Do we practice “Reductionism” by holding John 3:16 as being literally true?

July 7, 2011
By dreiher2

On another blog, a person responded to my statements about James talking about a different kind of salvation than John 3:16, and my insistence that we need to distinguish Justification Salvation from Sanctification salvation in James. I did not want to clutter up his blog, so I post my response here. I think it might be helpful for the rest of you in our study of James.

>>>> Here is my response:

I have been thinking about what you said about “having it both ways” and especially what you said about “reading a reductionistic interpretation of John 3 into the whole rest of the New Testament.”

The Gospel of John was the ONLY book in the whole New Testament written to lead people to believe in Jesus as the Christ (John 20:31). Therefore, It is absolutely necessary to read the “reductionistic” CLEAR statements such as John 3:16,17 into the “expansionistic” (my term) UNCLEAR statements we find in the rest of the New Testament when it comes to exactly what a person needs to do, to be 100% sure they have everlasting life. The clear statements in John such as 3:16, 5:24, 6:47, 11:25-27, along with 1 Tim 1:16, are some of the ONLY authoritative places in the Bible which clearly explain how a person can be 100% sure they have everlasting or eternal life. In other words some passages of the Bible are more authoritative than others on certain issues (such as exactly what we do to get everlasting life) and absolutely must be “read into” or taken into consideration with other passages which seem to be less clear. In other words use the clear to interpret the unclear, not the unclear to interpret the clear. John 3:16,17 is one of the most easy to understand passages in the Bible. James 2:14-26 is one of the most difficult. Martin Luther thought the epistle of James was a “strawy epistle” and he doubted that it should have been included in the canon. I am not “reading” John 3:16 into James. I am saying that since James says a person is “saved” by works, then he is talking about something totally different than salvation or justification in John 3:17. It is either a different “kind” of salvation, or there is something totally wrong and contradictory with the Bible. What I am doing is using the law of non-contradiction. If a person is saved by faith alone in John 3:16, and a person is saved by works in James 2, then either there is hopeless contradiction, or else each author is using a different definition for the word “saved.” It is not complicated. It is simple common sense.

The bottom line is that unless John 3:16,17 is an absolute lie, a person gets everlasting life (justification salvation) by simple belief in the Jesus Christ of the Bible as the sole granter and guarantor of that life. “Belief” or faith per se is not some sort of complicated thing. It is the same way a person is fully convinced or persuaded that George Washington was the first US president. Technically, you don’t decide to believe anything. You either believe it or you do not. There are not 3 parts to it, intellect, emotion and will. That is reading Greek philosophy into the Biblical definition of faith. Please don’t misunderstand. We do not believe in George Washington as the first US president FOR anything in particular in your life today. We just believe the proposition we heard by a parent or a teacher at some time. In the same manner, we believe in the proposition that all who believe in Jesus FOR everlasting life, have it. It is more than just being convinced that He existed. However, there is nothing else needed besides this belief or persuasion that He grants us everlasting life by believing in Him for it. That is not “reductionistic” by saying James 2 is not talking about Justification salvation AT ALL.  It is taking the promise in John 3:16 as being true. Otherwise it is a lie! Otherwise you can add anything you want to the word believe as the Catholics, JW’s, Church of Christ folks do, and wind up with something totally different (i.e. expanded) from simple belief.

The way I understand the Gospel of John, James and Paul is the complete opposite of having it “both ways.” I take each occurrence of salvation ONE way as determined by the author in context. In John 3:17 salvation is eternal salvation from hell. In Rom. 5:8-10 Paul is using the word “save” as something potential (but not inevitable) for “justified” people. The same is true about justification by works, and salvation in James. It is desired, potential, but by no means inevitable. I most emphatically do not take all the meanings of the words “Save” and “salvation,” come up with A meaning to read into all of the occurrences of the words for “save” and “salvation.”  Words don’t have A meaning, they have MEANINGS. The way I was taught hermeneutics and have taught hermeneutics the last 25 years (the study of how to properly interpret the Bible) was to find out the original intent of the author in each individual context. You can call it reductionistic. I call it correct Biblical hermeneutics. I will be spending a lot of time on this on my blog.

I just want don’t want people to think that “reductionistic” interpretation is somehow wrong. It is the only way to come up with the single meaning intended by the author, in context.

- Don

One Response to Do we practice “Reductionism” by holding John 3:16 as being literally true?

  1. diane on July 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    AMEN~!!! You said it well, Don. VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THIS TRUTH~!!! Thank you.


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