Bible Question:

I am afraid that I have committed the sin unto death described in 1 John 5:16-17 because I once fell away from the Christian faith that I was raised in. I have seen many interpretations on this verse. After reading through your article about Hebrews 6:4-6, I hope you will help me and explain the sin unto death.

Bible Answer:

Christians struggle understanding the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:30-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10) and the sin leading to death (1 John 5:16-17). Some wonder if both expressions refer to the same sin or to different sins. The biblical answer is that the unpardonable sin is the ultimate and final rejection of Jesus Christ after an individual has received full information. That is, once an individual has been taught about Jesus Christ and then rejects Him, there is nothing more that can be done to help them believe in Him. That is the unpardonable sin.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to answer the question, “What is the sin leading to death?” Is this another expression for the unpardonable sin?

What is the sin leading to death?

Does Not Commit Sin Leading to Death

The sin leading to death is found in 1 John 5:16-17.

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. 1 John 5:16-17 (NASB)

There are several important facts that we must notice to understand these two verses properly. Notice that we are given two situations. The first situation is that a person sins, but it is a sin that does not result in death. In this case, if we see a person commit such a sin, God promises that the person will not die if we pray for them.

Now does this refer to spiritual death or physical death? This death cannot refer to someone not being able to be saved, since God has promised salvation to anyone who believes in Christ (Romans 10:11-13). Also, this sin cannot refer to a believer losing their salvation since 1 Peter 1:3-5 teaches that it is not possible for a Christian to lose their salvation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (NASB)

There are many other passages that also teach a believer can never lose their salvation. Therefore, the “sin not leading to death” is a sin, but it does not prevent someone from being saved or result in spiritual death or a person losing eternal life.

Another important point is that it is not possible for one’s eternal life to be determined by another person’s prayer. Notice, the verse says we can pray and rescue the person. For John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)

The promise says “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The verse does not say that we can gain eternal life if someone prays for us. In addition, 1 John 2:19 says that if we stop believing in Jesus, we were never a real Christian. This means that the “sin not leading to death” is a sin, but it is not related to or impact one’s salvation.

This means the “sin not leading to death” is a sin related to physical death. The apostle John may have been thinking about those sins that cause someone to be sick, but it will not result in a sickness that results in physical death. James 5:13-17 teaches us that believers can be sick due to sin. In that situation, if the elders pray for them they will be healed and not die. The passage says that if the sick person confesses their sins, they will be forgiven.

Does Commit Sin Leading to Death

The second situation is given in 1 John 5:17. It states there is a “sin leading to death.”Now we will ask the same question, does this refer to spiritual death or physical death? Once again, it cannot refer to the prevention of eternal life since eternal life is promised to anyone who asks (see above). Nor, can it refer to the loss of one’s salvation since once a believer is saved, they can never lose their salvation (see above).

Another reason it cannot refer to losing eternal life is that the apostle says, “I do not say that he should make request for this.” If some sin could prevent someone from obtaining eternal or cause the loss of eternal life, surely the person would want to know about it. The wealth of the rich, young ruler prevented him from trusting in God. His sin was that he loved wealth (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-27). The Pharisee’s sin was envy or jealousy (Matthew 27:18).

Therefore, this sin must refer to physical death. John states, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.” That is, some sins do result in physical death. One such example is Moses. He sinned and then God informed him that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:11-12; Deuteronomy 32:48-52). Another example is the time that Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied (Acts 5:1–11). Also, Paul warned believers that if they partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they could become sick and die (1 Corinthians 1:27-32). Then in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul tells us that he had planned to deliver someone to Satan for the destruction of their flesh. Unbelievers such as Korah (Numbers 16:1-35) and King Herod (Acts 12:21-23) have also died due to sin. So, believers and unbelievers can die prematurely due to some specific sin.


What is the sin leading to death? We have discovered that the sin leading to death refers to a specific sin that a person can commit that will result in the person’s early physical death. The sin may be a sin that is committed one time. It is also possible that the sin leading to death is a sin someone has habitually committed, and then finally God causes the person to die because they did not stop. The sin may be different for each person.

Suggested Links:

The Unpardonable Sin
What is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
What is the unforgivable sin? — Blasphemy of The Spirit
Are some sins worse than other sins? – Are all sins equal?
Saved Only Once — Once Saved Always Saved
Five Joys of A Christian (1 John 5:13 - 21) - mp3
What is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 5:5?
If I do not repent of sin when will God punish me?