Putting the Focus on 3D Theology: Part 3
Since there has been so much talk about John 17:3, I have taken it upon myself to pray over this verse and meditate upon it. Furthermore, I have attempted to wrestle with it in the larger context of the 4th gospel and the other writings of the Apostle John bearing significant testimony concerning its subject matter.
Idiomatic expression (as in the peculiarly Johannine construction here) can continue to have particular nuances, depending upon the context and subject matter of the expression itself. See the different ways that Christ uses the expression "The first will be last...", for example. Each instance of a specific usage needs to be viewed fresh and in light of its own peculiarities. This is how language works. Language is not wooden and inflexible, but able to be employed in various fluid and flexible ways. Certainly precision is able to be maintained, but it never has to be at the expense of rich and colorful usage. How Jesus Christ (or the Apostle John) uses a colloquial expression in one context does not determine how he uses it in another. Certainly we would need to examine the way it was used, but this is only one consideration in the process of coming to an interpretation.
Furthermore, John 17:3 does not come to us as in a vacuum. One must consider the import of other passages dealing with its subject matter, first by the same inspired author, and then by others, in order that one may come to valid interpretive conclusions concerning it. We would be remiss unless we did so. A careful study of the the Apostle John’s writings will inform our interpretation of John 17:3. It is more than unwise to take this verse as an island and form an entire theology out of it. To do so is reading into the text.
The gospel writer is abundantly clear that those who have eternal life can nevertheless be in a state of not knowing the Father:
1 John 2:3, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him"
1 John 4:8, "He who does not love does not know God"
And in a state of not knowing the Son:
John 14:9, “...Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip?”
John 17:3 is like a predicate nominative construction. The main clause says, "Eternal life is this". If we were to substitute the subordinate substantival and appositional clause for the near demonstrative pronoun, this, we could have the construction: "Eternal life is that they may know [the Father]... and Jesus Christ..." In allowing the author to inform us concerning the subject of knowing the Father and the Son, we must, attending to the law of the excluded middle, conclude that John 17:3 cannot be asserting that the possession of eternal life guarantees or even initiates a superlative and intimate knowledge of God. “Sea World is that they may enjoy aquatic life.” (I keep using Sea World, because my family has year passes, and in fact, I am taking my son there today). What this expression about Sea World denotes is its core design, not a 1 to 1 correspondence. Design implies purpose. If I said that Sea World was designed to create an atmosphere and environment conducive for the enjoyment of aquatic life, it is to be noticed that such a design was created for that purpose. Thus, at the core of its design and purpose, eternal life has the capacity and potential of knowing God. But unless non-negotiable conditions are met in the life of the one possessing eternal life, the regenerate one will not achieve the purposes for which he was given that life.
One on one correspondence and wholesale equation of two words and/or concepts is not a common occurrence in everyday life or in the Bible. In actuality, it is a very uncommon one. Usually, where wholesale equation is made an articular predicate and articular predicate nominative are used, as in the Apostle John’s affirmation of the identity between “sin” and “lawlessness” in 1 John 3:4. Imagine I said, “Honey, go get the heater in the bathroom so that I might dry off the dog.” My daughter returns and says, “Dad, there is no heater in the bathroom, only this blow dryer.” To which I respond, “The blow dryer is the heater I was referring to.” In this construction, I have wholesale affirmed the identity of two concepts. It can’t be stressed enough that such a construction is absent in John 17:3. Furthermore, in 1 John 5:20, which we are about to look at more closely, we find that Jesus Christ, Himself, is in some sense equated with eternal life (although still not in the articular way described above). We are obviously dealing with figurative language in these texts, dealing with a certain measure of metaphor. Care must be applied to the interpretation of figurative language. Furthermore, we must recognize the need for some harmonization of the facts that both Jesus Christ, Himself, and that one may know Jesus Christ and the Father are in some sense parallel to the multi-facet concept that is eternal life. If one were to claim wholesale equality between Jesus Christ and that one may know Him with eternal life, it would diminish the values of all the concepts involved. An essential component of a dynamic concept is not the same as the concept itself.
1 John 5:20
The Apostle John does not leave us without clues in the interpretation of John 17:3. It is easily demonstrated that in the Gospel of John the crowning experience of life (Jn 12:24-26) and intimate knowledge of the Father and the Son (Jn 14:21, 23) does not come by grace through faith; they are not dependent upon believing in Jesus alone, but upon the added element of earnest devotion to God. This pertinent consideration necessarily places parameters on the interpretation of John 17:3 and is a real stumbling block to the assertions of 3d theology proponents. Within the Gospel of John the reader is met with conditions for experiencing the purposes inherent in the design of eternal life. Only a resolute blindness could miss and/or disregard the implications of such discovery:
Regeneration, the possession of new life, along with its inherent guarantees comes by faith alone in Christ alone.
The superlative and crowning experience of this life and intimate fellowship with God comes by faith + works.
To confuse and admix these two attested spiritual realities is to beget danger, as we will explore later (probably in another post). But suffice it to say for now, the very fabric of salvation by grace alone through faith alone is at stake.
As if a consideration of the subject matter in the Gospel of John wasn’t enough, in my prayertime, the Lord directed me to 1 John 5:20. In it we have all the concepts resident in John 17:3.
1 John 5:20, "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."
This last verse is very important. Here we are met with the concept that those who are regenerate have been given the capacity (Gk: dianoian, the understanding or intelligence) for the purpose of knowing God. Certainly the ina+subjunctive here is for purpose, and of course, there is no guarantee that the purpose will be fulfilled. As a matter of fact, it is equally able to be demonstrated, that for the Apostle John, knowing the "True One" may only be realized by those who are in fellowship with God, as verified by their obedience to His commands. This is everywhere evident throughout this epistle.
Having eternal life, being in Jesus Christ, enables us to know God in an intimate way. It gives us the capacity, described as an intelligence and understanding, for deep fellowship with God. This capacity, lying at the core of eternal life, is given for the purpose of knowing God. But as the whole epistle of 1 John shows, such intimate knowledge of God is reserved for those who, through their faith in Christ, keep God’s commandments. That this experiential knowledge of God comes upon the condition of works should be evident to all, and not by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
1 John 5:20 is very important in our discussion of John 17:3. It hearkens us back to John 17:3 where the concepts of “eternal life”, “true God”, Jesus Christ, and knowing God are present. 1 John 5:20 actually goes far in explaining what is meant by John 17:3 and should only be ignored at our peril. John 17:3, taken alone, and apart from information furnished to us by its author in other texts, could be used to provide the basis for a deep and mystical theological formulation. Such an understanding is often presented in beautiful language. The proponents of 3d theology show us a figure of a three-dimensional cube, but only at its face. They show its width and height, corners, and surface. But in reality, there is no depth. For when you look at its side, you discover that it is only 2d. 3d theology fails to rightly divide the word of truth, and much like Lordship Salvation, puts the cart before the horse. We will examine these tendencies in later posts.