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James White on John 3:14-18 -- An Examination
By Don Roberts, B.A., M.Div.
Background and Introduction
Dr. James White is the Director of Alpha & Omega Ministries--an organization dedicated to the defense of Reformation theology and Christian apologetics in general. White published an online article entitled "Blinded By Tradition: An Open Letter to Dave Hunt" with the teaser "Regarding His Newly Published Attack Upon the Reformation, What Love Is This? Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God." In his book, Dave Hunt cited several passages from The Potter's Freedom, White's most recent work.
The Open Letter is essentially a response from James White to Dave Hunt challenging his assertions and conclusions. Our purpose in this document is to offer a critical analysis of the exegesis of John 3:14-18 as published by White. I have included below that section of his remarks with comments as endnotes. The entire letter may be found at http://www.aomin.org/DHOpenLetter.html.
Dave Hunt does not attack the Reformation as alleged by White. If that were true, he would be guilty of attacking the doctrine of justification by faith. Hunt rather challenges the TULIP philosophy espoused by John Calvin and his theological successors. It must be remembered that the Reformation was just that--a reformation. It was in no way a total return to New Testament Christianity, as Calvinists would have us believe.
James White is a true defender of the Christian faith, a scholar in many theological disciplines. My analysis of his exegetical remarks is not an attempt to denegrate a good man, but to demonstrate how even a highly-intelligent individual can fall into the philosophical trap that Calvinism represents. White is a self-proclaimed expert in the Greek language, and often accuses his theological opponents of "lacking exegetical capacity." After reading my "end notes" analysis, you will be able to discern his exegetical bias in defense of Calvinism.
John 3:16 Freed From Tradition
"Dave, I think we can agree on the fact that you believe your interpretation of John 3:16 is the key to the entire controversy. Note I said your interpretation. I do not get the idea that you realize that your view is not the only possible way of reading the words of the Lord Jesus, nor, to be honest, do I get the feeling that you have engaged in the task of exegeting even John 3:16. It is your tradition to interpret it in a particular fashion.[Note 1] That tradition includes two very important elements: 1) the idea that “world” means every single individual person, so that God loves each person equally (resulting in a denial of any particularity in God’s love, even in His redemptive love), and 2) that the term “whosoever” includes within its meaning a denial of particularity or election.[Note 2] Your assumption of these ideas underlies pretty much the entirety of your book. Before I chose to write you this open letter, I began an article on John 3:16 and Acts 13:48. I only completed the first section of the exegesis of John 3:16, and was about to address your statements about my allegedly “twisting” the passage, so I will insert what I wrote here, and pick up with the letter itself on the other side…
"Sometimes the passages we know best we know least. That is, when we hear a passage repeated in a particular context over and over and over again, we tend to lose sight of its real meaning in its original setting. This is surely the case with John 3:16, for it is one of the most commonly cited passages in evangelical preaching. And yet, how often is it actually subjected to exegesis? Hardly ever. Its meaning is assumed rather than confirmed. I would like to offer a brief exegesis of the passage and a confirming cross-reference to a parallel passage in John’s first epistle.
"We are uncertain just where in this passage the words of the Lord Jesus end, and John's begin. Opinions differ. But as John did not believe it necessary to indicate any break, we do not need to be concerned about it. In either case the words flow naturally from the discussion Jesus begins with Nicodemus concerning what it means to be born again, or from above. But as every text without a context is merely a pretext, note the preceding verses:
14 "As Moses
lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be
Jesus harkens back to the incident in the wilderness (Numbers 21:5ff) where the Lord provided a means of healing to the people of Israel. It goes without saying that the serpent was 1) not something the people would have chosen, given that their affliction was being brought on through serpents;[Note 3] 2) only a means of deliverance for a limited population (i.e., the Jews, not for any outside that community);[Note 4] and 3) was limited in its efficaciousness to those who a) were bitten, b) knew it and recognized it, and c) in faith looked upon the means God had provided for healing.[Note 5] This historical event in the history of Israel (one that would be well known to Nicodemus) is made the type that points, if only as a shadow, to the greater fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The Son of Man was lifted up (on the cross) as God's means of redemption. Faith is expressed by looking in obedience on the God-given means of salvation.
The phrase "whoever believes" in verse 15 is hina pas ho pisteuwn, which is directly parallel to the same phrase in verse 16 [in fact, the parallel of the first part of the phrase led, in later manuscripts, and in fact in the Majority Text type, to the harmonization of verse 15 with 16, resulting in the expansion of the original. The NASB, however, reflects the more accurate textual reading, "so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life" or "so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life."].[Note 6] The English term "whoever" is meant to communicate "all without distinction in a particular group," specifically, "those who believe." Pas means "all" and ho pisteuwn is "the one(s) believing," hence, "every one believing," leading to "whoever believes." It should be remembered that there is no specific word for "whoever" in the Greek text: this comes from the joining of "all" with "the one believing," i.e., "every one believing." The point is that all the ones believing have eternal life. There is no such thing as a believing person who will not receive the promised benefit, hence, "whosoever." This is a common form in John's writings. For example, in his first epistle he uses it often. Just a few examples:
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices (Greek: pas ho poiwn) righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)
One could translate the above phrase as "whoever" or "whosoever practices righteousness." Likewise,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves (Greek: pas ho agapwn) is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
Likewise one could use "whoever" here as in ""whoever loves is born of God," etc. And a final relevant example,
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)
Here, because the phrase begins the sentence, it is normally rendered by "whoever," since "everyone" does not "flow" as well. So this passage could be rendered "Everyone who is believing." In each case we see the point being made: the construction pas + articular present nominative singular participle means "all the ones, in particular, doing the action of the participle, i.e., whoever is doing the action of the participle." What we can determine without question is that the phrase does not in any way introduce some kind of denial of particularlity to the action. That is, the action of the participle defines the group that is acting. The "whoever" does not expand the horizon of the action beyond the limitation of the classification introduced by the participle. This will become important in examining the next section of verses.
16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Verse 16 begins with the assertion that God's love is the basis of His redemptive work in Jesus Christ. God's love for the world comes to expression in the sending of His unique Son into the world, and in the provision of eternal life for a specific and limited group. The same delineation and particularity that is found in the last phrase of v. 15 is repeated here.
For a discussion of the meaning of only-begotten Son, or much better, unique Son, see The Forgotten Trinity, pp. 201-203.
The text's meaning is transparent, though again, the challenge is hearing the text outside of pre-existing traditions. "So" is best understood as "in this manner" or "to this extent" rather than the common "sooooo much."[Note 7] His love is shown, illustrated, or revealed in His giving of His Son. The Incarnation is an act of grace, but that Incarnation is never seen separately from the purpose of Christ in coming into the world, specifically, providing redemption through faith in Him. Hence, the love of God is demonstrated in the giving of Christ so as to bring about the eternal life of believers.[Note 8]
The Meaning and Extent of kosmos
"The great controversy that rages around the term "world" is wholly unnecessary. The wide range of uses of kosmos (world) in the Johannine corpus is well known. John 3:16 does not define the extent of kosmos.[Note 9] However, a few things are certain: it is not the "world" that Jesus says He does not pray for in John 17:9, a "world" that is differentiated from those the Father has given Him: "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours."[Note 10] It is not the "world" that is arrayed as an enemy against God's will and truth, either, as seen in 1 John 2:15: "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Obviously, the "world" we are not to love in 1 John 2:15 is not the world God showed His love toward by sending His unique Son.[Note 11] The most that can be said by means of exegesis (rather than by insertion via tradition) is that the world is shown love through the giving of the Son so that a specific, particular people receive eternal life through faith in Him. Since we know that not all are saved by faith in Christ, it is utterly unwarranted to read into kosmos some universal view of humanity:[Note 12] how is God's love shown for one who experiences eternal punishment by the provision of salvation for someone else?[Note 13] Surely, then, this is a general use of kosmos, with more specific uses of the term coming in the following verses. That is, the common meaning of world that would have suggested itself to the original readers (Jew and Gentile), and this is born out by the parallel passage in 1 John 4, as we will see below.[Note 14]
See comments above regarding the meaning of pas ho pisteuwn. There is no phrase or term here that indicates a universal ability to believe as is so often assumed by those reading this passage.[Note 15] The present tense of the participle should be emphasized, however. John's use of the present tense "believe" is very significant, especially in light of his use of the aorist to refer to false believers.[Note 16] The ones who receive eternal life are not those who believe once, but those who have an on-going faith.[Note 17] This is his common usage in the key soteriological passages (John 3, 6, 10). When one examines Christ's teaching concerning who it is that truly believes in this fashion we discover that it is those who are given to Him by the Father (John 6:37-39) who come to Him and who believe in Him in saving fashion.[Note 18]
Verse 18 continues the point by insisting that the one believing in Christ is not condemned/judged (Greek: krinetai). However, the one not believing has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of Christ (both "has been judged" and "has not believed" are perfect tense, indicating a completed action that is not awaiting a future fulfillment).[Note 19] Just as Paul teaches that the wrath of God is continually being revealed against children of wrath, John tells us that the wrath of God abides upon those who do not obey the Son (John 3:36).[Note 20]
Salvation, Not Judgment
Verse 17 expands upon the reason why God sent the Son into the world. The primary purpose was not for condemnation. Given the fact that Jesus speaks often of His role as judge and His coming as something that brings judgment (John 3:19, 5:22, and 9:39), it would be best to render the term "condemnation" in this context. English usage and tradition again conspire to rob the due force of the adversative hina clause: that is, many see "but that the world might be saved" as some kind of weak affirmation, when in fact the idea is, "God did not send the Son for purpose X, but instead, to fulfill purpose Y." The hina clause expresses God's purpose in the sending of the Son. It does not contain some kind of sense that "God did this which might result in that, if this happens…." While the subjunctive can be used in conditional sentences, it is also used in purpose/result clauses without the insertion of the idea of doubt or hesitant affirmation. The word "might" then is not to be read "might as in maybe, hopefully, only if other things happen" but "might" as in "I turned on the printer so that I might use it to print out this letter." Purpose, not lack of certainty.[Note 21]
Of course, this immediately raises another theological question, however. Will God save the world through Christ? If one has inserted the concept of "universal individualism" into "world" in verse 16, and then insists (against John's regular usage) that the same meaning be carried throughout a passage, such would raise real problems. However, there is no need to do this. When we see the world as the entirety of the kinds of men (Jew and Gentile, or as John expresses it in Revelation 5:9, every "tribe, tongue, people and nation" = world) the passage makes perfect sense. God's love is demonstrated toward Jew and Gentile in providing a single means of salvation for both (Paul's main point in Romans 3-4), so too it is that He will accomplish that purpose in the sending of the Son. He will save "the world," that is, Jews and Gentiles.[Note 22]
A Parallel Passage
1 John 4:7-10 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
This passage provides us with a tremendous commentary, from John himself, on the passage we have just examined from his Gospel. The repetition of key phrases in the same contexts show us how closely related the two passages are. Both passages speak of God's love; both speak of God's sending of His Son and how this is a manifestation of God's love; both speak of life and the forgiveness of sin, often using the very same words John used to record John 3:16ff. So how did the Apostle John understand those words? Here we are given that insight.
The context of this passage is love among believers. Love comes from God, and it is natural for the one who has been born of God to love. The redeemed person loves because God is love, and those who know God seek to be like Him. Those who do not walk in love are betraying any claim they may make to know Him. This brings us to the key verses, 9-10.
The fact that verse nine is meant to be a restatement of John 3:16 can be seen by placing them in parallel to one another:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world
1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us
John 3:16 that He gave His only begotten Son
1 John 4:9 that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world
John 3:16 that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life
1 John 4:9 so that we might live through Him
Once we see the clear connection, and recognize the background of John's words, we can use 1 John 4:9 to shed light upon some of the key issues regarding the proper interpretation of John 3:16ff. For example, we concluded above that "world" meant the world of humanity, i.e., Jew and Gentile taken in kind and not in universal particularity (each and every person). This is confirmed by John's rephrasing here, "By this the love of God was manifested to us." The "us" in this immediate context is identified in verse 7, "Beloved, let us love one another," i.e., the Christian fellowship, which is made up of Jews and Gentiles.[Note 23] Further, the issue of the intention of God in sending the Son is further illuminated by noting the teaching of 1 John as well. That is, John 3:17 says it was the Father's intention to save the world through Christ. This we know Christ accomplished (Revelation 5:9-10) by saving men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (this comprising the same group seen in John 6:37 who are given by the Father to the Son). 1 John 4:10 summarizes the entire work of God by saying that God's love is shown in His sending Christ as the propitiation for our sins. This is paralleled here with verse 9, "God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him." This helps to explain the oft-cited words of 1 John 2:2. The "whole world" of 1 John 2:2 would carry the same meaning we have already seen: the whole world of Jew and Gentile. The thrust of 1 John 2:2 is that there are more who will experience the benefit of Christ's propitiatory death than just the current Christian communion.[Note 24]The message continues to move out into the world, and as it does so, God draws His elect unto Himself, those that He joined to Jesus Christ so that His death is their death, His resurrection their resurrection. But in none of these passages do we find any reference to a work of Christ that is non-specific and universal with reference to individuals, let alone one that is not perfectly accomplished. God's manifestation of His love does not fail.[Note 25]
Back to You, Dave….
Now as you can see, Dave, I addressed many of your assertions in passing in exegeting this passage. Indeed, you often used the argument in your book, in different forms but always with the same conclusion, "White (or other Calvinist author) ignored/avoided passage X, which shows that they know it contradicts their position, but are afraid to admit it." You said that I did not "even attempt to deal with the unequivocal statement in John 3:17" (p. 271). Well, as you can see above, I have no problems with John 3:17, and actually find it quite confirmatory of the Reformed exegesis of the passage.[Note 26] But just because I do not deal with a passage of Scripture that you see as relevant does not mean I am "avoiding" it. Logically, there are two possibilities: 1) I am ignorant of its relevance (no one knows all there is to know), which would not be "avoidance," or 2) you are in error in thinking that your interpretation of said passage is relevant. In this case, I reject your interpretation of John 3:17, hence, I was not "avoiding" anything at all.
You wrote on page 270,
But White, realizing that such an admission does away with Limited Atonement, manages a desperate end run around John 3:16. He suggests that sound exegesis requires "that whosoever believeth on him should not perish" actually means "in order that everyone believing in him should not perish…." That slight twist allows White to suggest that Calvinism's elect alone believe and thus Christ died only for them.
First, it is again improper of you to call an exegetically sound, reasoned explanation of the Greek text (something you did not offer in your own book) a "desperate end run" nor to call it a "slight twist."[Note 27] I am not desperate, Dave. I can quote my opponents correctly, for example, and I don't have to turn Arminius into a monster just to disagree with his theological conclusions. When I offer a comment on the meaning of a passage, I provide exegetical backing for my statement, as I did above. I would challenge you to provide a scholarly response to the above exegesis, one that does not depend upon misreading non-koine lexicons (as you did in regards to tassw at Acts 13:48, see below) or sandwiching your brief interpretational claims between entire sections of anti-Calvinist rhetoric (as you did in chapter 20, documented above).
Next, you seemed highly confused regarding the meaning of the term kosmos on page 271. Are you asserting it always has the same meaning, especially in John? Surely you know differently. I would suggest that the only reason you choose to mock the identification of world in a way that is outside of your tradition is that your understanding of John 3:16 is so dependent upon that particular understanding that you cannot possibly allow for it to be otherwise. You have not derived the meaning of "world" or "whosoever" you insist upon from the text, but from your tradition, which has become for you equal in authority to the actual text of Scripture.[Note 28]
1 Readers should be reminded that the Reformed interpretation of these verses is also a traditional one. Five hundred years ago, it would have been the Reformed theologian on the receiving end of the words "your view is not the only possible way of reading the words of the Lord Jesus." This is exactly what the Remonstrants told the Calvinists at the Council of Dort, and were excluded from any meaningful contribution to its outcome. The author's use of the word "tradition" here and throughout is nothing more than a smoke screen. Back
2 Interpreting "world" as inclusive of every single individual person is the proper sense in the context, and does no violence to the truth that believers are the beloved of God--the special objects of God's love. The redemptive particularity in the gospel is that believers alone are redeemed from the curse. The idea of "a denial of any particularity in God’s love, even in His redemptive love" exists only in the mind of the Reformed theologian. In the following section, the author argues correctly that the word "whosoever" means "all without distinction in a particular group." It is indeed integral to the verb "believeth" (an articular present active participle), which means that the "whosoever" of John 3:16 is strictly limited to believers. Any attempt to assign a universal meaning to "whosoever" is untenable. This fact, however, does not diminish the idea of an all-inclusive atonement. Back
3 This statement lacks cogency. Is there any indication in the text that the people had considered other choices? In their confrontation with certain death, they had abandoned all hope of any solution outside of what Moses might be able to secure from God through prayer. Back
4 This statement misses the point. There was no population outside of that community with a serpent problem, and no indication is given from the text that all of the Israelites had been bitten. The real point is that God provided a means of deliverance for every one who was suffering from the affliction. Our Lord's analogy, if properly understood, is sufficient in itself to render the TULIP an inept philosophical system. Back
5 This statement is correct. The author stumbles upon the truth here by acknowledging that failure to look in faith upon the God-provided means of healing actually limited the efficaciousness of the provision. This is an indirect and inadvertent admission that some for whom the provision was made (23,000) died without taking the look of faith. Back
6 The author makes an assertion he cannot prove. The NASB is the child of modern textual criticism. Any claims that the Majority Text expanded the original or that the NASB contains the more accurate textual reading is purely subjective. It is unwise to assume that modern textual criticism has produced any translation superior to the Authorized 1611 KJV. One wonders why the author seeks to make this point since it adds nothing to the substance of his argument. Back
7 This comment is disingenuous. The pre-existing tradition, as the author likes to call it, does in fact capture the meaning of "to this extent" or "in this manner". I have never heard an evangelical expositor of any stripe disassociate the adverb "so" from the verb "gave" as an expression of sentimentalism. The manner of the love is inseparable from the magnitude of the gift! The author simply misrepresents the facts here. Back
8 Calvinism has no claim on this position. There are thousands of sound Bible expositors that reject the TULIP theory altogether who would agree wholeheartedly that God has purposed to give life eternal to all who believe. Thus far there is nothing remotely Calvinistic about the author's attempt at exegesis except the idea of provision for a limited population, which we have already shown to be of no practical importance. Back
9 A false assertion! In John 3:16, the Lord Jesus absolutely defined the extent of the kosmos as the world of the perishing--a world consisting of all who are afflicted by sin and its curse. Only the biased exegete could overlook this most obvious truth. The real issue, however, is whether the context of John 3:16 restricts or limits the extent of kosmos in any way. The assertion that John 3:16 does not define the extent of kosmos is nothing more than a subtle yet futile attempt to limit the group for whom a means of deliverance was provided--a limit disallowed by Jesus Himself in the wilderness illustration! Is there any reason why kosmos should be understood in any way other than the whole of humanity (Jews and Gentiles) unless the context clearly restricts it? Since nothing in the context restricts the meaning, it should be taken in its normal sense. John 3:16 marks the sixth usage of kosmos in this gospel. Nothing in the five previous usages (1:9-10, 29) restricts the meaning. However, the TULIP theologian must restrict its meaning any way he can so he can read that meaning back into 1:29, thus limiting to the elect the sin that the Lamb of God was taking away. The entire TULIP system collapses if "world" (kosmos) is inclusive of all men without exception. Back
10 This argument has no merit. John 17 is a high priestly prayer, and no one would expect the High Priest of believers to intercede for unbelievers in this capacity. The fact is Jesus prayed for those who would believe on Him through their word, all of whom were part of the world at the time, including the apostle Paul (17:20). In 17:21, he prays for unity, so that the world may believe that the Father had sent Him--a prayer for the salvation of the world through the unity and testimony of His disciples. In 17:23, Jesus reiterates the petition for unity, so that the world may know that the Father had sent Him. The relationship is one of object and indirect object. Believers are the direct object of our Lord's prayer. The world is the indirect object as they are directly affected by action (or prayer answered) in the object. On another occasion, Jesus prayed for the worldlings who crucified him, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). It is apparent at this point that the author suffers from a certain blindness created by his own tradition. Back
11 What we have in I John 2:15-17 is a usage of kosmos that speaks of the system of organized evil over which the devil presides without regard for its human subjects. Jesus did not die for a system, but for sinners entrapped within the system. The logic employed by the author, if believed, would curtail immediately all evangelistic effort, and would potentially make love for the lost a sin. Why? Because the evangelist might possibly find himself laboring in love over one for whom Jesus had no love nor any intention to love. Moreover, Jesus loved a rich man who rejected His word, and no evidence exists that he ever became a believer--Mark 10:21-22. This man was most certainly in the kosmos of John 3:16. Paul told the Colossians that prior to faith in Christ they were aliens and enemies in their minds by wicked works--1:21. They were arrayed against God as part of the world. What is obvious and certain is that there is nothing obvious or certain about the author's conclusions. He is desperately attempting to lay a spurious groundwork for a world that equates to the world of elect. Back
12 We have already shown that the author's "exegesis" has significant blind spots due to his own tradition, and that reading a universal view of humanity into John 3:16 is entirely warranted. As a typical Reformed theologian, the author blunders in failing to distinguish between the provision and its appropriation. Jesus made the distinction absolutely clear! The fact that not all are saved by faith in Christ simply means that many for whom the provision was made died in their sins due to failure to appropriate the provision. Again, the author knows that if the kosmos in John 3:16 includes all men without exception, the TULIP is dead--period! Back
13 The author now assumes as fact that which he has failed to prove, and states his belief that God saves all whom He loves and all for whom he provided a means of deliverance, implying that those who die in unbelief and endure eternal punishment were never loved in the first place. This statement violates the Numbers 21:5ff analogy employed by Jesus. It also suggests that the only people who died of snakebite were those who were bitten before the means of deliverance was provided, and that no one died after the provision was made (i.e., all who were bitten believed). The passage does not support such conjecture, especially since 23,000 died without any reference to the provision's unavailability. But if such was the case, the analogy could be ridiculously stretched to teach that after Christ died on the Cross (i.e., after the provision was made), the only people that God reckoned as sinners (i.e., bitten by the deadly affliction of sin) were the elect, for it would be impossible for any to perish for whom the provision was made. This much is certain! If so much as one Israelite died of snakebite after the brazen serpent was raised and offered as a means of healing, the TULIP is dead! Back
14 There is no question that, in the mind of Nicodemus, the word kosmos would have immediately prompted the idea of Gentile in addition to Jew. But it is absurd to argue that Nicodemus thought in terms of a limited number of Jews, and that the introduction of the word kosmos suggested in his mind a limited number of Gentiles as well. What this 'general use' would have suggested to both Nicodemus and the original readers is Jews and Gentiles without regard for limitations. Any attempt to restrict the scope of kosmos in John 3:16 is evidence of doctrinal bias looking for a manufactured proof text. Back
15 Nor is there any phrase or term that indicates a universal inability to believe. The Numbers 21:5ff passage, as used by Jesus, makes it abundantly clear that any and every man who was snake bitten had the ability to look upon the means of deliverance. The fact is no man can believe except God enable him. There are tens of thousands of TULIP-rejecting Biblicists like myself who would deny any ability in a lost man to believe on the Lord Jesus apart from grace! Back
16 The reader will notice that the author offers no examples or instances to validate this statement. Back
17 The author is handling the Greek rather loosely here. Just what does it mean to believe once? Are we to assume that the New Testament never uses the aorist tense to describe the act of believing in a genuinely saved person? In the first five chapters of John, there are at least six usages of the aorist tense with the verbs receive and believe to describe genuine believers. In John 1:12, both the aorist ("as many as received him") and the present participle ("even to them that believe on his name") are used together to describe true believers. After the water to wine miracle at Cana of Galilee, the disciples of Jesus believed (aorist) on him--John 2:11. The clearest use of believe in the aorist tense as applied to false believers is at the end of chapter two, and this usage was by John the writer, not Jesus (2:25). In Ephesians 1:13, the phrase "after that ye believed" is an aorist active participle. The Ephesians were neither false believers nor passive in the exercise of faith! Again, it is always wise to question the motivation of any expositor who attempts to correct the plain English with the 'original' Greek in order to support a doctrinal position! Back
18 The author is correct regarding the dominant use of the articular present nominative participle to describe saving faith. Regarding those given to the Son by the father, this is a correct analysis as long as it is understood that the Father gives to the Son those who believe. The Father gives them because they believe. They are drawn in order that they might believe, and given upon a resolute faith that keeps on believing. The reason why they keep on believing is because the Son commits Himself to them--John 2:24, and prays for them that their faith will not fail--Luke 22:32. The verb giveth in 6:37 is a present participle. Jesus is describing a current process with a durative element. The Father was in the process of giving those who were believing. The verb hath given in 6:39 is a perfect tense signifying a completed action with abiding results. In the second usage, Jesus describes all of those who had already been given up to that moment. The interpretation that arises naturally from the passage is that the Father will continue giving to the Son in durative fashion as men continue to believe on the Son. After the initial gift is made in response to faith, it can be said that believers are a permanent gift to the Son, and that none of those given should be lost. This is the Father's will! There is nothing in the John 6 passage to suggest that the giving took place at any point prior to faith. Back
19 What Greek grammar justifies this meaning for the perfect tense? The perfect tense signifies a past action in a state of completion or abiding state. Depending on the context, the speaker may be in the present looking at former actions that produced the present state of completion, or looking ahead to the results that can be expected from the current state (A. T. Robertson). While the phrase "not awaiting a future fulfillment" does convey the idea of permanence, it is a rather ambiguous way of describing the essence of the perfect tense. Back
20 What the author is suggesting with the perfect tense argument is that God has never considered believers, without regard for when they believe, to be unbelievers. Therefore they have never been under wrath and condemnation. This is supralapsarianism at its logical end. It is also unbiblical. The Ephesians were the children of wrath before they believed--Ephesians 2:3. Handling the truth in such a manner is necessary for the Calvinist because John 3:36 states that those who remain in a state of unbelief shall not see life. If faith is an absolute requisite to life, as both Jesus and the two Johns affirm, then the false doctrine of regeneration before faith is rightfully defunct, as are the five points of Calvinism. So the Reformed theologian, in order to dodge the bullet fired by John the apostle, asserts that believers have never been reckoned as unbelievers. This is not a position taken by all who regard themselves as Calvinists. The perfect tenses as used by the Lord are best understood to stress the abiding results of a life of unbelief from the perspective of Jesus as he speaks to Nicodemus in the present. Jesus was teaching that unbelievers, with regard to both their practice and state, are as unbelieving and condemned as they will ever be. As long as they persist in unbelief, their state will not change! It would be quite difficult to argue that Jesus was teaching the irreversibility of unbelief and the resultant state of condemnation. The manner in which Paul described the Ephesians prior to the exercise of faith validates that difficulty. Back
21 This is a spurious argument! Is the author willing to be consistent with this use of the 'adversative hina clause'? According to A. T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, the subjunctive is the mode of "doubtful assertion" or "doubtful statement" and expresses the idea of "probability" (A New Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 309). In his own Greek grammar, W. H. Davis says, "the indicative is the mode of definite assertion. It is used to affirm positively, definitely, absolutely, undoubtingly...The indicative states a thing as true. The subjunctive is a mode of doubtful statement, of hesitating affirmation, of contingency" (Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 74). The hina clause with the subjunctive mode is by far the most common New Testament vehicle for expressing purpose. In some contexts, it can suggest a high level of probability, but seldom, if ever, absolute certainty of purpose. Is the author suggesting that the addition of the Greek adversative alla in connection with the hina purpose clause somehow raises the level of intent from contingency to certainty? The author might have provided a few examples of its usage to express unfailing certainty of purpose (if they in fact exist) in making his argument. But the problem here is two-fold. First, the author has failed in his argument to limit the scope of kosmos. Secondly, he applies an alleged grammatical rule to a verse where an unproven assumption is treated as fact. The following passages, all of which represent Jesus speaking, literally bury the author's assertion. To the Jews who were seeking to kill Him, Jesus said, "But I receive not testimony from man: but (adversative) these things I say, that (hina clause) ye might be saved (subjunctive)--John 5:34. Was every hostile Jew within hearing range of that statement certainly saved? Probably not. How about the raising of Lazarus? Jesus said, "And I knew that thou hearest me always: but (adversative) because of the people which stand by I said it, that (hina clause) they may believe (subjunctive) that thou hast sent me"--John 11:42. Does this mean that every bystander that heard Jesus pray believed after they saw the miracle? Probably not. Here's the clincher! Jesus said, "And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but (adversative) to save (hina clause with subjunctive) the world"--John 12:47. Does this mean that Jesus will certainly save all unbelieving hearers in spite of their unbelief? Absolutely not! In John 12:47, Jesus included unbelieving hearers in the kosmos he came to save! It is also undeniable that the unbelieving hearers for whom Jesus died will be eternally lost ! Can there be any doubt that Jesus also considered the unbelieving and condemned of John 3:18 to be a part of the kosmos he loved and came to save? The words of Jesus in 12:47 are the true parallel passage to John 3:16-17. What we have here with the author's 'adversative hina clause' argument is a selective application of a questionable grammatical principle to support a biased interpretation of a purported proof text. It is far more likely that the usage of this clause by Jesus in 5:34, 11:42, and 12:47 is the established and grammatically correct sense of the subjunctive with an adversative hina clause, and that Jesus used it consistently in each instance. John 12:47 is a window into the mind of Christ, and demonstrates that the five points of Calvinism, which includes the Reformed interpretation of John 3:16, never has had nor ever will have His endorsement! Again, It is always wise to question the motivation of any expositor who attempts to correct plain English with Greek in order to support a doctrinal position! Back
22 The author makes a presumptuous and unwarranted extrapolation. No one would argue that the world consists of all kinds of men--tribes, tongues, people, and nations. The group in Revelation 5:9, however, is not the world, but those who were redeemed out of the world. Back
23 The Christian fellowship is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles. Moreover, the author is not comparing scripture with scripture, but apples with oranges. Jesus was addressing a lost Jewish leader. John was writing to born again believers. It is expected that the author would sound identical themes. But reading the world of believers back into the world for whom Jesus died in John 3:16 does violence to the words of Christ. We have already shown that John 12:47 is the true parallel text to John 3:17. Back
24 I John 2:2 is 'oft-cited' for good reason. John's use of ours in referring to himself and his audience is obviously meant to include all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, without regard for time in which they lived. By the time John wrote his first epistle, many believers were already asleep in the Lord. These were certainly included in ours, as would have been those who were yet to live and believe. The same phrase the whole world is used in I John 5:19, and is described as that which lieth in wickedness. Here John juxtaposes we (who are of God) with the whole world (which lies in wickedness). What intellectually honest expositor would argue that the whole world of I John 5:19 is limited to the elect among Jews and Gentiles who are still unbelievers. Calvin himself argued that "under the term world, the Apostle no doubt includes the whole human race." But Calvin, like the author, contradicts himself by denying to the world world of 2:2 the same meaning as that found in 5:19. There can be 'no doubt' that John used the phrase identically on both occasions. Unbiased exegesis requires the same meaning for both. This is another instance where the Reformed theologian lives or dies by meaning of the world (in this case the whole world), and must restrict its meaning at any cost for his system to survive. Back
25 As stated previously, in none of these passages do we find any reference to a work of Christ that is limited or restricted in scope except by the unbelief of those for whom the means of deliverance was provided. The 'adversative hina clause' argument itself proves that God's desire to save the world is not perfectly accomplished. It is, however, accomplished perfectly in them that believe! The love that Jesus manifested to the rich man in Mark 10:21-22 did not produce a conversion. Back
26 That fact that the author considers his remarks confirmatory of the Reformed exegesis is enough evidence for any serious Bible student to abandon the TULIP immediately. Back
27 The author is correct in admonishing Hunt for this unsubstantiated remark, which is in itself indicative of desperation and a certain degree of ignorance. We have already shown (in agreement with the author) that the width and breadth of whosoever is strictly limited to the ones who are believing. However, we have also shown that this in no way restricts the scope of the atonement. The fact is believers are the elect, and the elect are believers. Back
28 The author concludes with another false assertion. Most students of Scripture would acknowledge that kosmos can have several shades of meaning depending on the context. The problem with the author's approach is confusing the rule with the exception. There are many places where world implies every living soul--Jew and Gentile without distinction or exception--which is the normal sense unless the context dictates another. John 3:16 is one of those places.
As we said earlier, the 'blinded by tradition' allegation made by the author is nothing more than an attempt to demagogue and intimidate the uninformed. Jesus absolutely defined the meaning of kosmos in the context! The kosmos of which He spoke to Nicodemus was the world of the perishing! The world of the perishing and the world of the elect (or believers) are two distinctly different worlds. Jesus absolutely defined the extent of the kosmos in John 3:16-17 with His statements in John 12:47, including within that kosmos, which was the object of His love, all who hear His words and reject them. The author's Reformed interpretation of John 3:14-18 should therefore be rejected. Apparently it has become for him equal in authority to the actual text of Scripture. Back