Bible Studies/Greek and 1 John


Hello again! Nice to talk with you again and as always it is a great privilege. My question today is concerning 1 John 3:9. Could you please explain the Greek tense, mood or structure of this sentence to me? So far I have found several interpretations of this verse.

1. This verse is saying that true born again Christians who have truly been regenerated, may sin at times but will not continue to practice sin.

2. This verse means Christians don't sin at all. Which we both know is silly to believe.

3. This verse mean Christian who are currently walking in the light or abiding in Christ are currently no sinning or practicing sin.

Now I have read many works and commentaries on this verses and seen people talking about:

The present active infinitive amartanein can only mean "and he cannot go on sinning,"

"A child of the God who is Light can have nothing to do with sin which is darkness: the two are morally incompatible."

The present active infinitive ἁμαρτανειν [hamartanein] can only mean “and he cannot go on sinning,” as is true of ἁμαρτανει [hamartanei] in verse 8 and ἁμαρτανων [hamartanōn] in verse 6.5

So as you can see I have found different quotes and works here. But some of the Greek teachers don't agree. What is your thoughts?

Dear Josh,

1 Jn 3:6 (not 3:9) does seem to say what your number 3 says, that the person who abides in Christ does not practice sin and lawlessness (see the contextual verse, v. 4). I doubt it means that when a person is abiding in Christ they don't sin in the slightest (e.g. they don't even give in to unconscious pride or competition or irritableness and so on). The main burden of the section seems to be to help people realize that certain people, who claim to be Christians and even Christian leaders, but obviously live in sinful ways, cannot be of God.

I don't think that vv. 8-9 intend to say that anyone who is not sinless cannot be born of God and must be of the devil, or, conversely, that anyone born of God will be literally sinless as Jesus was. That would be a blatant contradiction with what John wrote just a little earlier in 1 Jn 1:6--2:2.

I can't say I'm convinced by the argument on the basis of the Greek grammar that John means persistence in sin. The grammar seems perfectly compatible with the interpretation that no one who is born of God sins (at all). Nonetheless I think we need to assume, based on 1:6--2:2, that (1) he is speaking paradoxically, or (2) that he is talking about some specific and obvious sinful lawlessness that his recipients have written him about, or (3) that when he says no one who is born of God sins, he's thinking something like Paul, who in Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24 talks about the new self who is born of God. For Paul the new man does not sin, but the old man--whom we are supposed to continuously put to death--does sin.

I'm not fully satisfied with any of these three options, so I guess I have to admit that I'm not sure where to land as far as the interpretation of this passage. It's very difficult.


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J. Webb Mealy


Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.


Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (, author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

See my online publication,, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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