Q: Does John 3:16 emphasize that “the believing one…has eternal life” from the point of salvation? It seems that some disagree that this passage teaches that, on grounds that in John 3:16 both final verbs are subjunctive, μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ.

A: For three basic reasons, I take the view that ἔχω does in fact connote the present enjoyment of the object – even in the subjunctive (if the conditions are met):

(1) By definition, to “have” means to “possess.” ἔχω is commonly understood to connote such a meaning. In its natural usage in both classical and koine, those using the word did so in reference to something that was possessed or enjoyed.

Plato’s Apology (23:D), for example, uses the word with a negative, “they have nothing to say.” The usage references the present state of enjoying (or with the negative, not enjoying) a condition.

2 Cor. 6:10, illustrates another facet, for example, that the word references possession, but that whether or not there is present enjoyment of such possession is determined by context, rather than vocabulary.

Louw and Nida, to cite one example, define the word as “to have or possess objects or property (in the technical sense of having control over the use of such objects).” [Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989), 1:557].

It seems that the natural, most basic usage of the word does connote the possession of, if not the enjoyment of a condition.

(2) John’s usage seems consistently to reference a present enjoyment of a condition.

John 3:36 – the one believing in the Son has (present active indicative) eternal life

John 5:24 – he who believes…has eternal life

John 6:47 – perhaps the clearest statement, with the double emphasis (amen amen): the believing one has (present active indicative) eternal life.

1 John 5:12 – an important contextual clarification: the one having (present active participle) the Son has (present active indicative) the life.

The context of 1 Jn. 5:12 is a key of sorts to understanding that there is present enjoyment of the condition. If we have the Son we have the life. Do we then presently enjoy the Son? By belief (cf., the passages in John) and by the Holy Spirit (e.g., Rom. 8:9, Eph. 1:13-14) we must conclude that we do presently enjoy the Son, and if so, then the verb can (and does) connote present enjoyment.

(3) The subjunctive use in John 3:16 simply emphasizes that the present enjoyment of eternal life is conditioned upon belief. If the condition is met, then the enjoyments are present.

An illustration of this concept is discernible in John 17:3, in describing eternal life as knowing (present active subjunctive) God. The knowing of God is conditioned upon the possession of eternal life.

The subjunctive mood indicates probability or possibility based on a condition, and if the condition is met, then the present subjunctive can indicate (but does not have to) the present enjoyment of the resulting condition.

In sum, the simplest and most natural interpretation of the John passages individually and collectively considered is that they speak of a present enjoyment of eternal life, and not simply of a future hope. This is a resounding evidence (though not the only one) of our eternal security in Him. It also explains in part the repeated emphasis by other NT writers of how our character is to be defined by the enjoyment and proper handling of that life (e.g., Col. 3).


%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
Q & A: Sexuality, Christian Ethics, and the State

I received this question from a philosophy professor who was seeking to get a Christian perspective on this controversial issue:...