June 20: 1 John 3:7

1 John 3:7-9

As discussed in the previous note, verses 4-9 represent a distinct unit, comprised of two parallel halves. Each sub-unit contains three statements (corresponding to the three verses), that are formally and thematically parallel with those of the other (cf. the outline in the previous note). Verses 4-6 have now been surveyed, including the climactic sin-reference of v. 6. In this note, we will examine the second unit of the passage (verses 7-9), with its corresponding sin-reference in v. 9.

Again, as in the case of vv. 4-6, we may divide this unit into three statements, corresponding to the three numbered verses.

Statement #1 (verse 7):

“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing th(at which is) right [dikaoisu/nh] is right [di/kaoi$], even as that (one) is right [di/kaio$].”

This first statement corresponds with the first statement of vv. 4-6 (in verse 4). In each statement a person is characterized by the Johannine grammatical convention of using a substantive participle (with definite article). Two different kinds of person are differentiated by the contrasting verbal expressions that are used:

    • “the (one) doing [poiw=n] the sin [a(marti/a]” (v. 4)
    • “the (one) doing [poiw=n] the right-ness [dikaiosu/nh]” (v. 7)

Sin (a(marti/a) is contrasted with “right-ness” (dikaiosu/nh). The noun dikaiosu/nh denotes that which is right (di/kaio$), in a general or inclusive sense. Both the noun and adjective are used here in verse 7. In a religious context, these terms are usually rendered as “righteous(ness)”, while, in a social or legal setting, they are more properly rendered as “just(ice)”. Both of these contexts are suggested by the explanation of sin as a)nomi/a, a condition of being or acting “without law” (a&nomo$), i.e., “lawlessness” (see the discussion on verse 4 in the previous note). More fundamentally, the contrast is between “that which is right” and “that which is wrong” (i.e., sin).

The noun dikaiosu/nh is relatively rare in the Johannine writings, compared with its extensive use by Paul; the same is true of the dikaio– word-group as a whole. In the Johannine letters, the noun occurs only in this section (three times, 2:29; 3:7, 10), while similarly it occurs in only one passage (16:8, 10) in the Gospel. The adjective di/kaio$ is somewhat more frequent. In 1 John it is most notable that the use of the adjective follows early Christian tradition, utilizing it as a descriptive characteristic (and title) of Jesus as “(the) righteous (one)” (2:1; cf. Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14). In being righteous, the Son (Jesus) reflects the righteousness of God the Father (1:9; 2:29); as one who is right(eous), the Son does what is right. This is the point made here in v. 7.

The true believer, as one who has been “born of God”, reflects the righteous character of God even as the Son (Jesus) does. The true believer, thus, will similarly “do what is right”, even as the Son “does what is right”. This equation is established in 2:29, and is echoed again here in v. 7. If the true believer does what is right, then the non-believer (and false believer) does what is wrong. Moreover, if sin is defined as being contrary to law (lit. “without law”), as stated in v. 4, then, “right(eous)ness” must similarly be understood as that which follows and fulfills the law.

The Johannine theological interpretation of this ethical-religious language is indicated by the use of both a(marti/a and dikaiosu/nh in Jn 16:8-11, one of the ‘Paraclete’ sayings by Jesus in the Last Discourse. When the Spirit comes (as one “called alongside”, para/klhto$ [parákl¢tos]), he will show the world to be wrong about three things, in particular (v. 8): sin (a(marti/a), right(eous)ness (dikaiosu/nh), and judgment (kri/si$). The true nature of sin is given in verse 9, where it is defined as unbelief—the failure and/or unwillingness to trust in Jesus as the Son of God. The true nature of right(eous)ness, in verse 10, is stated more indirectly, requiring a certain amount of interpretation. While there remains a lack of agreement among commentators, the basic idea seems to be that righteousness is rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Son, and that, following the completion of his earthly mission, with his exaltation, this identity has been confirmed by his return to the Father. True righteousness is the Divine righteousness of God (the Father), which is also reflected and manifested in the Son.

The thought expressed here is quite similar to that of 2:29 (discussed in a prior note); indeed, even the wording is similar:

“If you have seen that he is [e)stin] right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that every(one) doing th(at which is) right [h( dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.”

Since the Son of God (Jesus) is, in nature and character, righteous, implicitly he will do what is right; similarly, believers, as the offspring/children of God, will follow the pattern/example of the Son, and will likewise regularly do what is right. The converse also holds: the one who does what is right, like the Son, must be a child of God.

In our discussion on 2:29, I mentioned how the verse contains an example of Johannine essential predication, with the Son (Jesus) as the Divine subject: “{subject implied} | he is [e)stin] | right(eous) [di/kaio$]” —with the adjective di/kaio$ functioning as a substantive predicate nominative. A similar predicative statement occurs here in 3:7, but with the (true) believer as the Divine subject (viz., the offspring/child of God):

“the (one) doing th(at which is right) | is [e)stin] | right(eous) [di/kaio$]”

The believer (as the subject) is expressed by the substantive verbal noun (participial) phrase, stated in typical Johannine fashion (cf. above), “the (one) doing th(at which is right)” (o( poiw=n th\n dikaiosu/nhn). Moreover, here the two predicative statements are combined, showing how the believer’s right-ness relates to that of Jesus (the Son):

    • “the one doing that which is right | is | right(eous)”
    • just as “that one [i.e. the Son/Jesus] | is | right(eous)

If the Son of God (Jesus) is righteous, then any other true child/offspring of God (i.e., believer) also is righteous. The proof that a person is a true believer (and thus a child born of God) is that he/she does (vb poie/w), as a matter of personal character (reflected in regular conduct), “that which is right” (or, “the right-ness”, h( dikaiosu/nh). As the essential predication implies, this “right-ness” is a Divine right-ness, a Divine characteristic and attribute, shared by both God the Father and the Son. It is specifically contrasted with “the sin” (or, “th[at which is] sin”, h( a(marti/a), which is characteristic of the false believer (and the non-believer), not the true believer. This will be examined further in the next daily note, on verse 8.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *