Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Using the Greek New Testament for devotions part 3: Perfect tense

Seeing the perfect tense:

One of the things I love about reading from the GNT is that I can see when the perfect tense is being used. I like reading my ESV, and my NET Bible, but when I come to a verb in the past tense, I often wonder if its an aorist or a perfect in the Greek (even imperfects aren't always very clear).

Moulton called the perfect tense “the most important, exegetically, of all the Greek Tenses.” Moulton, Prolegomena, 140. It tells us that an action has been completed, and that there are results from that action that exist at the time of writing.

So today I was reading John 5:24 in the GNT, in the ESV it reads like this:

ESV John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Apart from the fact that the Greek has the word kai instead of a fullstop (US = period) in the middle of this verse, of more help to me in my devotions was that the verb metabainw for 'passed' is in the perfect tense as metabebeken. This meant that as I read it, I realised that Jesus is saying that the one who is believing in him (present \continuous participle), has already passed over from death into life. This is a completed action that has happened in the past, and has ongoing results. From these, there are at least three further meditations to be made:

1) What Jesus describes here seems very much like the doctrine of justification. In other words, at the point of conversion we are declared, "Not Guilty!" and "Righteous!". We no longer face condemnation, we have passed over from that.

2) Eternal life starts at the moment of conversation, if we believe in Jesus then we are already living our eternal life now.

3) Having been justified, we now continuously believe in Jesus, and walk in our eternal life. We are presently being saved, although we have already been saved, and we know that we will be saved (the Greek word for 'saved' is used in every tense in the NT!). The key here I believe, is to see that we have already been justified. Therefore we can now work out our salvation in fear and trembling whilst being aware that we are not working out our justification - that has already been declared by our wonderful God.

Praise God!