Re: Contradictions in 1 John?

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Sep 17 1997 - 14:24:17 EDT

At 01:19 AM 9/17/97 EDT, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>Yes, and thank you for asking. The first time I read your above
>statement, "I think this phrase really does say that a child of God can
>not sin," I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I thought, well maybe
>Jonathan is somehow still seeing the present tense in his translation of
>"sin." But, now it is more evident that what you are doing is reading
>backwards from the English, than reading from the Greek.

Well, not exactly. I was working from the Greek without a translation, but I
do seem to have misinterpreted the present infinitive -- I haven't spent
much time on infinitives, and this got me into trouble. I don't need an
English translation to misinterpret the Greek, I can do that directly from
the original!

The question I had involves the interpretation of the present infinitive


Does this mean (1) can not sin (ever), or (2) can not (habitually) sin?
Zerwick and Robertson each go for #2.
Robertson's Word Pictures says:

"And he cannot sin" (KAI OU DUNATAI hAMARTANEIN). This is a wrong
translation, for this English naturally means "and he cannot commit sin" as
if it were KAI OU DUNATAI hAMARTEIN or HAMARTHSAI (second aorist or first
aorist active infinitive). The present active infinitive hAMARTANEIN can
only mean "and he cannot go on sinning" as is true of hAMARTANEI in verse 8
and hAMARTANWN in verse 6...Paul has precisely John's idea in Rom. 6:1
EIPMENWMEN THI hAMARTIAI (shall we continue to sin, present linear
subjunctive) in contrast with hAMARTHSWMEN in Rom. 6:15 (shall we commit a
sin, first aorist active subjunctive).

Zerwick's Grammar says:

251. The application of a similar consideration to the verb hAMARTANEIN
(aorist: commit sin in the concrete, commit some sin or other), hAMARTANEIN
(present: be a sinner, as a characteristic *state*), offers a solution to
the apparent contradiction between 1 Jo 2,1 and 3,9. In the latter place
John seems to suppose that Christians cannot sin, but in 2,1 he admonishes
them not to sin. Here however he says GRAFW hUMIN hINA MH hAMARTHTE (aorist:
not to commit sin), whereas in 3,9 he says that he who is born of God OU
DUNATAI hAMARTANEIN (present: be -- habitually -- a sinner) because he is
born of God, i.e. cannot continue the sinful life that was his before his
regeneration. (Cf. Rom 6,1 as compared with 6,15).

Just for comic relief, Robertson's Massive Yellow Tome says "the force of
the present infinitive is so normal as to call for little comment" (p. 890).


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

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