Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Second Response to James White on 1 John 5:1

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White on 1 John 5:1 And The Order of Faith and Regeneration”

You can find the beginning of his interaction with James White here

Excerpt:

Ironically, it is White who argues regarding 1 John 5:1 as the JW’s do regarding 2 Peter 1:1. For they point to minor syntactical differences in 2 Peter 1:1 from the other uses of the Granville Sharp construction in 2 Peter to argue that 1:1 does not refer to Jesus as God. Compare White arguing that the minor syntactical differences in 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 from other instances in John involving an articular present participle combined with a perfect indicative make 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 a special Johannine usage that differs from normal Greek grammar. Take this example of JW apologist Greg Strafford arguing the JW position on 2 Peter 1:1.

_____________

“We can see that four out of the five articulated nouns are the same; one is significantly different. In 2 Peter 1:1 we have θεός and in the other four Peter uses κύριος. The question we ask is, Why would Peter call Christ “God” in verse 1, but in 1:11, 2:20, 3:2, and 3:18 use “Lord”? . . . he uses “Lord” for Jesus in a number of instances. . . However, when referring to the Father, Peter uses θεός 45 times, excluding 2 Peter 1:1” (Greg Stafford,Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics (2nd edn.; Huntington Beach: Elihu Books, 2000, 404).

_____________

Notice how similarly the JW apologist argues to White. He argues that a minor difference in Peter’s use of the construction in 2 Peter 1:1 means it does not carry the same import as the construction normally does in 2 Peter—and though he does not mention it specifically, generally in Greek grammar. And his numbers are much more impressive than White’s. Rather than 2 instances White can cite in 1 John, Stafford points to 4 in 2 Peter (admittedly there are only 4 instances of the present participle/perfect indicative construction in John outside of 1 John 5:1, two that White can point to and two that go against him). And then he points out that Peter uses θεός of the Father a whopping 45 times excluding 2 Peter 1:1. Talk about a consistent pattern! Of course, we know that Stafford is wrong here in his conclusions, and so is White in regard to 1 John 5:1. In the former case, normal Greek grammar identifies Jesus with God and minor syntactical difference does not change that. In the latter case, normal Greek grammar portrays the action of the present participle and perfect indicative as roughly simultaneous (or the present participle preceding the perfect indicative) allowing for logical order but not indicating it, and minor syntactical differences do not change that.

 

Advertisements

Dr. Brian Abasciano Answers James White on 1 John 5:1

You can find the link to the podcast and some brief supplemental comments from Dr. Abasciano at SEA:

Brian Abasciano Interviewed on the Claims of James White Concerning the Greek of 1 John 5:1 and the Order of Faith and Regeneration

John Piper Tweets Out An Already Refuted Calvinist Argument on 1 John 5:1

Update: Unfortunately, the PDF link to Abasciano’s article no longer works.  The Journal does not want to allow public access to the article.  It won’t even allow the author of the article to post his own article, which seems absurd.  Hopefully, things will change and the article will become available again soon.  In the meantime, If anyone wants a copy of the PDF article, I can send it to them via email. Just let me know in the comments section. You don’t need to leave your email address in the actual comment, since it should already be in the system for me to view when you leave a comment. That way nobody else will see your email address.

_____________________________________________________________________

John Piper recently made the following Tweet:

Unfortunately for Piper, this erroneous argument has been soundly refuted.  John Piper and all Calvinists still making this false claim regarding 1 John 5:1 should save themselves some unnecessary embarrassment by reading Brian Abasciano’s article: “Does Regeneration Precede Faith? The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text”

Here is the author’s abstract of the article:

A number of scholars have appealed to the Greek tenses of 1 John 5:1 as definitive proof that the verse teaches that regeneration precedes faith. But this argument is untenable. The purposes of the present article are (1) to draw attention to the falsity of the argument and to explain why it is invalid, and (2) to counter the contention that the underlying concern of the grammatical argument (i.e., that 1 John 5:1 implies that regeneration precedes faith) can be rescued by appeal to a pattern in 1 John of indicating the results of regeneration. It is questionable whether the tenses in 1 John 5:1 suggest any chronological or causal relationship between faith and regeneration since some grammarians deny that Greek tenses grammaticalize time, and more importantly, one of the tenses in the passage occurs in a substantival participle, which can be devoid of time significance. If the tenses are temporally related, as seems most probable, then Greek grammar suggests either that believing and being begotten of God are portrayed as contemporaneous, or perhaps more likely, that believing logically precedes being begotten of God. Invocation of statements elsewhere in 1 John indicating the results of regeneration does not rescue 1 John 5:1 as a proof text for regeneration preceding faith because of, inter alia, the distinctive and crucial role of faith in the epistle and Johannine theology.

 

Biblical Scholar Brian Abasciano Refutes the Popular Calvinist Argument That the Language of 1 John 5:1 Means That Regeneration Precedes Faith

Update: Unfortunately, the PDF link to Abasciano’s article no longer works.  The Journal does not want to allow public access to the article.  It won’t even allow the author of the article to post his own article, which seems absurd.  Hopefully, things will change and the article will become available again soon.  In the meantime, If anyone wants a copy of the PDF article, I can send it to them via email. Just let me know in the comments section. You don’t need to leave your email address in the actual comment, since it should already be in the system for me to view when you leave a comment. That way nobody else will see your email address.

This scholarly treatment of the passage and the language of 1 John 5:1 is long overdue. In light of this article, I don’t see how Calvinists can continue to reference this erroneous argument. You can down load the article from SEA:

Brian J. Abasciano, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?  The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text.”

Here is the author’s abstract:

A number of scholars have appealed to the Greek tenses of 1 John 5:1 as definitive proof that the verse teaches that regeneration precedes faith. But this argument is untenable. The purposes of the present article are (1) to draw attention to the falsity of the argument and to explain why it is invalid, and (2) to counter the contention that the underlying concern of the grammatical argument (i.e., that 1 John 5:1 implies that regeneration precedes faith) can be rescued by appeal to a pattern in 1 John of indicating the results of regeneration. It is questionable whether the tenses in 1 John 5:1 suggest any chronological or causal relationship between faith and regeneration since some grammarians deny that Greek tenses grammaticalize time, and more importantly, one of the tenses in the passage occurs in a substantival participle, which can be devoid of time significance.  If the tenses are temporally related, as seems most probable, then Greek grammar suggests either that believing and being begotten of God are portrayed as contemporaneous, or perhaps more likely, that believing logically precedes being begotten of God. Invocation of statements elsewhere in 1 John indicating the results of regeneration does not rescue 1 John 5:1 as a proof text for regeneration preceding faith because of, inter alia, the distinctive and crucial role of faith in the epistle and Johannine theology.

Examining A Rather Strange "Proof Text" For Irresistible Regeneration

I believe that I have sufficiently demonstrated that the Biblical ordo salutis (order of salvation) is not that regeneration precedes faith. I gave both a positive argument here, and negative arguments here, here, and here. Before moving on to examine the other petals of our favorite little flower, I wanted to give some brief attention to what I believe to be a rather odd proof text often urged by the proponents of irresistible grace.

This argument focuses on the grammar of two related passages in 1 John. James White makes use of these passages in The Potter’s Freedom. He sets up his argument by first quoting 1 John 5:1,

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

He then explains that while one might interpret this text to mean that belief precedes the born again experience, it should properly be understood as “The one believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (pg. 287-emphasis his). The reason for this interpretation has to do with the verb tenses of “believing” (present tense participle- emphasising continuous action) and “born” (perfect passive tense- indicating an action that took place in the past with ongoing results in the present). He then attempts to bolster this argument with the following comments:

Some Arminian exegetes might object to this interpretation [that the above exegesis leads to the conclusion that “Belief in Jesus Christ” is the “inevitable result of being born again”]. A means of testing the consistency of the exegesis offered of this passage [1 John 5:1] would be to ask how such a person interprets these words from John:

“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 John 2:29)

James White then attempts to put the strangle hold on anyone who might disagree with his conclusions regarding 1 John 5:1,

Every consistent Protestant would say, ‘the reason one practices righteousness is because they have already been born of Him. We do not practice righteousness so as to be born, but instead the birth gives rise to the practice of righteousness.’ And such is quite true. But, this means that in 1 John 5:1 the belief in Jesus Christ is the result of being born of Him. The verbal parallel is exact: in 1 John 2:29 ‘the one practicing righteousness’ is a present participle; in 1 John 5:1 ‘the one believing’ is a present participle. In both passages the exact same form is used…Therefore, sheer consistency leads one to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works. [ibid. 288- emphasis his]

I appreciate Mr. White’s attempts to find support for his doctrine in the parallel grammar of these passages, but I must disagree with his conclusions [1]. The grammar in no way forces the conclusion that one must first be born again in order to believe in Jesus Christ. Allow me to offer an alternative interpretation:

Mr. White’s argument from parallel grammar between 1 John 5:1 and 1 John 2:29 is, in my opinion, a plain case of misunderstanding the text and misapplying the implications. The Greek says nothing more than that the one presently “believing” has been born of God (5:1), and the one who is presently practicing righteousness is born of God (2:29). Of course someone who is presently believing and practicing righteousness has been born of God. The word gennao [born] is in the perfect indicative tense. All this tells us is that an event that occurred in the past has continuing results now in relation to the time of the speaker. While dealing with the past to some extant, the perfect tense is primarily concerned with present time. The perfect tense of gennao can simply be expressed as “he is now born of God”. The Greek grammar does not help the Calvinists case here. The verses do not say whether one became born of God before or after one believed (5:1). All that we can honestly conclude is that if one is now “believing” we can be certain that same person is (and “has been”) born of God. The same is true of 2:29. One who is presently practicing righteousness plainly demonstrates that he or she is born of God.

One of the main issues being addressed throughout 1 John is how one can determine whether or not one is truly saved (“born of God”). The Gnostics (i.e. anti-christs) were teaching that there was no connection between behavior and salvation. They believed that the human spirit was incorruptible and could in no way be affected by the sins of the flesh. John directly opposes such teaching numerous times in his epistle (1:5-10; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 15; 3:4-11, 15, 17, 18, 24; 4:7, 16, 20, 21; 5:1, 2). This is the context in which we need to consider 1 John 2:29 and 5:1. John is not trying to give us a lesson on the order of salvation. He is encouraging his readers to reject the false teachings of the “anti-christ’s” who are teaching that one can sin with spiritual immunity, and helping them to understand the true characteristics of God’s children.

While these passages fail as proof texts for irresistible grace, I personally see further evidence in 1 John 2:29 that one must first believe to be born again. The passage reads,

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

Why does John begin by saying, “If you know that He is righteous”? Because we can only be righteous by being in Him, and if we are in Him we will inevitably practice righteousness as His life and power flows in and out of us. The question then becomes, “How do we come to be in Christ in the first place?” I believe that we have already conclusively demonstrated that we come to be “in Christ and that Christ comes to be “in us” through faith in Him, and not before (Eph. 1:13; 3:17).

Mr. White’s conclusion that, “sheer consistency leads one to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works” simply does not follow necessarily from the context of the epistle or from the comparison of Greek grammar in the above passages. That Calvinists have to look to passages like this to support their doctrine is further testimony to the fact that the doctrine of irresistable grace is a doctrine derived not from the pages of Scripture, but from a prior commitment to a theological system.

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] White’s appeal to “sheer consistency” is entirely undone when we condsider 1 John 5:10.  This passage has the same construction but clearly puts the participle logically prior to the main verb:

“…the one who does not believe God (is not “believing”, present participle) has made (perfect) Him a liar.” (1 John 5:10)

The construction is the same, a present participle followed by the main verb in the perfect tense. Obviously, the making a liar of God (has made: perfect) did not precede the “not believing” (present participle). Rather, it is because one is “not believing” that he has made God out to be a liar. So with the exact same construction we have as in 1 John 5:1 and 2:29, we have the participle (present) taking logical precedence over the main verb (perfect). So the argument just doesn’t hold water. John wasn’t giving a theological discourse on the ordo salutis. He was giving various markers for identifying those who truly belong to God and are His children. God’s children can be identified by their righteous acts and their faith.