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1 John 1:8

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

1 John 1:10

"If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

Why is "we have no sin"/echomen/present tense used in relation to "ourselves", but "we have not sinned"/hemartekamen/perfect tense used in relation to God?

3 Answers 3

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The “we” in both verses indicates that the author is referring to the sinful condition of men in general rather than to individual sin. If the present tense in “we have no sin” speaks to our current sinful state, the perfect tense in ”we have not sinned” begs the question: Since when have we sinned?

The answer is that man has sinned from the beginning. Distinct from the English perfect, the Greek perfect has two ordered parameters: 1) a completed action and 2) the ongoing effects or present state (ntgreek.org). The use of the perfect in 1 Jn:10 implies that man’s present sinful state is a consequence of a completed action. Though not explicitly stated in the passage, man’s present sinful state can be traced back to the first instance of sin and the fall of mankind in Genesis.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned – Rom 5:12

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners – Rom 5:19

In response to the OP’s question, since the evidence of man’s sinful state is everywhere visible in and around us, we are said to deceive ourselves if we say we have no sin. But Scripture is the source of our knowledge concerning the origins of man’s current sinful condition. To say that we have not sinned in the sense of the Greek perfect would be to deny the testimony of Scripture and imply that God is lying. Together, these arguments support the author’s broader point that sin is an innate aspect of being human and that all men have need of seeking God’s forgiveness through the blood of His Son (vv. 7 and 9).

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Here is what I find in Westcott's commentary on the first epistle (pp22-26)

On v8, he remarks (p22) that "having sin" is an expression peculiar to John in the N.T. "It marks the presence of something which is not isolated but a continuing source of influence". "To have sin" is distinguished from "to sin" as the sinful principle as distinguished from the sinful act in itself. My observation is that this "continuing" state would explain why the verb is in the present tense.

Regarding the human claim in v10, he calls it (p26) "an absolute denial of the fact of past sin as carrying with it present consequences". That (I take it) is the impact of the perfect tense.

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The main Greek work for sin (hamartia = a missing the mark) implies, sin is any deviation from perfect righteousness. It is used in the New Testament in several different senses that can be broadly classified into the noun and verb forms. These two forms are most clearly seen in 1 John 1:8 (noun) and v10 (verb). Specifically:

  • Sin as a verb (Gr: hamartano) – an act of wrong-doing against God (Matt 27:4, John 5:15) or man (Matt 18:15, Luke 17:3, 4) or even one’s self (1 Cor 6:18), etc.
  • Sin as a noun (Gr: hamartia) – a state of being that causes wrong acts of sin (Rom 3:9, 5:12, 13, 20, 6:1, 2, 6, 7:7, Eph 2:3, etc). David lamented that he had been born is sin, sinful from the time he was conceived (Ps 51:5). This remarkable confession means that we are sinners even before we have committed any act of sin. See also Ps 58:3.

Thus, sin is both an act and a state of being: we are sinners for what we have done and what we are. As sinners we are both guilty and powerless to change; and thus depraved by sin. Rom 3:10-18, 23, 5:12-19, Jer 17:9, Heb 3:13, Eccl 7:20, Eph 4:22, Eph 2:3, etc.

Thus, it is not surprising that John places the great and (correctly) oft-quoted verse 9 between V8 & V10

  • 1 John 1:8 - If we say we have no sin [noun = state], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
  • 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
  • 1 John 1:10 - If we say we have not sinned [verb = action], we make Him out to be a liar, and His word is not in us.

Thus, in discussing our present state of sinfulness and our action, which is necessarily in the past perfect tense, V9 becomes very significant - Christ's remedy for the sin problem is to:

  • forgive our sinful acts
  • cleanse us from our sinful ways
  • (ultimately) to glorify us when He returns with new "heavenly bodies" (1 Cor 15:35-50)
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  • Please excuse me if my edit is not helpful. +1 for your answer.
    – C. Stroud
    Jan 16, 2023 at 21:15
  • @C.Stroud - many thanks for your helpfulness. Edit accepted.
    – Dottard
    Jan 16, 2023 at 21:26

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