First John 1:9: Confession As A Test, But Of What? -- By: James E. Allman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:686 (Apr 2015)
Article: First John 1:9: Confession As A Test, But Of What?
Author: James E. Allman

First John 1:9: Confession As A Test, But Of What?

James E. Allman

James E. Allman is Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.


A reexamination of 1 John 1:9 has found a range of options available for its interpretation. This study proposes that the following reading best accounts for the data reviewed to this point. False teachers had left the congregation, but they seem to have been at one time trusted leaders. Their departure left those who remained confused about whom to trust. John—after a statement of one of his basic theses—offered tests for leadership to assist believing readers to know whom to trust among their leaders.

Trustworthy leaders pass certain tests that are introduced in 1 John 1:6-10. First, they walk in the light. This means that they live by faith and practice righteousness, but also that their message coheres with that of other authoritative teachers of the church. Second, they are able to publicly admit their sins. These tests (and others given by the apostle) demonstrate who is credible and dependable as a teacher for the church.

Editor’s Note Electronic Edition: Footnotes #13, 14, 17, 24, 28, 32, 33, 36, and 41 were apparently deleted in the pre-print-editorial process of this article. Thus they are simply skipped in the original print edition. For this electronic edition the numbering has been sequentially numbered to reflect the actual footnotes that existed for the final edition of this article. Thus they correspondingly will be different than the print edition.

Νo biblical book demonstrates more obviously the impact of context on meaning than 1 John. Choice of a hypothesis for its purpose determines the options for its interpretation in a more obvious way than for some other books of the Bible. This study suggests a refinement on other proposals of purpose for the book, a refinement that redirects the interpretation. The special aim is to suggest a significantly different reading of 1:5-10 and particularly of verse 9. The thesis is that verse 9 in John’s argument gave evidence to use to identify reliable teachers in view of the recent secession of false teachers from the community. The importance of 1 John 1:9 in Christian life teaching must surely make the study crucial. But if the thesis of this study is correct, it bears profoundly upon one’s conception of Scripture and ecclesiastical practice.

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