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1 John 2:1-2

Context
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 3:6-9

Context
3:6 Everyone who resides 7  in him does not sin; 8  everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him. 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness 9  is righteous, just as Jesus 10  is righteous. 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, 11  because the devil has been sinning 12  from the beginning. For this purpose 13  the Son of God was revealed: to destroy 14  the works of the devil. 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered 15  by God does not practice sin, 16  because 17  God’s 18  seed 19  resides in him, and thus 20  he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.

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 [1970]: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 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.

8 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.

9 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).

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.”

14 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.

15 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).

16 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 [1969]: 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.

17 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).”

18 tn Grk “his”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

19 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.

20 tn “Thus” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied to bring out the resultative force of the clause in English.



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