Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, January 30, 2023

How Do You Know You Are Forgiven? (1 John 1:9)

Well-known verses are hard to translate. Even if the historical translation is a little off, committees are slow to change. 1 John 1:9 is one of those verses. The KJV reads, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” One would assume that behind “to forgive” is an infinitive of purpose (se also the ESV, CSB, NLT). But its not; “to forgive” translates ἵνα ἀφῇ.

By default, we tend to translate ἵνα as denoting purpose (BDAG’s first definition) or result. BDAG lists our verse under heading 3, “marker serving as substitute for the inf. of result, so that (‘ecbatic’ or consecutive use of ἵνα).”

But here is the problem, and maybe its not a big deal, but it is to me. John says that confession of sin leads to forgiveness because of who God is. God is a “faithful and just” God, and it is out of his character that forgiveness comes. It is not that he is “faithful and just to forgive.” It is because he is a faithful and just God that he is willing and able to forgive. By the way, πιστός and δίκαιος are substantival adjectives.

You can see some of the translations struggling with this important nuance. The updated NASB writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins.” NRSV says, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins.” NET writes, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins.”

The NIV has, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and (italics added) will forgive us our sins.” Translating ἵνα as if it were καί seems the least likely option.

I am for any translation that emphasizes John is talking about God’s character, and it is out of God’s character that he forgives.

When I find myself in need of forgiveness, in my mind I don’t rely just on a purpose (or result) of God. I rely on who he is, and then will full confidence know that I have been forgiven.