Can a true Christian sin or not?

by Matt Slick

  • Yes, he can sin.
    • 1 John 1:8-10
      • "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous 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." (NASB)
      • "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 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." (NKJV)
  • No, he cannot sin.
    • 1 John 3:9,
      • "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (NASB)
      •  "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." (NKJV)
    • 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." (NASB)
      • "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." (NKJV)   

Is John contradicting himself when he says in one verse that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8); and yet he also says the one who is a Christian cannot sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18 NKJV)?  There is no contradiction, but to see why we will need to look at the original Greek language.

The Greek

1 John 3:9 1

       Πᾶς γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ
  All the one having been born from the God sin not does because seed of him
  JMSNX AMSN VRPPMSN PG AMSG NMSG NFSA TN V3SPAI CSC NNSN OP3MSG
        
ἐν αὐτῷ μένει καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται
  in him stays and not he is able to sin because from the God he has been born
  PD OP3MSD V3SPAI CCK TN V3SPPI VPAN CSC PG AMSG NMSG V3SRPI

1 John 5:18 2

          
Οἴδαμεν ὅτι πᾶς γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει ἀλλ̓
  We know that all the one having been born from the God not sins but t he
  V1PRAI CSN JMSNX AMSN VRPPMSN PG AMSG NMSG TN V3SPAI CCV AMSN
      γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν καὶ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ
  one having been born from the God keeps him and the evil not touches him
  VAPPMSN PG AMSG NMSG V3SPAI OP3MSA CCK AMSN JMSNX TN V3SPMI OP3MSG

Analysis

I have bolded the words above that I would like to focus on.  In 1 John 3:9, the greek word ποιεῖ (poiei) means to do, to practice.  The V3SPAI is shorthand for Verb, 3rd Person Singular, Present, Active, Indicative.  Likewise, VPAN means Verb, Present, Active, Indicative.

ποιέωa: a marker of an agent relation with a numerable event--to do, to perform, to practice, to make.’ διδάσκων καὶ πορείαν ποιούμενος εἰς Ιεροσόλυμα ‘teaching as he made a journey to Jerusalem’ Lk 13:22; οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου νηστεύουσιν πυκνὰ καὶ δεήσεις ποιοῦνται ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray’ Lk 5:33; τῷ σῷ ὀνόματι δυνάμεις πολλὰς ἐποιήσαμεν ‘in your name we did many miracles’ Mt 7:22; πίστει πεποίηκεν τὸ πάσχα ‘by faith he performed the Passover’ Heb 11:28.3

So we see that the word means to do, to practice.  But that isn't all.  In Greek, like English, there are verb tenses:  past, present, future.  But in Greek, the present tense is not quite the same as the English.  Instead, it is more a continuous action.

Present tense: "The verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion."4

Finally, in 1 John 3:9 we see an infinitive form of a verb.  The infinitive is "to go," "to see," "to eat," etc.  This is important.

"And he cannot sin (και οὐ δυναται ἁμαρτανειν [kai ou dunatai hamartanein]).  This is a wrong translation, for this English naturally means “and he cannot commit sin” as if it were και οὐ δυναται ἁμαρτειν [kai ou dunatai hamartein] or ἁμαρτησαι [hamartēsai] (second aorist or first aorist active infinitive).  The present active infinitive ἁμαρτανειν [hamartanein] can only mean “and he cannot go on sinning,” as is true of ἁμαρτανει [hamartanei] in verse 8 and ἁμαρτανων [hamartanōn] in verse 6.5

Conclusion

There is no contradiction.  What is happening is that John is saying that the one who is born again does not habitually abide in sin.  He may fall into it, but he does not practice it as a lifestyle.  The nuances of the Greek language are not carried over to the English; but when we understand what is happening, we then see there is no problem.

Finally, any Christian who would say that he does not sin anymore fails to agree with 1 John 1:8 which says, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us."  He would then be self-deceived.

  • 1. Nestle, E., & McReynolds, P. R. (1997). Nestle Aland 26th Edition Greek New Testament with McReynolds English Interlinear
  • 2. ibid.
  • 3. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament : Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (803). New York: United Bible societies.
  • 4. Heiser, M. S. (2005; 2005). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Logos Bible Software.
  • 5. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol. V c1932, Vol. VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.; Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 1 Jn 3:9.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison
 
 
CARM.org
Copyright 2014

CONTACT US:
CARM Office number: 208-466-1301
Office hours: M-F; 9-5 pm; Mountain Time
Email: [email protected]
Mailing Address: CARM, PO BOX 1353, Nampa ID 83653