Studies on Eternal Security (4): When Two Negatives Make a Positive

See if you can determine what is wrong with this sentence. “You are not never going to finish this article with atrocious grammar like this.” I’m sure you noticed what was wrong. In basic math, when two negative numbers are multiplied, the end result is a positive number. But in basic English, when two negative words are put together, a grammatical blunder has just occurred.

The use of double negatives is frowned upon in the English language, but was entirely acceptable in Koine Greek. In the New Testament, the expression ou me (which Strong’s Dictionary puts into a single entry #3364) occurs nearly 100 times. Both ou and me are words meaning “not, no, none, never, etc.” When these two negative words are put together, the result is an intensified form of the negative.

Thayer states that when ou and me are used in combination, the meaning is “not at all, in no wise, by no means.” Some of the most relevant uses of this double negative pertaining to our subject of eternal security are found on the lips of the Lord Jesus in John’s gospel. Many Bible versions translate the little phrase as, “shall never.” This is how we will use the phrase in examining three passages from John’s gospel where Jesus uses this double negative, and affirms a very positive truth.

Shall Never Thirst

The Lord Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13,14: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never (ou me) thirst.” First, notice that He is contrasting physical water with spiritual water (which He identifies as “everlasting life” at the end of v14).

Second, notice the change of tenses with the same verb in back-to-back verses. There must be a reason why Jesus made this change. The present tense of the verb “drinketh” is used in verse 13 when referring to physical water. Often (but not always) this tense depicts continuous action, which makes sense here. A person must drink physical water on a continual basis to quench physical thirst. However, the tense of the verb “drinketh” in verse 14 when referring to a spiritual drink is aorist, which emphasizes a past, single act of drinking. What accounts for this change of tenses?

When a person turns to Christ for salvation and takes in the “living water” He offers, something permanent happens. That individual has now found satisfaction alone in Christ, needs nothing more, and will never have spiritual thirst again. Third, there is a significant Greek word following our double negative. It is the word aion (often translated “forever”). Putting these words together led Darby to accurately translate the verse as: “but whosoever drinks of the water which I shall give him shall never thirst forever.” This drink of everlasting life is taken once, satisfies once for all, and never needs to be repeated.

Shall Never Hunger

The Lord Jesus used the double negative twice in John 6:35 where He said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never (ou me) hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never (ou me) thirst.”  It has been pointed out by Conditional Security Advocates (CSAs) that the verb tense for “believeth” here, and in other relevant texts, is present, implying continuing action. They argue that we must continue to believe in order to experience the blessings of salvation. However, the tense for “cometh” here is also present. Does this mean we must continually come to Christ for salvation? Also, in verse 51, within this same discussion, the tense of the verb “eat” is aorist in Jesus’ words. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.”

Additionally, in verse 53, there are two more relevant aorist tenses. The Savior says there, “Except ye eat (aorist) the flesh of the Son of man, and drink (aorist) His blood, ye have no life in you.” These all imply a past, single action which results in receiving eternal life. As pointed out in a previous article, the reason why the New Testament writers preferred to use the present tense of “believe” is that it is the normal practice of a genuine believer to manifest a living, active, ongoing faith. However, there are a number of texts which use “believe” in the aorist tense (John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:9), thus disproving the notion that belief must be continual in order to continue to possess eternal life. Also, there are occasions when a present tense verb is used to refer to a one-time event, such as the incarnation of Christ (John 6:33, “cometh down”). The present tense is even used of actions that have ceased (Matt 2:20 – “sought”; John 9:8 – “sat and begged”; Gal 1:23 – “persecuted”). The reality is that once we have received Christ, taking in “the living bread,” our spiritual hunger is forever satisfied and will never return again.

Shall Never Die

In John 11:26, the Lord Jesus said to Martha, “whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never (ou me) die.” It appears that the word “liveth” here refers to spiritual or eternal life, not physical life. D. A. Carson says, “The verb ‘lives’ cannot simply mean ‘is alive,’ (physically) as the triteness would be unbearable; obviously only those who are alive can believe!”

John uses both verb and noun forms of the word “life” (Greek, zoe) in his writings some 98 times. At least 92 of them are references to spiritual life, eternal life or the life of God. Scant, if any, are John’s uses of “life” to emphasize mere physical existence. It should be apparent that the word “die” in our text cannot refer to physical death. Believers in the Lord Jesus do experience physical death, thus, the Lord’s words here indicate that, once we have eternal life, there is no possible way (ou me) we can ever spiritually die. The fact that He adds, “and believeth in me,” to “whosoever liveth” is not something that must be done to continue having eternal life. We are told repeatedly in John’s gospel that the way to receive this life is to simply believe on Him (3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 20:31). “Whosoever liveth” emphasizes the change brought about by God’s power, while “believeth in me” emphasizes the way the change was accomplished. Jesus’ double negative here is once again declaring a positive truth. As believers in the Lord Jesus, we shall never, never die! We are safe in Him, and safe forever.