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In 1 John 1:8, John says

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

And in chapter 3, verse 9, he says

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.

How is this?

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    Does this answer your question? How should we understand "he cannot sin" in 1 John 3:9?
    – Michael16
    May 19 at 5:47
  • The verse 8 clearly says about hiding sin for a believer. If we hide we are liars. If we confess, he will cleanse from all sins. John couldn't be more clearer he wrote in so repeated language and simple words. Yet, sin causes misintpretation. He warns that you may not sin. A believer cannot sin, as in would never sin, not about ability. If we were unable to sin there wouldn't be so much warning and appeals, commands. Sin & religion/believer are mutually exclusive. If you sin, you're not born of God. If you confess, he cleanse you.
    – Michael16
    May 19 at 5:59
  • @Michael16 it is not the same. The focus of that question is 1 John 3:9, as the OP stated. May 19 at 12:30
  • that old Q is also dealing with the exact two verses. It has been duplicated many times before. Read that Q.
    – Michael16
    May 19 at 15:48
  • They're contradictory in the way that chalk and cheese or apples and pears are contradictory… that is, no, they're merely (very) different. There is almost no possibility of establishing a "true" translation for either passage yet boiled down, isn't the real issue what is meant by "… his seed remaineth in him…"? To you, what does that mean? May 19 at 23:24
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There are several matters here that are crucial -

First, 1 John 1:8 should never be read without also reading 1 John 1:10 -

8 If we say we have no sin [noun], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... 10 If we say we have not sinned [verb], we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us.

Thus we are all sinners both because of what we are - in a state of sinfulness; and because of what we have done - committed sinful acts.

Second, let us examine 1 John 3:9 according to the more literal BLB -

Anyone having been born of God does not practice sin, because His seed abides in him, and he is not able to continue sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a similar statement in V6 -

No one who remains in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or known Him.

Both V6 and V9 imply that a committed Christian lives a perfect sinless life!! Is this possible?

Yes and no. Certainly, a person fully committed to Christ does not sin - but that is the crucial point - it is only a person fully committed to Christ is sinless and perfect - but who is fully committed to Christ? Unfortunately, John also says about us 1 John 2:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.

Thus, the life of the Christian is often one of being distracted by the desires of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:2) and do not get distracted by the things of this world, we would be sinless.

Therefore, the focus of the Christian life is NOT to keep the law but to keep our eyes upon Jesus:

Heb 12 - 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

As sinners - we keep getting distracted and sinning.

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    This is a very good answer and I can relate to this. I think the last line you said has been key for me in my walk these last 3 years. I love my G-d so much that when I sin I feel he is not near me. So the law tells when what can be sin, but my love for my G-d tells me not to sin.
    – Yeddu
    May 17 at 12:03
  • @Dottard I fully agree with you that "As sinners - we keep getting distracted and sinning." I would simply add to that the fact that as we walk in the Light, we are continually cleansed by Christ: " if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light... Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin... If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7, 9). God knows we cannot be "perfect" as human beings. He, therefore, continually perfects us as we adhere to His Word to the best of our ability.
    – Xeno
    May 20 at 23:03
  • That logic goes against the whole epistle. The verse clearly talks about those hiding sin; he says, if we confess, he will cleanse us from all sins. He forbids sinning strictly, saying it is from the devil, and it proves whose child we are.
    – Michael16
    May 22 at 17:54
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The seeming contradiction is from not paying careful attention to the verb tenses; the continuous action of the present tense in particular.

1 John 1:8-10 isn't so much of an issue in an English translation. The issue is understanding 1 John 3:9

Doeth no sin [KJV] (ἁμαρτιαν οὐ ποιει [hamartian ou poiei]). Linear present active indicative as in verse 4 like ἁμαρτανει [hamartanei] in verse 8. The child of God does not have the habit of sin. [John didn't mean an individual instance of sinning, which he would have used aorist tense.] His seed (σπερμα αὐτου [sperma autou]). God’s seed, “the divine principle of life” (Vincent). Cf. John 1. And he cannot sin [KJV] (και οὐ δυναται ἁμαρτανειν [kai ou dunatai hamartanein]). This is a wrong translation, for this English naturally means “and he cannot commit sin” as if it were και οὐ δυναται ἁμαρτειν [kai ou dunatai hamartein] or ἁμαρτησαι [hamartēsai] (second aorist or first aorist active infinitive). The present active infinitive ἁμαρτανειν [hamartanein] can only mean “and he cannot go on sinning,” as is true of ἁμαρτανει [hamartanei] in verse 8 and ἁμαρτανων [hamartanōn] in verse 6. For the aorist subjunctive to commit a sin see ἁμαρτητε [hamartēte] and ἁμαρτῃ [hamartēi] in 2:1. A great deal of false theology has grown out of a misunderstanding of the tense of ἁμαρτανειν [hamartanein] here. Paul has precisely John’s idea in Rom. 6:1 ἐπιμενωμεν τῃ ἁμαρτιᾳ [epimenōmen tēi hamartiāi] (shall we continue in sin, present active linear subjunctive) in contrast with ἁμαρτησωμεν [hamartēsōmen] in Rom. 6:15 (shall we commit a sin, first aorist active subjunctive). -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (1 John 3:9). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Many commentators suggest that the present continuous tense of “sin” suggests “living in” sin, sinning as a natural way of life. This is different from living righteously but sometimes succumbing to temptation or deception and genuinely repenting. -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 John 3:6–7). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

The Apostle sets forth “abiding in Christ and sinning as irreconcilable opposites; but he does not mean to say that believing Christians entirely cease to sin or that those, who are yet sinning, are not yet in Christ (ch. 1:8–10; 2:1, 2; 3:3) -- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Brain, K., & Mombert, J. I. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1, 2, 3 John (p. 101). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The distinction between present and aorist is well exemplified by Matt. 6 11: δὸς σήμερον as contrasted with Luke 11:3: δίδου τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν, and Matt. 14:22: ἐμβῆναι … καὶ προάγειν. The distinction was obvious to St. John’s Greek readers, and they would feel no difficulty when he said, on the one hand: ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ, Παράκλητον ἔχομεν, and, on the other: πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτόν. The believer may fall into sin but he will not walk in it. “Hath not seen Him,” because he is “in the darkness” (cf. 1:5–7). -- Smith, D. (n.d.). The Epistles of John. In The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary (Vol. 5, p. 184). New York: George H. Doran Company.

Here is a clear translation:

6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 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. (1 John 3:6–9, ESV)

Without understanding the grammar in 1 John 3:6–9, as pointed out in the question, 1 John 3:6–9 seems to contradict much in 1 John; for example:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1, ESV)

Without understanding the verb tense in 1 John 3:6-9, this passage not only seems to say sinless perfection is attainable, but salvation is impossible without it.

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    Good answer! What do you think about adding 1 John 2:1, which might reinforce your point that two different notions of sinning are in view (sinning as a repentant person, vs. being an unrepentant person walking in sin)?
    – bob
    May 18 at 13:38
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    Does that make a clearer conclusion?
    – Perry Webb
    May 18 at 21:34
  • 1
    Thanks! I think it was fine before--just thought adding in 1 John 2:1 would drive home that John can't mean that we have to be sinless to be saved; he must be talking about two different things, which your discussion about grammar helps show. We can get there without Greek (e.g. looking at other translations, or taking context into account), but the Greek really helps. Thanks!
    – bob
    May 18 at 21:44
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    Many of the modern translations (aa quoted) do a better job of translating this passage.
    – Perry Webb
    May 18 at 21:53
  • Even the modern versions can't get away with all other verses saying the same- absolute warning against sinning; John never talked about habitual sinning, that gives a provision to sin. Your obj should rather be on (1Jn3:9) does/commit G4160 ποιέω poieo properly refers to a single act thus differing from G4238 πράσσω prasso which refers to habitual practice.
    – Michael16
    May 19 at 15:33
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There is no contradiction here.

It's one thing to cease to sin, and quite another to "say" that one has no sin. The one who most loudly proclaims his/her lack of sin is the one most ignorant about both it and about God's character. The closer to God we come, the more we see ourselves as weak, sinful, and erring. It can be quite discouraging, actually, and we must cling to Christ by faith.

Those who have actually come close enough to God to cease sinning will not perceive it. They don't know it. They consider that, contrariwise, they are the "chief of sinners" (see Paul's expression in 1 Timothy 1:15); and that they have "unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). The one who thinks himself or herself perfect shows that he or she is far from it.

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A quick question you can ask yourself is "are you are born (conceived)(again) of God?" as 1 John 3:9 says. And the initial answer is no. If we look at what Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:3–5)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born AGAIN he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born (conceived) of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

What is He saying here? We are all initially born (conceived) of our mother and father. Do we have anything to do with that? Certainly not but it happened. If we are born (conceived) of God, water, and Spirit, do we have anything to do with that? Certainly not, but, all praise to God, it happens. When it does, 1 John 3:9 is true. We, as Christians, know we have sinned according to God's law and knowing the grace and mercy God has shown towards us as sinners (enemies), we strive not to practice sin against God further. This does not mean we do not still make mistakes and sin, it's saying this is not our desire to continue regularly engaging in sin.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Jesus

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    May 18 at 15:55
  • Well (briefly) said +1 and welcome. While you are correct, a longer answer will help to reinforce this view from the scriptures and dispense with other views not from the text.
    – steveowen
    May 19 at 1:23
  • if my post is gonna get "corrected" ill go elsewhere. Mr. Taylor, you missed a true error "are you are born". this isnt english class and i dont desire a public message board treated as such. nor do i have time to "tour". as a 40 year old, a Christian, and (unbeknownst to you) no stranger to message boards... praise God, i know how to behave myself. also, if i am not allowed to voice my opinion, whats the point? as for user48152, thank you, my friend, i certainly do not mind going deeper if there are further questions based on my concise answer. grace and peace, but im outta here.
    – ben jamin
    May 19 at 18:54
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This answer is drawn from Perry Webb's clear translation for verse 6

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

What happens if we "abide in him"? As we see in Jesus's words present in John 14:20 (NASB)

(...) you are in Me, and I in you.

Abiding in him means that "you are in Me" (we are in Jesus) and that comes with "I in you" (Jesus in us). As Paul notes in Romans 11, we were cut off branches from a wild tree and grafted into God's tree. In God's tree, Jesus Christ is the root who will give us "both the will and the doing" (Philippians 2:13). From James 3:12 we see that a fig tree cannot give olives or berries, so our fruits will be figs. Also to note that while the fruit from trees is seen from the branches, the sustenance comes from the root.

Note: you might want to look more about the following concept => Simul Justus et Peccator.

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It's only contradictory if one thinks we are 'born again' in this age. We are not. This this causes many contradictions in scripture such as 1 John 3:9.

Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. John 3:6

unless someone is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

In this age believers have a deposit, a down-payment only. We are not yet spirit but only have the gift of God's spirit in us. Acts 2:38

who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge - (deposit etc) 2 Cor 1:22

1 Cor 15:44 – we are sown a ‘natural body’ and raised a ‘spiritual body’

When are believers raised? At the resurrection and given a new body with spirit life. This does not happen at baptism - it is the start of a transformation process as 2 Cor 5:17 shows.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

No one would think that we are now fully made in God's image and are a new creation! We are still sinners and are just beginning to allow God's spirit to begin its work in us. We are no more a 'spiritual body' than before, except now we have God's spirit working in us too. The spirit of the world will linger and influence us until the end.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Phil 1:6

Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom of God, nor does decay inherit immortality. 1 Cor 15:50

If we are flesh, we cannot enter the Kingdom. We need to be reborn to enter the K.

Jesus is the ‘firstborn of many brethren’ – when did this happen? At his resurrection, Col 1:15-18. If he is firstborn of many brethren - believers will also be 'born from above' in the same way at their resurrection or change at Christ's return.

The context of 1 John 1:8, begins with this life -

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Now, in 1 John 3:8b- we get a reference to the next age which is plainly obvious when we see the details confirming this.

... the Son of God was revealed, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever is born of God does not commit sin, because His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil (are obvious). 1 John 3:8-

  • the devil’s works are destroyed. They are not destroyed in this age, not till he is removed at the end.
  • the age where we are reborn of spirit - we certainly are not like that now - having a spirit pledge, a deposit in us only - we are still fleshly.
  • "His seed remains in him" God's spirit remains in the person once he is born of God and given eternal life - just as Jesus was. We cannot sin after this change of life, this rebirth.
  • V10 refers to a judgment and the 'revealing' of God's children. Children of God are presently hidden. Col 3:3
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    .... if one thinks we are 'born again' in this age. We are not.” - Mmm, interesting, but then what do we do with 2 Corinthians 5:17?
    – Dave
    May 17 at 18:26
  • @Dave the creation is a process.. God making man in His image is not done in the garden, but in Christ alone. So, the new creation is the same, it is finished at the last day for believers. The new has begun, and with God what He begins gets done and often is as if it was already.
    – steveowen
    May 17 at 21:14
  • ? 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not a process. A simple exegetical analysis of that verse clearly reflects this. But never mind, I’ll just leave this here.
    – Dave
    May 17 at 22:22
  • This is a misunderstanding of the passage in question. John is talking about this life when he talks about "no one born of God continues to sin". It's a warning against an error (see verse 7) that takes God's grace as a license for sin (Paul addresses this same error in his letters). John is warning his readers that those who think they can mock God's grace by having their cake and eating it too (i.e. be unrepentant and still saved) are sadly mistaken.
    – bob
    May 18 at 13:46
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    @Dave, instead of expressing a total reality, v17 is talking about how we should think of each other (verse 16) because we live for him who has been raised (verse 15). Regarding the new creation being a process, that's what 4:16-5:5 is about. We are being renewed on a continual bases while we wait for the complete renewal of our bodies. In Rom 8:15, we receive the spirit of adoption, and in v16, the spirit declares us to be sons, but Rom 8:23 says that while we have the spirit as first fruits we are actually waiting for [the full] adoption as sons, that happens when our bodies are redeemed.
    – Austin
    Jul 19 at 14:28
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It is contradictory only if you miss the context, that teaches, not to hide your sins but to confess and receive forgiveness. The sacrifice of Jesus is not there to conceal and cover up our sins, but to provide cleansing from the dirt to make us live a sanctified, holy life for God. For if we sin willfully or hide our sins from God, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins.

[NHEB 1John 1:7-2:1] 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.

Prov 28:13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

[ESV Jer 2:21-23] 21​Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? 22Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD. 23​How can you say, ‘I am not unclean, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done— a restless young camel running here and there,

The doctrine that a person remain perpetually sinful, because sin is not transgression of the law but a stain and substance in the soul, this will always lead to inextricable contradictions to the rest of the theological web. Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. John 9:41. As for 1 John 3:9, you have quoted the accurate translation, which shouldn't lead to any confusion, however some cannot understand the sense of "cannot sin" (ού δύναται not able to), if that is the case, then understand that it only implies that a child of God, would never sin. It doesn't say absolute inability to sin. John is not warning against making a habit and practice of sin, as though occasional sinning is acceptable. See Matthew 5:29-30. John also clarified that not all sins are equally dangerous; there is sin leading to death, and there is sin not leading to death (1 John 5:16-17). So, there shouldn't be any confusion and contradiction.

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