April 5, 2010

Thoughts on John 6

Well, I'm still working on that "Why I am an Arminian" series that I started like 2 years ago. It's taking awhile because I'm currently going through relevant passages within the debate, and carefully exegeting each one, as I have time. The last Calvinist one that I am doing also happens to be the one that I have looked at the least, which is John 6. I've recently had a break through with this text, and I wanted to share it.

Previous Readings

Up until this point, whenever I have come to John 6 I've focused on the "bread of life" aspects of the text and have merely passed over the more Calvinist sounding verses. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the bread of life passages mean more to me. The second is that bread of life passages are what the section is really about, and Calvinist texts are really passing statements that Jesus made, so I never really noticed them.

Whenever Calvinists have pointed to these texts, it has always been in isolation, so I could see their point. However, in isolation, I could easily read prevenient grace into the passages as well, so I have never found them convincing.

In summary, up until this point I have found these texts to be vague semblances of Calvinist ideas that are distracting from the grander context of John 6 when focused upon.

Personal Exegesis

Initial Problems

Due to the way that I do exegesis, my first questions of the text was "What is the overall point of this passage? Why is Jesus having this conversation? However does this story fit into the overall narrative of John?" (Actually the overall narrative means even more in John than it does in the other gospels since John flows more than the other gospels.) What I realized was interesting.

The basic point of the passage is to compare the faithlessness of the Jews in the crowd to the faithfulness of the disciples. Basically the difference is that the disciples receive the "Bread of Life" from the Father, while the others do not.

To be honest, this left me in a pickle as far my previous understanding of verse 44. I had always understood this to simply be prevenient grace, but it is clear, from context, that this verse is dealing with one of the very many distinctions between the disciples and the other Jews. Thus, this could not be prevenient grace, since prevenient grace is extended to all.

But I also didn't find Calvinism here either. There was nothing in the text that implied regeneration before faith, nor was there anything that identified the drawing as irresistible. Furthermore, there were no text that laid the basis of how this drawing works, or indeed what this drawing actually is. It is merely a passing statement during Jesus' greater point, which is criticizing the people for not listening. Indeed, I find it rather odd for Jesus to be rebuking them for not listening when they are not being drawn to listen to begin with. That's like rebuking a deaf person for not listening.

Thus I had a new question: What did this drawing mean?

I also had a second. This whole idea of those being given to Christ from verse 37 also made me wonder. Again, I didn't think Calvinism. No where does John say that these which are given to Jesus were selected unconditionally. Indeed, nothing is said about the selection process at all! All it says is that there are some given to Jesus.

Clearly my former thoughts did not hold up to the context, yet I found that though Calvinism would answer these questions neatly, the text did not imply Calvinism itself, thus defeating it as being a proof-text). After all, if this is a proof-text of Calvinism, then one should be able to extract Calvinism from this. But you can't, so it's not. Indeed, the best one could say about it is that it is an obscure text that is hard to understand, and Calvinism is an adequate theory to explain it.

But what did this mean? Does it means that no one is saved unless the Father hands them over to Jesus? And by what manner does the Father decide which ones to give Jesus? And what is the drawing that the text is speaking of?

An Answer from Prayer

While thinking all of this over a couple of days, I suddenly remembered that the language of those being given to Christ was used in His high priestly prayer in John 17. So I turned there to see if I can figure some of this out.

Reading the whole prayer straight through it became very clear to me was that Jesus was contrasting those who has been given to Him from those that were to be saved later on (Vs 20). In other words, you and I are not those 'given to Him'. Those given to Him were the disciples. Therefore, being given to Jesus is not the normative operation of salvation, but something specific that was happening during Jesus' earthly ministry.

It is also important from verse 12 that Judas is one of the ones that was given to Jesus. Therefore, although being given to Jesus has clear soteriological implications because of John 6, it cannot be the same thing as unconditional election leading to absolute perseverance, as Calvinists claim it means.

Finding the Brown and White Picture

And no, I do not mean sepia. I was listening to the first debate between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Brown on Dr. White's podcast. Dr. White referenced John 6 as one of the best Calvinist prooftexts, though his exegesis had some serious problems (mostly that they contradict what I have stated earlier in this post).

The central problem that I had with what Dr. White said though was that he claimed that going to other passages in John (not other passages in the Bible, but other passages in the same book!!!) was bad exegesis. What?! I'm sorry, but that's is really really foolish, and I don't say that to be cruel or insulting, because I do respect him, but that is really foolish. I understand that it is poor exegesis to break down Exodus with Romans in mind because Moses did not have Romans in mind when Exodus was being written. But the book of John is a cohesive book! John absolutley had John 12 and 17 in mind when he wrote John 6 (as did Holy Spirit) and it is not only reasonable, but also proper to assume that language he used in one part of his book would mean the same thing if used somewhere else in his book. Has Dr. White never heard of foreshadowing? Has he never watched a movie or read a book where something was introduced and then explained later? It just baffles me how inane that comment is, especially since it is central to interpreting John 6 properly since 6 gives very little to no context to understand what the term "given to" actually means.

Moving beyond that, what Dr. Brown said brought a lot of what I was aready thinking into a cohesive thought. If we are to understand that there exists those in Israel who already belonged to God, than it is logical to understand this passage as saying that the Father gave those who belonged to Him to Jesus at this time in His ministry. Furthermore, the entire context of the passage also begins to make sense. Like I said early on Jesus is clearly differentiating between those that follow Him and those that don't. But when we recognize that there exists those that already belong to God before the coming of Christ, then we recognize that the differentiation is that the disciples were part of the true remnant of Israel, while these were not.

This brings a lot of other passages to light too. For instance, those that belong to me recognize my voice, being the good shepherd. When we understand this as pointing to the Jewish community, we can see that what is going on is that Jesus is saying "you are not following me because you do not follow my Father." This has nothing to do with the unconditionally of election, but with unity of the Father and the Son, and how the Son is in perfect harmony with the Father's purpose and people. Those who are truly a part of the Father's people will recognize the Father in Christ.

Indeed, this also makes Peter's statement all the stronger. After Jesus gives this speech in John six, He turns to the disciples and says "Will you leave also." Peter replies, "where else shall we go? You have the answers to eternal life." You see? Peter saw the Father in Jesus and that is why Peter followed Him. And he saw the Father in Jesus because he knew the Father. The crowd did not see the Father in Jesus, because they did not know the Father, and so rejected Jesus simply because He confused them. The disciples went to Him to seek deeper understanding.

Drawing Conclusions

As for conclusions on what 'drawing' means, I'm having a bit more difficulty with that. There are two other instances where John uses it in this book. One is John 12:32, where Jesus says that He will draw all to Himself (Not all men. Not all kinds of men. Just all) . The other is in John 21 where the disciples draw the fish up from the water. Ironically it was this second one that brought me some insight.

But first, let us compare draw in John 6 with John 12. First, the scope of the drawing in John 6 is particular: it only applies to those who were given to Christ by the Father. Second the scope of John 12 is universal: it uses the word all. Now, does all refer to every person? Maybe, maybe not. There is little context to answer that absolutely. Third, the context of John 6 is referring to Christ being in possession of those of whom He is drawing, yet the context of John 12 is the cross. Thus we must conclude that these two passages are not referring to the same thing.

Therefore, any interpretation that labels both of these things as prevenient grace does not take into account the particularity of John 6, and any interpretation that labels both of these as regenerative grace does not take heed of the scope of John 12. However, we must assume that John is using the term 'draw' in a similar fashion. So even though these two texts do not refer to the same action, they do refer to a similar kind of action.

If we consider the idea of drawing referring the same kind of activity as the disciples drawing up fish with a net, then we can see how this can work. In the case of John 12, it is by the means of the cross that Christ draws all to Himself for judgment. If you note the context of John 12, Christ is talking about taking His rightful place as ruler of the world, by disposing Satan, and bringing the world to judgment. If we think of the meaning of this in terms of what this means for humankind, it would mean that Christ is subjecting all under His authority. Thus, by drawing all, He is capturing all within His rulership.

We bring this to John 6, Jesus is talking about being given the remnant of the people of Israel. Thus, in the last day, those who have been given to Him, He will take up with Him to glory. Thus, we have a picture of drawing: bringing them up.

What I do not see here is the idea of regeneration, which is ultimately what Calvinists argue. In John 6 I see drawing referring to a rapture. In John 6, I see drawing referring to the Father drawing them into His possession before giving them to Christ. The resistibly of this isn't mentioned at all.

This said, though I am rather confident that I am right regarding John 6 on this issue, I still have some doubts as to whether I am understanding John 12 appropriately.


Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying this so much : )

bethyada said...

Hi Jc_freak. Thanks for your thoughts I may have to digest them more. I had some thoughts on John 6 recently but have yet to write them down. I was reading some Arminian/Calvinist discussion and John 6 came up so I thought I would go to the text knowing it may appear Calvinist, and that "draw" seems to mean compel rather than prevenient grace.

Interestingly, while noting the Calvinist interpretation here, I also noticed something you have hinted at in your post, though I don't think you have fully grasped it yet. You say,

This has nothing to do with the unconditionally of election, but with unity of the Father and the Son, and how the Son is in perfect harmony with the Father's purpose and people. Those who are truly a part of the Father's people will recognize the Father in Christ.

What I noticed when I read John 6 and further 3 or so chapters (excluding John 8) was the strong association Jesus makes between himself and the Father. The theme is continuously repeated.

(I do not necessarily think this is about the 12 disciples versus other Jews, but not future disciples, though I note this in Jesus' prayer later in the book.)

This made me wonder whether John 6 needs to be understood not as people coming to God versus not coming to God; rather people coming to God versus people coming to Jesus. So it is not that some are in the kingdom and some are not because of who God draws, rather those who follow the Father will also follow the Son because the Father draws such people to the Son. In other words, if the Father does not draw you to the Son you do not belong to the Father. You cannot have the Son without the Father. They wanted the Son because they had their stomachs filled, but they needed true bread, the Son, but they will only get the Son if they were committed to God.

While I have not seen this take before, it seems consistent with statements such as

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

It is also consistent with the next few chapters in John.

(These were just my initial thoughts, I need to work thru them further).

Jc_Freak: said...


I don't really think that it is the 12 disciples vs other Jews, but it is Jesus' disciples (i.e. all that followed and listened to Him, not just the 12 that went from town to town) and the other Jews.

Indeed, I think the idea of those who come to God vs those that come to Jesus goes against the text. It is more dealing with why some Jews, who are supposed to be following God, are accepting Christ while others are not. The difference according to John 6 is that those that aren't coming to Christ never really followed the Father to begin with.

In other words, those that followed Christ did so because they saw the Father in Him, while those that didn't follow Christ did not see the Father in Him. Those that saw the Father in Him did so because they knew the Father. Those who didn't see the Father in Him didn't really know the Father.

I do thank you for your thoughts, and I pray that you'll continue to pursue Father with this, whether you end up agreeing with me or not. It is sticking to the faith that matters, not the details.

bethyada said...

Indeed, I think the idea of those who come to God vs those that come to Jesus goes against the text. It is more dealing with why some Jews, who are supposed to be following God, are accepting Christ while others are not. The difference according to John 6 is that those that aren't coming to Christ never really followed the Father to begin with.

In other words, those that followed Christ did so because they saw the Father in Him, while those that didn't follow Christ did not see the Father in Him. Those that saw the Father in Him did so because they knew the Father. Those who didn't see the Father in Him didn't really know the Father.

Yes. Exactly.

I did not mean to imply that one can come to God or Jesus. Rather that the Calvinist take on the passage seems to make the distinction between us choosing God versus him choosing us. I was saying that I thought the passage may be hinting at coming to God versus coming to Jesus. By versus I do not mean a distinction (perhaps my phraseology is poor), more that Jesus was pointing out that coming to him is coming to the Father. Thus God draws those who love him to Jesus. The drawing is not from unbelief to belief, rather from belonging to God to belonging to Jesus. The passage may not be talking about conversion per se. As you say those who were drawn (by the Father) to Jesus already had the Father. Those who did not accept Jesus had not accepted the Father. They didn't know him even if they claimed they did. If they had known the Father then the Father would have drawn them to Jesus.

Jc_Freak: said...

The drawing is not from unbelief to belief, rather from belonging to God to belonging to Jesus. The passage may not be talking about conversion per se.

Yes! That's it exactly. I see what you mean by coming to God vs. coming to Jesus (though I would say that wording is poor). It is talking about the movement of belonging to God to belonging to Christ now that the Christ is here.

Jc_Freak: said...

UPDATE: I've been looking over John 12. I was considering interpreting 'all' in John 12 to mean 'everything' in that all of the cosmos will be drawn to Christ. However, in the Greek the word is 'pantas' not 'panta'. While both of these are plural, the first is masculine while the second is neuter. When the idea of 'everything' is in perview the neuter is always used, while this text uses the masculine, which implies people.

Thus 'everyone' or 'all men' is better (still not 'all kinds of men'). However, I am more confident with the interpretation given in my original post. The context is referring to Christ deposing Satan and taking His rightful place as ruler. I wouldn't at this point say "drawing all for judgement" as I did before, but more "drawing all under His rule".

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hello, I was just passing through the blogosphere and came upon your writing about John 6. I love talking about Jesus and would like to add a comment.

For me, what I have found unique about Jesus, is that He and He alone can take humanity out of the "appeasement" mode in regards to how we relate with the divine. In other words, I think that prior to His coming, the image of the divine has continually been corrupted as being a power that we must appease in order to avoid punishment and condemnation when, with Jesus, we learn that the opposite is true.

Jesus did indicate that some prefer darkness and I believe that is true - that some do prefer a system of cruel heirarchy and condemnation over grace because they have been taught contempt for weakness and misinterpret grace as enabling it.

That is my exegesis anyway...Thx!

Daniel Gracely said...

Hello Jc_F,

The portion following the hyperlink is from my comment to a Calvinist who took the standard position about John 6. Crucial to the exegesis of John 6 are 1) an understanding of what the Greek word (helko) Englished as “draw” means, and (2) what the Greek word (dunamai) Englished as “can” actually means, depending on the context. [Gr. dunamai may mean “can”, “may” or “wills to”. In fact, an argument can be made that it means all three in John 6:44.] I don’t wish to repeat these entire points here, but they can be read at Anette Acker’s blog at:


James White (and I think other Calvinists) point to the double occurrence of “him” in John 6:44, and also to the word “can,” understood by them as “is able to” (hence, “No man is able to come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” ) And so I think here is the Calvinist argument: If the Father will raise “him” whom He also draws to the Son and who in fact comes to the Son, then surely only some are drawn, since not all come to the Son.

However, I think this conclusion by the Calvinist relies chiefly on his presumption that the Father’s means of drawing is irresistibility, not provisionary atonement. That is, the Calvinist sees the Father’s means of drawing as the irresistibility of human ‘will’, not the provision of Christ as the Manna from heaven for the consideration of human will. In other words, I am contending it is by the provision of the Manna of heaven that God positions all men so they may come, and that it is in this sense that He “draws” them. Note that it is the provision of Christ being lifted up on the cross in John 12 which draws men: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” James White has objected to this verse from chapter 12 being introduced into the John 6:44 discussion, claiming eisegetical foul. But in fact I merely mention it to show that besides John 6 there is yet another instance in which the divine drawing of men is via the means of a provided atonement. For, indeed, nothing requires us to go outside John 6 to establish that the drawing is through the means of the provided atonement. Why do I say this? Because the primary issue in John 6 is whether man shall live by bread alone and not by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We see this in the narrative. For after Jesus fed the multitude of 5,000 we are told that “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (v. 15). And the reason Jesus refused to allow them to come according to their protocol was because, as He told them later (vss. 26b-27a):

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2 of 2)
“Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,”

The multitude wanted Jesus to do what Moses had done—give them a daily feeding. That’s why they attempted to come to Him to make Him king. But Jesus replies that they must seek the spiritual, not physical, manna from heaven, since all who ate the physical manna in the wilderness died (vs. 58). The entire theme relating to all of chapter 6 is this question about physical versus spiritual manna, and about whether man shall live by bread alone. And so I believe the point Jesus is making about Himself in John 6:44 is that “no man MAY come toward me unless the Father pulls him.” (emphasis mine) [Incidentally, “to” in the phrase “to me” is not “into,” but the Greek word pros, which means “toward”.] So I understand John 6:44 in context to be saying that man MAY not come by human protocol (which seeks to live by the manna which perishes), but MAY come by the Father’s protocol (which is to receive the Manna from heaven which never perishes).

Furthermore, by understanding Gr. dunamai as “may,” in John 6:44, the double occurrence of “him” poses no problem because of an assumed (minor) ellipsis. In other words, if you were an owner of a company and said to me: “No man may work for my company unless he recognizes my son as his Boss; and I will give him a salary bonus at the end of the year,” it would be obvious to me that the year-end bonus would be contingent on my accepting your son as my boss. Even so, the “him” whom Christ raises is contingent on whether the “him” comes in accordance with the Father’s drawing.

So then, I cannot agree with thinkers like R.C. Sproul and James White, who assume for Gr. dunamai the kind of distinction between “can” and “may” that we see in formal English. Moreover, they do so without noting that Gr. dunamai may mean “may” or “wills to,” depending on the context. In my opinion such a Calvinist conclusion is driven by an assumption of divine irresistibility, not the chapter’s context. Furthermore, it implies that no one really predicates but God, and such a God (we note) who is viewed by Calvinism as so immutable that He cannot predicate other than He does.

I find it ironic that Calvinists like Sproul and White, while supposing their doctrines keep God safely ensconced in His Sovereign Glory, have in fact eliminated the only means to which God or man’s motive can be judged and thus lead to God's glory--namely, Choice.

Jc_Freak: said...


You make some very good points. My only question is this: why does Jesus use the term 'helko'? What does he mean by draw, or pull? You seem to be defining it as prevenient grace. Why? What do you think of my arguments against that reading?

Daniel Gracely said...

Hello, Jc_F,

Something rather serious has come up in the last day, and I may not be able to reply immediately, but I do hope to get back to you between tonight and sometime this week. Thanks for your patience and understanding.



Jc_Freak: said...

Take as long as you like. I'll know because this'll ask me to publish the comment.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Jc_F,

The difference between my view and that of prevenient grace is hard to explain, and so probably also difficult for a reader to bear listening to. And so I appreciate your patience, especially since I will try to explain it first philosophically, and hold back the theology until afterward. Because I do not have the teaching gift, I tend to explain things a little bit backwards, so please bear with me.

I suppose, then, the chief difference with my view is that I believe Choice (which by definition always pertains to knowledge), and degrees of culpability arising from Choice, are always present in sentient creation—in fact, defines it—whether in insects, animals, humans, or angels. Again, briefly stated, I think that sentience IS choice. So then, I also think there are different degrees of culpability, including a kind mentioned in the Bible pertaining to animals, though I think animalistic culpability is limited to the temporal. I allow for a culpability (albeit lesser) for animals because, otherwise, how do we explain either the curse upon the animal-serpent to crawl on the ground because of what he had done, or the moral awareness by Balaam’s ass, who knew she was mistreated, and therefore showed a certain level of awareness of right from wrong?

But I sense your question: What in the world does an animalistic degree of culpability versus a human degree of culpability have to do with prevenient grace? I think the short, or rather, succinct, answer is, I do not believe a human can be culpable of any choice having the eternal consequence of hell or heaven unless that human comprehends an idea pertaining to such eternal culpability—such comprehension which itself implies the ability to decide whether or not the comprehended idea is true. In other words, a person can’t be guilty about an idea he doesn’t comprehend, since he can’t judge it; and he can’t comprehend an idea without also having the either/or choice about its truthfulness. So I think the ability to judge the truthfulness of an idea is coincident with its comprehension. [For how could a person comprehend the idea that an apple exists without also having the capability of forming a judgment about that idea?] This means every choice is moral to one degree or another, and that there are no sentient states apart from choice.

Also, I think the difference for human culpability compared to that of animals is that human choice, when first encountered during the age of accountability, has the potential to make its subject aware of his nakedness, should he disobey God. That is, an awareness of nakedness in a human shows he has disobeyed God unto eternal consequence. The higher the form of knowledge, the greater the degree of culpability. This explains why animals do not recognize their nakedness: it is because of their lower form of knowledge.

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2 of 3)
But regarding human culpability, let us take the example of Adam. Surely the first thought Adam had to have had was either a conscious awareness of God or of himself. That is, first, Adam had to choose to accept an idea AS an idea—himself as an idea, or God as an idea, etc. This should not surprise us. People choose to recognize ideas AS ideas all the time, in fact, it is so elemental to our being I suppose it is at the most simple level of our consciousness. Furthermore, persons rarely enter into disagreement at this level. That is, two persons can both grant that there is an idea which holds that Joseph Smith claimed that an angel led him to golden plates upon a certain hill in New York. That is, they are unlikely to argue that this is not an idea. However, if one person says to the other: This idea is true and necessary to believe to go to heaven, but the other person denies it, then a ‘fireworks’ between these two persons will likely develop.

My point in all this is to show that as persons we choose ex nihilio (out of nothing) and without prior necessity to 1) grant ideas AS ideas; and 2) consider whether comprehended ideas are truthful. Indeed, if individuation of (sentient) being can be established apart from a person’s own choices, I do not see how. That is, apart from Choice, which by definition I hold to be sole and individual, I cannot find a basis of individuated personhood or sentience, including the Persons of the Godhead. Therefore, as regards humanity, since the idea of prevenient grace seems to claim, in my opinion at least, a prior state of eternal culpability despite an inability of choice to accept the truth of God [as revealed in creation which, if acknowledged and confessed to, saves (see Rom. 10, including vs.18 in the NASB)], it seems to me to attempt a foundation of eternal guilt at the expense of Choice and therefore even of sentient existence. IMO any attempt by an Arminian to assume man’s guilt nonetheless, by claiming a lack of Godly “influence” or positive inclination, in reality describes irresistible states, since to argue that “influence” precedes Choice is to deny that Choice is brought ex nihilio and without prior necessity, which I hold to be the only proper grounds for individuated being. In short, if we don’t choose (by minimal definition, intend idea), there is no sentience to begin with. So I think I would agree with Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” I think this is a biblical concept. In passing, we should note that to intend idea is not synonymous with whether the idea is possible to effect. That is, one can intend it is true to flap one’s arms to fly, regardless of the actual effect if one flapped his arms.

As for whether the Bible supports the idea that one person (Adam) can choose for another, I do not think it does, since that would destroy individuation of being. I recently read part of an article by an Arminian named Hamilton, who tried to make the case that inclination for wrong is inherited from Adam. The problem is, Hamilton compares this inclination via metaphor as a plant’s irresistible attraction for the sun, no matter how it is turned in the window (my word, not his, though he describes it thus). Such “inclination,” then, is not really “inclination” at least not as I understand the word, since “inclination” means to have a general, not absolute, attraction for a thing. The problem in claiming this inherited “inclination,” I think, is that Hamilton relies on the standard English translations of Romans 5:12-21, a passage which (if I recall correctly) he holds to be the most key passage about original sin [and therefore of key ideas pertaining to transferable culpability—Adam’s to ours—though I think, if I read Hamilton right, he denies culpability but affirms “inclination,” in my view a futile attempt at distinction by him, given his descriptions].

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 3 of 3)
But, in fact, Romans 5:12, grammatically speaking, is a correlative conjunction which states that men sin similarly to, not in, Adam. This is very plain in the Greek, though I think so far I have no supporters online willing to grant this, or at least grant the correlative conjunction’s natural conclusion that it speaks of Adam by comparison, not as causal agent. I discuss this correlative conjunction at considerable length in chapter 18 of my free online read at xCalinist.com, in case you want to see a more complete explanation.

The main point, here, is that Gr. hosper at the beginning of verse 12 means “just as”, and therefore finds its completion in the Gr. kai outws later in the verse. The Gr. word outws always means “in this manner” and in the context of the “Just as”, the kai in kai outws which follows should have been rendered to read “also”, a meaning kai often takes, and certainly should here. Therefore verse 12 should read “Just as by one man’s obedience sin entered the world, and death by sin, also in this manner death traversed all men, since all have sinned.” In other words, the “and so” in vs. 12b should not be understood to mean “therefore,” when we read “…and so (Gr. kai outws) death passed upon all men”. It simply doesn’t have that meaning in any of its (39, I think) occurrences in the New Testament, as a concordance search will demonstrate (see BlueLetterBible.com, for example). Incidentally, the phrase in verse 15 translated, “But the free gift in not like the transgression” is another mistranslation with unfortunate results, but I will leave my chapter to explain this, since I would do a poorer job here were I to try to condense so lengthy an argument, or else monopolize too much of your blog’s commenting section. As for Hamilton, I realize he’s making the best case he can, given his allegiance to the English translation, and I think that’s unfortunate, because his attempt (like so many Arminian attempts) strikes me as brave and earnest, not to mention thoughtful.

So then, my point in all this is that, while I think the argument can be made that Adam created for his descendents an increased ability (form) to understand good and evil, the choice (content) we create made possible by that ability is something for which each of us bears the blame or praise alone, because each of us alone creates it. And so we ought never to say (however it be phrased) that one person can choose the moral content of another, since in that event the latter would lose his individuation. All choices, even those that appear corporately formed, are really only individually made.

I realize this is a partial answer and probably leaves other questions/objections unanswered. But I do hope it explains why I do not accept prevenient grace as even a possible state for persons. Your question was really a very important one. I only wish that more exegesis would rely less on the English translations, and more on the Greek.


Dave said...

I realize this is an old post, but it has been posted on SEA in the last few days.

Your thoughts that the drawing passages in John 6 are referring to the disciples are interesting. It seems to make a lot of sense based on the context, although I've not read anyone else with this take on it, which is surprising.

It makes me wonder, though, if your interpretation is correct, what are the implications to the doctrine of Total Depravity. In my reading, an interpretation of John 6 as referring to all people was the clearest text that spoke to our inability to come to Jesus on our own. If this is just a reference to the disciples, what then? I know that it is considered heresy to not believe in Total Depravity, but there really aren't many clear cites supporting it in Scripture, other than John 6.

This has got me a bit perplexed on what to think. Any thoughts?

Jc_Freak: said...

Hey Dan,

I had a discussion with someone on that topic here recently. Personally, Total Depravity to me is an extra-biblical doctrine like the Trinity and Arminianism in general. It is not explicitly taught in Scripture, but it can be derived from Scripture. The biblical text I usually come back to about it is romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Also Romans 6 comes to mind as far as us being slaves. To be honest I never really referred to John 6 in support of this doctrine.

One also has to remember is that the point of the doctrine of Total Depravity is that sin is pervasive. There are enough verses which state that humans need God in our lives, and that is really the point. It isn't true that disbelieving in the precise doctrine of Total Depravity is a heresy, but it is believing that we can be righteous on our own that is heresy.

Dave said...

Thanks for your response!

If you don’t mind, I’d like to think out loud on this, and ask some more questions. First, though, I just want to make it clear that I am not trying to be argumentative, even if I play “devil’s advocate.” These are just some things I’ve been thinking on and am grateful for the chance to interact with someone on them. I apologize in advance if this gets long-winded ;)

I agree that many doctrines, even some that I consider very important like the Trinity, are not necessarily explicitly taught in some single verse. Usually it seems there are a handful of cites that, when logically connected together, point to the truth of the doctrine’s existence.

That being said, I have been looking through Scripture and reading many commentators, including from the Calvinist side, take on Total Depravity (hereafter, TD). It seems that both sides point to passages like those in John 6 and the ones you mentioned in Romans and others (e.g., Psalm 51). The problem is, for me, that when considered contextually and based on genre (specifically speaking of the Psalm 51 passage) that these cites do not seem to be written with something like what we call TD in mind. I agree that they all refer to our corrupt nature from the fall and that we all have sinned and are therefore dead in our sin. But, as I understand both the Arminian and Calvinist formulations of the doctrine of TD, they go beyond the fact that we are all sinners and therefore are dead (dead, in my opinion, referring to the punishment of sinning levied at the time of the fall) to state that because of this, we cannot seek God on our own.

This understanding is where I went to John 6 for support. It seemed, on the surface, to support the reformed (both Calvinist and Arminian) understanding of TD, namely that God had to draw us, whether resistibly or not, before we could choose Him. However, your contextual understanding of the passage makes quite a bit of sense, and it then becomes difficult for me to tease the doctrine of TD out of it.

I guess my question is, if your understanding of John 6 and my understanding of what the authors of Scripture meant by “dead in sin” are correct, where does the reformed understanding of TD then derive from?

I think the difficulty is that the doctrine doesn’t seem to be necessary if the above understandings are correct. This doesn’t necessarily mean it couldn’t still be true, however. You’re understanding of John 12 as referring to something that sounds like Prevenient Grace may also lend support.

I should also say that I am sure I am missing something. A 500 year old (at minimum) doctrine isn’t something to call into question lightly, especially when the other side of that coin is considered heresy. This also makes me wonder what the early church father’s have to say about this…

One more tangential thought, if I may. This whole “quest” of mine to try and understand these things has also got me thinking about how salvation would have worked in the Old Testament. Assuming the traditional understanding of TD, how did people come to the Lord back then? This is one of my few hang-ups with an Arminian understanding of Prevenient Grace (believe me, I have MANY more problems with Calvinistic understandings of many things!). If you need something like PG to overcome your fallen nature to make a decision for Christ, how could people before Christ ever overcome their fallen nature to come to God? We know from both testaments that there was a part of Israel that, while still sinning, pursued God. The “faithful remnant” mentioned in Romans (I think?). We also know from both testaments that there were gentiles who were God-fearers who chose to participate in the Covenant. If the reformed understanding of TD is true, how did they overcome their sinful nature in order to desire to participate in the Covenant? Would something like Prevenient Grace be in operation before Christ?

Please forgive my disjointed ramblings! Thanks in advance for any insight you can give.

Anonymous said...

This exegesis of John 6:44 and 12:32 may answer your questions. It allows for the natural meaning of the text, allows the Bible to answer the Bible, and demonstrates the beautiful consistency between the Old and New Testament and unchanging character of God.

May it help you in your walk with Him,

Taylor Craig said...

I think I agree with a lot of your preliminary comments:
1. v44 must be distinguishing those who believe from those who don’t
2. we can go to other places in the book to get a fuller picture of meaning, but of course we must also take the word at face value—it will almost never be used in exactly the same way unless its a technical term like “justification,” so we can't just lift its meaning from one context to another
On the other hand, I do want to clear something up with regards to using Jn 6 as a “prooftext.” you say we should be able to extract calvinism from it, but we cant. I would agree—of course we cant get everything from these verses. What we can get though, and what I will try to show that we can get, is the idea that God must act first in order for anyone to believe, that God does not act in this way for everyone, and that this acting is effectual. We are not talking about the unconditionality of anything directly, or even strictly about regeneration. Just that there is some sort of prior Divine acting that is effectual and limited in scope.
That said, I think the best way to go about this would be to split my focus on 37 and 44 (and 65, which seems to be important as well to this debate, yet you never addressed it.)

On verse 37:
Thank you for suggesting Jn 17, it is a good passage for seeing what this giving means. So is Jn 10.However, this comparison of usages is not so decisive as you seemed to suggest. First, John 10:29 says that God has given Jesus His sheep, which include sheep “not of this fold,” v16, and for whom Christ lays down His life (v11). I think you would be hard-pressed to say that these sheep are only the disciples from Israel that Jesus had during His lifetime. And if you cannot maintain this, then neither can you define “those given to Christ” as merely those alive at that time in every usage. John 17:24 also casts doubt on this definition as being universal, as it implies that all who believe have been given to Christ. Not necessarily conclusive, but the most natural way to read it would be that the whole church is given to Christ. Also, Judas is a weird case that is not helpful for defining “given:” he is a fluke for the sake of Scripture fulfillment (17:12), and is ignored as an exception in 18:9.
I also tend to think that even your reading of 6:37 is not consistent with Arminianism. It is clear that this “giving” is effectual for faith. So, as a faithful Jew at the time of Christ, do I not have free will to reject Christ? I belonged to the Father, and He gave me to Christ (which He does with all who are His—Jn 17: 10); can I resist? If you then argue that if I did resist, I was never faithful to the Father, then this is a redefinition of true faith reminiscent of the Calvinist redefinition of true faith in order to account for perseverance of the saints. So if this verse does not revoke free will, at the least it gives strong support to perseverance of the saints.
I have no doubt that there were those in Israel before Christ's coming who belonged to God and whom He gave to Christ, but I think that this isn’t just about fidelity to the Father meaning coming to Christ (although there is an element of that), but rather about God's sovereign gifts to Christ. However, to summarize: (1) it is eisegesis to claim that this giving is all done with—rather giving can easily apply to all who will ever be saved—and (2) the effectual nature of the giving is uncomfortable for Amrinianism.

Taylor Craig said...

On verses 44 and 65:
It seems clear from the obvious parallelism and the hint that Jesus is repeating Himself that the Father drawing someone and the father granting to someone that they may come to Christ are the same. It also seems clear from simply the vocabulary used that both of these are divine initiatives that precede faith. This seems to contradict what you argue in your third to last paragraph, that drawing is about raising them up on the last day. Also, that reading would make Jesus horribly repetitive and counter-intuitive—unless implies a precondition, not a result, and He immediately says that the result of drawing is being raised up on the last day.
However, then in your second to last paragraph, you offer an alternate explanation—that drawing is the Father drawing them to Himself so that He can give them to Jesus. First, this seems a strange interpretation of what seems to be a present tense action of the Father—it seems that your view would put this action in the past. Maybe its a Greek oddity I don’t understand, but all the Bibles I looked at put it in the present tense.
I do think I agree whole-heartedly with your position on John 12. However, you then say that the resistibility isn’t mentioned in John 6. Neither the drawing in John 12 nor in John 21 is resistible. Its also the same word used in Acts for when Paul is dragged before the authorities (16:19, 21:30). It seems that both in popular contemporary usage and in John's specific usage, drawing is always irresistible. I don’t think that's me reading into the text, I think that's just looking at what that Greek word means, both generally and specifically for John.
Also: the drawing is clearly limited in scope, as it is the reason why some believe and some don’t (v43, cf v36). In this case, the understanding of resistible drawing you propose in the second to last paragraph would be a strange mix of prevenient and selective grace.
I'm surprised that you ignore the Isaiah quote immediately following v44. Jesus seems to associate the drawing of John 6:44 with the teaching of Isaiah 54:13. This latter is clearly talking about a divine initiative to spread the knowledge of God in the context of a new covenant fulfillment. Israel will cease her rebellion because of what God does for her (This is a promise of God's action, not a prophecy of Israel's repentance).
So what is true of the drawing mus be true of the teaching. First, the teaching is a unique status of a covenant people. So the drawing can only apply to the church. Thus the drawing is either irresistible or predicated on foreknowledge. In addition, this new covenant people are obedient. There is no room for people to be taught or drawn and yet disobey. Second, if the drawing precedes faith, then so does the teaching. So the repentance on which Divine blessing and mercy is implicitly predicated on in Isa 54 is dependent on this Divine teaching or drawing. God promises never more to be angry, which means that never more will Israel sin, but will have a great repentance. This repentance would assumably be the condition for becoming the Father's in the Jn 6 sense. So the Divine teaching, or drawing, is an effectual and limited in scope condition for faith in Christ.
This Isaiah passage is strongly reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which speaks even more clearly of God's effectual action to bring His people to repentance and obedience. In light of these Old Testament references, the drawing of Jn 6:44 seems to be a fundamentally New Covenant action, which is effectual for inclusion in the New covenant people.

Jc_Freak: said...

Taylor, I am really glad we can start on such common ground! So let us look at your thesis statement:
Thesis statement:"that God must act first in order for anyone to believe, that God does not act in this way for everyone, and that this acting is effectual."

Alright. It is certainly fair that there is no reason to expect the text to show everything about Calvinism, and I thank you for clarifying precisely what you think is here in the text. So let me first assess your three points in terms of my basic stance:
A) God must act first: Well, this is something that Calvinists and Arminians agree on. Now based on my interpretation of the text, which is that the text isn't really describing salvation (other than Christ being the source of salvation), but is about Christ's identity, and is describing the remnant verses false Jews, i don't think that the point is in this text. But more on the text later when I treat the actual verses.
B) God's action is particular: Now, I do think that the action which is being described is particular, that is the handing over of the Jews to God. My interpretation is basically granting the point. Where I am disagreeing is whether the action described here is salvation itself.
C)this acting is effectual: I've never liked the Calvinist use of the word "effectual". From what I understand, what you mean is irresistible. Naturally, whatever God does is effectual in terms of it accomplishes what it is designed to accomplish.

Jc_Freak: said...

Verse 37: First, John 10:11 I would say would refer to the God-fearers. Luke describes a number of them who come to follow Christ during His earthly ministry. However, the focus of my interpretation of John 10 has to do with the recognition of God in Christ, and that this recognition is based off of one already knowing God. Those who pursue God and love God know Him when they see Him. This is the Johanian theme that I am pointing out. I'm not sure if I would extend my point about John 6 about it only applying to Jesus' ministry to that parable. I'll have to give that some thought.

Now, in reference to John 17, you would said that the giving applies to the church. Exactly! It applies to God's people. Within John 6, Christ's concern has to do with explaining why Jews are not coming to Him, and the answer is that they are not part of God's people.

Now you say that this reading isn't consistant with Arminianism because such a process sounds irresistable, and would contradict free will. I think this is the wrong dichotomy to be thinking of. My view of this giving is a corporate view, not an individualistic one. So the issue of free will doesn't factor in. God's people have been given over to God. At the time of Christ's ministry, this means that those who did not believe did not believe because they weren't part of God's people. But the point of Christ's speach is for them to repent and not be Jews in name only (JINO?).

Within the context of John 6, this means that the at that time, only those who were the remnant of Israel were part of what was handed over to Christ. So in understanding the text, yes, it was only Jews who were the remnant that the text applies to. But the reason for this is the corporate nature of election.

Jc_Freak: said...

My thoughts on helko are still in flux somewhat, and I say as much in the post. I'm going to give your comments a bit more thought before fully responding, which I hope to do by next week. Please hold off on commenting on the previous comments until I get back, since I'll be away this weekend, and I think it would be beneficial if we keep it give and take like we have been.

I would point out though that in the Greek helko is in the aorist tense which is a simple past tense. It is also in the subjunctive mood.

JamesBlog said...

I was wondering if I could save this article to my hard drive.

Jc_Freak: said...

That's fine James, as long as if you use it, you reference where you got it from.

JamesBlog said...

Will do thanks. God Bless!