Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michaels on Faith and Works in John

I'm reading bits of J. Ramsay Michael's massive and magisterial John commentary in the NICNT series (though secretly it breaks my heart to see anyone replace Leon Morris on "John"). For me, the verse I always turn to first to see how a commentator handles the text is John 5:28-29:

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is cominga when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Michaels comments that: "The second problem [in addition to the futurist eschatology that seems out of whack with the rest of John] is that good works, not faith, seem to determine salvation ... But again the problem exists only for modern readers, who have learned from centuries of biblical interpretation to set faith against works. It is not noticeably a problem for Jesus' hearers on the scene, nor for the implied readers the author has in mind ... Coming to the Light, or to Jesus, and 'hearing my word' (v. 24) or 'voice' (v. 25) amount to the same thing. Either way, believing in Jesus is what counts. Those who 'do good things' or 'do the truth' are those who believe" (322).


pennoyer said...

There is an extraordinary connection between faith and works made in John 3:20-21 (right after the justly famous John 3:16ff). There it is affirmed that those whose works are truly good will, in fact, believe in Jesus. John does not envision a person having good works and yet disbelieving in Christ. So here in John 5 "good works" cannot be set over-against belief in Jesus as if it were some alternative. From what you have quoted, this may be how Prof. Michaels reads John on the issue. - Ray

Steven Coxhead said...

Doing good and doing evil here needs to be understood in the classic Jewish sense of covenant keeping versus covenant rebellion. The blessings of the covenant (including resurrection to life) are reserved for those who (through the work of the Spirit) keep covenant with God. Those who are in rebellion against God will miss out on this, and experience condemnation instead.

As for John 3:20-21, I reckon that that is simply a Jewish way of saying that true keepers of the Mosaic covenant will acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, whereas those who have previously been in covenant rebellion against God are likely to reject him. These verses in effect need to be understood in terms of the transition from the old to the new covenant.

Jeremy said...

Pennoyer, you seem to say that good works leads to belief, while Michaels is saying belief leads to good works. I don't think you two are saying the same thing.

jeff miller said...

The first "good" work must be done from the ground of loyally acknowledging God. Loyalty and loyal-acknowledgment are the best definition of the biblical idea behind our English translations faith/belief. John is using the word "works" and the concept "good works" in a positive sense, nearly synonymous with "loyalty/loyal-acknowledgment" thus for John there is no antagonism between truly "good" works and faith/belief or (loyalty/loyal acknowledgment).

"Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
(Joh 6:27-29)

John Thomson said...

Is the issue of faith vs works
not more a theoretical problem than a real one? Which of us (I am addressing Protestant evangelicals) does not believe that faith alone saves and that faith without works is dead?

The 'works' of course are not 'law-works that seek life through personal merit' but'evangelical works' or 'gospel works'or 'faith-works springing from faith that Christ alone saves'

If our 'faith' is in our works, then our works are law-works; if our faith is in Christ and our works then our works are still law-works; if our faith is in Christ resulting in works (faith working through love) then it is evangelical saving faith.

1Thess 1:3
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.

Eph 2:8-10
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Gal 5:6 (ESV)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Jas 2:14-20
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?