Word Study #58 — Abide / remain / continue

It is unfortunate that traditional translators have most frequently (59 out of 119 incidents) chosen “abide” – the word least familiar to speakers of modern English, and therefore the most easily corrupted by unwarranted “mystical” interpretations – to represent a rather ordinary word like meno. The classical uses of meno include nothing esoteric at all. Liddell/Scott lists “to stay or wait, to endure or remain, to keep or preserve, to abide by an opinion or conviction”, among similar ideas. This single word has been split, by those traditional translators, into multiple variants, including “continue (11 x), dwell (15 x), endure (3 x), remain (17 x), and tarry (9 x), and nearly as many more used only a single time each. NONE of these connote the “abiding” image of “saints” sitting silently in serene bliss, doing absolutely nothing but languishing in the light of their halos!

Of the total, about a third refer simply to being, living, temporarily waiting, or staying in a particular location, as do nearly all of the cases where meno appears with a prefix: epimeno, katameno, parameno, prosmeno, and hupomeno. Eighteen describe a person’s condition or circumstances, as in Jn.5:38, 8:35, 12:46; I Cor.7:8, 11, 20, 24, and others; and fourteen indicate simple survival (Heb.12:7, Mt.11:23, I Cor.15:6). Persistence is advocated in various epistles (II Tim.3:14, I Jn.2:24, Heb.3:14), as well as repeatedly in John’s writings.

John shifts the focus substantially, and departs markedly from these more classical connotations, to give greater attention to relationships, rather than merely location, duration, or condition. Actually, this departure, almost unique to John’s work, is one very strong piece of evidence for the (disputed) single authorship of all the material attributed to him. He uses a form of meno at least 58 times, more than any other writer, and only 10 of these fall into the usual categories. Most of the rest refer to deep and enduring relationships, but they are relationships with very practical implications. They are typified by Jesus’ own unity with the Father (Jn.14:10).

Another outstanding deviation in John’s work is his choice of verb tenses. One would ordinarily expect the concept of “remaining” to be expressed in the present tense – especially if referring to the establishment or endurance of relationship. In other writings, a temporary condition is usually expressed in the aorist tense, and an on-going state in the present. John, however, uses an aorist tense five times: the first “remain” in Jn.15:4, both conditional statements in15:7, the imperative in 15:9, and the conditional clause in I Jn.2:24. I’d really like to ask him why! It is possible that he has in mind a definitive point of commitment – the aorist is used that way in reference to “becoming faithful”. All the rest of his verbs are present (continuous) tenses. Usually, the present tense indicates that no terminal point is in view.

Each of the primary admonitions has a very comforting air of reciprocity. Not only does Jesus state confidently “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn.14:10), but he applies the same reciprocity to his followers: (15:4) “Remain in me and I in you”; (15:9-10) “Follow my instructions and you will remain in my love, just as I have followed my Father’s instructions and remain in his love”; (8:31) “remain in my word” and (I Jn.2:14) “The word of God is living in you”; (II Jn.2 and 4) “The truth remains in/among us” and “your children walking in the truth.” Although meno is not used there, the same idea appears in Jesus’ prayer (Jn.17:21): he expects his own relationship with the Father to be replicated in ours with him!

There are ample lists of evidence of the development of that relationship – Jn.15:5 – bearing fruit; 15:8 – the glory of God!; I Jn.2:6 – copying Jesus’ behavior; 2:10 – love for the brethren; 2:!7 – doing God’s will; 3:24 – the presence of the Holy Spirit; 4:12,13,16 – maturity in love.
Note especially the juxtaposition of truth and love in II Jn.1 and 2, also echoed in I Pet.1:22. That realization would go a long way toward bridging “doctrinal divides”, from both directions! How frequently do you see “love” as the hallmark of those who claim to be champions of the “truth”? Or a passion for the “truth” among those whose battle-cry is “unconditional love”? If these do not go together, then neither is genuine!

There are very explicit conditional statements associated with faithful “remaining / continuing”. Jn.8:31 – “IF you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Jn.15:7 – “IF you remain in me and my teachings remain in you” is the requirement for answered prayer. I Jn.2:24 – IF what you have heard remains in you, you are staying with the Son and the Father.” Paul, too, recognized that one is rewarded (I Cor.3:14) IF his work survives the test, and uses a prefixed form, epimeno, in Rom.11:22,23) to declare that the spiritual status of both Jew and Gentile is DEPENDENT upon their “remaining” in faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

Likewise, neither Jesus nor John minced words about negative evidence: Jn.5:38 – (Jesus to the Pharisees) “You don’t have the Word of God among you, because you are not faithful to the one he sent!”; I Jn.3:!4 – “The one who doesn’t love, remains in death!”; Jn.3:36 – “The wrath of God remains” on those who are not faithful to his Son (in contrast to v.35, eternal life is experienced by those who are). Note that all of these are PRESENT, not future, tenses! He is not talking about “destiny” here, but about the present state of affairs!

So how does one “abide / remain / continue” in the Lord Jesus and his word / truth? He has provided not only careful directions, but the perfect demonstration: his own example of deliberate obedience to the Father’s instructions (Jn.15:9), to the point that he could credit his Father with everything he did (Jn.14:10)!
Everyone who becomes deliberately faithful to him need not live in darkness (Jn.12:46).
“The one who keeps saying he’s living in relationship with him ought to walk [live, behave] as he did!” (I Jn.2:6).

Very simple – but not easy.
May we urge – and help – each other faithfully to abide/continue/remain in him!

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