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John 10:27-29 - Is Security by Obeying or Believing?

  • The number one favorite verse for eternal security is John 10:27-29. This verse says in the KJV and NIV that if you follow and you listen to Jesus (faith is never mentioned), you are promised you can never be snatched from Jesus’ hand. Thus, it follows you are eternally secure.
  • However, the NIV and KJV use English present tense to translate follow and listen. Thus, because English present tense can mean a one-time event, the eternal security advocate understands this to mean (and plausibly so if the translation were correct) that if you followed once and listened once, you have no worries later; you can never be snatched from Jesus’ hands even if you walk away and stop following Jesus and stop listening to Jesus. So based upon this translation, you are supposedly forever and eternally saved once you followed Jesus and listened to him for just a moment in time.
  • However, in each instance, the Greek present indicative active appears for follows and listens. And thus, the verse correctly translated says those who keep on following, and those who keep on listening cannot be snatched from Jesus hand.
  • Is this odd? No. It is exactly how the NIV twice translates the present indicative in 1 John 3:5 -- keep on sinning and continue to sin. So why not here?
  • The only difference is John 10:27-29 is an Eternal Security proof text that would drop out as proof of eternal security if correctly translated. But translating 1 John 3:5 correctly does not affect the case for eternal security, and thus the NIV translates it correctly as a continuous tense.
  • Even if we did not know Greek, still a continuous meaning in John 10:27-29 makes more sense anyway because the very words follow and listen would even in English present tense imply continuity. (English present tense does not always have to mean a one-time event.)
  • I am not the first to notice this. Professor Dale Moody in The Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) at 356-357 explains what John 10:27-29 really means:

“John 10:28 is frequently used as a security blanket by those who ignore many of the New Testament warnings about going back or falling away, but a literal translation of John 10:27-28, all of the sentence, hardly needs explanation, for it is a promise to those who follow Jesus. Not for one moment do I doubt this literal translation:‘My sheep keep on hearing my voice, and I keep on knowing them, and they keep on following me: and I keep on giving them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.’ Some read the passage as if it says: ‘My sheep heard my voice, and I knew them, and they followed me, and I gave to them eternal life.’ [But] [t]he verbs are present linear, indicating continuous action by the sheep and by the Shepherd, not the punctiliar fallacy of the past tense.”

  • Who is Professor Dale Moody? Is he a radical heretic? Hardly. Professor D. Moody is an expert on Greek. He was once a pastor and became a Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for over forty years. He dissented from eternal security, and bravely wrote books that contradicted this teaching by the head of the Baptists, Charles Stanley. As a result of his brave stand that caused "conflicts with" other "Southern Batpists," this "led" to his "early retirement in 1983." (Link.) We need to respect a man who at great cost fought for correction of translations from the Greek so that we would know the truth about our salvation. 
  • There are other contextual indicators that corroborate what Moody is saying. For example, please note Jesus does not say faith leads to this promise of security. Faith is never even mentioned once in John 10:27-29. Security instead depends on two virtues: following and listening. Faith for just a moment of time is not described as bringing about eternal security. Rather, Jesus is emphasizing two characteristics of the sheep who are secure.
  • If we are too intent on extracting eternal security from this passage, we easily miss Jesus’ point. We just erase His words and imagine Jesus is talking about security based on a one-time faith. We equate salvation spoken about elsewhere with Christian security but that issue is only addressed in John 10:27-29. Jesus is drawing a sharp line of what gives each of us a sense of security. It is not faith alone. Jesus does not even mention faith! Instead, when Jesus is talking about security of salvation rather than salvation itself, Jesus talks of following and listening exclusively. That tells us already that this verse has been misapplied by eternal security advocates to prove faith alone secures our salvation.
  • So if those virtues are emphasized, it should not surprise us that the Greek verb tense for these two verbs is continuous. Had the author wanted Greek to say a one-time following or one-time listening was involved, the Greek has that verb tense: the aorist tense. But here it is conspicuously absent. And instead, Jesus’ words are brought to us in a Greek present continuous tense.
  • That simple fact subtracts this verse from the eternal security camp’s arsenal. You are secure if you keep on following and you keep on listening to Jesus. If you wander away and listen to the world, including those who assure you salvation for some other reason than a practice of following and listening to Jesus, you have a sure recipe for being snatched from God’s hand.