3:9 Everyone who has been fathered 1 by God does not practice sin, 2 because 3 God’s 4 seed 5 resides in him, and thus 6 he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.
1 John 5:1Context
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ 7 has been fathered 8 by God, and everyone who loves the father 9 loves the child fathered by him. 10
1 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).
2 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.
3 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).”
4 tn Grk “his”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
5 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.
6 tn “Thus” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied to bring out the resultative force of the clause in English.
7 tn Or “the Messiah.”
8 tn The verb γεννάω (gennaw) here means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. The imagery in 1 John is that of the male parent who fathers children. See the note on “fathered” in 2:29 for further discussion of this imagery.
9 tc ‡ Most witnesses ([א] A P 1739 Ï sy) have καί (kai, “also”) before the article τόν (ton). But the external evidence for the shorter reading is significant (B Ψ 048vid 33 pc sa), and the conjunction looks to be a motivated reading in which scribes emulated the wording of 4:21 (ἀγαπᾷ καὶ τόν, agapa kai ton). NA27 places the conjunction in brackets, indicating doubts as to its authenticity.
10 sn Also loves the child fathered by him. Is the meaning of 5:1b a general observation or a specific statement about God and Christians? There are three ways in which the second half of 5:1 has been understood: (1) as a general statement, proverbial in nature, applying to any parent: “everyone who loves the father also loves the child fathered by him.” (2) This has also been understood as a statement that is particularly true of one’s own parent: “everyone who loves his own father also loves the (other) children fathered by him (i.e., one’s own brothers and sisters).” (3) This could be understood as a statement which refers particularly to God, in light of the context (5:1a): “everyone who loves God who fathered Christians also loves the Christians who are fathered by God.” Without doubt options (2) and (3) are implications of the statement in its present context, but it seems most probable that the meaning of the statement is more general and proverbial in nature (option 1). This is likely because of the way in which it is introduced by the author with πᾶς ὁ (pas Jo) + participle. The author could have been more explicit and said something like, “everyone who loves God also loves God’s children” had he intended option (3) without ambiguity. Yet that, in context, is the ultimate application of the statement, because it ultimately refers to the true Christian who, because he loves God, also loves the brethren, those who are God’s offspring. This is the opposite of 4:20, where the author asserted that the opponents, who profess to love God but do not love the brethren, cannot really love God because they do not love the brethren.