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1 John 1:9 says this:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)

Who is "he"? I am unsure whether it is Jesus or the Father. Which one is it?

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In 1 John 1:5, the author writes, “God is light, and there is not any darkness in him.” The subject is the Father. In the next verse (1:6), the author writes, “If we say that we have communion with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not do the truth.” Again, the subject is the Father; “him” in v. 6 refers back to God in v. 5.

In v. 7, the author writes, “But if we walk in the light, just as he is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” While it is true that the author now mentions Jesus Christ, the Father is still in focus because Jesus Christ is referred to as “his Son,” with “his” referring to the Father.

Then, in v. 1:8–9, the author writes,

8 If we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us the sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In v. 5–7, the author has the Father in mind, and he only mentions the Son because it is by the blood of His Son that the Father cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Johann Eduard Huther wrote,1

The context is quite decisive in favour of regarding as the subject of πιστός ἐστι κ. τ. λ. [“he is faithful,” etc.] not χριστός [“Christ”], but (with Lücke, de Wette, Düsterdieck, Braune, etc.) ὁ θεός [“God”]; for even though in 1 John 1:7 the καθαρίζειν [“cleansing”] is described as the operation of the αἷμα ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ [“blood of Jesus Christ”], and in chap. 1 John 2:2, ἰ. χρ. [“Jesus Christ”] is the subject, yet in this section ὁ θεός [“God”] is the principal subject; 1 John 1:5, ὁ θεός [“God”]; 1 John 1:6, αὐτός [“him”], even in 1 John 1:7, τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ [“of His Son”]; the blood of Christ, therefore, is regarded as the means by which God produces purification from sins. To hold, with Sander, that God and Christ together form the subject, is quite as inappropriate here as in 1 John 1:5 to understand by αὐτοῦ [“of him”] both together. Though, with John, God and Jesus Christ approach very close to a unity, yet they are always distinguished by him, and never represented as one subject.


References

Huther, Johann Eduard. Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude. Trans. Croom, David B.; Gloag, Paton James; Irwin, Clarke H. Ed. Dickson, William P. New York: Funk, 1887.

Footnotes

1 p. 489–490

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It really doesn't matter because Jesus and the Father are one. They don't act in contridiction to each other. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. The three work in absolute harmony and agreement to carry out the will of God.

  • Yes they are one, but they are also distinct beings. – A Child of God Dec 13 '16 at 20:37
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    @AChildofGod—Distinct persons, rather. Careful with that word “being.” – user862 Dec 14 '16 at 3:01
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Throughout the Letter John employs an technique which I call "pronoun ambiguity" wherein a pronoun used in a way the precise meaning is uncertain. One meaning is the more probable and yet another is defensibly valid.

In addition to the verse in question, here are a few other examples:

That which was from the beginning... (1 John 1:1)
Is "that" Jesus or the Gospel?

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)
Is Him and His, God, or the Father or Jesus Christ?

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Does this refer to God, the Father, or Jesus Christ?

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
Is "He" Jesus Christ or God?

Given the frequency these are found in the letter, I believe this must be seen as intentional.

Therefore, the OP's question could be broken down and posed to John in this sequence:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Is "he" Jesus Christ? John's reply: yes.
Is "he" the Father? John's reply: yes.
Is "he" the Holy Spirit? John's reply: yes.

John has written with the Trinity in mind and in a way to convey the truth Jesus Christ is God without making the statement directly since a statement "Jesus Christ is God" could also be taken as contradicting the nature of the Trinity.

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