Why do some translations translate eternal life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον) in different ways? Consider for example, John 4:36, 6:40. While some use 'eternal life' in both cases, KJV and NASB do not:

“Already he who reaps is receiving awages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together." (John 4:36)


“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will craise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

  • 1
    Possibly of interest: Why do some adjectives follow the nouns they modify?. Wikipedia includes a relevant list. (It's worth wondering whether the Greek behind them is different; I just thought that may help if you were wondering what's going on in English.)
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2016 at 5:09
  • Thanks @Susan, thats a great pointer. It's relevant, but I am thinking more about the greek itself. Is there a reason (from the original language) that we might want to translate it differently. Given that changing the order changes the meaning in English, and disassociates the phrases (in for example John 4:36 vs 6:40)
    – Jay
    Apr 8, 2016 at 5:14
  • Yup, I agree, and my brief glance at the Greek didn't reveal any pattern justifying the difference in the KJV/NASB (the NASB uses a postpositive only at John 4:36 and 12:25; KJV 4 or 5 times) but if somebody finds one that would be a good answer.
    – Susan
    Apr 8, 2016 at 5:19

1 Answer 1


The oldest manuscript we have of John is in the Codex Sinaiticus. In both verses, it says, “life eternal.” It’s in Koine Greek, on papyrus, dated 350 AD. I photographed the two passages from the Codex Sinaiticus. John 4:36 is here: (pdf) John 6:40 is here: (pdf)

Scroll down to see the actual, handwritten manuscript.

For John 4:36, go to the second column to the left and scroll down to the 6th line -there, you will find “life.”

“Life” looks like: ZWHN

On the 7th column below it, you will find “eternal.” It looks like: AIWNION

For John 6:40, go to the third column to the left and scroll down to the 11th line. Both words are on that line. They take up the whole line.

“Life eternal” looks like: ZWHNAIWNION

There is a dot after "life eternal" in John 6:40 (on the manuscript) and if anyone knows what it means, I’d like to know. Jot or tittle? It doesn’t appear in John 4:36.

You realize you’re looking for life eternal? I already found it! :o)

Why did the translators transpose the words in John 6:40?

I don't think the answer is convoluted; I think it's simple. The entire bible is transposed, why wouldn’t they transpose here? They stayed true to the text in John 4:36 (life eternal) because it’s understandable when translated correctly; the reference is to fruit and it even sounds poetic. Incidentally, this verse (in English) is actually (partially) metered (syllables stressed and unstressed); changing it to “eternal life” would destroy the meter. In John 6:40, I think they transposed the words because the reference is to man and it sounds weird saying: “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have life eternal.” Reading John 6:40 as “eternal life” does not affect the meaning of the verse.

  • Interesting observation about the dot!
    – Jay
    Apr 13, 2016 at 20:42
  • :o) Isn't it trippy? It's so mysterious.
    – Daisy
    Apr 13, 2016 at 22:25

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