The Sinless Sinner: The Absence of Two Natures in Johannine Anthropology

Unlike Paul, John does not present a developed anthropology. Nevertheless, it has far-reaching implications for the spiritual life of the believer as it relates to abiding in Christ. John’s anthropology is overshadowed by his focus on Jesus’ incarnation and deity (Harris, A Biblical Theology of the NT, 167). However, one place his anthropology can be discerned is in its connection to hamartiology in his First Epistle. The closest he comes to speaking of a new nature is his reference to the sinless “seed” in the believer who must admit to being a sinner. This paper will address this reference and relate it to John’s discussion of abiding in his epistle and Jesus’ teachings on abiding in the Upper Room.
The paper will begin by reviewing those passages and statements understood to reveal or reflect John’s anthropology. This will be followed by a discussion of the difference in emphasis between Paul’s anthropology and John’s. Where Paul speaks of the existence of an “old man” and a “new man” (Rom. 6:6-11; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10), John speaks only of their effects.
Next, John’s anthropology will be described in terms of its role in his theology. John deals with the person, not the conflict between the two natures. His reference to the sinless “seed” abiding in the believer is possibly John’s only direct reference to the new nature (1 John 3:9). However, in his discussion of the believer’s response to sin, it is the person, not the nature John focuses on. This is most likely because of John’s focus on sanctification rather than justification as the motivating factor in one’s attitude and conduct. The approach of some to reduce John’s discussion to a question of salvation (Köstenberger, A Theology of John, 267) misses the emphasis of John’s discussion.
The fourth section of the paper will address the relationship between this “seed,” the person, and abiding. It will include Jesus’ teaching on abiding in the Upper Room and how Jesus’ instructions can be understood in light of John’s view of the “person” and its relationship to sin.
The paper will conclude with a discussion of the practical implications of John’s anthropology to the believer’s experience of the abiding life as an expression of eternal life. This expression is relational and practical, not ethereal. It is attainable at any level of spiritual maturity when understood in Johannine terms.

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