Monday, April 08, 2013

If you could have...

If you could have just one biblical passage explained to you, which one would it be? I don't necessarily mean in importance--just one that bugs you because you have no clue what it is about. One that leaves you scratching your head.

For me it would be this:
16If 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 sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17) 

It doesn't matter how many commentaries I read. None give satisfaction on this passage. I don't get it. I don't get it at all. I do not buy the fairly common explanation that this is about sin that lead to immediate death, such as in the case of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). That explanation has the slimmest of purchase. Apart from somebody sinning and dying, it doesn't fit nor offer any help in understanding the passage as a whole. Not to mention that since Ananias and Sapphira were summarily terminated there has been an obvious paucity of people sinning and dropping dead on the spot. With nothing new under the sun, if there are sins leading to immediate departure, you would think it would not be a rare phenomenon.

No, I don't think that's it. It is not about Ananias and Sapphira.

Sigh. It's one of those instance were I am reminded that it is not what you don't understand about the bible that should keep you awake, but what you do understand.  I get that. But it's not helping. This passage has always been stuck in my craw.


3 comments:

  1. Catholics differentiate between venial and mortal sins, venial being the ones that don't lead to death (i.e. a complete separation from God).

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  2. Rob,

    Yes I think the RC distinction between mortal and venial sin (as opposed to the Protestant view, where all sin is mortal sin) fits the passage a little better, but consider a substitution:

    If anyone sees his brother committing a venial sin he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit venial sins. There is mortal sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17)

    It still doesn't work. Catholic teaching does not include that if I pray for my brother's venial sins he will have life. The sinner must do penance for venial sin, possibly concluding in purgatory. Furthermore one (who was otherwise in good grace in the church) does not lose his life (salvation) over venial sin, so the prayers of another cannot result in life--since it wasn't lost in the first place. Finally, why would John write "I do not say that one should pray for that" which, in this way of looking at it, is mortal sin? Why not? Isn't prayer something the apostle would highly recommend if you knew your brother was in mortal sin?

    So I think the RC view fits "better" but only because two categories of sin are discussed here, and the RC view has two categories of sin. But I don't think it helps in understanding the passage.

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  3. here is St. Augustine's take http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf107.iv.xv.html

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