White Horse Inn is a multimedia catalyst for reformation. We believe that each generation must rediscover and apply the gospel to their own time.Our mission is to help Christians “know what they believe and why they believe it” through conversational theology.
Bennett Heathmont from Victoria, Australia writes,
Hi, listening to your discussion on nobody coming to Jesus without being drawn by the Father, this verse kept coming to mind, “God has consigned all men to disobedience that He might have mercy on them all” (Rom. 11:32). If not all are saved, could it be suggested that God chose not to have mercy on those who are not saved in the end?
Thanks for the question Bennett. I think the key passage for us to consider here is Exodus 33:19 (and also Romans 9:15-16 along with it) in which God says “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Since we have all strayed from God’s path (Is. 53:6), the only way that any of us can be saved is if God has mercy on us and rescues us.
Now, perhaps I’m reading more into your question that you originally intended, but if you are suggesting that God’s foreknowledge might be involved here, and that since he knows those who will not end up being saved in the end, perhaps this is the reason he decided to withhold his mercy from this particular group. If this is indeed what you are asking, then I would suggest that you take another look at a text such as Ephesians 2:1-10. You see, in Adam, we’re all dead in sin and completely unresponsive to God (which is why we can’t even see God’s kingdom, much less make a decision to sign up for it — John 3:3-8). And so, even if God did look down the corridors of time, apart from his own merciful intervention, what is it that he would see? He would see people who are completely unresponsive toward him because they are still dead in their trespasses and sins.
I discussed issues related to this during my recent exchange with Justin Holcomb (7/14/19). In the latter part of John 10, Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” This statement is in many ways parallel to other things he has said throughout this Gospel, such as the fact that “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (Jn. 6:65), or “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn. 8:47). So unless God in his mercy and grace first rescues us and makes us alive (Eph. 2:5) then we will remain totally unresponsive to the word of God and the call to salvation. And as we have seen, this mercy and grace is not given indiscriminately to all, but only to those whom God is pleased to call his very own sheep. In fact, in John 6:37 Jesus says “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” And so, at the end of the day, Exodus 33:19 is the key to understanding these issues clearly. As God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock, he declared to him saying, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.”
This work is a collection of essays written over the past two decades by the prominent British New Testament scholar, David Horrell. In the not-so-distant past, mainstream scholars typically tried to study the New Testament merely in an objective, historical way. More recently, many of these scholars have shown renewed interest in how biblical texts may inform contemporary theological and ethical issues. Horrell writes as part of this latter movement. The book’s essays cover a wide range of topics related to the Pauline epistles. In Horrell’s own words, the three Parts of the book move “from the concrete social circumstances in which the earliest [Christian] communities gathered, through studies of Paul’s ethics, to the contemporary appropriation of the Pauline writings…” (xiii).
It is worth mentioning up front that although each chapter on its own is coherent, the essays do not come together very well to constitute a unified and coherent book. Near the beginning of the volume, Horrell admits that there are “a few points of overlap” (xiii) among the essays. This is an understatement—many discussions and comments that appear one place in the book are repeated elsewhere. Horrell decided not to eliminate the repetitiveness because he wished to uphold the integrity of the individual essays. The essays also contain a number of sections that repeat material from other books Horrell has written. Having read his work Solidarity and Difference (2d ed., 2015) shortly before reading the present volume, I noticed many strikingly similar discussions between the two. It is obviously within the author’s (and publisher’s) discretion to construct a book with this internally and externally repetitive material, but potential readers should be aware of this.
Part I (chapters 1-4) deals with the “sociohistorical context” of the early Christian churches and their surrounding communities. These essays engage scholarly debates that aren’t on the radar of most Christians reading the New Testament, such as what sort of home the worship services described in 1 Corinthians met in, or how wealthy Philemon was (or wasn’t). The essays in Part I will probably be of least interest to readers of Modern Reformation, although they may find thought-provoking material in Chapter 4, where Horrell discusses Paul’s use of family language (such as “brothers”) to describe fellow Christians.
Part II (chapters 5-7) turns to particular issues of ethics that emerge in Paul’s letters. Chapter 5 focuses on 1 Corinthians 5. Horrell considers how Paul here emphasizes the distinctive identity of the church, yet without promoting a sexual ethic that was different from that of the surrounding culture. Chapter 6 turns especially to 1 Corinthians 8-10, where Paul gives instructions regarding food sacrificed to idols and how this should shape relationships among Christians. Chapter 7 considers Philippians 2:6-11 and its theme of humility according to the imitation of Christ. These chapters in Part II deal thoughtfully with important themes in Paul’s epistles and may prove to be the most helpful part of the book for Modern Reformation readers.
In Part III (chapters 8-10), Horrell concludes by reflecting on the relevance of Paul for two big contemporary ethical issues, the liberalism-versus-communitarianism debate and ecological responsibility. (The former may not be self-explanatory. “Liberalism” here refers to the quest for a morality in the public square that is rational, accessible to all people, and universally valid. “Communitarianism” here refers to the conviction that people’s morality is intimately shaped by the communities and traditions in which they live, and hence communitarians are skeptical about the quest to find a universal, rational morality that everybody in every context should be able to affirm.) Horrell acknowledges that Paul did not address either issue, but believes that his thought provides material that may be helpful for thinking through them. Since these are indeed controversial issues today, it is worth assessing briefly Horrell’s method of utilizing Paul for contemporary ethics.
Horrell doesn’t approach Pauline texts with a high view of biblical inspiration or authority. He believes that Paul himself wrote only about half of the New Testament letters attributed to him; he regards Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus as pseudo-Pauline. He also is open to correcting Paul’s ethics when need be. For example, the development of a suitable “ecojustice ethic” requires “substantial and constructive development beyond, even against, Paul” (227). And since he believes Paul derived much of his morality (e.g., his sexual ethics) from his surrounding culture, Christian ethics today shouldn’t necessarily repeat Paul’s ideas, since that may just be a reproduction of an ancient morality (178).
With this sort of view of Scripture, Horrell naturally feels a greater freedom in how he uses biblical texts than do those with a higher view of Scriptural authority. When discussing liberalism vs. communitarianism, for example, he states that he presumes simply that the Bible is a “primary source for the Christian tradition,” and that theologians “engage” Scripture so they might “further develop that tradition in response to contemporary dilemmas and issues” (166). He explains his method more fully when treating ecological issues. He promotes an approach that is “exegetically serious,” yet which recognizes that its engagement with biblical texts is “a constructive and creative act, shaped by the perceived priorities of the contemporary context” (215). What this means is that just as Martin Luther “found in Paul a message of justification by faith” that became the heart of the Lutheran tradition, so also today ecological crises might “inspire new kinds of engagement with the Bible” (216).
Horrell is right to recognize that nobody reads Scripture in a vacuum. We are all deeply affected by the social and intellectual contexts in which we live, and we all come to Scripture with various questions and biases, many of which we are often not even aware. It is also legitimate to seek insight from Scripture on contemporary issues that the biblical writers themselves didn’t contemplate. What Scripture says explicitly often has profound implications for things it doesn’t address. But some fundamental questions remain. Should our perceived contemporary needs direct us to downplay what Scripture emphasizes, or should Scripture itself set the agenda for what is most important? And should recognition of how much we’re shaped by our contexts lead us to deny that there is any truly objective, divinely-established moral vision that Scripture obligates Christians to follow, or should this recognition instead prompt us to be all the more careful about submitting all of our thoughts and desires to Scripture? Horrell’s method points us to the first option in each case, while a high view of Scripture, I believe, points us to the second options. When it comes to doing careful reading of Pauline texts, Horrell’s work offers many useful insights. But when he moves to constructive Christian ethics for today, Horrell’s approach to Scripture makes him a less than reliable guide.
Why is it that some respond positively to the voice of the Good Shepherd while others do not? The explanation that Jesus himself gives in John chapter 10 is that at the end of the day, his sheep are the ones who hear his voice, and that those who persist in unbelief are not among his sheep. What are the implications of this message on grace and free will? Are these new ideas or are they rooted in concepts taught throughout the Old Testament? Shane Rosenthal discusses these questions and more with Justin Holcomb, author of On the Grace of God.
Justin Holcomb: “… In the realm of Hollywood and unfortunately, in too many churches where you have freedom of the will, and “I can do this”—”I need Jesus as an example, not as a rescuer, or Savior, and reviving me from death”—and that the problem is not diagnosed as spiritually dead or needing rescue. Well, then, you just need some advice, not good news of a war that’s been conquered on your behalf.”
Term to Learn
From the Latin verb concurrere, ‘to run together,’ the idea of concursus, or concurrence, in theology refers to the simultaneity of divine and human agency in specific actions and events. Sometimes God acts immediately and directly, but ordinarily he works through natural means. Aquinas employed the Aristotelian category of primary and secondary causes to make this point.
The concurrence that is necessary for a biblical doctrine of providence is not merely a general oversight but a direction of all events to their appointed ends. We can have confidence that God works all things together for our good only because all things are decreed by his wise counsels. It is only when we recognize God’s hand in everyday providence, through means, that we are able to attribute everything ultimately for his glory. If it were not for his providence and use of ordinary means, we would have no ground for praising God when good things are received through free human agents and natural means. This doctrine of concursus is likewise true in relation to the means of grace and prayer. God has ordained the use of preaching, as well as prayer, for more marvelous ends then we ourselves could cause, things pertaining to salvation. Prayer, therefore, is more than a therapeutic catharsis—venting our fears and frustrations or expressing our hopes and dreams to one who cares but is incapable of overruling in the affairs of free creatures. Prayer presupposes that God is sovereign over every contingency of nature and history.
This doctrine of concursus allows us to say that God works all things together for the salvation of his elect—even their material circumstances. Ordinary daily occurrences —trials, disasters, tragedies, personal encounters, formative events—become occasions for God’s saving hand to reach into our lives, whether we recognize it or not. This doctrine is vividly seen in the life of Joseph in Genesis 50:20, “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.”
(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp. 356–58).
Being devoted members of the Christian litterati, the editors are frequently prone to itching ears, with strong tendencies to accumulate for ourselves books to suit our passions (2 Tim. 4:3). When one of our frequent contributors, Dr. John Bombaro, suggested James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s recent book, The Science and The Good, we were naturally very excited hear his thoughts on it, which we published a few weeks ago. Our book review editor was duly surprised when, a few days later, Dr. Nedelisky himself wrote to our office and asked if we might be willing to publish a response to the review, as he felt that Dr. Bombaro had perhaps misunderstood him on a few points. We’re always happy to facilitate constructive and edifying discussions, so we offer for the reader’s benefit Dr. Nedelisky’s response to Dr. Bombaro’s review below, and Dr. Bombaro’s reply to Dr. Nedelisky here, with our sincere gratitude to both for their instructive insights on the subject of the scientific endeavor to establish a naturalistic ethic.
First, Rev. Bombaro says we “caricature” the new moral scientists as “tragic.” This is because the narrative in which they find their role is indeed tragic. As we show, the quest for a science of morality initially arose in an effort to end the violence that comes from deep moral disagreement by way of empirical demonstration of the moral truth, but today has become a morally nihilistic attempt to name as “scientific” the instrumental pursuit of whatever social consensus wants. That the new moral scientists represent a near-total inversion of the quest’s original goals strikes us as tragic in the extreme.
Second, Rev. Bombaro says we “fail” to analyze the good. It is true that we don’t attempt to analyze the good, for two reasons: first, it’s irrelevant to our project. We discuss the definition of moral terms only to note that these seem to be non-empirical insofar as they’re accurate. We don’t need to present an analysis of ‘the good’ to point out that value of this sort doesn’t appear to be empirically detectible or demonstrable. In general, we can often tell that something is not X even where we don’t have a comprehensive analysis of X. A simple example: few of us can present a precise definition of color, yet most of us can tell that squareness isn’t a color. In short, since we don’t think one should waste paper offering analyses that don’t figure in the story or argument one is presenting, we do not offer one here. Second, there is good reason to think that goodness cannot be analyzed—that instead it is among the basic building blocks of reality, out of which other elements are built, but which themselves are fundamental. In that case, even if it had been relevant to offer an analysis of the good, we could not have done so.
Third, Rev. Bombaro criticizes our historical narrative as “disputable” because we don’t explore Kant and his influence. But again, this isn’t relevant to our story. We aren’t attempting to give a history of ethical thought; we’re giving a history of the science of morality—just one strand in the history of ethics. Kant’s approach to ethics was not scientific, let alone empirical, so any detailed discussion here would have contributed little to our account. It is plausible that Kant’s positive influence at times helped push professional ethics away from more scientific accounts, but this is speculative and these lines of indirect influence are hard to trace.
And, for what it’s worth, part of why Rev. Bombaro thinks Kant is relevant to our story is based on a simple mistake. He claims it was “Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason that inspired Hume and set the stage for Darwinianism and the shift toward a thoroughly anthropocentric morality.” In fact, it was the other way around: it was Hume’s work that Kant claimed to have aroused him from his “dogmatic slumbers.”
In his conclusion, Rev. Bombaro notes that our work shouldn’t be used as an “argument defeater” against materialists due to our work’s “insufficiencies.” I agree that our work doesn’t make for a good objection to materialism. But once again, Rev. Bombaro is faulting us for failing to do something we never intended to do. While some of our observations could be employed in arguments against materialism, it’s not part of our project to provide such arguments. As such, it’s tough to see how this amounts to an insufficiency in the book. The value of a book on ideas and culture isn’t exhausted by its relevance to apologetic endeavors—far from it. There is significance beyond defending one’s faith—we have tried to show the impotence and danger of the new moral science for everyone, regardless of their religious orientation. And there is always value in better understanding the sources of the regnant moral authority in our culture; where they came from, what animates them, what they really amount to, and where they are leading us. Even within the narrower confines of apologetics, surely one must understand what one faces before one can ably engage it.
About a year ago, my wife and I watched the movie The Greatest Showman and loved it. Musicals aren’t usually my thing, but I thought this was really well done—it was subtle, meaningful, compelling, and entertaining all at once. One of the movie’s themes I chewed on for months following is idolatry, and one scene in particular stood out.
The Snare of the Adulteress
By the middle of the film, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) has established his empire through his circus. He has wealth, acclaim, and power, yet we see that even now, he’s not content. There’s something missing. He’s been gazing upon—and striving after—the desires of his heart; he’s achieved all of his success expecting that he would find satisfaction in his achievements, yet he hasn’t found the satisfaction and rest he was expecting his success and status to provide.
During the song Never Enough (performed by Loren Allred), that we see Barnum most enraptured by his idol. We watch him gaze upon everything he’s ever dreamed of—beauty, world-renown fame, ever-abounding wealth—and he’s transfixed by it. He’s captivated by the experience of his deepest wants on full display before him and his gaze is locked upon it, so much so that he can’t hear the irony of the lyrics declaring that the life he’s lusting after simply serves to mask the aroma of death that the life is producing.
As the camera focuses in on Barnum watching the performance, we hear the words he’s missing: “All the shine of a thousand spotlights/All the stars we steal from the nightsky/Will never be enough.” We understand that no matter how many eyes look to him in adoration, no matter how my times he does what his impoverished upbringing says he shouldn’t have been able to, it won’t be enough to fill the void he feels. He either doesn’t hear it, or doesn’t want to—his idol has overwhelmed him and he can see nothing other than his desire. He follows after his adulteress as complacently, “as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Pro. 7:22), having been persuaded by her seductive speech and succumbed to the lure of wealth, power, and desire.
His example of idolatry may seem extreme to many of us. It’s not likely that we will reach the heights that Barnum does in the film, but the question this scene poses remains applicable for all of us: What are you gazing at?
We’re All Gazing at Something
Gazing itself isn’t necessarily wrong, as long as we evaluate the object of our gaze. When we see something we like—when we see something we love; something that resonates deep within us—we don’t just look, we fix it with our stare, observe and contemplate it. This is the thing that, if jeopardized, we will defend the most vigorously, what will reveal what’s profoundly true about who we are and what we value. These things our eyes are locked upon are not always inherently bad, but if that thing isn’t God, then it’s an idol. As Tim Keller often states, “idols are anything other than God, even good things, which have become ultimate things.” If we allow anything to unseat God’s rightful place in our lives, then we aren’t being pragmatic, or thoughtful—or whatever other lie we tell ourselves—we’re being idolatrous.
Of course, it’s easier to remove the speck in our brother’s eye than it is to see the log in our own. It’s easy to see where P. T. Barnum gets it wrong, but less easy to identify the problem areas in our own hearts. As Americans living in the 21st century, we take our abundant individual and corporate wealth as a something to be hoarded, instead of a gift of God’s grace that is to be dispersed liberally for the betterment of others. Mindful of the insecurity and poverty of much of the world around us, we give ourselves over to the respectable idols of comfort and stability in fits of situational amnesia, forgetting that the hallmark of our faith is to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow after our true Lord, Jesus (Matt. 16:24). We project our own potential onto Barnum—from hard work and ingenuity (as well as con-artist-level deception) he moves himself and his family from a life of poverty and anxiety to one of luxury and security. We look at Barnum and think, “Why can’t that be me?” And really, from a worldly standpoint, why shouldn’t it? If this life is all there is, then why would we not make everything, and everyone, subject to the ultimate end of all meaning, “me”?
What keeps Barnum gazing upon this life—and I suspect many of us—is not only the things that come with his position, but the public acclaim and adoration that position provides. Herein lies his defeat: Barnum has everything, but not the approval of some (most notably the circus skeptics and his in-laws) and these dissenting voices define his worth for him. With the world, it’s all or nothing. In our social-media driven age, we quantify the world’s adoration through likes, retweets, and followers—or, more rightly, those that haven’t liked, retweeted, or followed us. Even as Christians, we so badly want the love and approval of others—and the power that approval gives—that we forget that we already have the ultimate approval of God. Like Barnum, we’re quick to sell our souls to gain the world, not realizing that we’re only getting fool’s gold in return (Mk. 8:36). Human love and adoration is fickle, shifting with every new trend and hashtag, leaving us alone with our ever-present inadequacies, sins and failures. This is the downfall of a life spent gazing in the world’s mirror: we’ve given it everything, and are left exactly as we were—frail, broken, and insufficient.
What can break our gaze apart from that which Thomas Chalmers calls the “expulsive power of a new affection”? The effectual power of the gospel alters our affection by replacing its object with something more wonderful. The good news tells us that Christ has broken the bonds of the lusts of the world on our hearts, healed our wounds with his stripes, given his own righteousness to cover our insufficiency, and united us to himself, thereby earning for us the approval of the Father forever. Rather than suffer the fruitless strife of endlessly working for our own comfort and security, the Holy Spirit himself gives us great joy and pleasure as we share in the trouble of others (Phil. 4:14). We are enabled to share our own comfort with others, giving above and beyond our means even to the point of begging for the opportunity to relieve fellow saints (2 Cor. 8:3-4). In Christ, we’re marked by a willingness to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10), and we’re constantly considering how we might stir one another up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). The lens of the gospel directs our gaze out, not in. When our eyes are firmly fixed on the truth of having been crucified with Christ, we can live our lives by the confident faith that enables us to see our blessings from God as his means of blessing others. As H.B. Charles Jr. says, “We’re blessed not to be prosperous, but generous.” We loosen our grip upon the potential idols of worldly riches, approval, and comfort, and by doing so strengthen our grip upon the eternal glory we’ve been promised.
Listen to the Word(s)
We’re not left to identify and conquer these idols on our own. God has given us his Spirit who bears witness to us, and with us, that we are indeed, through faith in Christ, children of God. He has given us his Church to be a community that believes the best about us and confronts the worst in us. This means that when our gaze lingers on something that doesn’t deserve it, we have an advocate with us reminding us of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ the righteous, who lives to make intercession for us, and it means that the church is there to confront us and make sure we listen to the truth of this reminder.
Instead of looking at this picture of Barnum and thanking God he hasn’t made us like him, we look at Paul’s declaration and are admonished: “and such were some of you, but…” (1 Cor. 6:11). We were just like Barnum, and often we fall back into old tendencies, but thanks be to God that he has taken our hopeful gaze off of the world and placed it upon his son. Jesus Christ came, lived, died, rose, and is seated in heaven, and our gaze is fixed on him, our true righteousness, meaning, and worth.
Matt Boga is a member and lay leader at Reality Church of Stockton in Stockton, CA where he lives with his wife and son. In his free time Matt enjoys reading, building with his hands, and playing basketball. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattboga.
On this program, the hosts arrive at John chapter 10 as Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd. But when we compare this claim to various Old Testament promises, we see that this is actually another clear reference to Jesus’ divinity, since Yahweh himself is frequently described as the shepherd of Israel. Furthermore Jesus says that he—unlike all the unfaithful shepherds throughout Israel’s long history—has ultimately come to lay down his life for his sheep.
Shane Rosenthal: “As people increasingly adopt the dogma that “above is only sky,” they begin to see themselves either individually or collectively as the ultimate source of authority. In such a world, there can be no ultimate standard of truth, goodness, or beauty, but only subjective preferences which is why many have come to believe in our day that truth is relative; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that there are no objective moral standards.”
Term to Learn
“Body of Christ”
The metaphor of body is used in two New Testament passages concerning the church, Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 1:18. This image must be interpreted in relation to the more basic paradigm of the covenant. The meaning of the “body of Christ” metaphor is to be found in the concrete historical contexts in which it was given. The church as a holy commonwealth exceeds common communities by virtue of the fact that it alone is elected by the Father in the Son through the work of the Spirit. It is held together by the sinews of covenantal love, not simply of friendship; it is the fellowship of brothers and sisters (a family) and not simply neighbors who share the same racial, ethnic, national, socio-economic, or cultural affinities.
The body of Christ is found in union with its head, the Lord Jesus, and in communion with other Christians, the church. Chosen in Christ, redeemed in Christ, sealed in Christ by the Spirit, the church is the one place where worldly divisions no longer take place. Paul links this ecclesiology to the ascension of Christ, as the source of the gifts that he now pours out lavishly by his Spirit to his saints through the ministry of Word and sacrament. It is this ministry alone that creates, sustains, unites, and brings maturity and health to the body of Christ. Each member (or body part) is useful for the whole and in need of each other, as Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 12. The body of Christ is likened and explained by the marital metaphor in Ephesians 5, where Paul says that Christ is one with his body (the church) in a way that is similar to the union of husband and wife as “one flesh.”
(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p 733-36)
In chapter 8 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” But are churches in our time known for their love of truth? Are we really making disciples who abide in Jesus’ words, or merely entertaining consumers with feel-good messages and upbeat worship? That’s what’s on tap for this edition of the program as we present a classic White Horse Inn panel discussion of chapters 8 and 9 of the Gospel of John (originally aired February 17, 2013).
Michael Horton: “Jesus said to the Jews, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” What is it to be a true disciple of Jesus?”
Term to Learn
“Discipleship of the Reformation”
The Reformation brought an incisive change in the understanding of discipleship. With his thesis of justification by faith and grace alone (sola fide, sola gratia), M. Luther (1483-1546) radically challenged the idea that the state of alienation from God that resulted from original sin could be removed by meritorious works. Hence he viewed the types of discipleship by imitation as well-meaning but needlessly self-torturing attempts at self-justification. According to Luther, imitation does not make sons, but sonship makes imitators.
For Luther, focusing on the cross of Christ is ecclesiologically relevant and allows him to lump together Jews, enthusiasts, papists, Turks, and heretics as people who all try to set their own meritorious works in opposition to the grace of God. Freed from the need to justify themselves, the Reformers (including also J. Calvin and U. Zwingli) could give concrete form to discipleship in every personal and social relation.
(Adapted from The Encyclopedia of Christianity, s.v. “Discipleship”)
What Scriptures did Jesus have in mind when he taught that living water would flow from the hearts of those who believe in him? Similarly, when he claimed to be the light of the world, what Old Testament promises was he alluding to? Is the story of the woman caught in adultery an authentic part of the Fourth Gospel or a later addition? On this episode, Shane Rosenthal discusses these questions and more with Andreas Kostenberger as they unpack the historical and theological significance of chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John.
“Shane Rosenthal: We have water and we take it for granted. Exactly. You come from a Baptist background. There are some who take Jesus’ words to Nicodemus and apply it to baptism. And it sounds like what I’m hearing you say is that it’s not necessarily a reference to baptism, it’s a reference to the Old Testament imagery about the power of the spirit.”
Term to Learn
“Covenant of Works”
We can define the covenant of works as God’s commitment to give Adam, and his posterity in him, eternal life for obedience or eternal death for disobedience. It is the original state into which Adam and Eve were created. Being in the image of God, Adam had a righteous and holy nature, wherein he was able to earn the reward by his works.
(Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond, p. 45)
“The distinction between ‘eternal life’ (aeon zoe) and ‘life’ (zoe) in John, is, exactly, what? Zoe-life is itself eternal, yes? Why does John’s Gospel have a hundred references to zoe with only 17 of them joined with the word eternal?”
Thanks for your question Richard. The Greek word zoe, can be used to refer to ordinary human life, and to eternal life as well. The way to spot the difference would be to pay close attention to the context. As with some of the cases you mentioned, whenever “life” is modified by the word “eternal,” it’s easy to tell that our never-ending life in heaven is in view. Elsewhere, contextual factors make clear that ordinary human life is in view. This is evident in texts such as Luke 16:25 in which a rich man is told, “Child, remember that in your life (zoe) you received good things,” or John 4:50 in which Jesus tells the royal official, “Go, your son will live (zao).” The context of both those passages make clear that the word “life” refers to our temporal earthly existence.
Now there are passages in John in which the word “life” appears without being modified by the word “eternal,” and yet the context makes clear that “eternal life” is actually the focus. This can be seen in a verse such as John 20:31 in which the narrator explains his own motivation for writing this Gospel: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life (zoe) in his name.” Though the word “life” here is unmodified, we know what the author is getting because he has made similar statements throughout his work, and has connected “believing” with “eternal life” (cf. Jn. 3:15-16, 36, 5:24, 6:40, 47).
Essentially, the word “life” as it is used in John 20:31 serves as a kind of shorthand for the longer phrase “eternal life.” This sort of thing happens frequently in English as well. For example, a friend once told me that while he and his family were on a road trip, his son noticed a billboard which said, “Don’t Drink and Drive!” The son then scolded his father, since he happened to be drinking a soda at the moment. The misunderstanding of course is related to the way in which the prohibition against “drinking and driving” should not be taken literally (as if it referred to all liquids), but is understood to be a kind of shorthand way of saying that we should avoid “drinking (alcohol) and driving.”
The key thing we need to realize about the way Jesus is revealed in the Gospel of John, is that he’s not presented merely as someone who can help us to get access to eternal life, but rather, he’s actually presented as source of life itself. Right at the very opening of this Gospel we’re told, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In other words, Jesus is Yahweh, the great-self existent one (cf. Ex. 3:14, Dt. 32:39, Rev. 1:8).
In terms of the stats, I was able to find 56 examples of different forms for the word “life” (zoe, zao, zoapoieo), and 30 examples of the word “eternal,” and/or “forever” (aeon, aeonios) used throughout the Gospel of John. I was also able to find around 20 or so examples of instances in which those two words interacted with each other.