The Evangelical Universalist Forum

sin unto death


What is sin unto death and why shouldn’t we pray for a Christian who commits it?


Jason Pratt & others suggest several different interpretations here:

In his book Tom Talbott also addresses the passage in 1 John 5, though i see that you have considered his take already: … hp?p=94959


Answered HERE


Origen, I found Jason’s alternate explanation more plausible:


What is sin unto death and why shouldn’t we pray for a Christian who commits it?

Jesus told the church in Smyrna to “be faithful unto death” (Rev 2.10) which meant until they die , so i take it the same way here. Pray for them to repent until they die but not after that.


So, the distinction is between a ‘sin that results in death’ and a ‘sin that lasts until death’?


I know qaz would have a fit…if I didn’t include an answer…from the Calvinist site Got Questions: :unamused:

Just a note here. I’m including both a Calvinist and a Catholic answer. Both suggest it is difficult, and there are multiple, plausible answers. My suggestion? Study all the answers given here (i.e. this forum thread) and pick what works best for you.

What is the sin unto death?

Here’s some Catholic answers at


Perhaps the meaning has been lost in time. Do the ancient religions (RC, EO, etc) have no Early Church Father interpretations?

Or could copies of 1 Jn.5:16-17 have altered it in 2000 years from the original copy, if those verses were even ever included in the original?

Speaking of alterations: … -epistles/


i don’t think John was saying that we should not pray for a Christian who commits a sin unto death, which imo are the sins for which the death penalty was in force in the OT- premditated murder, adultery, witchcraft, etc.

I think he is sayng that praying for someone who commits such a sin will not give them life for their sin. A transmission of life(which is comparable to the virtue that went out of Jesus into the woman with the hemorage) is given through intercession when we pray for someone who is committing a sin not unto death, or as the RC called it, “venial sin” as opposed to “mortal sin”.

In the case of mortal sins, only true remorse/repentance is sufficient to allow that transmission, so praying for them is not enough. Essentially I think John is addressing the way we deal with sin when we see it in members of the body. If someone is committing mortal sin they need to be addressed, as Paul writes…

"Let the ones who are spiritual among you restore such a one in the spirit of meekness considering your own selves…

James writes,
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church and the prayer of faith will save the sick, and if they have any sins they will be forgiven”…and

“Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed”…

John also writes, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

So as I see it a mortal sin must be confessed, and that with a true heart of humble repentance.

I think a good example would be the whole David and Bathsheba thing, where David committed two mortal sins, murder and adultery…

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
2How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

  3When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
        Through my groaning all day long.

  4For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
        My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. 

5I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

The hand of the Lord was heavy upon David and death was working in Him by separation from light and life because when he would not acknowledge his trangression he was no longer receiving life from the presence of the Lord.

Similarly, when Israel was worshipping abominations and walking in the ways of the nations, the Spirit of the Lord departed from the temple, and death began to work in them, from without and within.

Another fitting exmple, perhaps worth consideration in this theme is John 15

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

If someone is walking in eggregious sin, then we can pray for them, but they will not receive life unless they repent. We cannot pray the intercessory prayer to grant life to a brother or sister who is sinning ignorantly, or sinning in some minor way that is hurting them, like some bad habit or another, or perhaps stealing or something else for which there is no death(separation) penalty.


Some Early Church Father viewpoints are referenced here:

“Westcott, The Epistles of St. John, 209ff… This text also includes a number of quotations from church fathers on the subject.” … 1-john-516

and linked to: … &q&f=false


I think the summary of the first link, reinforces what the Calvinist and Catholic quotes mention - which I shared earlier:

I said:

When referring to:

What is the sin unto death?
Here’s some Catholic answers at

Your first link says (i.e. quoting from the best and longest, academic answer):

I also enjoyed this essay on the topic…by Irvin A. Busenitz…Associate Dean and Professor of Old Testament…The Master’s Seminary. Let me just share the conclusion from


I am shocked to learn that more than a small minority throughout history have thought the sin unto death is about capital punishment.

I emailed Geoffrey about this and he said a 5th century EO said it was unrepented sin.


i think the 5th century EO was correct (actually there was no EO Church or RC Church in the 5th century—only the catholic [universal] church). There’s no use praying about someone’s unrepented sin. God cannot forgive him until he repents.


From Geoffrey:


I just thought of something profound and deep. A zombie can’t commit a sin unto death, due to a theological loophole. :wink:


“There’s no use praying about someone’s unrepented sin.”

Is this not the state of unbelievers, as well as many believers (e.g. backsliders)? IOW most of the living & the dead.

Paul says to pray for all men.

Who would need prayers more than the unrepentant, i.e. stubborn?

“For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.”(Rom.11:32)

Does 1 Corinthians 5 say not to pray for the sinner spoken of there?


In Acts 5 was there not a sin that lead to death, physical death, if not spiritual as well?

The version above seems to imply the sin was they “lied to the Holy Spirit” after Satan filled their hearts.

Instead of calling the church to pray for this couple, Peter scolds them before they drop dead.

It was a sin unto death that the sinner was not to be prayed for.

So could this not fit exactly what is spoken of in 1 John 5:16-17?

Some would say that this type of sin, & the so-called unpardonable sin (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit) do not occur anymore in our time, but were evidences to the early church in the time of the apostles.