A quick reading through the small epistle of 1 John reveals a number of verses that seem to disagree with each other. For instance, in 1 John 1:8,10 the author assures his readers that all people have sinned. In 2:1, John seems to indicate that even Christians will sin and therefore need Jesus Christ to be their advocate. Yet, 3:6 has John on record as saying: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” In verse 8 of chapter 3, John wrote: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” And verse 9 states: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” Steve Wells, in his work, The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, wrote concerning these verses in chapter 3: “Earlier in this letter (1:8,10) John assured us that everyone sins. Yet in these verses he claims that Christians don’t sin” (Wells, 2003).
Are these verses examples of contradictions within the Bible? If they are not, what do they mean? Do Christians sin, or don’t they?
The answers to these questions actually are much simpler than it may, at first, appear. When we compare other translations of 3:6,8,9, we see that the actual Greek wording of the verses makes a major difference in the understanding of the passages. R.C.H. Lenski translated 3:6 as follows: “Everyone remaining in him does not go on sinning; everyone continuing to sin has not seen him, nor has he known him” (1966, pp. 457-458, emp. added). Lenski translated verse 9: “Everyone that has been born from God does not go on doing sinning because his seed remains in him; and he is not able to go on sinning because he has been born of God” (p. 462, emp. added). The New International Version translates 3:6: “No on who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (emp. added).
Lenski explained that 1 John 3:6,9 uses a Greek construction called the present durative, which should be translated “does not go on sinning” (pp. 458,462). John, then, is saying no more in these verses than what Paul was saying in Romans 6:1-2, when he stated: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any long in it?” Numerous other verses teach that Christians will commit sins, even after they have been washed in the blood of Christ (cf. Romans 7:14-25; Philippians 3:12-13). However, John is saying that any person who rebelliously continues to sin, making it his or her usual, habitual way of life, is not following God. In 1 John 3:9, the Greek present infinitive means to habitually sin without compunction. In more practical terms (to offer an example), it is one thing for a Christian to slip up and commit an act of sexual immorality for which he or she is penitent. It is altogether another thing for a person to live as a prostitute and claim to be “having fellowship with the Father” (1 John 1:6).
Therefore, it is easily shown that no discrepancies exist between the verses under discussion in 1 John. Furthermore, it is refreshing to know that when a Christian does sin, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Wells, Steve (2003), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible [On-line], URL: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/1cor/index.html.
Lenski, R.C.H. (1966), The Interpretation of the I and II Epistles of Peter, the Three Epistles of John, and the Epistle of Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
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