Sin and Perfection in 1 John -- By: Colin G. Kruse

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 23:1 (Fall 2005)
Article: Sin and Perfection in 1 John
Author: Colin G. Kruse

Sin and Perfection in 1 John

Colin G. Kruse

Coordinator, Postgraduate Research
Senior Lecturer in New Testament
Bible College of Victoria
Lilydale, Victoria 3140, Australia


A couple of years ago my commentary on the Letters of John was published.2 One of the difficult issues I encountered writing that commentary was the apparent contradiction in what the author says about sin in the believer’s life. In one passage he says that those who claim not to have sinned are liars, and in another passage he says that those born of God cannot sin because ‘God’s seed’ dwells in them. The aim of this paper is to review these passages seeking to understand what they affirm and to see if the charges of contradiction made against the author are valid.

A Scenario

Anyone working with the Letters of John needs a working hypothesis concerning the events which lie behind them. Such a working hypothesis involves historical reconstruction and this will be based upon assumptions about literary matters. The following scenario proceeds upon the assumption that there is a very close relationship between the Fourth Gospel and the three letters of John. If they are not all written by the same person, then the person(s) who wrote the letters had been deeply immersed in the thought of the Gospel and used its language. For example, parallels to words and ideas used in the letters are nearly always to be found in the Gospel. There are many examples of this,3 but most striking are the similarities between the prologue of the Fourth Gospel and the opening section of 1 John, and the fact that the purpose of writing both the Fourth Gospel and 1 John has to do with faith in Christ and receiving eternal life (John 20:31 / 1 John 5:13). These similarities have led several recent scholars to conclude that the one who wrote the Gospel in its original form is also responsible for the writing of 1 John, and also perhaps 2 John and 3 John,4 though some scholars would deny this,5 and others prefer to leave the question open.6

For the purposes of this article, it is assumed that an early form of the Fourth Gospel had been completed before the writing of the letters, and that the Beloved Disciple, an eyewitness of most of the events described in the Gospel, was resp...

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