I John 5:16, Sin Unto Death

Ichthys If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that1 John 5:16 NKJV


This passage is puzzling for many and, again, illustrates the importance of reading verses in context rather than isolating them from the whole which is a particular problem of the Christian habit of ‘proof-texting.’

Our first step, in the study of any of the epistles, should be to read the whole letter through.  As we do that in 1 John, we come to the key clue, which clarifies the context,“They went out from us…”(2:19). See introduction to 1 John 


The most plausible interpretation of this verse is that the “sin unto death” is like the apostasy of those who had been the brethren of these believers to whom John was writing, and who had followed new teaching that rejected the Incarnation.

“In that case, he [John] does not encourage prayer for the restoration of those who, like the teachers of 2. 18-23, had manifested the spirit of the Antichrist and shown where they properly belonged by quitting the fellowship [the Church] in which alone eternal life was to be found. With regard to such men John may have felt much as the writer of Hebrews did in another situation, that it was ‘impossible to renew them to repentance’; renunciation of the apostolic witness to Christ and His saving power was indeed a ‘sin unto death.’”—F. F. Bruce, Epistles…

“The person who consciously and deliberately chooses the way of death shall surely die. Sin that leads to death is deliberate refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, to follow God’s commands, and to love one’s brothers. It leads to death because it includes a deliberate refusal to believe in the One who alone can give life, Jesus Christ the Son of God. By contrast, sins that do not lead to death are those which are committed unwittingly and which do not involve rejection of God and his way of salvation.”—I. Howard Marshall NICNT

We can be distracted by such details and miss the important point: When we see a fellow Christian struggling with sin, it is urgent that we pray for him.

And we see the power of this as we read this verse in the context of Chapter 5: “. . . Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. . . .”




I John: “God Is Love” vis-a-vis Heresy


“God is love”—A most familiar phrase in

1 John 4

Leon Morris, the noted New Testament scholar, asks, “How do we harmonize the assurance that ‘God is love’ with the assertion that ‘our God is a consuming fire’? Most of us never think about such problems, and in the end our idea of love is indistinguishable from that of the world around us.”  (Testaments of Love, emphasis added)

As we have noted in the two previous posts, in First John [as in all Scripture], context is an essential key to right understanding.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God thus loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

First, we see in verse 8 that “God is love” is not only an incomplete verse, but an incomplete sentence, and an incomplete phrase (“because” is omitted).

And in verse 16, “God is love” is part of a compound sentence (the “and” [link] is omitted).

First John presents a few key tests so that those to whom he is writing can be assured that theirs is the true faith in contrast to those who broke fellowship with them and claimed a new knowledge and spiritual superiority.

In the first post, we noted the test of affirming the Incarnation, which was denied by those with their new knowledge.  That is also affirmed here in verse 9, which parallels John 3:16—“For God thus loved the world…he sent his only begotten Son…”   And now, the test of obedience to Jesus’ command to them to “love one another” receives strong attention.  If we do not love our fellow Christians, we do not know God who first loved us.

John drives this point home, using “love” over 40 times in this little letter.  John’s first  use of “love” [But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him….(2:5)] gives us the test of obedience: keeping God’s word, keeping his commandments.  In his commentary, F. F. Bruce writes, “Love and obedience are inextricably interwoven because all the commandments of God are summed up in the law of love.”

[And where there is disobedience, love requires discipline.]

It is the same test and warning which Jesus gives to us in John chapter fourteen.

In our day, many false teachers use “God is love” as a mantra to encourage disobedience to God’s word, to his commands.  For decades “love” has been used to promote abortion and acceptance of unbiblical divorces and marriages in churches.  And, today, the branches from this seed include whole denominations that embrace and promote sodomy.

Unless those who still believe God’s word become salt and light in our day, there is no hope that God, the consuming fire, will lift his judgment on our dying culture.  We must reclaim the basics from the world’s distortions which we, many times, have blindly accepted.  We must go back to the Word.

“For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”—1Peter 4:17


Will we have the courage to draw a line, and to do it publicly, between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who have been infiltrated theologically and culturally? If we do not have the courage, we will cut the ground out from under the feet of our children, and we will destroy any hope of being the redeeming salt and light of our dying culture.

–Francis A. Schaeffer

The Great Evangelical Disaster


Read “…an excellent piece…one that many Christians need to hear”R.C. Sproul

Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies, 140 pp.

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I John 2: Teachers versus False Teaching


But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (2:27, NKJV)


This verse, taken out of context, has been foolishly used by some Christians to reject the need for teachers in the Church and even to promote false teaching. But as Ephesians 4 tells us, Christ “gave some to be…teachers, for the equipping of the saints…”


Continuing from the last post [Who are “They”?], we now have the primary context in mind, along with some sense of the spirit of those times. The immediate context of this verse (2:27) begins at verse 18:  “…many anti-Christs have come…” Among them are  “they” who “went out from us” (v. 19).


In contrast to these apostates (with their ‘new’ knowledge), “you have an anointing from the Holy One and you know all things” (v. 20).


In the Gospel of John (16:13), Jesus told his disciples that when “the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth…”


In this epistle, John reminds his hearers that they already “know the truth” (2:21), and that they are to allow that truth to remain in them which they “have heard from the beginning” (v. 24; cf. 1:1,2). [That teaching of the Apostles.]


Verse 26 tells us “these things I have written concerning those who try to deceive you”  [with new ‘knowledge’], which brings us, now, to this post’s opening verse about needing no one to teach them (v. 27).


In contrast to these false teachers who present new teaching/knowledge which puts forth a lie about Christ, John’s fellow Christians “know” what “is true” from the “beginning.” They have “no need” for these new teachers.


In his Explanatory Notes, Wesley makes the vital point: “Ye need not that any should teach you, save as that anointing teacheth you – Which is always the same, always consistent with itself. But this does not exclude our need of being taught by them who partake of the same anointing.” [underline, mine]


And Calvin says, point blank: “Absurdly, then, do fanatical men lay hold on this passage, in order to exclude from the Church the use of the outward ministry.” [of teaching]


I John: Who Are “They”?


 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you…(2:27).

 The First Epistle of John vividly illustrates the key role that context commands as we seek to understand the text.  Those Christians to whom John wrote knew, first hand, that context.  For us, understanding requires a little homework.

Our first step, in the study of any of the epistles, should be to read the whole letter through.  As we do that in 1 John, we come to the key clue, which clarifies the context, “They went out from us…”(2:19).

 Now, we need to seek some understanding of the spirit of those times.  Cerinthus, a contemporary of John at Ephesus, shows us the ideas that were in the air.  “Cerinthus, believed the spiritual Christ entered into a human (physical) Jesus at the time of his baptism (in the form of a dove) and left the human Jesus before the crucifixion. History reveals that Cerinthus lived in Ephesus toward the end of the first century, which was also where the aged apostle John lived. Irenaeus (AD 130–200) tells us that John specifically directed his Gospel against Cerinthus (e.g., John 1:14; 20:19–31).″

The dualistic world view of that day [spirit=good/superior vs. matter=evil/inferior, i.e. matter is that which was created, e.g. flesh, body; thus “Creator” became an inferior diety. Marcion rejected the God of the OT] led to full blown Gnosticism in the following centuries with its docetic view of Jesus ( (dokeo—to seem). He only ‘seemed’ to be Christ. “Docetists, claimed that Jesus had only the appearance of flesh, without substance or reality (like a phantom). (‘Docetism’ comes from a Greek word, dokeo, meaning ‘to seem’ or ‘to appear.’) Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, they said, was not real, for the body was not real.” 

This ‘Christianized’ spirit of the times, which developed into a more formal Christian Gnosticism by the mid-second century, emphasized an intuitive, special knowledge (gnosis) of mysteries, which separated out the true believers and gave them true salvation.

 Thus, as we read John’s letter, note his emphasis, starting in the first two verses, on the original, apostolic teaching “from the beginning” which his fellow Christians have received. John stresses the physical reality, e.g. “…our hands have handled.”  This stands in contrast to the new claims and new ways of those who “went out” from them.

Note the key verses, which test the doctrine of this new teaching:

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?…(2:22).

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, (4:2).

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,…(5:1).

 The ‘liars’ denial led to new ways.  Denial of the Incarnation, results in denial that “…the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”(1:7). For those with this ‘new’ knowledge, sin is no longer of consequence.  This is merely a concern of the inferior, created order. So, as you read through John, note his repeated emphasis on sin.

   And as you read, underline all the times he uses “know” and “Jesus” to help you see his emphasis.  Then, see if you understand the opening verse (2:27) at the top of this post. We will look at that in the next post.



“Born Again” Or “Born from Above”?


Two of the most familiar verses in the Bible are in John 3. But familiarity does not ensure clear understanding.  That takes a little work on our part and paying attention to context.  The Easter  post touched on John 3:16.  Here, we look at verses 3 and 7.

Verse 7 is most often quoted as, “you [ye, i.e. plural] must be born again.”

The word translated “again” is anothen [the ‘o’ is omega, the ‘e’ is epsilon].  In Greek, ano means “above” and anothen means “from above” (it can also have an earlier time reference).

F.F. Bruce translates it, “You all must be born from above.” Leon Morris in the NICNT uses “anew” as does the ASV.  Merrill C. Tenney, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: ‘“Anothen”…in the Johannine writings normally means “from above” and it should be rendered thus here.’

The NICNT* notes that anothen ‘means “from above” in every other place where it occurs in this Gospel.’ It also notes that ‘there is no Aramaic adverb with the meaning “again.”’

The focus of v.3 is on the Kingdom of God and the condition needed to see it (equals ‘enter it’).  Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born from above to see it.  Jesus then goes on and emphasizes that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

This pattern is strikingly similar to many Old Testament verses where the same thought is repeated in synonyms for emphasis.

And then Jesus repeats this pair all over again: v.7, “You all must be born from above,“ v.8, “…born of the Spirit.”

It is the theme with which John began the Gospel–the children of God, those of the Kingdom, are “born…of God.”

“ But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 13).

The familiar “again” has often been used in such a way as to have the effect of shifting the emphasis of the focus from God/Spirit/above [i.e. ‘heaven’] to man.


*NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament

The Easter Message and John 3:16


[Photo taken in Verona, Italy]

John 3:16…Keeping the Easter Message

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” ESV

Many [a vast understatement!] Christians have lost their grade school grammar and so [thus] have lost the focus of this verse.  A few weeks ago, I heard a pastor, using this text, emphasizing that God sooooooo loved the world.  The main focus of the verse was not even acknowledged. [‘love’ replaced Christ as the focus, for further reading, (be a disciple/learner)see my book on Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness]

‘So’ or ‘Thus’: ‘in a manner or way indicated,’ hence, “God thus loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”

Or “This is how God loved the world, he gave his son…”  He gave him up to the cross, for you, for me.  This is how God loved the world.  And the great confirmation of this act of love came on the third day with the greatest event in all history: The Resurrection.

“For God so [thus; in this manner] loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

[John repeats the same thought in 1 John 4:9  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” ESV]