An Exegetical Study Of 1 John 5:18-21 -- By: John A. McLean
BSac 169:673 (January-March 2012) p. 68
An Exegetical Study Of 1 John 5:18-21
John A. McLean is President, Manthano Christian College, Westland, Michigan.
First John 5:18-21 is difficult to translate because of manuscript variants, as well as lexical and grammatical options. An example is seen in 5:18, about which Comfort and Hawley note, “(1) Most modern versions (RSV, NRSV, NASB, NIV, NEB, NJB) read, ‘We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.’ (This follows A* B it.) (2) The KJV and NKJV read, ‘We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. (This follows א Ac K P Ψ 049 33 1739 [et al.]). The difference between the two readings focuses on the pronouns ‘him’ [αὐτόν] and ‘himself’ [ἑαυτόν].”1
This article reviews the evidence and proposes a translation of verses 18-21 that is based on an examination of textual variants, grammatical and lexical options, the argument of 1 John, and the style and vocabulary of the epistle.
In 1 John the apostle argued that one can identify those who belong to God, as opposed to those who are of the world and the Antichrist, because those who belong to God (a) conform to God’s character, (b) abide in God's truth, (c) are filled with God’s love, and (d) believe that Jesus, the Son of God, has come in the flesh. The epistle has more than twenty contrasts between God and His children, and Satan and his children (light-darkness, confession-denial, truth-lies, obedience-disobedience, love-hate, righteous-
BSac 169:673 (January-March 2012) p. 69
unrighteous, etc.). These contrasts are important for understanding the development of John’s argument in this passage.
1 John 5:18
“We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
The statement “We know [οἴδαμεν] that no one who is born of God sins” refers to cognitive knowledge that is affirmed and reinforced by spiritual experience. “Knowing” occurs thirty-three times in chapters 2-5 (2:3-5, 11, 13-14, 18, 20, 21 [twice], 29; 3:1-2, 5-6, 14-16, 19-20, 24; 4:2, 6-8, 13, 16; 5:2, 13, 15, 18-20).2...
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