Commentary on John 3:36
Illustrating the theological bias of translators is John 3:36. The King James version translates John 3:36 as follows:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.In the American Standard Version, it is translated:
He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.Most translations follow the American Standard Version and translate ho apeithōn as “disobey” or words to that effect. A minority translates it as “disbelieve” or words to that effect. These translations include:
– the New Jerusalem Bible (refuses to believe),
– the Anointed Standard Translation (without persuasion),
– the St. Joseph New Catholic Edition (unbelieving),
– the Phillips New Testament in Modern English (refuses to believe),
– the Bible in Basic English (has not faith),
– the New King James Version (does not believe),
– Williams translation of the New Testament (refuses to trust),
– the New Testament revision of the Challane-Rheims Version (is unbelieving),
– 21st Century King James Version (believeth not),
– BRG Bible (believeth not),
– Common English Bible (doesn’t believe),
– Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (believeth not),
– Holman Christian Standard Bible (refuses to believe),
– Modern English Version (does not believe),
– New International Reader's Version (does not believe),
– New Life Version (does not put his trust),
– New Matthew Bible (does not believe),
– New Testament for Everyone (doesn’t believe),
– Worldwide English (New Testament) (does not believe),
– Wycliffe Bible (is unbelieveful to),
– Young's Literal Translation (is not believing), and
– God’s New Covenant (refuses to put his faith)
Both the American Standard Version and the World English Bible have a footnote stating that “disobeys” can be translated “disbelieves.”
Robert Wilkin states that the literal translation of ho apeithōn is “he who does not obey.” He writes, “Failure to believe in Jesus was disobeying the Father who sent him.” Thus, “he who does not believe” paraphrases the intent of the word. Supporting Wilkin is a footnote in the Revised Standard Bible, which defines “disobedience” as “unbelief.” According to Wilkin, “To gain eternal life one must obey God’s command to believe in His Son.”
In his note on John 3:36, John Wesley remarks that disobeying Jesus is a consequence of not believing in him. Apparently, a person proves his faith via his works.
Floyd Filson states that John 3:36 is as basics as John 3:16. That is, anyone who believes in the Son as sent of God to give life to those dead in sin receives eternal life. Then, he adds that he who refuses to believe the gospel message will not believe and obey Christ and, consequently, will not have eternal life. Thus, according to Filson salivation is by faith and proven by works, i.e., faith plus works.
“Disobey” gives a different impression than “disbelieve.” “Disbelieve” suggests that everlasting life in the Kingdom of God, which is established when Jesus returns, depends on faith and faith alone. “Disobey” suggests that everlasting life depends on faith plus works; that is, everlasting life depends not only on faith, but it also depends on works. Such works include:
– baptism, although there is much disagreement about the proper form of baptism (immersion, pouring, or sprinkling) and the salvific effect of infant baptism;
– absolute obedience to the teachings of Christ, i.e., doing everything that Jesus says to do; thus, how much work is enough for salvation and how many transgressions are enough to cause a loss of salvation;
– never sinning once one is saved (which may explain why Constantine waited until he was on his deathbed before he was baptized into the Catholic Church), especially committing a sin named in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10;
– austerity, mortification, self-whipping, not bathing, and other similar practices that were considered virtuous and pious in times past;
– failure adequately to recruit, i.e., proselytize;
– perseverance to death;
– failure to keep faith in Jesus and the Kingdom of God until death;
– membership in the correct church, sect, or denomination (as several sects claim that one cannot be saved unless he is a member of that sect, one must be a member of all of them to guarantee salvation);
As for faith, what does one have to believe in, on, or about the Son to have everlasting life? Is it believing that Jesus is;
– the giver and guarantor of eternal life (if true, does this mean that the soul is not innately immortal; if the soul is innately immoral, then believing in Jesus does not give eternal life as one already has that; however, if the soul is not immortal and the unsaved are tormented in hell forever, then in whom or what does one believe to be condemned to hell):
– God incarnated (if true, almost no one, except perhaps some gnostics, were saved before the fourth century AD);
– God according to the Trinity Doctrine, i.e., Jesus is eternal God, is equal to God the Father, and is very God and very man (if true, almost no one, was saved before the middle of the fourth century AD because almost no Christians believed Trinity Doctrine of three coequal, coeternal Gods or Persons being one God or Person, which was not formulated until 381);
– a man, human, who was uniquely begotten by God the Father in the womb of the Virgin Mary and only his Father is God (if true, only a few “Christians” have been saved since 400 AD);
– the Messiah, Christ, and the only begotten Son of God;
– sent by God the Father and that only the Father is God;
– sent by God to take away man’s sins and to give life to those dead in sin with his sacrificial death and resurrection;
– going to return to earth and establish his kingdom and that he meant what he said and did when he was here;
Obviously, those who believe in salvation by faith and faith alone prefer translating ho apeithōn as “disbelieve.” On the other hand, those who believe that salvation depends not only on faith but also on some kind or level of works prefer it translated as “disobey.”
If for no other reason than parallelism, “disbelieve” is a better translation than “disobey.” In the second part of the sentence, “disbelieve” parallels with “believe” in the first part. “Disobey” does not.
Filson, Floyd V. The Gospel According to John. Editor Balmer H. Kelly. The Layman’s Bible Commentary. Volume 19. Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1970.
Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. Reprint, London, England: The Epworth Press, 1948.
Wilkin, Robert N. “John.” The Grace New Testament Commentary. Editor Robert N. Wilkin. Vol. 1. Denton, Texas: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010.
Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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