Though most Christians are taught that all sins are equal, the book of 1st John clarifies that their punishment might not be equal. The scripture in the book of 1st John clearly defines which sin leads to death and which does not. This is quite confusing to so many people, and it raises questions among several Christians. So, what is the sin that leads to death?
Different bible scholars and theologians have different perspectives and interpretations regarding the book of 1st John 5:16 (the sin that leads to death). However, from the several interpretations, what is common is that the sin described in 1st John as the one that leads to death is not a specific behavior but a state of promoting false teaching, and it is marked by unbelief. Other scholars argue that the sin that leads to death is the eternal sin that Jesus taught it could not be forgiven, blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Are all sins equal? Is the sin that leads to death the same as an unforgivable sin? Is the sin that leads to death intentional or unintentional? What does 1 John teach about mortal and venial sins? Continue reading to get the answers to these questions and more.
Are all sins equal?
Jesus, through his teachings, indicated that all sins are equal before the eyes of God. In the book Mathew 5:21-22, Jesus teaches that even just looking at a brother with hateful eyes or being angry at someone, you have murdered them. Additionally, Jesus equated adultery to staring at another person lustfully. Therefore, it is clear that there is no lesser sin than the other.
Therefore, according to the teaching of Christ, the nature of all sins are equal before God. However, there is nowhere that the bible mentions that the consequences of all sins are equal. We can see this in the book of 1st John 5:16, where John notes that there is a sin that leads to death and one that does not.
Additionally, the book of 1st Corinthians 6:18 says that the consequences of sexual sin are worse because sexual sin is the only sin that happens within our bodies. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually sins against their own body. The book of Proverbs 6:32 continues and says, “A man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.”
Jesus Christ teaches us in the book of Luke 12:48 that someone who is not familiar with the will of God and what God expects from humanity will be punished lightly that one who knew and yet chose not to follow the teachings of God. Therefore, will all these teachings, it is clear that the nature of every sin represents unrighteousness and thus is equal before God, but every sin carries a different weight of punishment. And those who sin unwillingly will get lighter punishment than those who sin willingly.
Is the sin that leads to death the same as the unforgivable sin?
The book of 1st John 5:16 is among the hardest passages in the bible to decode. “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”
However, as mentioned above, there are several interpretations of this passage. Some bible scholars argue that the sin that the book of 1st John was referring to is the unforgivable sin that Christ taught about in the book of Mark 3:22-30.
According to the passage in the book of Mark, Jesus taught that the unforgivable sin is the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus described blasphemy of the Holy Spirit deliberately and persistently disregarding the Spirit of God and his works. Christ clearly noted that whoever insults or talks bad about him (the son of man) can be forgiven, but whoever talks ill about the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven, as it is like talking ill about the forgiver of sins. However, he doesn’t mention that this is the sin that leads to death but calls it eternal sin.
Therefore, though it is almost definite that an unforgivable sin will lead to death, no one can say that John was referring to the sin of blasphemy. Linking the sin that leads to death with blasphemy raises several questions with many unfilled gaps. However, what we know for sure is that blasphemy is an eternal sin that will never be forgiven.
First, John does not mention the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit while talking about the sin that leads to death. Additionally, John does not link the parable that Christ was talking about in the gospel of Mark with the sin that leads to death. Therefore, though blasphemy of the Holy Spirit leads is unforgivable, we cannot say with certainty that John was referring to that.
However, the New Testament points more to the fact that ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit intentionally is the sin that leads to death. We can see this through the story of Ananias and his Sapphira in the book of Acts chapter five.
The couple sold land and let Apostle Peter and the entire church believe they donated every penny they earned from the land to the church. The couple did not only lie to themselves but lied to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when they went before the altar, they were struck dead on the spot. Lying to Holy Spirit is a grievous sin. The bible even warns us that we should not grieve the Holy Spirit.
Is the sin that leads to death intentional or unintentional?
It is also not clear whether the sin that leads to death is intentional or unintentional. However, the original readers of the book of 1st John had a Jewish background, and most of them argued that the sin that leads to death is intentional. However, there are some scriptures in the Old Testament that give a clear distinction between intentional and unintentional sin.
Leviticus 4:2-3 says, “Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lords commands. If the anointed priests sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the Lord a young bull without defect as a sin offering, for the sin he has committed.”
In the Old Testament, sin was mostly forgiven by offering a sacrifice as an atonement of sin. The book of numbers tells us that whoever unintentionally fails to uphold the commandments God gave to Moses, a sacrifice of a young bull should be offered to God as a sin offering. However, Numbers goes ahead and tells us that anyone who sins intentionally should be cut off and implies that such sin is unforgivable.
Numbers 15:30-31 reads, “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off, their guilt remains on them.”
If the book of Numbers is anything to go by, then we can conclude that the sin that leads to death is intentional, while the one that does not lead to death is unintentional sin. However, if you read the book of 1st John, we cannot affirm with certainty that the sin that leads to death is unintentional sin, as nothing in the context suggests anything of the sort was in John’s mind.
What does 1 John teach about mortal and venial sins?
The Catholic Church believes mortal sins are those committed intentionally out of wickedness and attract loss of grace. Additionally, the Catholic Church believes that such a sin leads to the destruction of love, and thus the offender will go to hell if he dies without seeking forgiveness and redemption. On the other hand, the Catholic Church believes that the punishment for venial sins is not as grievous as that of mortal sins, as venial sins will only result in a temporary punishment if the offender is not redeemed.
The book of 1st John clearly states that there is a sin that leads to death and one that does not. 1st John 5:16, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life, to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”
Therefore, John, just like the Catholic Church, pictures a sin that cannot be forgiven and one that can be forgiven. However, the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church came to be many years after the book of 1st John had been written, and no one can affirm that John had their description of mortal and venial sin while writing about the sin that leads to death. However, we all know there is a sin that leads to death and one that does not. Equally, according to Jesus, other sins can be forgiven, but blasphemy is an eternal sin that cannot be forgiven.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.