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1 John 5:18 New International Version

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.

English Standard Version

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Which version is better?

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The ESV is ‘drawing’ from the OT. It is ‘Hebraic thinking’. In the OT, under special conditions, spiritual ‘entities’ could interact’ with ‘man’. This was called ‘touching’, or more expanded, the spiritual ‘world’ touching the physical ‘world’.

JOB 1:11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

And ..

JOB 2:5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh,

In both cases, it was about Satan wanting to interact (negatively) with Job. And in 1 John 5:18 we see that is exactly what is being described. So which version is more accurate? Definitely ESV - but - that understanding requires a foundation (knowing the OT) - which many may not have, so for them the NIV may be more appropriate.

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  • Interesting answer
    – user35803
    Jun 27, 2021 at 4:31
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ὁ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ (in 1 John 5:18, NA28)

ἅπτεται is present, middle, indicative, third person, singular. According to BDAG, the meaning of the middle form is touch. The full details in BDAG shows this verb can have either a positive meaning such as bless or a negative meaning such as hurt. Touch is a better translation in that it lets the reader do the interpretation. Hurt is a valid interpretation based on the context.

ἅπτω ... 1. light, kindle ... 2. mid. touch, take hold of, hold τινός someone or someth. -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 102). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Note: BADG is a Koine Greek lexicon (the language of the New Testament).

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The word in question is a form of the word "ἅπτω", whose primary meaning is to fasten or bind something to something else. Liddell-Scott cites tying a noose to a beam, for example.

In the middle voice, as here in 1 John 5:18, the meaning shifts to a more reflexive mood, and describes someone, as it were, "fastening themselves to", or grasping something. A more modern word might be "grab". This has plenty of examples in the New Testament, such as when people try to grab the fringe of Jesus' cloak (Mt 9:20-21 and 14:36, Mk 3:10, 5:27-31 and 6:56, and Luke 6:19 and 8:44-47), but also for picking up a lamp, grabbing someone's hand, or Jesus putting his hands on someone's eyes to heal them.

One can infer that if the evil one were to grab someone, that would be harmful, but the word does not connote this by itself. Using the word "touch" is closer, but is missing the connotation of taking hold of securely.

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