Monday, April 07, 2008

Preservation, part 2. Shepherd.

So, we've seen how we deal with Romans 11 and its warnings (and by extension other warning passages in the Bible). In this case, what do we have to account for?

John 10:25-29 - "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."


So, in review, the answer to David Bryan's question is that we don't favor any biblical passage over any other when figuring out a biblical position on Issue X. We look at all the data and derive thence the position. There are some passages that are clearer than others, for which we thank God. There are those that are less clear, for which we also thank God and thank Him for the clearer ones that clarify the less clear ones. The clarity assigns priority, you might say, of chronology for figuring out where to start, then one moves on to the less-clear for harmonisation.

First, the interpretation that one can be at some point in his life in such a state that he would go to Heaven forever if he were to die at that moment, and later in life be in such a state that he would go to Hell forever if he were to die at that later moment demands the question: Can one be sealed, adopted, transformed, and then UNsealed, UNadopted, UNtransformed, and then REsealed, REadopted, REtransformed? How many times? How many times can one be cut off, grafted back in, cut back off, grafted back in?
A hint is that Hebrews 6:4-6 informs us that the answer is Zero; that is, if one can indeed be unsealed, unadopted, etc, then it's impossible to come back.

Of course, all that is based on false premises.

Anyway, I'd like to examine the John 10 passage. Many people end up focusing on the "no one can snatch them out" but there's a more central statement to it. Specifically, Jesus says that His sheep will never perish. Given that the biblical language of death, particularly spiritual death, is usually equivalent to being condemned b/c of sin and spending eternity in Hell, Jesus is saying that, whoever His sheep are, they will not perish, they will not go to Hell, they will be rather with Him, forever (since He says "never").
So, who are His sheep?

V. 24 informs us that Jesus is addressing "The Jews", which usually means some mixture of the Pharisees, teachers of the law, scribes, etc. And these Jews prove their unbelief by asking Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
They do not accept Him as Messiah.
Jesus answers, "I told you, and you do not believe." These are unbelievers, called out for what they are by God Himself.
Next, v. 26-27, "you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."
He compares and contrasts the 2 groups - these to whom He is speaking are not His sheep. In this life. Right now, at this moment in time, they are not His sheep. And there is another group in existence, His sheep, who DO follow His voice. Are these sheep people who have died in faith?
If so,
1) why say they will never perish?
2) why deny that someone could snatch them?
3) why describe the sheep as not hearing the voice of the stranger in v. 5?
4) why say that the sheep didn't listen to thieves and robbers who came before, in v. 8? Do these thieves and robbers have access to the faithful dead in Paradise?
5) why describe the wolf scattering the sheep in v. 12? Can that happen in heaven?

Etc. No, these sheep must be believers in this life.
The step is fairly simple now, for those who care what Jesus says. The sheep are believers in this life, and they will never perish. Thus, he who is a believer doesn't perish, ever.
Remembering that this is a separate question from assurance, that is, knowing that one is saved, the idea that one can fall out of a saved state, forwarded by David Bryan and his EO-dox brethren, Arminians, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, semi-Pelagians, etc, lies refuted by God's direct statement. This is not unclear. Thus, as we said earlier, it is often an excellent and useful strategy to start here, take the concept as a given from now on, and work to harmonise other 'problem' passages and questions that may arise.

Let me deal here briefly with an easily-answered objection:
If I said that members of the Marlebone football club will never have to pay entrance fee to home games, does that have to mean that one cannot cease to be a member of the club and then have to pay?
In that case, would not the sheep perish? What then would be the point of saying what Jesus said?
Let's restate it like Orthodox would have us do:
"My sheep hear my voice except when they don't, and I know them except for the ones I don't know, and they follow me unless they don't follow me. I give the ones who don't unbecome sheep eternal life, and the ones who don't perish will never perish, and the ones that don't snatch themselves out of my hand, no one will snatch out of my hand. My Father, who has given the ones who don't perish to me, is greater than all, and and the ones that don't snatch themselves out of the Father's hand will not be snatched out."

Perhaps Orthodox knows of a textual variant in John 10 that I don't know about. It would be interesting to know.


I hope to address a different common objection in a 3rd post soon.

11 comments:

Jason said...

There are some passages that are clearer than others...There are those that are less clear...The clarity assigns priority, you might say, of chronology for figuring out where to start, then one moves on to the less-clear for harmonisation (sic).

Just in the interest preserving "sola Scriptura" in your methodiology, in which passage are we given this "priority of clarity" hermeneutic?

Rhology said...

2 Peter 3:16 comes quickly to mind.

Jason said...

2 Peter 3:16

Hmmm. That seems to be more of a presentation of the problem, not the prescription of a remedy.

On further reflection, one might infer the remedy is to not be unlearned and unstable...but I fail to see what this has to do with anything like a "priority of clarity."

I don't want to de-rail the combox away from the topic of perseverance, so I'll give you the last word on this and let it rest.

Pax!

Rhology said...

I was referring to the other part of the verse - "in which are some things hard to understand". He compares two things in two places in that verse - 1) hard to understand vs easier to understand

2) untaught and unstable people who distort vs taught and stable who don't distort

#1 is what I meant. But if you want to go ahead and start with the harder to understand psgs, be my guest.

Carrie said...

Just an aside, Augustine seemed to appeal to a similar method:

"Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere." On Christian Doctrine II:5-6

Sola Scriptura does not negate common sense. The bible is God's revelation to man, certainly he intended for it to be understood (although deep study is needed for the more obscure passages). Common sense tells you to use the easy to understand ideas as a framework for understanding the more difficult passages since all scripture must harmonize.

"The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.", Psalm 119:130

Jason said...

Carrie:

I'll make this brief in the interest of not further derailing this already derailed combox.

I figured some one would mention a passage from the Fathers where this principle is mentioned, but I think you miss my point which is this: I don't think this apparently very important key for understanding a topic as important as perseverance is found in the scripture itself.

It may indeed me a wise and profitable principle, but it has to be brought in from outside the scriptures itself. Which is no problem for me and, as I understand, the Fathers, but might be a problem for someone who is trying to do their theology with the hermetically sealed lab of the Bible alone.

If this "priority of clarity" was handed down from the Fathers, perhaps it is Sacred Tradition. If it something that has a purely human origin in human reason, then perhaps it is a "tradition of men" and not binding on anyone. If the Scriptures NEED this technique or principle in order to be read correctly, are they your final authority?

And I know that Sola Scriptura doesn't mean "just me and my Bible." I am, however, convinced that reading, understanding, teaching or even HAVING a Bible is impossible without some contact with Sacred Tradition and the life of the Church, which is the context in which the Scriptures were given to us.

As before, you can respond and I'll let it drop...unless someone else wants a go at it. Pax.

Rhology said...

Jason,

I thank you for your thoughts but they are poorly informed. Just b/c a CF parrots the principle found in the Scripture (which I've already outlined in my brief comments here) doesn't mean that the principle came from the CF.
Even if that CF had written BEFORE the relevant Scr psg was written, it makes no difference. For it is found therein.
That's even before we call into question your understanding of what Sola Scrip means and doesn't mean - even on the grounds you're trying to set up, the argument doesn't get anywhere.

Peace,
Rhology

Carrie said...

but might be a problem for someone who is trying to do their theology with the hermetically sealed lab of the Bible alone.

That is a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura.

I quoted Augustine b/c it shows that the idea of perspicuity of scripture is not some novel Reformation idea, yet Augustine's words do seem at odds with current RC thought. And as Rhology has said, Augustine's parroting isn't needed for validation.

If it something that has a purely human origin in human reason, then perhaps it is a "tradition of men" and not binding on anyone. If the Scriptures NEED this technique or principle in order to be read correctly, are they your final authority?

Nobody said the principle was binding. And nobody needs this technique to understand the simple passages which describe salvation, something with which many of your ECFs would agree. The fact that SOME passages are a bit more difficult (not impossible) to understand doesn't leave us lost in confusion.

I am, however, convinced that reading, understanding, teaching or even HAVING a Bible is impossible without some contact with Sacred Tradition and the life of the Church, which is the context in which the Scriptures were given to us.

And yet the Hebrews were given their own scriptures with none of your requirements and Jesus held them accountable for understanding what the scriptures said.

If a true inability to understand scripture exists, I think scripture also has an answer for that, and the answer is not the infallible interpreter of the RCC.

Nick said...

I havnt really been following this series, but I disagree that Jn 10 teaches eternal security for a couple of reasons (not sure if I should go into the details here).

But the main reason why I responded was because I have been told recently that the verbs to 'hear' and 'follow' are in the "present tense" in Greek which indicates the hearing and following must continue.
I dont know greek, but that would certainly fit the evidence that not all who believe are guaranteed to continue to believe and obey (eg Lk 8:13; Jn 12:42f; 1 Tim 5:8; etc).

Rhology said...

Nick,

You'd need to make the case that these are PREscriptive, not DEscriptive. Ie - "IF you follow, then..." rather than "this is what the sheep look like, they follow..."
And then you'd need to explain how the sheep can go ahead and perish.

As for those warning psgs, see my comments on those in the part 1 post.

Peace,
Rhology

Lvka said...

Yes, it means they'll have eternal life and inherit the riches of the Kingdom, those that hear his voice and follow Him.