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:
- Is the promise conditional or absolute?
- Is the category 'believers' those who believe at any point in time or those who believe until the end?
- How do we apply promises given to the category 'believers' to the individual?
Understanding the Passage: The Promise given to the Category 'Believers'
|Any Point||To the End|
|Promise Absolute||Eternal Security - Correct Interpretation of the passage||Why think apostates are saved? This undermines assurance|
|Promise Conditional||Contradicts "shall not perish"||Contradicts "shall not perish"|
Understanding the Application: The promise as it relates to the Individual
|Any Point||To the End|
|Promise Absolute||Eternal Security - correct application of the passage||Amount to ES and this undermines assurance|
|Promise Conditional||Nothing 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.