Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reply to Objection to My Soteriological Argument From John 3:36 ("Disobey the Son")

Not obeying the Son (not mere lack of faith or belief or assent to correct Christology and soteriology) leads to the wrath of God and damnation, according to John 3:36

I was informed in a two-part comment (Parts one / two) of someone who disagrees with an argument I made in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, pp. 36-37. Here is the complete section, for the full context (the verse is RSV, as throughout my books):
John 3:36: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him."
The Greek word for "believes" is pistuo, and the Greek for "does not obey" is apitheo. There is a parallelism in this verse, whereby belief and obedience are essentially identical. When all is said and done, believing in Christ is obeying him. This ought to be kept in mind by Protestant evangelists and pastors who urge penitents to "believe in Christ," "accept Christ," etc. To disobey Christ is to be subject to the wrath of God. Thus, again, we are faced with the inescapable necessity of good works -- wrought by God's grace, and done in the spirit of charity -- for the purpose and end of ultimate salvation, holiness, and communion with God.

St. Peter, in 1 Peter 2:7, uses the same parallelism, with the same two identical Greek words (believe / disobedient in KJV). St. Paul uses apitheo with regard to disobedience to parents in Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2, and in a more general sense (describing sinners) in Titus 1:16 and 3:3. Obviously, no one disbelieves in the existence of their parents. St. Paul is speaking of disobeying parents' commands. In the same sense, such disobedience (not mere lack of faith) is said to be the basis of the loss of eternal life in John 3:36.

To speculate further, if it be granted that pistuo ("believe") is roughly identical to "obeying," as it indisputably is in John 3:36, by simple deduction, then its use elsewhere is also much more commensurate with the Catholic view of infused justification rather than the more abstract, extrinsic, and forensic Protestant view; for example, the "classic" Protestant evangelistic verse John 3:16, Jesus' constant demand to believe in him in John 5 through 10, and St. Paul's oft-cited salvific exhortations in Romans 1:16, 4:24, 9:33, and 10:9, generally thought to be irrefutable proofs of the Protestant viewpoint on saving faith.
One "Mary S." wrote, asking me to clarify, in response to someone (far as I can tell) who is arguing against her (this other person's words in blue and all typos retained):
[citing my words] The word for "believe" is pistuo (Strong's #4100). It includes in its meaning obedience, not mere mental assent. Thus it is contrasted with disobedience (apitheo)
well Mary. we are going to see why I keep saying we must not take mens word and just blindly believe. I am not sure who wrote this thing you copied. But it is easily defeated. For one, the greek word he used for " disbelieve " was spelled wrong. Now I can understand my spelling. but someone writing something and posting it as a document. You would think he would at least proofread ( I do not proofreead anything I write ) For you see there is NO greek word apitheo, But after searching and searching. I finally found the word he ment to say and it is apisteo or apitheho ( which is used in 1 Peter 1: 24).

I usually go by the alliterations of the Greek found in Strong's Concordance (not knowing Greek myself) and in this instance it was spelled apeitheo and I made the mistake of dropping the "e." But it is apparently pronounced as I spelled it, so it is not a particularly terrible mistake (I never claimed to be absolutely infallible).

first to note. Peter says for those who " believe " they are precious to him. But to those who "disobedient": he is a stumbling stone or rock of offense. looking at the word disobediant we see this.
Strongs 544 ἀπειθέω [apeitheo /ap·i·theh·o/] v. From 545; TDNT 6:10; TDNTA 818; GK 578; 16 occurrences; AV translates as “believe not” eight times, “disobedient” four times, “obey not” three times, and “unbelieving” once. 1 not to allow one’s self to be persuaded. 1a to refuse or withhold belief. 1b to refuse belief and obedience. 2 not to comply with.

Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario
so to be the oposite of those who believe, we would use the first defenition, since it is the opposite of believe. How can I say this?? The greek word believe is
Believe strongs 4100 :

4100 πιστεύω [pisteuo /pist·yoo·o/] v. From 4102; TDNT 6:174; TDNTA 849; GK 4409; 248 occurrences; AV translates as “believe” 239 times, “commit unto” four times, “commit to (one’s) trust” once, “be committed unto” once, “be put in trust with” once, “be commit to one’s trust” once, and “believer” once. 1 to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in. 1a of the thing believed. 1a1 to credit, have confidence. 1b in a moral or religious reference. 1b1 used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul. 1b2 to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith. 1bc mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith. 2 to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity. 2a to be intrusted with a thing.
as we can see here. Nothing in the definition of pisteuo can be defined as abeying. What we do see is not just a belief but a 1 to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in. 1a of the thing believed. 1a1 to credit, have confidence. or a FAITH in something. not just a belief, but a confident trust of the one the person is believing in.thus the " disbelieving " aspect of the form of the first word must be used. Because no obedience is referenced in the first word " belief" as for disbelief.
Strongs 569 ἀπιστέω [apisteo /ap·is·teh·o/] v. From 571; TDNT 6:174; TDNTA 849; GK 601; Seven occurrences; AV translates as “believe not” seven times. 1 to betray a trust, be unfaithful. 2 to have no belief, disbelieve.

Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario
as for obedience vs disobedience. First of the word obey or obediance. Romans 5:19 - For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by zone Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Obediance: Strongs 5218 :
Strongs 5218 : ὑπακοή [hupakoe /hoop·ak·o·ay/] n f. From 5219; TDNT 1:224; TDNTA 34; GK 5633; 15 occurrences; AV translates as “obedience” 11 times, “obedient” once, “to make obedient + 1519” once, “to obey + 1519” once, and “obeying” once. 1 obedience, compliance, submission. 2 obedience rendered to anyone’s counsels, an obedience shown in observing the requirements of Christianity.

Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario
The last two words brought to the table are irrelevant to my argument because I didn't use them at all in my argument and they don't appear in the passage in question. This is what is called a non sequitur (for those of you who love medieval logical terms, as I do).

As for apeitheo (mistakenly spelled in my book, apitheo), this is Strong's Word #544, and it can indeed mean "disobey" or "disobedient", as Strong notes. That's precisely why the RSV translates it as "not obey" at John 3:36, whereas KJV had "believeth not." But KJV also translates it as "disobedient" in 1 Peter 2:7, as I stated in my book.

Obviously, many translators have thought that the usage here was the concept of disobedience and not merely the refusal to give assent. It was also translated "obeyeth not" in the Revised Version of 1885 or so, as Vine noted. What do other translators think? Here are many non-Catholic versions that render the term in the sense of "disobey":
NEB, REB, NRSV, Goodspeed, Moffatt, TEV disobeys the Son

Living Bible don't believe and obey him

NIV rejects the Son

NASB does not obey the Son

Beck will not listen to the Son

Amplified disobeys -- is unbelieving toward, refuses to trust in, disregards, is not subject to -- the Son

CEV rejects him

ASV obeyeth not
By my math (adding RV and RSV to the list), that is at least fifteen Bible translations that think the Greek word apeitheo means "disobey" (Jesus at this verse. And then we have my detractor who says otherwise. Lexicons say this meaning is perfectly possible, and all these translators thought it applied here. Whom shall we believe?

Also, Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume edition; the larger version is referred to above as "TDNT") states that apeitheo in John 3:36 means "disobeying the Son" (p. 820). Cognate words apeithes and apeitheia mean "'unworthy of belief,' then 'disobedient'" and "disobedience," respectively (pp. 819-820).

Not content to confine himself to the silliness of his argument concerning apeitheo as supposedly not meaning disobedience in this passage, my detractor moves on to pistuo (or, pisteuo) as well: "Nothing in the definition of pisteuo can be defined as abeying." Not so, according to Kittel (actually, Bultmann, who wrote this section), who gives as one permitted meaning:
b. pisteuo as "to obey." Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 th. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. he speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13.

(p. 854)
Writing about the Apostle Paul's use of the words pistis and pisteuo, he opines:
Since faith involves confession and obedience, it is a state as well as an act. . . . There is a work of faith (1 Th. 1:3); it works by love (Gal. 5:6). This work stands in contrast to the works of the law.

(p. 855)
I couldn't find the specific application of the word in John 3:36 in Kittel, but Bultmann in the same work, does make a general statement about both St. John's and St. Paul's use:
The inner unity of John and Paul is plain. For neither is faith a good work. For both, however, it is an act with the character of obedience.
I rest my case. My detractor has been refuted on all counts. My original argument was from language (the meaning of Greek words), context, internal parallelism, and cross-reference or external parallelism. It has now been considerably strengthened, under attack, by virtue of the corroboration of lexicons and additional Bible translations. It's a strong argument, which perhaps explains to some degree why this critique was so abysmally weak (and arguably, desperate special pleading). I greatly appreciate the opportunity to make my original argument even stronger!

* * * * *

As expected, this person who wanted to "refute" my paper is a fool, not interested in a sane, sensible dialogue at all, and looks to be an anti-Catholic (boy, I was so surprised at that I fell out of my chair). I didn't know that before; now that I do, I'll ignore him henceforth, per my policy. He goes by the nick "worthysoul" and he has made "replies" to my post on the board where Mary encountered him (page one / two; but readers can scroll back to previous pages to see the beginning sections). Here are some of his comments (this is what passes for "dialogue" these days in anti-Catholic circles):

either way Mary. I am going to keep posting this one thing until YOU answer. I am not trying to witness to dave armstrong. I am trying to witness TO YOU!!

did you read ANYTHING I posted?? can you PROVE what I said was not correct?? Or do you just ASSUME that I am not a catholic priest or whatever. so all my thoughts must be in error

so mary is unable to talk for herself. She needs someone else to talk for her??
Sad Poor Mary, she will not accept that Christ died for her. so he could free her from the penalty of sin. But she more than readily will allow others to make her decisions and talk for her Sad

Yet this guy wants us to think faith means obeying in itself. How can faith be a hope we can not see, if we are " doing " the work?

You see. just like most legalists. They can not understand that it is OUT of faith that we obay. It is not the act of faith itself.

Utterly predictable. This guy's a raving fundamentalist who knows everything. Not interested. I've successfully defended my original argument, which is my intellectual duty. Let him rant on . . . .


Roberto Jung said...


Could you do a short post on John 3:18 and John 5:24 as well, so one can respond to arguments--based on these verses--that only faith is necessary for salvation?

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Roberto,

Maybe eventually I can. Right now I'm about to take an extended break from the Internet and I'm too busy with other things.

If you click on "Catholic Apologetics" on the top and go to my "Justification and Salvation" page there are a number of biblically-based arguments about the relationship of faith and works.