1 John 2:19, Again

Here is the first post on this passage. There are several good arguments there for the understanding of the passage as supporting the traditional visible/invisible church distinction. I wish to add some more, extremely weighty arguments. I owe these arguments to discussions with Wes White.

First of all, if John is saying that these folk who went out “from us” are false teachers commissioned by the apostles, then his rejoinder makes no sense. Why would “they would have remained with us” be an acceptable rebuttal for why they are false teachers commissioned to be sent out? This makes no sense at all. Commissioned folk, according to this intepretation, are by definition sent out. Clearly here, the “not of us” is being here contrasted with “remain with us.” Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the “remaining” would mean some sort of thing as “remaining in spirit or doctrine,” which would have to be the case, if Wilkins’s view was correct.

Secondly, the purpose clause (ἵνα plus subjunctive) also makes no sense. Why would the apostles send out false teachers in order for them to be exposed? If I were an apostle, and I knew that so-and-so was a false teacher, the last thing I would do is to let him out among the sheep! This would be for a shepherd to let in a wolf in sheep’s clothing in among the sheep! Unthinkable! No, the burden of the passage is that God allowed them to go forth out from the congregation in order that their true origin would be exposed. It is not a commissioning, but a self-induced excommunication that is here related. The going forth was voluntary (the voice of ἐξῆλθαν is active, after all; there were plenty of ways that John could have said “We sent them,” if he had wanted to do so. Plus, the normal word for sending out is apostello).

Thirdly, the definition of “antichrist” in the context is someone who denies the Father and the Son. Their activity is not firstly that of teaching, but that of confessing (vs. 23). They are confessing a denial of the Son, which entails a denial of the Father also. Now, I do not deny that they are trying to teach false doctrine, since that is plainly indicated in verses 26-27. All wolves want to make their own job of eating the sheep easier by trying to convince the sheep that either 1. The wolves are really sheep, or 2. The sheep are really wolves. But this is a far cry from saying that, because these false teachers were commissioned by the apostles, that therefore it cannot be referring to the visible/invisible church distinction. Even if we granted the point about being commissioned by the apostles, that would still not negate the truth of the assertion that they were part of the visible church, but were shown not to be part of he invisible church.

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24 Comments

  1. Tim Wilder said,

    April 19, 2007 at 11:53 am

    How do you best explain III John v. 10 where it talks about the real believers being put outside of the church?

    Do these excommunicated believers still count as visible church because as concrete individuals they are visible, are do they not count because they have been separated from the institutional church?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    April 19, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I was just talking to Wes about this very issue. I agree with his assessment, which is that they are not part of the visible church if they are excommunicated. However, they are part of the invisible church, since he is elect.

  3. Daniel Kok said,

    April 19, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Lane:

    Thanks for getting the word out. I do not mean to eclipse your post but I think it is also helpful for us to see John’s direction on the visible/invisible distinction as it is revealed to us throughout his epistle. The following is a clip from an ‘informal’ paper I wrote:

    John speaks more about this in his first epistle (ed- in the context I am speaking about regeneration.) He says if you hate your brother you are in darkness, even until now (2:9-11). In contrast to those who went out but were not from us, the elect have an unction from the Holy Spirit and they know all things (2:20,27). It is because God loves His people that he calls them sons of God and the result is eternal life (3:2) not some temporary life united to Christ that may or may not last. Indeed, these do not commit sin (3:9) but the others manifest themselves as children of the devil (3:10) and are brothers to Cain. For if you don’t love your brother, you are still in death (3:14-15). Those who are God’s children overcome the world (4:4) and those who are not, are still friends with the world (4:5). The Spirit is given so that they might know we are in Him (4:13) for these confess that Jesus is the Son of God (4:15). For whoever is born of God (perfect tense – past with present or ongoing results) believes that Jesus is the Christ (present tense – the result). 1 John 5:1 The rest have not the Spirit and, therefore, do not believe are remain sons of the devil.(1 John 4:3)

  4. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Which is that they are not part of the visible church if they are excommunicated. However, they are part of the invisible church, since he is elect.

    Lane, this question is not meant to be a “gotcha” at all, b/c I think this issue is a mindbender for everyone. But I am just curious, if you’ve thought much about it, how you continue to affirm the catholic historic confession in only one church given what you’ve just said. Because now we have the v and the inv church, and not all v are inv and not all inv are v. Two groups of people, and it is possible to be either without being the other. How can this not be TWO churches, then, instead of just one?

  5. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Oh, and for whatever it is worth the argument regarding is that “they would have remained with us” refers to them remaining “with our teaching.” They would have kept teaching what we commissioned them to teach, but instead they went off and taught their own stuff, claiming to be from us. But they were not from (i.e. “of”) us, b/c they didn’t stick with us as far as the things they teach.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    April 19, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Well, Xon, I would say that, in this case, they were properly part of the church, and that the man in 3 John was trying separate what God had joined together.

    Xon, “remain” cannot have that connotation, because the very same word is used in the immediate context of “remaining in the faith” (vs. 24, vs. 28). In verse 24, the first instance is referred to the doctrine remaining in the person; the second instance refers to the same thing, and the third obviously refers to abiding in the faith. None of these uses means “abide in the teaching.” Verses 27-28 militate heavily against your interpretation, since it is abiding *in Him* which is the subject of conversation, not “with our teaching.”

  7. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Lane, I agree with the traditional Reformed interpretation of I John 2. I was just pointing out that added element of the Jordanian interpretation, since it wasn’t in your original post. Iron sharpening iron, and such.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    April 19, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Okay. I’m glad you agree with this interpretation. I thought I had already answered Jordan’s point there in my first point, which does address the interpretation of “remain” being “remain with our teaching.”

  9. Wes White said,

    April 20, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Re: the creed. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is the Invisible Church. Those who gather visibly with the true people of God but are not regenerate may also be called “Church” but in an equivocal sense. Thus, though one person may be called Israel in one sense and not Israel in another (Rom. 9:6) by no means denotes that there are two separate peoples of God. There is one, the Church, and they are the ones who are “of Israel.”

    Re: 1 Jn. 2:19 and the “Jordanian” interpretation. Theoretically, “meno (to remain)” could be taken in a metaphorical sense. However, the normal meaning makes sense here, and so there is no reason to look beyond it. Going out is contrasted with “remaining with.” This shows that the problem is that they have departed from us not that they were commissioned by “us.” The simple sense of the words is that they went out from us (departed) from us, but if they were of us, they would not have done that. On the contrary, they would have remained with us.

    To me, this is the obvious interpretation of the words, and I see no good reason, let alone a necessary one why we would have to change “exhlthonk, went out” into commissioning or remaining into something more spiritual.

  10. Todd said,

    April 20, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    “The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is the Invisible Church.”

    Wes, are you claiming that this is the understanding of the authors of the Nicene creed? If so, what is your evidence?

  11. Wes White said,

    April 21, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Todd, that is not what I’m claiming. I’m claiming that is what the Bible teaches when it refers to the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

    I admit that I have not examined the authors of the Nicene Creed. Are there any in particular that you have in mind?

    On the other hand, I would say that this opinion is also the one of the Church Fathers generally (see the citations from Francis Turretin, Institutes, 18.3.22-23. Also, this is plainly how the Westminster divines interpret this article.

  12. Todd said,

    April 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    “Also, this is plainly how the Westminster divines interpret this article.”

    Tell me more about this one, Wes. They use the term catholic for both visible and invisible, for example. But I’m ready to be convinced.

  13. Todd said,

    April 21, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    And what would it mean to say that it’s the invisible church rather than the visible church that is apostolic?

    “Upon this rock I will build my church”–visible or invisible?

  14. Xon said,

    April 23, 2007 at 8:36 am

    I’m claiming that is what the Bible teaches when it refers to the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. I admit that I have not examined the authors of the Nicene Creed.

    But you see the potential problem here, right Wes? You might be in a precisely analogous position to what anti-FVers often allege of FVers: you are “saying” you affirm the Nicene Creed, but you don’t really because you’ve redefined the terms. (Depending on what the Nicene meaning actually was; but admitting you’re not sure at least opens up the possibility that your meaning is different.)

    Wilson’s emphasis on the h/e church distinction is motivated, he says, by a concern to make sure that we remember the historic doctrine that there is only ONE Church, like the Creeds say. You say that you believe in only one church, while continuing to emphasize the v/i distinction. But then when asked what the phrase “one holy apostolic church” actually means, you cannot say whether your meaning when you use that phrase is the same as the Nicene Creed’s meaning. In other words, for all we know you are running afoul of Wilson’s precise concern here by not in fact holding to the Nicean orthodox definition of “the one church”. Something to think about?

  15. Wes White said,

    April 23, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Re: Xon, I understand your point, but see the quotations I provided from the Church Fathers. How am I running afoul of Wilson’s precise concern?

    Re: Todd. 25:1 – “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect…[this] is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” I understand this as saying that this is what the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is. The unity of the Church is expressed in 26.1 and refers only to those with true faith.

    But when it refers to the visible Church it says that it is also “catholic or universal.” It does not say “the Catholic or universal Church is the visible Church.”

  16. Todd said,

    April 23, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Okay. But how about “upon this rock I will build my church”? Visible or Invisible?

  17. Wes White said,

    April 23, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    It refers to the seed of Jesus Christ, those who will be saved, Christ’s sheep. These people who believe are the true Church of Jesus Christ, and, of course, they themselves are visible, gather together, and are under the administration of the Church.

  18. Todd said,

    April 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Wes, help me out. “Upon this rock” is, in your view, a prophecy of the building of the visible or the invisible church? If I were to preach this passage, to which should I apply it?

  19. Wes White said,

    April 23, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    It refers to the invisible Church, that is, building up of true believers, like Peter upon the rock of Christ. I haven’t studied that passage, but that is what I would say off the top of my head.

    If I were to preach this passage, I would emphasize that this refers to bringing salvation to all of God’s elect. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. That means that nothing can stop Christ from building His Church. This should be a great encouragement to us because our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Moreover, as the Church of Jesus Christ and true believers in Jesus Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God and all the terror of the world cannot destroy us (Rom. 8:38-39).

  20. Todd said,

    April 23, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    But the prooftexts for the larger catechism apply this promise to the visible church.

    Question 63: What are the special privileges of the visible church?

    Answer: The visible church has the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

    Matthew 16:18 is one of the prooftexts for “of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies.”

  21. Wes White said,

    April 23, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Where do you see this? Looking at the prooftexts of the Larger Catechism, I did not see Mt. 16:18 listed at that point. Can you tell me where I could find that or what edition you’re using?

  22. Todd said,

    April 23, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    http://opc.org/documents/LCLayout1.pdf

    Page 201, last text listed for “l”.

    What edition are you using?

  23. Wes White said,

    April 23, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Todd, I’m using the original edition with the original prooftexts. Mt. 16:18 is not there:

    http://www.apuritansmind.com/WCF/WestminsterLargerCatechism.htm

  24. Todd said,

    April 23, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Well. I guess we can’t trust the OPC.

    I wonder when it was added. Anyone?


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