Distinctive Johannine Vocabulary And The Interpretation Of I John 3:9 -- By: V. Kerry Inman

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:1 (Fall 1977)
Article: Distinctive Johannine Vocabulary And The Interpretation Of I John 3:9
Author: V. Kerry Inman

Distinctive Johannine Vocabulary And The Interpretation Of I John 3:9

V. Kerry Inman

John 3:9 bears on theological anthropology, and the doctrines of sanctification and sin. A text of such importance should be thoroughly comprehended, yet it is as problematic as it is important. Basically it appears to contradict the statements in the same epistle found in 1:8 and 2:1. To the present time no consensus of opinion has arisen concerning its meaning. The apparent contradiction is usually resolved by insisting that the reference in 3:9 is to habitual sin rather than actual sin. Thus such translations occur as the New American Standard Bible reading, “No one born of God practices sin…” Some have, however, insisted that the reference is not to habitual sin but to absolute sin, and for various reasons.1

A line of investigation regarding the text of I John 3:9, which does not yet appear to have been taken, is to approach the meaning of the phrases “he does not sin (ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ)” and “he is not able to sin (οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν)” with the possibility in mind that they may have distinctive Johannine nuances. The distinctiveness of Johannine language has long been recognized as bearing a stamp of individuality, but only limited studies have been made of the characteristics of this individuality.2

Edwin A. Abbott’s work, Johannine Vocabulary, is the most

exhaustive study of the uniqueness of John’s language yet undertaken. It does not, indeed, include a discussion of I John 3:9 or of any of its key words; but it does make some general conclusions which have significance for our understanding the text at hand.3

The scope of Abbott’s work is limited to a comparison of the language of John’s gospel with that of the Synoptics. We do not know how his conclusions might have changed had he been open to broader study, and in view of this it is necessary to recognize that his conclusions are limited to the Gospel and do not necessarily affect the discussion at hand. They do, however, give us some insight into what we may expect if we recognize a common authorship of the works attributed to John. Abbott’s first conclusion is ...

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