The Meaning of 1 John 5:16 Explained

1 John 5:16

KJV: 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.

YLT: If any one may see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give to him life to those sinning not unto death; there is sin to death, not concerning it do I speak that he may beseech;

Darby: If any one see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life, for those that do not sin unto death. There is a sin to death: I do not say of that that he should make a request.

ASV: If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.

What does 1 John 5:16 Mean?

Study Notes

Sin, Summary: The literal meanings of the Heb. and (Greek - ἀλεκτοροφωνία sin," "sinner," etc)., disclose the true nature of sin in its manifold manifestations. Sin is transgression, an overstepping of the law, the divine boundary between good and evil Psalms 51:1 ; Luke 15:29 , iniquity, an act inherently wrong, whether expressly forbidden or not; error, a departure from right; Psalms 51:9 ; Romans 3:23 , missing the mark, a failure to meet the divine standard; trespass, the intrusion of self-will into the sphere of divine authority Ephesians 2:1 , lawlessness, or spiritual anarchy 1 Timothy 1:9 , unbelief, or an insult to the divine veracity John 16:9 .
Sin originated with Satan Isaiah 14:12-14 , entered the world through Adam Romans 5:12 , was, and is, universal, Christ alone excepted; Romans 3:23 ; 1 Peter 2:22 , incurs the penalties of spiritual and physical death; Genesis 2:17 ; Genesis 3:19 ; Ezekiel 18:4 ; Ezekiel 18:20 ; Romans 6:23 and has no remedy but in the sacrificial death of Christ; Hebrews 9:26 ; Acts 4:12 availed of by faith Acts 13:38 ; Acts 13:39 . Sin may be summarized as threefold: An act, the violation of, or want of obedience to the revealed will of God; a state, absence of righteousness; a nature, enmity toward God.

Verse Meaning

John explained that prayer should extend to the needs of others (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1). He did this to clarify further what loving one"s brethren involves. The general subject of this verse is prayer for a sinning Christian. We can clarify the sense of this verse and the next by inserting the word "premature" before each instance of the word "death." Some writers wrote that the assumed modifier of "death" should be "eternal." [1] This interpretation may result in concluding, erroneously I believe, that the brethren in view were either never saved in the first place or lost their salvation. Some sins bring God"s swift judgment and result in the premature physical death of the sinner (e.g, Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:30). Others do not. The fact that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us today to distinguish these types of sins should not lead us to conclude that a distinction does not exist (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-29).
According to the "spiritual (or eternal) death" view, the sin unto death is a reference to failure to believe in Christ. Sins not leading to spiritual death are those that will not result in a person"s damnation because God will give spiritual life to that one in answer to the prayer offered by the intercessor. Sins not leading to spiritual death could also refer to sins that do not irrevocably separate the believer from God, for which forgiveness is possible.
Under the Old Covenant, sinners who repudiated that covenant died physically because their repudiation represented a major rejection of Yahweh"s authority. The writer to the Hebrews warned his readers that repudiation of the New Covenant would result in inevitable judgment with no possibility of repentance ( Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-27). Repudiation of the New Covenant involves rejecting Jesus Christ. That may be the sin leading to death that John meant here.
"The early church took much more seriously than we do the possibility that a person may sin beyond hope of redemption." [2]
In the case of sin leading to premature physical death, John revealed that prayer will not avert the consequences. Therefore praying in these situations will not avail. However, John did not say we should refrain from praying about them. [3] We may not know if a sin is one that God will judge with premature death. In such cases we can pray that God will bring His will to pass for a sinning Christian. [4] Jeremiah continued to pray for the apostate Israelites even though God told him that his prayers would not avail because their doom was sealed ( Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11-12).
". . . John"s warning against sin, and the failure to maintain orthodox faith ( 1 John 2:24; 2 John 1:8-9), shows that while he expected his readers to walk in the light as sons of God ( 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:18-19), he did not ignore the possibility that some believing but heretically inclined members of his community might become apostate." [5]
Many Christians have failed to realize that sinning always leads to some type of dying, even among Christians ( Romans 6:23). While it is true that no Christian will ever experience spiritual death (eternal separation from God), we do normally experience the physical consequences of our sinning. The fact that we all die physically is the proof of this. Of course, the exception is Christians whom God will translate when the Lord Jesus returns for His own.
"A further question is whether the sin that leads to death can be committed by those who are truly God"s children.... A number of scholars have tried to show that this could not have been John"s meaning. Thus it has been argued that the people in question had merely masqueraded as believers but had never at any point truly believed in Jesus. Consequently, the sin that leads to death is to be understood as a sin of unbelievers which believers cannot in principle commit. [1] However, this point must remain doubtful. The fact that John needed to warn his readers against the possibility of sinning and failing to continue in the truth and in the doctrine of Christ ( 1 John 2:24; 2 John 1:7-11) suggests that he did not altogether exclude the possibility that a person might fall away from his faith into apostasy [7]. Nevertheless, it was his clear expectation that his readers would continue in their faith without falling away from it." [8]

Context Summary

1 John 5:13-21 - Ask According To His Will
We know that we have eternal life. The rope is in our hand bearing us onward, but its ends are hidden from view in the past and in the future. We also know that God hears us when we comply with the conditions of true prayer. We know, moreover, that we can become the medium through which the life of God passes to others. Thus the humblest child may have power with God and man.
The Only-Begotten keeps the begotten. Evil can no more touch them than blight could reach the bush in the wilderness that was bathed in the celestial fire. Who would go back to the world? Enumerate and press to heart these four items of positive knowledge; but beware lest what is legitimate and natural in itself may become an idol. Love, knowledge, abiding, conquering-these are the keynotes of this wonderful letter. [source]

Chapter Summary: 1 John 5

1  He who loves God loves his children, and keeps his commandments;
3  which to the faithful are not grievous
9  Jesus is the Son of God;
14  and able to hear our prayers

Greek Commentary for 1 John 5:16

If any man see [εαν τις ιδηι]
Third-class condition with εαν — ean and second aorist active subjunctive of ειδον — eidon (οραω — horaō). [source]
Sinning a sin [αμαρτανοντα αμαρτιαν]
Present active predicate (supplementary) participle agreeing with αδελπον — adelphon and with cognate accusative αμαρτιαν — hamartian unto death Repeated again with αμαρτανουσιν — hamartanousin and in contrast with αμαρτια προς τανατον — 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 Numbers 18:22 the lxx has λαβειν αμαρτιαν τανατηπορον — labein hamartian thanatēphoron “to incur a death-bearing sin” as many crimes then and now bear the death penalty. There is a distinction in Hebrews 10:26 between sinning wilfully after full knowledge and sins of ignorance (Hebrews 5:2). Jesus spoke of the unpardonable sin (Mark 3:29; Matthew 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 (περι εκεινης — peri ekeinēs). This sin unto death.That he should make request Sub-final use of ινα — hina with the first aorist active subjunctive of ερωταω — erōtaō used here as in John 17:15, John 17:20 (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. [source]
Concerning this [περι εκεινης]
This sin unto death. [source]
That he should make request [ινα ερωτησηι]
Sub-final use of ινα — hina with the first aorist active subjunctive of ερωταω — erōtaō used here as in John 17:15, John 17:20 (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. [source]
If any man see [ἐάν τις ἴδῃ]
A supposed case. [source]
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 λαβεῖν ἁμαρτίαν θανητοφόρον toincur 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. -DIVIDER-
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 1 John 5:12, he says: He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. In 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:15, 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.” [source]

His brother []
Christian brother. [source]
Sin a sin [ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν]
Lit., as Rev., sinning a sin. There is no exact parallel to the phrase in the New Testament. Compare the promise which He promised, 1 John 2:25. [source]
Not unto death [μὴ πρὸς θάνατον]
Describing the nature of the sin. The preposition unto, signifies tendency toward, not necessarily involving death. See on 1 John 5:17. [source]
He shall ask [αἰτήσει]
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. [source]
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. [source]
Him [αὐτῷ]
The brother for whom intercession is made. [source]
For them that sin [τοῖς ἁμαρτὰνουσιν]
In apposition with αὐτῷ tohim. God shall give life unto him (the erring brother), even unto them that sin. The plural generalizes the particular case described by ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν sinninga sin. [source]
There is a sin [ἔστιν ἁμαρτία]
Rev., margin, better, sin. A sin would express a specific act as such. Sin describes the character of a class of acts. [source]
I do not say that he shall pray for it [οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήση]
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 ( ἐρωτήσῃ ), and compare αἰτήσει heshall ask. On the distinction, see on Luke 11:9. Αἰτέω toask, 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. Ἑρωτάω 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 ἐρωτᾷν in the sense of Christian prayer for Christians: ἐρωτᾶ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν prayfor us. [source]

Reverse Greek Commentary Search for 1 John 5:16

John 1:4 In Him was life [ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν]
He was the fountain of life - physical, moral, and eternal - its principle and source. Two words for life are employed in the New Testament: βίος and ζωὴ . The primary distinction is that ζωὴ means existence as contrasted with death, and βίος , the period, means, or manner of existence. Hence βίος is originally the higher word, being used of men, while ζωὴ is used of animals ( ζῶα ). We speak therefore of the discussion of the life and habits of animals as zoo logy; and of accounts of men's lives as bio graphy. Animals have the vital principle in common with men, but men lead lives controlled by intellect and will, and directed to moral and intellectual ends. In the New Testament, βίος means either living, i.e., means of subsistence (Mark 12:44; Luke 8:43), or course of life, life regarded as an economy (Luke 8:14; 1 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:4). Ζωὴ occurs in the lower sense of life, considered principally or wholly as existence (1 Peter 3:10; Acts 8:33; Acts 17:25; Hebrews 7:3). There seems to be a significance in the use of the word in Luke 16:25: “Thou in thy lifetime ( ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου ) receivedst thy good things;” the intimation being that the rich man's life had been little better than mere existence, and not life at all in the true sense. But throughout the New Testament ζωὴ is the nobler word, seeming to have changed places with βίος . It expresses the sum of mortal and eternal blessedness (Matthew 25:46; Luke 18:30; John 11:25; Acts 2:28; Romans 5:17; Romans 6:4), and that not only in respect of men, but also of God and Christ. So here. Compare John 5:26; John 14:6; 1 John 1:2. This change is due to the gospel revelation of the essential connection of sin with death, and consequently, of life with holiness. “Whatever truly lives, does so because sin has never found place in it, or, having found place for a time, has since been overcome and expelled” (Trench). Ζωὴ is a favorite word with John. See John 11:25; John 14:6; John 8:12; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 5:20; John 6:35, John 6:48; John 6:63; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:17; Revelation 7:17; John 4:14; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2, Revelation 22:14, Revelation 22:19; John 12:50; John 17:3; John 20:31; John 5:26; John 6:53, John 6:54; John 5:40; John 3:15, John 3:16, John 3:36; John 10:10; John 5:24; John 12:25; John 6:27; John 4:36; 1 John 5:12, 1 John 5:16; John 6:51.Was the Light of men ( ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων )Passing from the thought of creation in general to that of mankind, who, in the whole range of created things, had a special capacity for receiving the divine. The Light - the peculiar mode of the divine operation upon men, conformably to their rational and moral nature which alone was fitted to receive the light of divine truth. It is not said that the Word was light, but that the life was the light. The Word becomes light through the medium of life, of spiritual life, just as sight is a function of physical life. Compare John 14:6, where Christ becomes the life through being the truth; and Matthew 5:8, where the pure heart is the medium through which God is beheld. In whatever mode of manifestation the Word is in the world, He is the light of the world; in His works, in the dawn of creation; in the happy conditions of Eden; in the Patriarchs, in the Law and the Prophets, in His incarnation, and in the subsequent history of the Church. Compare John 9:5. Of men, as a class, and not of individuals only. [source]
John 11:4 Heard it [ακουσας]
The messenger delivered the message of the sisters. The reply of Jesus is for him and for the apostles. Is not unto death Death in the final issue, to remain dead. Lazarus did die, but he did not remain dead. See αμαρτια προς τανατον — hamartia pros thanaton in 1 John 5:16, “sin unto death” (final death). But for the glory of God In behalf of God‘s glory, as the sequel shows. Cf. John 9:3 about the man born blind. The death of Lazarus will illustrate God‘s glory. In some humble sense those who suffer the loss of loved ones are entitled to some comfort from this point made by Jesus about Lazarus. In a supreme way it is true of the death of Christ which he himself calls glorification of himself and God (John 13:31). In John 7:39 John had already used δοχαζω — doxazō of the death of Christ. That the Son of God may be glorified thereby Purpose clause with ινα — hina and the first aorist passive subjunctive of δοχαζω — doxazō Here Jesus calls himself “the Son of God.” In John 8:54 Jesus had said: “It is my Father that glorifieth me.” The raising of Lazarus from the tomb will bring glory to the Son of God. See John 17:1 for this idea in Christ‘s prayer. The raising of Lazarus will also bring to an issue his own death and all this involves the glorification of the Father (John 7:39; John 12:16; John 13:31; John 14:13). The death of Lazarus brings Jesus face to face with his own death. [source]
Romans 6:10 In that He died [ὃ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν]
Lit.. what he died; the death which he died. Compare sin a sin, 1 John 5:16; the life which I live, literally, what I live, Galatians 2:20. [source]
1 John 2:9 His brother [τὸν ἀδελφόν]
His fellow-Christian. The singular, brother, is characteristic of this Epistle. See 1 John 2:10, 1 John 2:11; 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:15, 1 John 3:17; 1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:16. Christians are called in the New Testament, Christians (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16), mainly by those outside of the Christian circle. Disciples, applied to all followers of Christ (John 2:11; John 6:61) and strictly to the twelve (John 13:5sqq.). In Acts 19:1, to those who had received only John's baptism. Not found in John's Epistles nor in Revelation. Brethren. The first title given to the body of believers after the Ascension (Acts 1:15, where the true reading is ἀδελφῶν brethrenfor μαθητῶν disciples). See Acts 9:30; Acts 10:23; Acts 11:29; 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 John 3:14; 3 John 1:5, 3 John 1:10; John 21:23. Peter has ἡ ἀδελφότης thebrotherhood (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 5:9). The believers. Under three forms: The believers ( οἱ πιστοί ; Acts 10:45; 1 Timothy 4:12); they that believe ( οἱ πιστεύοντες ; 1 Peter 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:7; Ephesians 1:19); they that believed ( οἱ πιστεύσαντες ; Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32; Hebrews 4:3). The saints ( οἱ ἅγιοι ); characteristic of Paul and Revelation. Four times in the Acts (Acts 9:13, Acts 9:32, Acts 9:41; Acts 26:10), and once in Jude (Judges 1:3). Also Hebrews 6:10; Hebrews 13:24. In Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Ephesians 1:1, Ephesians 1:15, etc. In Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4; Revelation 11:18, etc.|Until now ( ἕως ἄρτι )|Though the light has been increasing, and though he may claim that he has been in the light from the first. The phrase occurs in John 2:10; John 5:17; John 16:24; and is used by Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 15:6.| [source]
1 John 2:6 He [ἐκεῖνος]
Always of Christ in the Epistles of John. See ἐκείνης , referring to ἁμαρτία sin 1 John 5:16. [source]
1 John 1:5 This then is [καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν]
Rev., correctly and literally, and this. According to the proper reading the verb stands first in order ( ἐστὶν αὕτη ), with emphasis, not merely as a copula, but in the sense “there exists this as the message.” For a similar use of the substantive verb, see 1 John 5:16, 1 John 5:17; 1 John 2:15; John 8:50. [source]
2 John 1:5 Beseech [ερωτω]
For pray as in 1 John 5:16. [source]

What do the individual words in 1 John 5:16 mean?

If anyone should see the brother of him sinning a sin not unto death he shall ask and He will give him life to those sinning There is a sin not concerning that do I say that he should implore
Ἐάν τις ἴδῃ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτάνοντα ἁμαρτίαν μὴ πρὸς θάνατον αἰτήσει καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ ζωήν τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν ἔστιν ἁμαρτία οὐ περὶ ἐκείνης λέγω ἵνα ἐρωτήσῃ

τις  anyone 
Parse: Interrogative / Indefinite Pronoun, Nominative Masculine Singular
Root: τὶς  
Sense: a certain, a certain one.
ἴδῃ  should  see 
Parse: Verb, Aorist Subjunctive Active, 3rd Person Singular
Root: εἶδον 
Sense: to see with the eyes.
ἀδελφὸν  brother 
Parse: Noun, Accusative Masculine Singular
Root: ἀδελφός  
Sense: a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother.
αὐτοῦ  of  him 
Parse: Personal / Possessive Pronoun, Genitive Masculine 3rd Person Singular
Root: αὐτός  
Sense: himself, herself, themselves, itself.
ἁμαρτάνοντα  sinning 
Parse: Verb, Present Participle Active, Accusative Masculine Singular
Root: ἁμαρτάνω  
Sense: to be without a share in.
ἁμαρτίαν  a  sin 
Parse: Noun, Accusative Feminine Singular
Root: ἁμαρτία  
Sense: equivalent to 264.
πρὸς  unto 
Parse: Preposition
Root: πρός  
Sense: to the advantage of.
θάνατον  death 
Parse: Noun, Accusative Masculine Singular
Root: θάνατος 
Sense: the death of the body.
αἰτήσει  he  shall  ask 
Parse: Verb, Future Indicative Active, 3rd Person Singular
Root: αἰτέω  
Sense: to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require.
δώσει  He  will  give 
Parse: Verb, Future Indicative Active, 3rd Person Singular
Root: διδῶ 
Sense: to give.
ζωήν  life 
Parse: Noun, Accusative Feminine Singular
Root: ζωή  
Sense: life.
τοῖς  to  those 
Parse: Article, Dative Masculine Plural
Sense: this, that, these, etc.
ἁμαρτάνουσιν  sinning 
Parse: Verb, Present Participle Active, Dative Masculine Plural
Root: ἁμαρτάνω  
Sense: to be without a share in.
ἔστιν  There  is 
Parse: Verb, Present Indicative Active, 3rd Person Singular
Root: εἰμί  
Sense: to be, to exist, to happen, to be present.
ἁμαρτία  a  sin 
Parse: Noun, Nominative Feminine Singular
Root: ἁμαρτία  
Sense: equivalent to 264.
περὶ  concerning 
Parse: Preposition
Root: περί 
Sense: about, concerning, on account of, because of, around, near.
ἐκείνης  that 
Parse: Demonstrative Pronoun, Genitive Feminine Singular
Root: ἐκεῖνος  
Sense: he, she it, etc.
λέγω  do  I  say 
Parse: Verb, Present Indicative Active, 1st Person Singular
Root: λέγω 
Sense: to say, to speak.
ἵνα  that 
Parse: Conjunction
Root: ἵνα  
Sense: that, in order that, so that.
ἐρωτήσῃ  he  should  implore 
Parse: Verb, Aorist Subjunctive Active, 3rd Person Singular
Root: ἐρωτάω  
Sense: to question.