Sunday, February 12, 2017

Does falling away from the faith mean you were never really saved in the first place? (1 John 2:19)

Many Protestants teach that you cannot lose your salvation, so when a person "falls away" from the faith, some of these Protestants conclude that this person was never really saved in the first place. Their favorite prooftext for this claim is 1 John 2:19. Their interpretation is quite convenient, but is actually quite unreasonable, and it's is hurtful towards Christians who struggle with sin (thinking they might never have been saved). 

To begin, consider the context of 1 John 2:19,
18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
These Protestants read 2:19 as saying these people who "went out" of the community by apostasy demonstrate that they never really were saved, since true Christians remain in the community. This interpretation is somewhat understandable, but it is very weak when you consider the context, the Greek words themselves, similar verses, and theological coherence. 

Consider how John himself uses very similar language (e.g. "antichrist" and "went out" and "coming") as in 2:18-19 elsewhere in his Epistles:
  • 1 John 4:1-3 Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
  • 2 John 1:7 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.
  • 3 John 1:5-8 Beloved, do in all your efforts for these brothers 6 who testified to your love before the church. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name [of Jesus], accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these.
There is a striking similarity between 2:19 and 1John 4:1-3 and 2John 1:7. In each case, John is speaking of antichrists have come and also false teachers went out. It would be natural then to read all as describing the same warning. Based on the above evidence, this "went out" in 2:19 is thus not apostasy , but rather more of the opposite: it's false teachers going out into communities specifically to spread heresy. This conclusion is further confirmed at the Council of Jerusalem, where the Apostles sent out a Letter to Gentile Christians using nearly identical language of 2:19, as they explain (Acts 15:24): "We [Apostles] have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions." So the most natural and reasonable interpretation of 2:19 is that "they" are the antichrists of 2:18 (and 2:22) who went out to preach, pretending to be sent by the apostles ("from us"), but the Apostles never authorized this ("but not of us"), for if these false teachers were sent by the apostles, they would have remained in communion with the Apostles. Indeed, in the 3John 1:5-8 reference, the situation is of Christian missionaries going out, validly sent by the Apostles and their efforts are endorsed by the Apostles. 

Some additional points for consideration are: 
  • The "they" in 2:19 refers to the antichrists just mentioned in 2:18. The term "antichrist" appears only four times in the Bible (1John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2John 1:7), all contexts we've looked at above. It's meaning is not confined to a single person, but rather many false teachers, who all profess the specific error that Jesus is not the Messiah nor Son of God (which rules out the Pope even being a candidate for antichrist). But Protestants presume this to refers to Christians in general.
  • The "went out" in Greek is a generic term for going outside, not a euphemism for apostasy. But Protestants presuming a meaning that isn't even lexically valid in the first place.
  • The "Us" - in the "went out from from Us, but were not of Us" - is speaking of false teachers pretending to be sent by Apostolic endorsement but not actually endorsed, as was shown earlier. But Protestants presume two different meanings, i.e., "went out from Us" means abandoning membership in the community of believers, while "not of Us" as means 'never really saved'. This is not only inconsistent, since "Us" should means community of believers in the both cases, it's also ridiculous to suggest a person can be a member of the church and yet never really saved (1 Cor 12:13).
  • The "continued" - in the "would have continued with Us" - indicates that at one point they were submissive to Apostolic authority. But Protestants presume here that perseverance within the community points to assurance of true salvation, yet many times people live within a community for years before they leave (2 Tim 4:10), many live a lukewarm community lifestyle (cf Rev 3:16), and some leave community only for a time before returning (1 Cor 5:5). A ll these examples demonstrate perseverance in community can easily give the wrong idea, aside from the fact community living is highly subjective given the numerous Protestant denominations. 
In conclusion, it is abundantly clear 1John 2:19 says nothing close to what Calvinists want it to say. In my experience, the typical reason someone latches tightly onto a bad argument is because there isn't enough evidence elsewhere to justify their dubious teaching. As a result, Scripture gets abused, which ultimately is to their own shame and loss of credibility. My favorite example of this desperation is the Protestant "interpretation" of 2 Corinthians 5:21, though 1John 2:19 is in my top ten list of most abused Protestant verses.


Anonymous said...

The commentary of Augustine of this verse is a lot closer to Calvin's. Hopefully, you'll see that your interpretation does not square with even Roman Catholic's ancient or modern scholars.

Nick said...

Do you have a direct quote and source for Augustine's view of this verse? The only place I've seen Augustine quote this verse is in his writing on Perseverance of the Saints, where he says it teaches the principle that not everyone who is saved/justified will persevere. That's a very Catholic view of salvation and somewhat related to the point of the verse, that some brethren will turn bad and leave the Church, thus losing salvation. This in no way supports the Reformed reading of the verse.

So unless and until you can show where Augustine said something closer to Calvinism, and unless you can address my points, I simply cannot grant any credibility to alternate interpretations.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to do the leg work for you . I hope you've researched this first before even posting. But here:

Calvin's commentary:

Augustine's Commentary:

Do you want me to paste also modern Catholic Commentaries?

Hope you continue to learn and try to be fair next time.

Nick said...

The Augustine link you provided equates the Antichrists with anyone who falls into heresy and schism, but he isn't saying they were never saved in the first place.

In Book 2, Ch21, on Predestination and Perseverance, Augustine quotes 1 John 2:19 and explains of two men, both justified by Baptism, one of them falls away while the other does not, because one persevered while the other fell away.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather advise you to re-read Augustine's commentary before making hasty comments. It doesn't hurt to say "I'm wrong..."

If it helps you here's the relevant section:

[All heretics, all schismatics went out from us, that is, they go out from the Church; but they would not go out, if they were of us. Therefore, before they went out they were not of us. If before they went out they were not of us, many are within, are not gone out, but yet are antichrists.]

Do you notice the "Therefore..."? What do you think Augustine is saying when he said BEFORE they went out they were not of us?

Also, the other reference you've provided does not actually say what you want it to say. Augustine was answering the question why some who appear to be good believers yet fall away. Here's the relevant section:

[But it seems to men that all who appear good believers ought to receive perseverance to the end. But God has judged it to be better to mingle some who would not persevere with a certain number of His saints, so that those for whom security from temptation in this life is not desirable may not be secure.]

Do you notice that those who will not persevere is a different group from those who are his saints? The ones who will not persevere are mingled with some of his saints... they appear to be good believers but God knows better. Only those whom he gives persevarance will persevere and they are his saints. Those who will not fall by their own will.

Do you notice how different your private interpretation from Augustine's? You attempted to interpret "went out from us" as going out preaching heresy. Augustine actually disagrees. His explanation is closer to Calvin's.

Hope you've learned something.

Nick said...

I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong. In this instance, the commentary you linked to is ambiguous. I have pointed to where Augustine speaks on this verse in Book 2 of Predestination and is clearly speaking of how a person can be Justified and not persevere. When Augustine says "saints" in that section, he means the Elect. He isn't saying only the Elect can be justified.

In his commentary that you linked to, it isn't clear if Augustine is saying these were never saved in the first place or if their evil acts (falling away) began within the Church and only manifested itself later.

Also, I have no problem saying I think Augustine's interpretation is more allegorical/mystical than literal. I've shown how John and Acts uses the terms and you simply cannot interact with that. As I said, this is one of those verses the Reformed must desperately cling to. Augustine held to *perseverance* whereas Reformed *reject* perseverance since it indicates a not-yet-saved and possibility of falling away soteriology.

Nick said...

In City of God, 20.8, Augustine says: "the devil will make war with those who have previously become Christians, and that, though some of these may be conquered and desert to the devil, these do not belong to the predestinated number of the sons of God. For it is not without reason that John, the same apostle as wrote this Apocalypse, says in his epistle regarding certain persons, They went out from us, but they were not of us"

The point here is that Christians can fail to persevere because they weren't predestined to persevere; not that they never were Christians. The Reformed only know TWO CAMPS: those saved and those never saved. Augustine, Scripture, and the Church know THREE CAPS: those never saved, those saved by fail to persevere, and those who are saved and do persevere (the elect).

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think the commentary of Augustine is ambiguous. It only becomes one if we want to maintain faulty exegesis. He interpreted it almost exactly as Calvin did. I was hoping a ancient theologian that have greater authority than a lay person like you would would help you see your errors.

I am not sure also how to respectfully tell you that looking up a root word (exerchomai) for different verb forms and conclude that it should mean the same all the time is a bit amateurish. I'll give you a hint on how to do exegesis: get the context not just a word study. Try to see that the verb (exelthan, went out) is linked to the prepositional phrase (ex hemon, from us). And then there's the adversative conjunction (all, but) telling us that these people were really (ouk... ex hemon, not of us). So if you have [from us + but + not from us] -- you do need to distinguish the nature of the connection of these people who went out from "US" versus who stayed. Augustine and Calvin said that these people were connected in the sense that they appear to be members of the Church having received the sacraments but that they were really not part of the Church even while they were within (because they have departed/went out from the "US").

Well, hopefully you've learned something. Re-read Augustine. I think you'll be safe adapting his interpretation. Btw, his interpretation on this verse is not allegorical nor mystical. :)

Arvinger said...

It is interesting how Anonymous' main argument is St. Augustine's commentary (whether he interprets it correctly is another matter) rather than exegesis of the text. Moreover, at the same time he would reject St. Augustine's teaching on baptismal regeneration, purgatory, perpetual virginity of Mary etc. In other words - no real rebutall for Nick's exegesis of the text plus selective quotation from St. Augustine, who elsewhere explicitly taught that justified Christians can lose their salvation. Looks to me like another rather desperate attempt to salvage the OSAS heresy.

Anonymous said...

Arvinger, Firstly, my main argument is Augustine's exegesis of the text 1 John 2:19. :) And I raise this point simply because in the RC worldview, Augustine held a greater authority than Nick. He was a Doctor of the Church. Nick is not. Therefore, his insight is of greater value than Nick's private interpretation. If you want, I could furnish you with modern Roman Catholic commentary of 1 John 2:19 and it would have the same import as Augistine's.

Secondly, we should be wise enough to know thay agreeing with Augustine on one topic does not mean that we should accept everything Augustine wrote. Even in RC worldview, not everything Augustine wrote is in line with RC defined dogmas. Therefore, it is not a scandal that a person may agree with Augustine on certain points but disagree on other points.

Lastly, the topic is is 1 John 2:19 not OSAS. While the two are connected, that is not what the article is mainly about. Augustine might use terminologies like regeneration or justification and apply it to the reprobate. This is due to his conception of sacramental efficacy (ex opera operato) and therefore what Augustine meant by regeneration or jistification is not what the reformers meant in their soteriological system. However, Augustine does believe that the one predistined to Heaven will never be lost. This is an established facg. And, this is the framework that has similarities from the reformers' doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (i.e. the elect).

So I hope you've learned something. :) Press on and may walk with Jesus ever increases as a Catholic Christian.

Nick said...

Augustine's opinions hold greater weight than my own for a few reasons, but that doesn't mean there aren't multiple plausible interpretations of any given passage, nor does it mean we cannot propose our own interpretations for discussion and edification of others.

Augustine was very Catholic and not Protestant in any sense. If Protestants were honest with the facts, they'd condemn Augustine as a grave heretic, but they cannot afford to do so. It is complete delusion to say "Well, just because we agree with Augustine on this point doesn't mean we have to agree with him on everything else," because in this case the Protestant side agrees with almost nothing Augustine believed. When you only agree with 5% of what someone teaches, while considering the bulk of their teaching heresy, that's hardly called agreement.

In the case of 1 John 2:19, my exegesis points were left untouched and Antonymous basically tried to hide behind Augustine rather than take my arguments on. They went out from US but were not of US...ok, so what does "US" mean here? If it means 'salvation', then the text is saying they went out from salvation, which doesn't work for the Protestant. If it means visible community, then it means they were never really members of the visible community, which is an Ok interpretation but then it wouldn't be addressing the issue of actual members falling away, only fake members. If someone attends your Protestant church on Sunday for many years and is active within it, and later on they fall away, are you really going to say they were never really a member of your church? The Reformed try to get around this by saying you can be a true visible member without being an actual invisible member, but then you're equivocating with the term "Us".

In regards to Augustine's view that the Predestined will not be lost...this is 100% Catholic! But it doesn't mean (and Augustine is clear about this), that (1) only the Predestined will ever get justified, and (2) that those who are Predestined cannot truly fall into mortal sin for a time, since they can, they will just arise again before they depart this life. Protestants say only the Predestined ever get justified, and that the predestined cannot even fall temporarily into grave sin, but rather that they remain saved at all times, and that even during the moment of committing gravely sinful acts they radiate as perfectly Righteous before God because of Imputation.

Anonymous said...

If Augustine's opinion hold greater weight then maybe this should be re-checked?

"Based on the above evidence, this "went out" in 2:19 is thus not apostasy, but rather more of the opposite: it's false teachers going out into communities specifically to spread heresy."

Would you change your mind if I pile up modern Roman Catholic commentaries that basically says the same as Augustine?

Also, I did mention how you're exegesis is faulty. You basically did a word search on the root word of the verb used in 1 John 2:19 (exerchomai, depart) and applied the different context on which it is used form other verses. I said this is very amateurish and would lead to errors such as what you have done here. This shows lack of understanding of Koine Greek and no knowledge of how the Greek language works. I say all these things respectfully. Tell me Nick, have you studied Greek? Or, better, as a RC have you studied Latin as Augustine was using Latin when interpreting this verse? If not, you better set aside private interpretation and listen to this Doctor.

I am happy that you say this: "In regards to Augustine's view that the Predestined will not be lost...this is 100% Catholic!" --> Whatever mechanism you put in between this, you'll have perseverance of the saints (i.e. elect) and a version of OSAS. For, even when you don't admit it, once you are predestined -- no matter what happens, in between -- you'll end up in Heaven.

There you go! :) Have a nice day everyone...

Nick said...


I would definitely take into consideration if you presented a consensus of Catholic sources that said it means to fall away.

That said, I presented BIBLICAL EVIDENCE for my claim, and you have not interacted with it. 1 Jn 2:19 is speaking of the Antichrist, and I turned to the other passages where John also speaks of Antichrist, where he uses very similar language! And at the very least, Acts 15:24 and 3Jn1:7 are clear that to "go out" can mean "go out to preach," so I'm not just inventing terms. Now unless you can show SOME Biblical evidence that "go out" is used to mean "fall away," I'd say there's no Biblical/Exegetical basis to say it means "fall away".

As for the Augustinan/Catholic view of Perseverance, this is not a version of "OSAS" for a few reasons: while all the Predestined are Justified, not all who are Justified are *also* Predestined; and even those who are Predestined can temporarily lose their Justification through grave sin and must repent to regain it. The whole point of PERSEVERING is that you must still cross the finish line, even if you fall along the way.

Nick said...

I want to again bring up the "Us" dilemma that isn't being addressed either: They went out from US but were not of US.

Tell me, what does "US" mean here? They went out from salvation but weren't actually saved? They went out from the Visible Church but weren't actually members?

If it is speaking of people who crept into the Church under an evil agenda and just pretended to be Christian, then this interpretation would fit, but it also wouldn't go against what I've said (i.e. that it's not speaking of Christians in general but rather the Antichrists). Sinning in general doesn't make one an Antichrist, since the Antichrists were a specific pernicious group. Whether the Antichrists were saved in the first place or whether they just pretended is not a problem for the Catholic/Augustinian claim.

Anonymous said...


I sense that it is really difficult for you to say you are mistaken on this. So I'll pile up every source more authoritative than you and hopefully, you learn something. Here one standard Catholic Commentary which respected even by protestant scholars.

"What made the movement confronted by 1 John so dangerous is that "they [went out] from us..." (2:19). This language resonates with 2 John 7, "may deceivers [went out] into the world." In both cases it seems that the deceivers were once part of the community. They went out, separating themselves from the Elder and his supporters. From the Elder's perspective, having separated themselves they have gone into the world. The aorist tense of the verb (exelthon) suggests a particular crisis, a schism." (1,2, and 3 John, Sacra Pagina by John Painter and Daniel J. Harrington p. 352)

Note that Daniel J. Harrington is a Jesuit scholar and is the main editor of these very scholarly series, Sacra Pagina, which is a respected commentary even by protestant scholars.


If you've read my previous comment, you would have seen where you have gotten it wrong. I can sense that you have not studied Greek. And, respectfully, calling your presentation Biblical Evidence is not Biblical Evidence but an error committed by anyone who pretends to read Greek but not knowing how to read Greek.

The root word exerchomai can be taken properly or figuratively (See Thayer Lexicon). It often times is connected by a prepositional phrase to indicate where one has gone out or departed. For example in 1 John 2:19 (exelthan), most lexicrographers list the import of the word under "figurative" (see Thayer as an example; I can provide more lexicons if needed). It means [to go out] but it is a departure [from an assembly].

What then of Acts 15:24? The meaning of verb (exelthontes) is the same: [went out]. They [went out] from us [ex hemon]. The activity they did after departing from the assembly is spread words (logois) which troubled and upset the assembly. In other words, the "preaching" is not indicated by the verb (exelthontes) but by the description of what they did after they departed from the assembly: [etaraxan hymas logois anaskeuazontes tas psychas hymon logentes...]. Clearly, then [exelthontes] does not mean and can not mean "go out to preach" as no lexicon would suggest.

What about 3 John 1:7? The word (exelthon) just means [they went forth]. It doesn't mean went forth to preach. From the context, they might have preached after they went forth but it is not because the word [exelthon] carry that meaning but because of the context as they are [synergoi te altehia, fellow workers with the truth] which should be received [hypolambanein].


Augustine and Calvin gave us a very sober interpretation. The "US" is are the people who are part of the assembly who did not depart from apostolic teaching. They are members of the visible church who persevered. Augustine and Calvin explained that the reason of their perseverance is out of God's grace predestining them to eternal life.

Nick said...

Astonishingly, nothing you've said here substantially goes against what I've been saying all along. Your brief quote from the Catholic Commentary isn't contradicting my claims either. Even your last line isn't a problem when Perseverance is properly understood.

Using 2:19 as a generic text for "anyone who falls away was never really saved" has virtually no support. At most it could be said a very specific group who fell away were never really saved because they were just pretending all along, but I've never denied this.

The wording of "false prophets gone out into the world" (1Jn4:1) and "deceivers have gone out into the world" (2Jn1:7) is a strange way of saying false prophets fell into apostasy. Many false prophets have fallen into apostasy "into the world"? And why is this even a warning to believers if it is merely a description that false prophets eventually fall away? It only makes sense as a warning if these false prophets are an actual danger to believers, and this "going out into the world" is them acting in full deceptive mode.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. I can really sense the difficulty of saying, "I was wrong; ler me try to research this further." If you still don't see it. Here:

ERROR 1. The verb exerchomai does not mean "go out to preach". It simply means "go out, depart, go forth". Context determines whether the activities done by after they depart is to preach. In 1 John 2:19, Augustine, Modern Roman Catholic scholars and Calvin recognises that the term [exelthan ex hemon] refers to apostasy, i.e. people who they taught were part of the community of the faith but abandoned the faith. Because they have abandoned the faith, the Apostle John revealed that they were never really part of the community even when they appeared to be part of it from the beginning thus the adversative conjunction: [went out from us BUT not from us].

ERROR 2. Calvin (a reformed exegete) identified the "US" as the church as almost all exegete do. Both Calvin and Augustine further clarified that this church (assembly) is the persevering church. Those who have been predestined to eternal life.

ERROR 3. The ones who have remained in the faith have the annointing of the Spirit (v. 20). Thus, the identity of the truly saved is revealed through their enduring faith. From the protestant perspective, true saving faith endures till the end. It is then imperative to everyone who thinks he is in the faith to always examine himself lest he falls away just like the ones who have departed; proving therefore that the kind of faith they have is not the true saving faith the elect possesed. From the Catholic Augustinian perspective, those who are elect/predestined are given persevering faith as a gift. The number of the predestined are fixed. Those who are predestined are the ones to possess eternal life. No elect/predestined will be lost. (Of course, the Augustinian conception of predestining grace was not dogmatised. In fact as per one Catholic scholar put it when summarising Augustine's teaching:

[A fortiori, every one of the elect owes it to the Divine goodness alone that he has received a series of graces which God saw to be infallibly, though freely, bound up with final perseverance.

Assuredly we may reject this theory, for the Church, which always maintains the two principles of the absolute dependence of the will and of freedom, has not yet adopted as its own this reconciliation of the two extremes. We may ask where and how God knows the effect of these graces. Augustine has always affirmed the fact; he has never inquired about the mode; and it is here that Molinism has added to and developed his thoughts, in attempting to answer this question.])

It can not be denied that in the Augustinian schema, there is a version of OSAS or Perseverance of the Saints for he taught that in the final analysis, all who are elect/predestined will be saved and none shall be lost; thus, those who are lost were never elected/predestined. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants should be happy at this commonality rather than quarrel each other about it.

Nick said...

>>>ISSUE#1 - The verb exerchomai simply means "go out, depart".

YES, I have agreed with this the whole time. I have also agreed the whole time that context determines what they were going out for. When John says "false teachers have gone out into the world" and "deceivers have gone out into the world" the meaning of "gone out" is still departing, but it is clear they are going out for the purpose of spreading error.

>>>ISSUE#2 - Calvin and Augustine identified the "Us" as the persevering church.

YES, I have also said this is an acceptable interpretation, provided the proper understanding of Persevere is held. What I'm saying is that the Reformed hold there is an Invisible/Visible Church distinction, such that you can be an actual member of the Visible Church but not a member of the Invisible Church, and that you can fall away from the Visible Church. This is different from the persevering church Augustine/Catholics are talking about.

The main issue I hold with interpreting it as "fell away but never really was a member" is that this doesn't really make much sense: you cannot quit/leave a club you were never really part of. If someone was deceptively pretending to be a member the whole time, then they weren't really a member, and their departure is in name only. That's possible for certain pernicious folks, but the typical person who falls away from Christianity wasn't pretending the whole time.

>>>ISSUE#3 - The identity of the elect/predestined is revealed through their enduring faith.

YES, I have always held to this. The key difference between Augustine/Catholics and Protestants on this matter is that you cannot know for sure unless and until you actually persevere to the end. Protestants think a person can know for sure if they themselves are predestined, but this is sheer presumption. To suggest a person has to "always examine himself" completely undermines the Reformed dogma of Infallible Assurance. The whole point of Calvinistic Assurance is that you know for certain you are elect and that you will persevere. To have to keep "examining" yourself is a rejection of Calvinist Assurance.

Augustine said nobody knows if they themselves will persevere or not. He said that information is hidden. You cannot know if you're elect. Yet Protestants rejected Augustine here and said you can know if you're elect and you can know the moment you first truly believe.

catholic said...

"No true Scotsman" fallacy.