1 John Lessons

There are a number of different ways of interpreting the Bible people have come up with.  There is the deductive study in which you approach the Bible with preconceived notions and interpret the Bible in light of such notions. There is a post-modernistic approach in which people ask themselves as to what the Bible means to themselves personally. Then there's the inductive approach, which we'll be utilizing, in which one puts aside to the best of their ability one's preconceived notions, opinions and feelings. For in this case what the Bible means to one personally is not the relevant question but rather inductive study is about getting at the author's intended meaning. Doing this is largely a function of observation.

Much as we started off this series in 1John by reading through 1John in English, in fact John did not write his epistle in English but in Greek. There are significant constructs in Greek grammar that John utilizes which have been largely left out or inconsistently or ambiguously translated in most English translations of 1John. It's for this reason that 1John seems ambiguous and confusing when you read such translations of 1John. Actually 1John is much easier to understand and you get much less a sense of ambiguity if you simply follow a couple of rules of Greek grammar consistently and translate 1John so that one can see those rules of grammar applied. So I came up with the literalized translation of 1John.

The Literalized Translation

This translation was developed to bring out the significance of the Greek Tenses of verbs, which often are significant in 1John but often imprecisely translated in many English Bible versions.

In particular I will be translating:

The PRESENT tense  mostly utilizing the word "characteristically", or else "genarally speaking" or use the word "lifestyle". 1Jn 3:9 "Whoever has been born of God does not sin..." Though the simple verb of being "is", which describes a continuous state of being in the present, I'll keep as "is", or "exists" if followed by "in".

The AORIST tense I've translated either as point in time, historical event, or "uncharacteristically" with regards to behavior.  1Jn 2:1 "...so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins.."

 The PERFECT tense, as in English using "has" or "have". 1Jn 3:9 "...Whoever has been born of God..."

The MIDDLE voice in Greek I've translate as something the doer does to himself, such as in 1Jn 1:6 "... we are characteristically lying to ourselves ..."

Also distinguishing the two kinds of know:
Gnoskw <1097> I translate "know"
Eidw <1492> I translate "perceive"

Now you may get annoyed at the abundance of times I use the word "characteristically". But it will help towards understanding the sense the author intended and you'll be able to consistently distinguish between where he's using the present and aorist tenses without actually having to read the Greek.

1Jn 1:6 If we were to say at some point in time that we characteristically have fellowship with Him, but in fact are characteristically walking in darkness, we are characteristically lying to ourselves and are not characteristically practicing the truth.

Here, as an observation, we note that the only place the aorist is used is with regards to the first verb "say". The rest of the verbs are in the present tense. Present tense speaks of a process, lifestyle, or characteristic behavior.

From this verse I'm going to show you one of the most common misinterpretations of 1John. A misinterpretation which is commonly made throughout 1John. And this is something I'll probably have to reminded people of throughout this series.

Here's a question. What is John saying about those who UNcharacteristically walk in darkness? He doesn't say anything about such people here. So should we conclude John is saying that those who UNcharacteristically walk in darkness lose fellowship with God. No, John doesn't say anything about that here in this verse.

The most common misinterpretations of 1John are due to the English translations not making a clear distinction between verbs that are in the aorist tense from verbs that are in the present tense. Such misinterpretations have a significant impact on how you view the Christian life.

Some teach, for example, that John is saying that even if you characteristically walk in the light, but at some point in time sin, then you lose "fellowship" with God at that point, and then they misinterpret another part of 1John, in this same chapter in fact, as a procedure to get back into fellowship with God. But here John is not talking about such things.

Now to whom does this verse apply? He says "we", so yes he is applying it to the Christian community. Many times people have said that we should apply 1John exclusively to ourselves personally and not to others around us. But in fact you'll find that throughout 1John John applies it to the Christian community as a whole and not simply to oneself personally.

Realize it's a hypothetical scenario that he's speaking of. In particular he's referring to those who characteristically walk in darkness. These are not people who on occasion walk in darkness. He's not referring to a point-in-time event. Rather walking in darkness is characteristic of their lifestyle. He doesn't explain here what walking in darkness refers to. But the Bible generally uses the word "walking" to refer to what a person is doing. A person could be in darkness, that is he could not have understanding, revelation, or inspiration from the gospel, but walking in darkness refers to what such a person is doing.

The person who has chosen to live a lifestyle doing things characterized by darkness - which to me is just another way of saying such a person is living a lifestyle of sin - yet claims nonetheless to have fellowship with God, is deceiving himself. "Lying" is in the middle voice here in Greek, indicating that which you do with regards to yourself. These people are not only walking in darkness, but they are also in the dark with regards to realizing that they don't have fellowship with God.

Some assume that the mere claim of having fellowship with God is sufficient and should not be question. If a person claims to have fellowship with God, yet characteristically walks in darkness, who are you to say whether or not that person actually has fellowship with God. Who are you? You don't have to be anybody to make such a determination. Because the Bible says so. It's like saying, "Who are you to say that a person can be saved through faith in Christ?". You don't have to be anybody. It's not your personal proposition. It's what the Bible says. And this is another thing I'm probably going to have to repeat throughout the study of 1John with regards to its application.

OK, one verse down, about 100 to go.

1Jn 1:7 But if we are characteristically walking in the light as He exists in the light, we characteristically have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son is continuously cleansing us from all sin.

Another hypothetical situation. Sort of the converse to the previous one. Here it's about those who characteristically walk in the light. What does this say about a person who UNcharacteristically walks in the light? Doesn't explictly say anything. And realize that if a person is uncharacteristically walking it the light, that is to say that such a person is characteristically walking in darkness. But while he doesn't explicitly state anything here in this verse concerning those who characteristically walk in darkness, he's kind of implying that the consequence, the apodosis, of the conditional clause does not apply to such people. Otherwise he would said that apodosis is true regardless of whether or not you are characteristically walking in the light. But we'll keep that simply as an inference, a probably interpretation, but one which we need to confirm as we go through 1John.

Those who characteristically walk in the light - and again as a reminder, the present tense does not necessarily refer to perfect behavior, but characteristic behavior - these category of people have fellowship with each other. Though that doesn't seem to say much beyond the obvious, as it would seem that those walking in darkness may also experience fellowship among those walking in darkness - sort birds of a feather phenomenon. But what is significant is the last part where he says, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son is continuously cleansing us from all sin. Here the present tense is used, speaking of an ongoing process, though not to be confused with the forgiveness of sins, of which he'll make a distinction in verse 9. Here he's speaking of the process of sanctification, but it implies there is ongoing sin to be dealt with. Thus he is not presuming Christians to be sinlessly perfect, but on the other hand he's also he's not including in this process of sanctification those who characteristically walk in darkness who may nonetheless claim to have fellowship with God. This sanctification process he only applies to those who characteristically walk in the light.

No need to read too much into it because this kind of thing is going to be a common theme throughout 1John.

1John 1:8 If we were to say that the complete absence of sin is characteristic of our life, we are actively deceiving ourselves, and the truth does not exist in us.

This is one of the two verses in 1John which some falsely claim contradicts what John later says, that those born of God don't characteristically sin. They claim that since it's a contradiction, therefore you have to interpret 1John in a completely different sense, perhaps some vague esoteric mystical sense.

 But is the claim of perfect behavior here the same as the claim of characteristic behavior? To say that those born of God don't characteristically sin is not the same as claiming complete absense of sin - that is, sinless perfection. So this verse does not introduce any ambiguity into our reading, so the claim of contradiction is discarded.

But those who claim that they have achieved a state of sinless perfection, such a person is deceiving themselves. Now while the claim is aorist, speaking of an event, the apodosis is in the present tense, thus not simply referring to that event or just at that point of time, but rather is making a broader claim about what is characteristically the case regarding that person. For if a person makes a claim at some point in time about being sinlessly perfect it's like an x-ray taken at a point in time revealing something systemically wrong with that person. I've run across this kind of person a number of times. At one point we even had a guy who temporarily showed up for or Wed Men's Bible study making such a claim. Who am I to say such people are liars? Need I know them personally or following them around every moment of the day to see if their claim is valid? No! The Bible says so. The Bible says they are liars. That should be sufficient.

1John 1:9 If confessing our sins is characteristic of our life, He is faithful and just (with regards to the New Covenant He established with us) to forgive our sins at some point and cleanse us from all unrighteousness at some point.

This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament, again, simply because translations largely neglect to translate the significant meaning of the tense of the verbs. Here, for example, from the English translation most read "confess" as aorist, allegedly referring to an event. But it's not. "Confess" is not referring to an event but rather a lifestyle seeing as it's in the present rather than the aorist. This is not referring to an event in which a person confesses their sins. The protasis is referring to a lifestyle. It's referring to a person who characteristically acknowledges their sins. What is true of those who characteristically acknowledge their sins?

First he mentions of God being faithful and just. But faithful to what? And "just" with regards to what? He's speaking by way of ellipsis, in that the answer should be obvious. Faithfulness comes into play with regards to a promises. Thus it has to do with God's promise to that person, of which I would infer that he's speaking of the New Covenant promise. "Just" comes into play only if the matter is a judicial matter. Sin is not simply about the relative degree of fellowship we experience with God. And confession is not simply about an apology for stepping on God's foot. Sin is so serious it sends people to hell. Sin is so serious that God had to send His own Son as a sacrifice of atonement to take sin away. When a Christian sins, it's a judicial matter.

Now "forgive" and "cleanse" are in the aorist referring to an event. Though in verse 7 he referred to "cleanse" as a process, though he hadn't mentioned of forgiveness there, yet here both forgiveness of sins and cleansing from sin are referred in the aorist as a single event. The problem is when does that event occur?

Those who mistakenly read "confess" as aorist, a common misconception, assume that "forgive" and "cleanse" are with respect to that event. They're not. For as I said, "confess" here is not referring to an event. Wallace ("Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics") notes that aorist can be used to stress certainty or inevitability.

"The aorist indicative can be used to describe an event that is not yet past as though it were already completed in order to stress the certainty of the event. i.e. Rom 8:30 whom he justified, these he also glorified." (Wallace)

Thus we have "If confessing our sins is characteristic of our life, given that God is faithful to his New Covenant and just in having provided atonement for our sins, then we can have the certainty that inevitably our sins will be forgiven and any unrighteousness in us will be purified". And this lends itself to the main theme of 1John which is Assurance of Salvation. This in contrast to the surrounding verses concerning those who don't acknowledge their sins and as such are lying to themselves. For if we don't characteristically acknowledge our own sinfulness, there is no assurance we are saved.

One other thing. About "confess", this is a declaration. It is a declaration, an acknowledgement of one's sins. It's used 5 times in 1John. And, for example, 4 of the 5 times the NIV translates it simply "acknowledge". (Why not 5 out of 5 times?). I say this because confessing our sins is not the same as saying, "God if in some way I have offended you, forgive me". That is not acknowledging our sins. And not only in such a case is there not acknowledgment of sin, but there is no where in the New Testament where this word for "confess" corresponds to asking for forgiveness. It's the declaration of one's own sins which is the relevant here. Likewise if in your interpersonal relationships you characteristically says, "I'm sorry if you feel I've offended you", that's more of an insult than it is a confession. For you'd be essentially telling the person that they feel offended for some illegitimate reason and so puts the guilt on other person.

1Jn 1:10  If we say that we never sinned, we are making Him out to be a liar, and His word does not exist in us.

This is repeating the same kind of claim as in verse 8. Though here "sinned" is in the perfect tense, which speaks of a past event, which is the person saying they had never sinned. The reason you can call such a person a liar is because the Bible indicates that they had in fact sinned. Rom 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." and Ecc 7:20 "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins."

The word not existing in such a person is to say they don't take the Bible to heart. This concept will come up again in chapter 4.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jul 29,2015