Tuesday, May 12, 2009

John 3:16 and Eternal Security

John 3:16 is perhaps the best know verse in scripture because it's one of the simplest expressions of the gospel; it's only rival for popularity that I can think of is Genesis 1:1. It states: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This seems like a plain statement of Eternal Security, and yet so many that know and love this passage don't hold to ES.

What I Eternal Security?

Eternal Security is the union of two views: 1) the assurance of salvation and 2) once saved, always saved (OSAS). Assurance is knowing for sure that you are saved. Many folks that hold to falling from grace do think we can have assurance (i.e. I know I am saved today, but I might not be tomorrow). So assurance is not as controversial an element as OSAS. OSAS is the view that if your saved now, you always will be. Those that hold to OSAS must be subdivided into two groups: 1) those that hold perseverance is necessary, and 2) those that don't. I think perseverance is necessary; you cannot live like the devil and go to heaven. So in my view, true believers will preserver. Apostates were never true believers to begin with.

Does John 3:16 Teach Eternal Security?

Yes, in the simplest of terms, I would argue that it does as follows:

P1: Whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life
P2: I am a believer
C1: So, I shall not perish but have everlasting life

P1 is from the text. P2 isn't, but it's an affirmation of assurance of salvation. John 3:16 is a simple statement about the future of the believer. I does not say "cannot perish", just that they shall not perish. Perishing will not happen.

In Greek, the "shall not perish" is "me apolthai". Me is a negative particle and the verb apolthai is aorist middle subjunctive. While subjunctives sometimes indicate lack of certainty, subjunctives in negative assertions amount to an emphatic future indicative. (Syntax of the moods and tenses in New Testament Greek. Ernest De Witt Burton. p 78) So Christ is emphasizing the fact that the believer shall not perish. So if we are a believer, we can take Christ at His word and know that hell is not in our future. Everlasting life has implications both for here and hereafter, but "shall not perish" is all about what happens to us when we die. The believer will not go to hell and suffer the second death, so believers are secure.


Objection 1: Believers is a present active participle, which indicates ongoing action. Of course an ongoing believers (i.e. ones that preservers) shall not perish.

Answer 1: Then John 3:16 doesn't apply to those who don't preserver. Why think they are or were saved? Certainly not based on John 3:16; the simplest expression of the gospel. As stated above, those that fall way were never true believers to begin with ('believers' in the sense of John 3:16).

Objection 2: Believers is a category or class. While we are in it, we benefit, but if we leave it, we leave the benefits. So apostates were saved.

Answer 2: If believer is a category of those that preserver to the end, see answer 1. If its anyone who ever at any point believes, then they personally shall not perish. Their future will not change to anther future. If today "I will die in 3 days" is true, tomorrow "I will die in 2 days" will be true. It's not like the truth about the future will flip-flop back and forth.

Objection 3: Sometimes God's promises and warnings of the future are conditional, not in an absolute sense. If it's conditional, no need to assume the future flipflops back and forth. (Isaiah 38:1-5,Jeremiah 18:1-12,Jonah 3)

Answer 3: Whatever Christ means by "believer"; believers have eternal life. The promises to believers cannot be taken conditionally (i.e. believers may or may not have eternal life) because as shown above, Christ makes an emphatic statement about the future.

Objection 4: The promise of not perishing is absolute with respect to the category but conditional when applied to the individual, because the individual may or may not remain in the category. It's like saying everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet. The individual is dry when he wears the coat and gets wet when he takes it off.

Answer 4: The conditionality just extends the category until the end. In the raincoat example, the raincoat wearer is told he will not get wet, but he ended up wet because he took the coat off. So he should have understood the statement "everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet" as implicitly; "everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet, if he keeps the coat on or while he wears the coat" or something similar. So the category "believer" is "one that preservers to the end"; in which case see answer 1 above.

Also, the raincoat analogy breaks down, because of the phrase "shall not perish". The clincher is "shall not perish", not "everlasting life". Everlasting life may be (mistakenly) taken as a temporary blessing during this life, but "shall not perish" is about what happens to us in the future when we die. Rain lasts a while, so in the analogy the guy is sometimes dry and sometimes wet. But "shall not perish" will turn out one way or the other when we die.

There's a third problem regarding who the promise is made to. It's the end of Hollywood week on American Idol. The judges have grouped the contestants in three rooms: one group will make it through, one group will be cut and the last group is a mix. Simon comes into the first room and says: it's not good news... it's great news; you will make it onto the show. Your singing was great, just change your hideous outfits. Randy walks into the next room. Sorry dogs, that singing was really, really, really O.K. So it's the end of the line. Paula and Simon walk into the final room. Paula says "I can promise you two things: 1) if today was final cut you would make it and 2) today isn't final cuts." "No wait." "Here are the two things I can promise you: 1) you might make it through final cuts and 2) if you do you will be on the show." Simon cuts her off. "What Paula is trying to say is we can't promise this group anything. Try to join the group that will make it through, not the group that's going home.

If 'believer' is understood as those who at any point believe and the promise is understood as conditional, then the believer isn't really being promised anything. The promise would look like "if you believe at any point, you will get eternal life so long as you continue believing until the end". In which case the promise is being given to those who make it until the end, not those who believe at any point in time.

Recapping the Objections

Like many things, the truth itself is simple, but explaining away objections gets complex. Interpreting this passage turns on three questions:
  1. Is the promise conditional or absolute?
  2. Is the category 'believers' those who believe at any point in time or those who believe until the end?
  3. How do we apply promises given to the category 'believers' to the individual?

Hopefully, these tables will help summarize the various combinations and problems.

Understanding the Passage: The Promise given to the Category 'Believers'

Any PointTo the End
Promise AbsoluteEternal Security - Correct Interpretation of the passageWhy think apostates are saved? This undermines assurance
Promise ConditionalContradicts "shall not perish"Contradicts "shall not perish"

Understanding the Application: The promise as it relates to the Individual

Any PointTo the End
Promise AbsoluteEternal Security - correct application of the passageAmount to ES and this undermines assurance
Promise ConditionalNothing promised to the 'any point' guy, and the category shifts from 'any point' to 'to the end'. This really belongs over here ->Contradicts "shall not perish"

If you are a believer, you shall not perish but have everlasting life; and that is eternal security.


Odeliya said...


you are a wise man! Nicely summarized, too.
I think perseverance is necessary; you cannot live like the devil and go to heaven. So in my view, true believers will preserver. Apostates were never true believers to begin with.While it's totally true, I would add here, just a thought - the whole concept of perseverance is somewhat vague, it's not "binary", we can't say if you do so much it means you still persevere,you are ok, but such and such sins would disqualify you.
Only God knows who is saved,who is not, but we ought to be, i guess, very critical of selves in this regard, and give the benefit of the doubt and mercy while evaluating others.

David's adultery and murder pretty much fits the description of "living like the devil", at least for the time being, it's not like he repented of it right away. For some time he was living sin and self-justifying it, so to speak.

So i guess, perseverance is a good life guidance rule, but its hard to use as " salvation evaluation method" - If if look at self in the mirror and marvel how wonderfully I do persevere, what a good chirstian i am, etc. ;) I might just be falling into the sin of pride.

Unlike with running, for example, i know if i do 2 miles a day i am good, if i overslept that means i was a lazy bum. That is simple; judging perseverance is more complicated.

Being humble and always seeing our (personal) lack of perseverance is ,paradoxically, a good indicator of godly character.


pchurcher87 said...

Hi Dan,
Thanks for your thoughts. It's an interesting idea although I disagree. I believe that believers can indeed apostate and surrender their salvation. (I'm sure you know the arguements and passages).

As for this passage I believe that one cannot grasp any view of security (or lack there of) from it. The reason for this is the context. Jesus is teaching Nichodemus about being born again, being given new life in him. He uses V16 then as a parallel. I.e. "...that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life" comared to those who do not believe in him who will die as they haven't been born again.
Worth a thought.

Keep up the posts.
In Christ

natamllc said...

I believe one must take into account the Greek word Paul uses in this debate when one comes to agree or disagree with ES, Dan.

I pose the question this way to underscore it and agree with ES.

"What can a dead person do to bury themself once dead?"

My answer is very simple and forthright: "nothing", they are dead!

I have dug many grave holes of friends and relatives who have died. Never once did anyone of them offer to help dig the hole. No, they just laid there waiting to be lowered into the grave dug for them. Why, once there, there was nothing they could do to cover themself over as well. Why, I have only one glimpse of what it must be like, no, two, no, now that I am thinking about it, there are several places recorded in both the Old and New Testaments where people, once dead, were brought back to life, some on their way to the grave and some after being buried in the grave.

But back to the verses I had in mind that I will post to complete my thought. Consider all these people decribed here and what they must have thought once the graves were opened and they were raised from the dead and freed from their hole or cave?

Mat 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
Mat 27:51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
Mat 27:52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,
Mat 27:53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Now, the one Greek word I have in mind that Paul uses in two places in Scripture; once at Eph. 2:5 and once at Col. 2:13.

The Greek Word:

From G4862 and G2227; to reanimate conjointly with (figuratively): - quicken together with.

In both verses we read that God, by His Own Hand, is doing the conjoining and reanimating the dead to Christ's Life. That is significant to me because Jesus is an Eternal Being Who came in the flesh and dwelt among those in those days of His and their life.

I believe once this process has begun, God conjoining one to Christ, He will finish what He started as we see in other verses that lend to that same conclusion of God's Eternal Security.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Odeliya,

Good point. Perseverance requires clarification. I mean perseverance in faith. Works are important, but they are the result not the driver. The big key is trusting in Christ until the end and the rest follows.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Pchurcher87,

It's an interesting idea although I disagree.Thanks for your kind tone dispite the disagreement. I expected many Arminians would disagree.

I believe that believers can indeed apostate and surrender their salvation.I do too. I think they can fall away, but will not.


Jesus is teaching Nichodemus about being born again, being given new life in him. He uses V16 then as a parallel. I.e. "...that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life" comared to those who do not believe in him who will die as they haven't been born again.Of course, John 3 (and verse 16) has lots of aspects I didn't get into; such as the Gospel, God's love of the world, the extent of the atonement, the new birth... I just took a deep dive into one area. I not clear to me why what you are saying conflicts with what I am saying. Are you talking about physical death?

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Dear Michael,

I agree. I based my primary argument off the gospel itself, but secondary arguments can be made from passages explaining the gospel, such as justification, the atonement and as you pointed out regeneration.

God be with you,

The Seeking Disciple said...

Thanks Dan for this post though I too disagree with the eternal security position, I do think that its important to bear in mind (as you state) that we must persevere in faith. Though from time to time we may fall into sin (although I think John 8:11 is true in most cases), we must have faith in Jesus to forgive us and to keep us by His power as He has promised (Jude 24-25). Too often the Arminian view of security is derailed by some Arminians teaching works keep us but Arminius never stressed this and neither should we. It is continued faith in Jesus that keeps us (2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Peter 1:5) in the love of God (Jude 21).

Thanks brother even if we disagree on some points! You are a great brother.

natamllc said...


To explore your response to my comments, let me ask you a followup question. Were you indeed using the term Gospel, as it is understood @ 1 Cor. 15:1 and ff, [?] Would you say this also, that is, Paul was speaking from his own convictions as the Gospel has "become" the primary basis for his ministry when we read these words of his?

Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages

DonaldH said...

Yes! Excellent post. Good qualifications on enternal security as well. I'm 100% in agreement with you my brother. I see no problem with using this passage for eternal security of the true believer.

You are doing a good work my brother. And I'm a little disappointed that there are many baptist that are arminianistic in their beliefs and articulation, (preaching and teaching) but won't commit to being called or committed to arminianism.

I love this blog.

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks Roy, you are too kind.

BTW, great post on Hebrews 11. I also pray God will not be ashamed to call me His brethren.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks Donald. That's a great point about Arminian baptist, who don't call themselves Arminian. I suspect part of the issue is not understanding Arminianism.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Michael,

In a word, yes.

God be with you,

Robert said...

Donald is **absolutely** correct about Baptists. I think the major reason why more Baptists do not call themselves or see themselves as Arminian in their theology is that they **equate** Arminianism with the idea that an Arminian **must** believe that you can lose your salvation. And since most Baptists do not believe that you can lose your salvation (this can especially be seen with Southern Baptists), hence their conclusion is that therefore they cannot be Arminian. But Arminius himself was non-committal on the topic and in fact some Arminians (such as Dan and myself) do not believe that you can lose your salvation.

It seems to me that rather than looking at the one issue (can you lose your salvation or not) as the litmus test of Arminianism. Rather what you should consider are the following key beliefs: (1) do you believe in unconditional election of the preselected elect (and its corollary reprobation); (2) do you believe that God desires the salvation of the world; (3) do you believe that the atonement of Christ was a provision made for the world or only for the preselected elect; (4) do you believe that the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing sinners to Christ can be resisted; (5) do you believe that the Holy Spirit works to bring the world to Christ or only some preselected individuals; (6) do you believe in the ordinary view of free will (called in philosophy “libertarian free will”).

It seems to me that the vast majority of my fellow Baptists on these six points: reject unconditional election, believe that God desires the salvation of the world, believe that the provision of atonement was made for the world (though not all will believe and have it applied to them), believe that the Holy Spirit is working to bring the world to the Lord, believe that the work of the Holy Spirit can be resisted, and definitely hold to the ordinary understanding of free will. These things being the case, they are functioning Arminians even if they do not call themselves such.


Godismyjudge said...

Hi Robert,

in fact some Arminians (such as Dan and myself) do not believe that you can lose your salvation.While I agree with the spirt of your comments, I dont' agree with this specific wording. I think we can, but will not loose our salvation. I think the warnings in Hebrews do speak about the possibility of apostacy. Aposacizing is just as possible as choosing otherwise.

Distincitions, such as the can/will distincition, make for complex phliosophy but simple exegesis; which is as it should be.

God be with you,

Michael said...

God bless you. OSAS is the horrible lie!!!

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Michael,

I disagree, but thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps you would be willing to share your reasons?

God be with you,

k_chupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
k_chupe said...

“Eternal Security”
I absolutely believe in eternal security. A new nature comes from salvation. Of course it's a continual struggle until the "day of redemption" for the believer. the old nature isn't removed but a new nature is added, thus, the struggle that Paul expounds upon in Romans ch7 of the two natures colliding. A believer will remain in Christ as a result of that new nature. A pig is a pig, a dog is a dog, they posses the natures of a pig and a dog. A eagle cannot be born from a pig or dog but an eagle must be born from a eagle. Some times eagles are on the ground, but their nature compels them to stay in lofty places. We are born of God not of ourselves, so we have the nature that comes from God, a godly nature. Another thing to consider is that God being eternal imparts to us the same quality of life that He possesses,"Eternal", which cannot be temporal because God is not temporal. If you believe what God said, then the Bible clearly states that God is true and in Him is no shadow of turning. To be preserved, is to persevere, not to gauge your ability to live right throughout duration, but because your heart is now for the things of God. Your mind is now set on lofty or heavenly things. Your not scared of God taking your salvation away as an "Indian Giver" would do, that would be dishonest, but you're scared of disappointing Him. A gift is a gift not a loan. Big difference. O what a peace beyond understanding compasses my soul to know that I am eternally secure and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day. We are sealed until the "day of redemption". The Holy Spirit now resides in :me and assures me of my salvation. I don't have to be convinced by others or myself, but the Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God and leads me through this treacherous course of life as a mine detector does for those passing through the mine fields, keeping us from being crippled in our daily walk with Jesus that would render us ineffective in our duty as Christian soldiers. I thought Nicodemus brought up a good point for eternal security, just as "how can a man enter into his mother's wound a second time and be born" likewise how can we be re-born again? If you don't believe in once saved always saved, then you have to believe twice lost always lost.
God Bless
-a brother in the Lord
June 4, 2009 11:28 PM

Anonymous said...

I am an Eastern Orthodox christian and want to say that Christ saving you always is God's very own doctrine. You are saved by faith in christ and maintained by faith in Christ. Now I know alot of people in my church and various traditional protestant churches dont believe this. I say you cannot stop the plain promise of the Spirit of God. Churches all churches will bow to him. And jesus via paul's inspiration says 'who can seperate us from the love of God?'. Yes you must presevere and you know what you WILL presevere. If you believe that Jesus has saved you and its a done deal it fills you with power to go do good because you want to not because you have to.

God bless you in christ.
Heaven will be filled with people from all churches because Jesus will save whom he wants.

Anonymous said...

PS I suspect some people who think they can lose their salvation will be saddened when they get to heaven and find out they did not have to live with that fear on their backs when they were on earth. Its FREEDOM to know you are saved and JOY and it fills you with LOVE. Hey come to think of it isnt that what being filled with the holy spirit is all about? God is the author of peace ...and what greater peace is there than this? That he conqured all and you will be with him for ever "for I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am you will be also."

Anonymous said...

therefore have joy in your salvation.

an Eastern Orthodox brother of yours in the Lord

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Yorgos! They were very encouraging. You seem to be rare for the EOC.

God be with you,