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1 John 5:18

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning

I don't understand the verse, because I myself wonder "how do people know that someone is born of God or not ?"


A. What I mean by"a teaching"` is something like when a father tell his son "if you continue to listen to me then you are my son".

So here the author of the verse assumed that all the persons in "we" (the Christian group) are born of God.


B. What I mean "an information"` is a situation where no one can do anything about it. Something like when a Chinese parents tell their son "you are Chinese because we are Chinese".

So here the author only tells an info that all the persons within "we" automatically will not continue to sin (until he/she die) because in the beginning "we" were born of God.


For a reference, I'd like to use another verse when Jesus said :

John 8:44

You are of your father the devil

John 8:47

Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

Is it just an information ? The hearers (whom Jesus talks to) cannot do anything about it. Because in the beginning the hearers are not of God then automatically they will never hear the words of God since they were a baby until they die.

Or is it a teaching?

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  • karma, I hope my edit was what you were asking. If not, please just refuse the edit and it will go back to the original.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 13 '18 at 0:51
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1 John 5:18 is neither information nor a teaching in the general sense, but part of a polemic against the author's former colleagues. Harold W. Attridge says, in Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development, page 172, that continuing friction among early Christians over the nature of Jesus is evident in the Johannine epistles. He points out that 1 John criticises ‘secessionists’ who departed in a dispute over the reality of sin (1 John 1:8-10) and the fleshly (human) character of Jesus (1 John 4:1-3).

Burton L. Mack recognises this friction and says, in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 215, he believes that the split took place shortly after the start of the second century, with one faction joining other Christian groups of a more centrist leaning, while the other party refused, holding to the tradition of the community but developing in the direction of a Christian gnosticism.

Mack describes the polemic of 1 John as vicious, and says the author's arguments against members of the other faction are ridiculous. The author labels them liars (1 John 1:6-10; 2:4; 4:20) and sinners (1 John 1:8-10) who, by saying they are not sinners, have removed themselves from God's grace.

In 1 John 3:2, the author (known as the Presbyter, or Elder, in 2 John 1:1 and 3 John 1:1) tells his loyal followers that they are the children of God:

1 John 3:2: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

1 John 3:9 tells us that those who are born of God can not sin, but 1 John 3:10 says that his departed colleagues, who do not love their (former) brothers, are of the devil and not of God:

1 John 3:9-10: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

Mack goes on, to say:

He [the Presbyter] did not want to offer his opponents the promise of forgiveness, but since his new soteriology was about sin and forgiveness, the topic could backfire." Because those who had chosen a more gnostic path were not "born of God", verse 3:9 does not apply to them and they will continue to sin.

1 John 5:18-19 summarises the Presbyter's introspective view of his people being born of God, while all around them are those under the control of evil:

1 John 5:18-19: We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.


John 8:44-47 uses similar concepts, but in an entirely different context and with differences of meaning. Here, Jesus is telling the Jews who said they were the children of Abraham, even those who believe in him (John 8:31: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him ..."), that their father is the devil and that they are not of God. 1 John reflects this polemic in John's Gospel because the Presbyter was undoubtedly familiar with the words of the Gospel, but the reference is very different.

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  • Thank you for your explanation, Dick Harfield. You wrote : The author labels them liars (1 John 1:6-10; 2:4; 4:20) and sinners (1 John 1:8-10). Can I add : The author also labels them indirectly that they were NOT born of God in 1 John 2:19 ---> they did not really belong to us. Because "US" in the author's pov were born of God.
    – karma
    Dec 12 '16 at 8:27
  • You wrote : John 8:44-47 uses similar concepts, but in an entirely different context and with differences of meaning. Would you please tell me the differences meaning between what the author say in 1 John 5:18 and what Jesus say in John 8:44-47, Dick Harfield ?
    – karma
    Dec 12 '16 at 8:27
  • @karma If you would like a detailed discussion, we should go to Biblical Hermeneutics Chat but pls read my last para: In John (Gospel) the context is a statement by Jesus against the Jews, whom Jesus blames (in advance) for his crucifixion. They say they are the children of Abraham, but Jesus is quoted as passing over the reference to Abraham as if it is of no account, and saying they are not the children of God, but of the devil. In 1 Jn we do not hear anything of what the others believe, but the author says they are the children of the devil because they split from him and "hate their brothers". Dec 12 '16 at 21:16
  • Because my English is not good, I read again and again your explanation, Dick Harfield. Am I correct that what you meant is : because it's Jesus who said that, then it's an information
    – karma
    Dec 15 '16 at 21:42
  • and because it's John who said that, it's a teaching ?
    – karma
    Dec 15 '16 at 21:49
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The passage is a "teaching", and not "information", in the sense you suggest.

We must consider the verse you question, I think, in the context of the earlier verse (3:9-10)

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.

Hence, it is not the simple fact that one is born of God (or, some might infer, "born again") that one does not sin, but rather because God's seed abides in him.

In the 4th century, Jovinian employed these verses as proof texts for a proposition that once baptized one could no longer be tempted by the devil (see Ambrose' of Milan Treatise Against Jovianus, Book II). But, as Ambrose points out, this cannot possibly be what John meant, since he goes on to warn, My little children, guard yourselves from idols (5:21). Then there is also another apparent contradiction, Jerome points out in his Treatise against the Pelagians, in (1:8):

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us

The correct way to understand the verse is, I think, that God dwells within us and we are "begotten" of him when we avoid sin; we do not somehow become sinless because of some discrete event of being born (once) of God. This interpretation is explained by Orthodox Christian theologian and monk Justin Popovic:

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

Sin is a power that emanates from the wicked one and from evil; that is why it is evil, demonic and wicked. Through every sin, the devil carries a small portion of himself and his spirit and brings it into man. That is why the Christian is always cautious where sin is concerned and keepeth himself. By keeping himself form sin, he preserves himself from the scout behind whom advances the commander of evil with his entire dark army. How does he keep himself? He gurards and keeps himself by the angelic virtues, living in them day and night. For only in this manner do we guard ourselves from perdition in our dreadful and unceasing war against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). All of these soldiers and leaders of evil flee from the bright divine virtues, and that wicked one toucheth him, the soldier of Christ, not. The person who sinneth not is he who is begotten of God and keepeth himself. He is of God, while others are of that wicked one. Being born of God is a gift from God; but one stays in Him only by guarding oneself from sin and through living in the Holy Mysteries and holy virtues.

Commentary on the Epistles of St. John the Theologian (Sebastian Press, 2009), p.80

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"I don't understand the verse, because I myself wonder "how do people know that someone is born of God or not ?" John was an Apostles who knew a lot. So who is the we? All of the first century Christians or just the Elders and Apostles around John?

Modernly, no one living, 100% knows who is born of God and who isn't. However we can generally know a few things; our own personal assurance, the confession we give / the confessions others give that Christ is Lord, and the fruits of the Spirit we and others persevere in. Some verses talk about not being able to know the hearts of men and others talk about knowing hearts by actions.

I think that we know, is because of two things, the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we follow Christ and don't continue to live as miscreants again, and secondly (the Bible tells us so, which even John would have read some of by the time he wrote 1 John, and not to mention that John walked by Jesus' side and knew a lot more of what Jesus said, than just the Gospels, so Jesus tells John so) that once the old self is dead on the cross it cannot be taken down again and re-inhabited. John 8:47 is a great step in the right direction, Rom. 6:6-11 & Col. 3 gets you there, but John would have known Matthew 6:24 & 16:24. There are no assumptions here that we are dogs willing returning to vomit. Even when Paul & John talk about sin it is not something they continued it.

Without getting into the L.S. discussion, (which we are knee deep into already) I think that if I HAD to answer your definitions of teaching or information, I would go with teaching.

"Is it just an information? The hearers (whom Jesus talks to) cannot do anything about it. Because in the beginning the hearers are not of God then automatically they will never hear the words of God since they were a baby until they die." However, I am a Presup. Apologetic. While, I think this statement is true, I don't think that this is what John means in this text. (Sorry for grammatical errors, I am a horrible editor.)

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  • Thank you for your explanation, J.West. Somehow I wonder when I found a verse something like 1 John 5:18 and John 8:44-47, the verse is a "teaching" or is an "information" ? If it's an "information" it seems to me is a kind of "judging" about who the persons really are (default). And I think it's quite scary if the "judging" is the negative one, because the hearer can't do anything about it. It's just like the hearers never have the "door" to repent in the beginning.
    – karma
    Dec 14 '16 at 16:54

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