5:17 “All unrighteousness is sin, yet there is sin not unto death.”
“Every wrong is a sin, of course,” says Taylor (Living Bible), for “sin is lawlessness” (3:24). John isn’t trivializing any sin, he is just setting a certain class of sin, “sin unto death,” apart. Clark (164) echoes Westcott in saying that we’re not talking about “one definite, deadly sin.
The same sin in one man may be sin unto death, though in another it is not.” Clark says that Cotton has the best handle on what this means: “The essential criteria are illumination and malice.” However, using the context of I John, I’d say that John is probably considering the following sins to be “sin unto death:”
• Not loving your brother. Such a one “cannot love God” (4:20) and “abides in death” (3:14)
• Practicing sin. The one who practices sin is “of the devil” (3:8) and is not born of God (5:18). Since the verse which immediately follows this discussion of sin unto death is talking about practicing sin, it would naturally follow that there is some relationship.
The death that this is talking about is spiritual–the opposite of eternal life. “Nothing in the epistle supports the view that the death is physical” (Clark 165).
Now, “how may we discern when they commit this sin?” asks Cotton (579), “If they [say] they seek Christ… yet maliciously oppose those ways, do not pray for them. The Pharisees knew Christ to be their heir… [yet said that He] cast out devils through Beelzebub… therefore Christ tells them their sins would never be forgiven them.”
We should take all sin seriously and pray that God will forgive a brother who sins, but I suspect that John is saying it’s not worthwhile to pray for antichrists.
By Nate Wilson.