intense delight, the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2. Cor. 4:6).
Reader, if you have not yet discovered God in Christ, your heart tells you daily that you are on the way to lostness. There is room for you in the Body of Christ, in the Ecclesia of God. Why not turn right about now, why not give yourself a complete change of mind and heart, why not seek and discover the Lord while He may be found, for He is not very far from anyone of us.
A. T. Last updated 7.3.2007