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First John: 1 John 3:6-Interpretative Problems with 1 John 3:6 Lesson # 107

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First John: 1 John 3:6-Interpretative Problems with 1 John 3:6

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1 John 3:6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (ESV)
1 John 3:6 Anyone who does at any time live in fellowship with Him is never sinning. Anyone who does at any time sin, never sees Him, nor knows Him experientially. (My translation)
D.L. Akin has the following comment on the various interpretations of 1 John 3:6, he writes “Thomas surveys nine possible interpretations and states both the pros and the cons of each view before offering his own interpretation. (1) The perfectionist view: the Christian does not commit acts of sin. (2) The limited view of sin: the Christian does not commit certain sins. (3) The Christian does not sin because what is sin in the life of the unbeliever is not so regarded by God in a believer. (4) The Christian does not sin in his new nature. (5) John is describing the theoretical or ideal and not reality. The ideal is, to a limited extent, true. (6) John is expressing himself by using exaggeration in this extremely controversial issue. (7) The Christian does not commit willful and deliberate sin. (8) The Christian does not commit habitual and consistent sin. Sin does not characterize his life. (9) The Christian who abides in Christ does not commit sin. When (or if) he sins, he is not abiding in Christ. In his conclusion Thomas offers a somewhat unique interpretation adapted from A. T. Robertson. It is the identification of the present tense of ἁμαρτάνει as a ‘progressive present.’ Simply put, this use depicts past action still in progress at the present time. In other words, John is saying ‘that an unbroken state of sinful behavior from the past into the present and continuing in the present, such as characterizes the children of the devil (cf. 3:10), is impossible for the one who has been begotten by God’ (“Exegetical Digest of 1 John,” 253–61).”[1]
Akin gives his view, he writes “Although numerous suggestions have been offered, and none is completely satisfying, the most reasonable still seems to center on John’s use of the present tense verb. John is not suggesting that the child of God will not commit a single act of sin. Instead, John is describing a way of life, a character, a prevailing lifestyle. Here the present tense verb contextually depicts linear, continual action. In other words, the believer will not live a life characterized by sin. From John’s earlier statements it is obvious that the Christian, while enjoying a position or standing of sinlessness through identification with Christ, will sin on occasion and will need to seek God’s forgiveness (1:9; 2:1–2). But what is also apparent from John’s writings is that a genuine believer will not live in continual sin. As D. Smith writes, ‘The believer may fall into sin but he will not walk in it.’[2]”[3]
Now, as we can see some interpret 1 John 3:6 as teaching that Christians are sinless and perfect while some teach that a believer does not habitually sin.
The Scriptures and experience emphatically demonstrate both of these views are in error.
The commands and prohibitions of the New Testament which regulate the believer’s conduct would not be necessary if the believer was sinless.
Proponents of this second view such as Akin usually support it with the present tense of the Greek verb (harmartanei) that they take it to mean ‘keeps on sinning.’
Now, in our study of 1 John 3:6, we noted that the verb hamartanō (ἁμαρτάνω) appears twice in this verse.
The first time the word is used, it is in the third person singular present active indicative form and is translated by the ESV, “keeps on sinning.”
The second time, it is used in the articular nominative masculine singular present active participle form and is translated by the ESV, “who keeps on sinning.”
The view of this author is that the first time this verb hamartanō occurs in 1 John 3:6, the present tense is a gnomic present which is used here for a general, timeless fact or specifically, a spiritual axiom or an eternal spiritual truth.
Here it is used to express an absolute statement that is true all the time, namely that any believer who does at any time live in fellowship with Jesus Christ is as an eternal spiritual truth never committing personal sin.
The present tense of the verb is also a customary present tense or stative present used to signal an ongoing state.
This would indicate that any believer who does at any time live in fellowship with Jesus Christ is as an eternal spiritual truth never existing in the state or condition of committing personal sin.
The second time the verb hamartanō appears in 1 John 3:6, the present tense is a gnomic present which is not used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact but rather is used to describe something that is true any time and does take place.
Therefore, the gnomic present of the verb is expressing the idea of the believer who “at any time does” sin, never sees the Lord, nor knows Him experientially.
The present tense of this verb is also a customary present tense or stative present, which is used to signal an ongoing state.
This would indicate any believer who does exist in the state of sinning, never sees the Lord, nor knows Him experientially.
Supporting this interpretation is the generic subject for each time this verb is used in the verse, which is the nominative masculine singular form of the adjective pas (πᾶς), which is translated “anyone” by myself.
The generic subject indicates that John is not speaking of any one particular individual whether believer or non-believer.
He uses the generic subject because he is teaching a spiritual principle which is applicable to any believer including himself.
Therefore, John’s emphasis with the present tense of this verb the first time it occurs is not how often the believer sins but rather that when the believer does live in fellowship with the Lord, the consequence is that they can be assured as an eternal spiritual truth that they are never sinning.
His emphasis the second time is again not how often the believer sins but rather that when the believer does sin, they can be assured as an eternal spiritual truth that they are never experiencing fellowship with the Lord.
John is not teaching the recipients of this epistle that as believers they never sin or will never sin habitually.
Rather he is emphasizing with them that they have an obligation not to sin and to experience fellowship with Him.
In other words, he is reminding them of how they “ought” to live their lives.
He is reminding them of their responsibility as members of the body of Christ.
The believer can never attain perfection while in a body contaminated by the sin nature.
This does not condone sin but rather simply acknowledges that the believer still has a sin nature and will give in to it.
However, by the power of the Spirit they are to strive for Christ-like perfection.
The believer does have the capacity to sin habitually and even to refuse to confess their sins to be restored to fellowship and obey God’s Word to maintain that fellowship because they still have a volition and a sinful nature.
The consequence is that they will be disciplined by the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:4-11; Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:29).
[1] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 38). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[2] D. Smith, “The Epistles of John,” EGT 5:184.
[3] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 38, pp. 143–144). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
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