Bible Contradictions: 1 John 1:8-10 vs. 1 John 3:9

It’s time to look at another Bible contradiction offered up by the critics. This topic is on the issue of sin.

1 John 1:8-10: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Then further down, in 1 John 3:9,

“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.”

So is John contradicting himself, or is there something deeper going on here?

This contradiction has been proven to be one of the more difficult passages to define. Throughout my research and own reading of this passage, I found that many theologians have attempted to harmonize these verses with differing theories.

One of the more popular theories is that John was addressing willful sin in chapter 3 verse 9. We may fall into sin at times, but it is impossible for us to willingly sin once we come into the knowledge of Christ. But there’s a problem with this view. It paints the follower as a victim of sin with no alternative choice. Nowhere in the NT is this description present, in fact, it clearly states the opposite. James 1:14-15, for example, says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.” Temptation stems from one’s desire to sin. Sin is a conscious decision made by the person, not something we have no power or choice over.

Another theory brought forth by theologians to harmonize this contradiction is antinomianism. This comes from the Greek work nomos, meaning law, and it refers to those who take no thought of God’s laws. Those who hold this position believe sin in a believer’s life means nothing as we’re covered by grace. This view Paul condemned in Romans 6:12-18, and it holds no position in John’s epistle.

The theory of perfectionism has also been used to explain this contradiction. This states that John was talking about a spiritual level believers can reach where they are essentially sinless. They believe John was calling believers living in sin and lawlessness to come out and move into this place of spiritual maturity. This seems to be correct, until a verse comes up in chapter 5 that states John’s purpose of writing the letter in the first place, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” John wasn’t calling immature believers to come into maturity, he was explaining the faith we have in Christ vs. the faith one places in idols. It’s why John ends his epistle with the words, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

All these theories attempting to harmonize these verses fall short of explaining what John was pointing at. When looked at in context, the answer becomes quite simple.

The key to understanding is to look at the text itself. John was referring to sin in the present tense, meaning a continuous, or habitual action, not an occasional act of sin. This is what John was referring to, an established lifestyle. Believers will always sin, even willingly, but they can never fall back into the sinful lifestyle they embraced before coming to the faith. The faith John is describing is one based on loyalty to another who has proven to be loyal. It portrays a transforming faith, not a neutral belief.

In its full context, in chapter one John was calling out the false teachers who believed they’d reached the aforementioned spiritual level beyond sin’s reach. In chapter 2, he states that those who disobey God’s commands (1 John 2:3) and live unrighteously is not a believer. In the full passage from chapter three, verses 4:10:

 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 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. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

John only further reinforces the faith he already established.

In short, the faith John was describing is one of transformational power. When one comes to Christ, he is a new creature. The Holy Spirit will begin a work inside the heart of the believer, changing him/her from the inside out to display the fruits of righteousness. Sometimes it’s instant, sometimes gradual, but no believer can proclaim to be Christian and desire to live a life of sin. One cannot serve two masters. Jesus died to wholly purify us, and if we love and obey Him, our actions will follow.

Sadly, the church has lost sight of this important teaching. Sin’s impact has been minimized, and in doing so we’ve also minimized the power of our faith. The atheists and skeptics of Christianity may bring forth faulty, sometimes absurd, arguments, but their observance of its followers has been their most accurate. Sin is no longer taught as the threat described in Genesis 4:6 and is now lost in a sea of abused grace. There needs to be a change, but only the truth can open the door.