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1 John 3:5-8

3:5 And you know that Jesus 1  was revealed to take away 2  sins, and in him there is no sin. 3:6 Everyone who resides 3  in him does not sin; 4  everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness 5  is righteous, just as Jesus 6  is righteous. 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, 7  because the devil has been sinning 8  from the beginning. For this purpose 9  the Son of God was revealed: to destroy 10  the works of the devil.

1 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).

2 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.”

3 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.

4 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 [1969]: 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.

5 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).

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.”

10 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.

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