Aoristic Present in 1 Jn 3:9?

From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Sat Sep 13 1997 - 01:26:50 EDT

On Fri, 12 Sep 1997 10:36:43 -0700 "Dale M. Wheeler"
<> writes:

>Let me suggest that there is a completely different way of dealing
>with this problem in 1 John 3:9; I won't take the time to explain in
>the interpretation (references later).
>It seems to me that there is a basic flaw in the above discussion
>about the present tense, which you all are referring to as "imperfective

>aspect". While it seems clear to me that the Imperfect tense does
always >bear the imperfective aspect, it seems equally clear to me that
the present
>does NOT always bear that aspect. The present tense (since there is
>one form, unlike the multiple forms in English, eg., "I go", "I am
>etc.) has to be able to bear ALL the aspects in present time. Greek
>this generally by bowing to the Aktionsart of the verb, by adding
>words, etc. Now if the present tense in 1 John 3:9 is imperfective in
>aspect, then your discussion is on target; but if the present is bearing
>undefined (ala the Aorist) aspect, then something completely different
>is going on in the passage altogether (which is the way I'm inclined to
>read it). In addition, if you are going to make all the verbs in
>3:4-10 imperfective in aspect just because they are present tense form,
>it seems to me that you run into big problems elsewhere in 1John. For
>example, 1:8 has a present tense, but I don't think anyone would want
>to read hAMARTIAN OUK EXOMEN as "If we should say that we don't
>*continually* have sin, we deceive ourselves...", since that would
>clearly contradict the imperfective translation "...whoever is born
>of God does not *continually* sin." In other words, if I as a
>Christian don't continually sin, then I ought to be able to say
>without any self-deception that I don't continually (have) sin. The
>same problem is encountered in 5:16; how can you see a brother
>*continually* sinning if in fact Christians don't continually sin ??

I don't think anybody has argued that all the present tenses in 1 John
are customary/habitual. Now I have suggested that this nuance is
important in the book, but I never suggested this is the only nuance
of the present tense. I also suggested it was very important and
prevalent in 3:6-10, but even there I'm not sure this is the only nuance
of the present tense found.

>>From the standpoint of Greek grammar, it seems to me that you've got
>to do alot more than simply say that a verb is present therefore its
>imperfective in aspect. One must be able to point to contextual clues
>which point in that direction, which clues can include the grammatical
>style of the author in the whole book, use of certain words (eg.,
>check out John's use of POIEW with nouns; "from the beginning"), etc.

Well, I certainly argued contextually for the customary/habitual
nuance, so you must not be referring to me.

>I think its important to keep in mind that John not only says:
>hAMARTIAN OU POIEI, but goes on to say: OU DUNATAI hAMARTANEIN in >the
same verse. That second statement, it seems to me, invalidates the NIV
>interpretation of the verse; ie., you can't say both at the same time
(and the >NIV translation of the second part seems to me very forced and
>One of the things that has to be considered in dealing with DUNAMAI is
>whether the speaker is thinking objectively or subjectively (the
>illustration I always use is that its two different things to say, on
>the one hand, "I can't jump from here to the moon." and to say "I
>can't drive faster than the speed limit." (assuming my car has the
>There is a serious question in 1John about the nature of the
>impossibility being presented here: is it literally and objectively
impossible for a
>Christian to sin ? (if so, then John is contradicting himself !!),

Huh? This follows only if you assume your conclusion, i.e., that
hAMARTANEIN is an aoristic present. It would be better to say, is it
literally and objectively impossible for a Christian hAMARTANEIN?

>or is
>it subjectively impossible for a Christian to sin ? In other words,
>from John's persective, I take it that what he's getting at is that it
>simply does make any sense to him that someone could be the child of a
>father, have the nature of the holy father living in them, and then
>turn around and live in an unholy manner...its psychological insanity.
>And those who say that its okay (remember he is dealing with this type
>of teaching) are simply misleading their hearers. Thus the passage
>has a rhetorical force attempting to get people to think through the
>nonsense position they have been confronted with.

Can you give us a precedent for this, i.e., for taking OU DUNATAI + an
infinitive subjectively and not literally and objectively? That
certainly would carry more clout.

Also, I would be interested to hear how you do take this verse (3:9).
Would you give us your explanation?


Paul Dixon

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