1 John 2:19 Discussion

James Jordan’s reading of 1 John 2:19:—

“Out from us they went out,” — that is, they set out on teaching missions.

“But they were not out from us,” — that is, they had no valid commission from us.

“For if they were out from us they would have remained with us,” — that is, if they had valid commissions from us, they would have remained with us in our true teaching.

“But [this happened] in order that they might be manifest that none of them are out from us.” — that is, their false teaching shows that they were not sent by us.

This seems to me to make far more sense of 1 John 2:19 in its context than those readings that take the verse as working in terms of a visible/invisible Church distinction. This verse is currently being discussed on Lane Keister’s blog.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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13 Responses to 1 John 2:19 Discussion

  1. Craig says:

    I believe John is referring not to mission but to misleading, that is by those who were assuming the role of apostle who did not have that commission.

    1 John is John’s appeal to the believers there that they had made the right decision in choosing to follow John and the other apostles and not follow those who had “gone out from them” on their own.

  2. Stewart says:

    Speaking of James Jordan, he recently preached at my church. The Sunday school lesson is now available in mp3 format. Check it out here.

  3. Matt says:

    I was totally persuaded by Jordan’s reading: it fits the context, makes theological sense, and does justice to the Greek. The other translation is just plain bad.

    I am also inclined toward JBJ’s larger thesis in the paper you’re quoting from. I was not, however, persuaded of his claims about the meaning of “heart of flesh” and “heart of stone.”

  4. Tony says:

    What is the reference forb the quote from James Jordan’s? I Would love to read more.

  5. Tony says:

    Sorry! I meant ‘for’ not ‘forb’ and ‘Jordan’ not ‘Jordan’s’. I am very tired from too much blog reading.

  6. Al says:

    The Jordan quote comes from BH Occasional Paper No.32: Thoughts on Sovereign Grace and Regeneration. You should be able to order it through the Biblical Horizons website. It is a superb article and I can assure you that you won’t regret purchasing a copy.

  7. Tony says:

    Thanks for your prompt answer, I will order it as soon as I have clicked “Say It!”.

    By the way I really enjoy your blog. Good stuff! Keep up the great blogging.

  8. John H says:

    That does make sense, yes.

    Dick Lucas gave a very good talk on 1 John at a local church a few months ago. I *think* a recording is available here, at least of the first 45 minutes or so (can’t check as that page is blocked by our work system!). If anyone wants the remaining 15 minutes, accidentally omitted from the online version, then please email me as the church kindly sent me a copy of this but I don’t know if they’ve uploaded it onto the site.

    Lucas’ premise was that 1 John is often regarded as a letter written to provide assurance to young believers, whereas actually its focus is on false teachers and persuading the whole church to remain true to the apostolic teaching. Looks like James Jordan may be taking a similar view – it does unlock an awful lot of otherwise-difficult passages in that letter.

  9. Al says:

    Thanks for the link to Lucas’ talk. I have downloaded it and look forward to listening to it some time in the next few days.

  10. garver says:

    I’ve not followed the comments on this verse elsewehere, so forgive me if I’m repeating points others have suggested.

    It seems that even on the traditional Reformed reading it’s not entirely clear in precisely what sense those who went out from us were not properly “out from us.” Not elect to glory? Well, almost by definition. Something more? At any rate, other passages would have to be brought to bear to fill out the details.

    But let’s suppose something like Jordan’s view is correct (and it seems entirely plausible). I wonder if the verses in question might still speak to the question of apostasy by way of analogy.

    The entire church, as the people of God, is caught up into the mission of God: a people sent out on mission, a mission that is apostolic in its content and character.

    We are handed over to and commissioned for this task in our baptismal identity, by which the Gospel, held out in the name of the Triune God, is impressed upon us.

    Those, however, who take up baptism in form and sign but who, sooner or later, reject in unbelief the Gospel that baptism holds out to us – they have dealt falsely and broken faith with that baptismal identity and commission.

    And so…well, the problem with analogies is that at some point along the way, the break down. Not remaining faithful to the Gospel is not quite analogous to going out without apostolic commission.

    But the analogy here would perhaps in some manner confirm what Scripture teaches elsewhere regarding tares among the wheat, stony and weed-infested ground, and other images of ultimate unbelief.

    Take that for the rambling that it is.

  11. Al says:

    Thanks for the comments. I can agree with your point to some extent. I think that there is a sense in which we can say of apostates that they were ‘not of us’.

    However, my concern is that the Reformed tradition has portrayed the distinction between the elect and the reprobate to be far, far more of an absolute distinction than it is in Scripture.

    Barth says some good stuff on this in CD II.2, stressing that individuals are not elected as such, but are elect only in Christ and through the mediation of the community. I appreciate the way in which Barth stresses how closely related the elect and the reprobate actually are and that the distinction between them is far more relative than absolute in character. The continuing connection between believers and unbelievers simply is not sufficiently underlined in many Reformed contexts.

    I strongly believe in the importance of the distinction between the elect and the reprobate, but my long-term concern has been the way that this distinction is perceived to be an absolute distinction within so much of the Reformed tradition. In Scripture the distinction between the elect and the reprobate is not, I believe, logically extended prior to conversion [although all of those who become elect were predestined to it, this predestination does not have anything like the teleological priority that election is generally seen to have in most Reformed thought]. Nor is this distinction one that distinguishes so straightforwardly between people within the Church who will go on to apostatize and those who will remain faithful. Apostates are chosen along with those who will be preserved in their faith (as we see in John’s gospel, for example).

    As regards the parables that you allude to, I wonder whether the disanalogies that exist between our situations and those which are addressed in the parables are not commonly lost sight of. The distinction between unbelieving Jews and followers of Jesus is not the same (although there are undoubtedly analogies) as the distinction between faithful and unfaithful people within the Church.

    The parable of the wheat and the tares speaks primarily, I believe, of the situation that Jesus sees in his day. Within the parable the hearer is situated near the end of the parable’s story. The harvest time is upon Israel and the tares will be finally uprooted. Such a reading of the parable will tend to colour our understanding of the distinction between the wheat and the tares, presenting the distinction between the good and the bad seed more as something that is read back from the situation of the mature crop than as something that is presumed all the way along. It will also tend to steer us away from the absolute distinctions between elect and reprobate that many Reformed people are inclined to make when reading such a passage.

    In addition to this, it is also important to notice that our reading of this parable as individual X = wheat, individual Y = tare seems to go a bit beyond what Jesus actually says. There seems to be nothing in the parable to suggest that each and every individual has a fixed and unchangeable identity as either wheat or tare, with an absolute distinction between the two.

    Again, in reference to the parable of the soils, I am not so sure that the soils are as static as we take them to be. Jesus is speaking of ways of receiving the word, not of a fixed taxonomy of the heart that each and every individual is locked into. Peter is the stony ground in Matthew 16. He receives the word with joy, but takes offence when the need for Christ to suffer is mentioned. Many of the other disciples fall into the category of receiving the seed by the wayside. The gospel speaks of the way in which stony ground hearers can become good soil hearers.

  12. garver says:

    Yes, Al, I can pretty much agree with all of that and have probably made the same or similar points myself at one time or another. And I’m all for keeping thing fuzzy with an appropriate biblical regard for the mystery of grace. I was simply exploring matters from within a particular perspective and theological grammar.

    I’d also add to your points that, as Newbigin points out again and again, election in Scripture is always election unto service so that those whom God calls, he calls to be the means by which his overflowing grace is carried outwards to others. It is not simply a matter of isolating them as “chosen” for their own sakes.

    I also suspect that “reprobate” in Scripture is a term that is applied primarily (if not exclusively) to those who are embraced by God’s grace at some point and later reject it, rather than to general mass of humanity who might not be within the Gospel’s reach. Of course, that doesn’t rule out analogous uses of the term in other contexts.

    But, having said this, I don’t think any of that excludes more individual applications of the various passages alluded to. Yes, there are original audiences to which Jesus was speaking, but there are also the contexts of the Gospels themselves and the Christian audiences to which they are directed, as well as the canonical context of Scripture as whole as given over to the church of all ages and situations.

    So, whilst we cannot simply spin meanings out of the text without regard for the original contexts and audiences, I do think we are required to creatively find the analogical applications to the ongoing life of God’s people, both corporately as congregations and ecclesial bodies as well as within particular wider cultural and social contexts, but also personally, to individual hearts and lives.

    Our communities all face harvest-times and, in those situations, folks are uprooted, turning out to have been tares among the wheat. Even personally, we face our own harvest-seasons, where the fruit of our hearts needs evaluation and uprooting. And we all together look forward to that great final harvest when we will each be judged along with peoples and nations.

    Certainly the parable of the soils is an invitation by Jesus to his hearers to become the good soil that receives the word with endurance and bears much fruit. It may be that some may struggle through stone-filled times and the like before they can finally receive the Gospel in a fruitful way. But it also the case that some end up finally as rocky or weed-infested and that the sad end of their story. The parable is a warning as well as an invitation.

    There are certainly various dimensions of the biblical text that need to be recovered and explored. But I’m not convinced that this requires us to let go of the more personal and individual readings that have characterized the church’s reading over the centuries.

  13. Al says:


    Very helpful comments. Thank you.

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