June 21: 1 John 3:8

1 John 3:7-9, continued
Statement #2 (verse 8):

“The (one) doing the sin is of [e)k] the Diabólos, (in) that, from the beginning, the Diabólos sins; unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth—that he might loose [i.e. dissolve] the works of the Diabólos.”

The second statement in vv. 7-9 also corresponds with the second statement of the first unit (vv. 4-6), in v. 5. Both statements refer to the purpose of the Son’s appearance on earth, the mission for which he was sent (by God the Father). In verse 5, the stated purpose is “that he might take away the sin”; here it is “that he might dissolve the works of the Devil”. Sin is thus characterized as the “work of the Devil” —that is, what the Satan (or the Devil) does. This relates to the definition of the true nature of judgment (kri/si$) in Jn 16:11 (see the discussion in the previous note, and cf. below). Through the Son’s mission on earth, which he faithfully completed, the world and its ruler (i.e., the Devil), has been judged. Even though the world continues, in the present, to be dominated by darkness and evil, fundamentally opposed to God, it has, in truth, already been judged (cf. Jn 3:18-19ff; 12:31).

An essential aspect of this judgment is that the power of the world (and of the Devil) has been dissolved, at least for believers in Christ. Sin and evil no longer have any power or control over believers. Being in the Son, united with him, believers now share in his victory over the world (Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5).

The Son, who is present in us through the Spirit (“the [One] in you”, 4:4), frees us from the power of sin and evil. If this dynamic were explained in Pauline terms, we would say that we, as believers, were no longer in bondage to the power of sin. This means that we are no longer compelled to sin, and are able to avoid sin, living in a holy and righteous manner, in conformity to God’s will. However, we are still subject to impulses from the flesh which can prompt us toward sin; these can be resisted and avoided, but they are more or less continually present. It hard to know to what extent the Johannine author(s) may have held a comparable view, regarding sin and the believer. Certain features do seem to have been held in common, though the Johannine writings do not utilize the Pauline concept of the “flesh” as a way of explaining sin.

The true believer and the false believer are contrasted, by the terminology used in vv. 7 and 8. The true believer is characterized (and defined) as “the (one) doing the right” (o( poiw=n th\n dikaiosu/nhn), and is the offspring of God (2:29, and here in 3:6 & 9); by contrast, the false believer is “the (one) doing the sin” (o( poiw=n th\n a(marti/an), and is the offspring of the Devil, rather than God. The preposition e)k (“out of”) in the expression e)k tou= diabo/lou (“out of the Devil”) is a kind of shorthand equivalent for genna/w e)k (“come to be [born] out of”). However, the verb genna/w is reserved for the birth of believers (from God), and is not applied to non-believers (or false believers). Also, the ‘birth’ is not the same. In the case of believers, the birth from God is real, even though it is a spiritual (rather than physical) birth; for non-believers (and false believers), the ‘birth’ from the Devil is figurative, referring primarily to the fact that they act like the Devil’s offspring, by doing the kinds of things that the Devil (their ‘father’) does. Cf. John 8:39-47, discussed in a prior note; the point is made at the conclusion of this section (v. 10) as well.

Central to the author’s line of argument is the precise meaning of the contrasted terms dikaiosu/nh (“right-ness, what is right”) and a(marti/a (“sin”). The best guide to the meaning of these terms, within the Johannine theology, is the Paraclete-saying in Jn 16:8-11, mentioned in the previous note. Here is how Jesus (and the Gospel writer) effectively define the terms:

    • “sin” (a(marti/a): a failure and/or refusal to trust in Jesus as the Son of God (“[in] that they did not trust in me”), v. 9
    • “right(eous)ness” (dikaiosu/nh): a trust in, and confirmation of, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, manifest by his exaltation and departure back to the Father (“I lead [the way] under [back] to the Father, and you [can] no longer look on me”), v. 10

These definitions differ notably from the conventional ethical-religious sense of “sin” and “righteousness” —viz., wrongdoing, contrasted with devout and morally upright conduct. The Johannine writers accept this conventional understanding of sin and righteousness, but it is secondary to the theological (Christological) meaning. I have discussed the two-fold, or two-layered, understanding of sin (and righteousness) at some length in a recent series of studies. Ultimately, “the right-ness” (or “that which is right”) refers principally, and primarily, to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, and our trust in him. The righteousness is God’s righteousness, which Jesus possesses as His Son. By trusting in the Son, we, as believers, come to share in that righteousness—as the Son is righteous, believers (as God’s offspring) are also righteous. This is the point made in verse 7 (see the previous note).

The same dynamic is at work regarding sin, but in an opposite, negative sense. The “sin” which non-believers (and false believers) commit is that they do not trust in Jesus as God’s Son. They also will tend to sin in the more conventional sense of ethical-religious failures and misdeeds, but their lack of trust in Jesus is primary. In this regard, note particularly the conclusion of the episode in chapter 9 of the Gospel (vv. 35-41), and cf. my earlier study on the passage. This sense of sin also prevails in sections 8:21-47ff of the Sukkot-Discourse.

In a comparable way, believers will act in an upright manner—viz., doing what is right—in a conventional ethical-religious sense. However, trust in Jesus is primary; actually, it would be more correct to define righteousness here in terms of the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers (3:23)—comprising the aspects of trust in Jesus and love for fellow believers (following Jesus’ own example). The true believer fundamentally “does what is right” by fulfilling both aspects of this e)ntolh/, while the false believer does not. It is interesting that the author here extends the essential predication of v. 7 (cf. the previous note), involving believers as the Divine subject, to include the antithesis—that is, with false believers as the subject. Note the contrastive (antithetical) parallelism:

the (one) doing th(at which is) right is [e)stin] righteous / born of God
(combining v. 7 with 2:29)
the (one) doing the sin is [e)stin] (born) of the Devil
(v. 8)

It should be mentioned again that, throughout this section—as, indeed, throughout 1 John as a whole—it is the “antichrist” opponents who, in the mind of the author, fulfill the role of the false believers. When the author speaks of the contrast between true and false believer, he primarily has these opponents in view. There is a definite allusion to this in the words with which the sub-unit opens (v. 7): “(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray…”. The people who might “lead astray” (vb plana/w) his readers are the “antichrist” opponents, as is clear from the conclusion of 2:18-27 (v. 26), and also throughout 4:1-6 (esp. verses 1, 6).

In the next daily note, we will examine the concluding statement of this unit (v. 9), in which the author presents a definitive declaration regarding the relation of believers (as offspring born of God) to sin.

Leave a Reply

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