Monday, April 13, 2020


I have discovered something in my study of the Bible that has turned my understanding upside down!

I use the English Standard Version (ESV) for my regular reading, preaching and studies.

I was reading in the Gospel of John and his account of Jesus and Nicodemus. When I came to verse 17, I was struck with something that uncorked my mind. 

Lets’ look at the verse—
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I’m sure that my eyes had simply glanced over verse 16, because the whole world knows that one by heart—
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

We have taken this verse along with a few verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, and we have derived a formula which, if people follow, will guarantee salvation. However, this is fraught with many difficulties, not the least of which is the cherry-picking of verses to provide a map for salvation.

The phrase “whoever believes in him” has been made the sine qua non of the gospel message. While it is true that belief is very much a part of our coming into right relationship with God, it is not the first part that must occur.

Because we have made the gospel an egocentric message rather than a Christocentric one, we have encountered numerous difficulties along the path of understanding the reality of salvation.

For instance, if my salvation depends on my belief, then I can be assailed with doubts such as: “Did I believe correctly?” “Did I pray the right prayer?” “Was I sincere enough?” As long as my salvation depends on me, then so does my security or assurance of that fact. That is why we have to spend so much time proving to people that they can have assurance.

This kind of egocentric interpretation naturally flowed on into verse 17 with the word “might.” “Might”, as a verbal in our language, indicates potential or possibility. As a noun, of course, it represents ‘power,’ but that is not necessary to discuss here.

The day I was reading that passage, something caused me to dig a little deeper. (Can you say, “Holy Spirit?”) [Jhn 16:13 ESV] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

I was led by the Spirit of God to break that verse apart and to look at its Greek components. It has been a few decades since I studied NT Greek, and I have not stayed with it to be able to recognize things immediately. So, I am dependent upon the many helps available to us.

I went to the Interlinear Greek available through Bible Hub and found the parsing of the passage. Then I had to go to my Greek grammar in order to find out the meaning.

That is when it happened!

“…But in order that the world might be saved through him” did not indicate a possibility, but it speaks of a definite result—THE WORLD (cosmos) WILL BE SAVED!

After five decades of believing and teaching that it is up to the individual to believe in order to be saved, do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to wrap my mind around this revelation?!?

My training kicked in, though, and I realized that I could not accept this based on a single verse of Scripture. I had to search the Bible to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11). I went looking for all the passages that used the Aorist Subjunctive followed by a purpose clause to see if the “rule” held up.

Before I share the results of that search, look at three other translations of John 3:17. Remember, a translation is essentially an interpretation. See how these have interpreted this construction.

[Jhn 3:17 KJV] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

[Jhn 3:17 NIV] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

[Jhn 3:17 NLT] God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Both the NIV and the NLT reveal the definite purpose of God’s work; not its possibility based on man’s participation.

The following list is a sample of texts that use the Aorist Subjunctive followed by a purpose clause that show a definite outcome. They are all from the KJV, because I wanted to find as many uses of “might” as I could—

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, [Mat 1:22 KJV]

And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. [Mat 2:15 KJV]

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. [Mat 2:23 KJV]

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, [Mat 4:14 KJV]

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare [our] sicknesses. [Mat 8:17 KJV]

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, [Mat 12:17 KJV]

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. [Mat 13:35 KJV]

All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, [Mat 21:4 KJV]

But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. [Mat 26:56 KJV]

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. [Mat 27:35 KJV]

These texts exemplify the rule of interpretation for the Aorist Subjunctive  followed by a purpose clause indicating definite outcome—not a possible outcome.

Subjunctive Mood
The subjunctive mood indicates probability or objective possibility. The action of the verb will possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances. It is oftentimes used in conditional statements (i.e. 'If...then...' clauses) or in purpose clauses. However if the subjunctive mood is used in a purpose or result clause, then the action should not be thought of as a possible result, but should be viewed as a definite outcome that will happen as a result of another stated action.

There are many more in the NT, but most of them are parallel passages saying the same thing as the ones in Matthew’s account.

I would assume that there is no argument against the definite outcome principle outlined above for these passages. These are all statements of something Jesus said or did that fulfilled the scriptures. That is the plain meaning of the phrase “…might be fulfilled…”

We do not interpret any of those as a mere possibility depending on something else occurring.

The construction of the previous verses is exactly the same as the following verses which look like they may indicate a possibility, but we accept them as a done deal—

Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. [Jhn 10:17 KJV]

Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: [Gal 1:4 KJV] Notice that this is not stating a possibility that is dependent upon anything from frail humanity.

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. [Gal 3:14 KJV]

That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. [Eph 2:7 KJV]
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. [Eph 3:19 KJV] A plain statement that we ARE filled with all the fulness of God; but due to our faulty understanding, it is something that we only hope for.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. [Tit 2:14 KJV] We have been redeemed from all iniquity.

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; [Heb 2:14 KJV]

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions [that were] under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. [Heb 9:15 KJV]

Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. [Heb 13:12 KJV] Any question about whether the people were sanctified by the blood of Jesus?

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: [1Pe 3:18 KJV] This is not a possibility, but a done deal. We have been brought to God.

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. [1Pe 4:6 KJV]

All of the above verses are ones that we believe to be something definitely accomplished. They each have the same verbal construction under consideration—that of the aorist subjunctive followed by a purpose clause. For many of these, you will find the more modern translations eliminating any possibility of doubt as to the outcome, but show the reality of the thing accomplished.
We now come to the few remaining texts that are usually interpreted from the standpoint of only a possibility based on the free will of man; and for some of these, I will give a brief explanation—

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all [men] through him might believe. [Jhn 1:7 KJV]
Notice the phrase “might believe.” That is often taken as meaning “It’s up to the individual to believe.” However, the construction is still exactly the same. So, why should the rule not hold? All (people) will believe. There is no condition provided that must first be fulfilled. There is nothing to indicate that man in the weakness of his humanity must do anything for this to happen.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. [Jhn 3:17 KJV]
This, of course, is the one that started this whole search and revelation for me. This was the eye-opener. It is not a “possibility” that the world will be saved; it is a guarantee.

But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. [Jhn 5:34 KJV]
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. [Rom 11:32 KJV] How many has God concluded as being in unbelief? How many of those has He selected for mercy?

For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [2Co 5:21 KJV]
Because of what Jesus did, we are now the righteousness of God. Let that sink in.

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. [2Co 8:9 KJV]
This one has been abused by the prosperity health and wealth gospel to mean that it is “God’s desire for you to be rich.” All you have to do is believe it (and sow your seed of faith). Our problem, of course, is understanding what was meant by “rich.”
That, like many of the other verses in this study, will need interpretation and application for a true picture, and that is not the purpose of this study. This study has only one purpose, and that is to show how we may have missed some of what was intended by our filters of a theological stance.

To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. [Gal 2:5 KJV]
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. [Gal 2:16 KJV]
This is one of only a few verses that seem to indicate the necessity of a first response on our part before God does His part. Not true, but must remain for a future study.

For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. [Gal 2:19 KJV]

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. [Gal 3:22 KJV]
On the surface, this verse looks as if belief is the main point and the number one thing that must be done. And that may very well be. However, even as I could not let my understanding of John 3:17 stand on that verse alone, but had to find the general tenor of scripture, should that not also be the approach used for this verse? Can we build an entire system of belief on this one verse alone? Yet, that is what has been done with the idea of we must first believe before anything happens.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [Gal 3:24 KJV]

To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. [Gal 4:5 KJV]

For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. [Heb 10:36 KJV]
The promise here is guaranteed, not hopeful thinking.

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. [2Pe 1:4 KJV]
We are, indeed partakers of the divine nature. Why, then do we not act like it?

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. [1Jo 4:9 KJV]

All of these 34 verses have been given for your further study. However, before you begin your interpretation, remember the Greek construction is the main point—“might” does not indicate a possibility in any of these, but a done deal.

Also, remember that is NOT true for every instance of “might” in the NT—just for this particular construction of the Aorist Subjunctive with a purpose clause.
I was sorely challenged by the insight given by the Spirit on John 3:17, but it has now yielded a greater understanding of the plan and purpose of God in our redemption.

May you, also, come to a more sure understanding of His purpose for humanity.

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Second in the series from Ephesians 1.