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Chapter Twenty-Six: Part Nine

Recap On Issues Number One and Two

The big battle is over. Pisteuo means obey in John 3:16. However, we have other issues to resolve in John 3:16.

Let’s review what we have established so far on the translation. Remember what was issue number one as an intepretive issue about John 3:16?

Does the root of the verb pisteuo translated in English as believes in the KJV and NIV mean believe or obey, comply, trust, etc.?

And the second issue was related to the first:

Is it pisteuo “in” Jesus or “for” Jesus” in the original Greek?

We have demonstrated clearly that the verb at issue in John 3:16 means obey in this context. It does not mean believe. The proofs were:

  • Vine’s, TDNT, the NIV Dictionary, and Liddell-Scott say the meaning of pisteuo can be obey, comply, trust, commit, etc. However, one meaning of the verb pisteuo does mean believe in a fact or assertion. Yet, when the context here has a verb not of motion — pisteuo — followed by eis, the word eis is to be translated as for/unto. The function of pisteuo, whatever it means, is for Jesus, not in Jesus. The meaning that makes the best sense is obey FOR/UNTO Jesus, as Vincent explained.
  • The conservative Fundamental Dictionary of Theology said that ‘faith’ in the New Testament was meant to correspond to the ‘Old Testament’ concept of faith, which inextricably connects believing to surrender (compliance) and obedience. Jesus’ doctrine connects OT concepts of obedience to the NT pistis.
  • Jesus’ usage of pisteuo in Luke 8:13 showed the seed who is pisteuo-ing for a while, then “falls into temptation,” withers and hence dies. Pisteuo is ended by disobedience.
  • John the Baptist — the Greatest Prophet before Christ — said in John 3:36 that those who “keep on pisteuo-sing” would keep on having eternal life, but those who “keep on disobeying the son have the wrath of God continue to abide on them.” As F.F. Bruce maintained, this contrast demonstrates an inspired understanding that those with pisteuo should be forewarned that disobedience destroys pisteuo. The only logical choice for the meaning of pisteuo in John 3:36a is obey. As Bruce said, all who keep obeying the son are having eternal life, but all those who keep on disobeying the son continue to have the wrath of God abide on them. Thus, John the Baptist used pisteuo eis to mean obey, not believe.
  • The usage of other NT writers was comparable. For example, John in John 12:42 spoke of rulers who epi-pisteuo-ed for a while, and then their pistis ceased due to the sin of cowardice and an unwillingness to confess Christ. John likely meant obeyed when he used epi-pisteuo, not believed.
  • Paul in Romans 10:11 used the Greek verb at issue in John 3:16 to render the word trust in an ‘Old Testament’ passage from Isaiah. The word in Isaiah’s Hebrew exclusively means trust.
  • Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 quotes Habakkuk 2:4. He used pistis to translate a word in Hebrew which only meant faithfulness, not mere belief. Thus, Paul should have understood faithfulness as the meaning he was using for justification by pis-tis in those quotes, assuming Paul had a Hebrew knowledge of Habakkuk. Faithfulness means obedient living, not faith. It does not mean belief in some fact or promise.
  • Paul in eight passages speaks of the “faithfulness of God” or the “faithfulness of Jesus” by using pistis: Romans 3:3; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:26, Galatians 2:16,20, 3:22, Phil. 3:9, and Ephesians 3:12. The alternative notion of faith of God or faith of Jesus would be a preposterous reading.
  • Throughout Paul’s other writings, it is obvious his primary intention is to use the same verb pisteuo and its noun form pistis to mean faithfulness (obedient living). Paul’s frequent conception of salvation was that it was lost due to disobedience. This tells us Paul primarily meant you are saved by obedience for Christ. This is a faithfulness which entails obedience. Paul accordingly must have used the Greek words pisteuo (verb) and pistis (noun) primarily to mean obey and faithfulness, etc., not to mean believe and faith. If salvation were by a mere mental belief in some facts about Jesus, then it could not be negated by disobedience in these passages from Paul. However, if salvation was by an obedience for Jesus, it would be destroyed by disobedience to Him. Since Paul clearly taught in numerous passages that disobedience causes the loss of salvation, Paul used pistis to mean faithfulness, not faith, in these particular passages.

It is true Paul had some “difficult to understand” passages, as Second Peter described them, which read differently. This is true in particular of Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 4:5. However, Second Peter marginalized such “liberty” doctrines as “difficult to understand,” and stressed the importance of instead following Jesus’ doctrine — so as to not “lose our steadfastness in Christ.” Thus, even if Paul had two verses that were exceptions to his own typical usage, this does not discount the proof of his common usage of pistis to mean faithfulness. Moreover, the target we are striving to understand is what Jesus (not Paul) meant. Jesus is our only “Master” and our “Only Teacher.” Consequently, it matters little that a couple of stray problematical verses from a non-apostle cause bewilderment to understand.

Conclusion On Issues One And Two

 

Thus, when John 3:16 is translated as “believing in the son,” it more accurately means that whosoever keeps on obeying unto Jesus should have eternal life.

The verse is exhorting obedience to His commands, with a reward of eternal life. Consequently, a true definition of the Greek words pisteuo eis in John 3:16 rejects any implication that salvation is by belief in any kind of facts about Jesus. Such a faith has nothing do with salvation in this passage. This verse assures no one of salvation who simply believes in the facts of the resurrection, that Jesus is Lord and Savior, etc. That is not what John 3:16 is talking about. It is talking about obedience, compliance, trust, etc.

 

Issue #3: Continuity Or One Time Pisteousin?

The third issue we identified at the outset was:

Is the verb form taken for pisteuo which is translated in the KJV as believes (the English simple present tense) instead in Greek a continuous tense meaning? In other words, is the meaning keeps on or continues to in front of whatever the verb means for pisteuo, i.e., keeps on obeying/complying or keeps on believing?

So is the verb activity of pisteuo (whether obey/comply/trust or believes) which ‘should lead to eternal life’ in John 3:16 merely a one-time experience or continuous?

Stanley and many others insist it is one-time, not continuous. They claim it is heresy, in fact, to insist anyone who loses pistis (whether obedience or belief) could be lost.

Yet, this argument ignores that Jesus in the Parable of the Sower teaches in Luke 8:13 that the seed who “pisteousin [obeys or believes] for a while” ends up in temptation, becomes withered and hence dead. It is lost. It is obvious that pisteuo one time did not save the second seed.

Thus, let’s ask experts how to translate the verb tense in John 3:16. The question is highly narrow: is it a one time pisteuo or is it a continuous activity that is required for salvation to be realized?

Synopsis Of Appendix A in Jesus’ Words Only On The Greek Present Active

Appendix A of my prior work Jesus’ Words Only (available free online at www.jesuswordsonly.com) discussed the verb tense in John 3:16 in extensive detail. The discussion here is more by way of synopsis than a complete discussion.

In John 3:16, the verb pisteousin is in the Greek verb form of pisteuo known as the present participle active. It is not in the aorist tense. Why is the latter fact of importance?

Unlike English, Greek has a specific verb tense for a one-time action. It is known as the aorist tense. This can be rendered in English by use of the English Simple Present Tense, e.g., “obeys” or “believes.” We can read “believes” in English to mean a one time expression of faith. In fact, Stanley relies upon the fact believes is used in common English translations of John 3:16 to prove salvation must be by a one time belief in Jesus, the atonement, etc.75 Stanley is correct that the English Simple Present Tense has this potential onetime meaning. Thus, the use of believes in John 3:16 by many translations corresponds to the aorist participle in Greek.

By contrast, in Greek, the exact opposite meaning from the aorist tense is conveyed by the Greek present indicative active or present participle active. In Greek, these two forms of the present active tense mean the action is continuing. It is best translated into English using “continues to” or “keeps on” in front of the English gerund.76

For example, “he who continues to obey” or “he who keeps on obeying” is a correct translation of the present participle active of the Greek verb pisteuo (if it means obey).

 

The present participle active in NT Greek reflects an “habitual behavior.”77 It signifies a “process [that is] continuous.”78 (This also is still true in modern Greek grammar. See, Adams, Essential Modern Greek Grammar (1987) at 81.) This distinction has been recently confessed by a leading Calvinist who is yet a staunch faith-alone advocate.

Dr. James White writes about the verb tense in John 6:35-45 (as well as John 3:16) in Drawn by the Father: A Summary of John 6:35-45 (Reformation Press: 1999) at 10-11:

Throughout this passage an important truth is presented that again might be missed by many English translations. When Jesus describes the one who comes to him and who believes in him [3:16, 5:24, 6:35, 37, 40, 47, etc.], he uses the present tense to describe this coming, believing, or, in other passages, hearing or seeing. The present tense refers to a continuous, on-going action. The Greek contrasts this kind of action against the aorist tense, which is a point action, a single action in time that is not on-going.... The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not truly and continuously believe. The faith that saves is a living faith, a faith that always looks to Christ as Lord and Savior. Id. at 10-11.

Yet, those obstinate that grace is cheap, like Dillow, make absolutely desperate claims that the present participle active in Greek lacks any continuous sense.79 This is certainly dogma speaking, not New Testament Greek. Dillow is fully cognizant of the impact of a continuous tense translation upon salvation doctrine. Salvation would hang upon the individual’s persistence, not faith alone.

Thus, Dillow fights off the continuous tense meaning with aggressive words. Yet, these shoot himself later in his foot:

That [those claiming a continuous sense] have to hang so much of their argument on the supposed durative force of the present [participle] tense can only be a source of concern. A theological system which depends on such things is leaning on a broken reed.” (Reign of the Servant Kings, supra, at 470-71.)

But Dillow’s notions of the present participle active, evidently driven by his desire to protect faith alone doctrine, are what stand on a broken reed.

Hence, John 3:16 should read instead that God so loved the world that all who “keep on obeying” or “continue to obey” should be having eternal life.

 

Is It ‘Should’ Or ‘Shall’ Have Eternal Life?

Another interpretive question about John 3:16 includes whether the verb for have eternal life is preceded by shall or should. The NIV says John 3:16 is about a promise that you “shall” have eternal life. Yet, the YLT, RV, and Vulgate spell out clearly that it is “should” have eternal life. The word shall in English conveys certainty. The word should in English conveys a degree of uncertainty.

As explained in my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007), at 381, the correct translation is should.

 

Source Of Assurance

If salvation is no longer by a simple affirmation of beliefs about Jesus, whence comes assurance of salvation? Jesus said if we “keep on listening and keep on following” then “we should not perish” and “shall not be taken away (harpazo-ed) from my hand.” (John 10:27-28.)80

 

Notice the verbs in John 10:27-28 are listening and following. Assurance relies upon principles of endurance in synonyms for ongoing obedience: listening and following.

 

Conclusion

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever keeps on obeying unto Him should not perish but should have eternal life.” (John 3:16.)

This was identical as well as a companion verse to John 8:51:

Most positively, I say to you, if anyone keeps on obeying (tereo) My word, he should never ever see death into eternity (ainon) [fig., forever]! (John 8:51.)

Unfortunately, this beautiful message from Jesus has been utterly mangled in modern translations of John 3:16. It is obvious this error persists due to a reluctantcy to admit the doctrine exuberantly discovered in 1517 in Paul’s writings needs to be toned down to make room for Jesus’ doctrine.

Thus, the majority who call themselves Christians today have walked away from the true Jesus. They cannot face Jesus in all His bluntness, even when He said, “Every tree without good fruit is cast in the fire” (Matt. 7:19). They insist, Jesus must save them without any good fruit. They often rely on John 3:16 to demand of God that obedience can play no role in salvation. Consequently, one of the greatest tragedies in Biblical translation is that John 3:16 has become a salvation-deadening verse, by reading it the opposite of its true meaning, rather than a salvation-invigorating verse.


 

FOOTNOTES TO PART NINE

75. Stanley says “believes” in John 3:16 means a one-time faith. Stanley explains “believes” — the English simple present tense of to believe — can mean a one-time event that does not have to continue. From this, Stanley deduces a one-time faith saves. (Stanley, Eternal Security of the Believer (Nelson: 1990) at 95.)

76.See Appendix A: Greek Issues to my prior work Jesus’ Words Only (2007) for a full discussion. Young’s Literal Translation always renders the Greek present indicative active or the present participle active with “[to be] [verb root] + ing” (e.g., “is going.”). This is the English Present Continuous tense. It is satisfactory. However, to catch the nuance of the Greek, the NIV was correct to use “keeps on” or “continues to...” as it did so often. However, only Young’s Literal translation has had the courage so far to fix John 3:16 to read more accurately.

77.Louise Wells, The Greek Language of Healing from Homer to the New Testament Times (New York & Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998) at 136 (speaking of the present participle in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, she say it is “most probably” intended to “describe Jesus’ habitual behavior while traveling from village to village.”)

78.John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of Paul to the Colossians (T&T Clark 1884) at 223 (in Colossians 3:10, the Greek for renew is present participle active, meaning “man must be brought back to his original purity, but the process of renovation is continuous, as the use of the present participle indicates.”) Cf. Edwin Abbott, Johannine Grammar (A&C Black: 1906) at 219 (“the present participle means continuousness”).

79.Dillow at first admits that “it is true the present tense sometimes carry a durative force (‘continue’).” (Servant Kings, supra, at 200.) Then he claims the “present participle... rarely, if ever, has durative force....” Next, he says a continuous meaning for the present tense “is not only foreign to normal Greek usage but to usage in English as well.” (Id.) Dillow is going from one outrageous statement to another. He next says: “The notion that the present tense [in Jn 3:16 having a continuing aspect] is not only contrary to the normal conventions of any language but is not supported by Greek grammar.” (Reign of the Servant Kings, supra, at 200). Besides this being false for Greek, Dillow is also clearly wrong as to English. “Continuous verb forms [in English] combine a form of be with the present participle...to indicate an action in progress or a continuing action, e.g.,...I am reading.” (Elizabeth Coehlo, Adding English: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms (Pippin: 2004) at 76.) I have not misconstrued Dillow. For later he says the Greek present participle active really only has the meaning of a noun. No action is involved. “It acts simply as a noun. So when John refers in [1 Jn] 5:1 to ‘everyone who believes,’ it is simply a misuse of Greek grammar to insist that John means ‘everyone who continues to believe.” (Reign of the Servant Kings, supra, at 470.)

80.Compare this to John 15:2 which says the “branch in me” that does not produce fruit is taken away, later to be thrown outside and burned. (See John 15:2,6.) In John 10:27-28, this same result is avoided by listening and following. In John 15:5, this same result is avoided by being fruitful which in turn requires that you must “stay in” Jesus, which Jesus then defines as His “word” is abiding in us and His love is abiding in us by “obeying His commandments.” (John 15:7, 10.) Hence, listening and following means obeying with knowledge of Jesus’ precepts, commands and teachings.