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The double negative in the Greek text of John 11:26 is translated to a negative in English, which opposes the previous verse. It seems to me that it should be translated to something like, "And everyone living and believing in me will die in this age." Is this correct?

[Jhn 11:26 ESV] 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

[Jhn 11:26 MGNT] 26 και πας ο ζων και πιστευων εις εμε ου μη αποθανη εις τον αιωνα πιστευεις τουτο

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  • Hi Ben! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. You might take the tour if you have not already to get an idea of what constitutes a thorough question. You might specify which translation you use to help answerers provide a more thorough answer.
    – colboynik
    Oct 20 '18 at 3:37
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Great Question which involves one of the well-known rules of Greek grammar: The more negatives in a sentence, the stronger the negative statement. For more examples (there are about 100 in the NT) see Matt 5:18, 20, 26, 24:2, etc. See http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/egreek/egreek06.htm

Heb 13:5 has five negatives and is the strongest possible repudiation of something. Thus, this double negative (John 11:26) literally means: "everyone living and believing in me [Jesus] will absolutely never die eternally." (my translation).

There is no contradiction with the previous verse because Jesus is making a clear distinction between our earthly life and eternal life. Let me put the two together (my translation):

(v25) "I am the resurrection and the life - the one believing in me, even if he should die, will live." (future tense)

(v26) "And - everyone living and believing in me [Jesus] will absolutely never die eternally." (or more literally: "into the age", that is, the eternal age to come. See Matt 12:32, Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30, Heb 6:5)

Thus, Jesus teaches that despite our earthly death we may live eternally later. See 1 John 5:11, 12 for a similar idea.

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In English, “a double negative equals a positive.”1 In Greek,

Alexander Buttman:2

Similar negatives as a rule strengthen each other, or the second is only the continuation of the first.

Cases may occur, however, in which two similar negatives destroy each other, inasmuch as both the sense and the natural position of the words exclude all ambiguity. In the N.T. there is only one passage where similar negatives destroy each other in one and the same sentence: 1 Cor. 12:15...

August Heinrich Matthiae:3

Two negatives of the same kind cancel one another, as in Latin, and then oὐ often negatives not only the first clause, but also the following negative clause.

Sometimes two negatives strengthen one another...

But in general both the simple and compound negatives in one and the same sentence strengthen one another.

Also μὴ οὐ and οὐ μή do not mutually cancel each other.

Christian Gottlob Wilke:4

The particles οὐ μή in combination augment the force of the negation, and signify not at all, in no wise, by no means...

Friedrich Wilhelm Blass:5

The most definite form of a negative assertion about the future is that with οὐ μή...

George Benedikt Winer:6

Two negatives employed together in one principal clause either

a. Produce an affirmation

b. They both produce a single negation (which is the more frequent case), and serve (originally) only to make the principal negation which would have sufficed alone more distinct and forcible, and to impart to the sentence a negative character throughout.

George Benedikt Winer (in another work):7

The intensive οὐ μή (of that which in no wise will or shall happen)...

Gerald L. Stevens:8

Emphatic Negation (οὐ μή)

English considers a double negative improper... Greek allows a double negative. Using οὐ and μή together as οὐ μή (notice the order) is equivalent to strong emphasis.

Raphael Kühner,9

When a negative sentence contains indefinite pronouns or adverbs, e.g. any one, any how, any where, at any time, ever, etc., these are all expressed negatively.

Hence οὐ μή is used, when the idea to be expressed is...this CERTAINLY will not happen.

Rodney J. Decker,10

οὐ μή + aorist subjunctive: the strongest way to say “No!”

In English a double negative cancels itself (“I am not not going to study” means “I am going to study”), but in Greek double negatives intensify the negation rather than cancel it.

William Mounce:11

The construction οὐ μή followed by the aorist subjunctive is a strong negation of a future situation, stronger than simply saying οὐ. The two negatives do not negate each other; they strengthen the construction to say “No!” more emphatically.

William Watson Goodwin:12

The subjunctive (generally the aorist) and sometimes the future indicative are used with the double negative οὐ μή in the sense of an emphatic future indicative with οὐ.

John 11:26

Footnotes

1 American Heritage, p. 14
2 Buttman, p. 354, §148
3 Matthiae, p. 1081–1082
4 Wilke, p. 410, μή, IV.
5 Blass, p. 209, §64.5
6 Winer, p. 498–499, §55, 9., a.–b.
7 Winer, section LVI., p. 634, 3.
8 Stevens, Ch. 12, p. 181
9 Kühner, p. 261, 6. & p. 262, 9.
10 Decker, p. 627, 29.15
11 Mounce, p. 296, 31.18
12 Goodwin, p. 289, §1360

References

The American Heritage Book of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996.

Blass, Friedrich Wilhelm. Grammar of New Testament Greek. Trans. Thackeray, Henry St. John. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Buttmann, Alexander. A Grammar of the New Testament Greek. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Andover: Draper, 1873.

Decker, Rodney J. Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015.

Goodwin, William Watson. A Greek Grammar. Boston: Ginn, 1895.

Kühner, Raphael. An Elementary Grammar of the Greek Language. New York: Ivison, 1857.

Matthiae, August Heinrich. A Copious Greek Grammar. 5th ed. Vol. 2. London: Murray, 1832.

Mounce, William. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Stevens, Gerald L. New Testament Greek Primer, Third Edition: From Morphology to Grammar. 3rd ed. Eugene: Cascade, 2010.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry.Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Winer, George Benedikt. A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament. 7th ed. Andover: Draper, 1892.

Winer, George Benedikt. A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek. 3rd ed. Trans. Moulton, William Fiddian. Edinburgh: Clark, 1882.

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  • 1
    Another possible instance of double negative = positive in Greek is phrases like οὐκ μελεῖν. I'm not sure if this exists in the New Testament, though.
    – b a
    Nov 5 '18 at 10:17

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