What is the Story with 1 John 1:9? (Part One)
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This post is for those who have already read “No More Conscience of Sins.” In that article, I showed the impossibility of 1 John 1:9 being a directive to believers regarding restoring their severed relationships with God (some call it “broken fellowship”). I am not going to go back over that discussion here. Please read that background before moving forward with me on the following.
If 1 John 1:9 cannot be directed to born-again believers regarding restoring their severed relationships with the Father, then what is it about? Determining to whom this section is addressed is a significant stepping-stone toward answering this question. Let’s look at the opening verses of this book:
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
First, we should notice that there is a “we” and a “you” here. The “we” are not the “you,” and the “you” are not the “we.” These are two different groups. John is addressing people who do not have “fellowship” with him and with the others he is associating with him. “Fellowship” is translated from the Greek: koinonia. The meaning of koinonia is far removed from anything most people associate with “fellowship.” We’ll get into that in a bit but for now note that whatever koinonia is, the people John is addressing do not have it with him and the others he is associating with him. They do not some times have koinonia with him and some times not. They do not have it. Also, John states categorically that he has koinonia with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. He has koinonia with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. He is addressing people who do not have koinonia with him. John is not addressing born-again believers who some times walk with him and some times do not. This is an absolute assertion. No koinonia between the addressees and John. Yes koinonia between John and the Father.
What is koinonia? Words come in families. The meanings of the noun, verb, adjective, and adverb forms are related. Strong’s Lexicon states (as do others) that koinonia, the feminine form of the noun, and the rest of the family of Greek words related to koinonia are derived from koinos (adjective), which means “common.” Koinos occurs in Acts where God’s Word says the believers had all things common. It is some times translated “defiled” in contexts where the things referenced were common as opposed to holy or sanctified, as in set apart from that which was common for use in the temple. Koinonia refers to the share that one has in anything in common with others. The meaning is better communicated in modern vocabulary by the word “partnership” than it is by “fellowship.” The masculine form of the noun, koinonos, refers not to the”partnership but to the partners in this relationship. This word is usually translated (in the KJV) as either “partner” or “partaker.” The verb form, koinoneo, communicates the act of becoming a partner i.e. taking on a share in common with someone and is usually translated (in the KJV) as, “be partaker.” A related adjective, koinonikos, carries the meaning of being willing or inclined to become a partner.
So in 1 John 1:3 the Apostle states that he has partnership with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. He shows that he is writing to people who do not have partnership with him. He is writing to them so that they will. Who is it that is not a partner to one who is a partner with God? Who is it that does not have a share in common with one that does have a share in common with God and with Jesus Christ? John is not addressing born-again believers at this point. He is addressing people who need to become partners with him and with the Father and with Jesus Christ.
In addition to the above considerations on to whom this section is addressed, we should also consider the phrases, “walk in darkness” and “walk in light.”
1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all
6 If we say that we have fellowship [koinonia: partnership] with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship [koinonia: partnership] one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
First, John switches here from the “us” VS “you” mode to the euphemistic inclusive “we.” He has just said in verse 3 that he indeed has partnership with the Father. He is not now saying he might be lying. He is just softening his words by including himself. This a rhetorical device used commonly even today. So the “we” of verses six and following is the same group as the “you” of verses one through five.
Some have assumed that because the word, “walk” is used in the phrases “walk in darkness” and “walk in light,” that these phrases have to do with the purity (or lack thereof) of one’s “walk” i.e. behavior. Granted, “walk” is used repeatedly in God’s Word in the idiomatic sense of one’s behavior i.e. actions or manner of life. But is the phrase, “walk in darkness” a reference to the imperfections of one’s “walk,” or is it a reference to the “walk” of one who does not have the light to walk in? If we do not have the light of the world to walk in, we walk in darkness no matter how morally or ethically we may endeavor to do so. (Did you notice my euphemistic inclusive use of “we”?) ” Walk in darkness” also occurs in the Gospel of John.
John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
Really. Is Jesus saying here that if you follow him, you won’t screw up? I don’t think so. The contrast given here to walking in darkness is to HAVING the light of life, not to exemplary behavior. If we have the light, Jesus Christ, we walk in the light. If we do not have the light, we walk in darkness. And it has nothing to do with how nice you are or are not.
1 John 1:5 above states that God is light, yet Jesus Christ referred to himself as the light of the world. He was the light of the world because he made known the Father and provided our access to Him.
The following verses from the Gospel of John also pertain to walking, living, with or without the light:
John 12:34 The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?
35 Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.
36 While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. T hese things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.
John 12:44 Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.
45 And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.
46 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
Whosoever believes on Jesus Christ does not live (walk) in darkness. If you say you are in partnership with God, but you do not have the light to live (walk) in then you lie and do not the truth.
Let’s consider 1 John 1:7 above from the perspective of those who want to say that the “walk in the light” is a matter of one’s perfect walk. If that premise is true, then “the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all unrighteousness” is dependent on one’s perfect walk. Do you really want to go there? And exactly what unrighteousness would there be to get cleansed of if we are talking about a born-again believer who is walking perfectly? The argument makes no sense. The “walk in the light” has got to be the walk, the life, of one who has the light, not the perfection of that person’s behavior.
OK, to recap, we have established that 1 John 1:9 cannot be talking about born-again believers needing to confess their individual sins to get God’s forgiveness and get cleansed of their unrighteousness. (See “No More Conscience of Sins.) We have now also established that the Apostle John is addressing at this point people who are not born-again. We have seen that the “we” in verses 6 and following is the euphemistic inclusive “we.” John is not talking about himself in the following verses. He is addressing the same “you” as he was addressing in verses one through five.
1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If, as we have seen, John is here addressing people who are not yet born-again, then the “sin” referred to above can be only one thing: failure to have accepted God’s son, Jesus Christ, the light of the world. It is the same sin as referred to in 1 John 3:9.
1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
Once a person is born of God, he cannot commit the sin of rejecting the savior. He is born of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1: 23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.) Even if he were to recant his earlier decision to accept God’s son, his seed would still remain in him. He is powerless to ever again have the sin of not having the savior. Of course a born-again believer has the ability to do bad things, but that is not the sin John is referring to here. Back to chapter one:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Some have argued that this must be referring to individual misdeeds because the word, “sins” above is plural. Granted, the plural form of “sin” is frequently used in God’s Word to refer to multiple misdeeds, but it isn’t always used that way. Compare the following record in the Gospel of John:
John 8:21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
22 Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come.
23 And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
Was Jesus saying here that those who did not believe who he was would die in their multiple misdeeds? No, he was saying that they would die in their condition of separation from God due to their not having accepted him.
Remember the man Jesus healed who had been blind from his birth? Horrors! Jesus did it on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees, upset about the whole deal, confronted the man about how he got healed. In the ensuing argument the man said, “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” To this the Pharisees responded:
John 9:34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
Were the Pharisees accusing this man of being born in multiple misdeeds? No, they were telling him he was born in the condition of separation from God, and by their standards had never elevated to anything better.
How about 1 Corinthians 15?
1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Is this talking about being yet in our multiple misdeeds or is it talking about being in the condition of being separated from God? It’s obvious isn’t it?
Based on the above records, I don’t think I am out of line to suggest that the plural of “sin” is some times used to emphasize the magnitude of the problem rather than the number of acts.
Another consideration on the use of the plural form of “sin” used in 1 John 1:9 is that grammatically, the plural subject allows for it. If we are talking about some sin of Sally’s, and George’s and Tom’s then it is grammatically acceptable to speak of their sins. Did anyone question my grammar in the opening sentence of the second paragraph of this article? I’ll wait while you check the sentence: OK, you’re back? Good: “their severed relationships” If each person has only one severed relationship, they none the less collectively, have severed relationships. The grammar here is the same.
Yet another consideration of the sin(s) of 1 John 1:9 is that the definite article appears in the Greek text. A more literal translation would be, “confess our the sins.” The definite article is not translated because it is obviously really awkward in English. Never-the-less, its presence in the text begs the question, “what sin(s)?” The answer is the sin(s) of not being a partner with God due to one’s failure to have accepted the savior, the light of the world.
There are still more things to consider regarding 1 John 1:9, but this article has gone on long enough. I’ll save the rest for Part Two.