Monthly Archives: February 2018

Consequences of screwing up meanings of New Testament Greek tenses

Image result for Greek alphabet public domain

(courtesy Clker)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Christian forums (online)[1] have an abundance of people who promote or oppose once-saved-always-saved (OSAS). Here is one example:

Those who have believed. They are the one (sic) who receive eternal life. Jesus said so in John 5:24 – “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
Notice the present tense “HAS” regarding eternal life….

This indicates an acknowledgement that the Bible DOES teach eternal security.[2]

‘Has’ with a Greek emphasis

I couldn’t let him get away with his statement, ‘Notice the present tense “HAS” regarding eternal life’, and so I responded:[3]

What does tense mean for the NT Greek verbs? What does the present tense ‘has’ mean?
Also, what are the meanings of the tenses in these two verses?

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:27-28 NIV)?

The Greek tenses have different emphases to the English tenses.

Nonsense that Greek and English tenses are equivalent!

Image result for clipart NonsenseHe came back with these kinds of emphases:

It means “currently” from the perspective of the writer.
Surely you’re familiar with the English tenses, right? The present tense in the English is equivalent to the present tense in the Greek.
So, John 5:24 means that when one believes, they (sic) possess (have) eternal life. That’s when it is received….

This link will answer your questions:

The present tenses are equivalent in Greek and English.[4]

That link provides information about Greek tenses that contradicts his statement that English and Greek present tenses are equivalent. This article states:

In English, and in most other languages, the tense of the verb mainly refers to the ‘time’ of the action of the verb (present, past, or future time). In Greek, however, although time does bear upon the meaning of tense, the primary consideration of the tense of the verb is not time, but rather the ‘kind of action’ that the verb portrays. The most important element in Greek tense is kind of action; time is regarded as a secondary element….

The kind of action (aktionsart) of a Greek verb will generally fall into one of three categories:
1) Continuous (or ‘Progressive’) kind of action.
2) Completed (or ‘Accomplished’) kind of action, with continuing results.
3) Simple occurrence, (or ‘Summary occurrence’) without reference to the question of progress. (This is sometimes referred to as ‘Punctiliar’ kind of action , but it is a misnomer to thus imply that, in every instance, the action only happened at one point of time. This can be true, but it is often dependent on other factors such as the meaning of the verb, other words in the context, etc.) (source).

This person who referred me to the link on ‘Greek verb tenses (Intermediate discussion)’ obviously doesn’t understand the emphases in NT Greek tenses so I provided this analysis.

I teach NT Greek and some of what you have stated here is incorrect.[5] In English, the tenses primarily relate to the time of action (past, present & future). We add extra words to indicate kind of action. We could say, ‘I go’, but to indicate progressive action, we say, ‘I am going’.

In Greek (except for the future tense), the tenses refer primarily to the kind of action (continuous, completed with continuing results, and simple occurrence). Therefore, the present tense in Greek is not equivalent to the present tense in English. The Greek present tense refers to continual / continuous action. The time factor is of minor importance.

NT Greek grammarians, Dana & Mantey, stated this important difference when compared with English tenses:

The distinctive function of the verb is to express action. Action as presented in the expression of a verbal idea involves two elements, time of action and kind of action. That is, the action may be described as occurring at a certain time, and must be described, if intelligible, as performed in a certain manner. Tense deals with these two aspects of verbal expression, kind of action being the chief idea involved, for time is but a minor consideration in the Greek tenses…. The important element of tense in Greek is kind of action (Dana & Mantey 1955:177, 178 emphasis in original).?

What is the meaning of the present tense in Greek? The aorist tense may be represented by a dot (•). It happened. The present tense by a line (_______________), and the perfect tense by a combination of the two (•_______________) [Dana & Mantey 1955:179].

The fundamental significance of the present tense is the idea of progress. It is the linear tense. This is not, however, its exclusive significance. It is a mistake to suppose “that the durative meaning monopolises the present stem” (M. 119). Since there is no aorist tense for present time, the present tense, as used in the indicative [mood], must do service for both linear and punctiliar action. But it is to be borne in mind that the idea of present time is secondary in force of the tense. The time element belongs to the indicative [mood], where the present tense is really the “imperfect of present time,” while what we know as the imperfect tense is the “imperfect of past time.” The progressive [i.e. continual/repeated action] force of the present tense should always be considered as primary, especially with reference to the potential moods, which in the nature of the case do not need any “present punctiliar” tense (Dana & Mantey 1955:181, emphasis in original).?

We can apply this understanding of the Greek present tense to John 5:24 (ESV): ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears [present tense] my word and believes [present tense] him who sent me has [present tense] eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life’.
Therefore the verse means that those who hear Jesus’ word and continue to believe him continue to have eternal life. The verse does not teach that a person who once believed and no longer believes has eternal life. Eternal life is for those who continue to believe. That’s what the Greek teaches because the Greek present tense is not equivalent to the English present tense.

Image result for clipart end of race public domainJohn 5:24 is in harmony with Matthew 24:9-14 (ESV),

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (emphasis added).


I urge every Christian who reads English, NOT to make the English verb tenses in an English translation of the Bible to have the same meaning as the Greek verb tenses. English verbs generally indicate time of action while the Greek verbs the kind of action, such as: continual action; action now with continuing results, point action, etc.

So when it comes to examining the verses mentioned above relating to once-saved-always-saved, the continuous action (unbroken action) of believing indicates one has continuous salvation as long as one continues to believe (Greek present tense). It does not teach that if one believes once only (aorist tense) and does not continue to believe, that one continues to have eternal life.

Here, the Greek verbals help to clarify that once-saved-always-saved is not a biblical way of looking at salvation, but perseverance of the saints is biblical teaching on salvation: ‘But the one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt 24:13 ESV).

Works consulted

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1927/1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company.


[1] I visit, and as OzSpen.

[2] Christian 2017. Iron clad example proving OSAS from John 10:28. FreeGrace#3. Available at: (Accessed 15 February 2017).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

[4] Ibid., FreeGrace#33.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#67.


Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 February 2018.