Believing - is it "continuous?"

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Faith alone, Aug 8, 2007.

  1. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    Is the requirement for eternal life linear (continuous) or punctiliar (point-in-time) faith? My OP will need to be broken into 3 parts - sorry about the length. I think my first post will just introduce the question at hand and give an overview of the arguments I intend to be making. Thx for your patience.

    A claim has been made that the present tense in koine Greek is always an expression of continual action in the present. This is a common assertion, but it is just not accurate. One reason this is important is that this is then used as an argument by some to say that if a Christian ever stops believing that he no longer has eternal life since eternal life is given in John's gospel, it is argued, based on "continuous action," which is then taken to mean unending action, which is an abuse of aspect or the kind of action for the present tense. It stems from a misunderstanding of the present tense in the indicative mood.

    Sorry, but the following will get somewhat technical. The intent is not to prevent those without a background in Greek from participating. But there is simply no way to address this issue, since it is based on what is referred to as aspect, or "kind of action." In any but the indicative mood (most common) the kind of action is what matters. Only in the indicative mood does the time of the action really become significant.

    Greek gramamrs tell us that the present tense is linear type of action. In contrast, the aorist tense is punctiliar or point-in-time kind of action - occuring in general in a moment, not repeating or describing an ongoing kind of action.

    The indicative mood present tense CAN indicate linear action in Greek. But even common sense tells us that it does not always, or even usually, do so. There is only one present tense in Greek, compared to several past tenses. If this claim were true, how would it be possible to indicate a point-in-time type of action in the present? It would not be possible. While on occasion the aorist past tense is used in such a way that it expresses simple action, and hence can be understood as occuring in the present, it is not a present tense, but past tense. Also, similarly the future tense behaves similar to the present tense in terms of being in general linear in other than the indicative mood, so how could we indicate point-in-time kind of action that occurs in the future, such as the future coming of Christ? It would not be possible to do so.

    I heard this claim about four years ago and did some research on it. This claim is typically made as a result of reading basic, first-year Greek grammars. In trying to simplify things there, the wrong impression is given, and some have run with this imformation - drawing somewhat inaccurate conclusions as a result. But hopefully the common sense stuff I would like to talk about now will be enough to convince some of you that the "present tense always means continuous action" claim could not be true.

    Following is an overview about what my arguments are going to be. Then those who want to wade through this to get to particular technical details can do so.

    I will show that the context of John 3:16 alone indicates a point-in-time event. I refer to some Greek grammars IOT show that the present tense is not always a "continuous" sort of tense, but performs double-duty. True, it is referred to, in general, as "linear" in basic grammars. However, such a statement is true, in general, only in other than the indicative mood, which is the most common mood in Greek. In the indicative mood the present tense can indicate either linear or punctiliar (point-in-time) in aspect (kind of action).

    But let me give you a primer for the comments to follow:

    I will then look at John 3:16 more closely, in particular at some aorist phrases there and draw some conclusions. Then I will list a few verses in which aorist action is indicated for belief in Christ. Now the aorist tense is used for point-in-time kind of action.

    Then I will look at the present tense form for "believe" used in John's gospel, which is not in general a simple present tense, but articular participial present tense. And articular participles are often used as substantives, meaning that they essentially behave like nouns. That makes a significant difference. And that is the present tense form for PISTEUW in nearly every instance in John's gospel.

    Then I will deal with what's referred to as the tensual fallacy. I give an example of the overplay of tense that is sometimes done with the use from John 6 of several references to Christ having come down from heaven. The present tense, aorist tense and perfect tense are all used to refer to the same event in 7 different verses. That certainly should alert us to be careful about making statements that are too dogmatic regarding tense.

    I will look also at the tenses in John 1:12 in detail.

    Then I will look at John 20:30, 31 where John expresses why he wrote this gospel. The tenses used there will make it clear that the present tense could not possibly have been intended to be viewed in a linear manner by John.

    I appreciate your patience.

    Thx,

    FA
     
  2. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    OP - details part I

    I am going to break up the details in 3 posts.

    Moods:
    OK, the most basic "mood" in koine Greek is indicative, indicating basic action taking place in real time. There are other moods, imperative (commands-volitionally possible), subjunctive (possibility), optative (rare - subjectively possible). Bottom line, with all but the indicative mood the time of action is not signficant at all, but the kind of action, the type of action, is emphasized. So in all but the indicative mood, the statement that present tense is a linear kind of action is true. In those moods, aorist tense always indicates punctiliar (point-in-time) kind of action, and present tenses always indicates linear action. But in the indicative mood, that is not how it works. In the indicative mood, aorist indicates simple punctiliar action, while present tense indicates either punctiliar or linear action. BTW, to say that the action is "linear" is not the same as saying that it is "continuous." So to say that action is continuous in the present does not lead to the conclusion that it will continue for any length of time into the future. Linear action simply describes the kind of action at the time, in this case, in the present. This is referred to as the dietic center of the action. It says nothing about the duration of said action. That is another common misconception about linear aspect.

    Example:
    Let me give a practical example. Suppose someone looked out the window and said (in koine Greek) that I was playing catch with my son in the front yard. The assumption would be of some sort of linear action... that I didn't just throw the ball to him once, and then turn around and walk into the house. If he had said, "He threw the ball to his son," then people might assume that I just threw it once - point-in-time kind of action. But now, let me ask, "If linear action had been described, would it be accurate to assume that at midnight that my son and I were still playing catch? Of course not! And that is the tensual fallacy made regarding tenses with linear aspect. As I said, nothing should be assumed about the duration of the action, unless something in the context made that clear. That's why I said that linear action is different from continuous action.

    Participles:
    The tense of the Greek verb (PISTEUW) for "believe" in John 1:12 is a present tense articular participle. Because it's in the present tense, some have assumed in commentaries that this faith must be continuous IOT realize the promise of eternal life. (John MacArthur made such an assumption in The Gospel According to Jesus.) However, this does not make sense logically, since the giving of this eternal and new life is aorist and takes place the moment the faith occurs. The giving is conditioned upon the believing. So if believe meant continuous faith, then the giving could not be completed until death. And then we would be forced to conclude that eternal life could not be a present possession in this life since you would have to wait until death to get it. But this is obviously not the case as John 5:24 and 6:47 show. There we see that eternal life once faith occurs is a present possession. But there is also a large grammatical problem here as well. You see, "receive" is in the aorist tense and surrounded by aorist verbs denoting punctiliar action. (ELABON - aorist active indicative 3P/plural - from LAMBANO - "to receive") Although believe is in the present tense (a participle), it cannot denote continuous action since it is equated with the aoristic verb "received" in what is referred to as an appositive format.

    Regarding the articular participle Robertson also said that the aorist participle has “the simple punctiliar action,” pg. 859, but the present participle “with the article sometimes loses much of its verbal force,” pg. 892. IOW, the articular present participle often acts more like an adjective or noun. In John we translate it as "whoever believes..." which idea could also be expressed as "all believers."

    What Robertson has clearly said here is that the present tense is a very poor indicator of continuous type action. In fact, even in cases where it would seem to be clearly indicating continuous action, that may not be what it is about.

    John 1:12
    But there's more in John 1:12 to indicate point-in-time action. The word typically translated "become" in this verse is an aorist infinitive (GENESTHAI) and so it too is punctiliar and cannot mean that at some later time those who received Him would become God's children if they continue to believe. It's past tense, point-in-time action. And this aorist infinitive expresses action that is simultaneous with that of the two preceding finite aorists ELABON ("received") and EDOKEN ("gave"). IOW, the moment of someone accepting/receiving Christ, that, too, is the moment of becoming a child of God. The fact that receiving Christ means receiving him by faith is clear from vs. 7 where we read, "...so that all might believe through Him."

    Now aorist infinitives strongly point to punctiliar (point-in-time) action taking place - more so than a simple verb. This point-in-time nature of "become" demands that "received," "gave," and "believe" also be understood as point-in-time.

    So then not only is the immediate context of “believe” in verse 12 surrounded with aorist verbs indicating point-in-time action, but the present tense participle "believe" is equated with the aorist tense verb "receive." They are synonymous expressions.

    But we're not done here. What about the verb translated "believe" in v. 7? What tense is it? Aorist. And not just indicative aorist, it is an aorist subjunctive which as I said above ALWAYS specifies punctiliar ("point-in-time") action. In the indicative mood, the aorist tense is fairly "simple," not necessarily indicating too much more than that something happened, in typically punctiliar kind of action. But in other than indicative it is ALWAYS punctiliar! So then, one act of faith, punctiliar ("point-in-time") action, was required for faith to be saving. Continuous faith is not required. The action spoken of here is clearly point-in-time kind of action.

    So you see, the use of the present tense itself simply does not imply that the action involved cannot stop. But there's more, since this is not a simple present tense. This is participial, and the present participle is usually used of actions that have stopped! For example consider John 9:8, "Isn't this the man who sat begging?" Actually, it is something like more literally, "Isn't this the one who sits begging?" Yes, you got it. The verb for "sits begging" is a present tense participle. So should we assume then that the man who had been healed by Jesus of his blindness continues to sit begging? "This is the man who is sitting begging." ?? In the final analysis the Greek construction of the present participle (with an article) translated by "he who believes" or "the one who believes" is merely descriptive. The participle is being used to simply identify the person as "a believer," but it does not specify anything at all about the continuity or kind of action, just as the participle for the blind man simply designates the man who used to sit there begging. It is essentially a substantive, acting like a noun.

    John 3:16
    Now, let's move on to a well-known and quoted verse - John 3:16. Notice that "should not perish" is in the aorist tense providing a completed state of never perishing at the moment one becomes "a believer." A completed action of never perishing cannot be affected by whether or not the believing continues on after that. Otherwise, the lexical meaning of the words make no sense. Furthermore, a completed action of never perishing is another way of saying that the person is in a state of possessing eternal life which is what immediately follows in parallel in John 3:16 after the connective word, "but" (ALLA - strong "but"). "...whoever believes in Him should not perish BUT have eternal life". The two are clearly tied together. "Should not perish" is contrasted with "have eternal life."

    So then, why would a continuous state of believing be necessary if a completed action of the aorist tense of "never perishing" results the moment one becomes a believer? It cannot be. The context here is very clear.

    Acts 16:31
    Now let's consider another popular verse, concerning Paul and Silas and the Philippian jailor... Acts 16:31 ("Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved") The tense there is aorist, which has a punctiliar (point-in-time) aspect. There clearly only a point-in-time kind of action can be indicated.

    Thx,

    FA
     
  3. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    OP - details part II

    Now, I want to show that with the present tense, the tense itself does not tell us whether the action is a one-time or a continuing event in the indicative mood.

    Zane Hodges:
    Zane Hodges in his book, Absolutely Free, pp. 211, 212 points out for example that in John 6 the author uses several Greek tenses to describe the same single event - the coming of the Lord from heaven to earth. He gives as examples:

    AT Robertson:
    OK, in A. T. Robertson' grammar he spends 8 pages covering "Punctiliar (Aoristic) Present” tense. I read it and its footnotes several times very carefully - it should be clear that assertions regarding the continuous action of the present indicative tense are simply not valid.
    In addition to Hodges' comment regarding Robertson, I searched it and found that Robertson on pp. 864-865 has lots of comments regarding the present tense and there he comments,
    So as is so often true in Greek, as in English, it is the context of a statement that is critical. What determines whether the action should be viewed as a point-in-time act or as a continuing one is not the subtle distinctives of the tense of a verb or participle. If you just consider the John 3:16 context as well as various other contexts in John, the meaning is clear - and it is most definitely not continuous.


    John 3:16 - snake on the pole (OT) context for John 3:16

    In the context of John 3:16, John 3:14-17, the snake on a pole is used to illustrate Christ's death as the means of our salvation. Clearly this indicates that if one just looks once he is saved forever from the effects of the poison of the snake. Jesus used that to illustrate the cross and John 3:16. Obviously Jesus was not referring to the continuance of the believing, but that the person just needs to believe just as that Israelite just needed to look - once. So the analogy that Jesus used (or somesay - John is commenting here) makes it clear that a single-moment of believe was the intention.

    Now that we've dealt with what is often referred to as the "tensual fallacy," let's look at other passages that indicate that point-in-time belief is what is required for eternal life:

    Mark 16:16 "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

    "believes" = hO PISTEUSAS - "the one believing" - a nominative sing., masc. aorist active participle. "but whoever does not believe" = hO DE APISTESAS - a nominative sing., masc. aor. active participle (Note: the aorist tense indicates a point-in-time moment of faith in order to be saved.) But these are articular participles, indicating use more as a noun.

    John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

    "Whoever believes" = hO PISTEUON, and "But whoever does not believe" = hO DE ME PISTEUON are both - nominative sing. masc. present. active participles.

    But, "because he has not believed" = hOTI ME PEPISTEUKEN - perfect tense, active, indicative, 3rd, sing. participle. Now the perfect tense signifies a completed action moment of faith (point-in-time) with an existing state of ongoing results in the present. And this is the requirement to avoid being condemned. Thus the present participle, "whoever believes" is paralleled with the perfect tense "because he has not believed," indicating that only a moment of faith is what's required IOT gain eternal life.


    Jailor in Acts
    Acts 16:29-31 "The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." I dealt with this before, so I'll stop there. Regarding the articular participle acting like a noun...
    Thx,

    FA
     
  4. TCGreek

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    1. At least we show some agreement on the misuse of the Present Indicative/Present Tense.

    2. For example, the Gospel narratives are heavily ladened with the Historic Present.

    3. But how much the tense affect our theology is another matter. Even here, we must be careful with the fine-points of Greek Grammar.
     
  5. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    OP - details part III

    Other examples of aorist faith
    I mentioned Acts 16:31, but Mark 6:16 also uses the aorist participle to describe saving faith as a one-time kind of action. Are there others? Yes. See Acts 11:17, 19:2 and 19:4. In the latter, it's a subjunctive aorist, which is ALWAYS puntiliar. In Ephesians 1:13 the Holy Spirit is given and He seals us as a result of an aorist (one-time) act of faith. According to 2 Thess. 2:12 we are condemned or judged based not on continuous believing, but based on aorist faith.

    Now granted John uses the present tense consistently when referring to coming to faith in Christ. But in two instances, he also used aorist PISTEUO ("believe"). (John 7:39 and John 20:29) There punctiliar (point-in-time) kind of faith is required to receive the spiritual life, eternal life, imparted by the Spirit.

    So if you just consider the John 3:16 context as well as various other contexts in John, the meaning is clear - and it is most definitely not continuous. I pointed out earlier that the snake on a pole illustration of Christ in John 3:14-18 clearly indicates that one just looks once and is healed forever from the effects of the poison of the snake. Obviously Jesus was not referring to the continuance of the believing, but that the person needs to believe just as that Israelite just needed to look - once.

    The context is clear. We need to be careful not to abuse the present participle so that it ends up saying something obviously different than the context indicates was intended.


    Conclusion
    Well, I could go on by looking at parallel passages in the synoptics in which present participial "believe" in John is expressed in Matthew, Mark or Luke by aorist terms. But I think I've made my case.

    Well, enough for now. I appreciate your patience. Following will be some quotes from various additional Greek grammars regarding this issue:


    Mounce
    Under the heading of Aspect, Mounce says...

    IOW, depending on context, the writer may use the present tense to either refer to linear or repeated action (gnomic present - rare) or to action where the kind of action (repeated or otherwise) is not emphasized (i.e., undefined). So with the undefined aspect that is sometime in view with the present tense, the author is not concerned about how the action takes place but only that the action takes place (e.g., the writer perhaps just wants to say that something happens in the present without an interest or emphasis on whether or not it is repeated or enduring kind of action).


    Here are some quotes from Daniel Wallace:



    [The Language of the New Testament, Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, Chas. Scribner's Sons, N.Y., 1965, p. 173] has regarding the present participle...

    Bob Wilkin
    Dr. Robert Wilkin states, The Grace Report, Monthly Report of the Grace Evangelical Society, Irving, Tx. www.faithalone.org, Mar 1999, Notes and Letters, p.4...
    IOW, the articular present participle has in view one who at some moment in present time exercised a single moment of faith in whatever is specified, in this case, trusting that God gave His one and only Son for one as a believer.

    Thx,

    I am very busy these days, and won't be able to keep up very closely on posts. I'll do my best. There are other arguments besides the Greek grammar, but I'll leave that for later.

    Comments?

    FA
     
    #5 Faith alone, Aug 8, 2007
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  6. Amy.G

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    Grammer aside, because I don't have all the Greek education that you guys do :), How can someone who has the indwelling of God's Spirit stop believing? Can God stop believing in God? :confused:
     
  7. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    TCGreek,

    Agreed. In narrative literature we need to be especially careful about the indicative present tense. Improper claims have been made by using the present tense, particularly in John's gospel.

    I have seen the perfect tense used by those who hold to eternal security (as I do) to say due to the nature of the perfect tense with a point in time kind of past tense action with a state continuing into the present. But we cannot use that to say that the state will continue (endure) forever - hence eternal security.

    Often just closely considering the context will do wonders. BTW, I think that the comments by Zane Hodges in this respect are excellent to show how we should be careful about making too much of tenses.

    Thx,

    FA
     
  8. TCGreek

    TCGreek
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    1. Fine points of Greek Grammar without proper theology is a bad recipe.

    2. One can dance all he wants with the tenses; it inevitably comes down to one's theology.

    3. We, two thousand years removed from NT Christianity, must constantly ask ourselves, Did they have a body of doctrines that they adhere to? If so, What was that body of doctrines? And how can we achieve that body of doctrines? How much of it is achievable?

    4. In the effort we have two millennia of theologies and on and on we go.
     
    #8 TCGreek, Aug 8, 2007
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  9. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    Good question. I am really not trying to thump on this here. I am just trying to correct a misunderstanding regarding the present tense.

    The claim is made by some that the present tense in John's gospel indicates that the believer must continue to believe or he is not saved. Now all of us struggle with our faith from time to time, if we are honest with ourselves... no one believes with perfect faith all the time.

    According to scripture, a continuous and perfect state of believing in Christ is not possible with man, because that would necessitate sinless perfection. For any sin a believer commits reflects a degree of unbelief and no one can claim to be without sin, nor maintain a perfect state of continuous faith, right?

    Compare 1 Jn 1:8, 10...
    (v. 8) If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
    (v. 10) If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

    No believer can claim to maintain a perfect, uninterrupted record of faith in Christ as he is bound to commit acts of unbelief throughout his life. But that does not mean that he must never have believed in the first place or that he lost his salvation.

    Thx,

    FA
     
  10. TCGreek

    TCGreek
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    1. From a Greek perspective, I must agree with Zane Hodges here.

    2. A tense/aspect no matter what it is, is controlled by the context, what the speaker is conveying.

    3. I think Porter has done a great job in this department.
     
  11. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    AGreed. But our theology must be based on scripture, as best we can. (sola scriptura) It must be the standard for our theology, not history.

    Thx,

    FA
     
  12. Faith alone

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    Yes. And we have to consider the diectic center of the action.

    Tell me more about Porter.

    Thx,

    FA

    TC, I gotta hit the sack. I'll check this tomorrow afternoon. Thx much for your participation.
     
    #12 Faith alone, Aug 8, 2007
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  13. TCGreek

    TCGreek
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    1. Yes, sola scriptura! But this is where it gets tricky.

    2. BTW, great effort on this analysis of the tenses. Anything Greek piques my interest.
     
  14. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    TC,

    Thx. It is so easy to come across as knowing more about theology simply because of a certain aptitude in Greek. It really isn't fair to those who do not have that background. But I do love to study the NT in Greek. Fun...

    When I first heard about this abuse of the present tense, I began to research what the grammars I own said on this. So I've built up some material over the past couple of years. I think most of it can't be found in the Inet, as I just did the old-fashion kind of research - I read the grammars. :p They all acknowledge the "punctiliar" present tense in indicative mood, though there are various names for it. And for me, it just makes sense.

    Another thing people don't think about is that just because the action in the present (or future) is linear, that doesn't give us any idea of the duration of the action. Context is critical for that.

    Good night, TC, and thx again.

    FA
     
  15. Amy.G

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    I agree with all you said. :thumbs:
     
  16. Faith alone

    Faith alone
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    Thx Amy, and I am glad you had confidence to post here. I just had so much material, that it gets overwhelming, and I don't want to do that. Perhaps now we can discuss what we believe the Bible does teach regarding the endurance of our faith or perhaps other areas in which the Greek is abused.

    I really am not trying to debate the OSAS issue here, BTW. The continuous faith idea has also been used to teach a kindof faith includes works, so we are saved by faith plus works idea. I could see this going into James 2. That wasn't my intent, but...

    For those who felt overwhelmed, may I suggest that you just read the very 1st post - I gave an overview there.

    Thx, catch you tomorrow.

    FA

    (Nice cat)
     
    #16 Faith alone, Aug 9, 2007
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  17. Amy.G

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    Oh thank you. A stray gave me 5 beautiful little babies. I have raised them since they were 3 days old (it took me that long to find them) I brought them into our screened porch and fell in love. I'm keeping one of the babies (a striped torti), but I have to find homes for everybody else. :tear: They're 7 weeks old, so it's time to say goodbye. Don't get me started talking about my pets. I'll never shut up! :laugh:

    I am thankful for guys like you and TC Greek who know so much Greek. It is a tough language and I'm trying to learn some, but it may take me the rest of my life! :laugh:
     

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