Re: 1 Jn 3:9, 1 Jn 1:6-10, Bultmann

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Sep 12 1997 - 16:44:44 EDT

At 12:47 PM -0500 9/12/97, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>On Thu, 11 Sep 1997 15:01:22 -0500 "Carl W. Conrad"
><> writes:
>Did some snipping and retitled the thread.

You have performed the work of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos nicely. It
must have been your fate.

>>Yes, I do think that Paul's opened up a can of worms here. The only
>>sense in which I would really be willing to accept his notion of a sharp
>>line between what children of darkness do and what WE as believers do in
>>Jn 1:6-10 would have to be in the same manner as I accept both Romans 7
>>and Romans 8 as a description of a believer's existence simultaneously
>>flesh and spirit. I really don't believe that half the verses in 1 Jn
>>are talking about what others rather than ourselves are doing. So yes,
>>what about 1 Jn 3:9 and the apparent paradox?
>>In checking through resources I have at hand, I find one discussion of
>>the "paradox" of these two passages:
>>In his Hermeneia commentary Bultmann resolves this "contradiction"
>>between 1 Jn 3:9 and the understanding of 1:6-10 that I argued this
>>"The resolution of the contradiction lies in the fact that the MENEIN
>>('abiding') of the SPORA ('seed') is understood as the gift of God's
>>AGAPH ('love', 3:1), which remains for the believer a possibility not to
>>lost, so that he can always call upon that gift, even though he in fact
>>sins. OU DUNATAI hAMARTANEIN ('he is not able to sin') is therefore to
>>understood as the possibility of not sinning, which the believer has
>received as
>>the unforfeitable gift of God's love, a possibility that is always to be
>>realized, as v 10 immediately indicates. The gift of a possibility
>>always includes a demand, and thus the demand itself can be understood
>as a
>>gift. Consequently, v 9 can speak one-sidedly of a gift." (Fortress
>>1973, p. 53).
>You say that OU DUNATAI hAMAPTANEIN ('he is not able to sin') "is
>therefore to be understood as the possibility of not sinning." Huh? How
>do we get from "not able to sin" to "the possibility of not sinning"?
>There does seem to be a mighty big chasm here, and I don't see the
>bridge. How did you get there?
>I do hope you will address this.

The fact of the matter is that I don't really buy Bultmann's interpretation
here. What struck me as interesting was more his recognition that the
relationship between 1:6-10 and 3:9 demands a resolution if one is not to
be left with an intolerable contradiction. One or the other passage is
being misread if we read either in such a way that it contradicts the
other--and I have never held that we should expect contradiction within a
Biblical book.

>>I do think that James is right here about these present tenses: that
>>customary or habitual action may not be the point of the present
>>subjunctives so much as persistence, continuing on (to sin, to walk in
>>darkness)--whether or not one really wants to and intends to do so.
>But, James now seems to agree that the present tenses in 3:6-10 are
>customary/habitual (as do many of the modern translations, and
>A.T.Robertson who gives both occurrences of hAMAPTANW in 3:6 and 3:8 as
>examples of the customary present [p 880]). Besides, 3:6b, PAS hO
>to rule out the possibility that somebody could walk in darkness (in the
>sense of 1:6) and still be a child of God.

I find very welcome Dale Wheeler's contribution to this discussion, the
more so in that (1) he deals directly with the problem of understanding 3:9
in terms of the self-understanding of the believer who earnestly endeavors
to do the will of God and repeatedly discovers that he sins--although not
intending to--and this is precisely what I was pointing to with my
reference to Rom 7 and 8: I think that Rom 7 accurately portrays the
experience, not just of one prior to conversion, but even of the believing
Christian who continues to live in the flesh even while he is beginning to
live in the spirit; (2) he notes the real problem with the way the
discussion of the present tense and its implications has been going. He's
pointed to some good resources worth our checking and has pointed to an
understanding of 3:9 that does make sense of our (i.e. MY)
self-understanding as SIMUL JUSTUS ET PECCATOR. As for 1:6-10, I'm no more
convinced than I was previously that they should divvy up to discuss now
the child of darkness, now the child of light, etc.

>>Let's leave that door open in both directions, Paul.
>>Carl W. Conrad
>Are we getting back to one of our presuppositional differences here,
>Carl, i.e, that we can hold simultaneously to interpretations of
>scripture that seem to contradict each other?

"SEEM" is a very important word, Paul; even scripture we often "see through
a glass darkly"; else there'd be no need to discuss and share the task of
interpretation. And the only thing I meant by leaving the door open in both
directions was that dialogue is a two-way process in which both parties are
open to persuasion.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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