March 17, 2008

Owen on Regeneration in the OT

"First, Although the work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit was wrought under the Old Testament, even from the foundation of the world, and the doctrine of it was recorded in the Scriptures, yet the revelation of it was but obscure in comparison of that light and evidence which it is brought forth into by the gospel. This is evident from the discourse which our blessed Savior had with Nicodemus on this subject; for when he acquainted him clearly with the doctrine of it, he was surprised, and fell into that inquiry, which argued some amazement, “How can these things be?” But yet the reply of our Savior manifests that he might have attained a better acquaintance with it out of the Scripture than he had done: “Art thou,” saith he, “a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?” — “Dost thou take upon thee to teach others what is their state and condition, and what is their duty towards God, and art ignorant thyself of so great and fundamental a doctrine, which thou mightst have learned from the Scripture?” For if he might not so have done, there would have been no just cause of the reproof given him by our Savior; for it was neither crime nor negligence in him to be ignorant of what God had not revealed. This doctrine, therefore, — namely, that everyone who will enter into the kingdom of God must be born again of the Holy Spirit, — was contained in the writings of the Old Testament. It was so in the promises, that God would circumcise the hearts of his people, — that he would take away their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh, with his law written in it, and other ways, as shall be afterward proved."

Although the Gospel of John is a New Testament book, nevertheless, the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is an Old Testament event. I might also add that, even though regeneration took place in the OT, there is development and expansion in the blessing with respect to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the people of God today. So, there are elements of continuity and elements of discontinuity between the OT age and NT age regarding regeneration and the people of God.


Tony Byrne said...

Here's the context of John 3:

NKJ John 3:1-10 1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?

Anyone who wishes to comment is expected to interact with the above text in order to sustain their points by what is said in this passage of scripture, particularly as it relates to John Owen's argument in the main post.

I deleted one comment already because it failed to do that, or anything even slightly close to that.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I'm curious, does Owen cite any scriptures in support of this? Its just that he seems to found the idea on nothing more than a deduction from his belief that, if this is not correct interpretation, there could be "no just cause" of Jesus' reproof. Well, it occurs to me that an alternative explanation could be that it is not so much a rebuke of Nicodemus' lack of knowledge of scripture but rather of his pharasaic self-righteousness, of daring to be a teacher and yet not knowing The Teacher. Thus, on this extract alone, it remains unproven. As a minimum, it must be admitted that Owen imports ideas into his paraphrase that are not found in the text, hence my question. I'm not saying I'm against it at all, its just that I think it would be better to build the case from scripture rather than from potentially flawed deductive reasoning.


Tony Byrne said...

Hi Martin,

He's clearly bringing up John 3 as a proof-text, so that constitutes his scriptural support. He's saying that Jesus' rebuke of Nicodemus only makes sense if regeneration could have been known at the time of the rebuke and earlier. When Jesus was speaking to him, it was still OT times.

What contextual support is there for the theory that "it is not so much a rebuke of Nicodemus' lack of knowledge of scripture but rather of his pharasaic self-righteousness, of daring to be a teacher and yet not knowing The Teacher"? Jesus is explicitly referencing his need to be born from above, and that he, as a teacher of Israel, should not be ignorant of such things, and marveling at Jesus' words as he did.

What do you see Owen importing in his words? Owen's argument here is not mere deduction from a system, but an inference from what John 3 seems to be suggesting. Therefore, I do not think one can accurately say "on this extract alone, it remains unproven."