1 John 3:4
Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
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1 John 3:4-5. The truth asserted in the preceding verse is so important, and the apostle knew so well that carnal men would be prone to flatter themselves that they might be admitted into heaven after they die, without being holy while they live, that he here enlarges on the important subject. Whosoever committeth sin — That is, as the apostle here means, known sin, whether by doing actions which God hath forbidden, or by omitting duties which he hath enjoined, or by uttering words which are false, profane, slanderous, malicious, passionate, or trifling and foolish; or by indulging tempers contrary to those of Christ; transgresseth also the law — The holy, just, and good law of God, and so sets his authority at naught; for sin is the transgression of the law — Which is implied in the very nature of sin. The apostle’s meaning is, That no one should think lightly of his sins, because every sin, even the least, being a violation of the law of God, if not repented of and pardoned, through faith in Christ, will most certainly be punished. And ye know that he, Christ, was manifested — That he came into the world for this very purpose; to take away — The guilt, power, and pollution of our sins — By his atoning sacrifice, and the sanctifying influences of his word and Spirit; and in him is no sin — So that he could not suffer on his own account, but to expiate our sins, and to make us like himself.3:3-10 The sons of God know that their Lord is of purer eyes than to allow any thing unholy and impure to dwell with him. It is the hope of hypocrites, not of the sons of God, that makes allowance for gratifying impure desires and lusts. May we be followers of him as his dear children, thus show our sense of his unspeakable mercy, and express that obedient, grateful, humble mind which becomes us. Sin is the rejecting the Divine law. In him, that is, in Christ, was no sin. All the sinless weaknesses that were consequences of the fall, he took; that is, all those infirmities of mind or body which subject man to suffering, and expose him to temptation. But our moral infirmities, our proneness to sin, he had not. He that abides in Christ, continues not in the practice of sin. Renouncing sin is the great proof of spiritual union with, continuance in, and saving knowledge of the Lord Christ. Beware of self-deceit. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, and to be a follower of Christ, shows an interest by faith in his obedience and sufferings. But a man cannot act like the devil, and at the same time be a disciple of Christ Jesus. Let us not serve or indulge what the Son of God came to destroy. To be born of God is to be inwardly renewed by the power of the Spirit of God. Renewing grace is an abiding principle. Religion is not an art, a matter of dexterity and skill, but a new nature. And the regenerate person cannot sin as he did before he was born of God, and as others do who are not born again. There is that light in his mind, which shows him the evil and malignity of sin. There is that bias upon his heart, which disposes him to loathe and hate sin. There is the spiritual principle that opposes sinful acts. And there is repentance for sin, if committed. It goes against him to sin with forethought. The children of God and the children of the devil have their distinct characters. The seed of the serpent are known by neglect of religion, and by their hating real Christians. He only is righteous before God, as a justified believer, who is taught and disposed to righteousness by the Holy Spirit. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. May all professors of the gospel lay these truths to heart, and try themselves by them.Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law - The law of God given to man as a rule of life. The object of the apostle here is to excite them to holiness, and to deter them from committing sin, perhaps in view of the fact stated in 1 John 3:3, that everyone who has the hope of heaven will aim to be holy like the Saviour. To confirm this, he shows them that, as a matter of fact, those who are born of God do lead lives of obedience, 1 John 3:5-10; and this he introduces by showing what is the nature of sin, in the verse before us. The considerations by which he would deter them from indulging in sin are the following:

(a) all sin is a violation of the law of God, 1 John 3:4;

(b) the very object of the coming of Christ was to deliver people from sin, 1 John 3:5;

(c) those who are true Christians do not habitually sin, 1 John 3:6;

(d) those who sin cannot be true Christians, but are of the devil, 1 John 3:8; and,

(e) he who is born of God has a germ or principle of true piety in him, and cannot sin, 1 John 3:9.

It seems evident that the apostle is here combating an opinion which then existed that people might sin, and yet be true Christians, 1 John 3:7; and he apprehended that there was danger that this opinion would become prevalent. On what ground this opinion was held is unknown. Perhaps it was held that all that was necessary to constitute religion was to embrace the doctrines of Christianity, or to be orthodox in the faith; perhaps that it was not expected that people would become holy in this life, and therefore they might indulge in acts of sin; perhaps that Christ came to modify and relax the law, and that the freedoM which he procured for them was freedom to indulge in whatever people chose; perhaps that, since Christians were heirs of all things, they had a right to enjoy all things; perhaps that the passions of people were so strong that they could not be restrained, and that therefore it was not wrong to give indulgence to the propensities with which our Creator has formed us. All these opinions have been held under various forms of Antinomianism, and it is not at all improbable that some or all of them prevailed in the time of John. The argument which he urges would be applicable to any of them. The consideration which he here states is, that all sin is a transgression of law, and that he who commits it, under whatever pretence, is to be held as a transgressor of the law. The literal rendering of this passage is, "He who doeth sin (ἁμαρτίαν hamartian ) doeth also transgression" - ἀνομίαν anomian. Sin is the generic term embracing all that would be wrong. The word transgression (ἀνομία anomia) is a specific term, showing where the wrong lay, to wit, in violating the law.

For sin is the transgression of the law - That is, all sin involves this as a consequence that it is a violation of the law. The object of the apostle is not so much to define sin, as to deter from its commission by stating what is its essential nature - though he has in fact given the best definition of it that could be given. The essential idea is, that God has given a law to people to regulate their conduct, and that whatever is a departure from that law in any way is held to be sin. The law measures our duty, and measures therefore the degree of guilt when it is not obeyed. The law determines what is right in all cases, and, of course, what is wrong when it is not complied with. The law is the expression of what is the will of God as to what we shall do; and when that is not done, there is sin. The law determines what we shall love or not love; when our passions and appetites shall be bounded and restrained, and to what extent they may be indulged; what shall be our motives and aims in living; how we shall act toward God and toward people; and whenever, in any of these respects, its requirements are not complied with, there is sin.

This will include everything in relation to which the law is given, and will embrace what we "omit" to do when the law has commanded a thing to be done, as well as a "positive" act of transgression where the law has forbidden a thing. This idea is properly found in the original word rendered "transgression of the law" - ἀνομία anomia. This word occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Matthew 7:23; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 23:28; Matthew 24:12; Romans 4:7; Romans 6:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 1:9; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17, in all which places it is rendered "iniquity" and "iniquities;" in 2 Corinthians 6:14, where it is rendered "unrighteousness;" and in the verse before us twice. It properly means lawlessness, in the sense that the requirements of the law are not conformed to, or complied with; that is, either by not obeying it, or by positively violating it. When a parent commands a child to do a thing, and he does not do it, he is as really guilty of violating the law as when he does a thing which is positively forbidden. This important verse, therefore, may be considered in two aspects - as a definition of the nature of sin, and as an argument against indulgence in it, or against committing it.

I. As a definition of the nature of sin. It teaches.

(a) that there is a rule of law by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated and governed, and to which it is to be conformed.

(b) That there is sin in all cases where that law is not complied with; and that all who do not comply with it are guilty before God.

(c) That the particular thing which determines the guilt of sin, and which measures it, is that it is a departure from law, and consequently that there is no sin where there is no departure from law.

The essential thing is, that the law has not been respected and obeyed, and sin derives its character and aggravation from that fact. No one can reasonably doubt as to the accuracy of this definition of sin. It is founded on the fact:


4. Sin is incompatible with birth from God (1Jo 3:1-3). John often sets forth the same truth negatively, which he had before set forth positively. He had shown, birth from God involves self-purification; he now shows where sin, that is, the want of self-purification, is, there is no birth from God.

Whosoever—Greek, "Every one who."

committeth sin—in contrast to 1Jo 3:3, "Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself"; and 1Jo 3:7, "He that doeth righteousness."

transgresseth … the law—Greek, "committeth transgression of law." God's law of purity; and so shows he has no such hope of being hereafter pure as God is pure, and, therefore, that he is not born of God.

for—Greek, "and."

sin is … transgression of … law—definition of sin in general. The Greek having the article to both, implies that they are convertible terms. The Greek "sin" (hamartia) is literally, "a missing of the mark." God's will being that mark to be ever aimed at. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." The crookedness of a line is shown by being brought into juxtaposition with a straight ruler.

Which is added, to signify nothing can be more unreasonable, than the expectation of partaking with God in the glory and blessedness of the future state, if we now allow ourselves in a course of sin, or of transgressing his holy law, which is the very notion of sin; and is again further enforced from the design of our Redeemer. Whosoever committeth sin,.... This, in connection with what follows, is true of any sin, great or small, but here designs a course of sinning, a wilful, obstinate, persisting in sin:

transgresseth also the law; not of man, unless the law of men is founded on, and agrees with the law of God, for sometimes to transgress the laws of men is no sin, and to obey them would be criminal; but the law of God, and that not the ceremonial law, which was now abolished, and therefore to neglect it, or go contrary to it, was not sinful; but the moral law, and every precept of it, which regards love to God or to our neighbour, and which may be transgressed in thought, word, and deed; and he that committeth sin transgresses it in one or all of these ways, of which the law accuses and convicts, and for it pronounces guilty before God, and curses and condemns; and this therefore is an argument against sinning, because it is against the law of God, which is holy, just, and good, and contains the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God, which is agreeable to his nature and perfections; so that sin is ultimately against God himself:

for sin is a transgression of the law; and whatever is a transgression of the law is sin; the law requires a conformity of nature and actions to it, and where there is a want of either, it is a breach of it; it is concerned with the will and affections, the inclinations and desires of the mind, as well as the outward actions of life; concupiscence or lust is a violation of the law, as well as actual sin; and especially a course of sinning both in heart, lip, and life, is a continued transgression of it, and exposes to its curse and condemnation, and to the wrath of God; and is inconsistent with a true hope of being the sons and heirs of God: but then the transgression of what is not the law of God, whether the traditions of the elders among the Jews, or the ordinances of men among Papists, Pagans, and Turks, or any other, is no sin, nor should affect the consciences of men.

{5} Whosoever {f} committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for {g} sin is the transgression of the law.

(5) The rule of this purity can from no where else be taken but from the law of God, the transgression of which is called sin.

(f) Does not give himself to pureness.

(g) A short definition of sin.

1 John 3:4. The believer is so much the more bound to holiness, as all sin is ἀνομία.

πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν κ.τ.λ.] corresponding to the beginning of 1 John 3:3, πᾶς ὁ ἔχων κ.τ.λ. The apostle is anxious to emphasize the truth of the thought as being without exception. ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, as the antithesis of ποιεῖν τὴν δικαιοσύνην, chap. 1 John 2:29, is contrasted with ἁγνίζειν ἑαυτόν, 1 John 3:3; as the apostle “wants to contrast with the positive sentence 1 John 3:3 its negative counterpart,” “he begins with the antithesis of that idea which formed the predicate in 1 John 3:3, and makes it the subject” (Ebrard). The definite article shows that the idea, according to its complete extent, is intended as definite, as forming the concrete antithesis to ἡ δικαιοσύνη;[199] both the interpretation of Socinus: “to remain in sin,” and that of Baumgarten-Crusius: “to receive sin into oneself, to let it exist in oneself,” are alike arbitrary; even the very common definition: “to sin knowingly and wilfully,” is out of place here, as the subject here is not the way in which sin is done, but the actual doing of sin itself. According to Brückner,[200] by ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν “an actual moral tendency of life” is indicated; this explanation is apparently justified by 1 John 3:6; 1 John 3:8-9, but even in these passages the apostle’s meaning goes beyond the restricted idea of “tendency of life,” inasmuch as he certainly has sinning in view.

καὶ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ποιεῖ] “καί accentuates the idea that the very doing of ἁμαρτία is as such equally the doing of ἀνομία” (Düsterdieck); by ἀνομία we are to understand, according to the constant usus loquendi, never the mere non-possession of the law (differently ἄνομος, 1 Corinthians 9:21), but always the violation of the law, namely, of the divine law, of the divine order according to which man should regulate his life,—lawlessness (Lücke).[201] The sense therefore is: he who practises sin (in whatever way it may be) thereby makes himself guilty of the violation of divine order, he acts contrary to the θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ, chap. 1 John 2:17. According to Ebrard, τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖν expresses the antithesis of ἔχειν τὴν ἐλπίδα ταύτην, 1 John 3:3; but it is more correct to perceive in that sentence—instead of a conclusion—the introduction of a new element, by which the sharp contrast with τὴν δικαιοσύνην (1 John 2:29) is indicated.

The following words: καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία, are added, partly to confirm the previous thought, partly to mark emphatically the identity of ἁμαρτία and ἀνομία which is expressed in it. The apostle does not want to give an exact definition of the idea ἁμαρτία (contrary to Sander), but to indicate its nature from the side “on which its absolute antagonism to any fellowship with God appears most unrestrictedly” (Brückner). The apostle could not more sharply express the antithesis between the character of the believer, who is a τέκνον Θεοῦ, and will be ὅμοιος Θεῷ, and the ἁμαρτία, than by showing ἁμαρτία to be ἀνομία, whereby he most distinctly opposes the moral indifferentism, against which the first section of the Epistle is also directed. Violence is done to the thought, both by limiting the idea ἁμαρτία to a particular kind of sin (a Lapide: loquitur proprie de peccato perfecto, puta mortifero), and by making ἀνομία the subject and ἁμαρτία, the predicate;[202] so also by mixing up references which are foreign to the context.[203] The καί by which the two sentences are connected with one another, Bengel translates and explains by: immo (so also Brückner by “nay”), with the remark: non solum conjuncta est notio peccati et iniquitatis, sed eadem; this is incorrect, for even the first sentence expresses, not a mere connection, but identity. The apostle could have written instead of καί the confirmatory particle ὍΤΙ, or the like, but by means of ΚΑΊ the thought of the second clause obtains a more independent position (so also Braune).

[199] Braune, however, rightly observes that too strong an emphasis is not to be laid here, either upon the article or on ποιεῖν, for in ver. 9 it is put ἁμαρτίαν ποιεῖν, and then, as synonymous with it, simply ἁμαρτάνειν; nevertheless, it is to be noticed that “the fuller idea ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμ. at the beginning includes and determines the others, ποιεῖν ἁμ. and ἁμαρτάνειν” (Ebrard).

[200] Brückner rightly rejects the interpretation of de Wette: ἁμαρτία appears to be the broader idea, ἀνομία the narrower, more definite and stronger, including particular offences, vices, etc.

[201] ἀνομία is distinguished from ἀδικία (1 John 1:9, 1 John 5:17) in this way, that the former idea is contrasted with abstract right (δίκη), the latter with the concrete form of right (νόμος) (Brückner).

[202] Köstlin (p. 246) appeals in behalf of this construction to John 1:1 : καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, assuming that καὶ ἁμαρτία κ.τ.λ. is to be read; see, however, the critical notes. Against this construction there is, besides, the fact that ἁμαρτία would have to be taken in a different sense here from that in which it is previously used, namely, as Köstlin says: “The first time ἁμαρτία means sinful action, the second time guilt in the sight of God.”

[203] This is the case, for example, in Hilgenfeld’s explanation: “Not every one who deviates from the ceremonial laws, but only the sinner, falls under the category of ἀνομία;” not less in the remark of Calvin: “the sum of the thought is that the life of those who give themselves to sin is hateful to God, and cannot be tolerated by God.1 John 3:4-12. The Obligation of our Dignity as Children of God. “Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that He was manifested that He might take away the sins; and sin in Him there is not. Every one that abideth in Him doth not keep sinning; every one that keepeth sinning hath not seen Him nor got to know Him. Little children, let no one lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous; he that doeth sin is of the Devil, because from the beginning the Devil keepeth sinning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might undo the works of the Devil. Every one that hath been begotten of God doeth not sin, because His seed in him abideth; and he cannot keep sinning, because of God he hath been begotten. Herein are manifest the children of God and the children of the Devil: every one that doeth not righteousness is not of God, and he that loveth not his brother. Because this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we love one another. Not as Cain was of the Evil One and slew his brother. And wherefore did he slay him? Because his works were evil, but his brother’s righteous.”4. As so often, the Apostle emphasizes his statement by giving the opposite case, and not the simple opposite, but an expansion of it. Instead of saying ‘every one that hath not this hope’ he says every one that doeth sin. The A. V. not only obscures this antithesis by changing ‘every man’ to ‘whosoever’, but also the contrast between ‘doing righteousness’ (1 John 2:29) and ‘doing sin’ by changing from ‘do’ to ‘commit’. This contrast is all the more marked in the Greek because both words have the article; ‘doeth the righteousness’, ‘doeth the sin’.

transgresseth also the law] This is very unfortunate, destroying the parallelism: Every man that doeth sin, doeth also lawlessness. It is imperative to have the same verb in both clauses and also in 1 John 2:29 : to do sin is to do lawlessness, and this is the opposite of to do righteousness. The one marks the children of God, the other the children of the devil. ‘Lawlessness’ both in English and Greek (ἀνομία) means not the privation of law, but the disregard of it: not the having no law, but the acting as if one had none. This was precisely the case with some of the Gnostic teachers: they declared that their superior enlightenment placed them above the moral law; they were neither the better for keeping it nor the worse for breaking it. Sin and lawlessness, says the Apostle, are convertible terms: they are merely different aspects of the same state. And it is in its aspect of disregard of God’s law that sin is seen to be quite irreconcilable with being a child of God and having fellowship with God. See on 1 John 5:17.

Note that throughout these verses (3–15) S. John uses the strong expression, ‘Every man that’ and not simply ‘He that.’ It has been suggested that “in each case where this characteristic form of language occurs there is apparently a reference to some who had questioned the application of a general principle in particular cases” (Westcott): comp. 1 John 2:23; 1 John 2:29, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18; 2 John 1:9.1 John 3:4. Ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, he that committeth sin) There is an antithesis to this in, he that doeth righteousness, 1 John 3:7. Ποιεῖν is to do, to exercise.—καὶ, also) by that very fact.—τὴν ἀνομίαν, iniquity) ἀνομία, iniquity, has a somewhat more dreadful sound, especially in the ears of those who greatly esteem the law and will of God, than ἁμαρτία, sin. From the law is the knowledge of sin. There is a kindred expression, ch. 1 John 5:17, all unrighteousness is sin. A crooked line is seen of itself; but it is more conspicuous when compared with the ruler. By this expression the philosophical [notion of] sin is most befittingly refuted.—καὶ, and) Nay indeed, not only is the nature (principle) of sin closely connected with that of iniquity, but it is the same. Thus καὶ, and, ch. 1 John 5:4, and γὰρ, for, ch. 1 John 5:3.—ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία, sin is iniquity) Sin is the subject, inasmuch as the whole discourse treats of it. The antithesis is, He that doeth righteousness is righteous: he that doeth righteousness, is not considered ἄνομος, unrighteous, but he has the testimony and praise of righteousness: 1 John 3:7, comp. with Galatians 5:23; 1 Timothy 1:9.Verses 4-12. - Sin is absolutely incompatible with Christ's work of redemption and our union with him (verses 4-8), and also with being born of God, as is shown by the presence or absence of brotherly love (verses 9-12). Verse 4. - Once more the apostle turns from the positive to the negative. Having shown what birth from God involves, he goes on to show what it excludes. "Every one that doeth sin" evidently balances "every one that hath this hope" (verse 3), and "to do sin" is the exact opposite of "to do righteousness" (chapter 2:29). Sin is lawlessness ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. Both words having the article, the two terms are exactly equivalent - all sin is lawlessness, and all lawlessness is sin. Ανομία, like "lawlessness," expresses the ignoring of the law rather than the absence of it. "The law" means the law of God in the fullest sense, not the Mosaic Law. In short, sin is defined as the transgression of God's will. Whosoever committeth sin (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν)

Rev., better, every one that doeth sin. See on 1 John 3:3, every man that hath, and note the frequent repetition of this form of expression in the present chapter. Compare πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων whosoever sinneth (1 John 3:6). The phrase to do sin regards sin as something actually realized in its completeness. He that does sin realizes in action the sin (note the article τὴν) that which includes and represents the complete ideal of sin. Compare do righteousness, 1 John 2:29.

Transgresseth also the law (καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ)

Rev., more accurately, doeth also lawlessness. Compare Matthew 13:41, and the phrase οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀνομίαν ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:23).

For (καὶ)

Rev., correctly, and. This and the preceding clause are coordinated after John's manner.

Is the transgression of the law (ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία)

Rev., correctly, is lawlessness. Sin is the violation of the law of our being, the law which includes our threefold relation to God, to the men and things around us, and to ourselves. Compare James 1:14; James 4:17.

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