THE MEANING OF ETERNAL LIFE IN JOHN 3:16
When considering the meaning of the phrase “eternal life,” John 3:16 helps us to find the answers to how eternal life is obtained, the motive of God’s purpose in making it possible, who makes it possible, and the scope of its offer; but we are not told the specific meaning of what eternal life actually is. To find the answer of what eternal life actually is we are compelled to look elsewhere in John’s writings to define this stunning and simplistic lexis which is so imperative to the Christian life.
It is necessary to concentrate on the following key words: “know” (ginwvskw) which is used in John 17:3 and 1 John 5:20, “life” (zwh\), and “eternal” (ai)w/nio$). It is interesting to note that in all of John’s writings he uses the word zwh\ a total of eighty two times according to my calculations. Of all the 135 uses of this specific word in the New Testament, John utilizes it sixty one percent of the time, with the adjectival modification of ai)w/nio$ used only sixteen times in the gospel of John and six times in the first epistle. The word “life” is a key word in all of John’s writings, but what is provocative is that he only defines it two times.
The first definition of “eternal life” is, ironically, in the last application of this phrase in John’s gospel. John employs the phrase eternal life in John 17:3, where he quotes Jesus, who says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (NIV). There are two specific disclosures found here: the word “know” (ginw/skw) and the subjects of that knowledge. To this helpful bit of information John adds still a further description found in his first epistle, where he states emphatically, “He [Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life.”
John builds upon the personal needs of our physical nature showing us that this Word made flesh is our true source of eternal life, water for our thirsting soul, bread for our weary bodies, music to our ears, and reward for our hard toils of labor. In truth, as a person hears the words of life and believes on the Son, through God’s gracious act of love, life is imparted; and this life consists of knowing the Father and the Son, who is the life eternal.
NIV: Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27 th Revised Edition.
Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (used only for the total number of zoh\).
PC Study Bible Specialized Electronic Concordance