5:16 If 1 anyone sees his fellow Christian 2 committing a sin not resulting in death, 3 he should ask, and God 4 will grant 5 life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. 6 There is a sin resulting in death. 7 I do not say that he should ask about that. 5:17 All unrighteousness 8 is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death. 9
1 tn Again ἐάν (ean) in 5:16 introduces (as in 5:14) a third-class condition, but this time, with the future indicative (αἰτήσει, aithsei) in the apodosis, the condition is known as “more probable future.” As BDF §371.4 points out, such a condition describes what is to be expected under certain circumstances. If a person sees his Christian brother committing a sin not to death, it is expected that he will make intercession for the sinning brother (“he should ask…”), and that life will be granted to the sinner in answer to the request. The author has already pointed out in 5:14-15 that if believers make requests of God in accordance with his will they may have confidence that they will receive the requests they have asked for, and this is a specific instance.
3 tn Grk “a sin not to death.”
4 tn Grk “he” (see the note on the word “grant” later in this verse for discussion).
5 tn The referent of the (understood) third person subject of δώσει (dwsei) in 5:16 is difficult to determine. Once again the author’s meaning is obscure. Several possibilities have been suggested for the referent of the subject of this verb: (1) From a grammatical and syntactical standpoint, it would be easiest to understand the subject of δώσει in 5:16 as the person who makes the request, since this person is the subject of the preceding verb αἰτήσει (aithsei) and the following verb ἐρωτήσῃ (erwthsh). From a theological standpoint this is extremely difficult, however, since it would make the person who prays for the sinner the giver of life, and it is questionable whether the author (for whom God is the ultimate source of life) would say that one believer could ‘give’ life to another. In this case the meaning would be: “he [the petitioner] should ask, and he [the petitioner] will grant life to him [the sinner], namely, to those who sin not to death.” (2) Another option is to see God as the subject of δώσει in 5:16 and the Giver of life to the sinner. This is far more consistent theologically with the author’s perspective on God as the Giver of life everywhere else, but it is awkward grammatically (as explained in reference to the previous position above) because it involves a shift in subjects for the three third-person verbs in the context from the person who makes the request (αἰτήσει) to God (δώσει) and back to the person who makes the request (ἐρωτήσῃ). In this case the meaning would be: “he [the petitioner] should ask, and he [God] will grant life to him [the sinner], namely, to those who sin not to death.” (3) A third possibility is to see God as the subject of δώσει in 5:16, but the person who makes the request (rather than the sinner) as the referent of the indirect object αὐτῷ (autw) in 5:16. This is possible because the indirect object αὐτῷ is singular, while the dative substantival participle τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν (toi" Jamartanousin) which follows (which clearly refers to those who sin) is plural. Thus the meaning would be: “he [the petitioner] should ask, and he [God] will grant life to him [the petitioner], with reference to [his praying for] those who sin not to death.” Although this is a difficult and awkward construction no matter what solution one takes, on the whole the second alternative seems most probable. Even if option (1) is preferred it must be acknowledged that God is ultimately the source of life, although it is given as a result of the petitioner’s intercessory prayer and the petitioner becomes, in a sense, the intermediate agent. But in the preceding context (5:11) the author has emphasized that God is the Giver of life, and in spite of the awkwardness in the change of subjects, that would seem to be the most likely meaning here, so option (2) is preferred. Option (3) is improbable because it seems clear that it should be the sinner for whom intercession is made, rather than the petitioner, who is the recipient of life. The petitioner would be assumed to possess life already or he could not be making a request which God would hear. In this case the change from the singular dative indirect object (αὐτῷ) to the plural dative substantival participle (τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν) is merely a loose construction (which by this time should come as no surprise from the author).
6 tn Grk “a sin not to death.”
7 tn Grk “a sin to death.”
8 tn The meaning of ἀδικία (adikia) here is “unrighteousness” (BDAG 20 s.v. 2). It refers to the opposite of that which is δίκαιος (dikaios, “right, just, righteous”) which is used by the author to describe both God and Jesus Christ (1 John 1:9; 2:2, 29). Here, having implied that sins committed by believers (sins “not to death”) may be prayed for and forgiven, the author does not want to leave the impression that such sin is insignificant, because this could be viewed as a concession to the views of the opponents (who as moral indifferentists have downplayed the significance of sin in the Christian’s life).
9 tn Grk “a sin not to death.”