While I’m (still) not altogether satisfied with the answer I derived, I (still ) think it does more justice to the sticky grammatic issues and immediate contexts (and wider scriptural contexts) than other attempts I’ve seen.
The short version: I think John is trying to remind readers that all unfairness is sin, and that they ought not to be asking if there is (some kind of) special sin unto death:
“If anyone sees his brother sinning, a sin not unto death, he should ask and He [God] will be giving him life. These are sinning, not unto death. Is there sin unto death?–I say that he should not be asking about that! All unfairness is sin; yet sin is not unto death.”
Edited to add: I tried to search for other discussions of that verse set, but I don’t think I found any other extensive ones on our forum yet. It’s mentioned a couple of times elsewhere, including in passing by BAaron in a thread which contains some extensive exegetical commentary by me on a set of Isaianic and 2 Cor verses.
Only one problem I see with your translation, Jason (even though it clears up a huge bevy of others): why would John bring up the subject at all to begin with? I suppose someone may have brought up the notion in a letter to him, but then the wording is still odd:
“If anyone sees his brother sinning, a sin not unto death…”
Why wouldn’t John just leave out the part which says “a sin not unto death” since there ARE NO sins that doom a person unto death?
That would be my other inference if I had to go with the standard translation type. As I observed in the analysis, Paul puts that sin-unto-death thing into practice with the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy. But it still isn’t hopeless.
And if Jeremiah is mentioned, I would of course also point out that the topic of God’s punishment of rebel Israel doesn’t end with the punishment of rebel Israel, but rather that Rachel (loyal Israel) will be comforted with the restoration of her slain children–which will have something to do with the prophetic riddle of God doing a new thing in a woman encompassing a man!
So yes, the sin unto death isn’t necessarily hopeless (and there is even testimony that in ultimate eschatology it’s hopeful). But the grammatic weirdness of John’s text there suggests a somewhat different line of thought anyway.
But I didn’t translate the text to say there are no sins that doom a person unto death; only that John is exhorting his readers not to ask about that. Which fits the notion that we aren’t in any position (unless maybe we’ve been given apostolic authority) to know which sins are sins to death or not, so most of us should treat our brother’s sins as not being sin unto death. If we ask for his salvation and it’s in the will of God for him to be saved from death, God will grant our prayer. If God’s will is for him to die, then He won’t grant our prayer–but for sake of charity, and since we aren’t apostles, it’s better for us to pray in hope for the sinner.
It’s interesting that the surrounding context, especially afterward, makes it pretty clear that by “brother” John isn’t here talking about our Christian brothers but about our non-Christian brothers; and in the NT, the examples of sin-unto-death are issues within the Christian family. Non-Christians aren’t the ones under the threat of that special punishment, Christians are.
This might of course mean that Christians are under threat of being punished as unfaithful and so being treated differently (namely as the unfaithful instead of as the faithful), whereas the unfaithful have no change of status in regard to their punishment: their possible change of status is entirely positive.
Anyway, as I said I’m still not entirely satisfied with the translation; I think it addresses a weird grammatic issue better (don’t ask there!), but it might still be improved. Even the standard translation, though, lends no weight to hopeless damnation, taken in context with other scriptures; and those other scriptures might in fact testify to how we should understand a testimony about there being a sin unto death here (if in fact John is affirming so instead of deflecting his readers from the topic for sake of practical charity in praying for our sinning brothers.)
Well, you’re partly right Jason; Knoch was not a universalist when he started the translation, but was by the time he finished it! It was precisely his translation work which led him to the understanding of universal salvation. But yeah, my biggest beef with him is his ultra-dispensationalism. (He makes distinctions between the Bride and Body of Christ and literal and figurative Israel that I’m not convinced are there, as well as making distinctions between believers during the time of Christ (as Jewish converts) and those gentiles who came later (including us), i.e. Israel as opposed to the (gentile) nations, partly in an attempt to resolve apparent conflicts between the gospel as presented in the gospels, and the more expansive “higher” revelation that Paul preached.
I don’t know if I would call him Anti-Trinitarian precisely (although he is certainly not pro); he has a somewhat different take on the matter than a lot of non-trinitarians, and he does not deny the deity of Christ.
He does deny that Jesus Christ is God the Father (which, as Jason would say, trinitarians affirm also ), and also denies Christ’s “co-equality” with Him.
If I may throw a curveball. I always thought this passage was talking about suicide. *“There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” * Obviously, it’s too late to pray for life someone who has committed suicide.