SIN UNTO DEATH.
"If a 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 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."— 1 John 5:16,17.
This passage has been sadly misinterpreted, not only by many honest and sincere Christians, but its meaning has not always been apparent to some learned theologians. Some have supposed that it referred to what is called the "unpardonable sin," for the forgiveness of which we should not pray. But some of the most eminent commentators admit that the apostle here made no reference to the sin against the Holy Ghost. "I do not think," says Adam Clarke, "the passage has anything to do with what is termed the sin against the Holy Ghost, which I have proved no man can now commit." The evident design of the apostle was to cultivate a heavenly disposition and temper in his brethren, and a tender spirit toward the erring. Under the Jewish law some sins were punishable with death, and those who committed offences, the penalty of which was death, were said to commit a sin unto death, or a sin worthy of death. They were not to pray for the deliverance of such an offender from the penalty of violated law. There were many offences which the law did not punish with death; and the sin not being unto death, the apostles were to labor for the restoration of such offenders and seek to restore them to the paths of virtue and peace, that they might become again useful members of society. Bishop Home, we think, gives the true meaning of this passage. He says:
"The Talmudical writers have distinguished the capital punishments of the Jews into lesser deaths, and such as were more grievous; but there is no warrant in the Scriptures for these distinctions, neither are these writers agreed among themselves what particular punishments are to be referred to these two heads. A capital crime generally was termed a sin of death, (Deut. 17:6); or, a sin worthy of death, (Deut. 21:22); which mode of expression is adopted, or rather imitated, by the apostle John, who distinguishes between a sin unto death, and a sin not unto death. (1 John 5:16). Criminals, or those who were deemed worthy of capital punishment, were called sons or men of death, (1 Sam. 20:32; 31:16; 2 Sam. 19:28, marg. reading), just as he who had incurred the punishment of scourging was designated a son of stripes, (Deut. 25:16; 1 Kings 14:6). A similar phraseology was adopted by Jesus Christ, when he said to the Jews: Ye shall die in your sins. (John 8:21, 24). Eleven different sorts of capital punishments are mentioned in the sacred writings."
What is meant then by the sin unto death, was a sin deserving of death under the Jewish law, and for which there was pardon, and the Christians were not to pray for the deliverance of such from the penalty of violated law. But they were to pray for the forgiveness of those who did not commit a sin deserving of death. This we regard as the correct interpretation of this controverted passage, and do not think it had any reference to the immortal world, or the ultimate condition of the human soul.