"SIN UNTO DEATH": A THEOLOGICAL STUDY OF 1 JOHN 5: 16-17

DARYL G RAHFELDT, Marquette University

Abstract

The history of the interpretation of 1 John demonstrates that the concept of "sin unto death" in 5:16-17 is one of the most difficult theological expressions in that NT book. How a doctrine of spiritually fatal sin can exist in a writing which assures its readers that they are the true children of God has troubled commentators throughout church history. This dissertation examines the theology of 1 John and Johannine Christianity in order to situate "sin unto death" within the framework of Johannine teaching and practice. The overarching approach is to study the four assurances ((1) assurance of eternal life; (2) assurance of forgiven sin; (3) assurance of sinlessness; (4) assurance of answered prayer) which 1 John offers its readers to determine if and how a doctrine of deadly sin can be compatible with them. Textual and theological parallels to 1 John's words and ideas are examined in order to interpret 1 John within the context of the Jewish-Christian thought world. This study demonstrates that 1 John's assurances are not absolute, but conditional. They are expressed in terms similar to the OT suzerainty covenants, in which God gives promises to his people conditioned upon their obedience to certain commands. The readers of 1 John are exhorted to "abide" and to "keep his commandments." Failure to do so voids the assurances. "Sin unto death," therefore, is compatible with the theology of 1 John. The examination of parallels in Jewish and Christian literature yields these results: (1) "deadly" sin and the idea of the righteous interceding for the sinner are present in several different sources; (2) public confession of sins is often an understood requirement for community membership; (3) different Jewish and Christian communities had definite rules for dealing with sin among its members, including restoring, disciplining, or even executing the sinner. This study has concluded that "sin unto death" represents the condition of the Johannine Christian who has sinned publicly but has refused to participate in public confession, probably because of an elevated view of post-baptismal perfection. The community applies the rule of "binding" his sins by refusing to pray for his restoration until such time as he himself "confesses."

Recommended Citation

DARYL G RAHFELDT, ""SIN UNTO DEATH": A THEOLOGICAL STUDY OF 1 JOHN 5: 16-17" (January 1, 1987). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8716872.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8716872

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