Re: hINA, this time in 1 John 1:9

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Sep 11 1997 - 17:34:36 EDT

James H, Vallenga wrote:

>> Furthermore, still amplifying here, 1 Jn 3:9 rules out the possibility
>> that a child of God will ever or is even able to sin. Of course, this is
>> present tense and can only be customary/habitual.
>> Paul Dixon
>Hmmm. This seems to raise the question of what the customary/habitual
>tense means.

>The NIV, for example, in 1 John 3.9, translates the present tense
>POIEI as "will continue to" -- more of a persistence than a custom
>or habit. I've often found it useful to translate the imperfect
>or present subjunctive as "keeps Xing" (X representing the root
>verb) -- this seems to indicate persistence rather than custom
>or habit. Thus in 1.6, for example, one could read

> Whenever we say that we're having a partnership with him
> and [yet] keep going around in the darkness,

Dear James,

As a translation question 1:9 has been adequately discussed, but you bring
up a very interesting question pertaining to aspect. In fact, the letter of
John is an excellent place to test one`s view of aspect.

If aspect is not taken into consideration, 3:9 which tells that everyone
born from God hAMARTIAN OU POIEI, definitely contradicts 2:1 where we find
EAN TIS hAMARTHi. In 3:9 we have the imperfective aspect, and in 2:1 the
perfective. It is good to keep in mind that aspect does not contribute
anything to the action - the action in both cases is the act(s) of sin -
but a certain aspect is chosen to make visible a particular part of the

Modern writers on aspect agree that the perfective aspect includes the end,
and when John chose two aorists in 2:1, he would make visible the
termination of the sin, either one act or a few acts. When a Christian
ceases to sin and repents, he will get forgiveness when asking. In 3:9 the
imperfective aspect is chosen, a part of the action is focussed upon,
before the end is reached. I agree with Paul that the verse says that
everyone born from God is not able hAMARTANEIN, but I disagree both with
his use of "ever" and with his customary/habitual interpretation.

First of all we must keep in mind that the imperfective aspect neither have
durative, progressive or customary/habitual characteristics,as earlier
grammarians seemed to imply, but these are characteristics of the real
action (Aktionsart). But because the imperfective aspect focusses upon a
part of the action before the end, this aspect is chosen to MAKE VISIBLE
either durativity, progress or customs and habits. But which of these is
signalled must exclusively be inferred from the context. Second, a
customary/ habitual interpretation of the present in 3:9 is weaker than
your suggestion "keeps on sinning". A custom or habit may change after
doing it 50 times. Just think of the great sinner in 1 Corinthians 5 who
were excluded from the congregation, and when he ceased with his sinfull
habit was reinstated.

I therefore agree with your suggestion "keeps on sinning" in 3:9, which
accords with the imperfective aspect and which indicates that the sinner
does not stop, the end of the sin is not in view, and this is much more
serious than a habit. The view presented in former posts that christians
sin, sometimes even making a habit of it, is empirical. My understanding of
3:9 is therefore that one who is born from God will not just continue and
continue and continue to break God`s stated laws (3:4. If he does so, and
this happens, he looses his birthright and again becomes a child of


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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