During the summer, people generally prefer to swim outside. Although it is common to swim in pools these days, old-school swimming facilities usually depended on natural water features: ponds, rivers, and oceans. An ideal natural swimming location would have clean water, a gradually sloping, sandy bottom, and very little current. Such places existed, of course, but they weren’t as common as one might hope. In response, waterfront staff developed a variety of work-arounds to allow swimmers to safely use the water in the absence of perfect conditions.
In situations where the water was very deep, or the current too fast-moving, one of those work-arounds was called a swimming crib. The crib was basically a very large wooden crate, ballasted and tethered to function sort of like a ‘swimming pool’, immersed in the lake or river. (You can see an example here.) One of the most basic uses for a crib was to provide a shallow area for beginners to swim in water that was naturally very deep. The lake bottom could be thirty feet down, but a 3-foot crib provided an artificial ‘shallow end.’
One typical take on eternal life is that it’s “living forever with God” — a simplification that I have certainly been guilty of, myself. The focus is revivalistic, focused on a heaven-or-hell afterlife. A person who ‘has eternal life’ is ‘saved,’ which means that he’s going to go to heaven when he dies…and that’s pretty much it.
Given that definition, the Gospel of John, which is very, very focused on eternal life, takes on the appearance of being all about whether people go to heaven or hell. The purpose of the book, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name” is understood to be about taking people who were going to hell and making it so they’re going to heaven…and that’s pretty much it.
This is the theological equivalent of building a 3-foot swimming crib in some very deep, very fast-moving water. Problem is, what we’re protecting people from, in this instance, is God.
Eternal life has to be “living forever” — otherwise, as Zane Hodges aptly observed, “eternal life” isn’t a very good name for it — but is that all we need to say about it? Jesus didn’t think so. “And this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed to His Father, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
Eternal life, according to Jesus, is knowing God. How? Through Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” That’s inexhaustible. It’s far, far deeper than “going to heaven when you die.” And while, of course, lip service is paid to this notion, in fact it is largely ignored. We keep everybody in the 3-food swimming crib of going to heaven, when they could be diving deep into relationship with God Himself.
The solution? We need to knock the bottom out of the crib. This will undoubtedly be the occasion for much whining, but we have no right to speak in a way that stands between people and a living relationship with God.
I am wondering to whom you especially address this article to. Where do you see the excesses or abuses of this myopic tendency that you perceive?
Furthermore, I am fascinated by your claim condemning persons who “speak in a way that stands between people and a living relationship with God.” Who are these people? Give me a contextual example of them and argue, please, how what they are speaking positions obstacles between others and a “living relationship” with God. I ask that you be as verbose as possible. If I am correct in my assessment of the occasion and mindset behind this post, I submit to that I would vehemently disagree. But it seems to me that you have intentionally left this post ambiguous as to leave question and possibly insulate you from specifically charging another believer with such an unspeakable act! Preaching and teaching in such a way as to OBSTRUCT a living relationship with God is a very serious charge, indeed, and ought not to be so insupportedly expressed. But I will give you the benefit of the doubt for now, seeing that I do not know exactly to what you are speaking and claiming.
It is very clear that Jesus in fact does speak of a clear cut heaven/hell aspect of eternal life, not just speaking as to it but clearly EMPHASIZING it and this to the unregenerate. John 3:16-18 is very compelling as is 5:24, 6:39-40. Certainly the idea of having unending life and future resurrection was a primary focus of the Lord (as in 11:25-26 as elsewhere).
It seems to me that eternal life, as an onion, is gradually peeled as one matures in the faith. Certainly the temporal benefits of eternal life ought to be emphasized to the unsaved, thus it is claimed that the one who believes in Jesus presently possesses eternal life. Evangelism ought to be tailored to lift up Christ and His gift in such a way as to increasingly invite men and women (and children!) to place their faith in Jesus for eternal life. A primary concern of individuals is their eternal destiny. One may die without warning in an instant or a blink of an eye. The assurance of eternal well-being is a technique used of the Savior to bring individuals to faith in Him. If a person is trusting in Christ only for a simple relationship with Him and/or God, I am afraid that they have not understood what it means to believe in Him as the Christ.
I was raised as a Catholic and I certainly believed in God and Christ. I even believed in Christ as the One through whom I could have a relationship with God. But did I believe that He was the Christ in the Johnannine sense (see John 11:25-26)? I am afraid not. I did not understand that through simple faith that I had eternal life, which as its visibly pre-eminent benefit (as expressed by the Savior, Himself) was a guarantee of the present possession of unending life, the guarantee of exclusion from final judgement, and the guarantee of physical resurrection.
Let us not put the cart before the horse. The unraveling of this gift, this peeling away of the layers of eternal life, is something that occurs over time in the individual who already possesses eternal life as a gift. One thing that I think that you are failing to emphasize is that one must first have eternal life as a gift before he can live it and gain it as a reward. Initial possession of eternal life is absolutely free, received simply through faith in Jesus. But the experience of eternal life, the plumbing of its depths and fulfilling of its capacities, this relationship potential that lies at the heart of it, comes only through discipleship, dying to self, loving Jesus (which is defined through obeying His commandments), commitment and time (among other things as well!).
You make some very bold accusations in this post, that I am not cartain that you have well reflected upon. I am afraid that, if i am correctly trekking with you in your concerns (so very forcefully expressed) that I must insist that you have set up a caricature and have set aflame a straw man of your own design.
Antonio da Rosa
Thanks for expressing your concerns.
To me, it seems that the core assertion of your response is here: “It is very clear that Jesus in fact does speak of a clear cut heaven/hell aspect of eternal life, not just speaking as to it but clearly EMPHASIZING it and this to the unregenerate.” [EDIT: A friend graciously pointed out that I didn’t quote the sentence that I cite in the below paragraph. Your statement continues: “…Certainly the idea of having unending life and future resurrection was a primary focus of the Lord (as in 11:25-26 as elsewhere).” I apologize for omitting this; it certainly made the discussion harder to follow.]
I understand your claim here, but I would take issue with “primary focus.” I have a counter-claim to make: Unending life and a future resurrection is – quite literally – the least that Jesus had to offer. He talks about it, certainly, but mostly as an incidental waypoint on the path to something much more important, and much more in keeping with the purpose of John’s gospel. Jesus isn’t counting noses-in-heaven; He’s counting disciples-on-earth, and while the book is willing to make disciples out of unbelievers as well as believers, make no mistake: the book is about making disciples, not just occupants of heaven. Jesus don’t dig pagans with fire insurance.
Let’s test these claims in some of those texts you mentioned.
John 3. You can’t even prove that Nicodemus was unregenerate, for crying out loud. Discipleship is a major point here.
Read vvv.14-15. The serpent in the wilderness was addressed to a redeemed Israel that was in danger of physical destruction. Your read of v.16 as primarily about heaven and hell can’t stand up to its own immediate context. Moreover, vv.20-21 simply don’t fit with the revivalistic, heaven-or-hell reading you want to impose on the passage; they’re discipleship verses, end of story. If you read them the way you’re reading the rest of the passage, then they’re saying that only people who do good works will be willing to come to Jesus to be saved—good people go to heaven.
Of course, that’s not what it’s saying at all. It’s saying that those who do good are willing to have their deeds exposed, and those who don’t, aren’t. How is this relevant to a heaven-or-hell discussion? It’s not. It is, however, relevant to a much larger discussion about discipleship in Jesus’ day. Those who walk with God already are willing to come to the greater light—Jesus—because their deeds have been done in God. This is the category that Nicodemus belongs to. How do we know? Because he came to Jesus. Those who don’t walk with God already, don’t come—and there were many other Pharisees in that camp.
If a revivalistic reading of John 3 chokes on 20-21—the telos of the discourse—then we ought to have read the whole discourse differently. Signs of this are everywhere. In 3:18, someone who does not believe in Jesus is condemned already. He never had a relationship with the Father, and his rejection of the Son is proof of this.
5:24. Again, the point repeatedly emphasized is that they have it now. It’s irrevocable life, now, that Jesus is giving. It goes on forever, even after physical death, sure.
6:39-40 um, context? These folks are disciples being offered the bread from heaven, that they may eat it (now) and not die (now). The present reality is repeatedly emphasized. He is offering them Himself, in the present. Some go away because He’s offensive and hard to understand. Others stay — although they also find Him hard to understand — because He has the words of eternal life.
“Aha!” you will say. “See? They are talking about heaven!”
No, they’re talking about life which starts now, and they don’t want to be separated from Him who is the source of it. Which is good, because it turns out that He is the Life, and “eternal life” is knowing the Father (17:3, anyone?). There’s an unending pursuit if ever there was one. He offers that right up front; heaven is an epiphenomenon of it — where else would you go when you die, to get to know the Father better?
Which brings us to John 11.
First of all, note that Jesus is talking to people who are already regenerate. Second, note that what He does with Lazarus is give him his earthly life back now. Jesus offers Mary the chance to see the glory of God, now. Martha is already confident of future resurrection; even by your lights, she’s already a believer. What Jesus is offering her is life, now, in Him. It’s not, in the least little bit, an evangelistic encounter for any of the primary parties. The secondary folks, the bystanders who believe, do so because Jesus gives life, now, to a believer. Hm.
Which is to say that you need to attend closely to the context before you begin to cite proof texts in support of a claim. You could read this admonition in any hermeneutics textbook you care to lay your hands on, so perhaps before you urge those books on other bloggers, you attend to a few yourself. (I’d have been more tactful about that if you’d not been so rude to my sister. Don’t do it again.)
You asked me who I’m writing for. My answer is: anyone who’s emphasizing heaven-and-hell revival-style, to the detriment of the biblical message of relationship with the Father. The issue is, as you say, most serious, but this is a “if the shoe fits” kinda deal, and the woods is full of ’em. It would be a long list if I cared to make it, but for our present discussion it’s probably sufficient to say that you’ve demonstrated that the shoe fits you.
Antonio, it’s not for nothing that we focus on heaven and hell. That requires very little of us. But eternal life that starts now…that calls us to look around, now, and see whether we’re actually experiencing it or not. For similar reasons, we hate talking about experience in theology, too — as if we could discuss what we have not experienced with any intelligence! It forces us to admit our poverty, how far we have to go, especially when we are talking with someone who has experienced things we have not. There’s a great temptation to speak evil of what we do not know, denigrate experience, and go back to an academic approach to heaven-or-hell as the really big deal. The sin crouches at the door, and its desire is for you, but you should rule over it, brother.
I by no means want to interfere with your discussion with Antonio, but I just want you to be aware of the question he recently asked Michele. Perhaps you could help her answer it? It’s essentially the same question I’ve been asking for months. Of course, as I’ve already stated in previous threads, you have a standing invitation to answer it anytime it’s convenient for you. Please forgive my intrusion. Thanks.
Antonio has asked you an exceedingly important and penetrating question. If you could and/or would answer it, you will have succeeded in highly distinguishing yourself as a 3-D Gospel “authority” in a way that, thus far, neither Tim nor Jim has been willing and/or able to even come close to doing. Can you answer it? Will you? It would be a shame for you to miss this opportunity. Furthermore, you will have made a great contribution to facilitating and advancing this whole discussion beyond the vain and exasperating “chasing of shadows”, which has deplorably characterized it for months now. No rainbows or moonstones, please; remember, I am a blind man, so I’m told, who needs a 3-D GURU to rationally articulate an answer for me in a way that is accessible to the uninitiated. The question is this:
Antonio: ‘How is it that you understood yourself to be saved apart from faith in Jesus for eternal salvation (or eternal security, or irrevocable justification, or eternal life, etc.)? Please tell me how you came to this understanding that you were “saved” apart from specific and purposeful faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life, or please link to an article that explains it.”
Every blessing in Christ,
Answered that here. In the future, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t cross-post the same comment to multiple threads.
To all concerned, and Tim the blog host,
I want to thank you for allowing my comments to stand and in giving me this opportunity to compare and contrast my view, and that of the late Zane Hodges with yours. Certainly such an opportunity as this ought to be relished and taken advantage of for anonymous eyes throughout the corners of the globe may find such a comparison beneficial.
I do start off with some apprehension in replying to your last comments to me. Reason one being that I am borderline OCD. I take great pleasure in being specific, precise, and clear. Your last comments cry out for a response. I believe that I read your last comment very soon after you posted it. I printed it out and read it, the whole while my mind was exploding like a firework in every way and direction. I began to respond in the comment field of your blog before I came to the conclusion that I needed to get my thoughts straightened and methodical. I wish there was the technology to record all of the avenues of thought that processed from my mind last night – both instantaneously and progressively. I busted out with the pen and paper, but my hand could not keep up with my thinking processes, so I jotted down as many notes as I could. This process continued for the brief breaks I had at work today. Furthermore, I pored through the gospel of John (last night and today). My mind has come up with a very detailed response and argument, but my time to actually get this down in writing is severely limited. As I was walking into the house today I imagined snapping my finger and presto, all my thoughts were written and well articulated and I was ready to simply press “send”. Unfortunately that is not the case. I simply do not have the time nor inclination to spend weeks and months on a response in order to produce the quality and content that I am certain would close the doors of 3-D theology (or at least your version of it) in the minds of any impartial reader.
Reason two is that frustration results in “talking past” each other. It is frustrating when two divergent theologies have few points of contact, as with the case of my theology and Reformed theology. Disparate views often use language and terminology differently and causes great confusion. I have a sense that such is this case.
This being said, I have simply lifted up my supplications to the Father in the name of the Son and asked for wisdom. I have thus been guided to rely upon propositional truth (what other kind of “truth” is there? More on that later) gleaned through the principles (that I have as gift and that have come by way of discipline) of biblical observation and interpretation, coupled with reason and logic.
Assessment of Tim’s Comments
The kind of discussion, this mode of thought, this stream of consciousness that comes from Tim in his statements here, and in his recent slew of posts, has about it a certain superficial plausibility. Indeed, it contains some real truth. But upon close scrutiny, it is impossibly vague and solves absolutely nothing. It is full of logical and hermeneutical errors. It is actually such a distortion of the truth using high-minded and spiritual language that it is seemingly cult-like, and Tim is the de facto charismatic guru and leader. It was very instructive going back and reading the progress that Tim has made in the formulation of this manner of doctrine, as you can see a progressive history of it in his blog posts and comments. Tim had some very good questions and concerns about the Promise-Only view of saving faith , but unfortunately no one took the time to answer these objections, and it seems Tim didn’t look very far in seeking to get them properly and sufficiently answered. In response to this, it seems, Tim got a “revelation” and started using it as a working thesis to solve the problems that he saw in the current “food fight” as he puts it. The problem is that he has superimposed this thesis onto the scriptures, and uses it as his interpretive grid. Now, so thoroughly submerged into this formulation, Tim “sees” his doctrine everywhere, while nevertheless remaining obstinately blind to its innate contradictions and scriptural imprecision. This process that I have sensed is precisely how many cults have been instituted in the past. The more questions that get raised concerning the many difficulties and errors in his formulations, the more entrenched and passionate (and somewhat vitriolic) he becomes in both defending and propogating it.
Furthermore, this doctrine has the testimony and appearance of a superlative spiritual phenomenon and yet smacks of the pride that is often associated with those who have had a “second blessing”.
Next, it is mighty presumptious to make a sweeping judgement concerning the effects of a teaching without a shred of support arguing why such an effect is both logical and inevitable. The shock and outrage of placing obstacles between man and a living relationship with God! What kind of excess it this? Does Tim really believe that Zane’s theology (or mine for that matter) is guilty of such a crime? I submit that if he can say so in the sincerity of his heart (and I can’t imagine that he can, God only knows) that he is nevertheless sincerely ignorant of what we actually believe and teach! Furthermore, Tim’s pronouncement is necessarily divorced from a consideration of the wide field of available material and teaching that has the present experience of life as its focal in Free Grace Theology (which by the way is an essential teaching of it, both promoted and emphasized!), for if he had considered it, the result would have been the taking of the bite out of his bark, and the wind from his sails. Furthermore, there has been alot of work into the propositional nature of the saving message (I, for one, having developed solid arguments in print for it as others). Tim’s original post has all the earmarks of mischaracterization and a straw man effigy.
Finally, we are left with the task of finding the truth. How this will be accomplished is through a reasoned and precise appeal to Scripture using the timeless principles of hermeneutics expressed through God given articulation and logic. At the outset, we must admit that this is a humbling experience, as this is the very Word of God we are attempting to decipher. Pride must must make way for humility, and the Bible must be made to speak for itself. In allowing the Bible to speak, we will necessarily find that it is at odds with Tim and Jim’s doctrine in this case. The lack of applying sound hermeneutical principles by Tim to the study of the Bible has produced great error, tragic and even dangerous error, as we will later note.
On this note, I get the impression that to Tim and Jim, Michele is like an experiment, and Michele is all too willing of a participant in it. To me, it is like the training of an animal to them. Much time has been invested to illicit the desired responses, and reward is given when these responses occur, even in the spite of less than perfect results (which is never a description of this formulation anyway). But little by little, they are making her into a creature of their bend. If my impression is even somewhat correct, this is shameless. Furthermore, there is evident the “mother bear” syndrome common in cultic-type situations with Tim’s protection of his “sister”. This is a most unfortunate situation, as Michele has admitted her issues with involvement in cults (plural) in the past, and seems to be following into such a mode again.
I furthermore have read the history of Michele in this matter from her blog. She used to use words like “seem” and “possibly” with much other subjunctive expression, but now confidently assumes herself as an authority in these matters of soteriology with the same lack of care and precision that her teachers use. Getting any straight answers from her has been impossible because of the manifest and ubiquitous failures of this system. There are no shortcuts to the proper mining of God’s truth and the one who is going to do so will need the proper skill and tools. It is if Michele was sticking to the wading pool but now entertains her prowess in swimming in the rapids. The illustration that Tim uses in this article, with a little twist, ironically describes his formulations. This system keeps one wading in the shallow crib, supposing himself to be swimming in the deep lake, such as with all such “supra-spiritual” movements lacking in true substance. Unfortunately, it is not good advice in this case to knock the bottom out of the swimming crib, because its occupants are likely to drown!
Concluding Thought in this First Installment
The retisence to provide a reasoned exposition and appeal to scripture in support of this formulation, and the necessity to use much allegory, metaphor, and simple prose to descibe it speaks volumes. This formulation has been brewing for over a year (and most likely for years) but has yet to produce a definitive and scholorly defense of it with which people can properly access and consider it.
To be continued…
Antonio da Rosa
I appreciate you taking this so seriously. About that much, at least, we agree — this is a serious set of issues.
Some details of housekeeping before we go much further: If you’re going to write a tome — which from your introduction it appears you’re warming up to do — then you’re going to have to host it yourself. I understand your choice of venue for your introduction, but I’m not going to host an entire series of guest blog posts in a comment thread. Each installment of what you write will call for comments, and the discussions will overlap in time, and trying to do it all in a single thread would just be a mess. I’ll happily link from your intro to the next installment (on your closing words “To be continued”), or you can post a link here yourself, as you prefer.
That’s the logistical end of it, but there’s also a question of manners. I realize that blogging is relatively new, and people’s opinions on manners differ widely, but here’s where I’m coming from: a blog is a virtual living room. I welcome people into my living room, and I welcome people who disagree with me, as my track record shows. I enjoy a wide-ranging discussion, and as my history with a few of my less civil guests shows, I have a high tolerance for people insulting me, as long as productive discussion is continuing. I have often welcomed someone like yourself, come into my living room to share with me your concerns that my views have developed in a very dangerous direction.
But put yourself in my shoes, here: why would I welcome someone coming into my living room with a soap box under his arm and declaiming about me to the universe at large? I don’t, and this is just a matter of the golden rule — I wouldn’t behave that way in your living room, and I expect same courtesy.
There’s also a relational issue in play here, Antonio. You dropped off the map for two years or so. You’ve been back, what, a month? And already you’re warming yourself up to stride down Main Street slinging lead like Ike Clanton. Dude, you missed two years of conversation. You might want to catch up with the people involved before you start shooting, you know?
As to the substance, it would be good if there were some. So far, you put up passages of Scripture that you felt showed I was wrong, and we were off to a good start. I responded by addressing some salient details of those passages that I believe you overlooked. Your rejoinder was long and roundly condemning — but didn’t touch a single one of those Scriptures. (Not even in your “Assessment of Tim’s Comments,” to my surprise!) If this is going to be a discussion, brother, we’re going to have to discuss. So how about it?
If this thing is going to get resolved, it will get resolved by digging into specific passages and hashing it out. If you’re going to invest a large amount of time in this controversy, then for heaven’s sake let’s spend it on Scripture.
Your comment on John 3 has just opened a whole new view of Jesus’ words to me. I have always considered Nic to be unregenerate, and treated the words of John 3 as if he were. As you pointed out, this creates some ocntextual concerns which I really had no means of addressing.
When I began to look at this thought, I found Simeon (Luke 2) a man who was declared righteous(just) before the name of Jesus or the concept of eternal life was even revealed to him. Why was he righteous, we are told in verse 25, he was devoutly waiting for the consolation of Isreal. He believed God’s promise of a coming salvation, just as Abraham did (Rom 4:3).
Is it possible, that Nicodemus was in fact already righteous because he believed God for the promise of Messiah? It is not only possible, but I consider it likely. I am beginning to look at the woman at the well, she also was awaiting the coming Messiah. Her statement in John 4:25 is best translated “I know that Messiah is coming”, A pretty convincing statement of faith.
While I am still not completely certain, if this is true, then those statements from Jesus to Nic and the Samaritan Woman are about more than getting into heaven. I have always looked at these as statements about coming to initial faith in Jesus, but when I look deeper into the context, it seems that there may be more about the experience of eternal life than the recieving. Thank you
Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
You’re going to have fun exploring, and I’m happy I could help. Enjoy it!
Keep in mind that our language is a little dodgy at this point. Initial faith in Jesus and new birth aren’t the same thing in the time when Jesus walked the earth. Simeon was born again long before his initial faith in Jesus (by name) — he was born again years before Jesus was ever born. So you have unregenerate people meeting Jesus, some of whom receive Him and are born again, and some of whom reject Him, and are condemned already. Then you have regenerate people who meet Jesus, and believe that He is the Messiah they have been hoping for. Some, like Simeon, believe instantly. Others initially have questions (e.g., “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), but come around eventually. The point of passages like John 3:20-21 or the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 would seem to be that the Father’s people recognize Jesus, and a failure to recognize Him demonstrates that they weren’t with the Father to start with.
Glad you brought this up. Do you think this has a connection with John 6:37, that those who were given to Him by the Father are the OT saints like Simeon, etc, who would come to Jesus & be saved? This seems like almost tied to John 14:1, where thosee that believe in God are also called to believe in Him, almost like a transition period? Maybe I’m all wet, but I’m wondering what you thank about it?
Yes, I think you’re on the right track there. A large part of Jesus’ ministry had to do with introducing Himself as Messiah to the faithful who had been waiting for the Messiah. Not everybody who says “Hey,You’re the Messiah!” was unregenerate until that moment.
As to it being a transitional period, in one way, of course. There are relatively few opportunities to understand the gospel in an OT sense today without hearing about Jesus, because we all talk about Jesus. It is, however, possible, I think. I remember seeing a video of a NTM missionary describing the situation.
They had been teaching chronologically, and had only gotten up through the Exodus. But one of the old men in the village was sick, and just days from dying, so the missionary went to his house to talk with him. As they talked about his coming death, the missionary asked, “Are you afraid to face God?”
“No,” the old man said.
“Because when the death angel came, God made sure there was a Passover lamb for the people. I know that somehow, God will provide a Passover lamb for me.”
Of course the missionary went on to tell the old man the story of Jesus, showing how God not only would, but already had provided a Passover lamb, and the old man died a few days later.
I submit that what we had there, in modern times, was an OT saint who understood the story as far as he knew it, and having come to know Yahweh through it, trusted Him to provide whatever was needed — not even knowing exactly what it was.
In the case of the woman at the well then, would you say she is also of the same stripe as Simeon? She clearly expressed absolute faith in the coming of the Messiah, and once Jesus was revealed, she recieved Him with joy. The more I look at the interaction with her, the more I become convinced that she was already “just” in the same way as Simeon, but was not living out that truth. Jesus seems to be pointing her to the truth of the fullness of life that was available to her through Him as one who already believed.
Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
I noted the 1200-word second installment that you attempted to post here, beginning with the words, “I will begin, after this comment, hosting my comments on my Unashamed of Grace blog.”
I was abundantly clear that the next post needed to be hosted on your blog, and I told you exactly why. There was no reason to put up another installment here, Antonio. This is Golden Rule 101. What were you doing?
A number of folks would point out Jesus’ initial statement to the woman: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who speaks to you, you would have asked, and he would have given you living water.” The argument would be that if she were already born again, He wouldn’t have needed to offer her living water.
I am still hashing through some interpretive issues on this myself, so I’m not making an argument here, but the position is worth considering.
Contextually, the “deeds” Jesus is referring to, in John 3:20-21, is “coming to the light” vs. “staying in the darkness.” John 3:1-19 indicates that these phrases (coming to the light and staying in the darkness) refer to “believing in Jesus in order to be eternally born again ” vs. “disbelief and eternal condemnation.”
Jesus is offering entrance into the Kingdom or “becoming a child of God,” based upon belief in Jesus
John 1 sounds very similar:
John 1:1-13 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Do you think John 1 is a reference to receiving initial eternal life?
Hey! Good to hear from you, and glad you’re back safe and sound. I can’t wait to hear how the trip went.
I’m with you on John 1:13 — that’s clearly a reference to the new birth.
As to 3:20-21, I’m not so sure. Here’s the problem I see when we hit 20-21:
“For everyone practicing (pres. part.) evil hates (pres.) the light and does not come (pres.) to the light, lest his deeds (pl.) should be exposed (aor. subj.). But he who does (pres. part.) the truth comes (pres.) to the light, that his deeds (pl.) may be clearly seen (aor. subj.), that they have been done (periphrastic perfect) in God.”
So I have two problems: number and sequence. On number, it’s not clear to me how deeds, plural, can boil down to the singular event of believing in Jesus and receiving the new birth. On sequence, it would seem that doing the deeds precedes revealing them, and revealing happens only when the person comes to the light. So the deeds in question are done first, (and done in God, at that!), and then the person comes to the light.
I agree with you that within John’s argument, coming to the light is coming to Jesus. However, Nathaniel came to Jesus, and it would appear that he was regenerate long before he met Jesus. (As, of course, were many others.) When he met Jesus, though, his deeds were revealed, that they had been done in God: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
Now in fairness to you, you asked me about the prologue as a whole, and I didn’t really answer your question, because at the moment, I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer ready. Although 1:13 is surely referring to the new birth, it has crossed my mind that 1:12 could be read in a manner analogous to Rom. 1:16. (Although I’d say that John contemplates unbelievers among his audience, and Romans does not.) So I see John often working at multiple levels at the same time in order to move his whole audience — believers or not — toward his telos, which is discipleship leading to abundant life. For a more developed take on this line of thought by someone who’s further along than I am, have a look at Jim Reitman’s “Coming to the Light” installment of his Gospel in 3D series. It doesn’t hit all the issues in the prologue, but it should give you a rough notion of how this could flesh out.
Interesting. I don’t agree, but I understand your position. Contextually, it just seems a lot more simpler than that.
A few other thoughts:
John 3 takes place in the Temple (2:14). In John 2, there are unbelievers in the Temple (hence they ask for a sign). Do you think there are no unbelievers in John 3?
Also, the Judeans in John 5 want to kill Jesus. They also disbelieve. There are Judeans in John 6 that ask for a sign so that they might believe. Do you think there are no unbelievers in John 6?
Lastly, John 11:8 indicates the disciples feared Judeans who sought to kill Jesus. In the remainder of John 11, you’ll find Judeans. Unbelievers? I think so. Notice vs. 45-46. Some of these Judeans rush back to report to the unbelieving leadership of Judea.
There are groups of unbelievers and believers in many instances in John. So, evangelistic messages make sense in these contexts.
Oh, I forgot:
“the deeds” in 3:20 is plural because it refers to two things: 1) hating the light (2) not coming to the light. = unbelief.
“the deeds” in 3:21 is plural because it refers to two things: 1)doing the truth (2) coming to the light. = belief.
Contextually, the poinut is very simple despite the plural “deeds.”
As far as order, I do not have a problem with your oberservation. I belief it can still refer to an evangelistic message.
Jesus is calling out the righteous and the unrighteous (again, there are unbelievers in the crowd). Those who already believe Moses, will come to Jesus. But at the same time, those who disbelieve are provided an opportunity to change their minds.
Contextually, it seems far fetched to think Jesus is describing how to live the Christian life.
Josiah, welcome back from me too. I don’t want to be intrusive here, but would you entertain including me in the dialogue as well?
A lot of this is a work in progress with gradually increasing clarity to evangelicals who have been weaned in the revivalistic heritage that Tim alluded to in his response to Antonio. I share that heritage, and it has taken me a long time to “tune in” to the larger hermeneutical “spiral” mutually informing “parts” of John (like John 3 and the other passages you mentioned) and the “whole” of John’s message.
“…hermeneutical spiral OF mutually informing ‘parts’ and ‘whole’…”
I have one question? Where in John 3 do you find that this is a conversation taking place in the temple? Verse 1 seems to indicate a private conversation taking place at night, in secret, between Nicodemus and Jesus. I think contextually, you would be very hard pressed to show that any other persons, even disciples, are present during this discussion. There is a break between John 2:14 and John 3 that would indicate two seperate events, not one happening within the other. But I could be worng on this, please show me any contextual evidence you have that this was not a private conversation.
My conclusion is based on the wording of 2:13, saying the passover was at hand, meaning it was not yet the passover, and then in v. 23, it says He was in Jerusalem on the feast day, indicating at least one day had passed since v 13. It would logically follow that chapter 3 was not congruent with 2:14, but an entirely seperate event that took place at a different time and probably place. This being the case, extrapolating an audience outside of Nicodemus is not hermenutically consistent with the entire context.
In Christ’s Service,
Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry
I see congruence between 2:13 and 23. If not, I would still say there is congruency between 2:23 and 3:1.
I don’t see a private conversation in John 3 for two reasons: 1) chapter 2, as I have mentioned, takes place in the Temple (2) Jesus uses 2nd person plural pronouns throughout his exhortation.
Point 2 indicates the presence of other parties(2:12 is one example).
There are actually good reasons for seeing more literary continuity between the two scenes than may first meet the eye. There are thematic and literary links that lead me to see a larger audience in view; whether Nic was strictly alone is not the primary determinative for John’s point in the narrative.
I do not think the problem is a revivalistic heritage as you and Tim have suggested. The question during Jesus’ day was “who will partake in the resurrection?” A casual study of 2nd Temple Judaism shows this.
I see another problem.
Let me explain.
Scholars argue over the purpose of John. Some say the sole purpose is evangelism because of the purpose statement in 20:30-31 (and many other passages that offer eternal life).
Others say, it is not evangelistic only because of the upper room discourse, etc.
This leads to the following question: “What IS John’s purpose?”
Tim answers this question by presenting another problem: Just as one party interprets all of John as evangelistic (by reading other portions of John into the upper room discourse), similarly, Tim (and I assume you also) interprets John through the upper room discourse.
To me, both views do not adequately answer the question. To me, it’s simple. John presents an evangelistic message to unbelievers AND provides some discipleship passages for new believers. It’s simple really.
Not to be rude, but I really am not interested in hearing more, because I understand the views and I know where I stand. Thanks for the offer though.
I totally agree with your statement that “both views do not adequately answer the question” of John’s purpose. I think your earlier points about the primary audience in passages outside the Upper Room are absolutely critical to understanding the purpose of John. My views (as set forth in the series Tim referenced earlier) hardly mention the Upper Room at all (the last two mention John 17).
I do not consider you rude at all….in fact, thanks for your prompt reply! You may be assuming more about my views than is warranted by my association with Tim, but I understand your reticence to engage—that’s why I asked first!
That’s a fair assesment Jim. You may be right. Really, I have to do all I can to pull away from blogging or else I will be trapped in a great chasm of inactivity (accept for the throwing of inanimate objects :)hahahah.
Good discussion though. Maybe we’ll meet in person some time and you can help me understand your views. Or maybe I’ll just read some of your writings.
Good day sir. God bless!
. . . and his richest blessings on you!
Part 1 of my comments are here: Comments on 3d Theology: Part 1
Part 2 of my comments are here: Comments on 3d Theology: Part 2
You or anyone else is welcomed to dialogue there. As new installments arise, I will keep you informed.
Antonio da Rosa
PS: Thank you for the thoughtful emails today, in light of you not posting my comments here.
You’re welcome, and thank you for the links. I hope it will turn out to be a productive discussion for all of us.
I understand your desire to disengage from the blogs, especially since you’re trying to finish your thesis before summer is out. I can tell you I didn’t spend much time online in the last month of my thesis, either.
I do feel a need to respond here, though. No doubt you know where you stand, and you may understand many views of John, but you don’t seem to have a good grasp of mine. (Not sure you grasp Jim’s, either; his take on things is a little unusual, and I’m not sure you’d have come across it in your reading — but I’ll let Jim speak for himself.)
So I’m out to correct a few misapprehensions here, lest my silence be taken for acquiescence. If you want to re-engage, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool too; I’m sure you’re swamped.
The first one is “Tim…interprets John through the upper room discourse.” No I don’t, and I can’t imagine what I said that gave you that impression.
The second is the idea that I hold some sort of view that is refuted by the mere presence of unbelievers in some of these passages. Huh?
Take John 3, for instance. Of course I’m aware that there may be unbelievers present. I’m not persuaded that 2:14 proves it; you’ve got an intervening summary (2:23-25). Ch. 3 is related to 2:23-25 quite tightly, true (Have you looked at how John tends to use “hn de“? It’s interesting.) But you’re still a long way from proving that it takes place in the temple.
But let’s do it this way: even assuming they’re in a house somewhere, nothing says Nico came alone (although he could have — the other members of the “we” in 3:2 need not be present, and note the singular in 3:7). Even were he regenerate before the conversation started, there might have been a half-dozen people with him, some or all of them unbelievers.
At this point, though, I note what seems an odd tendency in your argument. You seem as if you’re taking the presence of unbelievers as prima facie evidence that the discussion is evangelistic. The presence of believers, however, does not seem to indicate to you that the discussion is about discipleship. Did I miss something? That seems a little flimsy to me.
In any event, as the context unfolds, the discussion ranges from the need for the new birth through the need to receive life here and now as Israel once did in the wilderness, and on into an account of who comes to Jesus, and why, and who does not, and why not. It’s a lot of range in a very short space — very beautifully done, really.
In my view, who’s there matters — insofar as John actually speaks to it — but contextually, what’s actually said also carries a great deal of weight. We know Jesus spoke to His own in the presence of many others at times (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount, or John 8:31). The presence or absence of unbelievers is useful information, but it doesn’t prove anything by itself — John’s gospel may be simple, but it’s not that simple.
Well Tim, I’m sorry, but he’s clearly dealing with being born again. And birth in John 1 is referring to initial salvation.
Just because he uses an example from the OT that involves believers, does not mean he’s referring to discipleship.
Context shows otherwise.
His example is providing a simple point: just as the people of Israel had to look to the pole to be healed, so unbelievers must look to Jesus in order to receive eternal life and be born again. That simple.
Some examples from the OT, used by Jesus and the Apostles, are not exact. You have to figure out the overlap between the speakers point and the OT story. Not every detail is the same.
You seem to assume it is.
My point is not solely based upon audience. My point is based upon the plain language of Jesus and the overall context. Audience only assists my view.
Agree to disagree.
One last little thought. The following passage seems to clearly indicate “coming to the light” is belief in order to be born again or receive eternal life:
A) John 12:36 36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
B) John 12: 37-41 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
C) John 12:44-50 Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 “And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46 “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. 47 “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 “And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
V. 36, Jesus declares Himself as the “Light” and invites others to believe in Him in order to become “sons of light.” Clear invitation to rebirth/eternal life (cf. John 1 and 3).
Vv. 37-41, says some believe and some do not.
Vv. 44-50 – Jesus again declares His message, saying, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness . . .”He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 “And I know that His command is everlasting life.
I’m pretty confident Jesus is saying the same thing in John 3.
As to John 12, throughout John’s Gospel Jesus is presented as the Light. Those who come to Jesus, come to the light. Some of them are unbelievers before they come to Jesus; others are not. In the case of 3:20-21, I still say that perfect tense makes absolute hash of your position. Someone whose deeds are already done in God is now coming to Jesus — that’s the straightforward reading of the text, and it doesn’t fit very well with the new birth. (It fits well, though, with guys like Nathaniel, or Simeon, or maybe even Nicodemus.)
As to the snake-on-a-stick example, you know well how happy I am to follow the NT authors’ own practice of typological interpretation/application of the narratives. I don’t have a problem with the Exodus generation’s need for temporal life, and their manner of receiving it, being a type of first-century Israel’s need for eternal life, and their manner of receiving it, in just the way you describe. In fact, I think it’s a beautiful picture, as you do.
I’m sorry if this didn’t come across well in my explanation; I’m new to articulating some of these things.
The point is that if you accept that parallel, then part of it is that when one looks, one lives–now. The life begins in this life, not in the next. Israel did not look at the snake on a stick and then get healed later, when they’d crossed the Jordan. They got healed immediately. As we are also instantly rescued from death, when we look to Christ. (The problem is that, having discovered that we can look and live, we want to be snake-handlers, and that’s not what we’re called to.)
I never meant to imply that the new birth was not part of the discussion. I am saying that there’s more going on there than just the new birth.
You have a very simple idea of what’s happening in the passage, and I agree with you, as far as it goes. But I also think there’s something much, much richer happening as well, something you’re missing. (And for them that are asking for a treatise, there is one, on this part. Not my view in every respect, but worth interacting with all the same.)
You do not agree, and of course, we can agree to disagree, as we often do, and still be good brothers to one another. I look forward to hearing more about PNG later today.
Tim, Great to see you the other day.
I thought I would try to describe how I have come to some of my conclusions, in order to prevent any miscommunication.
I thought you described ALL of John 3 as a discipleship passage. That thought came from your assertion that v. 16 refers to discipleship in light of OT typology (bronze snake pole) AND Nicodemus’ already regenerate state.
Secondly, you have brought up, over and over again, that eternal life is knowing the Father according to John 17. I confess, I believe you have read this idea into other passages.
I also confess, yes, eternal life DOES refer to experiential life today (which is what John 17 is referring to). I actually learned that from Bob Wilkin and other Free Grace teachers (which leads me to ask why you say the Free Grace movement doesn’t teach this, or merely gives it lip service? That hasn’t been my experience). But often, in John, Jesus describes how to receive it first.
Again, I confess, I am afraid you are reading John 17 into other passages unnecessarily. And so, I accused you of reading upper room discourse passages backwards into John 3, 6, 11, etc.
My thoughts are not unfounded. Just evaluating what I see.
Hope that helps you understand where I am coming from. Please let me know if I am incorrectly evaluating your view. Have a great day!
It was good to see you as well.
I’m sorry my presentation here was confusing. As I said, I’m new to communicating some of these things. I don’t, in fact, think that there’s a clean break in John 3 between evangelistic and discipleship truth; they overlap to a significant degree. The need for life is ongoing, and one gets it in the same way throughout the Christian experience — by faith, as a gift, through the Spirit. So I do believe there’s a discipleship aspect to vv. 14-16, as well as an evangelistic aspect. John is working at multiple levels at once (if John would even consider them multiple levels — I’m not sure he would. It’s just Life.) The salvation of v. 17 certainly is salvation from hell, but there’s no particular reason to think it stops there. Why would it? What would lead us to assume that?
I really appreciate your clarification on the matter of me reading the whole book through the Upper Room Discourse. What you’re saying about my reading of 17:3 certainly makes more sense than what I thought you meant by that.
However, I think you have me backwards on 17:3 and the preceding context. If we read 17:3 in light of the preceding context, it’s quite difficult to conclude that “eternal life” means something different in ch. 17 than it has meant throughout the book. 17:3 is a very clear statement of something that has been present throughout the discussion. The theme made explicit in 17:3 starts in 1:1-4, runs through 1:14 and 1:18, the ch. 4 discussion on living water and true worship of the Father, 5:26, and so on, right up through 14:6, into 17:3, and right on through the end of the book. Relationship with the Father and the Son is what it’s about, all the way through, and there are plenty of passages to discuss there. I just keep hammering on 17:3 because that particular statement is hard to ignore, even for theologians — although some have tried.
Conversely, can you imagine trying to defend the idea that in the one place where Jesus says “This is eternal life…” and defines it, it turns out that in that one place, “eternal life” means something different than it means elsewhere in the book?
Regarding our differing interpretations of the Free Grace movement’s approach to the present practice of eternal life: There’s mentioning the idea for the sake of theoretical theological completeness on one hand, and on the other hand there’s real application, with all the submission and re-arrangement of our lives that goes with it. There’s a wide difference between the two, and it’s not particularly hard to spot. This community gets nervous over a genuine discussion of experiential knowledge of God, but routinely ignores betrayal of one’s brothers, division, and destruction of relationships (and sometimes praises those things), so long as the brother-hatred is suitably smoke-screened by some favored doctrinal shibboleth. We may occasionally talk about present experience of eternal life, but faith without works is dead.