Re: Aoristic Present in 1 Jn 3:9?

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Mon Sep 15 1997 - 08:20:44 EDT

There's a lot of interesting, helpful stuff in this thread. I would like to
step outside the detailed arguments about this passage and address a few
specific points.

Re: can the habitual present bail us out?

In the first chapter, 1 John clearly says that we have sin, and if we say we
do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and do not walk in the light. Then 1
born of God commits sin"). There is a logical contradiction here. Paul wants
to take the present POIEI as a habitual present, and argues that a child of
God may sin, but can not dwell in sin. Dale disagrees, pointing out that
verse 3:9 also says that that the child of God OU DUNATAI hAMARTANEIN. I
think that some people missed the fact that DUNATAI is also present tense -
at the raw, literal level, I think that this phrase really does say that a
child of God can not sin. If I am wrong about this, I would appreciate it if
someone would explain how it could be interpreted differently.

Re: could 1 John contradict itself?

I think that some of us may be looking for a grammatical argument that
removes this logical contradiction - and I looked for that grammatical
argument myself when I was teaching a Sunday School class on 1 John. But 1
John regularly - and intentionally! - contradicts itself, so there is no
reason to become purist about this particular contradiction. In fact, the
whole discussion in chapters 1 and two tell us that (1) anyone who knows God
keeps his commandments, loves, and does not sin; (2) if we sin, we have an
advocate, Jesus, who is the propitiation for our sins; (3) anyone who claims
not to have sin is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (4) the way we know
we are in Him is to examine our conduct to see if we walk as Jesus walked. 1
John 3:9 continues this pattern of logical contradictions.

1 John is nonsense if it is taken as systematic theology or as logical
syllogism. But if you read these as statements addressed to us, individual
believers, examining our conduct and our life before God, it makes sense -
when we examine ourselves before God, we see that we fall short, and in many
ways we are not really in him. Yet we have an advocate before the father,
and God is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness. This letter does not attempt to answer the question of
whether the believer can achieve sinless perfection; instead, it tells us of
a standard which we never quite achieve, says that we should not deny our
sin, and calls us to continually bring our sinful selves to Jesus, who is
the propitiation for our sins, to confess our sins, and be cleansed and
forgiven. This is not a theology of sin, it is a series of instructions
telling believes how to deal with our own sinfulness: (1) know the standard,
which is often beyond us; (2) see our sins; (3) bring ourselves to Jesus for
forgiveness and regeneration; (4) above all, walk in love.

How do we deal with the contradiction between the righteousness which we
should have as believers and the sinfulness we see in ourselves? We should
take it to God! This is an inherent, painful, existential contradiction
which we face all of our lives, and neither logic nor theology can help us
with this contradiction. Often, facing up to our own sinfulness is too
painful, so we deny it. But if we give our sinful selves to God, he can
illuminate us in his light so that we can see as he sees, and he will
present us to ourselves in his grace so that we can see ourselves in truth.
To me, this is one of the central, ongoing acts of the Christian walk. A
detailed, consistent theological explanation would have to resolve the
contradiction in our own lives, but this 1 John wants to emphasize this
contradiction and tell us whom to bring it to.

Re: aoristic present

Robertson uses the term "aoristic present" to describe uses of the present
tense in which the action is punctiliar; these presents are generally
described as imperfective in modern treatments of aspect, but imperfective
is not the same as linear, and does not imply that the action stretches out
over time. My favorite example of this is Luke 7:8 POREUETAI, ERCETAI,
POIEI: these three present tense verbs are described as "aoristic present"
by Robertson since the action occurs instantaneously, but they are
imperfective because the action is viewed from within (or to borrow Rolf's
useful distinction, the view of the action does not include the endpoint).

Re: the Buddhist at the hot dog stand

I'm sorry, but I just can't resist adding this irrelevant joke: So this
Buddhist walks up to a hot dog stand and says, "Make me one with everything!"


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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