Saturday, November 17, 2007

Response to McBee on John 3:16


With respect, I think that Mr. McBee (aka “SDM”) seems to have misidentified the point I was trying to make. Perhaps this is because I was too brief. I certainly do not believe, and do not wish to suggest, that Mr. McBee intentionally misrepresented me. On the other hand, each time Mr. McBee wrote “Turretinfan’s position is,” I think he missed the position. Allow me to elaborate.

The Point Restated
Christ died for the express purpose of saving the elect. The point of citing John 3:16 was to point out the third phrase, “ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται,” that is in Latin “ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat” fairly literally rendered “so-that-would all the believing-ones (in him) not perish,” more casually “so that all who believe in him would not perish” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.”

The rest, the question of what does the word kosmos mean, and so forth is all secondary. It is important, but it is secondary. The first thing to understand from the phrase is that God is explaining purpose. The phrase is a so-called “hina” phrase, called because it is introduced by “ινα” (typically pronounced “hina”) as can be seen above.

In this case, the hina phrase is connected to and is explained by the preceding phrase. The preceding phrase is “ωστε τον υιον αυτου τον μονογενη εδωκεν” in Latin “ut Filium suum unigenitum daret” fairly literally rendered “so (the-[one-who-is]) son his (the-[one-who-is]) onlybegotton he-gave” or more casually “so he gave up his onlybegotten son,” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “that he gave his only begotten Son.”

In other words, grammatically, the feature of all the believers being saved is linked to the feature of God giving His only begotten Son. From the structure of the sentence we can see that the reason why God gave his Son, was to save all the believers.

Finally, of course, the “hoste” (ωστε) similarly connects to the phrase that goes before it. The phrase before it is “ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον” which in Latin is “sic enim dilexit Deus mundum” and can be fairly literally translated “in-this-way for he-loved (the) God (the) world” or more casually “for God loved the world thus” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “For God so loved the world.”

This starts the thought, while showing that the thought is providing an illustration of the thought that precedes it. The “For … God loved the world” connects to the preceding thought, while the “thus” tells us that an explanation follows. As seen above, this explanation is two-fold. First, God gave his onlybegotten Son. And Second, God gave him for the purpose of saving all the believers.

It’s not particularly important to my argument to define the word “world.” Does it mean “the world of the elect” as some have said, or just “men” or perhaps “the natural/created order”? It doesn’t particularly matter for the argument that I’m making positively.

The point is that the verse makes the gift’s purpose clear: to save believers. My point is that this verse is evidence of the fact that such was Christ’s purpose. His purpose always to save the believers, all of the believers, and – while the verse does not say so explicitly – only the believers.

If we had only John 3:17’s comment: “but that the world through him might be saved,” the question would be open, and we’d have to really dig in to figure out what “world” means. Not so with verse 16. Verse 16 is specific. And we have verse 18 as well, which explains that the “believers-in-him” are not condemned, whereas the “unbelievers-in-him” are already condemned.

Now, I would not take the position “God so loved the world, that is, the elect of the world, that He sent His Son.” Why not? There are two reasons: (1) it uses the word “world” equivocally, and (2) the point of the verse is simply: God so loved the kosmos, that He sent His Son to save the elect.

Ok, but what does “Kosmos” mean?
SDM noted that kosmos has a variety of meaning. I would respectfully disagree with one of his claims. He cited Mark 16:15 as being a case of when kosmos means “all of humanity.” Mark 16:15 uses kosmos to mean the actual earth (geo-politically). In fact, with respect, I think SDM would be hard pressed in any of the about 150 verses (or about 180 uses) that use the word kosmos in the New Testament to come up with even one that clearly uses the word to mean all humanity, and not simply the actual world, or the natural/created (sometimes considered as fallen) order generally. Even if SDM could come up with a few such examples, I think SDM would have to admit that the dominant usage in the New Testament and in other ancient philosophical material is of the actual world or the created/natural order.

In other words, I would respectfully submit that using the word as SDM does is mostly based on a philosophical presupposition that SDM brings with him to the text, not based on something in the word itself.

I would expand on what SDM said. In Scripture, kosmos ordinarily is a broad term that conveys a sense of expansiveness. It ordinarily does not carry an exhaustive sense. We use “all” this way frequently (and “world” sometimes) in common parlance. It’s a form of hyperbole. The statement: “He has traveled through the whole world (or all over the world),” means he is a globe-trotter, not that there is no stone his soles have not touched. This too will be significant as we proceed.

SDM, however, wrote: “Turretinfan’s position is that this term, world or “kosmos”, means “elect”.” That’s not quite an accurate representation. I don’t take the position that the word means that, but I think that the word – in context – does refer primarily to the elect as a global group. In other words, the “world” contrasted with just the Jews like Nicodemeus the Pharisee to whom Jesus was speaking. We’ll see how this is true, as we proceed. But this misunderstanding (I assume it is not an intentional straw man), leads to most of SDM’s counter-arguments being irrelevant.

Unraveling SDM’s Counter-Presentation
SDM’s position is fairly clear: to SDM “the world” is composed of two groups: those who will believe and those who won’t. SDM states this position, but I think if we examine his explanation closely we’ll see he hasn’t actually establish this position with exegesis.

SDM indicates that in his view the verse starts by treating one group, each and every person, in the phrase “God so loved the world.” SDM claims that John then turns to another group “those believing will not perish.” SDM correctly notes that this term is implies that there is another group, the unbelievers who will perish. SDM then asserts that those two groups make up the original group of the world.

Based on those premises, SDM concludes that to make “the world” = “the elect” would create a problem, because some of the elect would be unbelievers that perish. The problem, of course, is not in the logic, but in the premises. Specifically, the problem is in assuming that “the believing ones who will not perish” i.e. the elect, is intended to be a sub-category of “world.”

From the grammatical/exegetical analysis we saw above, there is no particular need to make the believing ones a sub-category of the “world.” In fact, it would be more natural to assume that “the believing ones” is a more precise way of expressing the same thing as what is intended by “the world.” Alternatively, we may simply conclude that “world” is a reference to the Creation generally (the natural/created order), and that the phrase about God’s love for what he made is to be understood specifically by his expression of that love: giving his Son for the elect.

To borrow SDM’s Texas analogy, it would be a bit like saying: “I love Texas; so, I moved to Texas and married a lass from Galveston.” Such a comment would not suggest that the speaker plans to play the field with other Texan women, or that his love for Texan women generally is equal to that of his bride. Furthermore, if the same man said that “I didn’t come to Texas to visit, but to live there,” no one would suppose that the speaker meant that he was going to live in every town in Texas, or that he might not visit Dallas or Houston from time to time, but would understand that he lives in Texas by living in a particular town in Texas, and is wed to Texas by his marriage to the particular Galveston gal, not to every woman who lives there. We also wouldn’t assume from his “I love Texas,” that he necessarily likes the desert, the beach, the Rio Grande river, Dallas Fort-Worth airport, or Dr. Pepper, whether or not those are a part of Texas. We let people speak in general terms, and we should give Scripture the same flexibility.

Yes, but what about John 12:47?
SDM appeals to John 12:47, which – of course – is not part of the immediate context. Nevertheless, it uses some similar terms, so we should examine it, as well as the other corresponding Johanine passages.

John 12:47 has its own context, which I’ll show below:
John 12:46-50
46I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. 47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

It seems to me that if “the world” just means the created order generally, and not all men exhaustively, then the passage makes more sense. Specifically, verse 46 would seem to be a bit odd, for it appears to refer to Christ’s incarnation: his coming into the world, not his coming into the hearts of each and every person.

On the other hand, if we view the word “world” the same way in verse 46 and verse 47, then Christ’s statement is easily understood: he’s here to save the created order not to judge it. That is to say, He’s here as a Savior, not a Judge. He immediately points out, though, that his words do judge those who reject them, because he speaks the words of the Father who sent him, namely the commandments of eternal life.

And John 12:47/John 3:17 is not the only place to find this concept. The same concept also can be found in the fist chapter of John:

John 1:9-14
9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Now, unlike John 12, John 1 is the preceding context (even if somewhat removed) of John 3. A reader who is reading John’s gospel (or hearing it read) will have heard this by the time he gets to John 3. How does John 1 use the term “world.” It uses it in the sense of the created order, but it also uses it as a broader term to another group: “his own,” which the reader will soon discover are the Jews.

Indeed, we see this same theme in John 3:10-11, repeated just before the verses we are discussing:
John 3:10-11
10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

Notice the switch in address from simply Nicodemus (thou … knowest not) to Israel generally or especially the Jewish leaders (ye receive not). “Thou” is singular, but “ye” is plural. Thus, as promised above, we can see that the use of the word “world” as a broad term to indicate more-than-just-Jewish-people is both supported by the precedent set in chapter 1, and the confirming context in verses 10-11.

It’s worth pointing out that Jesus makes similar claims to be the light of the world and the Savior of those who follow him (the light), several times before John 12:

John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(the precipitates an argument with the Pharisees over whether this is just Jesus’ say-so, which Jesus denies, saying that the Father bears witness to the truth of his testimony, but then turns the tables on them, explaining why they do not understand and follow him, that is to say, why they do not see the light, compare Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 4:4)

Or again:

John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

(this context is pretty interesting, because Jesus demonstrates how people see the light by curing the blindness of the man born blind, which is a picture of our spiritual blindness before regeneration)

And again:

John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

(this context is interesting too, because Jesus immediately goes and raises Lazarus from the dead, which is another picture of our spiritual deadness before regeneration)

So also, even if we simply go beyond John 3:18, and get the further explanation in the subsequent verses, we see:

John 3:19-21
19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

In other words, the light shining in the world condemns (demonstrates the guilt of) those who hide, but justifies (demonstrates the righteousness of) those who come. It’s an amazing light: first we see our sin, then we see our Savior, and then we come to God in our Savior’s righteousness.

Christ is that light. He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to raise the spiritually dead, and to save them from their sins through faith in himself. He came to save them, he did not come to save the reprobate.

Yes, but what about the Brass Serpent?
The serpent is not quite the analogy that SDM was looking for. Let’s look quickly at the entire original account, since it is short:

Numbers 21:4-9
4And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

SDM claims that this is “a direct parallel … [if] you looked, you were saved, if you didn’t look, you died.” Actually, though, the original passage doesn’t make any mention of anyone not looking and dying. That’s not really the parallel at all.

The parallel is two-fold. First, like the serpent, Jesus will be crucified (“as Moses lifted up the serpent … so must the Son of man be lifted up” – see also John 8:28 and John 12:32-33). Second, the point is that in crucifixion, Christ will save those he is intended to save.

I think SDM misreads Numbers 21:8. That verse says: “every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live.” And then the next verse explains, “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” Now, there clearly are some translational differences between SDM’s and mine, but the point of the passage is actually that God is providing salvation to the people who repented of their grumbling against God and prayed to Him. The sense is “everyone who is bitten will live, when he sees the brass serpent,” and “when anyone got bit by a serpent, he looked to the brass serpent, and lived.” There’s really nothing here about a foolish group of Israelites that refused to look at the brass serpent, and consequently died.

Instead, the point is that for those upon whom God had mercy, he provided a serpent, and they looked (everyone and “any man” “if a serpent had bitten” him) and lived.

There’s also no discussion about the serpent being a provision for anyone’s idolatry (after all, they were being punished for grumbling not idolatry), nor being a provision either generally for a particular category of sin, or for the specific sins of the people. Instead, the serpent pictured the punishment, not the crime. Even so, Christ died for our sins, on the cross. On the cross he was punished in our place. Our sins were nailed to the cross, and taken away. We can see from the rest of the law, that atonement was not simply made for categories of sins, but I fear that such a discussion will get us away from the text we are currently debating, and this post is long enough as it is.

Yes, but what about Calvin, Davenport, Ryle, and Dabney?
For now, I’m going to stick with what the text of Scripture says, not the meta-debate about whether Calvin (or the others) was a Calvinist as defined by Article 21 of Belgic Confession; the Second Main Pint of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordt; or Chapter 8, paragraph 8, of both the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646.

The point is that God provided salvation for his people: that is the gem of his love for the Creation. Thus, Christ is the savior of Creation, or to put it more specifically, the elect. That’s what Scripture says, and that’s what we believe.

N.B. I believe this post has already been published elsewhere as part of a debate that was, at the time, on-going with SDM. I have republished it here, simply for convenience.

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