In Greek class we were discussing the Middle/Passive form of the verb and looking at 1 John 3:9. I know I started speaking grammar, but don’t let that intimidate you, the truth we learned from this passage is incredible. Our major translations in English make the statement “and he cannot sin” as active; the one born from God is the one inhibiting the ability for that saint to habitually sin; however, the form of the verb is middle or passive so it actually cannot be translated that way.
Quick grammar lesson.
Middle is a voice in Greek that does not exist in English and means the subject is not only producing the action of the verb, but also receiving the action. We would express a similar idea with “he did this for himself (or his own benefit)”; although that is a bit more reflective than middle voice.
Passive means that the action of the verb is being acted upon the subject.
To justify an active translation on a middle/passive form of Greek, some grammarians have come up with the concept of a “deponent verb” in error. A deponent verb is a verb that never occurs in Scripture in an active form, but these grammarians think that it should be translated as active. This not only violates the normal grammar of the Kione Greek, it is actually unsupported when you examine the words they think must be translated as active, even though their form is passive or middle. Without justifiable evidence to show that in the original language exceptions were made on a regular basis by using the wrong form of a verb to express an idea that is not inherent to its form, you cannot make a change.
1 John 3:9 from the original Greek should read more like this: Every one having been born out from God does not habitually sin because His seed remains in him. And he is caused not to have the natural ability to sin, because he is born out from God.”
Everyone who is born of God cannot live a life of active and continual sin (habitual). They can sin, when not living from their position in Christ and putting up the proper defense against the saint’s three enemies, but they cannot continue to live this type of lifestyle. The reason they cannot is because God’s seed is in them. This seed affect that natural ability of the saint and inhibits him or her from continually (habitually) living a life of sin. The lack of ability to sin is not coming from the saint, but from the seed of God placed in the saint at salvation. Hence the meaning of the verb would be properly expressed by the passive voice – the action is being done to the subject.
There is no justifiable reason to change the action of the verb “no natural ability” to an active when in context it has to be passive (“caused not to have the natural ability”). Why does the saint not have the natural ability to habitually sin? This ability is not coming from the saint, which would means the verb is active, but from the seed that is within the saint and therefore the action is being applied to the subject, hence, it is passive. Those who are saved do not have the natural ability to habitually sin because God’s seed is within them. By changing this to an active, thus stating that the saint is the one producing the action (or lack thereof), the true meaning of the original is hidden. Not living a lifestyle of sin is a result of salvation in which God makes us His legitimate children, giving us a new nature, which is a quality of His Divine nature, resulting in the natural inability to not habitually sin because sin is not a part of our new nature.
Now with all this said, here comes the truth out of this passage.
Due to the fact that God’s seed now remains in us and we are therefore legitimate children of God, even though we still struggle with sin, we are no longer able to live a life of habitual sin. As we obey the truth and govern our lives by the Spirit, the natural result is an inability to bring sin to completion and a natural ability to manifest righteousness. Therefore, we are fully equipped by God to live a life that truly glorifies Him by using the new nature He has provided for us in salvation. This means that no matter what temptations we are afflicted by, no matter what sin seems to have an iron grip on our life, no matter what weakness we perceive that we cannot overcome, because of what God did to us at salvation, when we obey the truth it is not possible for these things to continue to hold us down because He has placed within us His seed, which by the very fact that we have it within us makes it impossible for us to live a life that is habitually bound by sin.