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Monday, November 02, 2009

“Receive”? “Believe”? Coming to the Light

Part of a series of articles by Dr. Jim Reitman

(modified 11/30/09)

It is soooo obvious in the narrative flow of John’s Gospel that Nicodemus (Nic) came to Jesus at night. Most commentators point out the significance of light-dark imagery in John but fall short of drawing out the narrative implications of this imagery in setting the stage for his exposition of the “mechanics” of “believing” in 3:16. Building on my previous post, I will explore these implications in John 3:16-21 as it builds on the significant portion of the Prologue John gives over to introducing Christ as the Light (1:4-13). Reading with narrative lenses, we find in 1:4-5 a double entendre in which God has commissioned and “sent” two “John’s” to introduce Jesus as the Light: In the same way John the Baptist (JB) presented him to the nation Israel John the Apostle now presents him to the world that “God so loved.” Nicodemus is a prototypical Jewish representative of “his own” (1:11) and thus plays the prototypical role in John’s gospel of humanity’s “reception” of Jesus—or not—when he came into the world (1:9-12).

How does John’s light-dark imagery “shed light” on the mechanics of faith in a 3-D gospel? We will discover that Jesus’ earthly ministry as Light is a prototype for the Holy Spirit’s ministry of “enlightening” the world at the level of conscience about “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (16:11) after Jesus returns to the Father. How is “receiving” related to “believing”? Is it just a matter of “passive” persuasion of the truth of Jesus’ claims, or does it involve “active” volition, or both? What is the intended result of this “reception” of God’s gift, as those who receive it continue “believing” in him (3:16, cf. 1:12)? This post will explore what it means for persons to respond to that Light by “receiving” Jesus—or not (1:11-12)—when people are confronted, just like Nicodemus, with Jesus’ offer of Life. This is fleshed out in the dynamics of “response” to Jesus in the stories of Nicodemus (3:16-21), the woman at the well (4:10-24), and the typical Jewish leaders of the day (5:32-47).

Light Leads to Life
The Prologue of John sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel. The theological seeds “planted” in the Prologue take root and grow throughout the book. Among the key themes in the Gospel are light and life, but this may be clouded by really awkward tense shifts in 1:4-5 (so in NIV): “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (1:4) leads to “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood/overcome it (1:5). The same switcheroo then occurs in 1:11-12 in reverse order. (Warning: Greek grammar ahead :); if you want to ignore it just fast-forward to the next paragraph.) Not only does the second verb in 1:5 shift to the Greek aorist tense but this verb has a wide range of meaning: to “comprehend,” “overcome,” or “appropriate, make one’s own.” The first two senses don’t seem to fit as well as the third, yet most translations pick from the first two. Moreover, the Greek aorist is commonly translated as “past” time in English, but it is the type of action, more than the time, that differs between the Greek present and aorist. Thus, “shining” is to be seen as continuous action, whereas the next verb conveys a singular action, irrespective of time. I thus render the verse, The light is shining in the darkness, but the darkness did/does not appropriate it. Viewed in light of the double entendre in 1:6, the aorist tense denotes the response of “darkness” to both JB in the past and the Apostle in the present. There is then a wordplay of aorist verbs in 1:5 and 1:11-12: The Greek “to appropriate” (katalambanō) in 1:5 is a prefixed form of “to receive” (lambanō) in 1:11-12, where a similar juxtaposition of present and aorist tenses is again found: “But as many as received/receive him [1:11-12, singular action], to them he gave/gives the right [singular action] to become children of God—to the ones believing in his name [present, ongoing action]” (1:12, my translation). In fact, the entire pericope (1:4-13) is chiastic, with the center of the chiasm at 1:9. I propose that this places the overall focus on the relationship of conscience to light received.

So, what’s John trying to say in 1:4-13? The Light came to give life to men through new birth from God (1:4, 13): The Light continues to shine in a “darkness” that collectively resists [one-time] appropriation (1:5), yet people individually [one-time] receive that Light to [one-time] become children of God and [continue to] believe in his name (1:12). This “resisted” process is described in 1:6-11: God sent both “Johns” to bear witness of Messiah to the nation Israel and the entire world, respectively (1:6-8); as Israel goes, so goes the world—an echo of Abraham’s commission to “be a blessing” wherever he goes (Gen 12:1-3). As the Light comes into the world he “enlightens” [ongoing] every man (1:9) in a process that involves “awakening” a conscience dulled by “darkness” to its intuitive awareness of: death from sin, the offer of everlasting life, and the provision of a ransom to secure that life. (See the previous post regarding the role of conscience in mediating these “awarenesses.”) So, even though “his own” (the nation Israel) neither knew/know (1:10) nor accepted/accept the Messiah (1:11), the “light” still results in new life when individuals accept him as God’s gift and as a result are “birthed” by God Himself (1:12-13, cf. 1:4, 9).

Darkness or Light? What’ll It Be, Nic? (Grab It While You Can)
This backdrop from the Prologue really helps elucidate some otherwise difficult concepts in John 3:16-21. If God seeks “children to birth” (1:13), then “Nic at night” is our “poster child” for individuals from both Israel and the world whom God by His “light” invites out of darkness to be “born from above” and become children of God (1:12-13; 3:3-7)—they are to “receive the light,” which involves “believing” (1:12; 3:16). That is, the gift of God’s one-of-a-kind Son is to be appropriated as a one-time acceptance of the Light (1:4) by individuals who believe and then continue believing (1:12; 3:16, present tense). Nic’s encounter with Jesus then explains how this “ongoing” believing is so that they may “emerge” from their darkness and condemnation to “do” truth in the light as agents of God (3:16-21, present tense). This really helps inform a Free Grace soteriology to see the eternal destiny of “those who believe in him” as completely secure in a singular act of volition yet continuing to believe in order to complete Jesus’ mission in the world—to do the “works of God” (3:21; 4:34; 5:36; 6:28-29; 9:3-4; 10:25, 32, 37; 14:10, 12).

It all depends on what we do with the Light: Nic (like all humanity) is “on the bubble.” So, if we want Life, we’d better grab the Light while we can and to become “sons of light,” as Jesus concludes in his final urgent plea in 12:35-46. Nic’s hesitation represents humanity in general in mirroring the resistance portended in the Prologue (1:5-11): He considers Jesus but doesn’t want to be exposed by the light (3:20). Why this fear of exposure? Nic wants the truth but is intuitively aware that he can’t handle the truth (= “light”) because of his own failure to really obey Torah so he comes to Jesus at night to see if he can “have his cake and eat it too.” That is, he wants to have life in Messiah without having to give up depending on the easier Pharisaic version of the Law. So what’s the solution? It’s about responding to conviction at the three levels of “intuitive awareness” (3:16-21, contemporary paraphrase):
You want eternal life? It’s faith alone in Christ alone. You’re a son of Abraham—go back to Torah, dude: blood atonement. Will you receive the gift that God gave you in blood, believing, just as Abraham accepted the ram (3:16)? [See previous post “Promise Only?” under “The Cross of Christ”] The Son was sent into the world to save it (3:17), but you’ve got to identify with this one-of-a-kind Messiah by believing if you want to avoid dying as a result of sin (3:18). Oh, is there a problem? Too much light (3:20)? You knew intuitively that your own deeds stink in the nostrils of the Father—they really are evil (3:19)—but you still want it both ways. God wants your deeds to bear witness that He is your Father, so they have to be done in the light to reflect that truth (3:21). So, what’ll it be Nic, darkness or the Light? It’s your call, dude.

If this connection in John between “light” and conscience-mediated intuitive awareness seems “forced” to the reader, it is quite explicit in his First Epistle, where God is first described as “light,” and “walking in the light” awakens the conscience to the need for confession and cleansing of sin in order to sustain fellowship with him (1 Jn 1:5-2:11). It is even more explicit in 1 Jn 3:18-24, where true obedience to the mandate to love the brethren “in deed and truth” is tested in a conscience exposed to God. This same conscience-mediated function of “light” is the point of departure for John to explore the mechanics of “coming to the light” in the narrative of the woman at the well and Jesus’ ensuing Sabbath controversy with the Jewish leaders. Thus, as we leave Nic “on the bubble of volition” (3:16-21), the two diametrically opposed prototypical responses to the Light that were initially introduced in the Prologue (1:11-12) are now fleshed out in two real live stories: the woman at the well (4:10-24), and the typical Jewish leaders of the day (5:32-47).

Coming to the Light: The Role of Volition in John 4–5
There is a back-room debate going on within the FG movement as to whether volition is at all in view in the “saving transaction.” Those on one side point to the non-volitional nature of belief in propositions: If you are convinced of the truth of something, you can’t “choose” not to believe it. While this logic is of itself basically sound it cannot explain the dilemma exemplified by Nic by the end of the dialogue (3:21). Was Nic persuaded that Jesus was Messiah? I am convinced he was. Did he have eternal life at that point? The narrative leaves us hanging. If he did not accept the gift of Jesus as ransom for his sin (3:14-16), then he did not have eternal life. If he still wanted “life” from his works or blood heritage as a son of Abraham (which is precisely the issue in John 8) and wasn’t willing to come to the Light, lest his deeds be exposed, then he wasn’t accepting the ransom…not yet. It’s faith alone in Christ alone. So, John then relates two more stories to flesh out the desired response: the woman at the well (John 4) and the Sabbath controversy with the Jews who wanted to kill him (John 5).

Some suggest that the woman came to the well to draw water at mid-day because she was ashamed of her reputation, and it was less likely that she would be “exposed” in the heat of day since others would be less likely to come out for water. I think the immediately preceding narrative of Nic at night gives the lie to this view. She was not at all afraid to engage yet another man—a Jew, no less (4:27), readily acknowledging her sin as she comes for “water” in the full light of day (4:15-19). Up until that point, her encounter is analogous to that of Nic at night: Jesus wastes no time bringing up the need for “living water” (4:10, cf. 3:5), she initially confuses the natural for the supernatural (4:11-12, cf. 3:4), and Jesus offers her the “gift of God” which brings everlasting life (4:10, 13-14, cf. 3:16). However, while Nic is hesitant, the Samaritan woman is immediately willing to accept the gift (4:15), even after her deeds are exposed (4:16-18, cf. 3:19-20). She concedes the supernatural evidence attesting Jesus’ authority and like Nic seeks his teaching on truth (4:19-20, cf. 3:2) but she concedes the key aim of glorifying God in spirit and truth (4:21-24, cf. 3:21). The moment she recognizes the “named” Messiah (4:25-26), she abandons her waterpot at the well since she no longer needs it—she has the living water (4:28). The text does not even attest the woman’s faith, yet the evidence of her birth from above is tangible: Having “come to the light,” she so effectively “does truth” in the light (4:29, cf. 3:21), that quite a few Samaritans are saved by believing through her testimony (4:39-42), an ironic model for the disciples of doing the work of the Father (4:34-38).

In the case of the woman at the well, she had already exercised her volition the moment she was willing to accept living water, so “the light goes on” the moment she identifies the “named” Messiah: She instinctively leaves her waterpot at the well; no further “decision” is needed, for she is already justified (cf. 3:18a). In the case of the Jewish leaders, they have the light (5:35) but are not willing to come to him (5:40) or receive him (5:43); they exercised their volition, so they were already condemned (cf. 3:18b-20), as attested by their rejection of the testimony of John the Baptist and the promises of Scripture (5:32-47). It seems clear that volition is involved at both extremes of response to the light exemplified by these two stories in John 4 and 5, just as the Prologue had insinuated (1:5, 11-12). But it seems equally clear that recognizing the “named” Messiah alone does not constitute “believing.” In fact, both Nicodemus who sought Jesus as a Teacher and the Jews who wanted to kill him seemed intuitively “convinced” that he was the Messiah. What we see in the early narratives of John is therefore a different dynamic than simply “believing a proposition.” If Jesus the one-and-only is the promise in John (see the “Promise Only?” post), then believing the promise is a closed deal only when one appropriates or accepts that one-and-only Person as a ransom for sin, once conscience is “enlightened” by the promise of an eternal life that will reverse condemnation and death from the sin that began in the Garden (see the “Snake-on-a-Stick” post).

What is not so clear is why the pesky apostle seems to keep mixing faith (“believing”) and works—in all three of these scenarios Jesus mentions the priority of doing God’s work in close connection with “believing” (3:19-21; 4:34-39; 5:24-29). If John’s gospel was written primarily to tell people how they can have eternal life by faith alone, why does he keep emphasizing doing works in close conjunction with the exercise of faith? The next post will examine more closely the nature of John’s gospel and the role of works in [an ongoing] “believing” (3:16).


Blogger Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

Thank you....

If Jesus the one-and-only is the promise in John (see the “Promise Only?” post), then believing the promise is a closed deal only when one appropriates or accepts that one-and-only Person ....

If this is what being an armchair theologian looks like, sign me up. Appreciate the dudeness in the post, dude.

11/02/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

Fast forward to the next post, please! ;) Sounds like it will be just what I was hoping for...

11/02/2009 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Aw, you guys....

Workin' on it, Missy.

11/02/2009 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Nice post, thou almost persuadeth me to toil in doing some exegeticaleth postseths (I'm feeling KJVish today ;-).

Thinking narratively (some dramatic irony), I think the light metaphor is better correlated to the PERSON of the Holy Spirit (who proceeds from the Son) instead of conscience (and this is what the Jn 14--16 brings out). It seems that you're conflating your intratextual work (in Jn), intertextually with Roms 2.

****Theologic Break****

I also think that the informing theologic grounds the knower and known (divine/human) in the person of Jesus Christ (who tabernacles amongst us 1.14). So that we don't end up grounding 'our faith and works' in ourselves (or volition) but in Christ's for us. His vicariousness is central in these kinds of discussions (and of course I'm looking at the big picture --- theology --- when I bring this up --- but then again so does your exegesis, Jim . . . there is a broader theologic your speaking out of and to [which I know you know]).

Anyway, there's my initial response :-).

11/02/2009 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Wow. I tried to make that light thing really clear: I'm not saying the light metaphor correlates with conscience; I'm saying that light in John always speaks into conscience, which in turn mediates "intuitive awareness" of the need for life from God. The light metaphor clearly correlates with some sort of "enlightening" or "conviction" ministry. Hence, JB is sent as "light," then Jesus is the Light, then the Holy Spirit is sent as the One who continues the "enlightening" ministry after Jesus returns to the Father, especially as presented in John 14-16. I'm trying to make a case for conscience not being just a repository for guilt (how we typically view it in the West) but more like the Hebrew notion of "heart," which is the repository of intuitive awareness of all things God. Some of that leads to "conviction," some leads to "hope," etc.

As to Christ's vicariousness, I'm listening...I'm coming to see the image as Christ's in us even more than His for us; though I don't at all deny the latter, I believe it's still truncated and leaves us in forensic territory (forgiven) without really releasing us to full life as God's agents. This is particularly evident in John 14-15, where fruitfulness depends on both obedience to and participation in Christ.

The point of the post is that such "participation" is null and void unless and until the "gift" is appropriated by "believing," which involves volition: In one bold stroke, he who is accepted as the "ransom" also becomes the "life" within---pictured in John 4 with "water" imagery (4:14), which I didn't hit as much in this post.

11/02/2009 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


To establish my point on the person point in re. to the "light" I want to draw our attention to something that most commentators typically note in ref. to Jn 1:1; and that is its couching and appeal to Gen. 1:1. The light comes through the Logos (God's Word) in both contexts. So instead of light being metaphor for conscience, the context says that the Light comes through the Logos the Word of God, or Jesus.

I think it's best to see light in ref. to the person of Jesus (who btw we don't have w/o the Holy Spirit, i.e. His personhood is Spirit constituted [Mt 1:18] as is ours in Him [Paul's "in Christ"]). So instead of making this a discussion about our volition (or conscience); we should first ground this the way John does in the person of the Logos and Holy Spirit.

11/02/2009 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Okay, thanks Jim,

For some reason that wasn't my first impression after reading your post.

The vicarious thing flows out of a "two-tiered" union understanding. Which has implications for volition/heart, etc. (I'll just keep trying to parse out what you're saying, thanks).

11/02/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


One more question: why have you chosen to use the language of intuitive? This is what muddies it for me (as my lang. of unions apparently does for you); what do you mean by intuitive? Are you talking about the Holy Spirit's work, or are you saying that you believe we humans in our fallen state (even though enlightened somehow) have a capacity for knowing God in ourselves? This is what is seriously stumbling me in re. to your central points and work here.

11/02/2009 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Ahh, now I see the problem.

I believe humans are more complex than just "receivers" of propositional communication. I use the term "intuitive," as over against "propositional" which "resides" in the mind. A person's realization---that (1) they are dead in trespasses and sin; (2) life after death exists ("eternity in their hearts"); and (3) something must be "paid" to ransom a person from the consequences of sin---may not be expressible in propositional terms. My contention is that this awareness is surely "intuitive" (within conscience) but that it may not be propositional. As I have cited before, two good places where I see this intuitive awareness are Romans 2:14-15 and Eccl 7:20-22, both of which talk about awareness at the "heart" level. I don't think we can necessarily equate that with "mind" alone. Maybe I should use the term "visceral" awareness. Would that help?

11/02/2009 05:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Oh, I see. So your into "Affective Theology," I've been quite schooled in this by a former prof Ron Frost in sem. He advocates for an Affective Theology wherein he argues that the heart is the defining feature of man vs. the mind/will that Western theology has typically argued for. Anyway, there's way more to it than that.

Nevertheless, Frost ties this all to the heart via the Holy Spirit and the NC (II Cor. 3 heart of flesh vs stone Ez. 36 etc). If you were to explicitly tie all of this to the person of the HOly Spirit this would, at least for me, help. I'm assuming that's what you're doing. I just want to ground all of this stuff in God's Trinitarian life revealed in the economy of salvation in Christ. I don't want to talk about anything intuitive or visceral apart from grounding it in Christ.

I think that's probably what you're doing; just not as explicitly as I would like (just me :-).


11/02/2009 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/02/2009 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

Jim, the hair on the back of my neck raises every time I read the beginning of John!

In John 1:12: Do you think it's significant that it says, "he gives the right to become children of God..." and not simply stating they are or will become children of God?

11/02/2009 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Missy (and this relates to Bobby, as well),

Excellent question (but I have come to expect that from this select group). The Greek word is exousia which is usually translated "authority," as in the Matthean Great Commission, "All authority is given to me..."

If we're thinking 3-D gospel here, I am inclined to see this facet of 1:12 in terms of the authority to function as the Son functioned, once he returns to the Father. The sense in the Prologue is that he comes to the earth as God incarnate as a "birthed" Son from the Father. Thus, during his earthly ministry the Son is on a mission to "recruit" "brethren" (e.g., as in Heb 2:11-12) who can share his authority by virtue of their also being "birthed" by the Father, thus 1:12 "...the right [or authority] to become children of God" (as exemplified by the Son, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto).

In Matthew, the commission is to "make disciples," in Hebrews it is to "rule over the world to come" (2:5). The Johannine form of the Great Commission, "As the Father has sent me, I also send you" (20:21), implies "sharing" the Son's authority to "enlighten" the world. This commission cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit's work within these "children," the subject of John 14-16; and that's why Jesus "breathes" the Holy Spirit on them (20:22) right after he commissions them to do the Father's work in his absence. I will be developing this notion in the next post, but I see this "enlightening" mission as preparing a world in darkness to receive her future King when he returns.

(Bobby should be happy that I "tie all of this to the Holy Spirit"; yes indeed, Bro.)

11/02/2009 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Regarding "Affective Theology," I had heard of the "label" but knew nothing about it. Nice to see once again that I ain't the Lone Ranger, here. But what's really encouraging is that you can go straight to the text, and (to me, at least) it speaks clearly along these lines. You don't sound totally opposed to AT, so can I assume that I am in good company?

At the very least it sounds like we might be on parallel tracks. I guess I just have a bias toward using biblical terms to the extent possible.

11/02/2009 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

Hi Jim and all!

I can not speak to internalized ...well yes I can, because as lower Romans attests, we are convicted by our consciences, which either accuse or excuse us.
What I was going to say, before I interupted myself is that there is plenty of drawing power outside of us, spoken of in the scripture explicit: The law is our tutor: it is powerless to make us right, but it will convict us that we are DOOOOMED whether eternally DOOOOMED before regeneration, or temporally doomed when not walking the walk. Might that dynamus help to drive us to the Cross as a frightening herd dog drives sheep to the fold? I believe it drove this young man, that when he heard of the true Love of Christ from a faithful witness, he ran like that sheep to the safety offered. And yes, his only motivation was to save himself.
There is also this: "And I, if I am lifted up, will draw all men unto Me", Was that HOLY ineffective, or is it effective until resisted by the rejector, or do we assume that all are by nature rejectors, in which case it is Holy ineffective. I believe the reformed call this "means of Grace". But the means are powerless (according to reformed thought: By reformed, I mean the guys I've listened to on the radio in the past: R.C. Sproul J.M.Boice or Boyce, etc.) for those who have not been elect. Boy, I'm heading to the land of nod, so I hope this is coherentzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Oh! Good Night!

11/03/2009 12:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Cool, Jim . . . nice to response to Missy (and me) above; I like how you got into participation language (like Jesus does in Jn 17 ;-).

I think we're on parallel tracks too, Jim. I wouldn't really expect you to have heard of Affective Theology, per se; Ron Frost pretty much invented it (not the concepts, but the moniker). No, I'm not opposed to AT at all, in fact I have an introduction post on it at my blog (TEC).

As far as using Bible language, I'm all about that; but sometimes it's just not possible (like Trinity for example); or hypostatic union; or Incarnation; etc. :-) What's interesting to me is that we assume these things all the time in our interpretive work; but then say we want to use Bible language --- which I understand, and can say amen too; but sometimes the divide made between bib studies and dogmatic theology is way to hard and fast.

I'm with you so far, Jim; although I still don't like the "non-biblical language" of intuitive or even visceral :-).

11/03/2009 03:55:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Don't let me interrupt your conversation with yourself, man. It sounds like you were debating you on the issue of volition in light of conscience and the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace. That's exactly what I'm saying the Gospel of John is talking about. I'll be interested to hear which one of you prevails.

I do like your notion of 1-D and 2-D "doomed," as I am convinced that Romans deals with both. In fact is there not also a 3-D "doomed" at the Judgment Seat of Christ?

(..."lower" Romans?)

(..."land of nod" LOL)

11/03/2009 06:15:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Thanks for the vote of confidence; coming from you it means a good deal. In fact I hope all of you will be "keeping me honest"---this is really great when friends feel free to hold my [theological] feet to the fire.

On AT and "intuitive" and "visceral" I will challenge your contention that they are not biblical terms. The reason I use those terms is because I think they are biblical. And since you brought up the KJV, I think I'll draw my first example from that august and revered version: "Visceral" literally means "having to do with the guts." What do you think "bowels of compassion" are, if not some sort of "visceral awareness" = "non-propositional knowing-feeling"?

I would also appeal to the wide semantic range of both the OT and NT words for "know" which I now often translate as "conscience awareness" rather than "conscious awareness" (our usual definition of "know") as I try to tease their meanings out of context. We have been snookered by excessively rationalistic definitions of "knowing" (oh, I hope Fred Lybrand is not lurking).

The case I've been trying to make is that "enlightening" in John is a whole bunch more "intuitive" than propositional, so when we FGers jabber on about the "Content of Saving Faith" we are really confusing the category of propositional understanding with that of "visceral [or intuitive] awareness."

A contextual example of such "intuitive" or "visceral" awareness is the "conviction" we see in "lower Romans" (thanks, Duane, see above), where we have trouble translating the Greek words "accusing" or "defending" in propositional terms when we're really just talking about "intuitive awareness."

Another NT example is James 2:20, where James blasts his "objector" by rhetorically asking "Do you want to 'know', O foolish man, that faith without works is useless?" We choke on this section of James, because it's a stupid translation of ginōskō. Rather than seeing this with rationalistic eyes as an intellectual debate over a theological position on biblical concepts of "faith," I would contend that James is just using standard Greek terminology for "to concede" or "realize" or "come under conviction." James is not telling him that he's stupid for believing that mere "intellectual assent" can save a person. This is an excessively "rationalistic" interpretation of ginōskō in James 2. He's appealing to the one who would say "Be warmed, be filled" that he's DOOMED by his own heart if he tries to assure himself that he's loving his brethren when all he "gives" is lip service---it's simply "intuitive awareness" of one's own hypocrisy as a brother.

This is precisely what is going on in 1 Jn 3:19, where the Apostle equates ginōskō with the more "visceral" language of "assure our heart." "Knowing the truth" in this verse has nothing to do with intellectual understanding---it has to do with "conceding" or "realizing" something at the "heart" level regarding one's own motive or disposition before God as "light."

An OT example of this non-propositional "awareness" that I've cited along these lines is Eccl 7:22, where "...your own heart knows [Heb yada‘]..." is best translated "You yourself realize [or admit]..."

(This should be "intuitively" obvious, Bobby ;-), so "Do you want to know, O tenacious dogmatist, that biblical 'knowing' is often 'visceral'?").

11/03/2009 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


Hang on now. You're the one that said you prefer to use bib language --- most translations don't use visceral or intuitive ---nevertheless, this really illustrates my point; and that is that we are really concerned about Biblical concepts, and the 'symbols' or 'words' are of secondary importance (insofar that there is a fluidity to language, etc.). Okay, this isn't really my greatest concern, though.

I'm not into intellectualist readings in the NT either. What I'm finding interesting, though is your continued referencing to "intuitive" w/o making clear what the assumption is behind this through the whole narrative of scripture.

I have some philosopher friends out of Talbot; they are "big" on 'intuitive' knowledge --- and they are the biggest rationalists you would ever come across. My point is, is that intuitive is a loaded term with all kinds of rationalist philosophical baggage associated with it. So my challenge to you is to be explicit and very clear about 'intuitive'; my friends would read what you're saying, and say amen. And they would be reading it through rationalist liberterian free agency lenses.

Sure, I see what you're doing intratextually and contextually with your points (even in response to me here). But I think all of this needs to be set within its larger intertextual canonical setting; which wouldn't just leave intuitive or visceral hanging; it would explicitly ground it in the life of God (in Christ and thus the Holy Spirit). I think you're leaving yourself open to folks like Fred.

One more point, and this is just a general one. I believe that salvation is God's life; and our only hope is to share and participate in His life. And this is what union with Christ is all about; which is what Jn 17 is all about. It's fine to want to relegate this kind of thinking to dogmatics, but it's as thoroughly scriptural as visceral is. It better be the underlying logic of all that is being said, by anyone on salvation; or we end up with a salvation that is centered on us, instead of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit --- and not only does this end up being man-centered, but also rationalist.

I think theological exegesis is highly important; since this really is what any exegesis ends up reducing to. So why not admit that up front?

11/03/2009 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Fair enough, Bobby...we all should be very careful to define our terms, especially in a heated environment like we've got in FG currently. I especially concede your point about "intuitive," considering the use of that term in the history of philosophy. (I'm not as convinced about "visceral," considering the way "heart" and "bowels" are used in Scripture.)

But I'd challenge you to demonstrate how I'm not being intertextual in this series. From the beginning, my whole foundation has been to develop the imagery in John against the backdrop of the canonical metanarrative, especially Torah, from Genesis to Revelation. And I don't see this as foundationally at odds with theological exegesis; yes, I fully admit that's what I'm up to.

Appreciate the feedback, Bro.

11/03/2009 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


I personally like the language of visceral better than intutitive --- that's up to you (I suppose either way you'll have to explain what you mean :-).

I'm not denying that you're being intertextual at one level; it's just that I'm not seeing the 'inner-logical' thread that holds all of what you're saying together being emphasized as the frame of the picture you're saying the text is. It seems like to me, we should be using the principle that Jesus sets out in Jn 5.39 as the center of everything we do --- exegetically. In other words, asking the question: "How does this point us back to Christ?" "How is all that is being said grounded in Christ?"

I think I just need to be more patient; I realize you're working through pericope, pericope at a time. So you're work is unfolding, working towards its telos (purpose) --- its point (which is Jesus). What I'm hoping is that you're going to ground 'our knowing' in His 'knowing' for us (in Christ's humanity as our mediator). I realize most theologians don't think this way (esp. Evangelical ones --- most of them are uncritical rationalists [just following in their received Western heritage]); but I don't think you're most theologians, Jim ;-). I am sold on the idea that the vicarious life of Christ is the center; and that we need to press that as far as possible (and I don't see anybody, except TFT and some Scottish theologians thinking this way --- which is really sad).

Anyway, I appreciate what you're doing, Jim; but I would be remiss to not at least mention some of my convictions on this most important stuff. I look forward to your next post!

P.S. I'll try not to comment as much, I'm afraid that I'm hijacking these threads :-).

11/03/2009 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

No worries, man.

I see the uniting telos of John to be human identification with Christ as "sent" to fulfill the Trinitarian mission to the world. This is epitomized in Christ's intercession on his own and their behalf in Jn 17, as you made explicit in your last reply.

I'm not sure we'll completely converge at the end; I see 5:39 as centered in the key Johannine priority of identifying the "named" Messiah, crucial to setting the stage for God to recruit "children" whom he can "send"---in Christ, informed by the Holy Spirit---to do His redemptive work in the world.

11/03/2009 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


On your second para., that sounds quite Christocentric to me. The thing is, and here's some more important theology; if what God does in history is different from who God is antecedently in Himself (in "eternity") then we have a huge problem (i.e. God changes, there are two-wills of God, He is divided [we end up with at least Nestorianism and more]). If we are going to take serious Heb 13:8 (Jesus the same yesterday, today, and forever) or Jn 14 (see me see the Father); then God's acts in history are going to have to be grounded somehow (and this takes us afield to what you're doing here, Jim) in God's life in ("super-time" or eternity). And this is what pressing the hypostatic union and homoousion does; it allows us to maintain a unity between God's life in eternity and time (as corrollary Christ's divine-human relation in His one person). God's missio (or mission) ('Great commission') reflects the processions of God's life (intrarelations) in eternity externalized in salvation history in Christ.

So I would certainly agree with your points on Jn 5.39; but there is much more going on there than a prima facie reading might suppose at first blush (theological exegesis is important ;-).

11/03/2009 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

Hey Jim & KC & all!

Back to doomed (my post above).
This time we'll substitue "visual" for "viseral"

John 6:44 No man can come to me except the FATHER which hath sent Me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 12:32 and I, If I be lifted up from the earth[visual], will draw all men to me.
v. 44 He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me. And He that seeith me, seeith Him that sent me....

Really not addressed except by Jim.

Is Jesus' drawing effective for "All Men", or just the elect?

If GOD wanted to show off HIS creative ability, NO! not "show off", just be as creative as HE could be, HE would infinitely exceed the work of the watchmaker or Gepetto (Pinoccio's creator) and give everyman free will, which was truly free to individually accept or reject GOD's free offer. Unable as unwilling to obey, or to love God, but enabled (by the Creator)to, by individual choice accept or reject the offer one would get and receive by taking the hand of a fireman "Hang on! I'll save you". Is there a moral difference between that and saying "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"?
Would any fool say "I helped save myself by hanging on to that fireman"? Yeah probably, but thats the fool's problem, not the fireman's.

Is it a subraction from THE Sovereignty of GOD for Him to Sovereignly create man with a will that is free to merely receive or reject a free gift that makes him wealthy beyond his dreams?
I believe that the two jewels in Jesus' creation are autonomous man,as image bearer, and the redemption of "whosoever will". You would say "yeah but nobody will" then I say John 12:32.

Your Brother in Christ,


P.S. Bobby; I detect no conflict with 3-D Salvation "In Christ". The moment one believes in Jesus Christ(it could be the exact same instant, as Father has always known when that instant is), he is placed into Christ, regenerated in Christs life, and the Holy Spirit indwells him.

11/05/2009 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Wasn't sure if you were hearing me say differently, but I certainly agree with what you expressed on Jn 6:44 and 12:32 and your analogies. Well-stated.

Agree with the two jewels, too. Whosoever will. Yeah.

Hope to get the next installment out tomorrow. Thanks for your insight and engagement, Bro!

11/05/2009 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

On John 6:44 and 12:32:
Yeah, I got ya brother.


11/05/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

Duane and Jim,

Item No. 7 from Bro. Tim’s “wish list” states, ”A high view of sovereignty that will enable a cogent response to open theism while avoiding the errors of the Cal-minian paradigm.” I am very sympathetic to this particular “wish”.

Whether we’re arguing against Determinism (Universalism and Five-point Calvinism) or Open Theism it seems we always employ a philosophical argument in our attempts to ‘win over” our opponent. This approach seems logical seeing that these systems are founded on certain philosophical presuppositions but a major problem is that we’re arguing from reason rather than revelation (scripture). Although their interpretation is made through philosophical lenses, it is their clear and coherent doctrines on election that uphold their presuppositions so that when we attack the philosophy we’re actually dealing with a symptom and not the problem. What makes matters worse is that our own arguments are totally dependant on reason and often, if not most often, are not born out in the scripture.

I have found that these debates and discussions are much more fruitful if we avoid the philosophical arguments altogether and deal directly with the doctrine of election. It has been relatively easy for me to hold a negative position on their doctrine but near impossible to hold a positive one in the absence of a solid framework (because I detest Systematic Theology!;-) for my own understanding on election. Most discussions seemed to inevitably degrade to philosophy. I am presently hoping that Scottish Theology will provide the framework necessary to avoid the philosophical dilemma but I still have some minor, but critical, reservations. I am convinced that to move forward in these debates we will have to abandon our philosophical arguments and learn to articulate the valid doctrine of election, which is in Christ alone.

11/06/2009 02:53:00 AM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

Hi KC!

A Hearty AMEN!


11/06/2009 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Hey guys,

I've been buried all day in the next post for KC's and just came up for air.

Bobby got the results this afternoon from his CT scan, and it turns out he's got a mass in his pelvis and will need a biopsy to see if it's cancer. I've already told everyone on Michele's, but Bobby really needs prayer. The Doc said he would make it through this, but he is scared to death, worried that he will leave his young family fatherless!

Bobby needs our prayers...thanks to all my brothers and sisters!

11/06/2009 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

Thanks for the update, Jim. I'm going to pray right now.

Bobby, God is with you.

11/07/2009 05:34:00 AM  
Blogger Duane WATTS said...

Duane Here!
Me too!

11/07/2009 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger David Wyatt said...

Praying for bro. Bobby & his family.

11/10/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger agent4him said...

Heartfelt thanks to Missy, Duane, and David.

11/10/2009 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger David Wyatt said...

Bro. Jim,

I just read your post word for word rather than skimming, & I must say I was blessed! I'd also like to tell you the thing that helped me most, & I believe also clears away the confusion the GES Gospel was giving me, & that is your statement here: "...believing the promise is a closed deal only when one appropriates or accepts that one-and-only Person as a ransom for sin, once conscience is “enlightened” by the promise of an eternal life that will reverse condemnation and death from the sin that began in the Garden..." I have held since the beginning of the "debate" that blood sacrifice is still key since it was not something that was tacked on but was God's demand from the beginning. Anyway, I really appreciate this bro. Jim & God Bless! Still praying for bro. Bobby, btw!

11/29/2009 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...


Thanks for your kind comments.

It is important as well to emphasize where I fully agree with GES on the promise of eternal life. When people hear the offer of eternal life in Christ, they are often drawn to Jesus not out of a fully conscious understanding of the basis of their ransom by blood atonement but perhaps only an intuitive awareness that some kind of "gift" from God is necessary because of their own inadequacy in order for them to receive life after death.

Just like the twelve disciples, people often initially recoil from the idea of blood atonement , but a conscience open to the "light" (as is so graphically depicted in the Garden) will have to concede the need for a ransom for their sin, and once they see what happened in the Garden it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this gift has always been by blood atonement, even before the name of Jesus was known. That full understanding may not come for quite some time after the free gift is received by faith, and GES folks have been diligent and correct to point out that important distinction.

I can imagine how Jesus had to explain that very thing to the (saved) disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 in order to "connect the dots" which they saw clearly the moment he pointed it out from the Scriptures. Does that make sense?

Once people start to consciously think about how they could possibly live after they die, it becomes so obvious that the gift must include the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. But some people receive Christ under very unusual circumstances in which the clear message of the Cross and Resurrection may only be given in a primitive way, yet the Spirit can do his work through an enlightened conscience.

It always helps me to think about how people were saved in the OT before knowledge of the Cross and Resurrection, and I am convinced that some people are still saved today with similar "primitive levels" of awareness of the "basis" for their salvation, depending on how much "light" they have received. This is where I part ways with many in the FGA who insist on a clear understanding of the Cross and Resurrection (and even the Deity of Christ) for anyone to be saved today. The only "requirement" is that they receive the free gift of life in the Messiah by faith, but the "right" Messiah is one who has always been promised by God as involving a ransom for sin.

11/29/2009 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger agent4him said...

I might also point out how this connection of faith with "light" in an "enlightened conscience" is clearly in view in the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus as the disciples reflected,

"Did not our heart burn within us as he talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"

This just seems to speak volumes to me about the dynamics of "intuitive awareness" when the free gift is received by faith. I think the disciples were already saved but when Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, it naturally "matched" what they already knew in their consciences ("our heart") about their need for the gift.

11/29/2009 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Rs Sanchike said...

Nice Blog.

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