Contradictions in 1 John?

From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Mon Sep 15 1997 - 17:20:20 EDT

On Mon, 15 Sep 1997 08:20:44 -0400 Jonathan Robie
<> writes:

Concerning a supposed contradiction between 1 Jn 3:9, "no one who is
begotten of God sins," and 1 Jn 1:8ff, "If we say we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves ...," Jonathan says:

>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
>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.


I can certainly see how your interpretations of these passages lead you
to the conclusion that there are contradictions in John's epistle.
Another possible conclusion is that at least some of your interpretations
are incorrect and that John's epistle is still internally consistent.
Now, I know you will not be offended if I suggest the latter might be the
case. Let me address your 4 propositions stated above. In fact, let me
call your last statement (on 1 Jn 3:9) #5.

I agree with #1,anyone who knows God keeps His commandments, loves and
does not sin. I'm sure you would agree that the present tense used there
is customary/habitual. In fact, everything stated there (less love which
is amplified elsewhere, to be sure) can be demonstrated from 3:6-10
(excluding v. 9 now, for the sake of argument). I'd be happy to defend
this more, if necessary, but probably not.

I agree with #2, if we sin we have an advocate (1 Jn 2:1, aorist tense).
No contradiction with #1 above. #1 certainly does not imply sinless
perfectionism. Remember, the idea of customary/habitual activity is
denoted graphically by the continuous dotted line (. . . . . .) which
does not suggest continual, unbroken activity (see Robertson, p 880, if
my memory serves me). The child of God will commit acts of sin, but the
use of the aorist tense here does not suggest or imply in any way that it
is possible he might continue in it habitually or characteristically.
Absolutely no necessary contradiction here.

#3 This is one of the crunchers. It is apparently the one Bultmann and
Carl also had in mind, i.e., the apparent conflict between this verse,
1:8, and 3:9. The supposed contradiction is: 3:9 says no child of God
hAMARTANW, while 1:8 seems to say that a child of God does have (present
tense ECOMEN) sin.

But, there is no conflict here. EAN EIPWMEN hOTI hAMARTIAN OUK ECOMEN
(1:8a) must be interpreted in light of the contrasting parallel in 1:9a,
EAN hOMOLOGWMEN TAS hAMARTIAS hMWN. What is being contrasted here is an
habitual denial of sin which is characteristic of nonbelievers, those who
habitually deceive themselves and in whom the truth is not, versus those
who habitually confess sins, who have the assurance that God is faithful
and just to forgive them their sins. This, I believe, is the first
sub-test, under the overall governing test found in 1:6-7), by which
believers can know they have eternal life. They are characterized by a
confession of their sins. Children of darkness are characterized by
denial of sins/non-confession of sins. Isn't this true even by

So, yes, if a man is characterized by non-confession of sins, then the
truth is not in him. He is a child of darkness. But, you might ask, if
a child of God is not characterized by sin (3:9), then how can he be
characterized by a confession of it (1:8-9)? Simple, the
characteristic/habitual confession of sin is conditioned, of course, upon
the committal of sin. So, when he does commit sin (2:1), then he is
characterized by a confession of it.

#4. " The way we know we are in Him is to examine our walk to see if we
walk as He walked." Yes, this is the overall argument (1:6-7) in
relation to his stated purpose (5:13). BTW, if your are reading, Dale,
here is another textual clue for the customary/habitual nuance, the use
of PERIPATEW in 1:6 and 1:7. The word itself (right down your's and
Fanning's alley here) denotes habitual/customary activity. Walking in
darkness (1:6) versus walking in the light as He is in the light(1:7);
these are the tests by which the children of the devil and the children
of God are manifest (3:10). The test is lifestyle denoted by the imagery
of walking.

No, Jonathan, I find this all makes perfectly good and consistent sense,
but only if we interpret consistently with John's purpose (that you may
know you have eternal life, 5:13), methodology (tests by which they can
know they are children of God), and grammar (recognizing the sigificance
of John's use of different tenses for hAMARTANW [2:1, aorist; mostly
customary present elsewhere]).

I have already addressed 3:9 extensively elsewhere, so will not burden
you with it here.

Thanks for the interaction.

Paul Dixon

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