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The irrelevance of ‘whoever’ in John 3:16 and what really matters: A response to Brian Abasciano

In “Whoever Reads John 3:16 Can Know that ‘Whoever’ Is Really There”, Brian Abasciano argues against four Calvinists: James Anderson, Guillaume Bignon, James Gibson, and James White. (I, Guillaume, apologize for not being named “James”. In my defense, my middle name is “Jacques”, which is the French title of the book of James; surely that must count.) Abasciano argues that all four Calvinists have made an embarrassing mistake by failing to understand the Greek text in John 3:16. If these Calvinists had consulted BDAG or even John Calvin’s own writings, they would have recognized that John 3:16 really does convey a generic sense of “whoever”. We, Bignon and Gibson, will let Anderson and White defend themselves since they actually spend some time discussing matters of translation.

But as for us, we just need to straighten out the context of our argument by making four simple remarks:

  1. Our argument does not depend on which translation of the verse one prefers.
  2. We endorsed neither a translation of the verse, nor White’s argument, nor Anderson’s argument.
  3. Davis himself agrees with us that the debate does not hang on the translation of the verse.
  4. Abasciano does not engage our argument.

[1]

Let’s begin by repeating an apparently overlooked but important line in our response to Davis:

We believe that the problems which beset Davis’ argument do not depend upon which rendering one prefers. But because the first rendering [the one with ‘whoever’] can be misleading to what the central issues are, we will continue with the second rendering in order to present the dilemma.

It should be apparent to the careful reader of our piece that we believe our response to Davis succeeds even given the translation Abasciano wants to push. We do not develop that point here, but given what we say about the narrow and wide interpretations, it is not difficult to see how that would go.

[2]

Abasciano writes that he is surprised we “approvingly reference White and his argument in [our] own response to Davis.” But is that what we do? No. White’s relevance in our piece is limited to three sentences in the short section where we summarize one of the several arguments White gives in his podcast. The reason we summarize that specific argument is its relevance to the move Davis makes in his response to White, which we summarize as well. Summarizing an argument is not the same as approvingly referencing it. Notice that White’s comments about “whoeverplay no role whatsoever in the sections that constitute our response to Davis. Abasciano should not have made this attribution to us.

In addition, note that we do not endorse James Anderson’s argument even though we link to it. Anderson argues that the Calvinist view of the atonement is supported by John 3:16. But pay attention to what we are doing there. It is preceded by the line, “The proper way to settle which mode of presentation is more appropriate to accept about a term is to read the surrounding text.” Our point is that in order to settle the question of whether Calvinism is undercut or supported by John 3:16, one must perform an examination of the surrounding text. Davis does not do that and neither do we. That is why the point is “arguable”, as we say in the link to Anderson’s piece.We are noncommittal about whether Anderson is correct for the same reason we are noncommittal about whether White is correct: we do not have to commit to anything there in order to argue that Davis’ argument is unsuccessful.

[3]

Abasciano seems to have missed that Rich Davis himself takes the cogency of his argument to not depend on the presence of the word “whoever”. When Davis responds to James White, he reconstructs his own argument so that it does not depend on the presence of that word. What would Abasciano have us do in response to Davis? Should we have insisted that the success of Davis’ argument in fact depends on the translation White criticizes, even though Davis himself does not think that it does? Of course not. We agree with Davis that the premises of his argument do not depend on a commitment to the translation for which Abasciano argues. What good philosophers do – what anyone should do – when they construct an argument is present only as much as they must in order to support a conclusion.

With that in place, we wonder whether Abasciano does think that the presence of that word plays a necessary role in Davis’ argument for the conclusion that Calvinism renders John 3:16 either false or trivially true. If he does not think it plays a necessary role, then his dispute is with Anderson and White in particular, and he has wrongly named us in his response as having made an embarrassing mistake. But if he does think it is necessary to the success of Davis’ argument, then why doesn’t Abasciano include Davis in the list of those who make this embarrassing mistake in understanding the Greek? Is it because Davis has Arminian diplomatic immunity from the Society of Evangelical Arminians? Or is it because Abasciano mistakenly thinks we differ from Davis on this point?

[4]

We are clear that what is at stake in the matter of whether the Calvinist can plausibly understand John 3:16  are issues in the philosophy of language. Abasciano doesn’t address any of these issues, which constitute the core of our response to  Davis. Davis intended to draw out implications for Calvinism based on one verse. We showed the implications do not follow. That is, Calvinist commitments neither imply something false nor something trivial is uttered by Jesus.

In conclusion, there are really two disputes. One is a dispute about the proper translation of John 3:16; that is between Anderson and White on the one hand and Abasciano on the other. And quite another debate is about what a Calvinist is committed to saying about what Jesus utters in John 3:16; that debate is between Bignon and Gibson on the one hand and Davis on the other.  Nothing relevant has been critiqued in our contribution to this latter debate. For anyone who wishes to comment on what we actually say about Davis’ argument, we look forward to any future responses.

Guillaume Bignon and James A. Gibson

 

2018-06-07T21:18:44+00:00 April 24th, 2018|9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Nelson Banuchi April 24, 2018 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    You stated and ask, “Abasciano writes that he is surprised we “approvingly reference White and his argument in [our] own response to Davis.” But is that what we do?”

    I noticed Manata writes, “There is an untenable grammatical argument contending that John 3:16 supports limited atonement that has recently received some attention. James White has made the argument for some time. But his use of it in response to Arminian philosopher Rich Davis’ argument against limited atonement from John 3:161 has now surprisingly received some approval from two respectable Calvinist philosophers (Guillaume Bignon and James A. Gibson), **who approvingly reference White and his argument** in their own response to Davis.”

    Apparently, Dr. Abasciano is not the only one who understood you as and Bignon approving of White and his argument. Therefore, it seems to me that it was not Abasciano who misread your article as approving of White and his argument but you who wrote it is such a way as to suggest the approval.

    I think you may need to acknowledge the error on your part.

  2. Paul Manata April 24, 2018 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    The Arminian reading problem is getting worse. I am quite certain— ~1— that I have never written such a string of words in my life. I think you need to acknowledge the error on your part.

  3. Paul Manata April 24, 2018 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    That was a misrepresentation of my views! (And please don’t try to blame me for your mistake, like Abasciano blames James G. and Guillaume B. for his.)

  4. James A. Gibson April 24, 2018 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    See, there it is again – someone misquoting a Calvinist and then throwing mud.

    As we just saw with regard to you (Nelson Banuchi), it is neither Bignon’s fault nor my fault that people cannot read carefully and represent others correctly. We can only do that for ourselves, and when we mess up (as I did with one argument with Tom Talbott), we take ownership over that (as I did). When professional philosophers and theologians criticize an argument, they are to not only state the argument but also setup the discussion pertinent to the presentation of that argument. That is, their job is help the reader understand what happened leading up to that argument to give context for why our engagement with that argument will take the shape that it does. This is *standard* in papers published in peer review journals, and it is standard in presentations at professional conferences. If someone with credentials is going to take a single sentence that is present in the context of a summary, ignore the part where we say nothing hinges on that issue, and then goes on to talk about what an embarrassing mistake we made, if only we could get on board with understanding Greek grammar, then what can we say? Is it that we have to explicitly hold the reader’s hand: “OK. We are presenting a summary now. A summary is not an explication of our own views. So although we do not believe White is correct, the central issues are…” or “Although we believe White is correct, the central issues are…” Or “Although we here refuse to say what we think about White’s argument….”? That’s ridiculous. We don’t think what White had to say was at all relevant to our discussion except for *explaining the new version Davis gives*. That’s not writing “in such a way as to suggest the approval.” That’s your projection; to think it would suggest that assumes for any statement one does not explicitly reject that is present in a summary, one is there by implicitly agreeing with that statement. There is no such assumption that amounts to even a moderately shared implicit policy about belief attribution.

    Look, if we did think it was important to suggest White was correct, (1) we would have said so; and (2) we would have made a point about it in our response to Davis. There is nothing about what White says at the point where we start making claims pertinent to our evaluation of Davis’ argument. We do not state an agreement with White in the conclusion of our piece either. And why wouldn’t we if we thought it important to express agreement with White or with Anderson? To think that we are committing ourselves to a view in a summary, which is not repeated elsewhere, is frankly sloppy interpretation. The fact that your insistence that we own up to an error, while at the same time being sloppy with quoting Manata (or whoever else you meant to quote), hardly puts you in a position to tell us about correcting errors.

  5. Nelson Banuchi April 24, 2018 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Gibson, here you are entirely correct to say that I misread Manata’s article. I bear the blame. Actually, that was Manata posting Brian’s article. I would ask your forgiveness for not being more careful. I would also ask that you not charge Brian Abasciano with my incompetent reading of another’s blog. Brian is a first-rate scholar (while I am not at all a scholar, I’m even showing I am not even a very good Bible student with such a numbskull error in reading); you seem to dismiss him much to easily.

    Again, my apologies.

    • James A. Gibson April 24, 2018 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      No need to apologize. This whole issue about casting blame over topics like this is *low* on my not-even-a-priority-list. What I do care about is accurate representation, especially given how much misrepresentation occurs (generally speaking).

      We aren’t dismissing Abasciano. If we thought he was just any regular joe, we wouldn’t have bothered to write anything as a specific piece. There are folks who are getting all cheery about Abasciano’s piece but who haven’t the slightest idea how to respond to our arguments. These are apologists low on the level of intellectual significance who are good at being cheerleaders for their favorite team stars. But concerning Abasciano, who is not of this ilk, his complaint about Guillaume and I is wide of the mark. All he had to do was correct it and insist on challenging White and Anderson. And if he wanted to challenge us, he should address the relevant issues. Honestly, I have grown tired of this entire issue since it is a distraction. Apparently Davis is not convinced by us. So we will wait to see what he has to say unless someone else is on target.

  6. Paul Manata April 24, 2018 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    I must protest again. I never posted Brian’s article. Where are you getting these ideas from?!

  7. James A. Gibson April 28, 2018 at 9:52 am - Reply

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/brian-abasciano-communication-breakdown-over-john-316-a-reply-to-guillaume-bignon-and-james-a-gibson/

    In a whole separate piece just referenced, Abasciano accuses Guillaume and me of not being adequately clear. It’s “our fault” that he could not understand that a summary of a view does not amount to an endorsement. In the summary of three sentences of James White’s argument, Abasciano complains that we should have said “to White” especially in the third sentence that he latches onto. He also complains that the position being described by Guillaume and myself “does not sound like White.” Because this is all very weak material, his piece does not merit a separate post. There are two interesting things to say about this though.

    (1) It is interesting that in James White’s podcast where he respond to Abasciano’s distraction from the central issues pertinent to our response to Davis, White repeats exactly the same point we described. It is the first segment on White’s show, available here. (http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2018/04/24/john-316-again-racialism-cbgm-peterson-shapiro-dialogue/) Abasciano not only had trouble understanding us, he had trouble understanding White.

    (2) Keep in mind that he is making a big deal about this section of our post: “James White has responded that the participial phrase, πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, is best rendered “everyone believing”. There is no universal quantifier “whoever” in the text. So it appears that Davis’ argument depends on the presence of a word that is not there. But Davis points out in a subsequent piece that his argument does not depend on that word.” Notice that third sentence is the one where he thinks we are not being clear that this is *White’s* argument.

    Now observe another set of three sentences, where Jerry Walls is describing the view of a Roman Catholic apologist, Devin Rose:

    “If Rose is correct in this claim, then no Protestant who is true to Protestant premises has ever succeeded in maintaining a reasonable basis for his faith. What is “simply impossible” cannot be done, after all. None of the notable Protestant theologians, biblical scholars, or philosophers have ever maintained a reasonable basis for their faith: not John Calvin, not John Wesley, not Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, not Jonathan Edwards, not Thomas Reid, not C. S. Lewis, not N. T. Wright, not Wolfhart Pannenberg, not William Lane Craig, not Alvin Plantinga. Even for such brilliant and learned thinkers, doing the impossible has remained just that—impossible.” (From Walls, chapter 14, Roman But Not Catholic)

    Is there any question that Walls is *describing* the view of Rose, or at least what Rose’s view implies? The fact that he starts out with *Rose* in his first sentence clues the *attentive* reader in that he is not expressing his own beliefs. There is no relevant difference between Walls and us on this point, and Abasciano should be able to see that. Unfortunately, I now expect the response to be this: dig.

  8. […] Bignon and Gibson have replied here. Dr. White made some excellent comments in response on The Dividing Line (April 24 episode). I […]

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