Saturday, February 14, 2015


OK!  I'm going to take a chance here and post my new way of thinking about the meaning of 1 John 1:9. I think my friends will, while maybe not agreeing with me, cut me some slack on trying to at least stay true to what I see in the text.

I know I’m neither a theologian nor a scholar, so what I’m about to write will leave anyone in either of those categories quite unhappy with my conclusions and writing. But since I’m a communicator I will present what I’m understanding about 1 John 1:9 in what I hope will be a sensible and understandable, not to mention true to the text, rendition of the verse.

Generally speaking, I have always read this verse in the context of keeping up to date with confessing personal sins in order to stay in fellowship with God. So I would summarize it this way:

“When we confess our sins and ask God to forgive us we are keeping short sin accounts with God. This is so we can enjoy fellowship. As God convicts us of our sin it is our duty to confess them knowing that when we do He will forgive and cleanse us so we don't grieve the Holy Spirit and fellowship will result.”

But was I, in fact, correct in what I thought the verse to be saying? I'm wondering!

Commentators generally agree that John is writing this epistle to oppose false teachers and teachings. That's certainly ONE of his purposes I think. For example, John says in 1:8,  "If we say [as some teachers were doing] that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." However, John’s purpose seems to me to be slightly more complex than JUST correcting erroneous theology or teachers.

I'm thinking that 1 John 5:13 exposes the main purpose of his writing with 1:4, 2:1, 2:12 showing several other purposes as well. But all other purposes seem to be actually wrapped up in his number one purpose as revealed in 5:13, So, I think we can safely say that John’s goal in writing this epistle seems to be primarily that “they might know that they genuinely possess eternal life."

[Chapter 5 verse 13 is, after all, a summary statement near the end of the book.]

Apparently, those false teachers had created a lot of doubt and uncertainty about personal salvation in the minds and hearts of the people resulting in their question becoming, "How do I REALLY know I'm saved?" So, John, using his personal relationship with Jesus as his authority attempts to convince his hearers about what a real believer actually looks like.

Simply stated, throughout his letter John is not only correcting a lot of false teaching about Jesus’ deity, His humanity, the necessity of love, and what it means to have “fellowship with God,” but he is doing so in an attempt to bring  them CERTAINTY about the genuineness of their own conversion.

His method of doing this was, as I read one theologian say,  "One of offering different “tests" as evidence of true faith." Those tests showed that true believers will (1) believe that Jesus truly is the Christ come in the flesh, and because of this belief they will  (2) walk in Light and not darkness, and(3) walk in Love instead of hatred, and (4) confess sin when convicted and convinced of it, and (5) walk in obedience. I'm thinking that the paragraph that contains 1 John 1:9 is smack dab in the middle of these tests has to be viewed as a test as well.

Now, while it is certainly possible for John to have had secondary purposes in mind as he writes a verse like 1:9, it's wise to keep his overall goal in mind as we read it along with all the other verses.

With this as our background notice that John's greeting and introduction of this letter shows him jumping immediately into his main purpose of giving those “tests” of genuine Christianity. Chapter 1 verse 6 declares that if “we walk in darkness instead of the light, we are lying and are not practicing the truth,” which is the first “test.” One way to look and see whether you have genuine Christianity or not, is to see if you’re walking in the light. Chapter 1 verse 8 continues by telling us that claims to sinless perfection are grounds for failing the “test.” Finally, chapter 1 verse 10 repeats it again by linking a claim to sinless perfection with not having “His Word” in us.

So I'm simply contending that verse nine is a test as well and that's why it's found in this paragraph. Trying to interpret chapter 1 verse 9 as a command to confess IN ORDER TO GET forgiveness denies the surrounding context completely and just doesn't make good sense with this in mind.

Now for some EXEGESIS...

1 John 1:9 is a conditional sentence. In biblical Greek there are technically five classes of conditions with three of those five classes being the ones most commonly used in the New Testament.

A first class condition are statements in the indicative mood that are assumed true for the sake of an argument. Since "confess" in verse 9 is in the subjunctive mood, we can rule out the first class.

Second class conditions are statements that are assumed false for the sake of an argument. They are in the indicative as well. Again, verse 9 is not in the indicative so it can't be a second class condition.

A third class condition is presented as an uncertain you may or you may not kind of emphasis. Many Greek grammarians and scholars place 1 John 1:9 into this category,

But I'm thinking it is more likely that 1 John 1:9 should be categorized as a FIFTH class condition statement which is structurally very similar to a third class condition but isn't tied to a future time [sequence] element as the third class is. Fifth class conditions are a “present general condition,” [remember the context] where the author’s presentation is neutral. [Not a command] Greek scholars also point out that, “a Greek verb can have time significance [sequence] only in the indicative. The only significance that a verb in the subjunctive has, which 1:9 is, is one of aspect.”

This means the argument I once made that this sentence was describing a future [or sequential] event, [forgiveness and cleansing being conditioned upon confession and coming after] was a misunderstanding of the subjunctive mood and the fifth class of conditions completely.

This verse does not comment upon sequence of events at all. Instead, it simply shows a general, logical connection between two ideas. Those two ideas are our confession of sin and something else, namely, an evidence of God’s forgiveness and cleansing already being present when confession happens.

In simple language, a willingness to "confess" sins for a Christian is to EVIDENCE God's already present forgiveness and cleansing in them. In other words, their salvation is genuine. The focus is on a contrast between someone who denies the existence of their sin and someone who willing to admit their sins.

So my contention is that the meaning of the verse is that our confession neither CAUSES forgiveness to be received, nor RESULTS in forgiveness in any way. It simply identifies a person who confesses sin as already having become a recipient of God’s faithful justice and forgiveness.

One final exegetical argument to examine. The parallel nature of verses seven and nine are evident. Technically, verse seven, verse eight, and verse nine are all parallel in structure. In fact, verse seven, is almost identical to verse nine, structurally, since it includes the present tense. In verse eight John specifically shows the intention behind the conditional statement of verse 7: namely, giving evidences or tests of genuine Christianity.

So, our only option in verse seven is to interpret it like this: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have true fellowship with each other and evidence is in, namely, that Jesus’ blood HAS INDEED already cleansed us from all our sin.”

The same is true for verse 9.  “If we continually confess our sins, then the evidence is in that we HAVE INDEED already experienced God’s faithful justice in the forgiveness and cleansing of all our injustices.”

This reading not only allows for the structure of the paragraph and the meaning of the included words, but it also aligns with John’s purpose of writing, as seen in the two adjacent verses, the surrounding paragraph, and the entire letter.

At the risk of saying it over and over again, one more time I say, our confession of sin needs to be seen as a sign of our identity as a believer, not a necessary event in order to acquire forgiveness. When one sees confession AS THIS, when they are broken over personal sins and name them as such, they can have confidence that they are already a forgiven and cleansed child of God.

So how are we to correctly understand chapter 1 verse 9 when properly translated?

The verse DOES NOT TEACH the need for forgiveness or cleansing from God throughout a believers life, nor does it connect future events, confession causing forgiveness and cleansing. 1 John 1:9 is simply another test of genuine Christianity.

One last time! When a person is willing to confess to being a sinner and actions of sin, they can have confidence that they have ALREADY EXPERIENCED the justice of God through His forgiveness and cleansing.

[Dealing with sins is of course necessary for fellowship as shown in the foot washing incident of John 13 and this will be looked at a later time in a later post. But it's not the purpose of 1 John 1:9.]

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


I think you are saying, more or less, what I have for quite some time, which is summed up in your words, to which I will add a parenthesis, "When a person (claiming to be a Christian) is willing to confess to being a sinner and actions of sin, they can have confidence that they have ALREADY EXPERIENCED the justice of God through His forgiveness and cleansing".

The truth is that once a person has confessed their sin and has believed on the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are saved by that finished work, to which they can add no performance of deeds of any kind, including continual confessions.

I'm not sure what you mean by "a GENERAL TRUTH that applies to all kinds of people as a test of genuine conversion". I'm uncertain about your meaning because I've had people, say they are Christians, confess that they are indeed sinners, but adding,"I know it's wrong but I'm still going to do it".

Am I understanding your following words erroneously, "To "confess" sins is to EVIDENCE that already present forgiveness and cleansing. In other words, salvation is genuine. The focus is on a contrast between someone who denies the existence of their sin and someone who admits their sin"?

Maybe it's just too early in the morning for this old sinner:)

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

By these words, "a GENERAL TRUTH that applies to all kinds of people as a test of genuine conversion," I'm making the assertion that the verse is in it's nature "general truth" meaning written to ALL kinds of people about "confession being the evidence of salvation." This is in contrast or contradistinction to the idea that it is written to the lost only OR the idea that it is written to the saved only.

It is a general statement of truth or status that all people need to hear. In other words when a person is genuinely saved they will be willing to confess sins just as when a person is genuinely saved they will be walking in the light or will walk in love.

I'm also saying it isn't "cause and effect" as some think. Some people, as I did before, think that confession CAUSES forgiveness to be experienced. Confession is, rather, an evidence of salvation genuinely being present.

Does that make sense?

Aussie John said...


Thank you for the explanation. I'm with you all the way.

My concerns were based on the many Baptist folk I have known who believed their confession of sin was an automatic door opener to salvation.

Rex Ray said...


What’s the real meaning of III John 9?

In Greek, II & III John: “From the elder”.

The difference between apostle and elder would be like Obama identifying himself as a ‘fund-raiser’.

Dr. J. M. Carroll wrote his lectures and gave Dr. J. W. Porter the right to publish them in a book: Trail of Blood. The book was finished after Carroll’s death in 1931.

Porter wrote: “J.M. Carroll not only became a leader among Texas Baptist, but an outstanding figure of Southern Baptist, and of the world.”

Carroll gave one of the world’s largest collections of books to the library of SWBTS.

The C/R took his picture down. I don’t think they liked what he wrote about elders lording it over small churches and referenced III John 9. Carroll wrote:

“These great churches…with their many elders began to lord it over God’s heritage. (III John 9)”.

“…Diotrephes…leader of the Christians there, does not admit my authority over him…” (III John 9 Living)

In battle, usual the bold die first. James, one of the “Sons of Thunder” (named by Jesus) was the first to die. Do you think John would try to avenge his brother’s death?

John, because he was angry with those who rejected the teachings of Jesus, asked Jesus to rain fire on them.

Did John shake his fist in the King’s face requesting God to do the same?

Would that explain why history records the King killed him with boiling oil?

Christians rejected the news of John's death because Jesus told Peter, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” “So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn’t die.” (John 21:22-23)

Their thinking contradicted the prophecy of Jesus telling James and John: “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” (Mark 10:29)

Paul Burleson said...



Aussie J,

I removed the paragraph that necessitated my clarification. It wasn't needed in the exegesis and didn't clarify anything, so it's gone. I think the post is better now. Thank you for a legitimate question.

Rex Ray said...


Carroll (referring to III John 9) said:

“Here was the beginning of an error which has grown and multiplied into many other seriously hurtful errors. Here was the beginning of different orders in the ministry running up finally to what is practiced now by others as well as Catholics. Here began what resulted in an entire change from the original democratic policy and government of the early churches. This irregularity began in a small way, even before the close of the second century. This was possibly the first serious departure from the New Testament church order.”

Paul Burleson said...


I have to admit that what you've quoted from Carroll is unfamiliar to me and, frankly, something I'd have to research before I could even respond. As I said, Interesting.

Rex Ray said...

Paul…old friend,

Warning! Be careful when someone starts to butter you up. :)

The best thing I’m improving on is my ‘forgetter; but do I recall you saying someday you would look into how Catholics got started?
It’s been said those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I’ve noticed you and your son’s blogs have often warned of pastors and those in authority of having too much power. I think of the Hitler movie on Wade’s post of him throwing a fit because those in power were trying to change the name of Southern Baptist to ‘Great Commission Baptist’.

Paul, would you agree that our doctrinal guideline is the Bible? Yet its been written that our doctrinal guideline is the BF&M 2000; which in my opinion make women second class Christians.
This man-made paper has been accepted by ever Southern Baptist convention in America except the old conventions of Virginia and Texas.

If you decide to do research on the subject I’d suggest starting with the first church counsel in Acts 15. Two groups debated what a person had to do to become a Christian.

“At the meeting, after a long discussion, [some were saying Jewish laws had to be obeyed to be saved {Catholic thinking}] Peter stood and addressed them as follows: …God knows people’s hearts…he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke…we are all saved the same way by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Verses 8-11 NLT)

I believe that ended the debate and they believed as Peter and Baptist because “Everyone listened quietly…” (Verse 12)

BUT, BUT, BUT…The answer received by the Gentiles on what they must do to be saved was in a letter:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit ["…they teach man-made ideas as commands from God." Mark 7:7] and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements.” (Acts 15:28 NLT)

Why did James replace Peter’s truth with a burden of three food laws and a morality law? He explained:

“For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in ever city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Acts 15:21)

James based his burden on tradition, but “Jesus replied why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Mark 15:3)

I believe both groups stayed with their original thinking…one believed the laws of Moses (“…You know dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the laws of Moses very seriously.” Acts 21:20) and the other looked somewhat on James’ requirements as a result of being saved. (“…he died to annul the whole system of Jewish laws…Ephesians 2:15 Living)