[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Putting the Focus on 3D Theology: Part 3

by Antonio da Rosa

John 17:3
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.


  • Antonio, I can't thank you enough for your prayer and meditation that went into this post and these verses on John 17:3 and 1 John 5:20.
    The last three paragraphs especially (for me) said it so well~!!! All the pieces totally fit, and anyone should be able to see clearly NOW that this "experiential knowledge" of God comes upon the "condition" of WORKS as you have so clearly shown. But the free GIFT of eternal life is by GRACE, not works.

    You used three words that were extremely helpful in CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION that probably fell on some who were following this discussion about receiving a 3D gospel.
    The 3 words were......

    I hope our friends who visit your blog will go back and reread your post and take note of those 3 words in the last 3 paragraphs of your article.
    They make all the difference in understanding this very important subject.....
    What must I do to have eternal life?
    What is required to KNOW God intimately?

    Praying for you Antonio and thanking God for you,


    By Blogger Diane, at Monday, August 08, 2011 9:09:00 PM  

  • Antonio,

    Thank you for returning again to 17:3. It seems we agree at least on this much: 17:3 is going to be a crux passage for 3D Theology, and I'm perfectly happy for that to be the case.

    I see two basic errors in your argument here, both pretty serious. First of all, you've set out to explain John 17:3 with no reference to the immediate context at all. None. You're all over 1 John, and a few distant passages in John's Gospel, but nary a word about 17:2. This seems a serious mistake. I don't cross-post, so you can find my treatment of the context over on my blog.

    Second, your argument takes the form "Doctrinal Formulation A is true; Interpretation #1 of John 17:3 would violate Doctrinal Formulation A; therefore Interpretation #1 is false, and Interpretation #2 must be true."
    This is just wrong from top to bottom. First of all, nothing you've said actually justifies your interpretation of 17:3; you've not even made an argument for it. Even if you're successful at discrediting my view, proving I'm wrong doesn't make you right any more than proving I'm ugly makes you cute.

    And then, of course, there's the matter of whether you've actually proven me wrong. Doesn't seem you have. Linguistically speaking, paragraph about the fluidity of language can't trump basic grammar, and your view violates basic grammar. There are a lot of points of Greek grammar or linguistics where there's ongoing research and room for a bit of controversy, but this just isn't one of them.

    Doctrinally, you've just missed the point. Your observation of the connections between John and 1 John are valid, but you're hamstrung by your assumption that having life and experiencing life are two fundamentally separate things. They're not, and this is an issue I addressed in my "Dimmer Switch" post. Once you understand how John uses life terminology, you'll have no problem seeing how receiving the new birth can be about knowing God, and yet John can still say what he says in 1 John. (Of course, you'll also need to grasp 1 John's deliberately paradoxical language, e.g. 1Jn. 1:8, 5:18-19 -- I think you're already there, but I'm not sure from what you've said so far.)

    By Blogger Tim Nichols, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 6:06:00 AM  

  • Here's an interesting, article by John Caddock called "What is Contemplative Spirituality and Why Is It Dangerous--A Review of Brennan Manning's 'The Signature of Jesus' " (JOTGES, Autumn 1997--Vol 10:19:



    Here's one quote from the article. For anyone who has read Tim's blog much the past few weeks or months, this should strike a chord, especially Francis Schaeffer's definition of mysticism :

     "Schaeffer predicted that the "new theology" would lead to mysticism. Karl Rahner showed the truth in Schaeffer's prediction when he wrote "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all...By mysticism we mean a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence." But Schaeffer had a different definition of mysticism than Rahner's: "Mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of communication. You can bear witness to it but you cannot discuss it." (The God Who Is There--p 61)


    Footnote on Schaeffer's use of the expression "new theology":

    "Schaeffer seems to have used the phrase broadly to avoid clumsiness in his discussion of how modern shifts in philosophies have effected theology. The expression new theology as Schaeffer uses it, encompasses neo-orthodoxy, strongly rationalistic liberal theology, theologies following Kierkegaard's leap of faith, and theologies following in the footsteps of the religious existentialism of Heidegger. Since Manning and the contemplatives drink from all of these fountains, I have used this expression."


    Perhaps Tim will forgive me for wondering if there's any connection between all this and his claim that giving a rational and intelligible definition/explanation of saving faith is "like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man." Just wondering Tim. After all, you and Jim have both claimed that a complete change in epistemology is required before one can even begin to "understand" (=experience) your present views on saving faith, and that to even ASK the question of WHAT (=propositional content) a person must believe is not only "the wrong question", but a question that "deserves a hearty rebuke."


    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 11:13:00 AM  

  • I meant to say: "...this should strike a FAMILIAR chord,..."

    Also, my last quote of Tim--"the wrong question" and "deserves a heart rebuke"--is from Michele's blog over a year ago. It was here that Tim began his steady assault on the GES for what he called "fractious and divisive" behavior in the body of Christ, and for teaching a "false and narrow gospel". He went on to call for their "repentance".

    But now Tim is claiming over on his blog that this is nothing more than a "hair-trigger reaction by some uber-consevatives" to his completely innocent and innocuous use of just one word--"mystical".

    To simply be straightforward and truthful seems to be such a huge and insurmountable mountain for Tim to climb!


    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 12:27:00 PM  

  • By the way, here's something that might have a bearing on this discussion of Jn 17:3:

    "...do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I do not do the works of my Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may KNOW (=ginosko, as in 17:3) and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." Jn 10:36-39

    And what is "experience"? Experience--the apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind (American Heritage Dictionary)

    I admit I might be missing something here, but at this point it seems to me that even if Tim were to succeed in proving Antonio is ugly in 17:3, he would still have a long way to go in proving himself and the 3-D gospel cute.


    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 2:04:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 2:15:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 2:18:00 PM  

  • p.s.--ginosko frequently suggests INCEPTION or PROGRESS in knowledge, as in Jn 10:38 where the aorist tense indicates the inception of ginosko.

    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 2:42:00 PM  

  • Gary,

    I seem to have touched a nerve, and we can talk about that if you like. But I have a question. Where did I say the things you're putting in quotation marks and attributing to me?

    For example -- and maybe I've missed something here -- I thought the last time I used "hair-trigger" was in response to LM some while back, long before we started this subject. Am I just remembering wrong?

    By Blogger Tim Nichols, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 4:39:00 PM  

  • Tim Nichols says:
    7 August 2011 at 8:19 pm

    As always, thank you for your kind words. The group of people you’re describing were much on my mind when I chose the “mystical union” language as a way of describing real relationship with a personal God as over against some sort of thought experiment with theological principles. The HAIR-TRIGGER reaction to the word “mystical” among such folks keeps them from automatically assuming that they’re already doing whatever it is I’m talking about.

    This is, of course, a matter of personal style. I’d rather dig myself out of the hole that “mystical” puts me into than have them assume up front that we’re talking about the same thing, and then have to dig us both out of that hole. The associated cost is that there’s a certain percentage of uber-conservative folks who are so pissed off at me using the word “mystical” that they simply can’t get past it. But to be honest, I’ve had enough dealings with such folk to last me a lifetime, and if they’d rather just move on down the road, I’m happy to let ‘em go. I’ve got enough to do with folks that are willing; mostly I don’t need to break my head trying to get through to the willfully blind.


    I capitalized it above, remember now? Are you denying you said the other things, or just don't remember saying those things either?

    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 5:00:00 PM  

  • By the way-- "thought experiment with theological principles"... haha...that's almost as good a "proposition worshippers", Tim--you're so clever!

    And you've just been SO abused when all you did was use that little word "mystical", right? That's funny too, because if anyone reminds me of LM it's you, Tim.

    By Blogger goe, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 5:15:00 PM  

  • Gary,

    I ran a search looking for "hair-trigger", and didn't turn it up. That's why I asked. I didn't search all the comment threads, though, so that's where I missed it. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

    By Blogger Tim Nichols, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 9:06:00 PM  

  • Hello Antonio,

    I am new to this discussion and am wondering: What exactly is 3D theology? I have never heard that phrase before.



    By Blogger Jonathan Perreault, at Monday, August 15, 2011 4:17:00 PM  

  • Hi Antonio,

    I am getting a little more familiar with what 3d theology is, and also your arguments against it. Maybe I missed it, but how do you interpret the reference to "eternal life" in John 17:3? It seems like you are saying that it is refering to fellowship. But is fellowship a gift? John 17:2 says that "He may GIVE eternal life". Didn't you say in your blog post that fellowship involves works? Is eternal life a free gift or not (cf. John 3:16, 4:10, 10:28; Rom. 6:23)? Could you please clarify?



    By Blogger Jonathan Perreault, at Saturday, August 20, 2011 7:00:00 PM  

  • Hi again Antonio,

    I know I'm quoting Paul here and not John, but could you please comment also on 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9? Paul labels the unsaved as "those who do not know God...." They do not have eternal life. Are there not two senses then in knowing God: knowing Him as Savior and knowing Him as Master?



    By Blogger Jonathan Perreault, at Saturday, August 20, 2011 7:34:00 PM  

  • Hi Antonio,

    I had a thought on John 17:2,3. Please help clarify if I'm making this too simple.

    John 17:2-3... "as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

    I simply understand this to mean that Jesus Himself is Eternal Life. When we believe in Him for everlasting life, we are getting Him forever starting at the point of belief.

    When I first got saved many years ago I only knew He was my Savior and that I would be with Him forever. Jesus was the only way to God through faith in Him alone.

    The gift is Jesus, the eternal One. That's where our knowledge of Him starts. But the Bible is full of scripture showing us that to know Him intimately we need to abide in Him... grow, grow, grow. All I knew when I got saved is that there was no working for it. Just simply receiving of a gift through faith. But it takes a lot of effort (which is worth it) to "KNOW" Him deeper and deeper. If I don't spend time in His Word and being obedient to His instructions, I'm not abiding. It takes work.... but the best, most satisfying work in the world. I love my time alone with Him. I love to focus on Him during my day.

    That's just my simple thoughts. I'm sure you'll be able to expand on those thoughts to help me out.

    I enjoy your blog. Thank you for the time and effort you've put into it.

    With a thankful heart,

    By Blogger Diane, at Saturday, August 20, 2011 7:56:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home