This passage lays out the fundamental convictions of the Reformation: That the normal human condition is bondage to sin; that in Christ, through faith, we are freed and Christ abides in us. Worth noting in the Greek is the word μενω which appears throughout the Gospel of John; justification is not here seen as simply forensic (ie, Jesus died for your sins) but as ushering in the new creation: Jesus abiding in us. Worth also considering is the household nature of δουλος, or slave; not simply the worker, but also the lower member of the family.
μενω: (8:31; 35, meaning “abide.”) This word is translated here as “belongs” or “stays” which are probably fine, but the important thing to remember is that this word appears throughout the Gospel of John repeatedly; “abide in me…” One might argue this concept of "abiding" is the most important in the Gospel. Furthermore, when Jesus says, in this passage, that the "son abides forever" (vs. 35) this son-ship ultimately will include us, who are invited to also abide in the Father's house forever (basically, all of John 14 and 15).
Some more theological commentary on verse 31 for Reformation: The Reformation idea of "Justification" is often presented in "forensic" terms, i.e., a courtroom metaphor. God is judge and in Jesus Christ we are declared innocent, regardless of the content of our deeds, which inevitably fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). While this metaphor has Scriptural warrant (see John 8:50) and preaching power, it also has its limits. Both Paul (in Romans) and Jesus in John's Gospel move beyond simply forensic justification to new creation. We are not simply declared free of our sins, but we are made new in Christ. While other passages in John's Gospel delve more into this, in this passage in John's Gospel, we are "disciples" (vs 31) who receive a new status in the family (vs 35; see rest of John's Gospel).
I realize I am stepping into a 500+ long inter-Lutheran argument about justification. My point is to invite preachers to give at least a second thought to preaching only about forensic justification on Reformation Sunday, as if this is only what Paul, John and Luther taught. Luther himself talks quite a bit about the new creation and when talking about justification, also describes it in terms of marriage or love between the believer and Christ. As he writes in the Small Catechism:
"all this...in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
Some more grammar commentary on verse 31.
Vs. 31 is a conditional phrase. Greek can set up conditional phrases in a variety of ways, often with ει or εαν. They mean different things.
εαν is really the Greek word for “if." If is the case we learn that "ει" means "if" when we memorize our first Greek words, but actually ει simply sets up a conditional sentence. In other words ει can me "if" but also "since" or even "In fact, not in this case." εαν leaves “the probability of activity expressed in the verb left open.” (BDAG). In this case, abiding in Jesus' word may or may not happen.
δουλος: (8:34;35, meaning “slave”) Slavery provided the gas of the Greco-Roman economic engine. People became slaves through various means: captivity from war, kidnapping by slave hunters or debt. Slaves existed in all parts of the empire.
Slavery could be quite brutal, especially for slaves that engaged in mining. However, slaves often were attached to households and gained a certain amount of responsibility. Such slaves often helped raise the children (even educated them in manners), administer property, earn money and even sign legal contracts. Some slaves even owned other slaves. Even after manumission, the freed person would often pledge themselves to the former master or to a patron.
The slave was not simply the bottom of the macro social and economic structure, but the bottom of the micro social and economic structure, the household. This afforded some degree of comfort, security and even opportunity for advancement. However, there was nothing glorious about slavery. Regardless of their particular status in the house, the slave did the work that allowed the masters of the house to participate in civic life.
Side note, when the audience with Jesus says they have never been slaves, this is not true historically (see Exodus!); but it may be true theologically in that they never were slaves to God in they way they should have been.
ελευθερος: (8:32;36, meaning “free”) My sense of the Greek word for free is that it aligns itself with the idea of being unencumbered, not so much the freedom “for” as the freedom “from.”
Sentence breakdown: John 8:35
The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
Greek: ο δε δουλος ου μενει εν τη οικια εις τον αιωνα, ο υιος μενει εις τον αιωνα
First step is to divide up the sentence into smaller parts: divide at the comma!
Second, look for the verb in the first part of the sentence. In this case the verb is μενει. You have to work a little hard because here you have the negative particle, “ου”. So you have your verb: ου μενει which means “does not abide.”
Then you look for your subject. How to find a subject? Look for nominative definite articles: ο, το, η. In this case, again, you have to take it one step further because you have the word δε in front of δουλος. But now you have your subject (you can ignore “de” for now): “ο δουλος” which means “the slave”
So now you have: “The slave does not abide.” The rest of the sentence until the comma are two prepositional phrases: “εν τη οικια” and “εις τον αιωνα” which mean “in the house” and “into forever.” Test yourself: Why is the first example in the “dative” and the second example in the “accusative” case?
Do the same with the second half of the verse: First, find the verb; then the subject (hint: Look at the articles.) Once you’ve done this, you can plow right through: The son abides into forever.
When Greek doesn’t have participles or subjunctive phrases, it’s really a matter of finding the subject and verb; figuring out what the small words mean; conquering the prepositional phrases…and then presto, you’ve got English