Have you ever wondered how some Christians manage to misread Jesus’ clear promise that whoever believes in him for eternal life “shall never perish”? What do people do with those verses? What do they think they mean? Avoiding the clear meaning of Jesus’ promise requires some serious scripture twisting. I can imagine a conversation going like this…
Rev. Arnie Minius: Well let’s get on with making our more accurate BRV translation of the Scripture.
Professor Fred Fallaway: Yes, you can’t be too careful nowadays! We have to watch out for all of Jesus’ unrealistic promises. People might get the wrong idea! So, where were we?
A: In John, chapter 10:27 and following, where Jesus says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
F: That’s can’t be right. It says, “Shall never perish?”
A: Yes, “never perish.”
F: And it says, “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand”?
F: That’s got to be a misprint. That will have to be changed.
A: Why do say that?
F: Well, obviously, the believer can snatch himself out of Jesus’ hand, right?
F: By ceasing to believe in Him. Or by committing a mortal sin, or living a sinful life without ever repenting. Do that and you’re not in His hand anymore.
A: Yes, I suppose you’re right.
F: So the verse should probably read: “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand… except for the believer himself. He can snatch himself away.”
A: Yes, except, in that case, it’s not just the believer who can snatch himself away. Can’t just anyone convince a Christian not to believe anymore, or to commit some terrible sin?
F: Yes, that happens all the time. Many people end up losing their faith because of something they’ve read, or have been taught (Plenty of my seminarians have had that experience!).
A: The same with my congregants… In which case, the verse should read: “And anyone can snatch them out of My hand.” That’s why I also think this “never perish” business is very misleading (if not actually false).
F: Well, how should we change it?
A: It should read, “they probably will not perish, but no one can know for sure.”
F: No, if anything, “probably” is too optimistic. After all, elsewhere Jesus’ said few will be saved. So we should say: “they may very well perish…”
A: Yes, that sounds better. While we’re at it, we’ll have to do something with this mentioning of the Father’s “hand” and “greatness”.
F: Naturally, given that anyone can also snatch them out of the Father’s hand. Sure, He’s “great”, but he’s not greater than someone’s own choice to disbelieve or to actively sin. Nor is He greater than anyone who can convince a Christian to do either of those things.
A: Right. So let’s put: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is not greater than all; because anyone is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
F: Perfect! That makes much more sense to me. So to tie it all together, what Jesus should have said is this: “My sheep hear My voice… And I give them eternal life, and they may very well perish, so no one can know for sure if they have eternal life, because anyone can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is not greater than all, since anyone is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand too.”
A: Great, send that off the to the printer, and let’s go tell the congregation!
F: You still have a congregation?
No, no, no! Rather than ignore or explain away the plain meaning of Jesus’ words, I think I’ll stand on what He actually says: that believers shall never perish, and that, once someone has believed in Jesus for eternal life, no one can snatch them out of Jesus’ hand, or the Father’s hand. We can be sure that we’re secure, not because of our own performance, but because of Jesus’ promise!