Perseverance: John 10 In Depth, Part 2

“They shall never perish”

“They shall never perish” is a Hebraic parallel with “I give them eternal life.” The English translations aren’t very true to the Greek. The Greek is literally —

And I give to them life eternal [aionion], and by no means they perish unto the age [aiona], and shall not [forcibly] seize anyone them out of the hand of me.

(Translation from Alfred Marshall’s Greek interlinear).

Notice that the “unto the age” (aiona) isn’t translated in most translations. Morris argues (and I agree, for whatever it’s worth) that just as aionion refers to eternal life (literally, life in the next age), the aiona (the next age) means they won’t die eternally. (Leon Morris, New International Commentary on John). And that’s very parallel: “I give them life in the next age, and they certainly won’t die in the next age” is a very precise translation, I think — remembering that “eternal” is only a rough translation of aionion, which literally speaks of the next age and doesn’t take “everlasting” as its primary meaning.

Jesus’ emphasis in this part of the verse, therefore, isn’t on perseverance but on salvation. Jesus is speaking of what will happen in the next age, not our preservation unto the next age. That is, this no more speaks of perseverance than the hundreds of other references in scripture to “eternal life.” For example,

(John 3:16)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This is very parallel, but few argue perseverance of the saints (POTS) from this passage. Obviously, to a Calvinist, that’s exactly what the passage promises. The point is that the reason John 10:28 figure so prominently as a POTS prooftext is the language “no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

To a non-Calvinist, of course, “have eternal life” or to be given eternal life means that Jesus gives life eternal to those he saves. It’s a gift they possess, and yet it’s a gift they can throw away.

A parallel

The parallel that comes to mind is —

(Rom 8:38-39)  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It seems to be much the same thought — and taken out of context, argues for perseverance. But Paul also writes —

(Rom 11:20-22)  Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

(1 Cor 15:2)  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

(Gal 6:9)  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

As I pointed out earlier in this series, it’s easy enough to imagine that God wants us to admonish one another to be faithful as part of his providential working to assure our perseverance. I just can’t imagine that God wants us or his apostles to deceive our listeners about their eternal fate or how protected they really are.

Protection against whom?

Both here and in John 10:28-29, the emphasis is on protection against others — God protects us from others. Nothing protects us from our own rebellion — and I’ve yet to see the verse that says we can reject Jesus as Lord and yet remain saved. Rather, as I argued in a post near the end of the series on Election,

Let me try out a hypothesis and test it as we work through the verses: Paul’s point is that God called and elected Israel, they became faithless so that only a remnant were faithful and so will be saved. However, for the true Israel (anyone with faith in Jesus), the calling and election is different. God’s plan does not require a falling away and bringing in the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous.

Both the original call and election and the new call and election are irrevocable — God will honor his promises to those who are faithful. And he’ll move in history in such a way that at least a remnant of Jews will believe in Jesus. But the new call and election are not part of a plan that requires a massive falling away to be successful. And, therefore, Paul exults that the falling away and making jealous part of God’s plan is over.

If the answer isn’t something like this, then how can Paul refer to the Jews as “called” and “elect” [given that nearly all rejected Jesus!] and yet exult in the justification and glory of the called and elect?

We don’t tend to think of the necessity of protection against third parties, as we see salvation as entirely personal — between us and God, who is both the One who saves and the one who damns. But the First Century sense of “salvation” was different. The Jews expected not only to be resurrected in the new heavens and new earth, but to find protection from their enemies.

Consider the prophecy of Zechariah —

(Luke 1:68-75) “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

What would be the point of salvation without protection? Peter speaks in similar terms —

(1 Pet 1:3-5) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Shielded from what? If our enemy is God’s wrath, what does God shield us against? Himself?

You see, the problem is that we Westerners don’t think in terms of demons and powers. Paul exulted in Rom 8 that God would keep us safe from angels and powers. We take that to be poetic license. I think Paul meant exactly what he said. I think Jesus meant the same.

F. F. Bruce explains in his commentary on Romans in the Tyndale series,

In any case, the principalities and powers are the forces of evil in the universe, the ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ of Ephesians vi. 12 (RV).

C. K. Barrett argues in the Harper’s New Testament commentary,

In his final affirmation of God’s love, Paul turns to what his readers probably regarded as their chief and most dangerous enemies, the astrological powers by which (as many in the Hellinistic world believed) the destiny of mankind was controlled.

Take whatever view you wish regarding demonic powers that seek to push us into damnation, to a First Century Jew or Greek, protection from evil powers was a serious matter. And I think we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their thinking as superstitious. (Think of C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.)

(John 8:44)  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Now, go back and re-read John 10:28-29 in light of what Paul and Peter actually wrote. Rather than reading with 16th Century Reformation concerns in mind, or even Restoration concerns, try to think like a First Century Jew or Hellenist. Who was Jesus promising protection from when he said that “no one can snatch them out of my hand”? Who is the snatcher? Satan? Demons? Fallen angels? Powers? Exactly.

In short, in context, the promise is for protection against wolves — third parties, especially demons — not against our own rebellion. Nor is it a guarantee that we’ll never rebel. After all, why would God warn us against an impossibility? It would be like warning your children against the bogeyman (or invisible snakes in their bedroom, for you Bill Cosby fans). God doesn’t lie to achieve his ends. But he does promise a salvation untouchable by the highest of the demonic forces — if only we’ll “continue in his kindness,” “hold firmly to the word,” and “do not give up.”

One last point: Some have asked whether Jesus really protects us from Satan. If we sin so as to fall away, isn’t it due to temptation by Satan?

But Jesus (and Peter and Paul) don’t promise the absence of temptation. Rather,

(1 Cor 10:13)  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

This is serious protection. And despite God’s protection, we’ll still sin. But if we rebel, it’s our own fault.

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15 Responses

  1. This is a view of this passage which I’ve not heard before. Thanks, Jay

  2. Jay,
    I was particularly intrigued by the nuance between “everlasting life” and “life in the next age”. I think it does a better job of distinguishing between a continuation of this experience and a new experience in the presence of God.

  3. Jay

    Your post answers a question in my mind about romans 10 and 11. I am going to re read your post slowly. You are ahead of most of us.

    What is the word for eternity or eternal life in the OT and NT? Like us they have a hard time with infinite things.

    Thank you for the deepness of your thought.

    Bob

  4. David said : “This is a view of this passage which I’ve not heard before.”

    I suspect very few have heard this view before. I believe it was Leroy Garrett that made a comment that some of our views of scripture are more remarkable for their creativity than their accuracy. Kudos to Jay for carrying on this CofC tradition.

    An imaginative approach was used in the series on Romans 9-11 and now that understanding is applied to how we should understand John 6. And of all passages, Romans 8 is used to suggest that something can separate us from the love of God. Perhaps I am just too much of a literalist, though I am not frequently accused of that. See the text below and decide for yourselves

    (Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Clearly, different people read the same Bible and understand it in strikingly different ways.

    Peace,
    Randall

  5. When someone falls down they may think I’ve messed up so bad God doesn’t want me, and sometimes that is what other people have told them, but that is far from the truth, God tells us He will never leave you nor forsake you. When I get up even after I have fallen flat on my face it is not by my might but by His Spirit. If it were up to me get up by my might I wouldn‘t be here speaking to you now. I haven’t always wanted to look up to God after screwing up, yet there I was praising God even when I didn’t feel like it – God said not by might but by My Spirit.

    “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38-39), “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14). We can be confident that God keeps us as He promises to complete what He started in us, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6).

    John 4:13-14 “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

    2 Timothy 1:12 “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”

    2 Timothy 4:18 “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”

    2 Corinthians 3:4-6 “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

    1 Peter 1:23 “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”

    We should be encouraged by God’s faithfulness to always help us and protect us.

    Psalm 18:1-2 “I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

    Psalm 18:28 “For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.”

    Psalm 32:7 “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

    Psalm 36:5 “Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.”

    Psalm 37:39-40 “But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, And save them, Because they trust in Him.”

    Psalm 48:14 “For this is God, Our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.”

    Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.”

    Psalm 63:7-8 “Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.”

    Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

    Psalm 91:1-2 “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

    Psalm 94:18 “If I say, “My foot slips,” Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.”

    Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

    Psalm 121:2 “My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”

    Psalm 138:7 “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand Against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me.”

    I trust when I put my life in His hands there couldn’t be a more secure place to be. God is my strength, my stronghold, He always revives me, God helps me and holds me up even when I am at my weakest.

    2 Peter 2:9 “Then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.”

    God is my strength, my stronghold, He always revives me, God helps me and holds me up even when I am at my weakest.

  6. Bob,

    A post showed up today on Jesus Creed reviewing Edward Fudge’s book The Fire that Consumes. It contains a brief discussion of the use of “eternal” in the NT and gives some OT background as well. http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/02/saturday-afternoon-book-review-7.html

    In fact, my studies in the sense of “eternal” are from my studies of Edward’s book. And I’ve worked through every NT use of the word to see whether he’s right — and he’s right.

    Aionios is from aion, which is sometimes transliterated into English via Latin as aeon or eon, meaning “age,” which is the NT meaning as well. The OT Hebrew equivalent is olam.

  7. This post begins with a couple of quotes from scripture as follows:

    “They shall never perish” is a Hebraic parallel with “I give them eternal life.”

    All my life I have been taught that English language translations of the Bible were trustworthy. Even English language paraphrases, while perhaps representing the bias of only a single person. were still considered reasonably accurate.

    It seems that the thrust of these “in depth” posts on John’s gospel is that the English language translation is such a poor representation of the original that we could be easily mislead if we were to take it the way it reads.

    I guess I had better get myself enrolled in Greek and Hebrew school right away so I’ll be able to read a trustworthy version of the Bible and actually understand what it says. 😉

  8. Randall, I have great respect for your writing. If you wish, skip Jay’s Greek or Hebrew. To me, all inspiried has to fit together or my understanding is incomplete.
    Add to your knowledge of God’s promise to defend us againist enemies the following.(all TNIV, ibs.org)
    Gal 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
    Note that Paul says that “you who live by the Spirit” can be tempted.
    1 Cor 10:13 And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
    Forces of evil cannot snatch because God will not tempt you beyond your ability to withstand. That fits the promises that “pricipalities and powers” cannot stop you.
    Jam 1:12 Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
    James gives us the mechanics, evil forces tempt everyone but only our allowance leads to sin. God promised to limit evil to what we can bear. Glory to Him, He has set the evil vs. good fight so that we can win!
    Remember Peter walking on the water? He was fine until he doubted. We are saved by faith and sunk by disbelief. Exactly as James says.
    So, my understanding is that God promises us His sacrifice by our faith, then keeping us safe from evil’s power by forbiding evil to take us or tempt us beyound our ability to resist.
    Do you realize how awesome this is? It’s like you believe, you are given a starship with shields that never fail. You could surrender or turn the shield off.

  9. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

    Jay, is this an incorrect translation? How do you explain this one away? How many meanings can such a simple verse have? This is not one that requires a PHD to understand, it is simple.

    Is it true or not true? It is true is the correct answer.

    Royce

  10. Royce,

    You sound angry. What have I done to anger you?

  11. Jay,

    No, I’m not angry at all.

    I am only asking you to address the promise of John 6:44.

    Since there are fewer words that can be questionable I’m only curious how you understand this verse. Did Jesus intend that those drawn to him by the Father are the ones he will resurrect?

    I am not angry but I am disappointed that more weight is given to more obscure passages than to the crystal clear statements of Jesus himself.

    If I am wrong, and I should not really rely on what He said, then the whole idea of redemption goes up in smoke.

    If my salvation depends on me and my performance I am lost. I am trusting 100% that is not true.

    Royce

  12. Royce,

    I’m glad to address John 6:44, but I’m afraid it’s going to involve Greek and logic.

  13. Jay, LOL

    So it too doesn’t mean what it says?

    Royce

  14. Ogle,

    “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

    John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

    Is it not the same word you almighty genius?

    It is, both in English and Greek. All men are drawn.

    How do YOU explain this one away?

  15. Johnny,

    Great attitude!

    Thanks for your help,
    Almighty genius

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