Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
More on Anti-Calvinism from Paul Owen (III)
09/30/2005 - James WhiteWe now enter into a documentation of the simple exegetical errors made by Dr. Paul Owen, professor at Montreat College, regarding his anti-Reformed readings of these key Johannine texts.
1. Because Baptists do not think in biblical terms about the covenant, they fail to see how Jesus’ allusion to Jeremiah 31:34 in 6:45 enlightens the full scope of 6:37. Some prefer to see here a reference to Isaiah 54:13, but it makes no difference. In either case, it is clear that the entire nation of Israel is being spoken of. And the entire nation of Israel, in both its OT and NT forms, includes elect and reprobate within its number. In either case, it is a reference to every member of the visible Church. The “least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34) is equivalent to the house of Israel (v. 33), and “all your sons” (Isa. 54:13) means ALL the sons of Israel. Therefore, the “drawing” of John 6:44 cannot be limited to the elect, but includes all who are brought by the Spirit into the visible Church through profession of faith (or baptism in the case of their children). Therefore, those whom the Father gives to the Son (6:37) cannot be limited to those who are predestined to glory.Let's begin with the question of the OT source of the citation in John 6:45; then we will note that Owen disconnects the citation from the context and flow of thought, doing what all non-Reformed interpreters must, that is, read the flow of this text backwards.
First, here I produce the relevant phrase from John 6:45, "they shall all be taught by God," and compare it with the relevant sections of Isaiah 54:13 and Jeremiah 31:34:
|John 6:45||kai. e;sontai pa,ntej didaktoi. qeou/|
|Isaiah 54:13||kai. pa,ntaj tou.j ui`ou,j sou didaktou.j qeou/|
|Jer 31:34||kai. ouv mh. dida,xwsin e[kastoj to.n poli,thn auvtou/ kai. e[kastoj to.n avdelfo.n auvtou/ le,gwn gnw/qi to.n ku,rion|
As can be easily seen, there is barely a verbal parallel to Jeremiah 31:34 (which Owen presented in his first article without even noting that this is a far stretch), but the connection to Isaiah is clear. It is not that "some prefer" seeing the connection to Isaiah: how can one even dispute the fact? It is more likely Owen was simply in error at first and is unwilling to admit it.
Next, we note the circularity of Owen's argument: he assumes that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant must be the same in being a mixed covenant (contrary to the application made by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 8); he then takes that conclusion, reads it into verse 45 without any commentary on how this impacts the immediate context and the flow of thought, and then takes the resultant conclusion and reads it back into verse 37! Those familiar with my book, The Potter's Freedom, may remember how Dr. Geisler read his conclusions from v. 40 back into verse 37. Owen, a "Calvinist," does Geisler one better!
Let's consider the immediate context of 6:44-45. The Lord has been responding to the grumbling of the Jews. He explains that there is no reason for them to grumble. No one, outside of the drawing of the Father, has the ability to come to Him in faith, He explains. He is continuing the themes from 6:35 and onward, and we already know the one who comes to Christ is the one who has been given by the Father to the Son (6:37). Those thusly given will never perish or be lost because Christ does the will of the Father (6:38-39). Those are the ones looking and believing (6:40). These, then, are the ones drawn by the Father to the Son (6:44), who are likewise raised up by the Son to everlasting life (6:44). The same group is in view throughout the text, and only by ignoring the flow and context can one introduce another group, a group of reprobates, who are "in" the covenant, "in" the blessings, but not of the elect. Now, what Owen completely misses in his "covenantal reading" is the contextual reading. 6:45 functions as a restatement and explanation of the concept of "drawing" in 6:44. Look at the text once again: "It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." The final phrase repeats a theme going back to v. 37: coming. Any interpretation that starts here and tries to define the ones coming by going backwards based upon a disputable reading of Old Testament texts is obviously mishandling the text under consideration. Instead, we see that these words tie together previous threads. All that the Father gives the Son comes to Him (v. 37); how? They are drawn by the Father to the Son effectively and without fail (v. 44). Here we are given an insight into the nature of that drawing. They are taught of God, all of them. Who is thusly taught by God? Who receives supernatural instruction as to the identity and person of Jesus Christ? Of course, the elect are. That is why v. 37 says that all who are given by the Father to the Son come, and v. 45 echoes that by saying that everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to the Son. Same concepts, tied together, expressed with glorious symmetry and perfect balance---as long as they are not eisegetically torn from their contexts to serve the purposes of someone's agenda, anyway.
Now, this is the contextual meaning of John 6:45. One must always start here. Owen starts elsewhere. He starts in the Old Testament context and demands that "all" means every single circumcised Israelite. But upon what basis does he make this demand? A theological one, of course. And yet, is it not obvious that so many of the text that speak of the salvation of "all" of Israel, for example, do not at all refer to every single ethnic member of the house of Israel? Is it not painfully clear that so many of the house of Israel were not in fact heirs of grace? Look at the context of Isaiah 54. Are these promises not clearly given to the remnant, not to every single member of ethnic Israel? Are we not here seeing exactly what Paul spoke of in Romans 9 when he reminded us that not all who are descended from Israel are in fact Israel? Of course. So there is no reason to accept even Owen's reading of the OT texts, let alone his counter-contextual, eisegetical insertion of these concepts into the NT text, resulting in the utter disruption of the teaching of Christ.
Owen takes his errant readings of these Old Testament texts, and in one of the most egregious examples of eisegesis masquerading behind the guise of scholarship, informs us, "Therefore, the “drawing” of John 6:44 cannot be limited to the elect, but includes all who are brought by the Spirit into the visible Church through profession of faith (or baptism in the case of their children). Therefore, those whom the Father gives to the Son (6:37) cannot be limited to those who are predestined to glory." What an amazing assertion! Without the first bit of contextual foundation--without the slightest bit of concern for the flow of the text and its function in the Capernaum dialogue, Dr. Paul Owen overthrows the entire testimony of the text by his own mighty insights! John 6:44 says that the one drawn by the Father is raised up by the Son (can Owen defend making the implicit disjunction between the one drawn and the one raised up?)---are the non-elect raised up by Christ? Surely not! So how can the scope of drawing be wider than the scope of Christ's work of perfect salvation in granting eternal life? And where does infant baptism appear in John 6? Can you imagine the utterly blank looks on the faces of everyone in the synagogue if, in fact, Owen's reading was Jesus' true intention in the original context? And on the basis of this torturing of the text Owen then reasons backwards, right through the glorious testimony of the Father and the Son to the perfection of the Son's work as Savior (6:38-39) back into v. 37 and, without even feigning an attempt to deal with the text, we are informed from on high that those whom the Father gives to the Son (and who, as a result of being given, infallibly come to the Son) include reprobate men. And all of this, remember, is part of Jesus' explanation of the unbelief of Jewish covenant members who are specifically being contrasted with those drawn by the Father (v. 36)!
My obvious exasperation is due to the incessant reminder on Owen's part of his great scholarship and abilities as an exegete, hence, when one who is so often reminding us of his prowess publicly provides this kind of glowing, "let's see if we can go Dave Hunt one better" eisegesis, one is left almost speechless. But, the good Dr. Owen is not finished proving to us that he is about as much of a Calvinist as Joseph Smith was. No indeed, more basic-level, jaw-dropping statements are yet to come. Stay tuned.