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The Holy Spirit’s Ministry To The World: S. Lewis Johnson, John 16

January 30, 2013 2 comments

In S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, I’m now in the “Upper Room Discourse” section, which includes Jesus’ statement in John 16:8-11 about the work of the Helper: And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin,because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I didn’t always understand what was meant in this section – didn’t closely study the matter, and from general reading thought of it in a negative way as somehow about judgment and condemnation of unbelievers.  S. Lewis Johnson’s message on this text brings out the actual details here, beginning with a discussion of common grace.  The world has the benefit of some of God’s blessings: the general blessing of God’s goodness to all creatures; conscience; and human government with its moral restraint.

Common grace incidentally is not called common because it’s common but rather because it is general.  That is the grace of the Holy Spirit in his general blessing to all creatures, even animals.   Every living thing is the object of the blessing of God.  And consequently the fact that we have food, the fact that we have drink, the fact that we have clothing, the fact that we have the Son and the benefits of the Son and the fact that we have the rain which ministers to our ultimate physical benefit, all of this is part of the general grace of God exercised towards his creatures.  Then the general operations to the Holy Spirit by which he without renewing our hearts and giving us the new birth exercises a moral influence in human society.  Is it not an interesting thing that all over the world in almost every society there is a sense of right and wrong? Sometimes it is not quite the same sense that one would find in more enlightened societies more spiritually in lightened societies, but nevertheless there is a universal sense of a conscious, which men recognize that things are right and some things are wrong.  This is part of God’s common grace.  He exercises moral influence.  He curbs sin.  He promotes order.

Universal human government is the gift of God.  If we didn’t have common grace we would have utter chaos all over the world.  I know some of you think that we already have utter chaos, but you have no idea of what chaos would be if we did not have human government.  That is part of the common grace of God.  And then also those general operations of the Holy Spirit by which he seeks to influence men toward redemption, although not securing redemption, may be called common grace.  In other words the Lord Jesus says many are called, but few are chosen.  The calling of men is common grace.  When the gospel is preached that is the common grace of God it is a general seeking on the part of God to influence society for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

SLJ also notes the correct understanding of “world” here — that it doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit will convince everyone in the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.  Rather, this text is talking about how the Holy Spirit will work, through the Christians in the world, to reach some unbelievers: those who will yet come to faith through this general ministry.   The book of Acts gives us two good examples of such unbelievers who are reached:  the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius.

Regarding the three specific things the Holy Spirit will convince the world of:

Sin – “because they do not believe in me.”  Sin is not merely the outward actions, following the Ten Commandments; the root of sin is unbelief.   In other words the essence of sin is not what we do.  The essence of sin is what we believe.  And when we do not believe in the Lord Jesus that is the root of all sin.

Righteousness:  not man’s unrighteousness, but His righteousness is pointed out here:

Now what is it about our Lord’s going to the Father that convinces the world of righteousness? Why does that convince the world of the facts about righteousness if the Lord Jesus goes to the Father? Well now, remember the world is a body of people who cannot receive the Holy Spirit, who not only cannot receive the Holy Spirit but who hate the Lord Jesus Christ.  The world likes to put on a lot of veneer today and so the world will speak with kindly little phrases about the Lord Jesus like He was a great teacher.  …  Not realizing, that is a blasphemy, and furthermore, how can a person who was just a good man but not the eternal God say that He was the Son of God and affirm that salvation is only through Him? All of these statements then become the most arrogant of lies if Jesus is not what He claimed to be.  But the world likes to say, “Yes, He was a good guy.”

Well, the world hates the Lord Jesus Christ.  The world hates the Lord Jesus because He condemns the world.  And the world’s righteousness is unrighteousness in the sight of the triune God, so when the Lord Jesus came and ministered among them, what did the world do to him? They crucified him.  That expresses the idea that God has concerning the goodness of the world.  They have with wicked hands taken Him and crucified Him.  But God when Jesus was placed in the grave on the third day God raised Him from the dead.  And furthermore He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and there He sits as William Perkins says, “Possessed of all sovereignty and authority over the whole of the creation.” Evidently God has a different view of Jesus Christ from the view that the world has of Him.  The world says He’s worthy to die, and to be crucified on a cross.  God says, He is worthy to be raised from the dead.  He is worthy to sit at the right hand of the throne on high.   He is worthy to have put into His hands all authority in heaven and in earth and to give the Holy Spirit to His people.

The judgment to come:

Now the Holy Spirit will convince the world of judgment — not of their future judgment although of course that is plain — but of judgment because the prince of this world has been judged.  So our Lord looks at the fast approaching cross of Calvary where He will bear the sins of sinners, and that by which Satan has a hold upon men will be destroyed because Jesus will bear the penalty.  And Satan is judged in the cross.  And men who believe in the Lord Jesus go free from bondage and penalty and condemnation of sin.  He speaks not of judgment to come, but of the judgment that now has come when He died on the cross at Calvary.  So the death on the cross was a judgment of sin in the person of our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Doctrines of Grace through the Middle Ages: Steve Lawson’s Pillars of Grace

January 25, 2013 2 comments

Continuing through Steve Lawson’s Pillars of Grace, vol. 2,  I’m now reading through the chapters that highlight a few key Christian leaders of the Medieval period:

  • Early Monastics: Isidore of Seville (early 7th century) and Gottschalk of Orbais (9th century)
  • English Scholastics:  Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) and Thomas Bradwardine (early 14th century)
  • Late Monastic: Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century)

I had heard these names in previous Christian history lessons (such as here), though with very little information about a few, such as Gottschalk and Bradwardine.  Here again, Lawson adds good biographical and historical information on these key figures who, in spite of the spiritual darkness of the Roman Catholic age, understood and believed the truth concerning God’s sovereignty, the doctrines of Grace.

Among the highlights, some interesting details:

Gottschalk had been assigned to a monastery life by his father, and took the monastic vow at his father’s insistence while still young.  Upon reaching adulthood, Gottschalk sought to be free of his vows, appealing his case through several levels of church hierarchy, finally losing and being consigned to be a lifelong monk.  The one reprieve granted him was a transfer to a different monastery, at Orbais in northeast France.  While in the monastery at Orbais, Gottschalk came in contact with Augustine’s writings, and became convinced and excited about the truth of God’s sovereignty over all things including man’s salvation.  The man who had so desired to keep Gottschalk a monk for life (yet allowed him to transfer to Orbais), semi-Pelagian Maurus, later strongly opposed Gottschalk and was instrumental in the subsequent persecution. Gottschalk spent his last twelve years in prison, “imprisoned for life in a monastery and repeatedly tortured him with floggings.”  As Lawson observes, “It is amazing that Gottschalk endured twelve years of this treatment before he died insane, still convinced that an omniscient God cannot logically choose some for salvation without at the same time choosing to reject others, even though they are no more sinful.”

Anselm is best known for his improvement on the atonement theory, rejecting the prevailing view of the atonement as a ransom paid to Satan.  In modern times I have seen this idea portrayed in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” in which the Christ figure Aslan pays the penalty for young Edward’s sin that is owed to the evil one (the White Witch).  Anselm’s answer to such a ransom idea puts the focus on God’s sovereignty:

he unequivocally stated that the Devil has no rights over the human race, but is a robber who has taken sinners unlawfully. It is therefore illogical, he argued, to claim that Christ’s atoning work is a means of rescuing us from the Devil. Anselm writes: “I cannot see what force this argument has. If the devil or man belonged to himself or to anyone but God, or remained in some power other than God’s, perhaps it would be a sound argument. But the devil and man belong to God alone, and neither one stands outside God’s power; what case, then, did God have to plead with His own creature?”  Man, he asserted, is God’s own creation and therefore God’s possession, not Satan’s.

Anselm’s theory was still not fully developed, focused on “the idea that God’s honor has been injured by man’s sin. Therefore, God could vindicate His honor either by punishing the sinner or by accepting a suitable payment for man’s egregious sin.”  His view relied on medieval justice theory, with emphasis on God’s honor rather than God’s justice, and no mention of any penalty for man’s sin.  “Although Anselm emphasized sin’s infinite debt rather than God’s justice, and though he said nothing of the lifelong obedience of Christ as an aspect of vicarious satisfaction, the Reformers did not reject his thoughts on the subject, but complemented them.”

Bernard of Clairvaux was a well-known, influential church leader in the 12th century, and a “watchdog of orthodoxy” looking out for false teachers, such as heretic Peter Abelard.  He also was a “mystic” in the original meaning of that word (not its later connotations): the spiritual experience of contemplation.  In this pursuit, the supreme object of contemplation was the triune God in the beauty of His holiness. The mystics sought to know and love Him with their entire being.  This did not include things we often associate with the term — emotional excess and ecstatic experiences — but true meditating on the word of God, a scripture-based focus with expository teaching.  Much of his literary output came from Bernard’s sermons to the monks at Clairvaux. We also note here that Bernard interpreted scripture allegorically, as with his most famous work, 86 sermons on the “Song of Solomon.”  Still, Bernard of Clairvaux was one of a few outstanding medieval thinkers who affirmed the doctrines of grace, God’s sovereignty in election. The Reformers referenced Bernard of Clairvaux and Anselm as teachers before them, who had continued belief in the doctrines of grace, that belief traced back especially to Augustine and (in some measure) to the earliest church fathers.

Hermeneutics: On Being “More Spiritual Than God”

January 21, 2013 9 comments

Recently in the comments at Fred Butler’s blog, an amillennialist expressed many thoughts including this one:

if the passages that speak of Israel in a kingdom in which they dwell in a land in which everyone “sits under a fig tree” for example is the real meaning of the Bible then I see that as a problem. If bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden then I have missed the gist of the Bible. Far better for such passages to be illustrating the fruitful spiritual kingdom of the Spirit filled age in which through Christ we have been enabled to bear real fruit then to see the culmination of the ages as living over in Palestine.

The phrase referenced here is found in Micah 4:4, with a similar thought in Zechariah 3:10.  The first thing to note here, of course, is that we already have many scriptures that talk about our bearing spiritual fruit for God, as for instance Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5, Colossians 1, and Philippians 1:10-11.

The Old Testament as well addresses this subject, especially in the book of Proverbs (in numerous places in that book alone), but even in places such as 2 Kings 19:30.  So the suggestion that a literal interpretation of Micah 4:4 and related Old Testament passages requires that “bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden” is foolish.  Of course we recognize the truth revealed in the scripture, all of the scriptures including the importance and greatness of bearing spiritual fruit that glorifies Christ. A literal interpretation of “sits under a fig tree” in NO WAY takes away from that truth, but gives us additional revelation about another topic (since spiritual fruit-bearing has already been addressed in numerous other scriptures).  Our hermeneutics are not driven by an either/or but a Both/And — both the bearing fruit that glorifies Christ, and Israel having their kingdom and literal peace.  A further question to ask would be: what is the purpose of even having those Old Testament prophecies with descriptions about a wonderful time of peace, if all they have to tell us is the same thing we’ve already been told, in unmistakably clear language in many texts elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments?

Such a comment reminds me of Dan Phillips’ classic post (25 Stupid Reasons for Dissing Dispensationalism), reason #9: “It isn’t a spiritual hermeneutic.”  When God said Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), He knew it meant “house of bread” — but He meant the city anyway.  

Dan gives an example of what a spiritualizing hermeneutic would have done to the prophecies regarding Christ’s First Coming – and indeed we have the advantage of looking back, that we realize that all of the prophecies concerning Christ’s First Coming were fulfilled literally. (So why should anyone think that the prophecies of the Second Coming will NOT be fulfilled literally?) Christ really was born in Bethlehem, and He really did ride on a donkey, etc.  But to take the same symbolic hermeneutic applied to the Second Coming prophecies, to the First Coming prophecies, would come up with something like Dan well described: “What God is really saying would have been perfectly clear to the Jews. It was symbolic. Messiah would come from ‘the house for bread,’ from the storehouse of God’s spiritual nourishment, and He would give life, as bread does. Those wooden literalists who look for fulfillment in an actual city are perverting the Word to their carnal imaginations.’”

Why does God’s word include so many passages that seem to us very “unspiritual” (and even boring), such as the many sections in the Old Testament (and a few in the gospels) with nothing but genealogies and lists of names?  Could it be that God is actually interested in us human beings, even in our “carnal” lives, and He thinks these things are important and part of His revealed word to us?  Of course the Bible does not include only that which is strictly “spiritual” and non-physical, and we are not to twist the literal meaning of God’s word simply because we think a certain passage is too “carnal” and ordinary, insisting that that passage must have some greater, deeper, “spiritual” meaning instead.  Trying to be more spiritual than God is indeed a foolish thing to do.

Premillennialism Found Wherever Christianity Is First Introduced

January 17, 2013 8 comments

Non-premillennialists’ protests to the contrary, the historical record of Christianity is quite clear, that for the first 300+ years the Christian church was premillennial — and no other views were held during that time.  Yet even this week, in the comments at Sam Storms’ post at the Gospel Coalition, someone claimed that all three views (amillennial, postmill, and historic premill) were around in those years. In another online discussion a few weeks ago, people claimed that both the non-literal allegorizing hermeneutic and actual amillennialism were around before Augustine — that Augustine merely “systematized” amillennialism.

To set the record straight, a few quotes regarding the early Christian church:

John Walvoord, on a study through the early history of eschatology:

The importance of Augustine to the history of amillennialism is derived from two reasons. First, there are no acceptable exponents of amillennialism before Augustine, as has been previously discussed. Prior to Augustine, amillennialism was associated with the heresies produced by the allegorizing and spiritualizing school of theology at Alexandria which not only opposed premillennialism but subverted any literal exegesis of Scripture whatever. Few modern theologians even of liberal schools of thought would care to build upon the theology of such men as Clement of Alexandria, Origen or Dionysius. Augustine is, then, the first theologian of solid influence who adopted amillennialism.

From Mal Couch’s History of Allegory:

Origen’s allegorical interpretations, including his views on Bible prophecy, gained wide acceptance in the church of his day. His influence, followed by Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity and Augustine’s teaching in the fourth century, are usually cited as the principal causes of premillennialism’s eventual replacement by amillennial eschatology.

The allegorical hermeneutic developed before Augustine, and amillennialism from allegorical hermeneutic? Yes.  Actual amillennialism before Augustine? No.

Augustine did not merely systematize something already in existence.  He continued the allegorical approach to scripture, started by questionable men, and applied that approach to eschatology, bringing about the amillennialism (in his “City of God”), making such an allegorical hermeneutic “acceptable” in the early stages of what became the Roman Catholic Church.

Even aside from the original church history in Rome, though, we can look at the pattern of early Christianity in any society where it is first introduced.  Here, we find that in parts of the world that were unreached by the later Roman Empire and Roman Catholicism, countries in which the Christian message was only recently received, the young believers in these countries — with no outside influence, only their Bibles to guide them in their understanding of biblical doctrine — are premillennial.

John MacArthur has mentioned this in reference to recent Russian believers. Jesse Johnson also recently noted this, in reference to the mission work being done in a closed country in the Himalayas:

Nevertheless, this nation’s believers have been protected from much of what has damaged evangelicalism in the West. There are no Catholics in the country (that we know of), and the charismatic movement is only beginning to creep in. All of the believers are baptistic, premillennial, and evangelical—and they arrived at those positions without any real influence other than the Scriptures.

If the other millennial views are really viable, and really valid interpretations of God’s word, then surely the young believers in these other countries — unaffected by our Judeo-Christian Western European heritage — would have reached those same conclusions. If the non-literal, allegorical understanding of amillennialism or postmillennialism were that obvious in the reading of the scriptures, why do believers in these other countries fail to see it?

He Said in His Heart: David and Jeroboam

January 15, 2013 4 comments

From recent Bible readings in my Genre reading plan, I’ve noticed certain phrases often mentioned throughout the Bible. One to consider this time:  “Said in his heart” and similar variations such as “say in your heart.”

The phrase occurs first in Genesis 8:21, telling what the Lord said in His heart, in reference to God’s receiving Noah’s offering after the flood.  All other uses of the phrase tell us the human reasoning of certain individuals, indicating the person’s inner, secret thoughts: the thoughts of the spirit within a man, which we cannot know (1 Cor. 2:11) — except that in all these cases through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of scripture, these thoughts are revealed to us.

I notice that whenever the phrase “said in his heart” refers to a person or people, the idea expressed comes from human reasoning not directed by the Lord God, an error in the person’s thinking.  The phrase, or similar wording such as “say in your heart,” is found in many passages including Deuteronomy 7:17, 8:17, 9:4, and 18:21; in Obadiah, about Edom, and Zephaniah 2:15 about the exultant and wicked city; Isaiah 47:8, about the wicked, and Isaiah 49:21 about God’s people when they return to Him; also in Jeremiah 13:22, Ecclesiastes 2:1, 15; and finally in Romans 10:6, quoting an Old Testament passage.

Two such occurrences are especially interesting, in the similar wording yet the great contrasts:  David, and Jeroboam.

“Jeroboam said in his heart” (1 Kings 12:26) — Here we see Jeroboam’s human reasoning, a fear that the people of Israel would go up to Jerusalem to worship and turn against Jeroboam — and the disastrous result, the introduction of idolatry to Israel.  It’s also the same phrase used of David in 1 Samuel 27:1 (Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul.”) which introduced David’s declension and backsliding away from the Lord for the next year and a half in Philistine territory.

Both men faltered, thinking something in their own heart that was contrary to the word of God.  Yet in David’s case, by God’s grace, David was later restored to fellowship with Him:  1 Samuel 30:6, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God,” indicating David’s return to a right relationship with the Lord.  God did not do that for Jeroboam when Jeroboam said something in his heart.  I’m reminded also of the common contrast between Peter and Judas: they both committed a sin against the Lord, one denying the Lord, the other betraying; and yet one was saved, the Lord interceding for and restoring him to right relationship, and the other (Judas) was not.

Spiritual Discernment: S. Lewis Johnson, the Sheep Do Not Listen to Strangers

January 9, 2013 9 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series comes this timely observation.  It was true thirty years ago same as now: some professing Christians are easily led astray, going after first one teacher then another. This message from John 10:1-6 puts things into perspective, especially with all the interest in “discernment ministries” and the tendency of some to focus excessively on warning other Christians about false teachers.

Now, we read here, a stranger will they not follow.  So when Paul Tillich calls out we don’t respond.  When Moltmann calls out we don’t respond.  When Bultmann calls out we don’t respond.  When William Barclay calls out we don’t respond.  When Wolfhart Pannenberg calls out we don’t respond.  When Gerhart von Rott, we don’t respond.  When Eichrot, Jako, Kumal, all the great scholars of the present day who are not members of the body so far as we can tell, when they call out as shepherds of the sheep, the true sheep do not respond.  They do not follow the voice of a stranger.

Now that is a problem for me, because there are some people who do not seem to be able to distinguish the voice of our Lord from the voice of strangers.  Isn’t it a remarkable thing?  You probably know some Christians, professing Christians like that.  They hear something and they immediately run after it as if it were something great until they discover that’s not quite as great as it was, and they come back.  And then a new voice is heard and they rush after them.  That makes me wonder, because the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger.  They don’t run after Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy.  They don’t run after Ellen G. White.  They don’t run after Rutherford.  They don’t run after the false voices, they follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  They hear his voice.  They know him.  They follow him.  That should be a word of admonition to us.

Many of the names mentioned above are unfamiliar today, the scholars of liberal (unbelieving) Christianity.  But we can certainly add the current set of questionable teachers — such as Beth Moore, the Jesus Culture, and the latest from John Piper — to the same understanding: the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger, and will not be led into such deception.  Yes, sometimes true Christians are those who come out of cults and out of false teaching (who were not believers when they got into those cults).  Sometimes also young, immature Christians (the carnal babes, those recently saved — not the willful carnal) for a time will lose focus and not seek the best teaching.  But as S. Lewis Johnson so well observed here, true Christians will not continue to manifest such behavior; they will not rush after one voice, then to another voice, and so on.  We can trust in God’s sovereignty, that He knows those who are His, and rely on His promise, that His sheep will be able to distinguish our Lord’s voice from the voice of these false teachers.

Hermeneutics: The Gospel of John… as Allegory?

January 2, 2013 4 comments

In online Christian discussion groups, I’ve recently come across a rather unusual idea: an  allegorical approach to the gospel of John (which came out in discussion of the temple cleansings mentioned in John’s gospel as compared to the synoptic gospels).  Aside from the brief note in my old NIV Study Bible, that some people believe it’s referring to one cleansing, I had not met anyone who actually held such a view.  Apparently though, it is “the standard teaching of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and PCA in America that there was only one cleansing and that John’s gospel isn’t Chronological in linearity.”

Beyond the “who cares?” attitude that some may have, interpretation of this incident gets to the heart of hermeneutics and how we approach the Bible.  Do we treat the Bible as plain language, considering everything in the text? Or do we just pick some general theme and approach that a certain Bible book supposedly has, and thus disregard the actual details in that text?

The following is excerpted from a discussion with someone who spiritualizes the gospel of John (in the same allegorical manner as others do with more obvious books, such as another of the apostle John’s books, Revelation).  The conversation includes a second biblical commenter, referred to as BC:

Allegorizer: The Synoptic gospels…Mark begins at the beginning of his ministry. The VERY beginning. Matthew begins at the same time as Luke at Jesus birth. John just wrote his gospel differently. His message and method was different.

Me:  Mark 1:14 skips ahead some period of time after Mark 1:1-13: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This comes AFTER several chapters in the gospel of John, while John the Baptist was still baptizing: note the sequence of days in John 1 and 2, and then John 3 and these details in John 3:22-24: “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).” The early chapters of John occur in-between Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and before John is put in prison, which is where Mark 1:14 resumes.

Allegorizer:  but you think that Jesus ransacking the temple wasn’t important enough for John the second time around or the synoptics the first time around? If they all record it once, why not record BOTH of them? Both of them were obviously important.

Me: John’s gospel also tells us that the most important contributing factor, humanly speaking, for the Jewish leaders to put Jesus to death, was the resurrection of Lazarus. Now why is that very important event only mentioned in John’s gospel?

Each gospel tells different events as observed by the different writers, and they don’t all include the same details. It is very reasonable from the chronology of John’s gospel, that an earlier temple incident happened, before John the Baptist was put in prison.

Allegorizer: again, John had a different method of writing. He abused Greek to the point where students to this day *hate* reading him.

BC: I can read John without hating his Greek. I read John in English (and Portuguese too), and I can understand that there were two cleansings. Why you mention Greek, I don’t know.

Allegorizer:  My point was that they all have ONE cleansing. if one cleansing is important enough for 3 but not 1 why not the 1 and if 1 why not the 3? They’ve already recorded one. why not record both? Obviously they’re both important.

No, there was but one cleansing. John had a different method behind his writing and the purpose wasn’t to give a chronological biography. You’ll note that the gospel of John can be divided into 7 parts a few ways. 7 I Ams, 7 Signs.

BC:  You ignored (the) point about Lazarus. According to you, that was not important at all since it is not mentioned elsewhere.

Allegorizer: No I didn’t.  The difference is that none of the synoptics recorded Lazarus. I’m looking for consistency. If one cleansing was important enough for John but not the others, then the second was important for the others and not for John. They’re being inconsistent.

Me: So answer the question: if John is just a different type of writing and so non-sequential as to be so difficult to understand, why did he alone mention Lazarus’ restoration to life? Furthermore, why did he bother to put so many time-reference indicators in the text, such as “the next day” repeatedly in John 1 and 2, and indicating that John the Baptist was still free, not yet in prison, at the end of John 3, which clearly comes in John’s sequence of events AFTER John 2.

John 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
Next verse: 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Then Jesus is there in Jerusalem for the Passover and subsequent events: Nicodemus’ visit, and then in John 3:22 AFTER THIS —
Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

Allegorizer: the clarity of the text is still there, but its chronology isn’t linear. John’s presentation of Jesus’ ministry is thematic (water>healing>healing paralysis>feeding 5000>walking on water>healing the man born blind>raising Lazarus>and an arguable 8th sign rising from death) they build to a climax.

Me: Oh, so because John’s gospel happens to include certain themes — and actually the greatest theme is his seven signs — that means we can ignore everything else in the text?

Final observations:

1)      No doubt the same person who thinks John’s gospel isn’t sequential, thinks Revelation isn’t sequential either. The same author used the same time reference indicators such as “and ” and “after this,” so we can know the chronology.  The underlying hermeneutical issue is the same.

2)    Well said by another person in the discussion:  Just from a human nature standpoint, I can see the crooks at the temple having to be run off more than once……..

Such an approach to God’s word reminded me of Medieval Catholicism, when allegory was the standard approach to God’s word.  Surpringly, though, even the Catholics – going back to Augustine – did get this part right, a sequential-enough understanding to accept two different temple cleansings a few years apart:  In any case, the Church Fathers and Scholastic Doctors believed that there were two Temple cleansings. Most notably, we refer to the authority of Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cornelius a’ Lapide.  John Calvin likewise affirmed the two temple cleansings:

for the other three also relate what we here read that Christ did, but the diversity of the time shows that it was a similar event, but not the same. On two occasions, then, did Christ cleanse the temple from base and profane merchandise; once, when he was beginning to discharge his commission, and another time, (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45,) when he was about to leave the world and go to the Father, (John 16:28.)

Presbyterian R.C. Sproul likewise affirms two temple cleansings:

“how long do you think after Jesus did that, that those tables were right side up and the money changers were back in business?  Do you really think that when He goes through and cleans the temple on the first occasion, that that was the end of it? I don’t, for a minute.”