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What are the possible interpretations and implications of 1 John 2:19, specifically as it relates to the doctrine of eternal security?

1 John 2:19 (NASB)
19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

I understand the interpretations of the verse used to support eternal security, so I'm particularly interested in interpretations consistent with conditional security.

Note: I asked a related question on Christianity.SE: How does 1 John 2:19 fit with the teaching that Christians can lose their salvation?

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As you can see from my answer on C.SE, I think reading either doctrine into the text is anachronistic. The concepts of conditional vs. unconditional security developed long after this text was written. I would open the floor to additional interpretations. As it stands, this seems more like a doctrinal question that is a duplicate of the question on C.SE. –  Dan Jul 30 '13 at 14:41

3 Answers 3

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ἐξ ἡμῶν ἐξῆλθαν ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἦσαν ἐξ ἡμῶν εἰ γὰρ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθ’ ἡμῶν ἀλλ’ ἵνα φανερωθῶσιν ὅτι οὐκ εἰσὶν πάντες ἐξ ἡμῶν

Direct, wooden, stilted Interpretation:

From us they went out but/and not they were from us for if from us they were they had remained with us but that they may have been revealed that not are all from us.

Fluid(er):

They went out from us, but they were not from us. For had they remained with us, they were from us. But they have been revealed so that all are not from us.

Conditional security would state that they left fellowship because they set aside their faith. They chose that which was heterodox (Gnosticism) over that which was orthodox.

μεμενήκεισαν (had remained) is pluperfect which indicates a past action whose results are not longer in effect. There is no question that they clearly separated and are no longer a part of the community. Perhaps this points to a distinct point in time when a direct confrontation/schism occurred? That's speculation, though.

In your other question on Christianity.SE, I stated that I don't necessarily believe in conditional security. Having said that, I always feel like it's my responsibility to point out that folks in the eternal security camp tend to make caricatures of the conditional security perspective. Every single CS person that I know believes the condition to be the decision of the person to lay aside their faith. It's not this "whoopsie, where'd that salvation go???" bizarreness that I hear from a LOT of ES folk.

EDIT:

To address @Kazak's concerns ...

A person who finds this passage to support conditional security may perceive it to understand that people who were formerly believers had laid aside their faith in favor of something else. Therefore, the first ἐξ ἡμῶν becomes an ablative genitive (either that or a genitive of source) denoting a clear separation or division. They were not "of us" in the sense that these gnostics were not sent out by the congregation to spread on an evangelistic mission ... John is distancing himself and the congregation from these ones who left.

A person who finds this passage to support eternal security will most likely perceive ἐξ ἡμῶν as a partitive genitive. They are not, and were not ever, a part of "us" - whomever that was.

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Thanks - so if I understand, the "would have" in the NASB is not necessarily supported by the Greek? –  Eric Apr 16 '12 at 17:15
    
It's quite tricky. The pluperfect is pretty rare in the NT and so it should be given some consideration. The only verb in here that I see that is translatable with a "would" is φανερωθῶσιν (subjunctive). In fact, I am going to change my translation a bit to better reflect this. –  swasheck Apr 16 '12 at 17:18
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Regarding common CS positions, I'd agree that the doctrinal stance among CS teachers usually (but not always) tends towards what you described. But the "whoopsie, where'd that salvation go" view is pretty common (in my experience) among CS laypeople. I've known a lot of people who have been under the impression that if they sin, they lose their salvation until they can ask forgiveness (ask someone whether suicide is a mortal sin, and this view comes out). Perhaps the conception of these people is what the ES folks are targeting. –  Eric Apr 16 '12 at 17:22
    
I agree that the ES laypeople are the ones who misunderstand the CS position. –  swasheck Apr 16 '12 at 17:24
    
What I actually meant was that CS laypeople often hold the "whoopsie" position. Edited my comment to clarify –  Eric Apr 16 '12 at 17:25

I believe this verse has nothing to do with the security of the believer. It has been misunderstood and misapplied for too long. John was simply referring to the problem of false teachers that went out from the Jerusalem church that Luke had documented (see Acts 15:24). They were antichrists (2:18), had denied the Father and the Son (2:22), and were trying to deceive John's subjects (2:26). This is why John began his epistle with a defense of the apostolic leadership (1:1-3). John's readers would only have fellowship with the Father and the Son if they remained in fellowship with them (1:3) and their teaching (4:6). 1 John 2:19 is about false teachers going out from the Jerusalem church not about supposed Christians leaving their local assembly thus proving they never were truly saved. There is nothing in the context supporting that interpretation.

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To me, the verse turns on this conditional:

if they had been of us,           (a)
they would have remained with us  (b)

(b) is tricky because of the word translated "remained" (μένω) which is particularly used in the writings attributed to John:

Mat(3)  Mar(2)  Luk(6)
Jhn(33) Act(12) Rom(1)
1Cr(8)  2Cr(3)  Phl(1)
1Ti(1)  2Ti(3)  Hbr(6)
1Pe(2)  1Jo(18) 2Jo(2)
Rev(1)   

It seems quite likely that throughout John's letters, μένω is at least suggesting a connection to:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.—John 15:4-6 (ESV)

Abide is the same Greek word that is translated remained above. So if John hopes we will think of Jesus as the vine, than the "remained" in (b) includes both staying part of the community John is writing to and drawing sustenance from Jesus in the spiritual sense. In chapter 2 alone we see several images of what we should "remain" or "abide" with or in:

  1. Jesus Christ (1st John 2:6,27,28)
  2. The Light (1st John 2:10)
  3. Y'all (1st John 2:14,24,27)
  4. Life (according to the NASB translation of 1st John 2:17)
  5. The Son and the Father (1st John 2:24)

In each case, there's a reciprocal relationship: each side is "sticking with" the other. There's also a strong contrast with various images of separation in which the relationship is severed or simply does not exist. Of particular interest is the contrast in 1st John 2:15-17 between loving the world (therefore passing away) and doing the will of God (therefore remaining/living).


(a), therefore, is a binary choice: a person is either associated with the world or with God. But in 1st John 2:18-19, we are told that "antichrists" have arisen "from us". They are the subject of the conditional and John is drawing a line between being "from us" and being "of us". In fact, they left "so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." So what was their state beforehand? We can get a hint from the "cover letter" of 1st John:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.—2nd John 1:7-9 (ESV)

The warning signifies that there is some sort of danger. To go back to the vine analogy in John 15, if you don't stick with the teaching of Christ, you will lose the benefit of being associated with him. The sign that a person belongs to one or the other camp is whether they abide. Until a person leaves, the test is whether they "confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh", which seems to be the particular controversy of the community John is writing to.

It all depends on perspective

I have a tomato vine with many branches that are just starting to flower and bear fruit. However, there is one branch that is beginning to separate from the rest of the vine. On the outside, it looks very healthy and strong, but when I trace it back to the source I see that it's in trouble. A strong wind or tug by a bird or animal will pull the branch away from its root system. In a platonic sense, the branch is already dead and will never produce fruit. But until it actually drops off, the branch looks exactly like its neighbors.

John was writing into a similar situation: on the surface the "antichrists" seemed just like all the believers in the community. But they strayed too far from Christ's teachings and to someone with the right perspective, it was obvious they would fall away. When they finally did fall away, John explained that it was because they never had the sort of connection to Jesus that they needed. We know that because if they had the proper connection, they would have remained.

John's emphasis isn't to speculate on whether a person can loose their salvation but to make clear the method of salvation in which we can have confidence:

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.—1st John 2:28-29 (ESV)

In other words, we aren't secure in our salvation because of the nature of salvation, but because of the nature of Jesus.

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Thorough answer, but in the end you land in an eternal security position when OP asked for conditional security. –  swasheck Apr 17 '12 at 20:03
    
@swasheck: That's probably because I'm not quite settled on the question myself. The truth is probably a little of both, which is what I was trying to get at with "it all depends on perspective". I probably should cut out the NET footnotes, which are certainly from the eternal security viewpoint. Hopefully I'll get time to edit the answer in the future. (Thanks for pointing out my waffling. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Apr 17 '12 at 20:11
    
Wow, this is amazing! Great analogy with the tomato vine as well. –  Eric Apr 17 '12 at 20:15
    
@swasheck: I'm not sure if this edit answers the question any better, but I did try to respond to your comment. (Thanks for keeping me honest.) –  Jon Ericson Apr 24 '12 at 22:22
    
@JonEricson, I think that last statement you added is fascinating, and opened a question regarding it, if you'd care to elaborate: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/7318/971 –  Eric Apr 25 '12 at 15:47

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