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 Vol. 5, No. 5 

May 2003

~ Page 12 ~

Does a Christian Sin?

By Hugo McCord

Hugo McCord A question comes about three verses in the KJV: 1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18. The KJV leaves the impression that a good Christian never sins: "sinneth not" (3:6); "doth not commit sin" (3:9); "cannot sin" (3:9); "sinneth not" (5:18).

But other verses in the same epistle of John in the KJV show that even good Christians are not sinless: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Lord is not in us" (1:8); "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1:9); "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1:10); "My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (2:1).

Why did the scholarly 54 translators of the KJV in 1611 leave the impression in three verses that it is impossible for a Christian, a man "born of God" (1 John 3:9), to commit a single sin (1 John 5:18)?

It was a simple oversight, but it has left a Bible contradiction. Grammatically, for example, the Greek verb "sin" (twice in 1 John 2:1), points only to one sin, and cannot refer to a life or practice of sin. Conversely, grammatically, the verb "sin" (twice in 1 John 3:6), refers to a life and practice of sin, linear, not punctiliar.

In parallel, the sinning of the devil (1 John 3:8) cannot be punctiliar, but linear, referring to a life and practice of sin. So, from the devil's beginning (becoming a rebel angel, 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) he keeps on sinning.

Consequently, a translation of 1 John 3:6 that does not contradict any Bible verse is: "No one who practices sin lives in him. Everyone who practices sin has neither seen nor known him." Similarly, "No one born of God continues to practice sin, for his seed lives in him, and he cannot practice sin because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9), a translation contradicting no Bible verse.

Likewise, "We know that no one who has God for his Father continues to practice sin, but he who has God for his Father keeps himself, and the Evil One does not touch him" (1 John 5:18), a translation harmonizing with all the Bible.

In reference to the impression left in 1 John 3:6, 9; 5:18 in the KJV that a good Christian never sins, Matthew Henry wrote:

That he cannot commit an act of sin, I suppose no judicious interpreter understands. This would be contrary to 1 John 1:8, where it is made our duty to confess our sins. ...He cannot continue in the course and practice of sin.

Guy Woods added two questions:

How is it possible to confess sins never committed? cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2:1. Why do Christians need an advocate for them when they sin, if they never sin?

In reference to 1 John 3:9, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God," Woods said this means that the born-again person "does not keep on doing sin (as a life habit. ...persistent, continuous, willful sin).

David H. Stern, a Jewish translator of the New Testament, in his commentary in reference to 1 John 3:6, 9, said:

No one who remains united with him continues sinning. ...No one who has God as his Father keeps on sinning.  ...That is, he cannot continue sinning. The Greek verb in the present tense, as used here, implies ongoing action. A number of English versions (among them the KJV, the New English Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible) confuse readers by seeming to imply that believers are exempt from sin. For example, the Revised Standard Version: "No one who abides in him sins. ...No one born of God commits sin; ...and he cannot sin."

Yochanan [John] is not saying that once a person confesses faith in Yeshua [Jesus] he will never again commit sin; this is already clear from 1:5-2:2. On the contrary, his point is that a believer should never intend to sin, that he should never be a habitual sinner, that he should not continue to reserve for himself an area of life devoted to sinful practices. Instead of being defensive and self-excusing, he should acknowledge his sins (1:9) and renounce them. He should not exempt any part of his life from continuous self-scrutiny.Image

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