I admit it. I am a Star Wars fan. Of course since I was a kid when episode 4 came out I am prejudiced into thinking that 4 and 5 were the best. This doesn’t mean that I go to conventions or collect unopened toys as a long term investment. Truth be told I blew up most of them with fire crackers or shot them to death with my BB gun.
Of course it seems that James White is also something of a fan of Star Wars. He keeps trying to use Obi-Wan’s Jedi mind tricks on me. Simply wave the hand and repeat after me. (This of course is similar to the underworld witch in the Silver Chair.) Of course, since it isn’t possible to learn the kinds of powers I am interested in from a Jedi, his mind tricks just won’t work on me. ( Episode 3 Anakin: “Is it possible to learn this power?” Palpatine: “Not from a Jedi.”)
In another forum I argued that John 6:37ff was to be interpreted Christologically as Christ the center of the text and the key to its correct interpretation. White thinks I am mistaken. Foolish me for thinking that Jesus was the center and hermenutical key of Scriptures! (John 5:39)
White wishes to argue that the groups in v. 39 and in v. 40 are identical. In fact he argues that I confuse the general resurrection with being raised to eternal life. Of course this turns on how we interpret eternal life, either as an all or nothing (personal) deal or something that admits of degrees. I take the latter and White takes the former. I think the Scripture indicates that all are redeemed in Christ, otherwise they would not be raised and hence not be “in Christ.” (1 Cor 15:22, 2 Pet 2:1)
Consequently, redemption comes in degrees. All are beneifited by God’s redemptive work but some enjoy it more fully than others. (1 Tim 4:10, John 10:10) In any case, no one escapes Christ’s soverign power and that is in part the point of John 6. Christ and not Moses is the source of life (John 5:45-47, 6:31-35-Incidentally, the flow from Chapter 5 through six is from the Exodus through the wilderness with Moses, eating the Manna and then surpassing Moses by entering the true promised Land). I perfectly grant that Jesus is explaining in part the unbelief of some of the Jews but he is also pointing to His superiority despite their unbelief. Just as all of Israel was redeemed in the Exodus and ate Manna, so this is also true here. This stiffles White’s theological importation of “elect” since the Bible indicates that Israel is “elect” in spite of unbelief. (Romans 11:2, 28)
White claims that v. 39 is speaking of all of the elect, but of course the term election isn’t in the passage and White is simply fist pounding and question begging since that is the question at issue. I perfectly grant that v. 39 designates a corporate group, but I deny that it is co-extensive with the group of v. 40, which I take to be a subset of v. 39.
What reason do I have for thinking so? Well first the conditions for membership in v. 39 and v.40 aren’t the same. There is no condition for belief in v. 39 but there is in 40. This play between general and specific is part of the structure of the passage. What White needs to do is not eisegete the text by importing his theology into the text but show on exegetical grounds reasons for thinking that the two groups are in fact identical and co-extensive. Simply repeating that they are identical isn’t an argument and neither is appealing to the notion of the consistency of the passage.
The promises not to lose any of them doesn’t do any work either because Christ doesn’t lose any of His Creation to the devil since He raises it all up for eternity. If the wicked do not derive their source of life from Christ and His Resurrection, from where does White think they derive it?
Moreover, I think White misconstrues the flow of the chapter. The section begins with contrasting the general and specific and then Jesus narrows the scope to that of a personal response, which is in part the point of consuming His flesh and blood. The narrowing of the passage though doesn’t require us to think or even imply that the contrast is between the elect and the reprobate. And so of course I too can claim that I am preserving the consistency of the passage.
Part of the problem is that White is presupposing that union with Christ only comes about via an extrinsic personal/volitional relation but I don’t think Scripture teaches this. First becaus if it were true only some of creation would be recapitulated in Christ, which is false. (Rom 8:19-28, Eph 1:11) Second, it would imply that the wicked were not raised or that Christ wasn’t God since the hypostatic union would be an extrinsic and contingent relation such that it could be broken. (This was the real theological basis of Annihilationalism/Conditional Immortality, which is why Arianism and the former usually go hand in hand-Socinianism, JW’s, Christadelphians, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. and why these views came out of Calvinism or some derivative thereof.) Third, it would imply that not all were dead and that Christ didn’t die for all. (2 Cor 5:14) If White wishes to invoke Limited Atonement here, he is certainly free to do so, but it will imply that not all men were dead in Adam (1 Cor 15:22, Romans 5:18). Advocating Pelagianism is a rather odd thing for a Calvinist to do, but White is an odd kind of guy I suppose.
And of course, it is well known that I have patristic warrant for interpreting the passage the way I do. Maximus the Confessor definately saw the passage this way and the refutation of monothelitism/monoenergism/monergism turned on this interpretation. But the interpretation goes back significantly further.
Jerome, who was no exegetical moron and quite competent in the biblical languages writes the following,
“Then shall the saying of our Lord appear perfectly realised: ‘All that my Father has given me, I shall not lose aught thereof, but I will raise it up again at the last day;’ the whole of His humanity in its entirety at His birth.” To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem, sec 34.
Of course, White might complain that Maximus is quite late and that Jerome isn’t much better. Fair enough, but how about Tertullian? He writes,
“And, still further, the Lord explains to us the meaning of the thing when He says: ‘I came not to do my own will, but the Father’s, who hath sent me.’ What, I ask, is that will? ‘That of which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.’ Now, what had Christ received from the Father but that which He had Himself put on? Man, of course, in his texture of flesh and soul. Neither, therefore, of those parts which He has received will He allow to perish; nay, no considerable portion—nay, not the least fraction, of either. If the flesh be, as our opponents slightingly think, but a poor fraction, then the flesh is safe, because not a fraction of man is to perish; and no larger portion is in danger, because every portion of man is in equally safe keeping with Him. If, however, He will not raise the flesh also up at the last day, then He will permit not only a fraction of man to perish, but (as I will venture to say, in consideration of so important a part) almost the whole of him. But when He repeats His words with increased emphasis, ‘And this is the Father’s will, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day,’.—He asserts the full extent of the resurrection. For He assigns to each several nature that reward which is suited to its services: both to the flesh, for by it the Son was ‘seen;’ and to the soul, for by it He was ‘believed on.'”
Now, White will probably dismiss these Fathers and and early witness like Tertullian. I wouldn’t expect him to do otherwise given his principles. All I am establishing here is that I am not innovating and that my reading has been a plausible read to a number of no small minds prior to myself. What is more, this interpretation isn’t a late development either. The fundamental difference between White and myself is that I take a person to be the hermenutical key to understanding the Scriptures, as the Apostles and Fathers did before me, and White takes impersonal principles to be the hermeneutical key tp understanding the Scriptures. Only that which can be demonstrated by reason is a suitable candidate for belief. Rational principles license an interpretation only if they provide a suitable and stable relation between individual discrete substances. This is why White’s exegetical methodology doesn’t float free of Christological assumptions but in fact depens on a Nestorian Christology. This is not to say that White explicitly advocates Nestorianism as many of his friends seem to do, but it is just to say that his hermeneutical principles are at odds with his professed Christology.