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Chapter Twenty-Six: John 3:16 (Part 5)

Analysis Of John 3:36

First, John the Baptist is clearly amplifying 3:16 in 3:36. He repeats verbatim the salvation formula of John 3:16 but then John provides a competing contrast. John contrasts pisteousin eis with disobeying as a warning to the one who is pisteuo-ing. Here is what John 3:36 says literally in a correct translation:

He that keeps on obeying unto the Son keeps on having eternal life [cf. the 3:16 formula], and he that keeps on disobeying [apeitheo] toward [to in Greek] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God keeps on remaining on him.

In 3:36b, the Greek verb apeitho has one and only one meaning in Greek: to disobey.23 Cf. Acts 26:19 (“Oh king Agrippa, I was not disobedient (apeithes) to the heavenly vision.”); Titus 1:16 (apeithes, “disobedient” (KJV).)

F.F.Bruce says it is clear in the sentence structure that the pisteousin eis in the first part of John 3:36a is used “here in antithesis” to disobedience in the second part — in John 3:36b. (Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Gospel of John (Wm. B. Eerdmans: 1994) at 98.) He says as a result of this antithesis in 3:36, “saving faith comprises believing and obeying.” Bruce adds that those who “will not obey the son cut themselves off from the benefits of His sin-removing work,” and their “persistent impertinence leaves them exposed to the wrath of God....” (F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, supra, at 98.)

F.F. Bruce’s conclusion about John 3:36a is highly significant. If you read Bruce with care, he touches little on the issue of what pisteuo eis in John 3:16 means about salvation on the page where he directly discusses John 3:16. (See, id., at 89.) Yet, here, when Bruce finally reaches John 3:36, and the same salvation formula is repeated verbatim, Bruce reveals a blockbuster fact. Bruce sees clearly there is more to the pisteuo-formula of John 3:16 which re-appears verbatim in 3:36a. Bruce precisely relies upon the antithesis between pisteuo in 3:36a and apeitho in John 3:36b to come to the conclusion pisteuo means obey, not merely believes.

Who is F.F.Bruce? This is the same F.F. Bruce (19101990) who impressed evangelicals with his work New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? He taught Greek for years at the University of Edinburgh. He was the editor of the Evangelical Quarterly.

Yet, what Bruce is revealing in his penultimate book before he died was the most profound revelation of all. He sees the pisteuo of John 3:16 in the light of John 3:36. He says salvation must depend crucially not just on belief, but on obedience. It is John 3:36 that illuminates John 3:16 for F.F. Bruce.

This is also the message of John MacArthur. In his The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan: 1994), John MacArthur recognizes John 3:36 proves the ‘believing’ in John 3:36a is ended by the disobedience in John 3:36b. Mac-Arthur says this proves salvation depends on a lasting obedience to Christ’s authority, not on a one-time ‘believing.’ (Id. at 39 fn.) Hence, disobedience to Jesus’ commands means God’s wrath rests on you. MacArthur recognizes this disobedience in John 3:36b is directly a negation of pisteousin eis in John 3:36a.

Therefore, when John 3:36b says God’s wrath rests on the disobedient, it does so in contrast to those in John 3:36a who keep on pisteuo-sing and who otherwise would have kept on having an “eternal life.” Prophet John-the-Baptist in John 3:36b meant therefore to put in jeopardy those pisteuosing in John 3:36a who fall into temptation, thereby breaking the pistis they have. It is Luke 8:13 all over again — the seed that is pisteuo-ing for a while (typically translated as believes), then falls into temptation, withers and dies.

Consequently, we can deduce the meaning of pisteuson eis in the first part of John 3:36 as keep on obeying unto the son. Only an obedience unto Jesus is in direct antithesis to disobedience to the son in 3:36b.

Hence, this lesson from John the Baptist proves the word pisteuo clearly meant only obey in John 3:16. For only twenty verses later — John 3:36a — an undeniable prophet of God repeats the very same salvation formula as in John 3:16 but this time the context conclusively demonstrates pisteuo means obeys. This proves the pisteuo back in John 3:16 must have had the same meaning. Thus, the “greatest prophet” (before Christ) did His Lord the greatest service of all. John the Baptist uttered John 3:36 so that all the misconstruction of John 3:16 could easily be removed once an objective and patient examination was made.

Cheap Grace Deflects John 3:36 By Mistranslation

Incidentally, cheap grace translators have deflected John 3:36 from destroying cheap grace by the simple step of mistranslation of apeitheo. Please remember that apeitheo only has one meaning: disobey. Even the evangelical seminary dictionaries which defend disbelieve as a meaning admit the translation as disbelieve is “unknown outside our literature.”24 In the table below, you can readily see this key difference between the inaccurate “believe not” translations and the accurate “obey not / disobey” translations.

Why this erroneous translation on the left side of the column? This alteration makes it appear that disbelieving in Jesus is what brings wrath, not disobedience to Jesus. By this alteration, you would then naturally infer that the intended contrast by John the Baptist is between disbelieves on one side (3:36b) with believes on the other side (3:36a). Hence, by altering disobey to disbelieve, this is how the translators supported rendering pisteuo as believes in 3:36a. Yet, it is built on a complete falsification of what John the Baptist said. As noted before, apeitho only has one meaning in Greek: to disobey. It bears repeating that even the scholars who defend this replacement of disobeys with disbelieves admit that in all literature outside the Christian scripture, apeitho only has one meaning:25 disobey.

Yet, we are not free to conjecture about a Christian-only meaning to apeitho. We especially cannot do so when the only virtue of imagining an idiosyncratic meaning is to insulate the cheap grace gospel from a verse that falsifies it.

Thus, the translations on the left in the table above protect cheap grace doctrine. They do so by falsifying the translation. How can this be honoring God? He told us that we are never permitted to “subtract” from His Holy word. (Deut. 4:2.) Only the translations on the right are true to God.

Continue to Part 6.


Footnotes Part 5

23. Apeitheo only has one Greek meaning: disobey. (Liddell-Scott.) This is followed in ASV, RSV, NASV, WEB and GNB. Cfr. KJV and Luther’s Bible (“not believe”). Why the difference in the KJV & Luther Bibles? Because Pauline dictionaries of ancient Greek, while admitting “not believe” is a meaning “not found outside our literature,” claim the word apeitheo must mean disbelieve when used in Christian literature. (Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (eds. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker) at 82.) But why? Because unless we adopt an idiosyncratic meaning ‘just for us Christians’ that matches the accepted doctrine of cheap grace, then John 3:36 would undermine our favorite notions about salvation by ‘faith alone,’ and our favorite verse to prove it: John 3:16.

24.See Footnote 23, page 449.

25.See Footnote 23, page 449.