Edited By: Leslyn Kim and D.Curle
John 3 (New International Version)
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
As I was reading and studying in John today, I learned something that I’ve never heard before. As my disclaimer I did not have a ton of time to research what I’m about to share and need to finish researching it, but I found it interesting. Apparently in the Greek language there exists tenses that are not used or available in English, at least without the use of extra vocabulary to explain what was truly meant. John 3:16, the favorite biblical verse placed on highway billboards, or written on posters at football games, apparently express a verbal “tense” not used in the English language. That tense is referred to as the continuous present tense. It can be constructed in English using words that accompany the verb. However, there is no single tense that can be assigned to the verb that makes it present continuous. Common English language sentences in different tenses may read like these:
Present Tense: Tim is swimming.
Past Tense: Tim swam.
Future Tense: Tim will swim tomorrow.
Present Continuous Tense (In English): Tim has been swimming all day.
Notice how in English the continuous present tense can be formed by using an auxillary verb plus a past participle prior to the verb (swimming). This is not necessary in Greek, since there’s an actual tense for the verb itself that denotes something happening now and ongoing.
As James White and David Pawson have both pointed out, the best translation of John 3:16 would read more like the following:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever “continues or goes on believing” in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever “continues believing” in him is not condemned, but whoever does not “continue believing” stands condemned already because they have not “continued believing” in the name of God’s one and only Son.
This indeed adds some much needed depth to the scripture. What I’m writing here has very little to do with Calvinism vs. Arminianism. In fact, even staunch faith-alone Calvinists like James White support the idea that John 3:16 speaks of continuing in Christ:
“Throughout this passage an important truth is presented that again might be missed by many English translations. When Jesus describes the one who comes to him and who believes in him [3:16, 5:24, 6:35, 37, 40, 47, etc.], he uses the present tense to describe this coming, believing , or, in other passages, hearing or seeing. The present tense refers to a continuous, on-going action. The Greek contrasts this kind of action against the aorist tense, which is a point action, a single action in time that is not on-going…… The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not truly and continuously believe. The faith that saves is living faith, a faith that always looks to Christ as Lord and Savior.”
But, it has everything to do with dispelling the idea altogether of easy-believism. The idea that salvation is simply a one time, one-and-done event that doesn’t result or show itself in any real manifested way. “Come to this alter, say this prayer, and you’re saved”.
Apparently the continuous present tense has impact and implications for other well known text like the following:
King James Version (KJV)
“7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
It could be translated to read this way…….
7 “Keep on asking”, and it shall be given you; “continue to seek”, and ye shall find; “don’t stop knocking”, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that “continues asking” receiveth; and he that “continues seeking” findeth; and to him that “continues knocking” it shall be opened.”
That puts a whole new spin on Abraham persistently asking God to spare the city of Sodom and Gamorrah.