What about 1 John 1:9? Part twelve.

Posted: Tue. Jun, 19 2018

1 John 1:5-10
5  This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8  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.


The Greek word for “confess”

We are zeroing in on the meaning of 1JO 1:9.   We are approaching this verse from the bottom up. This means that we are examining the Greek words, grammar, syntax, and semantics.

Last time we learned that Greek word for “confess” in 1JO 1:9 is the verb


homologeo.  The intensified form of this verb is exomologeo


Where are these words found?

Of the thirty-six instances of homologeo or exomologeo in the New Testament, just four use these words  for confessing sins.    In three of these, the word exomologeo is used.

Our passage - 1JO 1:9 - is the only place where homologeo is used for confessing sins.

In the other three passages, the confession of sins is open and public: people are confessing their sins out loud, to or in the presence of other people.

And the confession is either a one-time event (with the ministry of John the Baptist) or under special circumstances (serious illness in James).

 John uses the word homologeo 11 times total in his New Testament writings.

Seven times the word is used with regard to people declaring or denying their faith in Christ.

Two other times it refers to John the Baptist when he declared he was not the Christ.

Once it is used of Christ confessing the name of the overcomer before the Father.

And then there’s 1JO 1:9.


What does homologeo mean?

Last time we consulted several Greek-to-English lexicons to study the range of meanings that homologeo can have in John’s writings.

Several of the definitions were not applicable to 1JO 1:9 because they address confessing Christ.

Here is a summary of the definitions that do fit the context of 1JO 1:9:

Homologeo means to declare, acknowledge, admit, claim, or profess something openly, freely, and in public.

It means to come to a deep conviction about a fact - often with regard to previous bad behavior - and to declare that fact openly and publicly.

And, in 1 John, the declarations (most of which pertain to declaring or denying Christ) serve as a means of identifying false teaching.

How then are we to interpret homologeo in 1JO 1:9?

1JO 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness

This verse clearly refers to previous bad behavior - namely, sins.

Recall that the subject “we” refers to true and false apostles and teachers.

1JO 1:9 serves as a means of determining who is who.

The true apostles and teachers have come to a deep conviction about the fact that they commit sins.

So they declare that fact freely, openly, and publicly. We do not know if the declaration is general (“I am a sinner”) or specific (“I have committed these sins”). Nor are we told how frequent this declaration is made (one time, more than one time).


It depends on what the meaning of the word “If” is

But how do we interpret the “if” in 1JO 1:9

And how does the first part of the verse relate to the second part of the verse?

How does the open and public declaration of facts concerning  sins relate to the fact that God is faithful and just?

And what is the relationship between God being faithful and just, on the one hand,  and Him forgiving our (the apostles’ and teachers’) sins and cleansing us (apostles and teachers)  from all unrighteousness?





To answer these questions, we need to examine Greek grammar -grammar in its expansive sense, taken to include syntax (the sentence structure) and semantics (the meaning).

The Greek grammar book that we will use is   Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, by Daniel B. Wallace, 1996.

In part 9 of this series on 1JO 1:9, we observed that 1JO 1:6-10 consists of  5 conditional sentences in a row. They all start with the word “if”.  They all share the structure “If A, B”.

The technical name for the A part of a conditional is the protasis.   The technical name for the B part of a conditional is the apodosis.

Now we are going to examine these conditional sentences in more depth.

This involves paying attention to the grammatical features of the Greek verbs in these sentences; specifically, their moods and tenses.

We will also learn about the different relationships that can exist between the protasis and apodosis.  We will then decide which relationship holds for the 5 conditional sentences in 1JO 1:6-10.


Setting a mood

One way to classify Greek conditional sentences is according to the mood of the verb, predominantly in the protasis - the A part.

The mood is the feature of a verb that a speaker uses to portray his or her affirmation as to the certainty of the action or state.

The indicative mood is used to portray that the action is certain or asserted.

When the indicative mood is used in the protasis (A part) of a conditional sentence, it indicates the assumption of truth for the sake of argument.

The subjunctive mood portrays the action as probable or desirable.

When the subjunctive mood is used in the protasis (A part) of a conditional sentence, it gives the condition a sense of contingency.

There are five structural categories, or “classes”, of Greek conditional sentences.  To determine which one you have, you must examine the moods of the verbs.

In all 5 conditional sentences in 1 John 1:6-10, the main verb in the protasis (the A part)  is in the subjunctive mood.  That means they can either be third-class or fifth-class conditions.

The tense and  mood of the main verb in the apodosis (the B part) reveals whether or not it can be a fifth-class conditional.

The third-class conditional can have any mood or tense in the main verb of the apodosis.

The fifth-class conditional requires the main verb in the apodosis to be in the present tense, indicative mood.

The third-class conditional usually depicts what is likely to occur in the future.    This is called the “more probable future”.

It addresses a specific situation in the future time.

Matthew 4:9 is a good example of a third-class conditional:

MAT 4:9
9 and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."

This is a quotation of what satan said.  In his arrogance, he actually thought he had a decent chance of getting Jesus to fall down and worship him!


Pleading the fifth

On the other hand, the fulfillment of the fifth-class conditional is realized in the present time.

And there is no indication about the likelihood of its fulfillment.

For that reason, it is called a simple conditional.  If A, B.

It addresses a generic situation in the present time.   It is known as the “present general” condition.

A good example of a fifth-class conditional sentence is found in John 11:9:

JOH 11:9
If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.

The situation is generic, not specific.   It is anyone, not a specific person.

Wallace classified 1JO 1:9 as a present general conditional (5th class) in which the subject “we” is distributive; i.e., “if any of us”. 

The subjunctive is used because of the uncertainty about who is included in the “we”.  (See page 698 of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.)

Here, again, are the five sentences we are examining:

1JO 1:6-10
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;

7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 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.

We have five conditional sentences in a row.  The main verb in the protasis (A part) is in the subjunctive mood for all five.

The main verb in each apodosis (B part) is in the present tense, indicative mood.

So all five are 5th class conditionals.    They are present general conditionals.

The truth of the protasis is contingent on who is included in the “we”.

For example, in verse 8, if “we” refers to authentic apostles and teachers, the protasis is not true.  Authentic teachers would not say that they have no sin.

In the same way, if “we” in verse 7 refers to false teachers, the statement “we (false teachers) walk in the light” is untrue.


How are they related?

Now it’s time to consider the logical relationship between the protasis and the  apodosis.

How do the two halves relate to each other?

This is a question about meaning:  semantics.

There is a tendency to assume that the statement “If A, then B” means that A “causes” B.

That is certainly one way that a protasis can logically relate to its apodosis.

However, it is very unlikely that these five conditionals in 1JO 1:5-10 are depicting cause and effect relationships.

In verse 8, saying we have no sin does not cause us to deceive ourselves, nor does it cause the truth not to be in us.   In fact, it works the other way around.  Because the truth is not in us, we deceive ourselves.  We really think we have no sin!  So we say that we have no sin.

Similarly,in verse 9,  people confessing their sins does NOT cause God to be faithful and just.

God IS faithful and just.  Period. It’s part of who He is.

He has always been faithful and just.  Before the world was created, He was faithful and just.

NOTHING caused God to become faithful and just!

Therefore, 1JO 1:9 CANNOT be a cause-and-effect conditional!

And it turns out that it doesn’t have to be.

There are three different logical relationships that the protasis can have to the apodosis.

They are:

1. Cause-effect A causes B
2. Evidence-inference A is evidence of B
3. Equivalence A = B

Let's examine each one in turn.

Cause and effect

The A part causes the B part.

Here is an example of cause and effect from a children’s story :

If you swallow a horse, you will die, of course.

Swallowing a horse will cause you to die.

And here is a familiar example:

If you put your hand on the fire, you will get burned.

Putting your hand on the fire causes you to get burned.

The New Testament has cause-effect conditionals.

Matthew 6:14-15 includes two cause and effect conditionals.

MAT 6:14-15

14 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  15 "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Forgiving others for their transgressions will cause your heavenly Father to forgive you.

Not forgiving others will cause your Father to not forgive your transgressions.


Evidence-inference (also known as grounds-conclusion)

Here, the speaker infers something (the apodosis) from some evidence (in the protasis).

A provides the evidence to infer B.

The statement in the protasis provides the grounds for making the conclusion in the apodosis.

Here is a familiar example:

If the test stick shows two red lines, then you are pregnant.

The two red lines did not cause you to be pregnant.

In fact, the opposite is true. The fact that you are pregnant caused the two red lines to appear on the test!

No, the test stick with two red lines is the evidence that you are pregnant.

Often, but not always, the ground-inference condition will semantically be the converse of the cause-effect condition, ie, B causes A.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  

You’ll be a man, my son!

Treating Triumph and Disaster as impostors does not cause you to be a man.  It is an indication that you are a man.

If the boy holds the door for a woman, he has a father who loved him, such that he taught him good manners.

Quite often, the things in the protasis (A part) are observable, while the things in the apodosis (B part) are not observable.

Here are some examples from the New Testament:

1CO 15:44
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

The natural body does not cause the spiritual body.

The existence of the natural body is the grounds for Paul to conclude that there must also be a spiritual body.

HEB 12:8
But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Being without discipline is not the cause of being an illegitimate child.

In fact, it is the other way around.

Being without discipline is evidence that you are an illegitimate child.



This third relation holds when the protasis and the apodosis are equivalent statements.

In other words, “If A, then B” means the same thing as “A=B”.

If one full barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, then three full barrels of oil contain 126 gallons.

If I am an only child, and Billy’s father is my father’s son, then Billy is my child.

Here are two examples of equivalence in the New Testament:

ROM 8:9
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

GAL 5:18
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.


Next time, we will use these grammatical tools (including syntax and semantics) to determine the relationship between “we confess our sins” and “God is faithful and just”.

Then we will examine the syntax for the apodosis of 1JO 1:9. We will find out how God forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness is connected to the fact that God is faithful and just.


Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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