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Is Sanctification a Process? (1 John 3:3) — Mondays with Mounce 215

Categories Mondays with Mounce


I received a somewhat distressing Facebook post the other day. On the one hand, you don’t know what a person’s motivations are. I hardly know my own. And you don’t know how a person uses words. But based on the words used, it was distressing to me.

The person wrote, “1 John 3:3 in the NIV 84 and 2011 are very different. The NIV 2011 seems to indicate SANCTIFICATION is a solo event and not a ongoing process. Please correct this.”

Let me deal with the exegesis, and then secondly with how the post affected me.

The 1984 writes, “Everyone (πᾶς) who has this hope in him (ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ) purifies himself (ἁγνίζει ἑαυτόν), just as he is pure.“ ἁγνίζει is of course a continuous form (present tense); so as long as it isn‘t some kind of instantaneous present, it is indicating a process. Each and every person who has the hope that “we will see him just as he is“ (v 2) ”purifies himself,“ the process of becoming what God is, ”pure.“

The 2011 translates, ”All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” The switch from “everyone” to “all,” and from “himself” to “themselves,” is merely a literary device to move away from the “himself” to include everyone, hims and hers. Nothing more. Some people may struggle with the use of “themselves,” but that is a style issue, not a meaning issue.

So I am confused as to why this person felt the NIV 2011 made sanctification a “solo event.” “Purify” is still “purify.” So I suspect there has been a misreading of the text.

What actually concerned me more was the final comment. “Please correct this.” Is it fair to expect a change in translation based on a singular comment, without discussion or reasons? Shouldn’t we begin by listening? How much better to ask “why” something was done. “What were the reasons behind it?” “Is my interpretation of the words accurate?”

Secondly, I can’t change anything; the NIV is done by committee, as are most translations.

I am very sensitive to this type of thing. I took a series of personality assessment tests (yes, I have one) and one of the conclusions was that I think words are important. I was shocked. What a “stupid” conclusion. Of course words are important. What I have discovered since then is that words aren’t so important to many people. You say something to them, and they respond to what they think you are “really” saying as they “read between the lines.” Drives me nuts. When I speak, I work really hard to say exactly what I mean, as much as that is possible.

So let’s be careful with words; they are important. And let’s begin with humble words.



William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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