What is the sin unto death?
In 1 John 5:16 we read, “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.” The ASV translates the last part of this verse as follows: “There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the Greek language is its lack of the indefinite article. In English, the indefinite article is the word “a” or “an.” When an indefinite article is expected, the syntax of the Greek sentence just gives the noun itself without the definite article. It is up to the translator to either supply the indefinite article or to leave it out depending upon the context. In this particular context, it makes better sense to me as a translator to leave the definite article out so that the sentence would read, “There is sin unto death.” This has the force of removing the idea that there is some particular sin that is unto death. In other words, there is no particular sin unto death, it is just a case where someone commits sin and that sin leads to death. Additionally, John uses the Greek word “PROS” in this verse, which is translated “unto” in the King James Version. A better translation for this preposition would be “toward.” That would help us to understand this statement even better. “There is sin toward death.” In other words, if one continues in one�s sin, eventually that will lead to one’s spiritual death. What is such a situation?
We must note that John is speaking to those who are Christians. He says, “If any man see his brother sin�.” What kind of sin could a Christian commit that would lead to death? James says in James 1:14, 15 “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” According to James, any temptation can lead to sin and death. So, how do we avoid sinning toward death? John gives the answer in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The sin that leads toward death is the un-repented and un-confessed sin. This follows naturally with the next thought, the sin that is not toward death. That is the sin of which on has repented and confessed. For this sin, we can pray for our brethren and God will forgive.