Not Now, Not Ever

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Crashing Waves

In English, a double negative flips a sentence on its head. To say that something was “not without its challenges” is just a confusing way of saying, “there were some challenges.” If an effort “didn’t go unnoticed,” it just means that someone was paying attention. And if you ever happen to be on trial before a jury of English majors, remember that insisting that you “didn’t do nothing wrong” is technically an admission of guilt.

The Greek language works a little differently. In Biblical Greek, a double negative doesn’t reverse the meaning of a sentence; it emphasizes it. In Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace explains that a double negative, constructed using the Greek phrase οὐ μή, “is the strongest way to negate something in Greek” because it “rules out even the idea as being a possibility” (p. 468). The word μή roughly translates to “not now,” while the word οὐ sends a clear message of “not ever.” Together, rather than a simple “not,” these negations rule out both the present and the future, conveying the sense of “not at all—not now, not ever.” To use such a phrase is to affirm that the idea in question is beyond unlikely—it is absolutely impossible.

You’ll find examples of the phrase in Matthew 24:35, where Christ tells us that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means [οὐ μή] pass away” and John 4:14, where He promises that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never [οὐ μή] thirst.” Here are a couple others:

  • “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not [οὐ μή] fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
  • “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not [οὐ μή] impute sin” (Romans 4:8).
  • “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never [οὐ μή] perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

Each of these verses includes a powerful, emphatic negation in the original Greek that our English translations aren’t quite able to convey. Paul didn’t just say that we should walk in the Spirit and avoid the lusts of the flesh; he was saying that truly walking in the Spirit makes it impossible, absolutely impossible, to fulfill those lusts. And when he quotes David concerning forgiveness, he isn’t saying that it’s nice when God doesn’t charge us with sin; he’s confirming that, when God forgives us of something, He will never change His mind and demand payment—not now, not ever. And Christ wasn’t just saying that eternal life means not perishing; He was promising that the eternal life He has in store for us will make perishing impossible. Not an option.

Understanding the Greek double negative adds so much more to these verses, but my favorite example—hands down, no contest—shows up in the book of Hebrews. Concerning Jesus, the author writes, “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Hebrews 13:5). Even in English, that’s a powerful statement—but it’s not until we dig into the Greek that we begin to understand the incredible strength of this verse. An interlinear translation reveals not one but two double negatives (with one other negation thrown in for good measure). Christ promises to both never [οὐ μή] leave us and to never [οὐ μή] forsake us. Both of those “never”s are hammered with the full force of the double negatives. These are beyond mere negations; they are unshakable oaths from the mouth of God Himself.

It’s as if the universe’s Creator—our Savior and older Brother—is looking us in the eye and promising, “I’m not going anywhere. Not now, not ever. Come what may, whether tribulation or persecution, I will not leave your side. The very thought is impossible, and nothing can ever change that.”

With a promise like that, it’s no wonder that Paul wrote, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). No question. No chance. Nothing—absolutely nothing, not now, not ever, not things present nor things to come—nothing can separate us from the love of God.

And how could it? For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Not now, not ever.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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