I John 2:19

Here is the text:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Now, this text has been used on both sides of the FV debate. Critics use this as a proof-text for the standard understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. Wilkins has a rather extensive exposition of this passage on page 17 of his exam. He will be my dialog (sparring?) partner.

The first question that must be asked is this: who is the “us” in the verse? Two options have presented themselves. The first is that John and his readers make up the “us.” The second option is that the “us” is the apostles. Obviously, if the second option is correct, then the verse cannot be used as a proof-text for the visible/invisible church distinction, since the ones who left are not then described as being in the church; they would only be described as being sent by the apostles.

However, the “apostles” understanding of the “us” is not tenable for contextual reasons. The “us” must be referring to the same group as the “we” in the last part of the previous verse. That verse goes like this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Surely, the “we” in the last sentence cannot be limited to the apostles, since, by telling his readers that it is the last hour, everyone knows, not just the apostles! It is a literary “we,” identifying the writer with the readers. This understanding of the “we” is by no means shaken by the fact that “you” refers to the readers in the first part of the verse. Obviously, the “you” refers to the readers. But it refers to the readers minus the writer. It would be unnatural in the extreme, therefore, for John to posit a contrast between the readers and the apostles in that verse. Such a contrast would make no sense. Therefore, the “we” in verse 18 is referring to readers plus John. In short, it is the church. That makes a sudden departure from this usage to that of “apostles” impossible in verse 19. The “us” of verse 19 is the same as the “we” of verse 18.

The next question that must be examined is the timing of the false teachers. Did they cease to be part of us, or were they never part of us? Wilkins says that the former is an exegetical and grammatical option. However, he does not argue his case. He merely asserts it. I, on the other hand, will argue my position, which is that the false teachers were never part of the church.

First of all, we must note the tense of the verb “to be.” It is imperfect. Imperfect does not have the sense of completion, but of incompletion. In other words, there is not a change of status in the present. The imperfect conveys rather a continuous action in the past. They were continually not of us.

Furthermore, the sentence starting in the second part of the verse expresses a contrary-to-fact condition (BDF 360). It is contrary to fact that they were of us. Therefore, the logical corollary is that they never were of us. Wilkins’s case has not only not been made, but now has been shown to be impossible. The verse describes the traditional view that these false teachers came out from the church (“us”), but were never part of the church (“not of us”).

Of course, Wilkins is correct in saying “there is no compelling reason to say that John is claiming these eventual apostates never experienced ANY (emphasis his) blessing whatsoever while they remained in the covenant community.” I think any critic of Wilkins could agree with this. But, what are the nature of those blessings? Saving? No. None of them.

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37 Comments

  1. Seth McBee said,

    January 10, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    I have been amazed at the wrong interpretation of 1 John when it seems so forth coming of its intent. Not only does the FV obviously look way too far into these Scripture passages when they couldn’t be more straightforward, so does the Arminian or those who don’t adhere to Lordship salvation; seeing 1 John as a fellowship book and not a “tests for eternal life” book

    Lane, thank you for your patience on this for mine is run out.

  2. Al said,

    January 10, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    It seems to me that there are far more sensible readings of this passage, which do greater justice to the context. James Jordan writes as follows, for example:

    “Out from us they went out,” — that is, they set out on teaching missions. [This is language the NT uses elsewhere, Acts 15:24 — Al]

    “But they were not out from us,” — that is, they had no valid commission from us.

    “For if they were out from us they would have remained with us,” — that is, if they had valid commissions from us, they would have remained with us in our true teaching.

    “But [this happened] in order that they might be manifest that none of them are out from us.” — that is, their false teaching shows that they were not sent by us.

    It seems to me that this is a far more reasonable reading of the verse, which demonstrates that it provides no support for the visible/invisible Church distinction, whether or not we believe that doctrine can be supported from elsewhere in Scripture (personally, I am not sure that it is the most helpful way of speaking, but I don’t feel particularly strongly against it).

  3. Anne said,

    January 10, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    Jordan must be out of his mind, then. That’s just silly.

    For crying out loud, look at the start of the epistle:

    1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
    2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
    3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
    4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
    5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected By this we know that we are in Him:
    6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

    This isn’t talking about teachers setting out on missions, so there’s no valid reason to think John wasn’t referring to the flip side of verse 6 down in verse 19: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

    Not to mention which, look at verse 20: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.”

    You? You all? What, was this epistle directed to a class of would-be missionaries instead of a congregation?

    If verse 19 was referring to missionaries with invalid commissions, then verse 20 should logically be addressed to missionaries with valid commissions.

    Plus, in verse 18 John speaks of antichrists that “have appeared.” Well, that’d be a weird way to phrase it if those antichrists had merely been teachers without valid commissions. The traditional interpretation works fine, though….the antichrists that “appeared” had once been part of the church but left it, apparently stayed out of sight for awhile, then popped up, publicly denying that “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 22).

    How Jordan gets tacky teachers out of that passage beats me.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 10, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Al, I demonstrated conclusively that “apostles” cannot be the meaning of “us” in that verse. Since you didn’t even address that exegetical difficulty with the position, I can only conclude that you didn’t really read the post.

  5. Seth McBee said,

    January 10, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    That assertation from James Jordan is absolutely ridiculous and I will refer my exegesis to the original post by Lane as reason…

  6. January 11, 2007 at 2:32 am

    This should solidify in every unbiased person’s mind only the fact that Jordan is on the wackiest fringe of FV in his exegesis.

  7. Thomas Twitchell said,

    January 11, 2007 at 2:42 am

    Bring in the clowns. Those who juggle words do so in silence. Who knows when one falls to the ground?

  8. Al said,

    January 11, 2007 at 6:05 am

    Few points:

    1. Lane, I did read your post. I did not claim that the ‘us’ referred to the apostles. It could refer to the Church more generally, as it seems to do where much the same wording is used in Acts 15:24 (v.22 ‘apostles and elders, with the whole church'; v.23 ‘the apostles and elders and brethren’). That said, I don’t think that your argument on this point is that strong. Look at the way that the ‘we’s and ‘you’s work in chapter 1, for example.

    2. The close correspondence of the language of Acts 15:24 and 1 John 2:19 certain should be given some attention. The language of Acts 15:24 is probably the closest thing that we have in the rest of the NT to the language of 1 John 2:19 and in Acts 15:24 it is referring to people setting out on teaching missions, not to a more general sin of apostasy (cf. Acts 15:1).

    3. The context of 1 John 2:19 is concerned with antichrists going out into the world. The people referred to in verse 19 are false teachers, not just apostates. Furthermore, the context is concerned with the manner in which we know that the teaching of such men is false. Jordan’s reading of the verse thus fits beautifully into the context, making the point that such false teachers are manifest because they do not remain in the teachings of the apostles and in fellowship with them. One cannot help but think that the readings proposed above are more like an intrusion into the context.

    4. The false teachers have not remained in the fellowship of truth with the Church and its appointed leaders, as the recipients of John’s epistle are called to do (vv.24-28). This relates to the theme introduced at the beginning of the epistle, 1:3-7. The false teachers leave the fellowship of truth with the apostles and the faithful teacher and thus manifest that their teaching was never apostolic, otherwise they would have remained in this fellowship.

    5. In response to Anne, Jordan’s argument has to do with a way in which the false teachers, the antichrists of verse 18, are manifested — in their failure to abide in fellowship with and with the teaching of the apostles and the apostolic Church. I find your argument strange. It seems to me that you have quite missed Jordan’s point.

    John’s point in verse 20 is that faithful believers should be able to discern the antichrists, by virtue of the Holy Spirit that has been given to them. John is dealing with the way in which false teachers are made known. Consequently, verses 19 and 20 fit closely together, far more closely than they do in many Reformed readings of the verses, I might add.

  9. January 11, 2007 at 6:35 am

    [...] This seems to me to make far more sense of 1 John 2:19 in its context than those readings that take the verse as working in terms of a visible/invisible Church distinction do. This verse is currently being discussed on Lane Keister’s blog. [...]

  10. matt said,

    January 11, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I like this, “I demonstrated conclusively that “apostles” cannot ……”
    Conclusively? Glad their isn’t a multiperspectival way of looking at it. And you are a follower of Van Til? I guess not Vern P. then…. Sad.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 9:37 am

    BOQ One cannot help but think that the readings proposed above are more like an intrusion into the context. EOQ I can tolerate disagreement with my views, Al, but this condescension is unacceptable. It’s as if any dolt with half a brain has to take your view on the passage or he’s an idiot.

    Now, to answer your points, one by one. 1. How can the false teachers be commissioned as teachers in that time period of the church without being commissioned by the apostles? In my estimation, Jordan’s view depends on interpreting the “us” as apostles. Even if it didn’t, that still does not prove my interpretation wrong. As you have pointed, if the sense is “everyone in the real church as the real ‘us,'” then my interpretation fits admirably with that construct.

    2. I acknowledge that Acts 15:24 provides an excellent parallel. But why does that eliminate apostasy from the reckoning. If they “went out from us” and started teaching false doctrine, then would they not have had to apostatize first? Wrong teaching and wrong living go hand in hand. They can never be separated.

    3. I acknowledge again that the context is dealing with false teachers. But my point is the same as in point 2: false teachers who came out from us would have had to apostatize first. It’s not as if you can say “false teachers, therefore not apostates.” That simply doesn’t follow. In fact, I would put it this way: “false teachers, therefore firstly apostates.”

    4. The definition of them as false teachers is also very tenuous, given 1 John’s definition of antichrist: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” This is 1 John 2:22, which is in the very context. This verse cannot possibly be limited to false teachers. It is *anyone* who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, my reading makes perfect sense (actually, much better sense than Jordan’s view). John’s letter here cannot possibly be limited to false teachers. You are falsely limiting the context to false teachers, given his definition of antichrist in verse 22.

    In chapter 1, there are clear indications of when the “we” switches from apostolic “we” to “identificatory we.” Verse 6’s statement on the very face of it identifies John with the readers, whereas the verse before is obviously apostolic. But there is no such indication in 2:19, unless you come to the passage with a preconceived notion that it must not refer to the visible/invisible church distinction. Therefore, my argument still stands.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Matt, many people misuse Van Til and Poythress. Poythress is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card for any and all interpretations of a text.

  13. Al said,

    January 11, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Lane,

    You accuse me of condescension for saying that ‘one cannot help but think that the readings proposed above are more like an intrusion into the context’. I stand by this statement. It wasn’t intended to be condescending and I am sorry if you took it that way. You write:

    I can tolerate disagreement with my views, Al, but this condescension is unacceptable. It’s as if any dolt with half a brain has to take your view on the passage or he’s an idiot.

    Frankly, Lane, this is a bit rich, considering the fact that you have not rebuked any of the other people who commented on this thread and openly ridiculed my position and spoke of it with extreme condescension. You run this blog and if you want to be treated with respect in debate (and I have every intention of treating you with respect) as moderator of this discussion you ought to make sure that your interlocutors are afforded that same respect.

    Anne writes:

    Jordan must be out of his mind, then. That’s just silly.

    Seth McBee:

    That assertation from James Jordan is absolutely ridiculous…

    David Gadbois:

    This should solidify in every unbiased person’s mind only the fact that Jordan is on the wackiest fringe of FV in his exegesis.

    Thomas Twitchell:

    Bring in the clowns. Those who juggle words do so in silence. Who knows when one falls to the ground?

    Each one of these statements is quite openly condescending. Perhaps your words would carry more weight if you would rebuke the condescension of those who support your position and not merely those who differ.

    Now to the points.

    1. I disagree. Teachers are commissioned by the whole church, not just by the apostles. The false teachers prove that they do not have valid commissions by their failure to abide in the apostolic teaching.

    2. I don’t deny that apostasy is almost certainly implied. However — and this is important for the more general theological questions under debate — the verse does not explicitly speak to the issue of the personal status of such men before and after their beginning their false teaching. The failure of the false teachers to remain in the teaching of the apostles is proof of the falsehood of their teaching and the invalidity of their commissions. It says nothing to resolve the question of whether they were or were not genuine members of the Church at any time in the past and has nothing to do with the invisible/visible Church question.

    3. My point was that the people in view were ‘false teachers, not just apostates’. I never denied that they were probably apostates. However, this is beside the larger point. John is claiming that these false teachers were not commissioned by the apostolic Church, and that this is proved by the fact that they depart from the apostolic teaching. The verse does not answer, one way or another, the question of the sense in which such people were or were not members of the Church in the first place.

    4. I believe that the wider context of 1 John and the Johannine epistles supports my understanding of these men as false teachers (e.g. 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7-10). Whilst John’s teaching certainly has broader reference to people in general, it is false teachers in particular that are in view in his epistles, most especially in his references to antichrists. Antichrists are ‘deceivers’ (2 John 7) and ‘false prophets’ (1 John 4:1).

    As regards your point about the ‘we’, it is of little significance to my case. There is nothing about a ‘preconceived notion that [1 John 2:19] must not refer to the visible/invisible church distinction’ that would necessarily push one towards a reading of ‘we’ as a reference to the apostles (I personally don’t think that the ‘we’ is limited to the apostles). I can see how one could go either way. My question is whether a ‘preconceived notion’ that 1 John 2:19 must refer to the ‘visible/invisible church distinction’ would push one to argue for an understanding of the ‘we’ that is driven more by theological than contextual concerns. I am the one in this debate who is the more ambivalent concerning the exact referent of the ‘we’, precisely because it is of far less importance for my reading as it is for yours.

  14. Anne Ivy said,

    January 11, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Rebuke duly noted and accepted, Al.

    I shouldn’t have said Jordan must have been out of his mind. That was tacky and uncharitable of me.

    My apologies! :^(

  15. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 11:01 am

    I have not ridiculed your position at all. Instead, I have argued against it. And quite frankly, if other people wish to use such tone against other people on my blog, it doesn’t really matter to me. Maybe that’s wrong, and I should take more concern about other people’s tone towards other people. Maybe I’m too selfish, and only really notice people’s attitude towards me. But I will leave it to the others as to whether they wish to tone down their rhetoric or not. Since you have indicated that you meant no condescension, I will take your statement at face value. ‘Nuff said on peripheral issues.

    BOQ the verse does not explicitly speak to the issue of the personal status of such men before and after their beginning their false teaching. EOQ

    This is simply not true. “They were not of us.” I think another parallel passage that must be brought into consideration here is John 10, on which, see Wes White’s article: http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2007/01/05/the-church-its-definition-in-terms-of-visible-and-invisible-valid/
    In other words, the antichrists (I think we agree that these people were antichrists) were *never* of us. But to limit this non-involvement merely to commissioning, as you do, simply goes beyond the text. The text does not say that they never received a commission from the apostles. The text says that they were not of us. The parallel in Acts proves nothing here, since the terms of the passage are different: in Acts, it is explicitly said that “they received no instructions from us,” whereas here in 1 John, no such thing is said. So, contrary to your assertion, the not being of us has to do with their status in the community.

    And my point about verse 22 proves that they *may or may not* have been false teachers. The text is simply ambiguous. Probably there were some who were and some who were not. Quite frankly, Jordan’s interpretation seems geared towards eliminating the implications for the visible/invisible church distinction. That seems to be why he’s doing this. This is conjecture, since I cannot read someone’s motives. But it seems to me that every passage that could possibly be interpreted in a different way from the WS is interpreted differently by Jordan. He seems to delight in attempting to overthrow traditional interpretations. I can say right now that neither he nor you can possibly convince me on this one, if you have already thrown in your best arguments.

    The more immediate context of chapter 2, however, defines antichrist in a very broad manner indeed. Much broader than simply false teachers. Surely this is in accord with the text. Therefore, the traditional interpretation has an excellent basis in the text.

  16. Lee said,

    January 11, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Lane,
    I personally think Al has a point about the ridicule going both ways. Instead of making everyone apologize and play nice, you should just let the ridicule go. Unless you signed PPT, then just enjoy it. I do.

    Also, I think Poythress is a get out of jail free card. I thought that was the point of his thinking, and why he is so popular. It is also why he is wrong, but I think that the point of Poythress.

  17. Todd said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Lee, what have you read by Poythress?

  18. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Lee, you’re right about Al.

    I wouldn’t be so quick, however, to agree with you on Poythress. I think that the FV guys misuse him.

  19. Al said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Anne,
    Thank you for the apology. It is appreciated.

    Lane,
    I was not acusing you of ridiculing my position. That claim was levelled at the others who commented.

    Regarding ‘they were not of us’. To read this as a claim that the false teachers were never genuinely members of the Church seems to go some way beyond what the text actually says. These words simply mean that the false teachers were not commissioned by the apostolic Church (i.e. ‘they were not sent by us’). Like the false teachers in Acts 15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2 they may have claimed apostolic authority for their teaching, but their failure to agree with the apostles in their teaching proved the falsity of such claims. They never had a valid commission from the Church for their teaching to begin with.

    The verse thus has to do with the claim of the false teachers to be bearing apostolic teaching (which they never had to begin with) and says nothing about whether they were ever genuine members of the Church to begin with. In other words, this verse cannot be used as support for the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction.

    The terms of Acts 15 may be different, but I fail to see how the import of what is being said is different. You have yet to prove this. The fact that you bring forward John 10 as a ‘parallel passage’ is interesting. What is there that connects John 10 and 1 John 2:19 in order to make them ‘parallel’ beyond the fact that both function as prooftexts for the validity of the visible/invisible Church distinction. It seems to me that you are shifting the grounds of debate here: I never attacked the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction, but questioned whether 1 John 2:19 could in any way be used as a prooftext for it. In order to make John 10 a parallel passage you presuppose the very thing that is under debate here.

    The fact is that there are a number of reasons for arguing that Acts 15 has apparent parallels, even apart from any decision on the meaning of the text. Even you have acknowledged the existence of these apparent parallels. Whether they finally play much of a role in our final interpretation of 1 John 2:19 can be a matter for debate. The fact that the apparent parallels exist means that Acts 15 merits consideration in our discussion; without further argument (and I have read the post that you linked to) John 10 does not.

    1 John 2:19 could easily be read to be saying the same things as are being said in Acts 15:24. The language of ‘going out into the world’ and other similar language is often used in John’s epistles to refer to false teachers (and true teachers). 1 John 2:19 may be an exception, but the close correspondence of the language to other places where teachers are being referred to weighs in favour of my reading (cf. 1 John 4:1; 2 John 7; 3 John 7).

    The fact that elsewhere in John’s epistles antichrists are explicitly spoken of as deceivers and false prophets again weighs in support of my reading. You point to verse 22 of chapter 2 as supporting a broader understanding. Verse 22 describes antichrist as one who denies that Jesus is the Christ. An antichrist seems to be more than just some who does not believe, he is set against the teaching of the apostles. He denies it in a more vocal way than just not believing it. John knows that it is the last time, not because some people are disbelieving that Jesus is the Christ, but because people are rising up who are teaching in direct opposition to the apostolic teaching that Jesus is the Christ (cf. 1 John 4:1-3). The ‘denying’ in verse 22 seems to involve a determined teaching contrary to, or not in accordance with, the Church’s apostolic tradition that Jesus is the Christ.

    This is further supported by the immediate context, which deals with true believers’ knowledge that false teaching is false, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, who has taught them the truth. The context is that of true and false teaching and the discernment of antichrist is not so much to do with the discernment of people who hold false teaching without necessarily teaching it to others as it is to do with the discernment of false teachers.

    I don’t believe that Jordan is trying to eliminate the visible/invisible Church reading as simply trying to read the verse in the context of 1 John, rather than in the context of Reformed confessional theology.

    I find the traditional reading of this verse forced and unconvincing on many levels. I would be very surprised if the above argument will convince you of my interpretation. Our exegetical differences are in many respects a manifestation of theological differences. If I felt strongly about the visible/invisible Church distinction I too might be reluctant to surrender what White refers to as ‘the most important text’ for the doctrine.

  20. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    BOQ To read this as a claim that the false teachers were never genuinely members of the Church seems to go some way beyond what the text actually says. EOQ This actually confuses the visible/invisible church distinction! My position is that they were genuinely members of the visible church, but never genuinely members of the invisible church.

    My point about Acts is that in that passage the language of commissioning (or rather, the lack thereof) is there in the text. It is not in the text in 1 John. In proving a parallel, the burden of proof is on the one trying to see the parallel, not on the one saying that the parallels are inexact.

    That being said, John 10 does not provide a parallel simply because of the visible/invisible church distinction, as you say I’m saying. Here are the parallels: both are talking about the church (flock in John 10; “us” in 1 John), belief and denial are in both contexts, and protection of the sheep is in both contexts. What the parallel suggests is that both passages are talking about the visible/invisible church distinction. That is, both describe the true church as being “just the sheep,” and not the non-elect covenant members.

    BOQ The language of ‘going out into the world’ and other similar language is often used in John’s epistles to refer to false teachers (and true teachers). EOQ This language is not the same as simply “they went out from us.”

    As to the rest of your arguments, I am content to let what I have already said stand.

    BOQ rather than in the context of Reformed confessional theology. EOQ Yes, this does certainly reveal his purpose.

  21. matt said,

    January 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Lane,
    “This actually confuses the visible/invisible church distinction! My position is that they were genuinely members of the visible church, but never genuinely members of the invisible church.”

    This is an assumption that you make before you approach the text. Of course we all have presuppositions. I guess, in many ways, a Roman Catholic can approach it the same way saying, ” the church teaches….” and therefore fill the need to fit the text into those parameters. If your goal is to maintain that distinction, then that explains your conclusion, but your approach hermenutically is the same as the Roman in that case.

  22. greenbaggins said,

    January 11, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    So what you’re saying, Matt, is that we should be a tabula rasa every time we approach the text? I have given exegetical reasons for my position both in the post and in the comments. Therefore, I am not assuming the conclusion from the get-go, even though I approach the Scriptures from the WS perspective. So, let’s not try the “Rome does it therefore it’s bad approach.”

  23. matt said,

    January 11, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    Didn’t I say we all have presuppositions? No, I didn’t assume your tabula rasa. My point was only that it makes it difficult for the text to correct either tradition- Rome or Reformed- if those presuppositions aren’t challenged. And being that the approach is similar who is to say Rome’s position is wrong?

  24. Al said,

    January 12, 2007 at 9:04 am

    BOQ To read this as a claim that the false teachers were never genuinely members of the Church seems to go some way beyond what the text actually says. EOQ This actually confuses the visible/invisible church distinction! My position is that they were genuinely members of the visible church, but never genuinely members of the invisible church.

    I know full well how the invisible/visible Church distinction works. I know well that those who work in terms of the distinction would happily say that the false teachers were members of the Church. My use of the word ‘genuinely’ was intended to refer to something more than merely ‘external’ membership of the ‘visible’ Church. Probably not the best terminology, but my point remains the same.

    My point about Acts is that in that passage the language of commissioning (or rather, the lack thereof) is there in the text. It is not in the text in 1 John. In proving a parallel, the burden of proof is on the one trying to see the parallel, not on the one saying that the parallels are inexact.

    ‘They were not from/of us’ can quite naturally be read as language of (non-)commissioning. The fact that you choose to read it in a different way is not due to the absence of language that can be read as language of commissioning in the text, but due to your conviction that the verse is to be read differently. I acknowledge that the phrase in question does not demand to be read as language of non-commissioning. However, to claim that the language of commissioning is absent is simply wrong.

    That being said, John 10 does not provide a parallel simply because of the visible/invisible church distinction, as you say I’m saying. Here are the parallels: both are talking about the church (flock in John 10; “us” in 1 John), belief and denial are in both contexts, and protection of the sheep is in both contexts. What the parallel suggests is that both passages are talking about the visible/invisible church distinction. That is, both describe the true church as being “just the sheep,” and not the non-elect covenant members.

    These are very loose connections, Lane.

    Putting that to one side, I believe that your reading of John 10 is quite suspect. Equating the ‘sheep’ in John 10 with the Reformed theological category of ‘elect’ does not seem to me to be valid. They are not quite the same thing. The sheep are those who are given to Christ by the Father. They believe because they have been given to Christ, and not vice versa. I am agreed with you on this point. However, John’s doctrine of election is not the doctrine of election as it functions within Reformed systematics and confessional documents. It is quite a leap to get from John’s category of ‘sheep’ to our category of ‘elect’.

    In addition to this, I fail to see that we can move so easily from John 10 to the visible/invisible Church distinction as you seem to suggest. Such a movement may perhaps be possible, but we must take into account that there are important disanalogies between the relationship between believing disciples of Christ and unbelieving Jews and that which exists between believers and unbelievers within the visible Church. In John’s gospel we see overlapping covenant orders. We are not merely working in terms of distinctions between people within one covenant.

    BOQ The language of ‘going out into the world’ and other similar language is often used in John’s epistles to refer to false teachers (and true teachers). EOQ This language is not the same as simply “they went out from us.”

    Within the Johannine epistles the verb εξερχομαι occurs four times. On each other occasion it refers to mission (1 John 4:1; 2 John 7; 3 John 7). On two of these occasions the wording is that of ‘going out into the world’. On the third, there is no mention of the world (3 John 7). In John’s gospel the verb is frequently the one that John uses to refer to the origin of Jesus’ mission (8:42; 13:3; 16:27, 30; 17:8). Whilst this wider usage of the language hardly settles the question for us, it does demonstrate that the phrase ‘they went out from us’ is probably most naturally read, given its setting, as a reference to going out on a teaching mission. I would expect that, if John were just talking about general apostasy it would have been more natural for him to speak of them as ‘turning back’, or something similar (cf. John 6:66).

    BOQ rather than in the context of Reformed confessional theology. EOQ Yes, this does certainly reveal his purpose.

    Jordan is concerned that Reformed confessional theology is not read into the biblical text, but that the Bible is allowed to speak for itself. It seems to me that 1 John 2:19 is a very good example of a verse held hostage by a theological system that is often more concerned with mining the Scriptures for prooftexts than with listening carefully to what the text is saying.

  25. Thomas Twitchell said,

    January 12, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Al,

    How do you know that my comment was only directed at the FV crowd. Though it mostly is, I think that Lane juggles a little bit too.

    The question really is about more than differences of opinion. The debate centers around interpretations of words. The ground of debate is the WCF as far as I can tell, and it should not be. It is precisely that the WCF is a interpretation of the Scripture and without being able to cross examine is drafters we are only making inferences about what they meant. Not that they were wrong, but because it is suspect to corruption by virtue of being the work of men, it is more easily nuanced.

    The question is: Is the FV in conflict with Scripture? We can debate whether or not the meaning of convenant includes the non-elect all that we want to, but does it square with the Covenant of Promise? Does it undermine perserverance and therefore does the FV possition build up rather than tear down the assurance of believers?

    The WCF can lead to the conclusion of the FV only by neglecting the weight that the WCF gives to the testimony of the Spirit. So, also can the Scripture. In the final analysis using isolated paragraphs and single verses will not bring out the balance that is called for in Scripture. The full text, Genesis to Revelation must be examined. Then the questioned asked, does the Scripture reveal false believers, no matter what rank, among the true company. And, does it make it clear that there is an absolute separation. As I have said else where, Genesis means beginnings, but it is a book of separations. This is the beginning and Revelation ends with exactly the same theme. Between these two is the rest of the threshing floor for separating the wheat from the chaff.

  26. Al said,

    January 12, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Thomas,

    I completely agree that none of the important debates about the FV can be solved by such exegetical debates. However, my concern was not with the FV debates (I am sympathetic to the FV, but would be uncomfortable describing myself as an FV proponent) but with the way that the WCF and such historical Reformed documents can impose themselves on the text of Scripture. I believe that 1 John 2:19 is a perfect example of where this has taken place. Read carefully in context, I believe that the common Reformed reading of the verse can be seen to be really forced.

    In order to avoid the confusing of the issue I have tried to steer the debate away from the general question of the visible/invisible Church distinction. It would distract from the exegetical point under debate. However, I will comment briefly on the issue here. It seems to me that the visible/invisible Church distinction has a number of weaknesses that we need to be aware of, whilst recognizing that the Scripture does give us clear warrant for making important distinctions within the Church. The visible/invisible Church distinction works in terms of an analogy with sight and, whilst such an analogy may well have a place in our thinking, its limitations result in its breaking down before it can carry people to many of their desired logical conclusions. Nor is such an analogy a biblical one (even though it could be claimed to bear some relation to certain biblical analogies). Without denying that there are distinctions to be drawn within the Church, I want to ask whether there are better analogies that we can work in terms of and what the character of the ‘separation’ that you speak of is.

    Through studying this question, I have come to believe that the separation, whilst certainly real, is not as ‘absolute’ (within history) as most Reformed theology tend to present it as being. I do not believe that the Scripture gives us warrant for thinking in terms of an absolute, fixed and unchanging separation between two categories of people within history. Rather, the separations are more relative in character, being providentially worked out through history until they arrive at a final, fixed and absolute separation on the Last Day.

    Much depends on the position from which we ‘read’ history. If we read history from a position within it, the separation is relative and there is movement from one side of the separation to the other (from goats to sheep, for example). However, if we ‘read’ history from the perspective of the Last Day, now absolute separation can be extrapolated back in history to some degree.

  27. Todd said,

    January 12, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Some may have seen this on another blog already, but what do we think?

    “Augustine, one of the key sources for this invisible-visible church distinction, can be improved on by reference to eschatology. In other words, the proper distinction is not between two types of churches, one “inner” and another “outer,” but rather two eras of the one church’s existence: “this present age” and “the age to come.” This is the import of the parable of the wheat and weeds: Jesus will sort things out in the end. But for now, the visible church is a garden of wheat and weeds and sometimes we cannot tell them apart. In this age, the church is compromised; in the next, it is glorified — completely purged of being, as we lament in the hymn, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” The distinction between the present and the future condition of the church is the corporate analogue to the paradoxical life of the individual believer as “simultaneously justified and sinful.” But just as we are definitively new creatures in Christ, despite our continuing battle with sin, the church really is the site of God’s covenantal grace. Like any family, it has its problems, but because it is Christ’s family, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). To this church Christ has entrusted the keys of the kingdom, so that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). Just as the individual believer is a work in progress, so corporately the church even in its weakness is the place where the age to come breaks in on this present evil age. It is not because of anything intrinsic to the church itself, but because the ministry of the keys has been entrusted to her. It is through its ministry of Word and Sacrament, as well as discipline, that the Spirit makes us taste the heavenly reality of God’s sabbath rest. Even the nonelect in the visible church experience through this ministry some measure of the kingdom reality, as they have been “enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:4-5)”

  28. greenbaggins said,

    January 13, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Todd, I completely disagree with Horton here. The reason I disagree with Horton is that he seems to deny the synchronic aspect of the visible/invisible church distinction. I cannot do away with that aspect, since it seems to me to be the very heart of the distinction.

    By the way, I am making a new rule for my blog: no quotes without telling us who it is. This is meant as a scholarly blog. Scholars do not quote someone, and then make it a game to see if anyone can find out who it is. So please do not do so again.

    Al, it is plain that our main difference lies in the relationship of exegesis to systematic theology. You plainly think that ST should have absolutely zero bearing on exegesis. Otherwise, you would not have objected to my using the WS to interpret Scripture. I perfectly agree that the Scriptures ought to correct the WS if the WS are wrong. But the WS is the lense through which I see the Scriptures. You do not have such a vow under which to operate. Therefore, any more discussion of this issue will not communicate. I utterly disagree with your entire view of exegesis as absolute and untouchable by ST, and you disagree with my using the WS to interpret Scripture. We are at an impasse there that will not be solved. But that is the real issue. And also the ST category of the visible/invisible church distinction. Do not try to steer the debate away from that category. I am the moderator of this blog, and that is what this thread is about: the relationship of 1 John 2:19 to that distinction. It is perfectly okay for you to argue that there is no relationship (I have a hunch that you would find such a distinction nowhere in the Scriptures). But that is what this post was about.

  29. Todd said,

    January 13, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Is Horton compromising the gospel in that paragraph? Should there be discipline?

  30. greenbaggins said,

    January 13, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    There isn’t enough of the context of the rest of what Horton says about it to make a snap judgment. Contrast this with the fairly substantial exam of Wilkins.

  31. Al said,

    January 13, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Al, it is plain that our main difference lies in the relationship of exegesis to systematic theology. You plainly think that ST should have absolutely zero bearing on exegesis. Otherwise, you would not have objected to my using the WS to interpret Scripture.

    On the contrary, Lane, I have no problem with interpreting the Scripture in the light of theology. Besides, a theologically-neutral reading of Scripture is simply impossible.

    The problem here is that you are missing something very important. It is one thing to say that we can use the theological system of something like the Westminster Standards to help us in our interpretation of Scripture. It is a different thing entirely to say that such a system decides the exegetical questions that we have been debating one way or another.

    Is there anything about the reading of 1 John 2:19 that I have proposed that is contrary to the system of doctrine put forward in the WS? Nothing whatsoever. Of course, I don’t believe that the verse is valid as a prooftext where it is used as such in the WS. However, prooftexts are not required for subscription. Whilst I may not be bound by any vow to uphold the WCF, there is nothing anti-confessional about the position that I have advanced above.

    A person holding my exegetical position at this point could well be someone who consistently employs the WS as a lens to help them to understand Scripture. What you seem to fail to appreciate is that the confession is not intended to function like the lines in a dot-to-dot picture, joining fixed prooftexts into a coherent picture, but rather gives us a theological framework within which such exegetical questions as the one that we are currently addressing are left quite open in many respects. Particular prooftexts can be easily abandoned without any necessary abandonment of the system of doctrine itself. The normative system of doctrine of the WS is like the picture on the front of a model kit, which shows what the finished product should look like, but leaves considerable freedom for determining the exact arrangement of the component parts.

    I perfectly agree that the Scriptures ought to correct the WS if the WS are wrong. But the WS is the lense through which I see the Scriptures. You do not have such a vow under which to operate.

    This is entirely besides the point and it seems to me to be good evidence of your serious misunderstanding of the role that the WS were designed to play in relationship to exegesis.

    I utterly disagree with your entire view of exegesis as absolute and untouchable by ST, and you disagree with my using the WS to interpret Scripture.

    I have no problem in principle with the use of confessional documents as lenses to help us interpret Scripture. My problem is that you are using the WS in a way that they were not designed to be used. There was a good reason why the writers of the WCF did not originally include Scriptural proofs and only included them when they were commanded to do so by Parliament. It seems to me that, in your use of the WS, you are working contrary to the intention of the divines.

    The idea that I see exegesis ‘as absolute and untouchable by ST’ is rather bizarre. If anything, one of the most fundamental concerns that I have is that we break down the boundaries between exegesis and theology and bring the two into a far more lively dialogue. My concern is that WS-olatry in Reformed circles has frozen this dialogue at a point in the past, when theology still has much to learn in a continuing conversation with exegesis. My concern is that, for many Reformed thinkers, ST increasingly functions as if it were absolute and untouchable by exegesis. A two-way conversation is necessary.

    We are at an impasse there that will not be solved. But that is the real issue. And also the ST category of the visible/invisible church distinction. Do not try to steer the debate away from that category. I am the moderator of this blog, and that is what this thread is about: the relationship of 1 John 2:19 to that distinction. It is perfectly okay for you to argue that there is no relationship (I have a hunch that you would find such a distinction nowhere in the Scriptures). But that is what this post was about.

    My argument is that 1 John 2:19 has nothing to do with the distinction. The issue under debate is the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19, not the validity of the visible/invisible Church distinction. These are two separate questions that must be distinguished from one another. I personally know a number of people who strongly hold to a visible/invisible Church distinction, whilst agreeing with the interpretation of 1 John 2:19 that I have put forward. The ST category of the invisible/visible Church does not stand or fall on our interpretation of 1 John 2:19. By refusing to enter into a debate about the ST category I am trying to maintain the distinctness of these two questions.

    My concern is that you interpretation of 1 John 2:19 is motivated chiefly by your concern to preserve a verse that functions as an important prooftext within your theological system. Fact is, commitment to the WS leaves the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19 an open question, which can be decided in a number of ways. In principle I can honestly say that I would have no theological problem with the text if it were to say what you claim that it does. However, I am convinced that it says something different and that your attitude towards different interpretations of this verse is indicative of an understanding of the relationship between exegesis and the WS that is deeply suspect in a number of important respects.

  32. January 13, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    “‘They were not from/of us’ can quite naturally be read as language of (non-)commissioning. The fact that you choose to read it in a different way is not due to the absence of language that can be read as language of commissioning in the text, but due to your conviction that the verse is to be read differently.”

    Actually, Lane’s exegesis is more natural since his appeal is to the immediate context, not to an alleged parallel.

  33. Al said,

    January 14, 2007 at 4:34 am

    David,

    My reading hardly depends on an alleged parallel. That simply supports my argument, which is primarily founded on the immediate context, which is concerned with false teachers and how such false teaching is made manifest to true believers. I have also defended my reading by observing the larger issues in John’s epistles, the way that language is used elsewhere in his writings and the way that he unpacks certain terms such as ‘antichrist’ in surrounding chapters. I am convinced that Lane’s exegesis fails due to its lack of contextual warrant and parallels.

  34. January 14, 2007 at 5:30 am

    “That simply supports my argument, which is primarily founded on the immediate context, which is concerned with false teachers and how such false teaching is made manifest to true believers.”

    That is one concern within the broader context of the epistle, but not the immediate. Again, Lane brings it even closer:

    “The “us” must be referring to the same group as the “we” in the last part of the previous verse. That verse goes like this: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” Surely, the “we” in the last sentence cannot be limited to the apostles, since, by telling his readers that it is the last hour, everyone knows, not just the apostles!”

  35. Al said,

    January 14, 2007 at 6:03 am

    David,

    I suggest that you reread my comments. I never once said that the ‘we’ must be limited to the apostles. I personally don’t think that it is.

  36. January 25, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    [...] This discussion on the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19 (do read the comments) is a good example of the manner in which a particular perceived relationship between the voice of the text and the theological system can lead to trouble in distinguishing the question of the validity of the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction from the question of the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19. I am convinced that we can reject traditional Reformed exegesis of the book of Romans, whilst retaining a Reformed doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification does not stand or fall with a particular approach to the exegesis of the Pauline epistles. [...]

  37. April 19, 2007 at 11:20 am

    [...] 19th, 2007 at 11:20 am (NT-1 John, Federal Vision, Heresy) Here is the first post on this passage. There are several good arguments there for the understanding of the passage as [...]


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