The Sin unto Death -- By: Irvin A. Busenitz
MSJ 1:1 (Spr 90) p. 17
The Sin unto Death
Associate Dean and Professor of Old Testament
The Master’s Seminary
The “sin unto death” in 1 John 5:16 has provoked widespread discussion. The correct meaning revolves around the nature of the sin and the nature of the death referred to. The context and word selection point to the conclusion that the individual “committing a sin not unto death” is an unsaved man who professes to be a believer, but who is, in actuality, in need of salvation. On the one hand, John refers to one who is sinning but is not doing so to the point of the impossibility of being granted eternal life. The apostle encourages intercessory prayer for such an individual, that God may grant to him eternal life. On the other hand, he asserts that if a man does sin to such an extent that repentance and forgiveness are impossible, it would be “unto death,” spiritual death in the sense that his condition is irrevocable (cf. Matt 12:31–32).
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Diversity of opinion has abounded concerning the interpretation of the problematic portion found in 1 John 5:16 where the apostle John writes,
If any one 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.1
The OT frequently mentions specific sins which merit punishment by death. Num 15:30–31 indicates that the one who willfully and defiantly sins “shall be cut off from among his people.” The sin of coming near to the tent of meeting was punishable by death
MSJ 1:1 (Spr 90) p. 18
(Num 18:22). Ps 19:13 suggests the same penalty for presumptuous sins.2
The NT has similar examples, the most prominent being that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–10). Other examples include that of Herod (Acts 12) and those who had taken the Lord’s Supper unworthily (1 Cor 11).
There are two notable differences between the other passages and this one, however. First of all, in the above cases, the sin which led t...
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