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Is Confession Valid for the Christian? 1 John 1:1-2:2

Dr Grant C Richison


It appears that John is writing against a contemporary apostate named Cerinthus who was an incipient Gnostic. Full blown Gnosticism was not developed until much later. Incipient Gnosticism was the Gnosticism of biblical times. This was an ontological dualism. The essential or basic idea of this heresy is that material is bad and spiritual is good. This view undermined the incarnation of Christ (1 Jn 1:1-4).

We see the incipient Gnostic problem in the first verse (although all theories of the sessationists in 1 John cannot be determined dogmatically):

we proclaim…the Word of life” (vs. 1)

“which we have heard”

“which we have seen”

“which we have looked at”

“[which] our hands touched;”


We can see right off the launching pad the idea of the physical humanity of Christ in the first few verses

The readers of First John were 1) Christians, 2) they were well-known to the author John, and 3) they faced a doctrinal threat, 4) the recipients accepted the authority of John’s writing, 5) some from the congregation fell into false teaching (2:27; 4:1), 6) there was an ongoing controversy, 7) the controversy caused some to leave the church (2:19), 8) the controversy was over the incarnation and the condition of “fellowship” this caused with the Lord (1:1-4) and those who left could not share in this fellowship (2:18-19), 9) John adopted a “we-they” position which implies that some in the church had not embraced the false teaching of incipient Gnosticism

John gives no specific location of the addressees but the location was somewhere in Asia Minor.



The most simplistic argument of First John is to warn Christians of false doctrine/s and build them in the faith.

In verse 6 there is a false claim to the true assertion of verse 7 of “walking in the light.” The claim of verse 6 is about fellowship with God because the word “walking” refers to ongoing fellowship with God. Fellowship should be with God “as He is in the light.”

In 1:4 the phrase “with one another” refers to fellowship among believers. Some interpret the first chapter as a problem with heretics; that is, John directly addresses false teachers. I don’t believe there is a basis for this assertion. I agree that John is writing about a problem with possibly the incipient Gnostic Cerinthus who denied that Jesus had a body. That is why John began the epistle with reference to our hands have handled, etc. However, the emphasis is not on what non-Christians need to do but what is necessary for Christians to have fellowship with each other and God.

The statement of 1:5 is the launching pad for the rest of the chapter. The problem that First John addresses is possibly incipient Gnosticism. The book argues against those who reject the idea that Jesus had physical body; they believed that the physical/material was evil. Some of them believed that evil came from God. The Holy Spirit introduces the idea of “light” to counteract this false belief. Light is a metaphor of revelation; light is the opposite of darkness. Sin and God are antithetical to one another. Who God is throws light on the darkness of sin exposing it for what it is. Verse five is a revelation of God as absolute in essence. If that is the case, under God’s revelation of himself no Christian can hide in darkness. God cannot coexist with sin or have fellowship with people who sin.

There is a problem for the Christian if God is a God of light and the believer has darkness in his life. A Christian who claims “fellowship” with God and walks in darkness is inconsistent with the revelation of who God is. Note the two times “walk” is used in verses 6 and 7. The word “walk” comes from two words: to walk and around. The issue is to live as a course of life. God wants the believer to live as a course of life in correspondence to the God who is “light” and has no “darkness” whatsoever (1:7). That is why the believer must live under his status of positional absoluteness in God’s view. Christians should experience in their daily lives what is true of them positionally and eternally. God’s purpose is that we should be “holy” for God is “holy” (1 Pe 1:14-16). This is something that the believer can experience.

We find the word “fellowship” in 1:3, 4, 6, 7. Note the hina clauses in 1:3 and 5:13. The purpose of writing 1 John was for believers:

1 Jn 5: 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

The purpose statement of the book is found in 1:3. The hina clause in the prolog specifically states that John wrote to promote fellowship horizontally between believers and vertically with God as well. The hina clause therefore governs the entire epistle. Fellowship does not carry the idea of eternal life exclusively. John also uses nomenclature in addition to “fellowship” of “abiding,” “eternal life” and “knowing God.” These terms are aspects of fellowship. When believers experience “eternal life” this is a way of fellowshipping with the Lord. John used “abiding,” for example, in John 15 as a productive life, not salvation.

1 John 5:13 is not a purpose statement for the entire epistle but for the immediate context; thus, it is a secondary purpose statement to 1:3.



John writes to “children,” “little children” (2:1) and “beloved.” These terms are clear descriptors of Christians. The issue for John is believers who are misled by their own sense of adequacy before God. They did not have proper teaching regarding this and the incipient Gnostics made inroads into their thinking. The danger had to do with false concepts of sin. Self-righteousness can mislead Christians. John’s use of the first person shows he includes himself as the object of the discussion.  “Children” (vocative, neuter plural, diminutive form–little child) clearly refers to believers in 1 John: 2:12, 28; 4:4.

In the process of defining who wrote First John Baker New Testament Commentary gives this summary of the “we” in 1 John:

Personal References

The use of the first person plural in the opening verse of I John is striking. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1:1). In the succeeding verses (vv. 2–4), the writer continues to use the first person plural pronoun we to distinguish himself from his readers. When he resorts to using that pronoun in subsequent verses, he uses it comprehensively to include himself with the readers. See, for example, the verse frequently used in worship services: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9).

In the introductory verses (also see 4:14), John tells his readers that he is an eyewitness who saw Jesus, heard his voice, and touched him with his hands. His use of the words we, us and our must be understood exclusively. That is, he is communicating to his readers that he and his fellow disciples had the unique experience of seeing and hearing Jesus, but that the readers did not have this opportunity. Instead they receive the teachings of Jesus from one of the surviving disciples.29

What is the precise meaning of the pronoun we in 1:1–4? Here are a few interpretations:

1. “We” is equivalent to “I” because the writer employs the plural to indicate his authority in the church. He is the apostle John, who speaks with indisputable authority. But John’s words are not dictatorial and haughty. In his writings he makes no mention of his apostolic office.

2. The author may use the pronoun we as an editorial “we.” That is, he tries to avoid calling attention to himself alone, and therefore resorts to the general “we.” But the so-called editorial “we” is too vague to be applicable here.

3. The pronoun we refers to a group of persons who have had the same experiences. They are the disciples of Jesus, who have been with the Lord Jesus, “beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up” (Acts 1:22). These persons are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and form the distinct group that constitutes the circle of the twelve apostles. John, then, is “the last survivor of those who had heard and seen the Lord, the sole representative of His disciples, speaking in their name.”30

4. Some scholars understand the “we” (vv. 1–4) to include the writer and the whole church. The writer, says Dodd, “speaks not exclusively for himself or for a restricted group, but for the whole Church to which the apostolic witness belongs,” and he addresses the “you” who have no knowledge of the Father and the Son.31 We demur. The recipients of the letter whom the author addresses repeatedly as “dear children” are not unbelievers. They are “the children of God” (3:1).

If the recipients are part of the church and part of the group Dodd mentions, then 1:3 means that this group—“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard”—is addressing itself. Also, the addressees have not seen and heard Jesus and certainly have not touched him with their hands. Concludes Donald W. Burdick, “It is much easier to accept the more natural interpretation, which sees the author as an eyewitness, than to adopt Dodd’s unnatural interpretation in order to avoid the eyewitness claim.”32

5. Last, Raymond E. Brown understands the “we” in the introduction of I John in relation to the so-called Johannine School. They are the Johannine writers, “the tradition-bearers and interpreters who stand in a special relationship to the Beloved Disciple in their attempt to preserve his witness.”33 Brown is fully aware of the objection that Johannine writers could not say that they had touched Jesus with their own hands (1:1). He tries to remove the objection by suggesting that these people “participated in the sensation only vicariously.”

The reader who accepts apostolic authorship, however, has no difficulties especially in the light of the testimony of eyewitnesses. For instance, Peter writes, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Only Jesus’ original disciples can say and write that they touched him with their hands, as John states in the introductory verses of his first epistle. Consequently, we favor the third interpretation given.

J. R. W. Stott succinctly summarizes the explanation of the pronoun we in the prologue of I John (1:1–4).

The first person plural is used not only of the verbs describing the historical experience, but also of the verbs describing the proclamation of it. The persons who make the announcement are the persons who had the experience.… It is they whose eyes have seen, ears heard and hands handled, whose mouths are opened to speak.34[1]

The New American Commentary comments on the “we” in 1 John in this way:

Moreover, the next occurrence of a “we” subject in a main clause (1:6)54 and almost every “we” in the rest of the epistle are inclusive.55 After marking out the unique role of the apostolic eyewitnesses through the exclusive “we” in 1:1–4a and naming their purpose as mutual fellowship and joy between them and subsequent believers, the focus on the message over the messenger in 1:4b facilitates a transition to an emphasis on the message in the remainder of the letter (1:5–5:21). The exclusive “we” disappears, except as a bridge establishing that the message in 1:5–5:21 comes from these eyewitnesses (1:5; 4:6). Since these eyewitnesses and subsequent believers are one in unity by virtue of faith in the same incarnate Christ, John can include himself with his readers in expounding the implication of the message concerning the person and teaching of Jesus. This common fellowship accounts for the inclusive “we’s” in the rest of the epistle.56[2]

W. Hall Harris III demonstrates the “Inclusive vs. Exclusive “We” in 1 John” at this site: In this article he claims that the “we” in 1 John 1:6-10 refers to material that is primarily inclusive (i.e., the author including himself with the readers). It seems to me that Hall’s perspective on who the antagonists were in 1 John is balanced:’s-opponents-and-their-teaching-1-john

Since there is no extant statement that the “we” of verses 6,8 and 10 are false teachers, the burden of proof rests upon those who make that assertion.



The word “fellowship” occurs for times: 1:3 [2 times], 6, 7 at the outset of the book indicating a lead idea of the book. “Fellowship” can be taken in two senses: 1) daily walk with the Lord and 2) salvation (there is no adequate evidence for salvation in chapter 1). The essence of the Greek word group for koinonia is to have something in common. Believers share God’s eternal life with him both from a positional and an experiential point of view. The only means of fellowship with an absolute God is the blood of Christ (1:7).

The issue in 1:5 is whether John puts emphasis on God’s moral attributes by the word “light.” Others take “light” as exclusively self-revelation. The idea of the latter view is that the believer’s honesty with God; we cannot hide our sins from God and have fellowship with him. In support of the latter view the ideas of lying verses the truth are found in 1:6,8,10. Lying parallels with darkness and light parallels with honesty. However, the problem with the latter view is the harmatological issues in 1 John.



All of the “if” clauses in chapter one are third class condition morphologically (subjunctive mood in the protasis). The subjunctive mood as traditionally understood indicates a degree of probability but that has been challenged in recent years. The essential idea presently is that third class conditions are essentially future contingencies. There are about 305 first class conditions, 47 second-class and 277 third-class conditions in the NT. The third class condition is confined to the future from the standpoint of the writer.

Recent debate is whether the third-class condition means more probable and the fourth-class condition is less probable. Some have come to doubt this distinction. David L. Washburn via James Boyer has come to the conclusion that the third class conditions in 1 John are of the present general type, that is, they express conditions based on present states or realities rather than future probabilities of the ean plus the subjunctive mood. He says that there are three categories of ean plus the subjunctive: definitely future (2:28; 3:2), either present or future (uncertain) (2:1, 24; 5:14, 16) and present state of things (the remaining 22 occurrences in 1 John). The latter is especially true in 1 John 1. This is especially the case where false teachers are making a present claim. As well, those who confess their sins have forgiveness. These are happening right now from John’s viewpoint. Washburn believes that John used ean with the subjunctive with the same idea of the articular participle with the idea of “whoever.” He deems that Boyer overstated the distinction of the third class condition when it comes to 1 John, that is, the present general condition is clearly a distinction in the book just as in Classical Greek. It states a condition based on present realities to John.

Daniel Wallace offers a fifth class condition which requires a present indicative in the apodosis. The third class condition can have any mood-tense combination including the present indicative. The context will give the meaning semantically. The fifth class condition offers fulfillment in the present time—the present general condition; that is, the writer gives no indication about the likelihood of its fulfillment.

William Wenstrom gives an excellent summary of the third class conditions in 1 John:

All of the 3rd class conditions of 1 John 1 are present general condition (5th class condition). 1:9 is the fourth in a series of 6 (1:6,7,8,9,10; 2:1).

·       The negative statements 1 John 1:6, 8 and 10 are Gnostic teaching whereas the positive statements in 1 John 1:7, 9 and 2:1 are apostolic teaching. The protasis is hypothetical in force in each of these clauses that have a negative statement in the apodosis expressing concern by John that his readers are exposited to false teaching.

·       The clauses that have a positive statement in the apodosis have in the protasis the conditional particle ean, “if,” but a different verb is employed with it in each protasis:

1. 1 John 1:7 “if any of us does live”

2. 1 John 1:9: “if any of us does confess.”

3. 1 John 2:1: “If any of us enters into sin.”

·       The protasis can have three basic relations to the apodosis:

a. Cause-effect

b. Evidence-inference

c. Equivalence.

·       Conditional statements refer to the portrayal of reality rather than to reality itself.

·       The apodosis may have any tense, any mode and may be the following:

a. Statement

b. Prediction

c. Command

d. Prohibition

e. Suggestion

f. Question.

Hence the apodosis may be in the:

a. Indicative

b. Subjunctive

c. Imperative.

·       William Wenstrom gives this summary of Daniel Wallace: Wallace lists the following (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics-Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament):

a. 1st Class Condition: Assumed true for arguments sake.

b. 2nd Class Condition: Contrary to Fact

c. 3rd Class Condition: Uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely to occur

d. 4th Class Condition: Possible condition in the future, usually a remote possibility

Wallace makes the following comments regarding the 3rd Class Condition (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics-Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament):

1. The third class condition often presents the condition as uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely.

2. There are, however, many exceptions to this.

3. It is difficult to give one semantic label to this structure, especially in Hellenistic Greek (note the discussion below).

4. The structure of the protasis involves the particle ejavn followed by a subjunctive mood in any tense.

5. Both the particle (a combination of eij and the particle a[n) and the subjunctive give the condition a sense of contingency.

6. The apodosis can have any tense and any mood.

7. This is a common category of conditional clauses, occurring nearly 300 times in the NT.

8. The third class condition encompasses a broad semantic range: (a) a logical connection (if A, then B) in the present time (sometimes called present general condition), indicating nothing as to the fulfillment of the protasis; (b) a mere hypothetical situation or one that probably will not be fulfilled; and (c) a more probable future occurrence.

9. Technically, the subjunctive is used in the third class condition as well as the fifth class condition.

10. Structurally, these two are virtually identical: The fifth class condition requires a present indicative in the apodosis, while the third class can take virtually any mood-tense combination, including the present indicative.

11. Semantically, their meaning is a bit different.

12. The third class condition encompasses a broad range of potentialities in Koine Greek.

13. It depicts what is likely to occur in the future, what could possibly occur, or even what is only hypothetical and will not occur.

14. In classical Greek the third class condition was usually restricted to the first usage (known as more probable future), but with the subjunctive’s encroaching on the domain of the optative in the Hellenistic era, this structural category has expanded accordingly.

15. The context will always be of the greatest help in determining an author’s use of the third class condition.

16. The fifth class offers a condition the fulfillment of which is realized in the present time.

17. This condition is known as the present general condition.

18. For the most part this condition is a simple condition; that is, the speaker gives no indication about the likelihood of its fulfillment.

19. His presentation is neutral: “If A, then B.”

20. Because of the broad range of the third class condition and the undefined nature of the fifth class, many conditional clauses are open to interpretation.

21. But for the most part, the present general condition addresses a generic situation in the present time (broadly speaking), while the more probable future addresses a specific situation in the future time.

William Wenstrom’s application to 1 John 1:9


Here in 1 John 1:9 as in 1 John 1:6, 7 and 8, the apostle John under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit employs a 3rd class conditional statement, which semantically presents a logical connection (if A, then B) in the present time that is sometimes called a present general condition, and indicates nothing as to the fulfillment of the protasis.

The fifth class condition requires a present indicative in the apodosis, while the third class can take virtually any mood-tense combination, including the present indicative.

Here in 1 John 1:9 we have the present indicative in the apodosis and the subjunctive mood in the protasis. As we also noted the fifth class offers a condition the fulfillment of which is realized in the present time. His presentation is neutral: “If A, then B.”

We also noted that because of the broad range of the third class condition and the undefined nature of the fifth class, many conditional clauses are open to interpretation.

But for the most part, the present general condition addresses a generic situation in the present time (broadly speaking), while the more probable future addresses a specific situation in the future time. There is no hint of uncertainty about this event occurring, nor is it something presented as an eventuality. John is simply presenting a hypothetical situation in order to teach spiritual principle with the 5th class condition.

This is very important to remember when understanding the semantic usage of the present tense of the verb estin, which as we will note is gnomic [general truth without reference to time]. This is a spiritual principle that reflects his apostolic teaching and stands in contrast to the Gnostic teaching, which is reflected in 1 John 1:8.

The protasis expresses the cause and the apodosis the effect.

a. Protasis-cause: If any believer does confess his personal sins to the Father.

b. Apodosis-effect: Then the Father is as an eternal spiritual truth faithful and just with the result that He will forgive the believer his personal sins and He will purify him from each and every wrongdoing.

In 1 John 1:9 we have a present general condition in which the subject is distributive meaning, “if any of us.”

The subjunctive is thus used because of the implicit uncertainty as to who is included in the 1st person plural.

The clauses that have a negative statement in the apodosis have in the protasis the conditional particle ean (e)aVn), “if” and the 1st person plural aorist active subjunctive form of the verb eipon (ei)`pon), which is eipomen (ei&pwmen), “any of us enters into making the claim.” The protasis is hypothetical in force in each of these clauses that have a negative statement in the apodosis.

The clauses that have a positive statement in the apodosis have in the protasis the conditional particle ean, “if,” but a different verb is employed with it in each protasis:

a. 1 John 1:7: “If any of us does live.”

b. 1 John 1:9: “If any of us does confess.”

c. 1 John 2:1: “If any of us enters into sin.”

Here in 1 John 1:9 we have an example of the present general condition. There is no hint of uncertainty about this event occurring, nor is it something presented as an eventuality.

The subjunctive is used because the subject is undefined, not because the time is future.

So 1 John 1:9 we have a present general condition in which the subject is distributive meaning, “any of us,” and the subjunctive is thus used because of the implicit uncertainty as to who is included in the “we.”

1 John 1:6 presents the 1st of 3 3rd class conditional clause that semantically expresses a present general condition and which have a negative statement in the apodosis. Each of these clauses with the negative statement in the protasis contains statements in the protasis that are hypothetical in force.



The character of sin in 1 John:

  1. Sin is lawlessness.

3: 4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.

Use of the definite article with both substantives makes this a definitive statement on sin. “Lawlessness” views sin from God’s viewpoint. It is also an all-inclusive statement. Sin is not only the breaking of the law but it is contrary to it. Law reflects who God is (Ro 3:23). Sin is the opposite of who God is. Sin in its lawless form is against God’s character.

  1. Sin is unrighteousness.

5: 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

The phrase “all unrighteousness is sin” is from the human standpoint. This is failure of duty to God.

  1. Walking in the light cleanses the believer “from all sin.”

1:7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

The protasis is “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light.” There is a double apodosis: “we have fellowship” and “the blood cleanses us from all sin.” The last clause does not depict the ground of fellowship but a co-ordinate result of walking in the law (kai as co-ordinate).

Note Robert Cook’s contrast of 1:7 with 1:9 (Bib Sac 123:491 (Jul 66) p. 250):

if we walk in the light


the blood of Jesus






from all sin


if we confess our sins








our sins


(if we confess our sins)








from all unrighteousness


Verse 9 carries the argument of verse 7 further. In verse 7 the blood cleanses from all sin (anarthrous singular) as a consequence of waking in the light. Verse 9 indicates that God forgives specific sins (articular plural) and cleansing from all unrighteousness following confession. Forgiveness and cleansing are possible because of the shed blood of Christ (1:7; 2:2) but these verses describe different things. The sin of verse 7 is not forgiven but cleansed whereas the sins of verse 9 are forgiven and the sins which produced unrighteousness are “cleansed.” Thus, forgiveness in 1:9 has to do with sinful acts. Verse 7 offers a promise of cleansing, a dealing with sin so that it will not manifest itself in sinful acts. The present tense indicates that this is not a promise to abrogate the sin in one’s life but a promise of continual cleansing.

Verse 8 deals with the denial of sin. There is also a distinct difference between verse 8 and verse 10. In verse 8 the claimant denies the presence of sin and the act of sinning.

To the contrary of the assertion of verse 8 Christians do produce acts of sin: 1:9, 10; 2:1. The hina clause of 2:1 shows the purpose of what John wrote in chapter one was that Christians commit not one act of sin (aorist).

How does a Christian with sin in his life have fellowship with an absolute (holy) God?

  1. Sin can be controlled by walking in the light (1:7).

Christians are to take the same attitude toward sin that God has. God made every provision for sin.

  1. Jesus continually cleanses the believer’s sin (1:7) but God provides yet another solution to ongoing sin (1:9-2:2).

The Christian responsibility is to confess personal acts of sin. The right of confession is 2:1,2. Jesus functioning (present tense) as our Advocate based on His efficacious work on the cross is the right of the believer’s confession.

Three statements about those who believe in revelation:










“If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light,


we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”





“If we confess our sins,


He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”







“If anyone sins,


we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.”



The word “sin” occurs five times in this section with an emphasis on the importance of a proper view of sin for the Christian. The correct view of sin comes from the nature of God as the God of light. We can only come to grips with the absoluteness of God’s nature (no darkness at all) by the finished work of Christ. The Christian should experience the fullness of life which he derives from the life of God Himself. That fullness is fellowship with Him. Our Advocate makes this possible.

“Sin” without the definite article “the” focuses on the class of sin or to the whole of sin. “Sin” without the definite article can refer either to 1) the sin capacity or factory that produces sin or 2) sin generically.

“Walking” is a metaphor for living or conducting a course of life.


1. the claim to have fellowship with God but walk in darkness, 1:6

2. the claim not to have sin itself, 1:8

3. the claim not to have sinned, 1:10

Each claim is introduced by the particle ean of the third class condition and the aorist active subjunctive of eipomen. Within these claims John inserts another third class conditional clause concerning confession (1:9). This hypothetical condition uses the same formula as the three claims with the exception he does not use eipomen but homologomen in 1:9.

God’s light is the norm against which the three false claims are to be measured. Any claim of fellowship with God must be evaluated by the nature of God as the God of light. Darkness is the absence of light.


Denial: the antagonists of 1 John claim was that they advanced to a stage of sinlessness. They have achieved a goal of perfection. The claim has to do with the idea that they have no sin, not that they do no sin. The noun for “sin” describes cause/consequence but the verb describes the act itself. The claim then is one of eradication of sin.

Greek philosophy taught separation between body and spirit. The spirit is free but the body is nothing but material that dies. However, if the body sinned the spirit would not have blame–sin cannot affect the spirit but only the body. Spirit was good and body was evil. This was a philosophy of life divorced from time and space. Ethics were of no great import. Even Jesus only had the appearance of physicality (this may not be the point of 1 John). The spirit of God came upon Jesus at His baptism. That spirit deserted Jesus just before His crucifixion.

Accommodation to this view would have made Christianity more popular because it was the generally accepted view of the Roman population at that time. Cerinthus was a proponent of incipient Gnosticism during John’s time in Asia Minor. We learn about this from Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, iii 28. 6; iv. 6) reporting on Irenaeus who quotes Polycarp about John’s disgust for Cerinthus. This, again, may not be the exact problem John addressed in his first epistle.

There is insufficient documentation to prove that the concern of the Apostle John in chapter one had to do with the antagonists per se. The problem had to do with the influence of the antagonists on who stayed in the camp of the apostle John. The point John makes is “if we claim….” Christians who believe in the “God of light” cannot claim to be without sin, that is, the claim to be without sin/s.

Christians who buy into the antagonists claim to be without sin “deceive” themselves.” The “ourselves” includes both Christians in Asia Minor and the apostolic group. The reflexive first person pronoun includes John himself. If even the apostle John himself were to make this claim he would deceive himself. The “truth” that is not “in us” (believers) is the specific truth that God is absolute in his nature and cannot tolerate the presence of sin—there is no darkness whatsoever in him (v. 5). The statement of this verse has do with a less absolutistic idea of truth—there is no truth whatsoever in the people who make the claim.


Semantic parallelism: v. 8 is parallel to v. 6; v. 9 is parallel to v. 7.

This verse is divided into three parts:

1. a condition–if we confess our sins; issue–admitting of our sins: we honestly face our sin without hiding it or excusing it. We confront our sins openly without justifying them. The idea behind confession is a change of mind about the value we hold about the sin. There is no when, where or how to confess here. However, the confession is to be continual.

SINS (plural)–indicates volume and specificity

2. assurance–”He is faithful and just.” God is true to Himself (just) and His promises (faithful). God does not go back on His Word.

3. fulfillment–forgive and cleanse. The tense is not future but aorist–God effectively forgives and purifies in point action.

FORGIVE–act of canceling a debt, a debt we owe to God. This places the debtor in a condition free of obligation.

CLEANSE–purifies the sinner so that he can have fellowship with God.


This verse concludes the conditional sentences and lays the basis for the next verses (2:1-2). The claim to have not sinned shows the disregard for God’s revelation (God’s “word has no place in our lives”). The v. 8 clamant asserted that he had no sin, now he claims that he is not a sinner maintaining that he has not sinned. This claim underestimates the absoluteness of God’s righteousness. He refuses to listen to what God says about this in the Word of God.

The sequence of the three false claims (vv6,8,10) builds to a climax:

1. We lie, v6

2. We lie to ourselves, v8 (deceive ourselves)

3. We make God a liar, v10


I highly recommend W. Hall Harris III exegesis on this passage:


First John 1:5 is the foundation for 1:6–2:2. Verse 5 is an assertion about the character of God that he is absolute without any darkness but only pure light.


The “and” connects the statement of 1:5-2:2 to the first four verses making an explicit indication about the purpose of the book—“this is the message.” The “and” is paratactic, an independent clause making the phrase “God is light” stand independent. The “and” does indicate transition to the main body of the book. The message that people need to understand about the purpose of First John is “God is light and in him is no darkness whatsoever,” that is, God is absolute in his purity. This message came from those who physically saw the Lord Jesus (vv. 1-4). Understanding this message brings believers into fellowship with apostolic witness.

“From him” refers to Jesus (v.3) as the antecedent of “him.” This is consistent with the direct witness of the apostles in verses 1-4.

“Light” connotes revelation, the revelation of God’s being and nature. That revelation reveals the sinfulness of men. In 1 John sin, not life or death, is the focus. God’s nature is the standard of behavior. Any claim for fellowship with God must be based on His nature. Antithetically, God has no darkness or lack of revelation in Himself–emphatic double negative. Darkness represents those who do not live in harmony with God’s nature. Darkness is the absence of light. This is the crux of John address to the false claims of 1:6,8,10. All this leads to the believer’s honest dealing with sins in his life (1:9). God has made provision for those who have darkness in their lives. 1 John 1:9 first has a conditional statement then a propositional statement.

The predicate nominative “light” is anarthrous which probably indicates not a statement of identity but a quality or attribute of God. God is absolutely sinless. The succeeding verses develop ethical implications of God as light. This is something beyond what Christians received at salvation.

Darkness in the first century was usually connected with evil deeds. Fellowship cannot occur in darkness inasmuch as God is absolute light and in him is no darkness whatsoever.

“Light” is more than the absence of darkness and darkness more than the absence of light. Light both reveals and purifies; God as light both reveals and purifies. The double negative “no darkness whatsoever” reveals the absoluteness of God as light. The gods of the first century were mixed in virtues—they were both good and bad. People of the first century were comfortable about thinking of their gods as mixed in nature. Since John in the development of this verse in vv. 6ff brings out the ethical dimension “light” refers to the moral realm.

Another viable alternative as to what is light is that “light” is “life” (cf John 1:4). “Darkness” by contrast would be death due to rejection of revelation of Christ. The apostles witnessed “eternal life” (1:2). The problem with this view is that it does not sync with the details of 1 John 1:5-2:2.



This verse begins the six “if” clauses ending in 2:1. The “if” clause is followed by a negative statement in the apodosis then followed by another “if” clause making a counter-claim by John with a positive statement in the apodosis. The negative apodoses include “if we say/claim” (vv. 6, 8, 10) but the positive apodoses merely have the “if” clause (vv. 7, 9, 2:1). The negative statements are hypothetical but are the genuine concerns of John that his readers will be influenced by them. The apostle is showing the implication of believing these assertions. The positive statements demonstrate the implications of believing the truth.

There is a question as to whether the “if” clauses in 1:6-2:1 are cause/effect or evidence/inferential conditional clauses. There are three different kinds of relationships between the protasis and the apodosis: 1) cause-effect, 2) evidence-inference, and 3) equivalence (Wallace, Greek grammar, 682-84). The the claim to walk in the light cause the effect of “lying” and “not doing the truth.” There are then two corresponding effects to the “if” clause.

An equivalence clause would be this construction: the “if” clause A equals the B clause (the “then” clause). Cause-effect is “if” A happens “then” B happens. Evidence-inference is “if” A (the ground or evidence) “then” B (inference or implication). The difference between cause-effect and evidence-inference is that evidence-inference the “if” cause is not the cause. The “then” clause is often not the cause of the “if” clause (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 683). If we interpret the conditional clause here as evidence-inference it would carry the idea that the cause of confession is God’s forgiveness and his cleanse of sin. This does not seem to be the flow of context.

“If we say” begins three affirmations contrary to Scripture. John and the apostles apply the hypothetical statement to themselves as well. The “if” is a contingency with the possibility of realization. Statements beginning with “if we claim…” are hypothetical: “if we were to say…” Thus, John is writing to Christians who might be influenced by false teaching.

The upshot of all three claims is that sin does not affect the believer. However, the argument of John is that we cannot disassociate belief and behavior. They are inextricably connected.

It appears to me that the “we” of 1 John includes both the John’s group and his readers. The “we” refers back to verse 5 where the apostles are clearly in mind. The “you” of verse five includes the “we” here. For those who claim that “we” refers to the revisionists, the “we” is equivalent to “someone.” No one claims that the “we” of verse 5 in that sense. In order to do this there needs to be a radical change of reference without sustentative basis for the declaration. They have to read into the text to do this because nothing in the text itself supports this thesis. John is in the process of warning his Christian readers of these errors. Brown in his commentary says the warning is to those who remain under John’s authority, therefore, those who make the claims of verses 6,8, and 10 are not “they” but “we.” The conditional clauses indicate that it is possible for those who remain with John might be misled into these errors. John includes himself in this possibility.

The three negative apodoses demonstrate the implications of those who buy into teaching contrary to apostolic teaching while the three positive apodoses state apostolic teaching.

There is a clear distinction between claim and conduct in this verse. The claim is to be in fellowship with God. “Darkness” is placed forward in the Greek sentence for emphasis. “Walk” is a term for ongoing conduct, that is, ongoing walking in darkness as a course of conduct.

“Fellowship” involves sharing both with God and fellow believers and not salvation. The original recipients of 1 John have the possibility of fellowship with the apostles. Those recipients were believers (2:12-14, 21, 27). The apostles’ fellowship with the Father and Son and believers can fellowship with the apostles.

Some hold that “fellowship” should be understood as eternal fellowship, the salvation of the believer. “Fellowship” in this case is equivalent to salvation, eternal partnership with the Lord. However, the purpose of 1 John was not to communicate the idea of salvation but how to fellowship with the Lord on a daily basis and to have assurance of salvation (5:13-14). The primary purpose statement is in the prolog but the secondary purpose statement has to do with the immediate context of (5:13-14). This “fellowship” is something more than the effects of the new birth because it is predicated with conditional clauses.

Verse 6 continues the imagery of verse 5 of light and darkness. The question is what is walking in the light and walking in darkness. The fellowship view holds that walking in the light is walking in holiness dealing with anything that breaks fellowship with God. “Darkness” is a domain where God does not reside.

This verse begins a series of six if-clauses ending in 2:1. The six if-clauses are divided into three pairs which affirm “if we say” succeeded by a negative statement (vv. 6, 8, 10) and then followed by “But if,” counter claims of positive affirmation (vv. 7,9, 2:1). The “if we say” represent statements by opponents of the apostle John. Verses 6-10 then set forth three erroneous beliefs that hide from the Light.

Harris III indicates that the “and” of verse 6 is structurally parallel to the first part of the protasis but is logically subordinate which expresses a condition circumstantial to the first part of the protasis. The “and” would then be adversative to the first clause—“and yet.” The claim is one thing but the reality is another.

“With him” probably refers to the Father or maybe Jesus or both. Note the Word Commentary on this point:

Most mss read ???? ??????? (“with each other”); but some (including A*) have ???? ????? (“with him”). It is arguable that the weakly attested reading (“fellowship with him”) should be accepted, because this passage is otherwise concerned exclusively with the relationship between men and God, not men and other Christians; and also because a scribe is unlikely to have impoverished the theological level of the verse by changing ????? to ??????? (so O’Neill, Puzzle, 8–10). On the other hand, it is a typical literary characteristic of this writer to advance his thought step by step, rather than repeating his ideas in exactly the same form (cf. 2:12–14). Thus, it is being claimed, fellowship with God (vv 6, 7a) can be realized and reproduced in fellowship with God’s people (so Brooke, 15; cf. Schnackenburg, 71). This consideration has prompted us to adopt the reading which is supported by the major witnesses (“fellowship with each other”).[3]

A person who does not practice the truth (living truth in one’s life) lies about their claim to fellowship with God. This self-deception causes a person to walk in darkness. The problem with those who claim to walk in the light and do not is not their claim but their contradictory behavior—they continue to walk in darkness.

The present tense of “keep on walking” is progressive. If a person makes the claim of walking in the light and yet continues to walk in darkness is the idea. That person lies about his situation and does not practice the truth. This is the claim of John’s antagonists that he does not want his followers to emulate.

What is “walking in darkness?” A person walking in darkness is involved in individual sin as over against the sin capacity. This act of sin causes temporary disruption in fellowship between God and the believer. Fellowship in this context is a sanctification issue. Six times First John uses darkness to refer to sin (1:5-6 [twice] and 2:8-9, 11 [twice]).

The “if” clause is followed by a negative statement in the apodosis then followed by another “if” clause makes a counter-claim by John with a positive statement in the apodosis. The negative apodoses include “if we say/claim” (vv. 6, 8, 10) but the positive apodoses merely have the “if” clause (vv. 7, 9, 2:1). The negative statements are hypothetical but are the genuine concerns of John that his readers will be influenced by them. The apostle is showing the implication of believing these assertions. The positive statements demonstrate the implications of believing the truth.

The word “walk” in “walk in darkness” is a linear concept (present tense). The word “walk” itself means to walk around as a course of life. The combination of present tense and the meaning of the word carry strong durative implications. This person does not practice fellowship and the truth. The issue of John’s opponents is that their behavior indicates something other than walking in the light. The problem is one of contradiction, a contradiction between what one claims as true and how one lives. Their lifestyle proves they lie about walking in the light.

The claim to have fellowship while walking in darkness has two problems:

1.     It is a false claim—we lie about our fellowship with the Lord because God cannot fellowship with darkness. There can be no fellowship between light and darkness.

2.     It is inconsistent with practicing revelation—we do not the truth.

The phrase “do not the truth” is found only in 1 John at this verse and in John at 3:21. The latter verse portrays the idea that doing the truth is the opposite of “wicked things,” that is, sinful things. It is not enough to stop doing evil, we must live in the light of the truth that we know. The idea of “do” the truth is to put truth into practice and thus avoid sin.

Darkness is a sphere where the light of God is inoperative. We can see this in a contrast with verse 7. “Walk in darkness” is to hide from God; these people refuse to acknowledge the nature of who God is.

“We lie and do not practice the truth”—a “lie” indicates telling a known falsity. Their claim was no innocent mistake but an attentive lie. Not practicing truth has to do with not applying truth to their experience. The problem with John’s opponents was not their claim to have fellowship with God but with the idea that their character contradicted that claim. There is no neutrality when it comes to the God of light. If one enters fellowship with him it will be evident that he has come to fellowship with the light. Continued walk in darkness shows they are lying to have fellowship with God.

“Practicing the truth”—literally “do the truth.” In context practicing the truth involves coming to the light with the intent to walk in it as a course of life.



The negative maxim of verse 6 is followed by a positive maxim of verse 7.

The question in verse 7 is whether the “light” here refers to holiness or acknowledging sin to revelation. Verse 7 is a contrast to verse 6 and the first counter-claim. Verse 7 is the converse of verse 6 where the subject is fellowship with God himself.

“But”—the corrective to verse 6 lies in walking in the light. Verse 5 said “God is light” but here God is “in the light,” that is, ethically in the light (cf. John 3:19-21). Walking in the light is volitional openness toward God and his revelation in Christ. Walking in darkness is to go negative toward this.

“As he is in the light”—God himself is the standard for how we are to walk. Note that this phrase does not say “walk according to the light” but “walk in the light.” Christians cannot walk in conformity to the light because God is absolute in light—“in him is no darkness whatsoever.” The issue is where one walks, that is, exposing oneself to God and his truth experiencing his presence. Those who walk in darkness withdraw themselves from God’s presence.

If Christians walk with God as he (emphatic) is in the light then the believer and God have something in common. We share light together. We also have something in common “with one another.” Although this is true it is not the primary point of this verse—fellowship with God is primary here. Verse 7 is contrary to verse 6 where fellowship with God is the subject. This verse deals with the “we-he” relationship spoken of in verse 3. Both verse 6 and 7 relate to we-he. Both “he” and “we” share something in common—we share “light” with each other. “Light” is the basis for a “walk” of sharing with God. Walking in the light brings the Father and us into the same purview.

This verse is not a statement of how Christians can fellowship with each other but fellowship with God, which is the motif of this chapter. This interpretation is a matter of coherence with the argument beginning with verse 5. It is a matter of sharing the light with God. The manuscript variant autou (“him”) is singular indicating that it is God that is in question. This interpretation depends on that variant which, of course, may not be the right manuscript evidence. The meaning of fellowship with other Christians is clearly a viable interpretation.

If verse 7 is not the converse of v. 6 it is at least a counterclaim to v. 6. If the false claim is an affirmation about fellowship with God then the counterclaim would be about fellowship with God as well.

The phrase “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” does not refer to initial salvation cleansing but to ongoing cleansing (present tense) of sanctification in the Christian life because it is something subsequent to walking in the light as he is in the light. If this idea referred to initial salvation the apodosis “if we walk in the light” would make salvation dependent upon work or effort of the believer.

Light is the basis for our life (walk) with God. Since God is light (v. 5) and he is in the light (v.7) Christians can only fellowship with the kind of God he is. Walking in the light brings fellowship with the God of light.

The results of walking in the light are twofold:

1.     Horizontally –fellowship with fellow Christians; true fellowship with God shows itself in fellowship with fellow believers. This assumes that autou is not a proper manuscript reading.

2.     Vertically–the blood of Christ keeps on cleansing the believer so that he can daily fellowship with God

“One another” means one another reciprocally of the same kind—we have fellowship with God and he with us when we walk in the light; we have light in common with God. The phrase “fellowship with one another” is a result of walking in the light. Fellowship is only possible where the believer does not have unconfessed sin in his life. Because of this it is impossible to make the claim in verse 6 that if a person has sin in his life that he can have fellowship with God. This is why some try to deny that they have culpability to the consequences of their sin.

The issue is not initial salvation but assurance of forgiveness having sinned as Christians. John does not say that God “has cleansed” but that he “cleanses.” If we assert that the “if” clause in this verse refers to initial salvation the force of the condition would make salvation depend on human works rather than the blood of Christ. The ongoing nature of “walking in the light” rules out that this verse refers to both initial salvation and progressive sanctification.

The word “sin” occurs 17 times in 1 John (11 singular; 6 plural). We cannot limit “sin” in the singular here to the pre-conversion state because of the present tense and meaning of “walk” refers to the Christian life. Sin in this verse is a comprehensive idea. This sin has the possibility of cleansing by the blood of Christ.

The words “have fellowship” and “cleanses” are in the same tense. They are coordinate fulfilment (compound apodoses) of “if we walk in the light.” As long as a believer exposes himself to God and his truth he fellowships with God and experiences cleansing by God. Cleansing allows for fellowship with God where there is no darkness at all.

“Cleanse us from all sin”—the blood of Christ is comprehensive enough to deal with any sin that might arise in the Christian life—“from all sin.” The root word for “cleanse” is found only here in 1 John and in 1:9. It is found 18 times in the Synoptic Gospels and three times in Acts, and three times in Paul (moral cleansing), four times in Hebrews-cleansing of sanctuaries (2) and cleansing of conscience (2), once in James (cleanse self of evil deeds). All uses in the NT carry the idea of making something acceptable in God’s sight.

The phrase pas hamartias is without the article making the phrase dealing with the class of sin distributively (“every”). “Every” puts the focus on each individual member while “all” puts the emphasis on the whole. “Every” is frequent with pas plus the noun without the article in construction and does not need the definite article to be definite. Thus, the translation “every kind of guilt” is not necessary because definiteness is already implied in the grammar. Those who possess eternal life in Jesus have every single sin cleansed.

The present tenses of walking and cleansing presents both as ongoing. Walking does not carry the idea of never sinning but that they keep short accounts with God; they do not hide their sin from God. They keep a light relationship with God and because of that the blood of Jesus keeps on cleansing them. Thus, purification or cleansing is parallel to forgiveness of sin.

Since cleansing by the blood here follows the assertion “walk in the light as he himself is in the light” the inference is sanctification, not salvation. The blood of Christ assures the believer of forgiveness expressed later in 1:9. A Christian cannot fellowship with God unless the umbrella of the blood of Christ constantly cleanses. Conditions necessary for fellowship with God were and are fulfilled by the death of Christ on the cross.



The second false assertion is the claim to have no sin; this may be the claim of a person who previously walked with God. If walking in the light opens ourselves to God then we cannot say that we continually (present tense) “have no sin.” This claim can refer to the sin capacity because “sin” in the singular often refers to the believer’s capacity inherited from Adam. However, that usage is not in the Johannine corpus.

“Sin” in the singular does not denote the sin capacity: Note The New American Commentary footnote:

Westcott, Epistles of St. John, 23 wrongly reads the idea of the denial of having a sinful nature into the phrase ???????? ??? ??????. Christie rightly observes that John’s usage (John 9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11) points toward the idea of the guilt associated with sin (“An Interpretive Study of 1 John 1:9,” 45). Most likely, it is the existing state of having sinned and thus having guilt from the sin (cf. Brown, Epistles of John, 205–6). It seems that we need not radically disassociate the practice of sin from the guilt contracted from the act: “We have no sin” (???????? ??? ??????, 1:8) and “we have not sinned” (??? ???????????, 1:10) are thus practical equivalents. Cf. Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 84, n. 56; Marshall, Epistles of John, 115.[4]

The claim (aorist-complete claim) to “have no sin” (present–ongoing) is not a claim to not have a sin capacity. The reason we cannot interpret the phrase “have no sin” to be a claim not to have a sin capacity is because that usage is not in the Johannine corpus (cf. John 15:22,24; 19:11).

A person who claims to have no sin asserts that he has no guilt. This is the second claim of John’s opponents. The expression “to have sin” is found only here in 1 John. John uses the phrase “have no sin” in the gospel at 9:41; 15:22, 24; 19:11 where he refers to situations where a wrong act was committed or a wrong attitude was present occasioning in a state of sin (guilt). Every situation in John refers to be guilty of sins. This phrase is peculiar to John (cf. John 19:11); this is also true in 1 John where “have” governs an abstract noun and in the gospel where the phrase refers to a state or guilt of sin. The argument of this verse shows that people who are in a state of sin cannot claim to be free from guilt. The claim to be without sin is a complete act (aorist) leads to the attendant result of ongoing self-deception—“the truth is not in us.”

People who claim that they have no guilt from sin deceive themselves and the truth is not in them. Opponents of John first deceive themselves before they deceive others (2:26; 3:7). True believers who accept the false claim of this verse are not free from guilt; they would deceive themselves in this matter.

“Deceive ourselves” is reflexive pronoun making the point that the deception was the person’s own doing. The Greek term “deceive” implies serious departure from truth. The false teachers were wilful in their rejection of the truth. The present tense indicates that the self-deception is ongoing. Those who make the claim to be without sin deceives themselves because the truth is not in them effectively.

“The truth is not in us”—“Truth” denotes God’s principles (cf. 2:4). This expression is parallel to “he is a liar;” we lie to ourselves.

·       1:6, walking in darkness makes a person a liar

·       1:8, the claim to be without sin is a lie to the self

·       1:10, the claim to have not sinned makes God out to be a liar

The word “truth” occurs nine times in 1 John. These usages carry the idea that those in error do not live their lives in accordance with the message handed down to them. If a Christian allows the “truth” to affect him he will not fall into the error of denying sin in his life.

“Truth” teaches what the nature of error is. Whenever one assumes that they have not sinned, the cross has not made an impact on him; the truth is not in him experientially. Truth is not a controlling force for living for this person. “Doing the truth” is the opposite of “doing evil.”

John continues to use “we” and “us” in verse 8 just as verse 5. These are claims of Christians. Fellowship with God does not mean we are free from sin. To the contrary, the “blood of Jesus Christ” makes fellowship possible since no Christian is ever free from the smear of sin. The “truth” is not effective for the kind of Christian who claims to be sinless.

Thus, the phrase “bear the guilt of sin” as used in John 9:41, 15:22, 24 and 19:11 refers to a wrong action or attitude already existing that results in a state of sin (guilt). This was the state of John’s opponents. Later in 1 John they try to deceive others (2:26). John again warns believers against any attempt to deny guilt of sins committed (3:7).

The point of verse 8 is that Christians who want fellowship with the Father and the Son need to recognize that they need continuous cleansing from “the blood of Jesus Christ.” Christians cannot delude themselves into thinking that they are free from all sin. Because we are not conscious of sin does not mean that we are free from it.



In antithesis to verse 8 of denying our sinfulness we should “confess” our sin to God. Having set forth the culminative claim of those in self-deception John makes a counterclaim with another conditional sentence—“If we confess our sins.” Since the claim to be without sin is self-deception John argues that it is important to be honest with our sins before God and his Word by confession. In contrast to those who make the comprehensive claim of verse 8, John says that believers are to confess sins in an ongoing way. Authentic fellowship means keeping short accounts with God—in God’s light in its revelatory role of bringing us to a consciousness of our sin. When that happens we confess them.

John includes himself in the “our” of “if we confess our sins.” “Our” is first person pronoun and when spelled out as over against being included in the verb is emphatic. The emphasis is that a believer must confess personal sins to the Father if he is to receive experiential forgiveness or a state of being cleansed experientially.

Nowhere in the Johannine corpus does John use “confess” as a condition for eternal life. “Faith” is the only condition for salvation. The first person plural of this verse includes John himself who obviously did not need to be saved. This is true especially in the contextual usage from verses 5 to 10.

All five third class conditional sentences in 1:6,7,8,9 and 10 represent futurity; they are contingent on unfulfilled factors. In the Greek there are three kinds of interactions between the “if” and the “then:”

  1. cause and effect,
  2. the speaker draws an inference from the evidence
  3. equivalence: A is equal to B.

Conditional clauses portray reality rather than reality itself. The protasis is the contingency. Should the protasis be fulfilled then the apodosis will be fulfilled. It is possible for the apodosis be true and the protasis not true but if the protasis is fulfilled then the apodosis must be true as well. There is then a difference between a fact and the portrayal of the fact.

Verses 6,8 and 10 give the implications of believing the wrong thing while 1:7, 9 and 2:1 give the implications of believing the right things. John connects the third class conditions with the work of Christ on the cross (1:7; 2:1-2). The third class conditions of chapter one and 2:1 give the idea of a present general condition semantically. Normally the “if” clause presents the premise while the “then” clause expresses the conclusion (general usage in classical Greek in history). The protasis is grammatically independent but semantically dependent; since it does not contain a complete thought and depends on the “then” (apodosis) clause for its fulfillment. The “if” clause in this case may not be true; the believer might not confess. Conditional sentences in the Greek can be interpreted structurally or semantically. If structurally then it has both a protasis and apodosis. If semantically then the condition is defined in terms of the overall construction as well as the individual components. The semantic relation in 1:6,7,8 is logical (if A, then B) in the present (present general condition) but gives nothing concerning the fulfillment of the protasis.

The apodosis in 1:9 is in the present indicative (“is”). The present general condition (5th class condition) requires an indicative in the apodosis. The 5th class condition is fulfilled in the present time. Both the broad range of the third class condition and the undefined nature of the 5th class condition make it difficult to interpret the exact nature of the clause. Thus, this makes the clause simple: “If A, then B.” Generally the 5th class condition presents a generic hypothesis in the present time. The more probable third class condition presents a specific situation in future time. 1:9 is probably the 5th class condition. There is no uncertainty about the occurrence nor is it set forth as an eventuality. The idea is simply a hypothetical premise to present a principle. The semantic ranges of the verb estin is gnomic, a maxim or a general truth. This general truth stands in contrast to 1:8. In this case the protasis is the cause and the apodosis is the effect: if a believer confesses his sin then the Father will operate on the principle of being faithful and just with the outcome of forgiveness and a condition of cleansed. The Christian cannot deny the reality of his sin because he has a sin capacity indwelling in him (1:8). Thus, we can express the principle in a distributive way: “if any of us confesses.” The subjunctive in “confesses” is there because of the uncertainty in who will confess. In the case of the negative claims of 1:6,8,10 the purpose is to identify aberrant teaching. John is warning his congregation of believers that “if any of us makes a claim.” This is a pure hypothesis. The three positive statements in 1:7,9, 2:1 reflect those who follow apostolic teaching. Biblical doctrine follows closely to God’s absolute being as the “God of light.”

The above paragraph shows that John indicates nothing about the fulfillment of the protasis. The protasis sets forth the cause for the effect which is what God will do if the protasis is fulfilled; this is simply a hypothetical situation. 1:8 gives the implications of adhering to false teaching while 1:9 gives the implications of observing to biblical teaching.

Daniel Wallace has developed a 5th class condition (most grammars claim there are 4) which he called a present general condition (third class condition in the subjective mood in the protasis and present indicative in the apodosis). There is no statement of uncertainty about the idea or is there an indication of its eventuality. In 1:9 with this meaning John would present a hypothetical idea. The confession in this case would be undefined because the principle needs to be applied to all readers of First John.

There are different verbs in the conditional biblical proteases:

  • “live”
  • “confess”
  • “does”

1:9 is a contrast to 1:8. 1:9 expresses the implication of adhering to biblical teaching. John references the claim to have no sin in 1:8. There was a danger of a biblical believer to buy into the antagonists who denied that they had sin. Since verse 8 made the point that no one can claim sinlessness without deluding himself, the logic follows in verse 9 that he should acknowledge/confess his sin. Darkness is the realm where things are hidden whereas light is the realm where things come to view. The longer we walk in the light of God’s character and his Word the more we will be like him. God himself is our chief occupation. The more we are occupied with him the more sinfulness we find in ourselves. Verse 9 is a counter hypothesis to the claims of both verses 6 and 8.

Verse 9 is then a contrast to verse 8 and is a direct counter-claim to verse 8. The claim of the false teachers in verse 8 was that they were not guilty of sin; it was a belief of indifference to sin and that sin does not affect our fellowship with God. The counter-claim is that if we as Christians confess our sins we will have the assurance that God forgives the sins we confess and cleanse us from the sins we forgot about confessing (“all unrighteousness”).

The Father is the understood subject of “he is” in 1:9 since verses 6 and 7 refer to him. Confession is a statement about the belief that we have violated a holy God. We agree with God’s revelation about himself that we have sullied his norms. We need to understand what this does to our fellowship with God. This is more than acknowledgement of sins but is the belief that God has the right of sovereign control of our lives.

There is a judicial element to confession because it involves belief that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (v.7). Jesus paid the full price for our sin. Since Jesus paid the complete price for our sin that means that we do not have to pay personally for our sin/s. God can be both faithful and just to forgive on that basis alone.

Generally confession was public. Two forms of the Greek root used for confession or profession are homolegeo and exomologeo. The double compound term is from homo, the same; lego, to speak; and ex, out of. The basic meaning is to say the same thing, to agree with. The two ends of meaning are 1) to praise (God) and 2) admit sin. The present verse is the only time that “confess” is used with “sins” making it different from the other usages.

“Confess” is a better translation than “admit” or “acknowledge” because “confess” formally makes a statement about sins. “Acknowledge” may imply reluctance. Confession then is reinstatement to fellowship on the authority of the finished work of Christ (2:1-2). His work satisfied or propitiated the Father and Jesus is the only adequate advocate for the believer.

The question of whether confession involves repentance is an issue as to what we mean by repentance. If we mean by repentance that we personally pay for our sin/s by feeling sorry for them then that is error. If, however, we mean that repentance is a change of mind about our attitude toward sin/s then that is a different matter. We cannot have fellowship with God without changing our ownership or belief that the sin/s we commit violate our fellowship with God.

The main verb “confess” occurs four times in the Gospel (1:20 [2x]; 9:22; 12:42) and five times in First John (1:9; 2:23; 4:2,3,15). Everywhere in John’s usage the object is Christ except this verse; sins are the object in this verse. The scarcity of this word should caution dogmatic assertions about it by a simple study of the word itself or even its usage in the NT. Having said that “confess” is used 26 times in the NT and in all but the present passage is the word used for a public or at least a verbal confession before someone. Then again all of those uses have to do with acknowledging a truth or a person whereas 1 John 1:9 is the only usage for acknowledging sins (plural). Confession of sins demands that we see ourselves in the light of who God is (the God of light). The context clearly indicates that confession is made to God he is the one who “forgives” and “cleanses.” The hina plus the subjunctive can express result albeit this usage is rare in the NT. The result would be forgiveness and cleansing.

The subjects of this verse are true believers because John regards them as having “remained” and did not go “out” of the Christian community with those who left over doctrinal issues.

John is not specific about how we are to confess whether private, to another individual/s or public if we merely consider the phrase “if we confess,” however, the apodosis clearly answers this question. The confession is obviously to God since it is God who is the one who at the point of confession forgave and cleansed.

Note The New American Commentary comment on this point:

While confession of sin could be made either publicly or privately, the context of 1:7 and 1:9, with God being the One to whom one confesses, makes it unlikely that John is referring to a public confession. See Schnackenburg, The Johannine Epistles, 82. For the opposing view see Brown, Epistles of John, 208.[5]

There is validity to the point that confession in the present tense here is the simple or generic confession that we have sins in a general sense—Christians will always acknowledge that that have sins. However, proof of this is not any stronger than confession of specific sins.

“Confess” implies that the believer recognizes that sins violate God’s nature and character. God responds in grace to those who confess. Christians need to admit both their sinfulness and individual sins. “Confess” of 1:9 is set over against the false claims of 1:6, 1:8 and anticipation of 1:10. To acknowledge sins is to recognize the false claims for what they are–they are not in accord with God’s nature. Confession forces us to see ourselves in exposure to God’s revelation of Himself. In this we do not excuse ourselves or blame others. We see ourselves in the light of who God is. This also implies more than a cursory agreement with the God of light; it implies repentance from what violates the absolute character of God and breaks fellowship with Him. It is an issue of ongoing fellowship. There is something dark in us that breaks that fellowship. The issue is whether the Christian accepts or denies God’s viewpoint on the nature of sin. This is far more than assent about reality of sin. It is agreement with God about the offensiveness of the sin we commit and how it violates His nature.

The present tense of “confesses” indicates that acknowledgement of sin in one’s life is a process. The plural “sins” indicate the specificity of sins. Confession clears the way for forgiveness. The main justification, however, is that 1:9 is the only place where “confess” is used other than the positive affirmation of belief publically.

Since “confess” here deals with “sins” and not a statement about belief as it does in all other uses, confess here must have a unique meaning in 1:9. Since this is the only place where confession relates to sin/s the issue here is not outward confession but the dealing with personal sins. There is nothing in this context dealing with outward conduct. The issue is whether we want to volitionally deal with sin in our lives.

Note “sins” is in the plural in 1:9 while “sin” is in the singular in 1:8. The definite article plus the plural form of “sins” refers to personal sins. The definite article points back to the anarthrous (without the article) word for “sin” in 1:7. The “all” in 1:7 is the Greek word pas which carries a distributive meaning as an adjective. This gives a distributive usage of “all.” The definite article in 1:9 is then an article of previous reference. We can only confess what the light reveals.

The present indicative of eimi indicates the reality of what God will do if the “if” condition of “confess” is fulfilled. The present tense is gnomic, that is, it forms a principle of action on God’s part. This is true of God without regard to time but is a proverbial maxim about how he operates—he will always forgive and cleanse based on the premise of “confess.” Normally a gnomic verb takes a generic subject. It is an absolute truth about the Father that he will “forgive” and “cleanse” on the condition of “confess.”

Forgiveness is the willingness not to punish another person for offending a person. There are two kinds of forgiveness from God: 1) positional and 2) experiential. God forgave our sins at one point in the past when Jesus died on the cross (Jn 5:24; Ep 1:7). It is important to note that books that argue positional truth such as Ephesians 1-3 and Colossians 1-2 among others present the believer’s eternal status of forgiveness whereas passages such as 1 John 1:9 set forth entering into the experience of positional forgiveness. We need to add that God does not punish the Christian for his sins but disciplines (as a family matter) the believer for those sins. He does not do that on a tit for tat basis either (He 12:6ff).

The certainty of forgiveness is found in the phrase “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” At the point of confession of sins the believer can know that he is forgiven experientially in God’s eyes; he already knows that he is eternally forgiven. Two characteristics of God become manifest upon confession: 1) his faithfulness or reliableness in doing so and 2) he is righteous in his forgiveness. This is true whether we feel it or not.

A person can confess only what “light” reveals to him. Sins that a person forgets cannot be confessed. This is why John adds “and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Note that the word “our” does not occur in the original text. God forgives us of “the sins” and “all unrighteousness.” There is a contrast between “the” and “all.” When the believer makes a clean-cut break with known sins (the sins that “light” discloses), God cleanses us from “all” unrighteousness. This is the same principle of verse 7—the blood of Jesus keeps on cleaning us from our sin. Christians always have the cleansing of Christ. It is also important to note that “unrighteousness” is “sin” (1 John 5:17).

If a person confesses his sins God’s reactions are two:

1.     he is faithful to forgive sins

2.     he is just in forgiving sins

“Faithful” carries the idea that God is true to his promises to forgive. The NT has three other places where it is said that God is faithful (1 Co 1:9; 10:13; 2 Co 1:18). All of these passage indicate that God is trustworthy in his dealings with his people. In this verse God will carry out his promise to forgive the believer when he confesses his sin.

Not only is God faithful but he is also “just.” God is true to himself when he forgives because the penalty for sins was paid by Christ.

God then has two responses to those who confess their sins:

1.     forgive sins

2.     purify from all unrighteousness

The idea of forgiveness is not punishing the sinner for his sins. God does not hold sins against people because Christ personally took that punishment on the cross. The word “forgiveness” (aorist subjunctive from aphiemi) means to leave behind. The aorist cannot carry a past connotation (contrary to MacArthur) because that would require the indicative mood. God by forgiveness releases us from our debt to him (Mt 18:27-35) experientially when we confess sins. The accusative case for “sins” is the object of the verb “forgive.” The definite article tas is the object of the verb, that is, our particular, specific sins.

The connotation of purification means that God removes the defilement that sins produced. The defilement in context is inability to fellowship with God because of “sins” in the life of the believer.

John uses two grammatical constructions for cleanse in 1 John one: 1) present active indicative (1:7) and 2) aorist active subjunctive (1:9). Thus, the believer’s perpetual cleansing (present tense) and fellowship with God is based on the blood sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Harmony with God by the blood of Christ produces cleansing. The believer therefore cannot lose or forfeit everlasting life given by God at the point of salvation. That being so, what happens to the sinning saint after salvation? If God cleansed the believer at salvation how can any issue remain? We need to distinguish positional forgiveness (Eph 1:7) from experiential forgiveness of 1 John 1:9. Experiential forgiveness claims what is true eternally in God’s eyes. We cannot be forgiven experientially without positional forgiveness. Experiential forgiveness rests on positional forgiveness. The Christian has positional forgiveness whether a believer confesses his sin or not.

In 1:9 the believer accepts what God says about his sins that sins violate the God of light. The present tense indicates that the believer needs to confess sins as they arise. The gnomic present makes a general statement that is timeless—confession is something that must be true for believers all the time. God will forgive the believer whenever he confesses. The active voice in confess means it is the believer’s responsibility to confess. The emphatic personal pronoun “our” puts a stress on the believer’s responsibility as well. The subjunctive mood is fifth class condition, a conditional statement that rests on principle. The believer on principle cannot ignore sin in his life.

“The sins” is the direct object of confess. “Sins” is always used in the NT of man’s violation of God’s character; sin is directed against God. It is a failure to measure up to the standard of God’s absoluteness as the God of light in our passage. The majority of uses in the singular refer to the sin capacity rather than acts of sin (Ro 6:2,10) except in the writings of John. In our passage the definite article and the plural of “sins” indicate personal acts of sin. God has made provision for both the sin capacity and personal acts of sin by the blood of Christ (2:1-2).

Semantics of the third class condition in “if we confess” sets up a logical argument in the present general condition; it makes an affirmation about the fulfillment of the protasis. The apodosis is in the fifth class condition and establishes the principle that if a believer confesses his acts of sin the Father will be faithful and just to forgive him.

The apodosis is “he is”—present active indicative. The “is” equates the Father with the predicate nominative “faithful and just.” The present is again gnomic present making a timeless statement. The idea is not that something is currently happening but that something happens without the element of time. This is a general maximum or principle that God is always faithful and just to forgive the believer who confesses his sin. That fact is true all the time or in any contingency. The indicative mood indicates that this is a true statement.

There is a subjunctive mood in the protasis and an indicative mood in the apodosis. The third class condition logically connects the protasis and apodosis. If the believer confesses his sin then God will respond (a present general condition which says nothing about the actual fulfillment of the protasis). A fifth class condition requires a present indicative in the apodosis while the third class condition can take any mood-tense combination. Since in 1:9 we have the present indicative in the apodosis and the subjunctive mood in the protasis, the fifth class condition presents a condition where the fulfillment is gathered in present time. Both the fifth and third class conditions are open to interpretation yet mostly the present general condition addresses a generic situation in the present time while the more probable future addresses a specific situation in future time. There is no uncertainty about the event or is it an eventuality; it is a hypothetical situation from the fifth class condition.

The semantic usage of the Greek verb estin in the present tense is gnomic (general truth without reference to time). This forms a principle that is a contrast to teaching false doctrine in 1 John 1:8. Thus, the protasis “If we confess” produces the effect that “the Father is faithful and just to forgive…and cleanse…” It appears to me that the clauses in 1:6,8 and 10 that have a negative meaning are distributive in idea: “if any of us…” There is then implicit vagueness as to who is in the first person plural. The protasis is hypothetical in each negative ean clause. John uses a different verb in each positive protasis: “walk;” “confess;” and “sins” (1:7,9; 2:1). In 1:9 we have a present general condition with no doubt about whether the event will occur; neither does John present this as a definite outcome. John uses the subjunctive because he does not want to define the subjects about whom he is writing. The uncertainty has to do with the undefined nature of the subjects he writes about. He uses the subjunctive because of the uncertainty about his subjects. Beginning in 1:6 John offers three third class conditional clauses that semantically set forth a present general condition with a negative statement in the apodosis. Each clause has a hypothetical protasis.

“Faithful” is a predicate nominative adjective indicating that God is always trustworthy to forgive sins. This adjective occurs 68 times. God operates with fidelity in forgiving sins because of Christ’s shed blood. His faithfulness (pistos) is toward himself; he must operate with consistency with his own attributes. His attributes obligates him to remain consistent with himself.

“Just” is a predicate nominative adjective (dikainos) that occurs 82 times in the NT. God cannot operate any other way than by justice. The blood of Christ made it just for the Father to forgive sins otherwise he could not forgive sins. God must be true to himself. He cannot operate one way one time and another way another time. The blood of Christ made it possible for him to resolve his nature of the God of light and his act of forgiveness. That is why “the righteous one” (Christ) came to pay for sin (2:1). The anarthrous noun emphasizes kind rather than degree.

There is a “that (hina) phrase in the subjunctive mood of the verb for “forgive” (aphe). This is a hypotactic clause standing subordinate to the apodosis of the fifth class condition: “He is then eternally consistent, faithful and just” which modifies if any one confesses. This adverbial conjunctive clause expresses the result of confession.

“Forgive” is in a culminative aorist tense placing emphasis on existing result. The result of confession of sin is forgiveness. This principle is true for every believer as indicated by the first person plural of hemeis.

The direct objective of God’s forgiveness is “the sins.” “Sins” in the plural indicate acts of sin rather than the sin capacity. The definite article indicates this as well which points back to the previous “the sins” in this verse.

The “and” in “and to cleanse” adds another factor to what happens when a person confesses. Not only does God forgive but he puts the believer in a condition of cleansed. He both deals with “sins” and with “unrighteousness.” Not only does he deal with unrighteousness but he deals with “all” unrighteousness.

“Cleanse” is aorist active subjunctive. The believer will no doubt forget to confess some sins but God will purify him of any and “all” unrighteousness that he forgot to confess. The aorist is again culminative making the purification complete in its entirety viewed from existing results.

The “cleansing” of verse 7 is present tense of ongoing action. Does the present tense of verse 7 stand in contrast to the aorist “cleanse” of this verse? I don’t think so because the “cleanse” of verse 9 is semantically under the present tense of “confess.” In other words, at any point that the believer confesses his sin God will at that point “cleanse” the believer from the particular sin he confessed. The subjunctive mood conjoining the aorist tense under the present active subjunctive of verse 9 are potential for the believer. If potentially the believer confesses then God will do something. The aorist tense of “cleanse” is contingent on the “confess.”

The basis for the “cleanse” of this verse is the blood of Christ (v.7) and not the confession itself. The right to confess rests upon what Christ has done (v.7; vv. 2:1-2). When a believer claims forgiveness by resting on the blood of Christ then God puts him into a cleansed condition.

“From” in the Greek is apo. Apo separates the believer from “all unrighteousness.” The Father separates the believer from any and every sin the believer might commit.

John’s answer to the claim to be without sin is confession of sin rather than denial of sin in one’s life. If the argument of 1:2-2:2 is how to fellowship with God then confession is the route to that objective. It is not just any forgiveness but forgiveness that rests upon the work of Christ (2:2). The claim by the antagonists may have come from the apostle John himself by his thesis that God is absolute light and without darkness of any kind. The antagonist claim was by some other means than the blood of Christ (1:7). It appears that those who held aberrant doctrine were Christians (1:6,8,10), not heretics: “the truth is not in us” and “his word is not in us.” Those, however, who confess their sins have fellowship with God. Therefore, John did not dispute the need the need to deal with sin in the Christian life to have fellowship with God. There is then a need for legal forgiveness; aphemi is a legal term with the idea of release. God releases our liability toward him and thus forgives us.

It seems to me that the two aorist tenses of “forgive” and “cleanse” in the subjunctive mood depend on the present active subjunctive of “confess.” That is, if a believer keeps on confessing his sins (plural) God will both “forgive” and “cleanse” on each occasion of confessing. The protasis is answered by the apodosis. It is difficult for me to see a generic confession (as over against specific confession of individual sins) would not justify the need for forgiveness and a point cleanse of sins. In my mind the idea of generic confession has a strong argument because of 1) the lack of passages in the NT for confession of individual sins and 2) most faulty interpretation is over-interpretation (interpretation that does have extant evidence for its assertions). However, nowhere else is the usage of “confession” made in reference to “sins” but on the other perspective of affirming belief. This verse appears to be an exception to public confession.

It appears to me that the relationship of the present active indicative of cleansing in 1:7 and the two aorist active subjunctive of cleanse in 1:9 that forgiveness for cleaning rests on the work of Christ on the cross. There is a principle in verse 7 that asserts that the one act of Christ shedding His blood provides for ongoing cleansing of the believer’s sin/sins. The present active indicative of 1:7 indicates the reality of cleansing. However, in 1:9 the state of cleansed is in the subjunctive mood indicating probability based on confession. The “is” of “he is” in verse 9 indicates the reality of God’s forgiveness and his cleanse from sin based on the believers ongoing confession (present active subjunctive).

Since then both “forgive” and “cleanse” are in the subjunctive mood this indicates that they are only potential based on the leading subjunctive “If we confess…” “Forgive” and “cleanse” are used both in the absolute and relative ideas in Scripture.

There is a contrast between “the sins” and “all unrighteousness.” Whenever the believer confesses sins of which he is aware (disclosed) then he is in a condition of “cleansed” completely, experientially by God, that is, he is thoroughly cleansed. There is then integrity with God. Any dissembling about sin that might excuse our sins “we lie, and do not the truth.” We hide them in the dark.



This verse portrays someone who does not confess sin that the light exposes. This is a claim to “have not sinned.” When a person does this he makes God a liar and denies the Word of God in his life making the Word ineffective in his walk with God.

Verse 10 is the last false claim by John’s in his hypothetical false claims. Verse 8 has the present tense “we have no sin” but this verse has the perfect tense “we have not sinned.” This verse deals with some point in the past where one had not sinned and still remains in the present. To deny past sin/s is to make God a liar.

We must be careful not to use the perfect tense “we have not sinned” to mean that we have never sinned in a categorical connotation. That interpretation drags in something not explicitly said. It just means we have not sinned from some point in the past.

Each false claim comes out of the preceding biblical truth.

·       Verse 6 claims fellowship with God while walking in darkness contradicting verse 5 that God is light and in him is no darkness whatsoever.

·       Verse 8 claims to be to be without sin but that contradicts verse 7 that even walking in the light requires the blood of Christ to cleanse the believer on an ongoing basis.

·       Verse 10 disagrees with God that confession is necessary because this person has not sinned from some point in the past with the resulting fact that they “have not sinned.”

The difference then between this verse and verse 8 is that in this verse the claim is a condition of having not sinned (possibly since they became Christians). The unique fact about verse 8 is the phrase “we have no sin.” The claim in that verse is that they had no guilt as the result of their sin (note the study here on the Greek echo). This verse, however, is not the denial of guilt but the denial of acts of sin. The tense in verse 8 was present but the tense here is perfect—not having sinned. The people of verse 10 could not be convicted of sin because they had reached a stage of perfectionism. This claim makes God is a liar. This view demonstrates that the Word of God is not “in” them.

Each of the three false claims flow out of the preceding statement about truth from God. Verse 6 contradicts verse 5; a person who walks in the dark cannot have fellowship with the God of light. Verse 8 with the claim to be without sin contradicts the truth of verse 7 that it is necessary for the blood of Christ to constantly cleanse the believer from all sin. Verse 10 is the opposite of verse 9; verse 9 asserted the importance of admiting sin to God whereas verse 10 attempts to rationalize sin away denying explicit statements of Scripture. Thus, if a person makes a claim not to sin, he contradicts God making him a liar. On top of that, the Word of God is not in him because it is the Word that exposes sin for what it is. No person is under the influence of the Word when he contradicts it.

Summary: whereas in v. 8 the clamant denied the guilt of sin the clamant of v. 10 denies the actual commission of sin. The person who claims perfectionism makes God a liar because in God there is no darkness whatsoever. It is important for the believer to allow himself to be convicted of sin.

Verse 8 the claim is the principle of sin (not the sin capacity) and the claim of verse 10 is the manifestation in sinful acts.

It is necessary for some people to rationalize their sin away; they want to justify themselves. The idea here is not that these people totally deny sin can be in their lives because the perfect tense is used differently in other contexts (2 Co 12:21; 13:2; Ja 5:15). The idea is that they deny “I confess” by “I have not sinned.” This contradicts what God said in verse 9.



The point of 1:8 in relation to 1:9 shows that it is not possible for the Christian to experience sinless perfection. However, God made ongoing provision for sins by the blood of Christ (1:7). This is why John appeals to the believer not to sin in 2:1 but to rest on Jesus for their advocacy.

The point of 2:1-2 is God is faithful in accepting Christ’s blood as the basis of forgiveness for Christians. It is important to make the distinction between an act of sin and persistent committing of that sin. Having committed a sin is one thing but having sin as characteristic of one’s life is another. The later will disqualify a person from fellowship with God and from service to him.

Note that John includes himself and the believers to whom he writes in the “we.” Chapter two begins with a reference to Christians “My born ones,” that is, my born again ones. The subject is for those who have regenerate standing before God. There should not be a chapter break between chapters one and two because the subject of chapter one continues into chapter two. “These things” refers to 1:5-10. Verses 2:1 and 2 state the rational for appealing to the blood of Christ for forgiveness of daily sins.



DEAR CHILDREN–Compare further statements of this term in 1 John: (2:1,12,  28; 3:7,  18; 4::4; 5:211). The direct address to believers shows that John is speaking to Christians. The last claim in 1:10 causes this exhortation to those who know Christ. “Dear children” is a term of affection but it also indicates something of the authority of John over his readers.

John at this point switches to the singular ”I.”  “I write this….” John uses the plural in 1:4 where John not only referred to himself but also to other eyewitnesses.

Note that the application from the argument of chapter one is 2:1-2. The implication is that Christians will not practice the errors of chapter one if they understand these two verses. The claim that “we have not sinned” in verse 10 brings John to proclaim that Christians do sin but they have a solution to their sin.

In this verse John directly addresses believers. The final if-clause or counter-claim in this verse shows the Christian that the advocacy of Christ is the answer to the Christian’s sin (‘But if anyone does sin”).

The claim that “we have not sinned” in verse 10 brings John to proclaim that Christians do sin but they have a solution to their sin. In this verse John directly addresses believers. The final if-clause or counter-claim in this verse shows the Christian that the advocacy of Christ is the answer to the Christian’s sin (‘But if anyone does sin”).

“These things” may be specified by the hina clause indicating that the readers not sin because it is the object of the verb. However, these words may refer to the argument of chapter one. The “that” (hina) clause may indicate purpose, the purpose that believers not sin at all.

“If anyone does sin”—John projects a situation where Christians have sinned. By this statement John argues that Christians do indeed sin.

The aorist tense of “you may [not] sin” indicate specific acts of sin. This interpretation is in dispute regarding the aorist tense per se but when we take the semantic in view. Probably the upshot of this is that John was not exhorting that believers not habitually sin but that the Christian not sin at all.

The word “advocate” refers to Jesus in his role of pleading our cause before the Father. Jesus is our legal advocate before the Father.

The claim of v. 10 that “we have not sinned” brings a challenge from John to believers not to sin. If they do sin they have an advocate, Jesus Christ.



The onus of the believer sinning does not fall on the Christian but upon Jesus who paid for his sins. Verse 2 is the final verse in the argument beginning with 1:5 making a statement of climax about the work of Christ on the cross. What he did on the cross was the basis of his advocacy or pleading the cause of Christians when they sin.

The essential idea of “propitiation” is God’s turning away his wrath of those who sin; he is satisfied of not executing his wrath because the work of Christ on the cross was sufficient to pay for sin. No doubt this includes cleansing from sin as Brown says. It seems to me the core idea is appeasement of wrath due to sin.

Verse 2 is a climatic verse showing the role of Jesus in relationship to the sins of believers as well as the entire world. The reason Jesus can be our advocate is that he has made an act of propitiating the Father. His sacrifice on the cross satisfied the Father about the question of sins.




29 Consult F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (1970; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 38.


30 Alfred Plummer, The Epistles of St. John, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges series (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1896), p. 14. B. F. Westcott has a similar observation: “St. John throughout this section uses the plural as speaking in the name of the apostolic body of which he was the last surviving representative.” The Epistles of St. John, The Greek Text, with Notes and Addenda (1883; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), p. 4.


31 Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, p. 16.


32 Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 29.


33 Brown, The Epistles of John, p. 160.


34 J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 31–32.


[1] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John. New Testament Commentary (Vol. 14, pp. 204–205). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.


54 The “we” in “which we heard … and announce” in 1:5 is exclusive but is in a relative clause that picks up the exclusive eyewitness sense from 1:1–4.


55 Besides the one in the relative clause in 1:5, there are only four other exceptions. Three are found in 4:6, where the apostolic eyewitnesses are placed in direct contrast with false prophets (4:1ff.). The other one is in 4:14.


56 Though he wrongly reads the inclusive “we” back into 1:1–4, Dodd rightly sees John’s use of the inclusive “we” in 1:5–5:21 as founded upon the nature of the church as a fellowship in a common faith and bond of love (Johannine Epistles, 9–10).


[2] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary (Vol. 38, p. 60). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


mss manuscript(s)


cf. confer, compare


cf. confer, compare


[3] Smalley, S. S. (1989). 1, 2, 3 John. Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 51, p. 17). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.


[4] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary (Vol. 38). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


[5] Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary (Vol. 38). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.