Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Lazarus and Category Errors
12/21/2003 - James White
Ever wondered why anyone would object to the Lazarus story as illustrative of God's work of regeneration? I was thinking about it after George Bryson said on BAM that God changes hearts, but, not everyone whose heart is changed believes, because there are different "levels" of change. I had mentioned the biblical phraseology from Ezekiel 36:26, taking out a heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (I wonder how that does not violate libertarian free will?), and I have to then wonder: is it possible to have a stoney/fleshly heart, so that it is a little less stoney, or a little more fleshly? Is that what we are reduced to? In any case, I was reviewing John 11 and was again wondering why anyone who confesses that Christ has the power to raise them to eternal life in the future would question Christ's power to do so spiritually now. And of course, the reason is easy to find: it is not a textual issue, but a tradition issue. Consider: Jesus obviously is in sovereign control of the situation. Even Lazarus' sickness is a part of God's sovereign plan (just as in John 9). He delays coming just so that His power can be demonstrated (v. 6). He knows what He is going to do, and why. In fact, He does what He does so that His disciples would believe (v. 15). When He begins ministering in the situation, He says,
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Is Jesus only the physical resurrection, and the physical life? Of course not. In fact, isn't the term "live" in the phrase "everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die" meant spiritually? How can Jesus be speaking of spiritual life in John 11 when it would be such a terrible factual category error to do so? Because the category error is made by those who do not see the interplay in the Johannine literature between the physical and the spiritual. Consider the term "hear" in John. How often, in the exact same context, does the Lord play upon physical and spiritual hearing, drawing out a strong lesson by the fact that men who can hear Him physically cannot hear Him spiritually? Would it be a "category error" to draw the same conclusions from those passages? Hardly!
The Scriptures speak of the unregenerate as spiritually dead; the Scriptures speak of regeneration in terms of resurrection (Ephesians 2). One has to ask the proponent of libertarianism if their real problem with the illustration of Lazarus is that, just like Ephesians 2:5, it robs the creature of the final control and power in salvation? Remember the words of Jesus: "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes" (John 5:21). Who will dare to charge the Son with a category error here? Indeed, I rejoice that when God called me to life, He did not have to seek my permission! I rejoice in a sovereign, powerful Savior who never fails!