“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.” 1 John 5:16
There are many ways of categorizing sins. For instance, the Catholic Church categorizes sins as mortal and venal. There are also different ways of praying and different kinds of petition. One of the strangest verses are the Bible are the verse which tells us not to pray for life for someone who has committed a sin.
If the verses are broken down, they seem to be saying this. First, it seems that certain sins attack life. But even among these sins that attack life, there is a sin (or possiby many sins) that lead to death. However, a Christian can pray that God will give life to those who commit certain sins. What “give life” means is unclear at this time. It might mean physical health, or some other aspect of “life.” Bible readers, especially those who read the book of Proverbs are aware that human life and health can be wounded and hampered in some way by committing certain sins. For instance, anger, gluttony, envy are some examples of sins that affect the human body. However, this verse seems to say that God’s grace is able to restore and infuse life into those who commit these “sins not leading to death.” But there are sins that lead to death. All unrighteousness is sin, John writes, but all unrighteousness does not lead to death.
It is unclear what this sin that leads to death is. John might be writng generally of many such sins. Or he might be writing of a specific sin. But he does not tell what the sin is. If John does not say it, then he must have thought that his readers already knew what sins lead to death and what sins did not. Obviously, one would have to be aware of what sins lead to death if one is asked to pray about it.
But then John says something equally unclear. He writes, “I do not say that you should pray to God about this sin.” This is one of the verses in the Bible where believers are asked NOT to pray for a sinner.
Consider Numbers 15:30 “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the LORD and must be cut off from the people of Israel. “
And Jeremiah 7:16, “”So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.”
The last unclear thing about this verse is whether the prohibition against praying for this kind of sinner comes from the love of God or from His anger. Is it possible that the sinner who sins a sin unto death is being given mercy by an early death, lest he fall into hell? Is it possible that the congregation is being saved from the effects of having such a sinful person? Is it possible that the sinful person is being cast quickly into hell? All this is unclear to modern Bible readers because the tradition of praying for all sinners is the tradition most Christians hold to. Still, perhaps it is best to not presume to sin…lest we sin a sin unto death and our life is cut short by the mercy or the wrath of God.