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
Also distinguishing the two kinds of know: Gnoskw <1097> I
translate "know" Eidw <1492> I
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 1:6If 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
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
OK, one verse down, about 100 to go. 1Jn 1:7But 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 1:8If 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 1:9If 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 allunrighteousness 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.
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.