1 John 5:16


16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God[a] will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

Hello, I have a question on this last sentence. I have read many commentary that explain that John doesn’t want to prohibit prayer when one committed mortal sin. But what would be a clearer reading?

In English, we don’t understand what he actually says, if he doesn’t say to pray for them.
In other languages like Italian, It read Per questi dico di non pregare which means for those I say not to pray. It sounds funny ,don’t you think? Therefore, one needs clarification, or he might think the one which commit mortal sin is doomed.

I say not to pray for the**m and I don’t say to pray for them both are ambiguous. WHat are your thoughts? Thanks :slight_smile:


|Holy Bible (Douay Rheims)[RIGHT].[/RIGHT]1 Jn 5:16“He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him, who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death: for that I say not that any man ask.”[RIGHT].[/RIGHT][LEFT]Reference[/LEFT]Mk 3:28“Amen I say to you, that all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme:”[RIGHT].[/RIGHT][LEFT]Commentary[/LEFT]Ver. 16. A sin which is not unto death . . . . and life shall be given to him. It is hard to determine what S. John here calls a sin which is not unto death, and a sin which is unto death. The difference cannot be the same as betwixt sins that are called venial and mortal; for he says, that if a man pray for his brother who commits a sin that is not unto death, life shall be given to him: therefore such a one had before lost the life of grace, and been guilty of what is commonly called a mortal sin. And when he speaks of a sin that is unto death, and adds these words, I do not say that any one should ask for that sin, it cannot be supposed that S. John would say this of every mortal sin, but only of some heinous sins which are very seldom remitted, because such sinners very seldom repent. By a sin therefore which is not unto death, interpreters commonly understand a wilful apostacy from the faith, and from the known truth, when a sinner hardened by his own ingratitude becomes deaf to all admonitions, will do nothing for himself, but runs on to final impenitence. Nor yet does S. John say that such a sin is never remitted, or cannot be remitted, but only has these words, I do not say that any one should ask for the remission of that sin; that is, though we must pray for all sinners whatsoever, yet man cannot pray for such sinners with such a confidence of obtaining always their petitions, as S. John said before, v. 14. Whatever exposition we follow on this verse, our faith teaches us from the holy Scriptures, that God desires not the death of any sinner, but that he be converted and live. See Ezech. xxxiii. 11. Though men’s “sins be as the scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow.” Isaias i. 18. It is the will of God that every one come to the knowledge of truth and be saved. See John vi. 40. There is no sin so great but which God is willing to forgive, and has left power in his Church to remit the most enormous sins; so that no sinner need despair of pardon, nor will any sinner perish but by his own fault. Wi. — A sin unto death. Some understand this of final impenitence, or of dying in mortal sin, which is the only sin that never can be remitted; but, it is probable, he may also comprise under this name the sin of apostacy from the faith, and some other such henious sins as are seldom and hardly remitted: and therefore he gives little encouragement to such as pray for these sinners, to expect what they ask. Ch.[RIGHT].[/RIGHT]|


I understand it as… We should not think we can pray away the consequence of a serious, grave, mortal sin. We cannot merit their change of heart, repentance, and forgiveness for these sins. We can pray for forgiveness of venial sins and we can pray that God extends a grace to help lead the person to repentance.


I would tend to think so too, and make the parallel with the Mass, during which we are forgiven of our venial sins; still, for mortal sins, we need confession.


From The New Jerome Biblical Commentary:

“16. he will ask and He will give him life, for the ones whose sin is not mortal: 1 John 2:1-2 presented the exalted Jesus as an advocate for the sinful Christian before God. Now the believing community can do the same for it sinful members except in the case of a person whose sin is mortal. (For a similar example of prayer for the sinful Christian, see Jas 5:15-15, 20.) a sin which leads to death: This phrase is difficult to interpret. The author has insisted that the “sinful Christian” has forgiveness through the expiating death of Jesus and Jesus’ advocacy before God (1 John 1:6-2:2; 4:10) and that the true Christian does not sin (1 John 3:6,9). The best solution to the difficulty is to argue that the sin in question refers to the dissidents, who have separated themselves from the community. Such persons “abide in death” (1 John 3:14). However, in 2:19, the author seems to deny that the dissidents could ever be considered to have been part of the community. Therefore, some exegetes consider this verse a general teaching against prayer for those who deliberately refuse to fulfill the conditions for walking in light and being a child of God quite apart from any connection with the dissident group (e.g., S.S. Smalley, *1,2,3 John *298-99; D. Scholer, “Sins Within and Sins Without,” *Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation *[Fest, M.C. Tenney; ed. G. F. Hawthorne; GR 1975] 230-46). The reference to seeing a fellow Christian committing sin suggest a general community rule for dealing with sinful Christians such as that in Matt 18:15-17. A rule similar to this one may also have been invoked in the crisis occasioned by expulsion from the synagogue. Application of such a rule to the dissidents would be in line with the rule in 2 John 10-11 that Christians are to refuse such persons hospitality or even a greeting.”


We can be forgiven of venial sin through our own actions. Prayer is one way.

Moral sin requires the intervention of others with authority to forgive sin on God’s behalf.



Hey Tim,

Is this what you are getting from the passage? ISTM John is talking about intercession by us to other Christians. When a brother sins in a way which does not completely ruin his relationship with God, but is wrong behavior, we are able to ask for the pardon of their offenses, and God will grant this to us. Offenses which are deep enough to destroy their relationship with Christ, we should not presume can be forgiven by mere request from others. These sins must be acknowledged and repented of by the person in order to restore life in Jesus.


‘Saint John did not absolutely forbid that prayer should be made for those who “sin unto death,” since he knew that Moses, Jeremiah, and Stephen had so prayed, and he himself implies that forgiveness is not to be denied them. Such intercessors, then, must be sought for after very grievous sins, for if any ordinary persons pray they are not heard. . . Stephen prayed for his persecutors, who had not been able even to listen to the Name of Christ, when he said of those very men by whom he was being stoned: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” And we see the result of this prayer in the case of the Apostle, for Paul, who kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen, not long after became an apostle by the grace of God, having before been a persecutor.’

St. Ambrose of Milan

Inspirational Quotes from the Saints


But John is talking about “brothers”. He is referring to believers within the Church. Those stoning Stephen were not brothers/believers. These men were already in death, no? Paul addresses this issue in 1 Cor. 5

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men;[d] 10 not at all meaning the immoral[e] of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote[f] to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality[g] or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

John is talking about unrepented, persistent sins of Christians.



You said:

for mortal sins, we need confession.

I think your point is correct.

*]Non-mortal sin = “Pray” or prayer for forgiveness (other means too).
*]Mortal sin = A proverbial spiritual corpse. His/her imploring God or “pray”(er) not efficacious (“I am not saying that you should pray about that”—NIV). This person needs to repent first. Ordinarily, this repentance includes Confession. That is likely part of the reason WHY earlier in that same letter St. John recommends Confession (in 1st John 1:9).

As TimothyH mentioned . . .

Moral sin requires the intervention of others with authority to forgive sin on God’s behalf.

God bless.



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