Should We Pray For Straying Brethren? John’s Confidence In 1 John 5:16-17 -- By: Randall K. J. Tan

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:4 (Dec 2002)
Article: Should We Pray For Straying Brethren? John’s Confidence In 1 John 5:16-17
Author: Randall K. J. Tan


Should We Pray For Straying Brethren?
John’s Confidence In 1 John 5:16-17

Randall K. J. Tan*

* Randall Tan is instructor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theologial Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

I. Introduction

The confidence that Christians have in intercessory prayer (1 John 5:16–17) flows from the confidence that they have in prayer to God (vv. 14–15). This much appears to be uncontroversial about the interpretation of 1 John 5:16–17.1 Most everything else is controversial. Contrary to John’s intent, it appears that interpretive difficulties in this passage, especially the identity of “sin that leads to death,” have caused much confusion and uncertainty: for whom may Christians intercede and what kind of assurance may we have about the efficacy of our intercession?2 This article will attempt to show that the commonly accepted translation of 1 John 5:16c, “I am not saying that he should pray about that,” is incorrect and that an alternative interpretation helps resolve most of this confusion and uncertainty.3 Based on

grammar and context, περὶ ἐκείνης should be seen as modifying λέγω rather than ἐρωτήσῃ, and ἵνα introduces a purpose clause, yielding the translation, “I am not speaking concerning that sin that leads to eternal death in order that he might supplicate God for the brother whom he sees sinning.”4 While this proposal shares certain parallels to the earlier suggestions of Scholer and Trudinger, it differs in substance and relies on a more thorough examination of the grammatical and contextual evidence of John’s writings and of 1 John in particular.5

II. Delimiting The Terms “Death” And “Brother”

First, does John refer to physical death or eternal/eschatological death? The physical death view holds initial plausibility because of other NT texts in which sins caused the death of those committing them (Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor 11:30–32). It ...

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