John 8:30-32 -- Lordship Calvinism and its House of Cards
In the principles of scientific justification an interpretation must submit to a "falsification criterion". If contrary data invalidate it, it must be given up.
In about 1300 A.D. William of Ockham introduced the scientific principle that whatever explanation involves the fewest assumptions is to be preferred. Called Ockham's Razor, it posits that any theory which, when confronted with contrary evidence, must supply secondary explanations in order to justify its existence is a bad theory. The continued introductions of secondary assumptions in order to explain the theory in light of seemingly contradictory evidence results in a crumbling house of cards.
In theology, when a particular theological position must be maintained by secondary assumptions, it is worthless. This is preeminently the case with the Lordship Salvation Calvinists' doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. When confronted with apparently contradictory evidence that a true saint in the Bible has persisted in disobedience, they will often offer the secondary assumption, based upon their system, that he could not really be a true saint at all.
Or when warnings are addressed to “little children,” “brethren,” “saints,” and those “sanctified forever,” a secondary assumption, not supported by the text, is brought in to say that these terms refer to “wheat and tares” and the specific descriptions are only the language of courtesy, not of fact. This continual addition of ad hoc explanations which are either not alluded to in the texts in question or are specifically refuted by them, render the theory useless. It becomes incapable of falsification because any data contrary to it is simply negated by additional assumptions. Text after text is often ignored in this way until the whole edifice verges on collapse like the proverbial house of cards.
Another theological position that must be maintained by secondary assumptions is the Lordship Calvinists' doctrine that the call to discipleship and the call to eternal life/eternal salvation are one and the same. When confronted with apparently contradictory evidence that the call to eternal life is a call to receive a free gift and the call to discipleship is an invitation to suffering, costly obedience, and hard works, they will often offer the secondary assumption, based upon their system, that salvation is a paradox, that it is both free and costly at the same time, and that the obedience required for salvation is not only the determination of the will to do so, but a perseverance in such until the end of life.
Still another theological position that must be maintained by secondary assumptions is the Lordship Calvinists' doctrine of a “spurious faith”. When confronted with the apparently contradictory evidence that simple faith alone in Jesus alone apart from works appropriates eternal life, that merely taking Jesus at His word in His gospel promise saves, and that those who are explicitly said to have faith may be in the state of not adding works to that faith, they will often offer the secondary assumption, based upon their system, that there is a difference between “believing” and “really believing”, and that “obey,” “surrender,” “commit,” and “give” are implicit semantic values hidden in the concept of the term of genuine “faith”. [Parts of this article taken and adapted from Joseph C. Dillow in The Reign of the Servant Kings pgs 25-41, see esp. 38-39]
Continual secondary assumptions plague the interpretations of the Calvinist/Lordship Salvation proponents.
John 8:30-32 states this:
As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
As clearly as John can express it, a group of “many” “believed in” Jesus. This phrase, “believed in him” is a special Greek expression “pisteuw eis” which is almost unique to the Gospel of John. This phrase involves the use of a Greek preposition (eis) after the verb for “believe” and, so far at least, it has not been found in secular Greek. Among the instances of its use in John’s gospel may be mentioned the following- 1:12; 2:11; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38, 39; 9:35, 36; 10:42; 11:25, 26, 45; and 12:44, 46.
Even a rapid examination of these texts shows that this specialized expression is John’s standard way of describing the act of saving faith by which eternal life is obtained. To deny this in 8:30 would be to go directly counter to the well-established usage of the author.
For instance, John 3:16 states, “…whosoever believes in Him [pisteuw eis] should not perish but have everlasting life”. Could not “those Jews who believed Him” be considered a “whosoever”? Does not John make a blanket statement that the one believing into Jesus has eternal life?
Notice that there is nothing in the text itself to indicate that the faith exercised by “those Jews” is anything but the faith that brings eternal life. There are no modifiers such as “spurious” or “false” or “substandard”. On the contrary, the expression is the same in John 3:16 and 6:47 (Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life). It uses the “pisteuw eis” expression with Jesus as the object. This is the very same expression that is saving faith in our most beloved texts, such as John 3:16 and John 11:25, 26!
It has been claimed, however, that the believing Jews of verses 30, 31 are the speakers in verses 33, 39, and 41. It is then pointed out that in verse 44 Jesus tells them, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” Along with the whole tenor of verses 33-47 (and especially the statements of verses 39, 40, and 42) this is seen as a clear indication that the faith described in 8:30 was not regenerating faith.
But this argument involves a missassessment of the whole context in which verses 8:30-32 are placed.
John 8:13-59 is clearly a controversy section which has its setting in the Jewish Temple (8:20). Jesus’ opponents throughout the section are His general audience in the Temple treasury. They are described as Pharisees (8:13), as Jews (8:22, 48, 52, and 57) and more simply as “they” (8:19, 25, 27, 33, 39, 41, 59). John does not expect us to understand the “they” of verse 33 any differently than we do the same word in verses 19, 25, and 27. He means the larger audience.
Verses 30, 31a (about those who believe in Him) are a kind of “aside” to the reader to explain the background and purpose of Jesus’ statement in verses 31b, 32 (about continuing in His Word). In this way the reader is allowed to learn the reason why Jesus’ words are misunderstood and how they serve to intensify the controversy that is already raging.
This technique is thoroughly Johannine. Throughout the Fourth Gospel, the words of Jesus are frequently misunderstood (c.f. 3:4; 4:11, 12; 6:34; 7:35; 8:22; etc.). Where necessary, John offers the readers the crucial clue to their actual meaning (cf. 2:19-22; 11:11-13). This is what he is doing in verses 30-31a. The reader is tipped off about the real purpose behind the words in 3:31b-32.
[Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Seige see pgs 41-44]
Imagine for instance that John’s “editorial” note was not included in the text, how it would read:
Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
They answered Him,” We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"
Notice the bold “they”. Without the editorial by John, the “they” would then be the obvious continuation of those hostile, disputing, and unbelieving Jews that have been referenced time and again throughout the discourse in John 8.
John’s point in his editorial is that when Jesus said the words in 8:31b-32, it was for the benefit of those “many [who] believed in Him” (8:30). Jesus did not address those who believed in Him, but it was for their benefit. It was spoken in the same manner as had the rest of the discourse Jesus had been giving from 8:13-29, in the sphere and in the hearing of all in the Temple. The unbelieving Jews misunderstood Jesus’ statement and began questioning His statements in verse 33.
The interpretation of the Traditionalist of John 8:30ff puts variance between verses 8:30,31 with verses 8:45-47, wherein 8:30,31 the Apostle John states that there was a group of Jews who both “believed into Him” and “believed Him”, but Jesus in verse 8:45 says that those whom He is talking to (who the Traditionalist says is the same group as 8:30,31, IOW the believing Jews) “do[es] not believe Me”.
Instead of seeing the true contradiction of their understanding of this passage, the Traditionalists accommodate their interpretation with a secondary assumption that the “faith” in 8:30, 31 is a “spurious” one, even in the face of the overwhelming testimony of John in his gospel that states that “whosoever believes into” Jesus IS saved, and even though not a single qualifier or modifier exists in the text to color our comprehension of these Jew’s faith. They then use this passage as a “proof-text” to their doctrine of perseverance and their position that all true believers are disciples as well.
We must not give secondary assumptions and/or modify one experimental fact in order to accommodate it with another apparently contradictory one. Instead, we must search for a higher synthesis, larger than each fact, which will explain both.
And in this case, if this were done, the Traditionalist would realize that John’s commentary and editorial in 8:30,31b was an “aside” for the reader’s own understanding, denoting that 8:31b-32 was an expression made for the benefit of those “many Jews [who] believed in [to] Him”, and that the discussion in 8:33ff is just a continuation of the dispute with the Jews and Pharisees who had been hostile to Him throughout the whole of the discourse.