Aoristic Present in 1 Jn 3:9?

From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Sat Sep 13 1997 - 13:17:54 EDT


Please excuse me. In my last response I asked for an explanation of the
verse, then later remembered you had given one. Must have been the
lateness of the hour. So, I include an addendum here.

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

>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 !!),

Again, you can not dismiss the objective/literal interpretion of OU
DUNATAI so easily, especially when you assume your conclusion in so
doing. There is a contradiction here only if you assume that hAMARTANEIN
is not customary/habitual and is aoristic/punctiliar. But, of course,
this is what you are arguing for. There is no contradiction if the
nuance is customary/habitual. Certainly the aorists in 2:1 do not
contradict it. The customary/habitual interpretation does not proclaim
sinless perfectionism and it is very consistent with other passages which
indicate or assume the possibility, yea, certainty that the children of
God will and do commit acts of sin (1:6-2:1), though not as they once
did (habitually and customarily), because of the transforming power of
God at work in them (3:9).

>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.

I can certainly see your thinking here - cf Rom 6:1ff where Paul
reasons, "how shall we who have died to sin continue any longer therein?"
 However, I think such is out of place in 1 Jn 3:6-10. How, for
example, would you explain, PAS hO hAMAPTANW OUC hEWPAKEN AUTON OUDE
EGNWKEN AUTON (3:6b)? I do think this is a fatal blow to your argument.
Wouldn't we agree no matter how hO hAMAPTANW is taken, that it says about
such a person that he never was saved? I don't think you want to take
this one as an aoristic present (yikes!). Nobody would ever be saved.
So, I think you would probably opt for an imperfect aspect here and
probably the customary/habitual nuance. In fact, a customary/habitual
nuance can be argued pretty strongly for most, if not all, the verbs in
this section.

At any rate, how would you reconcile 3:6b with your interpetation of 3:9?


Paul Dixon

>For a much more detailed examination of the grammar and interpretation
>of this passage, let me suggest: C.H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles,
>78-81; I.H. Marshall, The Epistles of John, in New International Comm
>on NT, p. 175ff; S. Kubo, "1John: Absolute or Habitual ?" Andrews Univ
>Sem Studies 7(1969):47ff; B. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in the NT (I don't
>have the page numbers at hand, but he has a lengthy discussion); Z.
>Hodges, Gospel under Siege, pp. 47ff., and Bible Knowledge Comm: NTed,
>p. 893ff. A theologically diverse group of writers, all of whom
>with the "continuing" interpretive aspect.

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