Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Serious Exegesis of John 10 (Final Installment)
12/21/2004 - James WhiteIn examining the "serious exegesis" offered by Osborne in Grace Unlimted of key texts in John we have noted that when Arminians seek to interact with such strong statements of God's sovereignty they impress an external grid down upon the text that limits its voice and mutes its testimony. We have seen Osborne skim across the top of the text, lightly touching it, but surely not even attempting to make it appear that he is deriving his theology and conclusions from it. One final example will have to suffice, as we have many other things to be addressing.
An even semi-unbiased reading of John's Gospel reveals a powerful Savior, the good Shepherd, He who is one with the Father in the salvation of His people. He will never cast out those who come to Him (and all that are given Him by the Father savingly come). His sheep hear His voice, He gives eternal life to them, they are safe in His hand, and in the Father's hand. Over and over again we have the power of the Savior, the perfection of His Work.
This comes out most especially in John 10. But what does "serious Arminian exegesis" do with this section? Do we finally see the text put in the position of primacy, so that the first question is, "What does the text here teach" rather than "How can we get around this text and maintain our libertarianism?"? Let's find out:
To understand the thrust here we must identify the theological meaning given to "eternal life" in the fourth Gospel. John stresses the realized aspect and makes it a present possession secured under the power of God. The verses herein are a part of that present thrust. Nonetheless, there is a future aspect to the gift of salvation, and it must be secured by perseverance. This has been noted in 6:35, 45 and is seen In the present tense verbs of verse 27, "hearing," "knowing," and "following." To be sure, these are not conditions for salvation in this context (contra Shank), but they are conditions in light of John's total theology. This is especially seen in the vine and branches mashal of 15:1-7. There we are told that those branches which stop abiding in the vine and cease bearing fruit will wither, be stripped from the vine, and be thrown aside for burning. In spite of all attempts to assert otherwise, this gives a valid warning to the believer regarding the consequences of failure to "abide" in him. So we can conclude, that while eternal life is a present possession, it is not a future certainty. One must add perseverance to the security before one can be certain of that future attainment.
To understand the "thrust" of the passage involves actually exegeting the text, not running off to some artificial construct derived only loosely from other passages. Yes, eternal life is a present possession of the believer, both here in chapter ten and elsewhere (John 5:24). But it is simply untrue that one "secures" the gift of salvation "by perseverance." John 6:35 and 45 do not make any such statement: in fact, in context, the present-tense coming and believing is the result of the giving of the Father, drawing of the Father, etc. How is the present tense of the verbs in 10:27 supposed to communicate the idea that these actions are "securing" a future gift of salvation? Why are we to take these as prescriptive (do this to get that) rather than descriptive (those who have eternal life behave in the following ways)? This "serious exegesis" does not even entertain the idea. What does it mean that these are not conditions in this context but they are elsewhere in John's theology?
So far the reader cannot help but notice that noting the present tense of three verbs in one verse is hardly equivalent to offering "serious exegesis" of John 10. And what comes next? The obligatory flight to a completely different context (John 15: I won't repeat myself), once again simply dismissing meaningful counter-exegesis of even that passage. All leading to the grand conclusion that you can have eternal life temporarily, and the perseverance that must be "added" to the security comes from man, who is indeed the final authority in the work of salvation in all forms of Arminianism.
Contrast this kind of lightly skipping over a text so as to offer shallow excuses as to why it does not fit into your system with the robust, textually-based exegesis offered in Reformed commentaries on the same passages. The contrast is indeed striking.