Those who believe in Jesus “will not die forever,” unlike those who will. Even Aquinas agrees!
A while ago I wrote a post explaining that many Bible translations get John 11:25-26 wrong. They quote Jesus as saying “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This gives some people the impression (rightly or wrongly) that if you are a believer in Jesus, even when your body dies, you keep living because you go to heaven, continuously enjoying the eternal life that has already begun. As I explained (and you should read that post if this sounds strange to you), οὐ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα is correctly translated not as “will never die,” but rather “will not die forever.” If you believe in Jesus, you won’t suffer the fate of dying forever. This is not a claim that you won’t die ever, but rather that you won’t die forever. You will die one day, but will be spared the fate of the lost, which is a final and irrevocable death, never to live again.
Although I know Thomas Aquinas did believe that people survive the death of their body (in purgatory, heaven, or hell), and although I know that he did not believe that the lost will one day finally die forever (because he believed in the eternal torment of hell), it’s nice to see that he did agree with the right way to read John 11:25-26. While writing a defence of the doctrine of purgatory (and being quite wrong, in my view), he said this:
Therefore after this life, there are some not yet loosed from sins, who can be loosed therefrom; and the like have charity, without which sins cannot be loosed, for “charity covereth all sins” [Proverbs 10:12]. Hence they will not be consigned to everlasting death, since “he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall not die for ever” [John 11:26]: nor will they obtain glory without being cleansed, because nothing unclean shall obtain it, as stated in the last chapter of the Apocalypse (verse 14). Therefore some kind of cleansing remains after this life.
Aquinas is writing here of those he believes will spend time in purgatory to be cleansed. But never mind that just now. Notice that he takes John 11:26 to be a reference to hell, that is, to “everlasting death.” Believers will not face everlasting death, because Jesus said those whoever lives and believes in him will not “die forever.”
This is not what many people today think Jesus said. But Thomas was right. The Douay–Rheims Bible, an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, says the same thing: “And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever.” The Latin translation of the New Testament is, of course, not more accurate than the Greek New Testament itself. After all, this is exactly what the Greek New Testament says! If you doubt this, go and look at the evidence I gave. It’s true! There is an irony here. Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic Theologian, and the Catholic translation of Scripture (The Douay–Rheims Bible), supply a translation that is faithful to the text of the New Testament, while nearly all Protestant Bibles offer a translation, some variation of “will never die,” that appears to be simply a repeat of a beloved and familiar phrasing – a tradition! I thought Evangelicals were supposed to accept the Bible over tradition?
- “You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?
- Purgatory requires dualism
- “God of the Living” – William Tyndale and the Resurrection
- Tyndale on Hades
- A bad argument for purgatory