November 22, 2009

Analyzing John Piper's Comparison of John 11:52 and 1 John 2:2

At 12:01pm on Nov. 18th, Piper tweeted the following remark:
On definite atonement: Compare 1 John 2:2 ("for the whole world") with John 11:52 ("to gather into one the children of God")
What does this mean? It's only a Tweet, but let's analyze it anyway.

First of all, "definite atonement," in Piper's view, means more than Jesus died for all the elect as such, or all the believing elect." It means that Jesus died ONLY for the sins of the elect, which obviously includes the believing elect. So what does his comparison prove?

Well, the preceding verse says this:
ESV John 11:51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,
What is meant by "the nation"? I take it to mean all the Jews in Israel, at least living at that time, whether elect or not. That seems like the most natural reading of the text. Piper cannot take it that way if "died for" means "died for the sins of" since he holds to a limited imputation of sin to Christ. And, since he is comparing this verse to 1 John 2:2, "died for" must mean "as a propitiation for," on his comparison. Either he has to think "die for" does not mean "died for the sins of," or he has to oddly (see John 11:50; 18:35) take "the nation" as code language for only the elect within the nation of Israel. He might try to take "the nation" to mean an abstract class meaning "Jews" in general, but that still boils down to the particular elect individuals among the Jews, for him. Piper can't take the verse to mean Jesus died for the sins of all in the nation of Israel at that time, so he must go some other way, otherwise his view of "definite atonement" is undermined by the previous verses (John 11:50, 51) in his comparison.

The next verse says:
ESV John 11:52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Notice that the second part of the verse ("the children") has a particular people in view, so it would be very awkward for "the nation" to mean something abstract, like a class of thing called "Jew," without specifying particular or individual Jews. So, for him, either "the nation" means 1) all of the elect as such in the nation, whether believing or not-yet-believing or it means 2) all the believing elect in the nation of Israel, on Piper's theology. Who then are the "children of God who are scattered abroad"? Are they other Israelites scattered abroad, i.e. the diaspora? Are they other believers who are gentiles? The visible church? Given Piper's baptistic ecclesiology, he's probably not following Augustine's theology, so he probably thinks "the children of God" are either all of the elect gentiles scattered abroad, or all of the presently believing elect gentiles [not the visible church]. It would also be awkward for the Apostle John to call unbelievers "the children of God," as they are still hostile and not sharing in adoption, so Piper may be more inclined to take "the children" as the believing gentiles.

Keep in mind that he is comparing this to 1 John 2:2:
ESV 1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Piper is probably reading the passage this way:

Option 1: He is the propitiation for our [all believing Jews, i.e. "the nation"] sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world [all the believing gentiles, i.e. "the children scattered abroad"].

Or possibly, but less likely, this way:

Option 2: He is the propitiation for our [all the elect Jews, whether believing or not, i.e. "the nation"] sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world [all the elect among the gentiles, whether believing or not, i.e. "the children scattered abroad"].

Since Piper may be more inclined to take "the children" as the believing gentiles in John 11:52, he probably likes Option #1 above. But if Option #1 is the case, 1 John 2:2 says nothing more than Christ is the propitiation for all believers, whether Jew or Gentile. That's not in dispute. Even an Arminian can agree with that. It doesn't get him "definite atonement," or that Jesus ONLY died for believing Jews and Gentiles. In fact, he himself would have to admit that Jesus died for more than believing Jews and Gentiles, since all in the elect class are not yet believing. Again, Option #1 does not get him "definite atonement," even on his own theological assumptions.

How about Option #2? The verse would be saying nothing more than Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of all elect people as such, whether Jew or Gentile. That also is not in dispute, as it does not say that Jesus ONLY died for the sins of elect people. That in no way establishes his case for "definite atonement."

The most he can possibly do by his comparison is try to negate the argument of others that 1 John 2:2 means that Jesus died for more than the elect (thus neutralizing the text), not establish "definite atonement." If he tries to do the latter, then he is doomed to failure, as that text would only be saying, on his theology, that Jesus died for all of the elect, or at least all the believing elect. It would be like arguing that Jesus only died for the sheep because he died for the sheep, or only died for his friends because he died for his friends, or only died for the church because he died for the church, or only died for Paul because he died for Paul [Gal. 2:20]. As is so commonly the case among advocates of "definite atonement," it would be an attempt to infer a negative (Christ died only for these) from a bare positive assertion (Christ died for these).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to submit a third option to you - The 'us' refers to the local group of churches that John was writing to in Asia Minor and the 'world' referring to the universal church or those outside of their fellowship.