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John 10 and the Doctrine of Eternal Security (part 3)

This is the third and last post in a series. If you haven’t already, please read the the introductory post. You can also read the first and second post.

In John 10:28, Jesus says the following concerning His “sheep”: “and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish (καὶ οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται εἰς τὸν αἰῶναkai ou mē apolōntai eis ton aiōna); and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”

Obviously, the “hand” of Jesus in verse 28, and the “hand” of the Father in verse 29 are one and the same, as Jesus says He “and the Father are one” in verse 30.  Here, once again, we see the Subjunctive of Emphatic Negation used in an incredible way.  In a somewhat literal and amplified translation, the verses reads as follows: “and I continuously give eternal life to them, and they shall never/in no way cause themselves to perish (i.e., lose their salvation) throughout the eternity, and no one will remove, steal, carry off, drag away, or snatch and take them away out of My hand.” In order to see just exactly what Jesus is saying with reference to this truth, we are going to take a rather detailed look at this verse.

The first thing to note is that Jesus “gives us eternal life,” and no human being can, in and of himself, produce that life within himself or herself – it is indeed a gift from God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  The Greek verb “I give” is in the present tense, and as we saw above, the present tense in Greek emphasizes continuous action.  Thus, an amplified translation would be, “I continuously give eternal life.”  The other thing to note is that it is “eternal life,” not “temporary life” that could be abrogated by some cause or action.  That has always been of interest to me with regard to the belief of some that a true and born again believer can lose his or her salvation – if that is the case, then the gift of “eternal life” would be better stated as the gift of “temporary life,” based on how well one performs as a professed believer here on earth.

Now without question, there is the very real matter in the Bible of the warning concerning professed believers who completely turn from and deny Jesus, and we will deal with that issue in following studies, but I want to emphasize the term “professed believers,” versus true, born again believers that Jesus is apparently referring to in John 10:28.  And please understand, as was stated earlier, every true, born again believer sins and fails God in some way, but when they do, God’s loving “discipline” described in Hebrews 12:4-11 comes into play, with the purpose of causing true believers to “share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10), and this whole process is what is referred to as sanctification, whereby the believer is constantly being conformed to the “image of Jesus” (Romans 8:28-30).  This being the case, as we now begin to look at the actual Greek syntax of John 10:28, we are going to discover some fascinating truths.

The first thing is the obvious Subjunctive of Emphatic Negation with the Aorist Subjunctive verb, οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται (ou mē apolōntai), which translated in an amplified manner reads, “they shall never/in no way cause themselves to perish/lose their salvation.”  However, how do we come up with the translation, “cause themselves to perish/lose their salvation”?  Besides tense and mood in Greek syntax, you also find what is called voice, which is very important in properly interpreting what is being said.  The three voices in Greek are:

  1. active (emphasizing the subject performing the action – “Bill hits the ball,” which is saying that Bill is actively hitting the ball);
  2. passive (emphasizing the subject being acted upon by an outside force – “Bill was hit by the ball,” which is indicating that someone or something caused the ball to hit Bill);
  3. middle (emphasizing one of three basic concepts:
    • reflexive focuses on the subject himself or herself being the recipient of his or her own action – “Bill hits himself” – which is simply stating that Bill is not only performing the action, but he is the recipient of his own action that he has caused;
    • intensive focuses on the subject alone producing the action – “Bill alone and no other hits the ball”;
    • reciprocal focuses on several subjects acting toward each other – “They are hitting each other”).

In this instance of ἀπόλωνται (apolōntai), therefore, what we have is an Aorist, Middle Subjunctive, Third Person Plural form from the root verb ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi), which means “to ruin, destroy, perish, and lose.”  Thus, in this instance with the Middle Voice, the context clearly points to the reflexive middle, whereby Jesus is stating that those to whom He gives “eternal life will never at any time cause themselves to perish/lose their salvation.”  With reference to the Aorist tense, once again it simply points out the reality of an event happening without any reference to time as such, apart from some time modifier, such as an adverb, adjective, etc.  In this verb, we have just such a modifier in the prepositional phrase, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (eis ton aiōna), which means, “throughout the eternity.”  With the Aorist, therefore, we have three basic aspects of its meaning and application:

  1. constative (this looks at the whole of an action, either in a second of time, or a century, or throughout eternity, such as Hebrews 11:9: “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise,” and here the “he lived” talking about the totality of Abraham’s life as a single event);
  2. ingressive (this focuses on the beginning of an action, such as Mark 11:12: “And on the next day, when they had departed from Bethany, He became hungry.” The phrase “He became hungry” is emphasizing the act of hunger beginning in Jesus);
  3. culminative (the emphasis here is on the culmination of action viewed as a whole, such as in Luke 1:3: “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus,” where “it seemed fitting” is the culminating statement of Luke in describing the process he went through in coming to the decision to write a Gospel of Jesus’ life and ministry).

Therefore, in the context of John 10:28, it would clearly appear that ἀπόλωνται (apolōntai) is a constative aorist, emphasizing the totality of a believer’s life, from the moment of their rebirth and “throughout the eternity.”

Thus, in putting all of this together, we read the following in an amplified format of John 10:27-28: “My sheep continuously hear My voice, and I continuously know them, and they continuously follow Me, and I continuously give them eternal life, and they shall never/in no way cause themselves to perish/lose their salvation throughout the eternity, and no one will remove, steal, carry off, drag away, or snatch and take them away out of My hand.”  Consequently, it would appear that Jesus is clearly indicating here, in no uncertain terms, that a true, born again believer, cannot, in any way, cause themselves to lose their salvation, or if you will, “take themselves out of God’s hands.”  However, once again, I want to emphasize that this passage is in no way stating that we, as true, born again believers, cannot commit egregious sins and reap the consequences of those sins – sadly we both can and do.  But as has already been emphasized several times, Hebrews 12:4-12 is the means by which God deals with sin in the believer’s life.  From this point forward, therefore, we will begin to look at other important passages throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, regarding the “eternal life” God gives His children, versus the false or superficial “religious life” of “professed believers” who have no real “root” of regenerating faith in their lives.