From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Sun Sep 21 1997 - 19:48:15 EDT

On Sun, 21 Sep 1997 07:00:24 -0500 "Carl W. Conrad"
<> writes:

>(2) on the other hand, I must say that personally, I would prefer to
understand 1 >John in terms of its inner coherence rather than in terms
of its coherence with >other NT documents that presumably derive from
different communities of >believers during the compositional era of the
NT. I don't want to start a >discussion of critical method as such or of
canonical criticism--this really is not >the arena for that, however
interesting a discussion it might be--but simply to >make clear the angle
at which I prefer to consider 1 John and analyze its
>assertions. So, just to clarify my own approach, let me say that
>personally, I'd rather not compare 1 John with Matthew or Hebrews
>because I think to do so begs historical questions that are not so
>answered about the relationships between the communities in which and
for >which each document was formulated. I'd rather look at 1 John by
itself first,
>and leave until a later stage of interpretation the whole business of
>understanding the implications of canonical interrelationships--a
>procedure which I do indeed believe must ultimately be pursued. But here
and >now I'd like to limit the discussion to 1 John alone.

I certainly appreciate what you say here, Carl. Let me hasten to
clarify, however, that any extra-Johannine citations on my part have been
solely for the purpose of example or illustration, not for purposes of
argument. I have noted that you have cited St. Paul's writings
occasionally in this discussion and I have given you the benefit of the
doubt and not concluded that you were arguing from Paul's literature. I
had hoped you would have given me the same courtesy. But, if you would
rather agree not to even bring up other biblical writings even for the
purpose of illustration, then I can accept that, as long as I'm not the
only hiker on this trail.


>I think that I should say I agree with Paul's understanding of
>3:9--and also with Dale's, which implies the same thing even though Paul

>understands the present tense in 3:9 as customary while Dale understands
it >as aoristic. Both understand it, I believe, as referring to a
>continuation, after supposedly coming to belief, in the unrepentant and
>uncontrolled lifestyle of a non-believer. Perhaps neither Paul nor Dale
>characterize it that way, but it seems to me that whether one sees
>such behavior as deliberate and wilful disobedience or as thoughtless,
>reckless living in one's former lifestyle without any endeavor to
change, it is
>evident that the "conversion" or "coming to faith" has never really
>taken place.

I am thrilled, of course, that you and I agree on 3:9. But, don't be so
quick to conclude Dale is on the wagon too. Actually, I don't think he
ever got on. It seems to me he made it very clear that he was opting for
a different alternative altogether, that he was rejecting the usual
imperfect aspect of the present tense here for a perfective aspect
dictated by the aorist hAMARTHTE in 2:1, arguing that the aorist tense
there implied a perfective aspect of hAMARTANW throughout the epistle and
that we should take it so, unless there were clear textual clues to the
contrary. Did you miss that?

It does seem to me that a sinless perfectionism is implied by his taking
it as an aoristic present in 3:9. Perhaps he could enlighten us to the

But, I am very much aware of his position, if he is taking the same
position as Hodge and Fanning, which I assume since he quoted from them
and/or cited them more than once. Here it is: Zane Hodges (my baby Greek
prof at Dallas Seminary, but his view was not representative of the
school's; I think Dale also attended DTS) view is that 3:9 should not be
taken as a customary present. To the contrary, Hodges believes that it
is possible for a child of God to customarily/habitually live in sin. In
other words, he believes that a child of God can live in permanent
carnality. He does believe in perseverance of the saints, but also
believes that a true child of God can live as though he were not saved.

So, there is a big difference between how Dale and I take this passage.

>Where I continue to differ from Paul is regarding the understanding of
>1 John 1:5-10. There, I believe, the writer is addressing his own
>community in a pastoral manner, not contrasting absolutely outsiders who
"walk in darkness" with insiders who "walk in light" but rather speak
>the oscillations experienced in "ordinary" Christian living even as
>believers commit themselves to the new life, yet continue to commit
>sins which indicate they are still (to use Pauline language) living "in
>flesh" at the same time that they are living "in the spirit" and
>therefore need again and again to confess their sins and pray for
>Believers are warned against imagining that they "have no sin," i.e.
>against the vain conceit of sudden attainment of moral perfection.

Would you interested in considering the possibility that the correct
interpretation of 1:6-10 may be a both .. and position, that is, that
your position is partially correct, mine is partially correct, and that
taken together they produce the correct interpretation? Let me explain.

Assume my position, for the sake of argument. Assume, that is, that an
habitual confession of sins versus an habitual or characteristic denial
that we have sin or have ever sinned is the first sub-test (of walking in
the light versus walking in the darkness, 6-7) by which we can know we
have our sins forgiven and eternal life. If this is a correct
interpretation, it also suggests by implication that we should confess
our sins. Thus, there is no problem is seeing this also as a moral
imperative passage.

Likewise, if we start with your position first, is there any problem
ending up with the conclusion that such behavior (a customary confession
of sins, when they occur) is something which not only should be
characteristic of, but is in fact a characteristic of the children of
God? I think not, especially in light of the rest of the epistle.


>First let's say that the ADELFOS referred to in 5:16 as observed
>hAMARTONONTA hAMARTIAN MH PROS QANATON surely ought to be >understood as
a member of the same believing community as the observer of >this
behavior, and the observer is also an ADELFOS--and I think that those
>addressed in 1:5-10 are ADELFOI (presumably in the non-sexist sense of
>siblings of Christ).

There are at least two serious problems with taking this as necessarily a
true ADELFOS. First, how can anybody know for sure that anybody he sees
hAMARTANONTA is a true ADELFOS? Is he a true brother just because he
says he is? That does not make him so. Is he a true brother because of
his lifestyle of confession, obedience, love, righteousness, etc? If so,
then why or how is he hAMARTANONTA (present tense)? Shouldn't the fact
that the individual is sinning in the present tense sense at least be
sufficient grounds for suspecting the ADELFOS may not be a child of God
(especially in light of 3:9)?

Secondly, what is the meaning of DWSEI AUTWi ZWHN? Does this not refer
to the giving of eternal life, which certainly is granted afterwards and
in response to the subsequent prayer (AITHSEI). Sure sounds like the
ADELFOS who is seen hAMARTANONTA does not become a child of God until

This is why I think it is best to take this use of ADELFOS in the
broadest possible sense, just as we should take the WMENs of 1:6-10.
Whom exactly did John have in mind here? Hard to say, but it is not
really important. What is important is that if the shoe fits, then it
has to be worn. In 1:6-10, if the conditions are met in the protases by
whomever, then the conclusions necessarily follow. Likewise, in 5:16, if
we see anybody hAMARTANONTA a sin not unto death, then we should prayer
for him and if it is God's will (5:14-15), then God will grant eternal
life to him. If fact, if we take the present tense customarily, then it
cannot be a true child of God in view here (3:9).

>I'm not sure that we really need to determine the meaning of
>hAMARTIA PROS QANATON to make sense of 5:16-17 and I think I'd have to
>agree with Paul that 3:9 implies that the authentic believer will not
>be observed hAMARTANONTA hAMARTIAN PROS QANATON. So 5:16-17 >must, I
think, refer to the same sort of behavior as that referred to in 1:5-10:
>sins that believers continue to commit, not wilfully or deliberately or
>because they consciously and deliberately persist in their previous
>but because they still live, in Pauline language, BOTH "in spirit" and
>flesh"--and I think that the prayer of one ADELFOS for another urged
>in this latter passage is part of the mutual love of ADELFOI for each
>other that is recurrently urged throughout the letter.

Yes, this has been a most productive interaction. May it continue to be

Paul Dixon

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