Breaking the Hinge in the Free-Will vs. Sovereignty Debate

One simple premise undergirds the ideas that either humanity has free volition or that God is sovereign, and that ultimately the two concepts are mutually exclusive. That premise is the hinge upon which the argument turns, favoring either human freedom or Divine sovereignty. Montague Brown illustrates the premise with the following statement:

“The issue of free choice also plays a critical role in that other vexed philosophical puzzle—the problem of evil. For if we do not have free choice, we are not to be blamed or praised for our actions; rather, it is all God’s doing. God becomes responsible for moral evil, either by causing it Himself or by punishing us who are not responsible for it.”1

We can formalize Brown’s statement as follows:

  • If not FC (free choice), then not A (accountability).
  • If not A, then GR (God responsible for evil).

The first stated premise is simply that if there is not free choice, then there is not accountability. The assumed premise is that free choice is required in order for someone to be accountable. The second stated premise is that if there is not accountability, then God is responsible for moral evil. To complete the syllogism , the conclusion is not stated here, but is rather assumed: God being responsible for moral evil would be a bad thing, and we can’t have that. So working backwards, we can’t have the absence of condition A, thus we can’t have the absence of condition FC. The assumed premise is the hinge upon which the argument stands: moral responsibility requires that human beings perform their actions freely, and not under any coercion.

Thomas Aquinas echoes the premise when he asserts that, “Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain.”2 The idea being assumed is that justice in God’s judgment requires that humanity made the choice for what it is being judged.

Augustine is comfortable with “a biblical compatibilism between human free will and divine power over the human heart … the two are not in conflict … this is a both/and proposition.”3 In Augustine’s view, God works within the human heart in response to chosen sin, either to allow more sin as a penal consequence for original sin, which is in line with justice, or to show grace, which is in line with mercy. Aquinas’ understanding is similar:

“And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.”4

The idea that God operates “in each thing according to its own nature” works well within the context of sin, as described in Romans 1, for example. As one follows the sequence considered in Romans 1:18-32, it is evident that there is a giving-over to continued (and perhaps deepening) sin as a consequence of initial rejection. However, if ultimately all are guilty of sin through Adam (as is affirmed in Romans 5:12), then God’s intervention “while we were still helpless” (Rom 5:6) and “while we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5) is not reflective of Him working in each thing according to its nature, but rather Him working to change – or dare I say, violate – the very nature of the thing in which He is working. If human free will in choosing sin is required for God’s justice in judging it, then a requisite degree of human free will in rejecting sin is required in order to receive mercy.

Roger Olson states well the problem implied in these suppositions:

If we do not have power of contrary choice, then our salvation is not a gift but a fate imposed and others’ damnation is not truly deserved. If there is no such thing as libertarian free will, as Edwards argued, then Adam and Eve’s fall into sin was part of the plan of God, controlled by God, and makes God a moral monster. If salvation is not something freely chosen or freely rejected, then, if some end up in hell for eternity, God is a moral monster. Why? Because he could have saved everyone since salvation is unconditional and not freely chosen. And if God imposes salvation on some without their free assent and cooperation, then the love they have for God is not genuine and God can take no real delight in it. Love that is not freely given is not real love.5

The last sentence of Olson’s observation is central to his argument, and ultimately to his Arminianism: love that is not freely given is not real love. In this system, it is assumed that God must be a moral monster if He imposes guilt or salvation without humans having the freedom to willingly make choices leading to either. Further, the love He demands can never be real love, because it is not authenticated by choice.

These are sweeping statements with broad implications. True justice requires choice. Moral responsibility requires choice. Authentic love requires choice. If these statements are correct, then one has no choice but to admit the centrality of choice and, ultimately, free choice. At first glance, these three assertions seem viable – perhaps even necessary, but they are actually subject to fatal (in my estimation) flaws.

First, they are self-authenticated and are not exegetically defensible. In Scripture, love is commanded. Even if we have the choice not to comply, what kind of love is demanded? Might someone argue that if love is mandated it cannot be authentic? In 1 John 4:11, we are told that “… if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.” We are morally obligated because of His actions to take actions of our own. Peter takes things even a step further. He notes that “like the Holy One who called you, be holy in all your behavior” (1 Pet 1:16). In this case we are obligated to holiness not by God’s actions but by His character. And while the imperative is passive (genethete is aorist passive imperative, to be exact), it still reflects at least a mandated submission to becoming holy.

The fact remains that both Peter and John recognize we are morally obligated without any choice in being so. Paul informs us that we have been chosen to be in Him before the world was even founded (Eph 1:4). Not only do we not have a choice in this matter, but He takes that choice for Himself. And again, the Father “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will …” (Eph 1:5). It is God’s will that is intentional and activated here, not ours. Regardless of whether this is a result of foreknowledge (as some might argue from the order of Rom 8:29), God is still making determinations before we have the opportunity to act. Even if His action is based simply on His foreknowledge, once He predestines and chooses, the outcome is assured. Where does human volition fit into that equation? The only time Paul addresses that question directly is in Romans 9:16, 19-20 when he reasons,

“So then it does not depend on the man who runs or the man who wills, but on God who has mercy…You will say to me then, ‘why does He still find fault, for who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder ‘Why did you make me like this?’ will it?”

These Biblical writers are univocal in their claims that in asserting His own sovereignty and choice God is trumping human volition at the very outset. Consequently, Scripture itself does not support the idea that human moral responsibility requires human choice. It is worth noting that this does not mean that there is no human choice in any context, there certainly is, but is that choice autonomous or free? Augustine’s comment is helpful:

“It is not the case, therefore, that because God foreknew what would be in the power of our wills, there is for that reason nothing in the power of our wills. For he who foreknew this did not foreknow nothing. Moreover, if He who foreknew what would be in the power of our wills did not foreknow nothing, but something, assuredly, even though He did foreknow, there is something in the power of our wills. Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God, to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we embrace both. We faithfully and sincerely confess both. The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well. For he lives ill who does not believe well concerning God. “6

As Augustine says, there is indeed power in our wills. Yet we can also say that the power of God’s will is decisive – He is sovereign, not us. The point here is not to deny human volition, but to suggest that human volition does not undergird anything. It is a gift that we indeed possess, but it does not govern.

A second flaw with the idea that moral responsibility demands choice is that it is self contradictory. Clearly we are thrust into moral responsibility without any say in the matter. It makes little sense to argue that our having freedom of volition after that fact somehow allows God to maintain His justice. No, it is simpler than that. We have no volitional voice regarding our beginning to exist, where we begin to exist, to whom we are born, and into what moral responsibility we are born. To suggest that after that point God must grant us freedom of volition accomplishes nothing in support of the argument that our freedom of volition is necessary.

In fact, that suggestion is guilty of claiming one degree of the same quality as acceptable and another degree unacceptable. The suggestion is self-contradictory, and the implications are significant. If God causes us to exist without our permission, then we are thrust into an existence over which we have no say. If He causes us to be born without our choosing, how could it possibly be wrong for us to commit suicide, if indeed moral responsibility necessitates choice? Under such conditions suicide would be humanity’s first moral right. And yet I know of no free-will advocate who would laud suicide as morally praiseworthy.

A third flaw with the idea that moral responsibility demands choice is that if true it would eliminate God’s freedom as Creator to determine what does and does not constitute warrant for moral responsibility – unless God created the idea that moral responsibility demands choice. We have already seen that Scripture advocates the idea that moral responsibility does not demand choice, so it seems untenable that God could be accurately described as having put in place choice as prerequisite to moral responsibility. Further, if God is bound by a set of rules in this regard, then upon what basis is such regulation grounded?

The existence of a separate absolute and higher morality that binds even God would imply that God is not the ultimate Moralist. The assertions that love, moral responsibility, and justice all require choice – these assertions all fall on the horns of the same dilemma: if these are true without God having made them true, then He is subject to them, and He is not the absolute Standard. If He is not the absolute Standard, then whatever is that standard is more worthy of worship than He is. In short, that standard would be the true sovereign, and God would be merely an intermediary. The real question, then, is whether or not He has made the assertions true. Even a cursory examination of Scripture shows that He has not made them true.

Notes

1 Montague Brown, “Augustine on Freedom and God” in St. Anselm Journal 2.2 (Spring, 2005): 50.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, Question 83, Article 1.

3 Philip Carey, Inner Grace: Augustine and the Traditions of Plato and Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 115.

4 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae, Question 83, Article 6.

5 Roger Olson, “An Arminian Account of Free Will,” at Catalyst, April 1, 2012, viewed at http://www.catalystresources.org/an-arminian-account-of-free-will/.

6 Augustine, City of God, Chapter 9,93.

Christopher Cone 2016


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The theologians and philosophers on this topic often speak in terms of "Unless condition A is met, it's unjust for God to do B." But it would be more accurate and helpful to say that "Unless condition A is met, God's doing B offends our sense of justice." The difference is important and opens up the discussion quite a bit. I don't have to be not offended. Or, less awkwardly maybe, it's OK if my sense of justice is offended--because I'm not the Judge. What matters is not whether I think God's judgment is just. What matters is whether He thinks His judgment is just. He defines justice.

So even if God were directly coercing all His creatures' choices then judging them for the evil in those choices, I wouldn't really have a leg to stand on to say He is unjust.

But I don't believe He relates to us that way. I do believe He has made us with a certain nature and judges for the choices we make within the limits of our nature. For many, that's not enough distance between God and evil in human choices. It's enough for me--with the caveat that "God is not the author of evil, though I do not understand how this is so."

The how doesn't have to be clear to me. The what is enough.

J. Baillet's picture

This topic cannot be adequately addressed without discussing the Creator-creature distinction and ultimate versus secondary causes.

JSB

JohnBrian's picture

J. Baillet wrote:

...ultimate versus secondary causes.

Genesis 50:19-20 wrote:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

God intended to save his people from the famine that was to come and to do so he sent Joseph to Egypt [ultimate cause]. He was an arrogant child, because he knew that he was his daddy's favorite son, the first child of his daddy's favorite wife. His arrogance was evident in the telling of his dream to his brothers (Gen 37), and their hatred for him [Secondary cause] because he was daddy's favorite. He ended up in the pit, then Potiphar's house, the prison, and finally the palace. That is where he needed to be to fulfill God's intention for him. God was not the author of either his or his brothers sin but yet their sin served to accomplish the purpose of God.

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David R. Brumbelow's picture

Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God's gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an "effectual call" for certain people that is different from a "general call" to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

Genesis 1:26-28; Numbers 21:8-9; Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 8:1-22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; Esther 3:12-14; Matthew 7:13-14; 11:20-24; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 9:23-24; 13:34; 15:17-20; Romans 10:9-10; Titus 2:12; Revelation 22:17

- A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2012/06/traditional-southern-baptist...

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

Editor

David:

Thanks for quoting from the traditionalist statement. This statement clearly assumes prevenient grace, and I don't mean that as a slur against your position. I found Roger Olson's book Arminian Theology particularly helpful to accurately understand that perspective.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

JNoël's picture

I love that no human will ever understand these concepts in our current state. God's ways are not our ways. We can stand in awe of him.

Sometimes I wonder if we, as church age believers, are as limited in our knowledge as Abraham was about the church. God chose to give us the 66 books of the Bible, and it is all we need for life and godliness right now. But there is so much more that God chose to keep from us.

For now, we must be satisfied with the reality that we do not understand why God would set into motion something that would lead to the need to kill his own Son and, despite that, also result in the need to send the majority of his own eternally conscious created souls into torment, for the sake of some who "choose" to look and live.

Thank you, Lord!

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dr. Cone has shared some good thoughts.  When we begin with premises that sound right but really are not Biblical, it can lead us in all sorts of directions.  If we could remove all emotion from the discussion and just look at what the Word actually says, it would be quite helpful.

The idea that love requires a choice is a very emotionally-charged statment; to imply otherwise seems cold and harsh. But what if what seems cold and harsh happens to be "what is?"  

On the other hand, we often experience love as a choice.  When we love our enemy, for example, we are choosing to do so, usually out of obedience to God. Our choice whether we will obey God or not will determine whether we love or not. So is the choice a choice to obey, a choice to love, or both?  We may sometimes experience love as a choice, but it doesn't follow that love HAS to be a choice.

That's what makes things so tricky -- when false premises are partly (or usually) true.  There is no partiality with God (when it comes to judging what a person does), but, on the other hand, there is partiality with God (election).  The Arminian viewpoint makes a lot of sense, IMO; it is just not what the Scriptures teach (IMO again).  And I choose what I understand the Scriptures to teach.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

JNoël's picture

Not to play devil's advocate, but is loving one's enemy really a choice? Because if we are walking in the Spirit, loving our enemy is a fruit of the Spirit and will come without us needing to even make a conscious choice. We cannot choose to bear fruit: the Spirit does that when we are yielded to him.

I believe there are so many areas in the Bible that God has left ambiguous enough that differing opinions can be realistically agreed upon. The non-negotiables are what they are (virgin birth, Jesus is God, God's holiness, man's sin, etc.). But the longer I live, the more I find there are areas of doctrine that we simply cannot be dogmatic about. The free-will/sovereignty issue is just another one of those areas. If I were working on graduate studies, I would be tempted do a research project that applies Hennebury's Rules of Affinity to as many topics I could find that are not the easy, non-negotiables, just to see how many areas we could honestly only categorize as his C4s or C5s. I'd do things like remarriage, alcoholic beverages, all manner of eschatological topics, promises and proverbs, Hebrews 6:4-6, sign gifts etc. Might be interesting to see just how much room God gave us for differences in interpretation without negatively impacting the fundamentals of the Gospel.

Smile

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

JohnBrian's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person.

What is presented in this sentence is the false idea that Calvinism affirms that God responds on behalf of the sinner, in effect dragging him to salvation whether said sinner wants to or not. Their opposing view is that man responds on his own.

What Calvinism actually affirms is that God, through the preached word, raises the spiritually dead to life, enabling the sinner to respond. Until he is raised to life the unregenerate does not have the ability to respond. The word "cannot" in Romans 8:7 indicates his lack of ability.

Romans 8:7-8 wrote:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The response is his own, but is caused by spiritual life being restored, thus enabling him to respond.

The best illustration in the Bible is the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus was physically dead and did not have the ability to decide to come back to life. Notice that Jesus did not go into his grave and drag him out against his will. The command to "come forth" carried resurrecting power, enabling Lazarus to obey the command. He exited the tomb by his own choice but because Jesus had given him a command which could not be disobeyed. But then, why would any man restored to life in his tomb, choose to stay in the tomb!

The command of Jesus changed Lazarus from a dead man to a living man, thus enabling him to leave his tomb. 

A perfect illustration of the response of the spiritually dead, when spiritual life is restored to them. Or, as some have said, it's just a nice story about  how much Jesus loved his friend, and there's no spiritual application at all.

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Jay's picture

The command to "come forth" carried resurrecting power, enabling Lazarus to obey the command. He exited the tomb by his own choice but because Jesus had given him a command which could not be disobeyed. But then, why would any man restored to life in his tomb, choose to stay in the tomb!

JohnBrian,

I don't think you can make that case from John 11.  Here are some reasons:

  • Jesus explicitly states in v. 11 that He goes to awaken him (Lazarus).  He also tells Mary and Martha to believe in Him, and makes no mention of Lazarus playing - any - active role in this narrative.
  • There is not even a hint anywhere is the passage that Lazarus "chooses" to do anything.  There simply isn't - Jesus even has to command the bystanders to unwrap Lazarus in v. 44.
  • While it is true that 'cried out' in v. 43 is an aorist, not imperative tense, it is clearly directed at Lazarus himself.  Furthermore, the verb used means to 'shout' or 'call out', implying direction.
  • There are two modifiers used as well - deuro, an adverb modifying krawzo, indicating where Lazarus is to 'come' (namely, here where Jesus is), and ezw, which indicates where Lazarus is leaving 'out of'.

It is for these reasons that I think your argument implying Lazarus having a choice about leaving the tomb of his own accord collapses.  There are multiple evidences that Jesus, having told others that He would resurrect Lazarus beforehand, simply commands Lazarus and Lazarus must obey.

I believe in limited atonement (limited in effect but not scope), and if anything, the grammar here cuts against me, but I didn't want to let that remark go unchallenged.  What evidence do you have that Lazarus has any volitional role here?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

JohnBrian's picture

"But then, why would any man restored to life in his tomb, choose to stay in the tomb!"

I was making the point that Lazarus could not resist the command, even if he had wanted too, which since he came to life inside the tomb, he would not do, because a previously dead man who comes to life in his tomb is going to seek an exit.

It was in response to the argument that either God decides for the man, (in effect dragging people into salvation who don't want to be saved) or man decides for himself.

The quote I referenced seemed to imply that those were the options. My point with the story of Lazarus was to show that God didn't force Lazarus to come out of his tomb against his will. Once life was restored to Lazarus by Jesus command, his strongest desire would have been to exit the tomb.

Sorry if that was not clear.

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Don Johnson's picture

JohnBrian wrote:

The best illustration in the Bible is the raising of Lazarus. ...

A perfect illustration of the response of the spiritually dead, when spiritual life is restored to them. Or, as some have said, it's just a nice story about  how much Jesus loved his friend, and there's no spiritual application at all.

JohnBrian, you can't think of any other theological significance than to illustrate salvation? Really? You see to be using Origen-like methodology here.

Earlier you said...

JohnBrian wrote:

What Calvinism actually affirms is that God, through the preached word, raises the spiritually dead to life, enabling the sinner to respond. Until he is raised to life the unregenerate does not have the ability to respond. The word "cannot" in Romans 8:7 indicates his lack of ability.

If he is already alive, why does he need to respond? What will change in him if he responds?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

JohnBrian's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

JohnBrian, you can't think of any other theological significance than to illustrate salvation?

I didn't say that the illustration exclusively represented salvation,so am not sure what your question is.

Quote:

If he is already alive, why does he need to respond? What will change in him if he responds?

His response to coming back to life was to exit the grave to obey the command of Jesus. It's not enough to just come back to life, he needs to "come forth." The command is not obeyed until he responds by exiting the tomb.

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Don Johnson's picture

because it doesn't picture salvation, nor is it intended to. You are allegorizing it, investing the text with meaning it was never intended to bear.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

With Don on this one. There are better places to go than a narrative about Jesus' love for His friends & His power over physical death and life... Great as those themes are, not about "free" will, etc.

Jay's picture

The point of the Lazarus story is that Jesus has the power to reverse death.  Any attempt to make it into something else is to misapply the text and wrest the text into something that simply isn't there.

Don't do that.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

I do use Lazarus as an example of Jesus commanding a man to do something that he can't do himself. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JohnBrian's picture

I'm puzzled by the insistence that I am allegorizing the story of Lazarus, so will try again to show that I am using his physical resurrection as an illustration of spiritual resurrection.

The story is fascinating in that Jesus doesn't come to heal him when he finds out that his friend is sick. but instead waits for him to die. The stated purpose of Jesus was so that He could raise Lazarus from the dead showing that He was sent by God.

Here we have a dead man that obviously cannot bring himself back to life. Ron wrote that it is "an example of Jesus commanding a man to do something that he can't do himself."

Jesus commands him back to life, and the command carries with it a change in his state (from death to life) which enables him to then obey the command of Jesus. I think we're all in agreement at this point.

Since we as sinners are spiritually dead, and like Lazarus not being able to affect his physical resurrection, cannot affect our spiritual resurrection, we have to be commanded to come forth from our spiritual graves. That's the entire point that I am making in seeing that this physical resurrection is an illustration of  spiritual resurrection. God is not only capable of bringing the physically dead back to life, He is also capable of bringing the spiritually dead back to life.

Jay wrote that "the point of the Lazarus story is that Jesus has the power to reverse death," which is true. Isn't the point though that His power is not limited to physical death alone, but that Jesus also has power to reverse spiritual death via resurrection.

Aaron stated that the story was "not about "free" will," and it was not my intention to use it that way. I was responding to the "Traditional Southern Baptist Statement" that reads "We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person."

This appears to identify the difference as either God acting without the consent of the individual, or the individual acting solely on the basis of his free will. I believe that is a false dichotomy. In using Lazarus as an illustration I pointed out that as a dead man Lazarus was incapable of exercising any free will to come back to life. It was the command of Jesus that brought him to life, enabling him to obey the command.

Jay questioned Lazarus "volitional role." My point (which appears to have been unclear) is 
that Jesus didn't drag him out of his tomb against his will (responding to the Trad Statement), but that he willingly obeyed the command.

I'm not understanding why showing that physical resurrection is an illustration of spiritual resurrection turns my argument into allegory.

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Don Johnson's picture

John Brian, you should know that the intent of the passage has nothing to do with teaching  the Calvinistic view of salvation. It is perhaps the climax of the series of miracles in John meant to demonstrate the Lord's deity. The apostle's purpose statement in Jn 20.30-31 should be sufficient to tell you that.

You don't need to keep attempting to explain what you mean by the story, we get it. The problem is the hermeneutical errors your "illustration" presents. What you are doing is assigning different meanings to the events of the story than what was intended. That is allegorizing. You can't escape from allegorizing simply by saying its an illustration. 

Anyone can take a story of the Scripture and assign the events new meanings to prove whatever they want. That's the trouble with allegory.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

josh p's picture

Unless I am misunderstanding him, I don't think that John is actually saying that his illustration is the meaning of the text. An illustration only.

Jay's picture

 

What JohnBrian is doing is called spiritualizing the text.  He is taking a passage that has absolutely nothing to do with his point and injecting that point into the text.

This text says nothing about salvation or soteriology.  The author did not make that point at all.

Therefore, his interpretation or illustration doesn't work.  We don't have the freedom to start adding things to the text that simply aren't there.  Not if we want to be faithful to the text.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

josh p's picture

I must be seriously missing something. I am about as literal an interpreter as I personally know. We are talking about an illustration though. Is it spiritualizing to say that the Trinity is a good illustration of the equality yet difference in roles that exist in a marriage? That's not spiritualizing. No one that I'm aware of thinks the passages about the Trinity are actually intended to teach that. It's simply drawing a parallel between two things for the purpose of illustration. He specifically said "the best ILLUSTRATION" not example.

Clarification: JohnBrian- do you believe the account of Lazarus was intended by the Holy Spirit to teach Ordo Salutis?

Don Johnson's picture

josh p wrote:

I must be seriously missing something. I am about as literal an interpreter as I personally know. We are talking about an illustration though. Is it spiritualizing to say that the Trinity is a good illustration of the equality yet difference in roles that exist in a marriage? That's not spiritualizing. No one that I'm aware of thinks the passages about the Trinity are actually intended to teach that. It's simply drawing a parallel between two things for the purpose of illustration. He specifically said "the best ILLUSTRATION" not example.

What passages do you mean? Are you referring to 1 Cor 11? The Trinity (or rather the relation between Father and Son) are said to establish the roles of husband and wife in marriage. I don't think it is being used as an illustration. I can't think of any other passage you might be meaning. So I'm not following your illustrative illustration!

I think, however, your question to John is a good way of clarifying. Perhaps I should have asked that a few posts back!

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

JohnBrian's picture

josh p wrote:

Clarification: JohnBrian- do you believe the account of Lazarus was intended by the Holy Spirit to teach Ordo Salutis?

NO!

It is a story of physical resurrection that I use as a illustration (there's that word again!) of spiritual resurrection.

It seems that some of the objections to my posts in this thread are responses to statements that I did not make.

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josh p's picture

Thank you for the clarification.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Gotta reverse myself on this one sort of. I don't think there's anything wrong with using a biblical story to illustrate a biblical point that isn't the point of the story. No allegorizing is required in order to do that. Allegorizing is what happens when we say "this is story is symbolic of a spiritual truth" and invoves devaluing the meaning of the story as history in its historical context... often rejecting historicity entirely. Spiritualizing is what happens when we give historical events a spiritual meaning that really has no relationship at all to the real events and people... (like crossing over Jordan = entering into victorious Christian living, for example) I guess it's a species of allegorizing.

But it's not impossible at all to give full weight to everything the historical events should mean to us and also (probably on another occasion) refer to the same events to illustrate something else. I think this is pretty much what Paul was doing with Hagar and Ishmael vs. Isaac in Galatians.

But, as this thread illustrates, using stories that way can confuse rather than clarify... and the point of illustration is to clarify. So there's that to factor in.

It's not a huge step to assert, based in the account in its context, that Jesus Christ is Lord over death and life.... and therefore, He grants life to those who are, by definition, not able to grant it to themselves. That's more than illustration, even, it's application. Gets strained and potentially confusing when we try to use to go much further with it though.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But it's not impossible at all to give full weight to everything the historical events should mean to us and also (probably on another occasion) refer to the same events to illustrate something else. I think this is pretty much what Paul was doing with Hagar and Ishmael vs. Isaac in Galatians.

Galatians 4:24 - This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 

allegorically = ἀλληγορούμενα

It is one thing for Paul to do it, it is quite another for us to allegorize a Biblical story as some kind of proof of our point.
 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Is it spiritualizing to say that the Trinity is a good illustration of the equality yet difference in roles that exist in a marriage? That's not spiritualizing. No one that I'm aware of thinks the passages about the Trinity are actually intended to teach that.

I wouldn't do that either.  Ephesians 5 makes the point that subordination in marriage is based on divine subordination to God, but you can say that because Paul explicitly said so and God recorded it in His Word.

Don't go any further than the Bible does.  Don't add things to make it mean something new or novel.  Don't get cute with it.  Just read and exegete what is actually present there.  No more, no less.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

josh p's picture

I think we are just at an impasse on this one. No one is assigning a meaning to the text. It is an ILLUSTRATION. No one is saying that's what the passage is intended to mean. Spurgeon did this a lot. It's not spiritualizing or messing with the univocality of scripture. It's simply an illustration. 

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