2:1 (My little children, 1 I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. 2 ) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate 3 with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 4 2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice 5 for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 6
1 John 2:12Context
1 sn My little children. The direct address by the author to his readers at the beginning of 2:1 marks a break in the pattern of the opponents’ claims (indicated by the phrase if we say followed by a negative statement in the apodosis, the “then” clause) and the author’s counterclaims (represented by if with a positive statement in the apodosis) made so far in 1:6-10. The seriousness of this last claim (in 1:10) causes the author to interrupt himself to address the readers as his faithful children and to explain to them that while he wants them not to sin, they may be assured that if they do, they can look to Jesus Christ, as their advocate with the Father, to intercede for them. After this, the last of the author’s three counter-claims in 1:5-2:2 is found in the if clause in 2:1b.
2 tn There is some dispute over the significance of the aorist tense of ἁμάρτητε (Jamarthte): (1) F. Stagg (“Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Johannine Epistles,” RevExp 67 :423-32, esp. 428) holds that the aorist is nondescriptive, saying nothing about the nature of the action itself, but only that the action has happened. This is indeed the normal aspectual value of the aorist tense in general, but there is some disagreement over whether with this particular verb there are more specific nuances of meaning. (2) M. Zerwick (Biblical Greek §251) and N. Turner (MHT 3:72) agree that the present tense of ἁμαρτάνω (Jamartanw) means “to be in a state of sin” (i.e., a sinner) while the aorist refers to specific acts of sin. Without attempting to sort out this particular dispute, it should be noted that certain verbs do have different nuances of meaning in different tenses, nuances which do not derive solely from the aspectual value of the tense per se, but from a combination of semantic factors which vary from word to word.
sn So that you may not sin. It is clear the author is not simply exhorting the readers not to be habitual or repetitive sinners, as if to imply that occasional acts of sin would be acceptable. The purpose of the author here is that the readers not sin at all, just as Jesus told the man he healed in John 5:14 “Don’t sin any more.”
3 tn The description of the Holy Spirit as “Paraclete” is unique to the Gospel of John (14:16, 26; 15:26; and 16:7). Here, in the only other use of the word in the NT, it is Jesus, not the Spirit, who is described as παράκλητος (paraklhto"). The reader should have been prepared for this interchangeability of terminology, however, by John 14:16, where Jesus told the disciples that he would ask the Father to send them ‘another’ paraclete (ἄλλος, allos, “another of the same kind”). This implies that Jesus himself had been a paraclete in his earthly ministry to the disciples. This does not answer all the questions about the meaning of the word here, though, since it is not Jesus’ role as an advocate during his earthly ministry which is in view, but his role as an advocate in heaven before the Father. The context suggests intercession in the sense of legal advocacy, as stress is placed upon the righteousness of Jesus (᾿Ιησοῦν Χριστὸν δίκαιον, Ihsoun Criston dikaion). The concept of Jesus’ intercession on behalf of believers does occur elsewhere in the NT, notably in Rom 8:34 and Heb 7:25. Something similar is taking place here, and is the best explanation of 1 John 2:1. An English translation like “advocate” or “intercessor” conveys this.
4 tn Or “Jesus Christ the righteous.”
5 tn A suitable English translation for this word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) is a difficult and even controversial problem. “Expiation,” “propitiation,” and “atonement” have all been suggested. L. Morris, in a study that has become central to discussions of this topic (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 140), sees as an integral part of the meaning of the word (as in the other words in the ἱλάσκομαι [Jilaskomai] group) the idea of turning away the divine wrath, suggesting that “propitiation” is the closest English equivalent. It is certainly possible to see an averting of divine wrath in this context, where the sins of believers are in view and Jesus is said to be acting as Advocate on behalf of believers. R. E. Brown’s point (Epistles of John [AB], 220-21), that it is essentially cleansing from sin which is in view here and in the other use of the word in 4:10, is well taken, but the two connotations (averting wrath and cleansing) are not mutually exclusive and it is unlikely that the propitiatory aspect of Jesus’ work should be ruled out entirely in the usage in 2:2. Nevertheless, the English word “propitiation” is too technical to communicate to many modern readers, and a term like “atoning sacrifice” (given by Webster’s New International Dictionary as a definition of “propitiation”) is more appropriate here. Another term, “satisfaction,” might also convey the idea, but “satisfaction” in Roman Catholic theology is a technical term for the performance of the penance imposed by the priest on a penitent.
sn The Greek word (ἱλασμός, Jilasmos) behind the phrase atoning sacrifice conveys both the idea of “turning aside divine wrath” and the idea of “cleansing from sin.”
6 tn Many translations supply an understood repetition of the word “sins” here, thus: “but also for the sins of the whole world.”
7 sn I am writing to you. The author appears to have been concerned that some of his readers, at least, would accept the claims of the opponents as voiced in 1:6, 8, and 10. The counterclaims the author has made in 1:7, 9, and 2:1 seem intended to strengthen the readers and reassure them (among other things) that their sins are forgiven. Further assurances of their position here is in keeping with such a theme, and indeed, the topic of reassurance runs throughout the entire letter (see the purpose statement in 5:13). Finally, in such a context the warning which follows in 2:15-17 is not out of place because the author is dealing with a community that is discouraged by the controversy which has arisen within it and that is in need of exhortation.
8 tn The ὅτι (Joti) that follows all six occurrences of γράφω/ἔγραψα (grafw/egraya) in 2:12-14 can be understood as introducing either (1) a causal clause or (2) a content clause (if content, it could be said to introduce a direct object clause or an indirect discourse clause). Many interpreters have favored a causal translation, so that in each of the six cases what follows the ὅτι gives the reason why the author is writing to the recipients. Usage in similar constructions is not decisive because only one other instance of γράφω followed by ὅτι occurs in 1 John (2:21), and that context is just as ambiguous as this one. On other occasions γράφω does tend to be followed by a noun or pronoun functioning as direct object. This might argue for the content usage here, but it could also be argued that the direct object in the six instances in these verses is understood, namely, the content of the entire letter itself. Thus the following ὅτι clause could still be causal. Grammatical considerations aside, these uses of ὅτι are more likely introducing content clauses here rather than causal clauses because such a meaning better fits the context. If the uses of ὅτι are understood as causal, it is difficult to see why the author immediately gives a warning in the section that follows about loving the world. The confidence he has expressed in his readers (if the ὅτι clauses are understood as causal) would appear to be ill-founded if he is so concerned about their relationship to the world as 2:15-17 seems to indicate. On the other hand, understanding the ὅτι clauses as content clauses fits very well the context of reassurance which runs throughout the letter.