3:4 Everyone who practices sin 1 also practices lawlessness; 2 indeed, 3 sin is lawlessness. 3:5 And you know that Jesus 4 was revealed to take away 5 sins, and in him there is no sin. 3:6 Everyone who resides 6 in him does not sin; 7 everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness 8 is righteous, just as Jesus 9 is righteous. 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, 10 because the devil has been sinning 11 from the beginning. For this purpose 12 the Son of God was revealed: to destroy 13 the works of the devil. 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered 14 by God does not practice sin, 15 because 16 God’s 17 seed 18 resides in him, and thus 19 he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 3:10 By this 20 the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness – the one who does not love his fellow Christian 21 – is not of God.
1 sn Everyone who practices sin. In contrast to the πᾶς ὁ (pas Jo) + participle construction in 3:3 (everyone who has, πᾶς ὁ ἔχων [pas Jo ecwn]) which referred to believers, the use of everyone who practices sin (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν [pas Jo poiwn thn Jamartian]) here refers to the author’s opponents. A similar use, referring to the opponents’ denial of the Son, is found in 2:23.
2 sn The Greek word ἀνομία (anomia) is often translated “iniquity” or “lawlessness” and in the LXX refers particularly to transgression of the law of Moses. In Jewish thought the ideas of sin (ἁμαρτία, Jamartia) and lawlessness or iniquity (ἀνομία) were often equated because sin involved a violation of the Mosaic law and hence lawlessness. For example, Ps 51:5 LXX sets the two in parallel, and Paul in Rom 4:7 (quoting Ps 32:1) does the same. For the author, it is not violation of the Mosaic law that results in lawlessness, since he is writing to Christians. The ‘law’ for the author is the law of love, as given by Jesus in the new commandment of John 13:34-35. This is the command to love one’s brother, a major theme of 1 John and the one specific sin in the entire letter which the opponents are charged with (3:17). Since the author has already labeled the opponents “antichrists” in 2:18, it may well be that he sees in their iniquitous behavior of withdrawing from the community and refusing to love the brethren a foreshadowing of the apocalyptic iniquity of the end times (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-8). In Matt 24:11-12 Jesus foretold that false prophets would arise in the end times (cf. 1 John 4:1), that lawlessness (anomia) would increase, and that “the love of many will grow cold” (which would certainly fit the author’s portrait of the opponents here).
3 tn Grk “and.”
4 tn Grk “that one.” The context makes it clear that this is a reference to Jesus, because the reader is told “he was revealed in order that he might take away sins.” The connection with Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in John 1:29 provides additional confirmation that the previous use of ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) in 3:3b should also be understood as a reference to Jesus, as 2:6 was.
sn In Johannine thought it is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
5 tn The ἵνα (Jina) clause gives the purpose of Jesus’ self-revelation as he manifested himself to the disciples and to the world during his earthly life and ministry: It was “to take away sins.”
6 tn Here the verb μένω (menw) refers to the permanence of relationship between Jesus and the believer, as in 2:27 and 2:28. It is clear that Jesus is the referent of the phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (en autw) because he is the subject of the discussion in v. 5.
7 tn The interpretive problem raised by the use of the present tense ἁμαρτάνει (Jamartanei) in this verse (and ποιεῖ [poiei] in 3:9 as well) is that (a) it appears to teach a sinless state of perfection for the true Christian, and (b) it appears to contradict the author’s own statements in 2:1-2 where he acknowledged that Christians do indeed sin. (1) One widely used method of reconciling the acknowledgment in 2:1-2 that Christians do sin with the statements in 3:6 and 3:9 that they do not is expressed by M. Zerwick (Biblical Greek §251). He understands the aorist to mean “commit sin in the concrete, commit some sin or other” while the present means “be a sinner, as a characteristic «state».” N. Turner (Grammatical Insights, 151) argues essentially the same as Zerwick, stating that the present tense ἁμαρτάνει is stative (be a sinner) while the aorist is ingressive (begin to be a sinner, as the initial step of committing this or that sin). Similar interpretations can be found in a number of grammatical works and commentaries. (2) Others, however, have questioned the view that the distinction in tenses alone can convey a “habitual” meaning without further contextual clarification, including C. H. Dodd (The Johannine Epistles [MNTC], 79) and Z. C. Hodges (“1 John,” BKCNT, 894). B. Fanning (Verbal Aspect [OTM], 215-17) has concluded that the habitual meaning for the present tense cannot be ruled out, because there are clear instances of habitual presents in the NT where other clarifying words are not present and the habitual sense is derived from the context alone. This means that from a grammatical standpoint alone, the habitual present cannot be ruled out in 1 John 3:6 and 9. It is still true, however, that it would have been much clearer if the author had reinforced the habitual sense with clarifying words or phrases in 1 John 3:6 and 9 if that is what he had intended. Dodd’s point, that reliance on the distinction in tenses alone is quite a subtle way of communicating such a vital point in the author’s argument, is still valid. It may also be added that the author of 1 John has demonstrated a propensity for alternating between present and aorist tenses for purely stylistic reasons (see 2:12).
sn Does not sin. It is best to view the distinction between “everyone who practices sin” in 3:4 and “everyone who resides in him” in 3:6 as absolute and sharply in contrast. The author is here making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the readers, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take it away (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8). This argument is developed more fully by S. Kubo (“I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” AUSS 7 : 47-56), who takes the opponents as Gnostics who define sin as ignorance. The opponents were probably not adherents of fully developed gnosticism, but Kubo is right that the distinction between their position and that of the true Christian is intentionally portrayed by the author here as a sharp antithesis. This explanation still has to deal with the contradiction between 2:1-2 and 3:6-9, but this does not present an insuperable difficulty. The author of 1 John has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to present his ideas antithetically, in “either/or” terms, in order to bring out for the readers the drastic contrast between themselves as true believers and the opponents as false believers. In 2:1-2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a true Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4-10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical rather than practical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument.
8 sn The one who practices righteousness. The participle (ὁ ποιῶν, Jo poiwn) + noun constructions in 3:7 and in 3:8a, the first positive and the second negative, serve to emphasize the contrast between the true Christians (“the one who practices righteousness”) and the opponents (“the one who practices sin,” 3:8a).
9 tn Grk “that one.” Context indicates a reference to Jesus here. As with the previous uses of ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) by the author of 1 John (2:6; 3:3, 5), this one refers to Jesus, as the reference to “the Son of God” in the following verse (3:8) makes clear.
10 sn The person who practices sin is of the devil. 1 John 3:10 and John 8:44 might be cited as parallels, because these speak of opponents as the devil’s “children.” However, it is significant that the author of 1 John never speaks of the opponents as “fathered by the devil” in the same sense as Christians are “fathered by God” (3:9). A concept of evildoers as “fathered” by the devil in the same sense as Christians are fathered by God would imply a much more fully developed Gnosticism with its dualistic approach to humanity. The author of 1 John carefully avoids saying that the opponents are “fathered by the devil,” because in Johannine theology not to be fathered by God is to be fathered only by the flesh (John 1:13). This is a significant piece of evidence that 1 John predates the more fully developed Gnosticism of the 2nd century. What the author does say is that the opponents (“the one who practices sin”) are from the devil, in the sense that they belong to him and have given him their allegiance.
11 tn The present tense verb has been translated as an extending-from-past present (a present of past action still in progress). See ExSyn 520.
12 tn Here εἰς τοῦτο (eis touto) states the purpose for the revelation of God’s Son. However, the phrase offers the same difficulty as all the ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) phrases in 1 John: Does it refer to what precedes or to what follows? By analogy with the ἐν τούτῳ construction it is probable that the phrase εἰς τοῦτο here refers to what follows: There is a ἵνα (Jina) clause following which appears to be related to the εἰς τοῦτο, and in fact is resumptive (that is, it restates the idea of “purpose” already expressed by the εἰς τοῦτο). Thus the meaning is: “For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.”
13 tn In the Gospel of John λύσῃ (lush) is used both literally and figuratively. In John 1:27 it refers to a literal loosing of one’s sandal-thong, and in John 2:19 to a destruction of Jesus’ physical body which was understood by the hearers to refer to physical destruction of the Jerusalem temple. In John 5:18 it refers to the breaking of the Sabbath, in John 7:23 to the breaking of the law of Moses, and in John 10:35 to the breaking of the scriptures. The verb is again used literally in John 11:44 at the resurrection of Lazarus when Jesus commands that he be released from the graveclothes with which he was bound. Here in 1 John 3:8 the verb means, with reference to “the works of the devil,” to “destroy, bring to an end, abolish.” See BDAG 607 s.v. λύω 4 and F. Büchsel, TDNT 4:336.
14 tn The imagery expressed here (σπέρμα αὐτοῦ, sperma autou, “his seed”) clearly refers to the action of the male parent in procreation, and so “fathered” is the best choice for translating γεννάω (gennaw; see 2:29).
15 tn The problem of the present tense of ποιεῖ (poiei) here is exactly that of the present tense of ἁμαρτάνει (Jamartanei) in 3:6. Here in 3:9 the distinction is sharply drawn between “the one who practices sin” in 3:8, who is of the devil, and “the one who is fathered by God” in 3:9, who “does not practice sin.” See S. Kubo (“I John 3:9: Absolute or Habitual?” AUSS 7 : 47-56) for a fuller discussion of the author’s argument as based on a sharp antithesis between the recipients (true Christians) and the opponents (heretics).
sn Does not practice sin. Again, as in 3:6, the author is making a clear distinction between the opponents, who as moral indifferentists downplay the significance of sin in the life of the Christian, and the recipients, who as true Christians recognize the significance of sin because Jesus came to take it away (3:5) and to destroy it as a work of the devil (3:8). This explanation still has to deal with the apparent contradiction between the author’s statements in 2:1-2 and those here in 3:9, but this is best explained in terms of the author’s tendency to present issues in “either/or” terms to bring out the drastic contrast between his readers, whom he regards as true believers, and the opponents, whom he regards as false. In 2:1-2 the author can acknowledge the possibility that a true Christian might on occasion sin, because in this context he wishes to reassure his readers that the statements he has made about the opponents in the preceding context do not apply to them. But in 3:4-10, his concern is to bring out the absolute difference between the opponents and his readers, so he speaks in theoretical terms which do not discuss the possible occasional exception, because to do so would weaken his argument.
16 tn Both the first and second ὅτι (Joti) in 3:9 are causal. The first gives the reason why the person who is begotten by God does not practice sin (“because his seed resides in him).” The second gives the reason why the person who is begotten by God is not able to sin (“because he has been begotten by God).”
17 tn Grk “his”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
18 tn The closest meaning for σπέρμα (sperma) in this context is “male generating seed” (cf. BDAG 937 s.v. 1.b), although this is a figurative rather than a literal sense. Such imagery is bold and has seemed crudely anthropomorphic to some interpreters, but it poses no more difficulty than the image of God as a male parent fathering Christians that appears in John 1:13 and is behind the use of γεννάω (gennaw) with reference to Christians in 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, and 18.
19 tn “Thus” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied to bring out the resultative force of the clause in English.
20 tn Once again there is the problem (by now familiar to the interpreter of 1 John) of determining whether the phrase ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) in 3:10 refers (1) to what precedes or (2) to what follows. If it refers to what precedes, it serves to conclude the unit which began with 2:28. The remainder of 3:10 would then form a transition to the following material (another “hinge” passage). On the other hand, if the phrase ἐν τούτῳ refers to what follows, then the entirety of 3:10 is a summary statement at the end of 2:28-3:10 which recapitulates the section’s major theme (conduct is the clue to paternity), and provides at the same time a transition to the theme of loving one’s brother which will dominate the following section (3:11-24). Although R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 416) prefers to see the phrase as referring to the preceding material, it makes better sense to refer it to the remainder of 3:10 that follows, and see the entirety of 3:10 as both a summary of the theme of the preceding section 2:28-3:10 and a transition to the following section 3:11-24.
sn Does not love his fellow Christian. The theme of loving one’s fellow Christian appears in the final clause of 3:10 because it provides the transition to the second major section of 1 John, 3:11-5:12, and specifically to the following section 3:11-24. The theme of love will dominate the second major section of the letter (see 1 John 4:8).