God’s speech is characterized by truth. His word is void of deceit. According to Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Titus 1:2 states that God “cannot lie.” Hebrews 6:18 says it is “impossible for God to lie.”
This means that every biblical promise is solid and trustworthy. A God who keeps covenant is a God who is worthy of our trust. As Luther put it, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Daring confidence is always rooted in solid promises.
In this post, I want to introduce you to a rich concept in the Greek language that serves to highlight a specific angle on the promises of God. The concept has been called “emphatic negation.” In the New Testament there are many occasions where an author throws together two different words for “no” to emphasize impossibility.
Daniel Wallace defines this grammatical concept in his book, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.
“Emphatic negation is indicated by οὐ μὴ [both words are translated as ‘no’] plus the aorist subjunctive or less frequently οὐ μὴ plus the future indicative. This is the strongest way to negate something in Greek. One might think that the negative with the subjunctive could not be as strong as the negative with the indicative. However, while οὐ + the indicative denies the certainty, οὐ μὴ + subjective denies a potentiality. The negative is not weaker; rather, the affirmation that is being negatived is less firm with the subjunctive. Oὐ μὴ rules out the idea of even being a possibility.”
The following are a few examples of emphatic negation. Consider the richness of what God promises he will never do. The translation of Oὐ μὴ is highlighted in bold.
- “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
- “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will grab them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
- “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:8).
- “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5).
- “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame'” (1 Pet 2:6).
These are mighty promises, each one worthy of meditation and application. There are five things here that God has vowed he will never ever do. It is words like these that invite daring confidence and faith. What happens to a man who believes that God has forever refused to hold his sin against him? What about someone who trusts that God will never allow him to perish or be taken out of his hand? How would you be impacted if you rested in the reality of a God who will not shame you at the last judgment and will never forsake you?
My guess is that you would follow Luther and stake your life on this truth telling God a thousand times over. Here is another article that goes into further depth on this topic and touches on some other key texts: Emphatic Negation: Drawing Out the Riches of God’s Promises. Any thoughts on this topic?