Aug 29, 2012

He Cannot Sin IV

"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. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."  (I John 5: 16-18)

The indefinite article "a" is not in the original.  The Greeks did not use such and the absence of the definite article does not automatically imply the indefinite.  This is the error of the Arians in John 1:1 in the expression "and the word was God."  The Jehovah's Witnesses translate "and the word was a god."  They think that the absence of the definite article implies the indefinite article.  But, this is fallacious.  The absence of the Greek definite article simply focuses on the nature, character, or quality of "God."  Likewise, the absence of the article in the above passage focuses on the quality of "sin" or "hamartia." 

The important thing to note about these words of the Apostle is the fact that he distinguishes two kinds of hamartia.  There is hamartia which is "unto" or "leads to" (pros) death and hamartia which is "not unto death."  Clearly the Apostle does not believe that every hamartia leads to death.  This is an important point. 

In my recent debate on the subject of eternal security or perseverance of the saints, my opponent believed that every sin a "brother" (professing fellow Christian) commits automatically brings instant death, or instant separation from God and salvation.  But, this was shown to be false.  Had the Apostle John believed such then he would not have affirmed that there is such a thing as "sin not unto death." 

Many and varied have been the opinions respecting these words of the Apostle.  Some seek to identify the sins which are unto death versus those which are not unto death.  Some think a single sin is under consideration when John says there is "a sin unto death."  But, as a single sin is not in view in "sin not unto death" so there is not a single sin in view in "sin unto death."  Had a single sin been in view then the Apostle would have used the definite article and written "the sin unto death" and "the sin not unto death." 

The quantity of sin is not in view but the quality of sin.  There is a qualitative difference between hamartia that is unto death and hamartia which is not unto death.  Discovering what is that qualitative difference is the chief concern of the Bible interpreter. 

Another concern of the interpreter is to discover what John means by "unto death" and "not unto death."  Some think that the Apostle alludes to sins that bring physical death and point to examples in the new testament where physical death was the result of certain sins of Christian brothers, such as the case of Annanias and Sapphira in Acts 5: 1-11 and the case of the Corinthians who were abusing the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 11: 30).  This view, however, is untenable.  First, it does not fit the context.  Life and death in the epistle clearly refer to spiritual life and death.  Second, it is clearly implied that others are able to discern whether the kind of sin committed by a fellow believer is unto death or not.  John does not mean to say - "if you see a brother lie to the Holy Spirit" or "if you see a brother abuse the Lord's Supper." 

Some argue that John is not distinguishing two kinds of hamartia but two kinds of reaction to one kind of sinning.  In other words, sin unto death is sin that is not confessed or repented of, while sin not unto death is sin that is confessed and repented of.  But, this view is untenable also because John does not distinguish between two kinds of reaction to sin, but to two kinds of sin. 

The best view is one that sees two kinds of qualitative sinning which results from two kinds of "brothers."  One of the Christian brothers sins in a qualitatively different manner than does another Christian brother, just as there is a qualitative difference between the sins of truly saved versus that of unsaved people.  Viewed in this light, there is not only a difference in the kind of sinning done but in the character of those sinning.  Two kinds of "brothers" are therefore as much contrasted as two kinds of sin. 

Why does the Apostle recommend prayer for those committing sin not unto death but does not recommend it for those who sin unto death?  This point must help judge the various interpretations offered upon the passage. 

It seems likely that John is not encouraging the church to pray for those who have apostasized from the Christian faith and embraced the anti Christian doctrine of the apostates mentioned in his epistle.  Why would he encourage prayer for them? 

When John affirmed that the one born of God "cannot sin" he clearly means that he cannot sin unto death.  He sins, yes.  But, his sins are of the kind that are "not unto death."  This is the teaching of numerous scripture, as I showed in my recent debate.  Notice these verses.

"If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips."  (Psalm 89: 30-34)

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand."  (Psalm 37: 23-24)

Thus, one who is one of "his children" cannot sin so as to lose his relationship to God, cannot sin so as to lose salvation, cannot sin as did the apostates John refers to.  Their sins are not "unto death."  They are unto divine correction, yes.  They are unto temporal loss, yes.  But, they are not unto perdition.

Thus, I John 5: 16, 17 helps to explain I John 3: 6-9.  Whoever is born of God cannot sin unto death.

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