1 John5:17

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All unrighteousness is sin, but there is a sin that does not lead to death.


Every time we fall short of God’s holy standard it is sin and should be punished with death, but because of God’s grace, there are ways to fall short of that standard which do not produce eternal punishment.


  1. The context of this passage is similar to the context of the passages in the gospels about the unpardonable sin because all of them deal with acceptance or rejections. Here John is saying that the testimony of Jesus about Himself is true, and it is confirmed by other reliable proofs. If one rejects such testimony, there is no other evidence that will convince that person.
  1. John gives this set of two types of sins as an example of how powerful prayer is. If we can pray for God to forgive sins, then we can pray for almost anything. However, this verse also indicates that praying alone does not make something reality, there are other factors, such as the other person’s repentant spirit or rebellious spirit. This statement does not say, “You have the power to do anything you want,” rather it indicates that “prayer is a powerful thing because it connects you to the power of God which is already at work among men.”
  1. With the use of the word “brother” early in verse 16 it is obvious that John is giving the example of a fellow believer in Jesus who commits a sin – one who stumbles and gives in to temptation, but not one whose life is constantly characterized by sin.
  1. It should be obvious that I have placed in the paraphrase my interpretation of that is meant by this verse. That is one of the disadvantages of a paraphrase by itself, it goes all the way in interpreting the passage, not just reproducing the passage. But a translation and paraphrase side by side allow you to see what the passage says and what it means.
  1. In the Old Testament, all defiant sin could expect to be punished by death; the sacrificial system of the Law had no sacrifice designed specifically to remove the guilt acquired by defiant sinning. Thus every sin could expect death as punishment. For the Jewish mind, the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus offers forgiveness for all sins was an amazing and refreshing change from the system of the Law. The Law had huge hole in it; Jesus filled that hole and provided a new system that is complete.
  1. As with the passages about the unpardonable sin in Matthew, Mark and Luke, this passage is difficult to interpret because it seems to be contrary to the rest of the Bible and especially to the rest of the New Testament. For that reason, I see in these four passages the need to understand that while a person is living in the condition of rebellion or rejection of truth, there is no hope for him. First, he must change the direction he is headed and then there is hope for him. I believe there is always hope because God always accepts the repentance of a penitent heart. Matthew Henry wrote, “No sin, of which any one truly repents, is unto death.”
  1. We are told that our prayers can “give life.” Meyers says that sin of any kind weakens the “life” (spiritual vitality) within the person who has sinned, but the prayer of someone else can be used by God to infuse new life in the sinner, as long as the sinner is willing to confess his sin and be forgiven and purified, as John already explained in I Jn 1:9.
  1. The negative word “not” at the end of verse 16 does not refer to ask, but to “I say.” John is not prohibiting believers from praying about this, but he is refusing to say that we must, as if there are times when the effort in prayer can be used better elsewhere. Meyers says it this way, “John does not want to make a duty of a prayer, to which the certain assurance of being granted is wanting.”


There is indeed a spiritual condition which will obviously and undeniably lead to death if it is not reversed. I believe that condition is to deny, as the Pharisees did, the obvious working of God in their midst.

In the book of Acts we see examples of both types of responses to the obvious work of God. Examples of positive responses are Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, the Jailor at Philippi, Timothy, and others. As examples of negative responses we see the members of the Sanhedrin, Ananias and Sapphira, Festus, Felix, and Agrippa, the Jews who opposed Paul’s message, and others.