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1 John 5:16-18

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 

5:18 We know that everyone fathered 10  by God does not sin, but God 11  protects 12  the one he has fathered, and the evil one cannot touch him.

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.

2 tn See note on the phrase “fellow Christian” in 2:9.

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.”

10 tn The concept represented by the verb γεννάω (gennaw) here means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The imagery in 1 John is that of the male parent who fathers children (see 2:29).

11 tn Grk “he”; see the note on the following word “protects.”

12 tn The meaning of the phrase ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν (Jo gennhqeis ek tou qeou threi auton) in 5:18 is extraordinarily difficult. Again the author’s capacity for making obscure statements results in several possible meanings for this phrase: (1) “The fathering by God protects him [the Christian].” Here a textual variant for ὁ γεννηθείς (ἡ γέννησις, Jh gennhsi") has suggested to some that the passive participle should be understood as a noun (“fathering” or perhaps “birth”), but the ms evidence is extremely slight (1505 1852 2138 latt [syh] bo). This almost certainly represents a scribal attempt to clarify an obscure phrase. (2) “The One fathered by God [Jesus] protects him [the Christian].” This is a popular interpretation, and is certainly possible grammatically. Yet the introduction of a reference to Jesus in this context is sudden; to be unambiguous the author could have mentioned the “Son of God” here, or used the pronoun ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) as a reference to Jesus as he consistently does elsewhere in 1 John. This interpretation, while possible, seems in context highly unlikely. (3) “The one fathered by God [the Christian] protects himself.” Again a textual problem is behind this alternative, since a number of mss (א Ac P Ψ 33 1739 Ï) supply the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν (Jeauton) in place of αὐτόν in 5:18. On the basis of the external evidence this has a good possibility of being the original reading, but internal evidence favors αὐτόν as the more difficult reading, since ἑαυτόν may be explained as a scribal attempt at grammatical smoothness. From a logical standpoint, however, it is difficult to make much more sense out of ἑαυτόν; to say what “the Christian protects himself” means in the context is far from clear. (4) “The one fathered by God [the Christian] holds on to him [God].” This results in further awkwardness, because the third person pronoun (αὐτοῦ, autou) in the following clause must refer to the Christian, not God. Furthermore, although τηρέω (threw) can mean “hold on to” (BDAG 1002 s.v. 2.c), this is not a common meaning for the verb in Johannine usage, occurring elsewhere only in Rev 3:3. (5) “The one fathered by God [the Christian], he [God] protects him [the Christian].” This involves a pendant nominative construction (ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ) where a description of something within the clause is placed in the nominative case and moved forward ahead of the clause for emphatic reasons. This may be influenced by Semitic style; such a construction is also present in John 17:2 (“in order that everyone whom You have given to him, he may give to them eternal life”). This view is defended by K. Beyer (Semitische Syntax im Neuen Testament [SUNT], 1:216ff.) and appears to be the most probable in terms both of syntax and of sense. It makes God the protector of the Christian (rather than the Christian himself), which fits the context much better, and there is precedent in Johannine literature for such syntactical structure.

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