Observations for discussion and questions:
The overall unity of 1 John 2:28-3:10 is supported by the recurrences of manifested, everyone, who does/does not do right, children of God, born of him/God. The subsections are demarcated by the two expressions when he is manifested referring to Jesus future coming in 2:28-3:3 and the recurrences of he/Son of God was manifested (the past coming of Jesus) and sin/sins/sinned. These recurrences also highlight the topical focuses.
- 28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is manifested we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
- 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him.
- 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
- 2 Beloved, we are children of God now; it is not yet manifested what we shall be, but we know that when he is manifested we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
- 3 And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
- 4 Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
- 5 You know that he was manifested to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
- 6 Every one who abides in him does not sin; every one who sins has neither seen him nor known him.
- 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.
- 8 He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God was manifested was to destroy the works of the devil.
- 9 Every one born of God does not sin; for God”s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.
- 10 By this it may be manifested who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: every one who does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.
In 1 John 2:28-3:3 John turns to encourage the addressees and affirm their relation to God. After the secession the needed “confidence.” We find an emphasis on “doing right” (literally in the Greek: “doing righteousness”) as what secures this confidence of being a child of God and not being put to shame at Jesus” future coming, something the secessionist evidently lacked. It seems probable that we find an echo of Jesus” beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat 5:8) in 1 John 3:2-3. This ”seeing” recurs in 1 John 3:6.
In 3:4-10 the author picks up the topic of sin that was previously addressed in 1 John 1:8-2:2. After defining sin as lawlessness (1 John 3:4), the author goes on to make what seem to be astonishing assertions in 3:6 and 3:9 that seem to contradict what he says about believers who need to confess their sins and who can receive forgiveness and atonement for committed sins. The RSV has “Every one who abides in him does not sin” (1 John 3:6) and “Every one born of God does not sin…, and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). In 2:1-2 the Greek uses a tense that refers to acts of occasional sin, whereas in 1 John 3:4, 1 John 3:6, and 1 John 3:9 the present tense is used which expresses the continued life of sin, i.e. the ”practice” of sin. The NIV is more useful in bring this out.
Some interpreters question this nuanced use of tenses. However, it is very much in keep of the author”s style where he so frequently repeats the same general topic but adds a different detail, or a deeper perspective, or even an antithetical proposition. If he is not being so nuanced here, then we have a glaring contradiction between 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9 and 1 John 2:1-2. Furthermore, the atoning work of Jesus is referred to both in 1 John 3:5 and 1 John 2:1-2.
- How does “doing righteousness” provide us with confidence?
- Do not the references to “doing righteousness” put one in danger of a falling into a form of legalism?
- Is there anything in the passage that mitigates this?
- How does “God”s nature” (literally ”seed”) abide in us and keep us from living a life of sin (1 John 3:9)?
- How does hope ”purify” us (1 John 3:3)?
- In 1 John 3:9 it is implied that the one who does not live a life of sin has ”seen” and known him. What is the connection between ”seeing” him ”as he is” and being like him when he comes in the future (1 John 3:2)?