I John 5:1 and Regeneration

Finally, 1 John 5:1 is the worst example you can use to try to state salvation comes before repentence.
It states : “5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”

This is a declaration of the state of a beleiver NOT a declaration of when a person believes. Paraphrased (He who beleives IS born again) You aught to know better than to gramatically butcher a text to confirm a view.

Let’s put this to the test, shall we? Let’s find out exactly who is “butchering the text” grammatically. Allan is right, it’s about the state of the believer, and the reason it is meaningful is that the new birth is the cause of their believing, just as it is the cause of their doing righteousness and loving the Father. Tell us, Allan, is loving the Father a cause of the New Birth, or does the new birth cause us to love the Father?

For starters, “salvation” and “regeneration” are not synonymous. Nobody is arguing that repentance does not precede justification. The question is whether regeneration, the new birth, occurs prior to faith and repentance. “Salvation” is not regeneration. What’s more, regeneration is spoken of in two ways. One is the narrow sense, the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit via the message of the gospel and the effectual call, and the wider sense, inclusive of the full span of redemptive work that occurs through the instrumentality of th Word, the external and internal, effectual call, and conversion, leading to justification, sanctification, and glorification. Here, we’re discussing the narrow sense. It would be helpful if you would do the homework and familarize yourself with the dogmatic terms we use and the way we use them.
Does regeneration precede faith? The alternative is that regeneration occurs after faith. The way this question is answered and that fact that there is an alternative is proof positive that, while they essentially arrive at the same destination, non-Reformed and Reformed soteriology approach this issue from two completely incompatible directions. If one is true, the other is automatically false. How then shall we address this issue? We will look first at points of agreement between the two camps, then at the points of divergence, then take a brief look at what John has to say about the logical causal relationships involved.

First, let us remember, the issue is the logical, not necessarily the temporal order. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that they are so close in time as to be considered simultaneous. Also, we all agree that the “believing” in 1 John 5 is a reference to saving faith as well as the faith by which we live each day. We all agree that faith is the agency of salvation. We both agree that regeneration is defined as “the new birth/being born again.”

Second, one can test the consistency of the assertion I make regarding the relationship between faith and regeneration in 1 John 5:1 by looking at the grammatical structure of 1 John 2:29. If one uses 1 John 5:1 to say that regeneration occurs after faith, then, logically, since the grammatical constructions are exactly the same, then practicing righteousness also precedes regeneration, if you are going to interpret these verses consistently.

The most literal reading of 1 John 5:1 is “every one believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (perfect passive, “has been born of the agency of God…not the agency of man…the agency of God…man is passive, not active in the voice of the verb, indicative mood, this is a real action, a fact, an actuality, not a hypothetical, potential, theoretical, or rhetorical action). When verbs are passive, that means the object of the verb is being acted upon by another. The person believing (pres. active indic.) that Jesus is the Christ (or all that are believing or each one or every one believing…) has been born of God. Now, this alone is not enough to conclude, in my opinion, that regeneration precedes faith. Simply, it would be eisegesis to draw any conclusion from this verse if this verse was alone. It is, however, not alone. Grammatically and contextually, 1 John 2:29 is an exact parallel from which we conclude that practicing righteousness is a result of the new birth.

1 John 5:1 is used by Arminians to assert the truth of regeneration through faith. However, that would require an active or at least middle voice verb. Middle voice is extremely rare in koine. In fact, middle voice is usually the last grammatical choice when parsing a verb form. We tend to find active or passive verbs. I know of nobody that looks at 5:1 or 2:29 and says gegennhtai is middle voice. It is most definitely passive.

Now, mind, the verb “to be born,” gegennhtai, e.g. is born of Him, is passive. They did not cause their own birth. God caused their birth. Just as John 6:37 says those who are given to Christ by the Father come to Him. “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” There is not an exception to this. We come after being given by the Father to Christ. I believe, by comparing this with the construction of 1 John 2:29…same author, same topic, same letter, same theme, same grammatical construction, we have overwhelming evidence that regeneration precedes faith, unless, of course, we believe in salvation by works, which, I would hope no Protestant would believe. keep in

My question is, “Is this consistent?” Yes, it most certainly is consistent.

Look at 2:29. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” Now, we’re not Catholic, and, consistently, we all agree that righteousness is a product of the new birth, e.g. regeneration results in righteousness in the life of the believer. This means that in 1 John 5:1, “believing” in Jesus as the Christ is the result of being born of Him. Why? Because it is inconsistent to say otherwise. Why reverse the logical/causalorder? Nothing in the text demands it. In order to reverse the order and argue for an asymmetrical parallel, one must find something within the text that would lead one to do that. That evidence simply is not there.

Now, since Allan thinks I have “butchered the text grammatically,” let’s look more closely at the grammatical constructions of the two clauses under our scrutiny:

2:29 b “everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.”

and

5:1 a “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”

Literally,

Every one practicing righteousness has been born of Him (God)

paV o poiwn thn dikaiosunhn ex autou gegennhtai

Every one believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (Him).

See the grammatical parallel is exactly parallel. In Greek it is also exactly parallel. Therefore, we are certainly and undeniably dealing with one of John’s parallel statements.

The verbal constructions are exactly parallel. Again, going back to the Greek, we can see that “everyone who practices righteousness” is a present participle. In 5:1, the one believing is also a present participle.

So we have:

Every one practicing righteousness
present participle

has been born of Him (God)

and

Every one believing that Jesus is the Christ
present participle

has been born of God (Him)

Thus, as you can see, we have different verbs, same verb forms.

In both passages the same verb for “to be born,” gegennhtai is used and the form is the exact same form, perfect passive . (In fact, exegetically, this is the very reason we teach from this verse that righteousness is a result of being born again).

So we have:

Every one practicing righteousness
present participle
has been born of Him (God)
perfect passive

Every one believing that Jesus is the Christ
present participle
has been born of God (Him)
perfect passive

Thus, as you can see, we have different verbs, same verb forms, and same verb, same verb forms. Whenever there is that exact a grammatical parallel, we generally conclude the relationships between the verbs/ideas expressed are the same or similar, unless there is some other warrant within the text to do so. In this case, I do not see any such textual/contextual warrant. Thus, the question the Allan must answer, is simply “Why do you reverse the logical/temporal relationships between faith and regeneration?” Does not exegesis determine theology? It seems to me the only reason one concludes that this verse somehow proves the concept that regeneration is the result of faith is one thing or “the state of the believer” is a commitment to tradition, a theological presuppostion. Say what one will about the Reformed position, with regard to this text, the conclusion we reach concerning the logical/temporal order that regeneration precedes faith is derived from consistent exegesis of these texts. One simply can not lay charge to exegeting our tradition into these texts.

Both groups teach, from 2:29 that practicing righteousness is a result of being born again. On this there is no dispute. We do teach this. Every pastor, teacher, and seminary professor I have ever heard has taught in part using 1 John 2:29 that practicing righteousness is the result of being born again. Since practicing righteousness is, indeed, one of the tests for a true believer that John lays out in this epistle, since he is dealing with Gnostic/Judaizer hybrids that were not practicing righteousness, we have more than sufficient warrant to do this. Also, another one of the tests John lays out is the test of faith in Jesus as the Christ, e.g. believing. Again, there is no soteriological or exegetical dispute from either party about this. We know that John is saying here that practicing righteousness is a result of the new birth, (which we call “regeneration” in theological jargon), because his point is to put this forth as a test by which his readers can know a true Christian, one who is not a mere professor of Christ, but a true convert, a true disciple of our Lord. In other words, if he was not saying that practicing righteousness is the result of regeneration, e.g. being born again, the statement would be meaningless as a test for assurance of our own salvation or the validity of another’s profession of faith.

However, one group teaches, from this text, 5:1, that being born again is the result of believing. The other group, using consistent exegesis, teaches that the believing is a result of regeneration, again, because the test John has laid out is just that, e.g. faith in Christ is proof that one is regenerate. In short, the grammatical constructions does not allow for the assertion that regeneration is the result of faith. It supports regeneration preceding faith, for, if practicing righteousness is the result of being born again, then believing in Jesus as the Christ is the result of being born again, particularly if one looks at 2:29 and believes, as we both do, that practicing righteousness is a result of regeneration. The language simply can not support the theological conclusion that regeneration results from faith or is merely “the state of the believer”, particularly from this text. If we conclude a logical and even causal order from 2:29 in the relationship between the practice of righteousness in the true believers life and regeneration, then we have every right to draw the same conclusion regarding the relationship between believing that Jesus is the Christ and regeneration from the corresponding verse, 5:1, particularly when John is using this statement as a test for personal assurance and a test for fellowship. We know we are born again because we believe. We know others are born again, because they believe. Why? Because believing is the result of the new birth, just as practicing righteousness is also the result of the new birth. If we say that believing causes the new birth, then we must necessarily conclude, if we are going to consistent, that practicing righteousness is also a cause of the new birth. Such a statement would rightly be quickly condemned as false teaching.

If one clearly and unequivocably draws a conclusion regarding the logical and temporal order from 2:29, then consistency demands one draw the same conclusion regarding the logical and causal order expressed in 5:1. Even if one does not draw such a conclusion, per se, from those texts, it is certain that one reads a logical, temporal order in 2:29. Again, there is no reason, other than the satisfaction of your own soteriological system which you must bring to the text, to insert a reversed order into 5:1, when the linguisitic and therefore exegetical parallel is exactly the same.

Another objection one might make is “Regeneration is the result of saving faith, but John is not talking about saving faith here, he is talking about persevering faith, e.g. continuing faith, and we have no qualm that continuing, persevering faith is a result of regeneration.” Again, then, that does nothing to support the theological contention that regeneration is the result of saving faith. In fact, it removes one of the proof texts, in fact one of the major ones, Arminianis use to make that very assertion. That too, then, would be the readiing of the text done in order to satisfy one’s theological presuppostions, nothing more.

The question then becomes, “Is this ‘saving’ faith?” I believe it is, because the object of the faith is the person of Jesus as the Christ, which we know is the key proposition one must believe in order to be justified by the agency of faith. There is nothing in this text that indicates otherwise, and I do not find any evidence in Scripture that saving faith is anything less than an ongoing action. In fact, the participle “believing ones” in John 3:16, pisteuwnv, which we all agree has is “saving faith,” is the same form as here, pisteuwnv Moreover, this believing is put forth as a test for knowing if an individual is, in fact, saved, e.g. justified. One that is believing, e.g. in possession of and exercising “saving faith,” e.g. believing Jesus Christ is born again, has been born again; e.g. does so because one has been born again. In the same way, one that is practicing righteousness is doing so as a result of being born again. Regeneration precedes practicing righteousness. Regeneration precedes saving faith. Grammatically, I see no warrant, and contextually I see no warrant in this epistle for concluding otherwise in 5:1.

Thus, the most consistent exegesis is the one that sees both believing (which both sides of the debate agree is referring to saving faith as well as “everyday faith by which we live” in the way John uses it in this epistle) and righteousness is the result of being born again, (regeneration). The Reformed view on this verse is the most exegetically consistent position, therefore, I do believe that, in context, yes, we can use it to conclude believing that Jesus is the Christ (that thing which is the agency through which we are justified) is the result of the new birth (regeneration) and not vice versa, most especially if we are going to use 2:29 to teach that practicing righteousness is a result of the new birth, e.g. regeneration.

Now to anticipate Allan:

I just don’t see enough in this verse to make any dogmatic statements about which came first.

As I pointed out, as consistent Protestants, we all make the dogmatic statement from 1 John 2:29 that the intent of John is to state that practicing righteousness is the result of being born again, e.g. regeneration. I ask again, on what basis can you then take the exact grammatical parallel that he offers in 5:1 and support faith being antecedent, not resultant of regeneration? How can you use 2:29 to make a dogmatic statement about the relationship between regeneration and works and then be hesitant about doing the same thing from 5:1? Using your same logic, we can not make a dogmatic conclusion about regeneration and works from 2:29. Do you also think that 2:29 there is insufficient information in 2:29 to conclude that regeneration precedes the practice of righteousness? If so, then it could be possible that we are regenerated by works, not faith. After all, if 5:1 does not contain sufficient information to conclude regeneration precedes believing, then 2:29 does not contain sufficient information to make statements about practicing righteousness not following regeneration as well.

Certainly you could argue that they had been born prior to the present, but can we really be certain that the author’s intent was to say that the birth preceded their becoming believers?

Is it the author’s intent to say that regeneration is not antecedent to practicing righteousness in 2:29? That’s what Arminians teach, just as Calvinists teach. Again, why say that is his intent in 2:29 but not the intent of 5:1?

If you teach that a lifestyle of righteous living is the result of regeneration, as you do, then it is grossly inconsistent on your part not to teach otherwise regarding the logical / temporal order of regeneration and faith from the exact linguistic parallel you find in 5:1.

Why then does the Arminian hold to this position? T R A D I T I O N. If one clearly and unequivocably draws a conclusion regarding the logical and temporal order from 2:29, then consistency demands one draw the same conclusion regarding the logical and temporal order expressed in 5:1. 2:29, I would point is very clearly a test of regeneracy. On this there is no dispute. On this we all conclude rightly regarding John’s intent in 2:29. Do you see a change of intent by the time he reaches 5:1? Other than the nature of the test (e.g. believing, not practicing righteousness), there is no change of intent.

Even if one does not draw such a conclusion, per se, from those texts, it is certain that one reads a logical, temporal order in 2:29 and teaches consistently from it that practicing righteousness is a result of regeneration. Again, there is no reason, other than the satisfaction of your own soteriological system which you must bring to the text, to insert a reversed order into 5:1, when the linguisitic and therefore exegetical parallel is exactly the same. 1 John 5:1 in no way whatsoever supports the contention that faith is antecedent to regeneration. If you say that faith is antecedent to regeneration, you must insert it into the text. Say what you will, the Reformed exegesis is derivative of a consistent flow of thought from 2:29 and 5:1. We make no insertion into the text.

John puts forth 2:29 and 5:1 as tests for assurance of believers’ salvation / tests for the salvation of false teachers and thus the validity of their message. It is clearly John’s intent to say that practicing righteousness is one of the means by which we know we and others are regenerate. Likewise, we know, by the fact that we believe, that we are regenerate. There is no reason here to conclude, then, that faith is antecedent to regeneration that does not involve you inconsistently teaching that the logical and causal order of practicing righteousness is antecedent to regeneration as well. That problem is insurmountable for Allan. Do you not believe that regeneration precedes practicing righteousness, particularly since this is put forth as a test of regeneracy? Do you not conclude from this that the logical salvific order is regeneration precedes works? Of course you do. Why then be reticent to do this same thing in 5:1? Again, because it would challenge your tradition.

You may say “intent.” I ask again, is this not John’s intent in 2:29? If it is his intent, is 2:29 insufficient grounds on which to conclude that regeneration precedes the believers’ practicing righteousness? If it not his intent, then on what grounds can you teach this is so, based on 2:29?

I am more willing to draw my theology from consistent grammatical constructions that the satisfaction of my tradition, and Allan, I have in no way whatsoever “butchered” the grammar of the text. You may be more reticent, but that does not change the fact that we all rightly conclude a logical and temporal order from 2:29, and only one of us argues otherwise, sometimes even referring to 5:1 in the process.

Also look at John 6:37.

“All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

Again, we have another construction from which we conclude that there is a temporal order being taught. The Father gives to the Son. Those that come will not be cast out, and as v.39 teaches, they will all be raised up on the last day.

Do you believe that there is insufficient information there to conclude the logical / causal order between the Father giving and those coming? The action of the Father comes before the action of coming to Christ by the individual. It comes before the raising of those persons by Christ. Christ saves them and raises them because they come and because the Father has given them to Him. Is this not a set of clauses that are dependent upon each other for their logical and temporal order. Are they not executed in their grammatical order?

Likewise 6:44 is a similar construction. While we may disagree about the effectiveness of the drawing, I do not think that either of us will dispute that Jesus is very clear that any person that comes to Christ does so because He is drawn by the Father. Surely, 6:44 is sufficient to teach that much! The Remonstrants in the Opinions certainly agreed.

1 John 4:7 presents another test for regeneracy does it not?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves (Greek: pas ho agapwn) is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)

Do you agree that there is sufficient textual warrant for concluding that the person that loving (every one who loves) does so, because one is born of God and knows God? By definition, “regeneration” itself is defined as “being born again, being born of God.” I know of no text in systematic theology that defines it otherwise. If you are going to say that there is insufficient textual evidence that John’s intent is not to teach that regeneration does not precede faith, you must also conclude from all these texts:

There is insufficient textual evidence to conclude that (a) drawing precedes coming, (b) believing precedes being raised again, (c) giving precedes coming and being raised again, (d) regeneration precedes works, and (e) loving the brethren precedes regeneration. In none of these instances does any of the texts support such a contention.

Now, let us explore the grammar for Allan further. John has a very specific style. He writes in parallel constructions and spells out the relationships between them. John 8:43 is very clear:

Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.

First, note: “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” It is because you cannot hear My word. This is stated verbatim. Jesus says there is a causal relationship between their ability to understand and hearing. They do not understand because of their inability to hear. John then parallels this with:

8:47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.

John writes a grammatical construction exactly like I John 2:29, 5:1, and 4:7! He first spells out, verbatim, the causal relationship between ability to hear and understanding in v. 43 and endcaps with v.47’s end that says “for this reason…” “He who is of God, hears the words of God.” for this reason, you do not hear them, because you are not of God. There is a logical, causal relationship, verbatim.

Again, 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 also are this same construction:

He who is of God hears the words of God.

They hear because they are “of God.”

You do not hear them because you are not of God

They do not hear because they are not of God

Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.

They practice righteousness because they are born again.

Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

They love because they are born again and know God.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.

They believe because they are born again.

Though 6:44 is not as exact a parallel, we conclude a direct causal relationship between drawing and coming to Christ from that text. Those that come come because they are drawn.

It would be meaningless for us to say, “They hear because they are of God but being of God is not logically/causally antecedent to hearing. It would be meaningless for us to say, “They practice righteousness because they are born again, but regeneration is not antecedent causally to practicing righteousness. It would be meaningless for us to say, “They love because they are regenerate, but there is not logical/causal order to loving the brethren and regeneration. It would be meaningless to say “They believe because they are born again,” but the logical and temporal relationships are inverse. It would reverse the meaning of 6:44 to say they are drawn because they come. Why be drawn if they can come and are coming? Causal relationships depend on their logical and /or temporal order. Exegesis determines this order for all of these. There is no reason to draw one conclusion from three of these but not the fourth, unless you have a theological tradition you are trying to satisfy.

Therefore, not only is there a logical order, there is a causal relationship between regeneration and practicing righteousness, loving the brethren, and believing. Regeneration precedes and is the cause each activity. Works does not result in regeneration. Love is the result of regeneration, and believing is the result of regeneration. Regeneration precedes faith, loving the brethren, and doing righteousness. 1 John 5:1 is clear. I stand by my exegesis. I do, based on the grammar of the text, not my traditions. The only one “butchering the grammar” of this text is Allan.

God is creating a people for himself by calling them out of darkness into His light by enabling them to believe the Gospel. The passage shows that the new birth (regeneration) both enables and precedes faith. The verb tense, as viewed from the original Greek, make’s the apostle’ s intention unequivocal:

Every one who goes on believing [present, continuous action] that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God [perfect, completed action with abiding effects]. So faith is not the cause of, but the evidence of the new birth. To drive the point home, it is important to note is that John speaks of other actions that take place as the result of the new birth several times in this epistle (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:18). For example in 1 John 3:9 he says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” The exact same sequence of words is utilized. It is indicating a cause and effect relationship between the new birth (cause) and the Christian who does not continue in a life of sin (effect). Both show that the cause of regeneration brings about the effect of a life that does not continue sinning. So not only does the tense of 1 John 5:1 show belief being actualized as the result of regeneration but this is also a continuation of a pattern of speech that John uses throughout the entire epistle. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that the Apostle means anything else by this than faith is the result of our spiritual birth … that the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is the immediate cause of the desire that give rise to faith in the Savior. John’s frequent repetition of the events that come about as the result of regeneration reveal an unmistakable intent.

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4 Comments on “I John 5:1 and Regeneration”

  1. Stephen Ake Says:

    Allan’s original comment that is quoted in this post can be found here.

  2. David Hewitt Says:

    WOW, Gene! This may well be the finest example of grammatical exegesis I’ve ever seen. A long read, but well worth it! Brother, I’m linking to it for sure!

    SDG,
    DBH

  3. Allan Says:

    Love it Gene. Give me some time (as this is a long post) and I will discuss it. Love in Christ my brother.

  4. charles rosson Says:

    The spiritual birth brings new life and causes us to love,worship, honor, obey, praise and serve God as He directs in the sacred scriptures.

    We Christians love God because He FIRST loved us and if He had not FIRST loved us we would never have loved God.


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