Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Bit More on Serious Arminian Exegesis
12/19/2004 - James WhiteI simply could not resist responding to some more of the "serious Arminian exegesis" offered by Osborne in the Pinnock edited work, Grace Unlimited (BHP, 1975). Right after the section on John 6 comes a section on John 10:14, 14-18, 27-30. One is once again impressed with the fact that Arminian "exegesis" skims over the top of the text, spending the vast majority of its time on protecting its core philosophical commitment to libertarianism (and I emphasize once again, I believe in libertarianism: God has libertarian freedom, and He uses it to free dead slaves, but solely on the basis of His free grace, never on the basis of the actions or merits of those thusly redeemed---which is NOT the libertarianism these Arminians are defending/promoting). For example, Jesus' clear differentiation between His sheep and the unbelieving Jews who were not His sheep is dismissed without the slightest appeal to the text itself. Jesus established the clear parameters and order in such passages as John 8:43 and 47: "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word."..."He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." The Arminian understanding is not "because you cannot hear My word" but because "you choose not to hear my Word." (Please note: there is no question that these men were choosing not to hear Christ's Word: their wills were actively opposed to the truth. The point is that they could do no other because they were enslaved to sin). The Arminian simply refuses to allow for the compatibility of God's sovereignty and man's acting as a responsible creature within the creaturely realm. When faced with Jesus' bald statement to the Jews that He would lay down His life for His sheep, but that they were not of His sheep, Osborne opines,
However, this is to misunderstand Jesus' teaching here. The primary principle for interpreting any parabolic saying is that one must not go beyond the central teaching (see Jeremias' or Dodd's studies of the parable); especially, one must not base doctrines on what it does not say. Here Jesus is teaching about his death, not the efficacy of it; in this context he could hardly have said he laid down his life for all the animals! This must be interpreted in light of the other Johannine passages which connect Jesus' death with "all" or with the "world" (1:12, 29; 3:16; 12:32). In short, Jesus here teaches that he shows his love for his sheep by dying for them but nowhere limits his death to them alone. To use his imagery, he died so that "all" may become "sheep."
There is everything true in seeing one primary point in a parable, and if this was strictly a parable, that would be excellent advice. But surely anyone can see the difference between Jesus' presentation of Himself as the Good Shepherd and, say, the parable of the mustard seed, or the parable of the soils. Should we likewise apply this reasoning to the Lord's statement, within the same context, that He lays down His life so that He can take it up again, so that we should not see in this both a prophecy of the resurrection as well as a statement of the Son's own role in His resurrection? Surely not. The point is that in addressing individuals the Lord Jesus said "you are not my sheep" (10:26). He did not say, "You are currently not of My sheep but you can become one of My sheep and I will die to make that opportunity available to you." But this is the conclusion Osborne comes to.
Next, the statement that Jesus is "teaching about His death, not the efficacy of it" defies simple response. Yes, Jesus is teaching about His death, but how can one consider the atonement without considering its intention and efficacy? And given that Jesus will then move directly into the perfection of the work of the Father and the Son in concert with one another in saving the sheep, I have to conclude such a disjunction of "death/efficacy thereof" has no basis in the text. As to the statement about "animals," I will leave it to others to figure out how this represents "serious exegesis."
Next we have the ever-present "We really cannot derive the meaning of this passage from this passage itself: we need to bring in our externally-derived interpretation based upon other passages, though, of course, we won't deal with the fact that we have simply assumed the meaning of these other passages and fit them into our philosophical/theological grid to begin with" tactic of referring to the "world" and "all" passages. Having amazed the audience with a list of four unexegeted texts, a conclusion, which, oddly enough, gives the exact opposite meaning as the text itself, is presented, "Jesus here teaches that he shows his love for his sheep by dying for them but nowhere limits his death to them alone." Shepherds are always dying for other sheep, aren't they? Wouldn't an even semi-serious exegesis of this text have to deal with the reality of 10:26, "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep"? I mean, with all the discussion on the Arminian's part of the centrality of belief in John (and that much is quite true), when you run into a passage that identifies a group of people, says "You are not believing" (shades of 6:36), and then is followed by a o[ti clause that specifically tells us the why of their unbelief, should that not take central place in anything pretending to be exegesis? But this passage is not even touched. I suggest it is because it does not fit the philosophical grid that, in Arminianism, is the primary authority. This is truly a fundamental difference between non-Reformed evangelical viewpoints (including conscious Arminians and those who are so by default but not by knowing conviction) and Calvinists: what has the position of primacy? Philosophical presuppositions or the exegesis of Scripture? Yes, I can hear the screams now. But my repeated experience has been the same, and this "serious exegesis" only proves the point.
And so we are offered the conclusion that Jesus died so that all might become His sheep. This is "serious exegesis" of John 10. If you are wondering exactly how that conclusion was derived from the text itself, I join you in your wondering. Obviously, it wasn't. This conclusion is stated in spite of the text, not because of it.
Tomorrow we will finish with a look at just a few more statements, this time concerning John 10:27-30 and the security of the believer.