The Argument Put Forward
I am sure most of us have heard the argument before; it goes something along the lines of; only those who continue to believe in their life will actually make it to glory. Is this based on sound exegesis of biblical texts? Or is it actually based on mans underlying theology pushing forward an idea that they want to believe? In this post I am going to show that it is not based on sound biblical exegesis, and it is in fact based upon reformed theology being pushed onto the text.
The Core Biblical Text for this Post
The core text for the following post is from John 11:26:
John 11:26 (NKJV)
“And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
In the Greek both “lives” and “believes” are Greek present tense participles. What does that mean? It means basically that in the Greek they are present tense verbs. Some argue that because this is the case then it denotes an ongoing action of both living and believing in order to obtain eternal life (shall never die).
The Sometimes Calvinist and Arminians View of the word “Believe”
Not all, but some Calvinists and Arminians insist that the word believe does always mean an on going process in the application of eternal life. The Calvinist might of course argue that if someone does not persevere to the end in faithfulness they were “never really saved because they were not among the unconditionally elected”. The Armenian may argue that “if someone doesn’t persevere they were either never saved or they have fallen away from salvation”. So therefore both statements above show a classical and typical view that one must continue to “believe” in order to be saved.
Not so Sound Exegesis of John 11:26!
For the typical and classical interpretation sometimes given by some Arminians and Calvinists to be proven wrong what do we need? Well all we need is one verse that proves that belief is not an on going process, either by context or the Greek, or both! Well I think we have it in John 11:26.
Lets think about this, the Calvinist and Arminian arguing such a point is saying this verse reads as follows: “And whoever lives (continues) and believes (continues) in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Premise: One most continue to live and believe in order to be a partaker in eternal life.
Inference: One continues to live and continues to believe.
Conclusion: One is a partaker in eternal life.
Now the above sounds fine doesn’t it. But where is the logic horrifically flawed? Well it’s relatively simple. What if you stop living?
Well if you stop living you have now failed to match both the criteria in the verse on how to be a partaker in eternal life – according to some Calvinists and Arminians. How is this the case? Well if they insist that the Greek present tense participle demands an interpretation of always meaning an “on going process” they cannot deny the fact that both “lives” and “believes” used in the same verse are present tense participles!
Options for Interpretation of John 11:26
I see it this way; you can believe 1 of the 4 things:
1) You have to CONTINUE to live and CONTINUE to believe in order to have eternal life. If you fail to either “live” or “believe” you fail to qualify.
2) You have to live ONCE and believe ONCE in order to have eternal life. You have to fulfil both “lives” and “believes” at one point in time.
3) You have to live ONCE and CONTINUE to believe in order to have eternal life.
4) You have to CONTINUE to live and only believe ONCE in order to receive eternal life.
Option 4 Examined
I think it would be a very strange exegetical conclusion for any man to come to the conclusion that number 4 is correct. For the bad news would be that once you ceased to live you have been disqualified from one of the requirements (continuing to live). This would also mean that absolutely no one since New Testament times (including the authors) actually obtained eternal life.
This is a rather ridiculous explanation of John 11:26, however I felt it should be shown that I did in fact give some thought to all possible interpretation of the verse.
Option 1 Examined
This is the typical Calvinist and Arminian claim based on purely the use of Greek present tense participles, that an ongoing belief is what is required for eternal life. But the bad news is still the same as that in option 4! What if you cease to live? You are no longer “continuing” to live, so you have not met the requirements for eternal life. Too bad! Here is some bad news, if you cease to continue to live, you also cease in belief! No one dead believes anything! So ultimately in a rather strange way this option is worse than option 4!
Option 3 Examined
I imagine that is how many Arminians and Calvinists think they are reading the text; anyone who lives and then continues to believe has eternal life. So what are the problems with option 3?
Strangely enough I feel that the problem is they are ignoring the Greek. They aren’t being consistent. It clearly says “lives” and “believes”, they are clearly conveying the same type of action as they are both present tense participles. Its rather ridiculous to say it means “live once” and “continue to believe” when the two Greek present tense participle words are used at the same time in the same way in the same sentence! Clearly the “lives” and “believes” are the same action in nature. Therefore to say one must “live once” and “believe all the time” does not support what the author (John) is trying to convey, nor does it support the fact that the same action is clearly in view by the use of the same present tense participle. We could of course turn to other scriptures regarding how to obtain eternal life, and analyse the nature and requirements to prove option 3 inherently wrong, which is what it done below, before the final option is examined.
Continual Belief Refuted by Context
Are there any contextual versus showing that continual belief is not what it required in order to be a partaker of eternal life? You bet!
John 4:10-15 (NKJV)
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 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.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
What is this passage teaching? Simply this:
- Jesus talks about living water that He provides.
- The woman asks where she can receive this.
- Jesus goes onto say that whoever drinks natural water (that you and I drink) will become thirsty again. He then creates a direct contrast saying whoever drinks the water Jesus provides never actually becomes thirsty again. In other words; they won't have to keep drinking for they will never thirst again.
- Jesus explains this with a welling up (eternal life), a person takes one drink and they will never thirst again. The well of eternal life inside them has now sprang up, they won't need to come back to drink.
The fact that Christ contrasts continual drinking with a one time drink should be enough contextually to convince even the most set in their mind individual. There would be no point in Jesus creating a picture of having to continually drink from natural water, then going onto create a picture of having to continually drink from the water he provides. Both would denote an action of continuing to drink, thereby eliminating the contrast Jesus was trying to make. Also how does it make sense of the woman’s understanding? The woman clearly understands one drink is sufficient and that she wouldn’t have to come back to the well to draw. She understood Jesus was talking about a single one time event; Jesus does not correct her understanding.
Option 2 Examined
This is of course the final option; we already deductively know that it is true as all other options are false.
I submit that the only way you can read the verse is: “And whoever lives (once) and believes (once) in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
It supports the fact that the same present tense participle is used for both “lives” and “believes”, showing that the authors intent was to show that both of these things (living and believing) are of exactly the same action. The context also supports this, as we have seen from the other options the context does not support the idea of “living” and “believing” continually, for if you stop doing one, or the other; then you fail to qualify for eternal life. So as long as you die at one point in your life then you have failed to meet the requirements – if the verse is saying we must continually live and believe throughout our entire lives, as the typical Calvinist and Arminian try’s to argue.
Jesus asks: Do you believe this?
In conclusion Jesus is asking you as a person alive today; do you believe that a one time belief in Jesus is enough in order to receive everlasting life?
I do, it is the only way John 11:26 can be read from sound exegesis.
How can I know I am going to heaven?
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved… (Acts 16:31)
How sweet the sound
Now flowing down
From hands and feet
That were nailed to the tree
Now flowing down
From hands and feet
That were nailed to the tree
As Grace flows down and covers me "
- Grace Flows Down by Passion
- Grace Flows Down by Passion