By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXIV) 04/18/23

5:17 Doing wrong is always a sin. But there is sin that does not lead to eternal death.

But it was through Ezekiel that God laid it out in no uncertain terms:

 “Some of you are saying, ‘The Lord is unfair!’ But listen, children of Israel. I am fair. You are the ones who are not fair! When good people change and start doing bad things, they must pay the consequences for the bad things they do.  But if bad people change their ways and become good and fair, they will save their lives. They will live! They saw how immoral they were and came back to me. They stopped doing the sinful things they did in the past. So that’s why they will live and die!‘  But the people of Israel said, ‘That’s still not fair! The Lord is still unfair!’  But God replied, ‘I am being fair! You are the ones who are unfair!  Why? Because, children of Israel, I will judge each of you only for what you do!  So come back to me! Stop committing those crimes and do away with those things that cause you to sin!  Throw away all the terrible idols with which you committed your crimes! Change your heart and spirit. People of Israel, why should you do things that will cost you your destiny? I don’t want to let you go! Please come back and live!’ This is what the Lord God said.[1]

Among the faithful, knowing that doing wrong is always a sin ought to be an unquestionable truth that whatever is contrary to God’s Law is sin and, in its nature, mortal; for where there is a transgression of the Law, there is sin and death.[2] But this terrifying truth brings with it a word of encouragement. If all unrighteousness without exception is sin, it follows that not every sin is deadly. No true believer of God’s Word would accept that the slightest departure from righteousness should involve eternal damnation.

However, there is a sin that does lead to death for which there is no effective prayer. This is an exception to the general rule that God answers all prayers prayed in His will.  Therefore, it is only proper to request help for a person sinning who wants to change and repent. The reference here is not to the sin leading to spiritual death – eternal separation from God. All sin can ultimately lead to death, but that is not the meaning here. The idea here is that a Christian can die a premature spiritual death because of prolonged and stubborn sinning.


This verse has comments, interpretations, and insights of the Early Church Fathers, Medieval Thinkers, Reformation Theologians, Revivalist Teachers, Reformed Scholars, and Modern Commentators.

Œcumenius (501-599 AD) comments that only those sins that are not repented lead to death. For example, although he showed remorse, Judas did not repent and was led off to his death. But whoever gives themselves over to the Anointed One cannot commit a mortal sin, even though their nature remains unchanged and they still sin.[3]

With a studious monk’s spiritual insight, Bede the Venerable (672-735) The variety of sins is such that everything which disagrees with the law of fairness is a sin. However, for minor infractions of the kind which are almost impossible to avoid in this life, the righteous can be forgiven without too much difficulty. But other sins are so contrary to righteousness that they will lead the one who does them into eternal punishment without any doubt unless they decide to put them right.[4]

Respected Reformation writer Matthew Poole (1624-1679) feels that the Apostle John suggests that believers should be cautious of all sin, especially deliberate wrongdoing. However, they should not think that every sin would make them hopeless as sinning deadly would do.[5]

With a spiritually contemplative mind, Matthew Henry (1662-1714) ensured that all believers have eternal life in the covenant of the Gospel. Therefore, let them thankfully receive what the Scriptures say about always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain.[6]The Lord Jesus invites us to come to Him in all circumstances, notwithstanding the sin that hampers us. Our prayers must always be offered in submission to God’s will. Some prayers are quickly answered, and others are granted when appropriate according to God’s preference.

We ought to pray for others, as well as for ourselves. There are sins that war against the soul’s spiritual life. We cannot pray that the sins of the unrepentant and unbelieving should be forgiven while they are such; or that mercy, supposing that forgiveness should be granted to them while they willfully continue sinning. But we may pray for their repentance and enrichment with faith in the Anointed One and all other saving mercies. We should pray for others and ourselves, pleading with the Lord to pardon and recover the fallen and relieve the tempted and afflicted. And let us be truly thankful that no sin, of which anyone truly repents, is deadly.[7]

With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) agrees with other commentators that all unrighteousness is sin. By unrighteousness, the Apostle John means everything by which our neighbor is injured in violation of God’s law.[8] Perhaps, notes Macknight, by making this observation, John intended to imply that for the spiritually sick sinner to repent sincerely, they must first make restitution to everyone they injured by their unrighteousness:[9]in which case their sin will not be deadly.[10]

More concerned with the Church than its sacraments William Jones of Nyland (1726-1800) asks, what are we to understand by the “unforgivable sin?” First, we must endeavor to agree on what the Apostle John means by “death.” There are three distinct uses of the word in the sacred Scriptures. (1) The death of the body. (2) That death of the spirit is common to all who are apart from the renewing grace of God. (3) The “eternal death,” which is the antithesis of “eternal life,” which is the destiny of those who insist on walking on the broad way to hell instead of the narrow path to heaven.[11]

Thus, “death” in the text cannot mean either (1) the death of the body, for that is the destiny of all mankind;[12] or (2) the spiritual death for unrepentant sins. In this case, death must be the antithesis of life. Such a sin involves the abiding loss of the life derived through God’s Son.[13] The rejection of the Anointed One necessarily consists of abandoning Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.[14] If a person deliberately and decidedly rejects the only Light through whom they can obtain eternal life, what remains for them is to abide in the night of death. For such people, John does not encourage us to pray. He neither prohibits nor commands us to pray for them.

In conclusion, let the fact that it is possible to commit an unforgivable sin make us more watchful and pray against every sin and all sins. Beware of beginnings in evil. Secondly, let this gracious assurance as to the result of prayer for those who have sinned lead us to often visit the throne of grace on behalf of our fellow believers who have not committed the unforgivable sin.[15]

At age fifteen, Joseph Benson (1749-1821), a young theologian preaching and holding cottage prayer meetings, sees what the Apostle John says as giving witness to the happiness of believers who have eternal life in the Anointed One and having their prayers of faith heard for His sake.[16] It’s as if John had said, “Yes, He hears us for ourselves and others. That is, any child of God who sins a forgivable sin.”But, of course, that is any sin except that which is spoken of in the awful words of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One as unpardonable, namely, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.[17] Instead, it might be the sin of falling away from God’s fellowship and righteousness.[18] In that case, an intercessor can ask, and God will offer pardon and salvation for that repentant backslider.

Then, there is an unforgivable sin for which John advises us not to interrupt because the punishment may be temporal death. Every deviation from perfect holiness is sin, but all sin is not unforgivable, nor does God determine to punish every sin with temporal death.[19]

A servant of God whose preaching was doctrinal, imaginative, quaint, and earnest, Robert Finlayson (1793-1861) says that the Apostle John gives us confidence in knowing that we speak boldly with God because we have the Divine life, as children do their parents. Our boldness comes out, especially in our asking. We are full of wants, so we need to be constantly asking. We ask in the confidence of being heard. If we ask anything, He pays attention to us – which only has one qualifier that we ask according to God’s will. If we are to ask according to God’s will, then the meaning is that we are to have our desires in proper order, that is, lined up with God’s will.

We must have them examined for appropriate submission to God’s desires for us and be informed about God’s desires for us so that we understand the blessing that He holds out for us. As Jesus was praying in a particular place, after he finished, the disciples, filled with a sense of their shortcomings, said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It is not the language of our prayers that we need to have improved, so much as our simple responsiveness to the Divine will.[20]

Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) feels that the Apostle John inserted verse seventeen to guard against what he just said. While there is an unforgivable, blasphemous sin, there are many other forms and degrees of sin for which intercessory prayer may be offered. Everything, he says, which is and does not conform to the holy law of God, is to be regarded as sin; but we are not to suppose that all sin of that kind is forgivable. Many commit sins that we may hope will be reconciled, and it is proper to pray for them.

Deeply affected as we may be in view of the fact that there is a sin which can never be pardoned, and much as we may pity one who has been guilty of such a sin, yet we should not hastily conclude in any case that it has been committed and should constantly bear in mind that while there is one such sin, there are multitudes that may be pardoned and that for them we must pray unceasingly.[21] [22]

With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) says that although the Apostle John distinctly excludes the unforgivable sin from others, here he speaks of Christian intercession; his readers are not to imagine that, after the exclusion of such sin, no sins at all remain, of which. One can think in connection with what he has been saying about the Christian’s intercession for a sinning spiritual brother or sister. Accordingly, John now shows them how comprehensive the idea of sin is and how there may also be a sin, which is not deadly. For John, the concept of sin is as incomprehensive as the idea of unrighteousness is incomprehensible. Unrighteousness is any and every way of acting contrary to God’s will and law.[23] But all such unrighteousness is not in itself an unforgivable sin.[24]

Consistent with the Apostle John’s point of view, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) notes that the connection of verse seventeen is tied to what goes before; but precisely what the relationship of thought is intended to be, is a point of some difficulty, and one on which interpreters have differed. Nevertheless, two things must be observed to find the answer: First, the subject before the Apostle John’s mind is intercessory prayer for other sinful Christians. Second, the sentence indicates that all sins are a component meant by the general word sin.

We may believe, however, that this verse also has a forward look; in this view, it suggests the idea of sin as covering all unrighteousness and being mainly “not a deadly sin.” It may thus cling to the Christian believer to some degree; but when a Christian is viewed in the light of their ideal of spiritual life. The Epistle, therefore, returns at the end to a thought associated with its beginning. With this view, verse eighteen may be regarded as gathering up the idea John intended to impress upon his readers as the beginning and end of his Epistle.

The Son of God, in the person of Jesus the Anointed One, is come into the world as the Light to give eternal life through the knowledge of God ‒ a life originated by a Divine force, and which has its being in the sphere of the Divine Light.We know that the one who is born of God does not continue sinning ‒ the Jesus Light-Life is not intermingled with darkness; we know that we, who are Christian believers, are of God – we are those who possess the Jesus Light-Life which is free from sin; we know that God’s Son has come and given us an understanding that we may personally know God – and thus we are in God, through being in His Son. [25]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) way of thinking, the point that the Apostle John’s statement regarding every wrong a sin includes those of believers. Of course. John was talking about ordinary sins, not the unforgivable ones.[26] In such cases, believers may intercede for those still in union with God so their communion and fellowship with Him are not severed. It becomes clear in John’s writings that death and life are opposites.[27]

Furthermore, they offer a fascinating insight that the Greek preposition “unto” means “towards” or “with regard to” in the sense of trending. In other words, the spiritual brother or sister is not transgressing God’s Law in the fashion that an unforgivable sin. The chief commandment consists of faith and love. Therefore, the principal sin is that by which faith and love are destroyed. In the former case is life, in the latter, death. If it is not evident[28] that it is a sin deadly, it is lawful to pray. But when it is a deliberate rejection of grace, how can others hope to obtain life for them?”[29] If we pray for the unrepentant, it must be a matter of God’s will, not the intercessory request for an erring spiritual brother or sister.[30]

[1] Ezekiel 18:25-32

[2] Romans 6:23

[3] Œcumenius: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Bray, Gerald, (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 227

[4] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 227

[5] Poole, Matthew. Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition  

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:58

[7] Henry, Matthew: Concise Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., pp. 2060

[8] 1 John 3:4

[9] Matthew 5:24-26

[10] Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, p. 124

[11] Matthew 7:13-14

[12] Hebrews 9:27

[13] 1 John 5:12

[14] John 14:6

[15] Jones, William: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 166-167

[16] 1 John 5:10-17

[17] Hebrews 12:31; Mark 3:29

[18] 2 Timothy 3:5

[19] Benson, Joseph: Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, op. cit., p. 348

[20] Finlayson, Robert: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 22, p. 172

[21] 1 John 3:4

[22] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, p. 4892

[23] 1 John 1:9; 2:19; See Luke 13:27, 23:6; Romans 9.T4; 2 Timothy 2:19.

[24] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, July 1895, p. 471

[25] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 10, pp. 818-819

[26] Cf. 1 John 1:9; 3:4

[27] See 1 John 5:11-13

[28] See 1 John 5:16 on “see

[29] Contrast James 5:14-18; cf. Matthew 12:31-32

[30] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p. 730

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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