Monday, June 15, 2009

On Being "Gennethenai Anothen"

Can one really know if someone is born again (John 3:3; 3:7)?
"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. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious (phanera): anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."
- 1John 3:9f

7 comments:

Julian said...

is there a difference between sinning and practicing sin?

Mark Austin said...

1Jn 3:9 literally reads, "one who *does* sin." Practicing isn't the best translation. In other words, there isn't much difference to say that one is sinning vs. one who says one who does sin or one who practices sin.

In other words, don't let the language trip you up; it's all basically the same thing

Julian said...

is it then incorrect to think that one would still sin after being saved?...this is a common taught belief as far as i know

Mark Austin said...

Good question Julian, if I understand your concern correctly you imply that the text seems to imply that people who are truly born again do not sin -ever. This is inconsistent with the reality that people who are saved do in fact sin -at least once more.

To answer your question, the answer to your question is found in extent at which one sins is found in the syntax of the verbs in v. 9. The ESV offers the best translation of the verbs. It translates them as either iterative or customary presents.

Namely, the sinning and practicing sin is the same action, yet, John provides a contingent factor concerning the *extent* of sinning as habitual and a continuance.

Hope this helps!

Julian said...

it does, but I would assume that much from previous knowledge...although I find it hard to see looking at this text...at least in English and in this translation...could you be a little more specific as to where it is in this verse or if it isn't in this version/language how would one go about finding that answer (without taking someone's interpretation for granted or without having to study hebrew/greeok)?

thx :-D...i only ask b/c i know you'll answer

Mark Austin said...

If I understand your question, you're asking, "how do we know that the verbs in v. 9 denote a type of habitual act (extent) of sinning without knowing Greek or Hebrew?"

Honestly, the best answer is, all versions of the bible you read are dependent upon some levels of Greek and/or Hebrew -at least the more accurate ones anyway. So in a way, you *always have to trust your/a translation -at least on some level.

What makes my translation more accurate or correct (and not incorrect or inaccurate)? That answer is dependent on how well you think I know Greek and Hebrew -how well you think I rendered the translation. This debate is a reasonable debate. There are two things to think about.

First: when choosing syntax it is like multiple choice and you have to try to determine which one makes the most sense. There is a science to it -but there is no translation with all the syntax. Namely, we don't see a Greek text with all the verbs and their corresponding syntax -we just see Greek. With that said, there is a *limit* to what the syntax could be.

Second, we look at other texts. This means looking at groups of ideas. From: the paragraph to the chapter to the thought unit to the book to the corpus of writing of that specific author to the testament it is in to the entire bible. It is like trying to figure out where Julian is eating dinner tonight. If we look at 3 Facebook statuses and see that 2 say that we are meeting Julian at 7 pm and one says meeting Julian "later today" we can infer that "later" is to be understood as no earlier than 7 pm. This is just an analogy. But I think you get the gist.

So in terms of deriving one who is saves that never sins at all vs one who is saved who does not continue to practice sinning: both translations can be correct. However, it seems rather unlikely that the former is right. Moreover, it seems to make more sense from: other texts; Jesus' words; my own awareness of the fact that i sin that former is wrong and the latter is correct. Thus, although both translations can be rendered, it makes far more sense to rule out the former and accept the latter. Perhaps you were looking for something far more scientific -but I am trying to be honest (and to the point).

Again, there is a limit to what the text can syntactically mean. And the key is context and patterns. Just like if someone said, "I am going to meet Julian at Tap house at 7 pm" they aren't implying that they are meeting you in the Netherlands at 5 am for tea. They could... but it is highly un-probable.

I hope the water is becoming more clear and more muddy. Granted, you may not like what you see... And I may not be answering the question you actually asked.

Julian said...

arg...i can't remember what my questions is now :(...but i think it is different from what you answered