A listener to the Dividing Line sent in a URL and asked me to respond to the presentation contained therein. The link is here. As the argumentation is sadly common, I hope others are benefited by the continued demonstration of the consistency of God’s Word over against the traditions of men. My replies are in bold purple and indented.
John 6 is one of Calvinism’s alleged “bullet-proof” texts. So, in fairness to Calvinists, we should examine this passage.
I would think simply developing a fully biblical theology would be the reason for examining the text, actually. There are few passages more central to Christ’s teaching on the nature of soteriology than this one.
37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
39 “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.
40 “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
From these passages Calvinists claim to get their doctrine of total depravity (no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him). Also, perseverance of the saints is inferred from Jesus statement that He will raise all who come at the last day.
Actually, Calvinists say that here the Lord Jesus touches upon such divine truths as total depravity, sovereign election, irresistible grace, and, as a result of the preceding, the perseverance and preservation of the saints. The fact that the central aspect of the argument of v. 37, that being divine sovereignty in election, is not even noted is somewhat troubling to be sure.
Let me lay the groundwork for my arguments first, so you will know where I am coming from and I can refer back to them in the remainder of this article. I want to raise two issues that I believe Calvinists miss in this passage, as well as Romans 9, Eph. 1, and others.
While these other passages are important, I simply note that the response offered here does not begin with exegesis: a sure sign of tradition (here, some odd form of dispensationalism) determining the actual outcome.
The first issue is the distinction between a general statement in Scripture, and a specific (all inclusive or all exclusive) statement. Often in Scripture we find statements that are generally true, but if you take the language extremely literally, these statements are not true. Pressing such statements to the extreme causes many misunderstandings. Let me give a few examples just to illustrate.
There is no argument here, as we often have to point out the misuse of the term “all” by those who wish to press a universalistic meaning to the term, and utilize the same passages cited by this author. However, it does not follow that all such passages can be limited thereby, if the context demands otherwise.
These kinds of generalizations are common in Scripture. But, lets narrow this down to John 6. Here is an example directly from the chapter we are considering. Compare the following verses:
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all WHICH HE HATH GIVEN ME I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those THAT THOU GAVEST ME I have kept, and NONE OF THEM is lost, BUT THE SON OF PERDITION; that the scripture might be fulfilled.
Now let us consider something at this point. The author is here completely missing the most basic exegetical issues in the text. The phrase “all” in 6:39 has a context: it began in v. 37, when the Lord said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one coming to Me I will never cast out.” This is in contrast to those who are not coming to Him and believing, the ones He has identified as unbelievers (v. 36). So, we already have established in the text differing groups, and when you have specific and contrasting groups in a context, the term “all” becomes significantly more important. Further, in v. 37 the “all” then, as a result of being given, do something, that is, they come to Christ. Obviously, “all” in v. 37 cannot be placed in the “general” category, but is instead governed by the descriptive “that the Father gives me.” This is a very specific usage, and this is not even noted by the author.
Furthermore, v. 39 likewise contains internal exegetical data ignored by the author. The “all” here is descriptive: all of what He has given me. The author ignores the use of the neuter which makes the group a generic entity, an “it” so to speak. Christ says He loses none of “it,” but raises “it” up on the last day. Obviously, the suggested “all” idea offered by the author founders at each of these points, for none of the examples provided are, in fact, analogous to the usage here. This is a specific group, the elect of God, given by the Father to the Son, and saved perfectly by the Son. Hence, the author’s argument founders at its inception.
The Calvinist has a real paradox here. If we insist that statements in John 6 are “all inclusive,” and there can be no exception to the rule, then what do you do with the exception that Jesus specifically mentioned in John 17? It matters not whether we argue that Judas was not really saved. The language Jesus used of His 12 disciples (those whom the Father gave Him) is the same in both John 6 & John 17! And Judas is clearly included in those who were given to Jesus by the Father! If you argue that Judas was not really saved, then none of those given Jesus by the Father in John 6 are necessarily saved. If Judas WAS really saved, then the case is closed! If Judas can fall away, so can you! The answer is that Jesus made a general statement.
This is a common, but very poor, argument. It painfully ignores the context of the two statements, similar to the vain attempt to leap to John 12:32 from John 6:44. Those given by the Father to the Son in eternity past (John 6:39) are given to Him for a specific purpose noted in the text itself: the Father’s will is that the Son raise them all up at the last day. It was not, obviously, the Father’s will that the Son raise up Judas, and the “giving” to the Son of Judas was not in the context of salvation, but in the context of being one of the twelve, the one through whom the necessary betrayal into the hands of the Jewish leadership would take place. This is even noted in John 6:70-71. Nowhere does the text say it was the Father’s will for the Son that He save Judas and raise him up at the last day: the consistent description of Judas is that he was the son of perdition, destined by sovereign decree to his role in the saga of redemption. The section of the Lord’s High Priestly prayer cited is about the apostles in particular. The author misses this particularity in the text, extrapolates an unfounded connection, and creates a conundrum out of whole cloth as a result. There is no contradiction if the texts are allowed to remain in their own contexts.
We should also note that when biblical writers wish to make a statement that is absolute (all inclusive or all exclusive), they typically use specific language that requires this interpretation. For example, when Paul wanted to be specific regarding “all have sinned,” he wrote “there is none righteous, no not one.”
And in John 6, Jesus did exactly that, as we noted above.
When John wanted to indicate that every single person has received light from God, he says “which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Unless such clear specific language is used, the statement CAN be a general statement and not necessarily all inclusive or all exclusive.
No question; however, this is not the case in John 6, which contextually demands the specificity of the “all” of a specific group, i.e., the elect.
In other words, while the statement is generally true, it leaves open the possibility of occasional exceptions to the rule, particularly if other passages lay out these exceptions clearly, (such as those that speak of falling away). So, my first premise (which I think I have proven from the illustrations) is that such statements in John 6 MAY be general, and permit exceptions to the rule UNLESS the language specifically forbids this.
And the language and context does forbid this, as we have seen. The author has failed to establish the very beginning of his argument. We could, if need be, stop here, but for the benefit of others, we press on, despite the lack of foundation of what follows.
My second argument will center around the peculiar historical circumstances of this discourse in the general dispensational scheme.
For most, this is a clear indication that the text itself cannot be refuted outside of the adoption of some external matrix, here, dispensationalism.
This discourse occurred in a Jewish setting, BEFORE Christ died on the cross. There was a specific dynamic occurring during Jesus’ public ministry that is NOT occurring now. That dynamic is the partial blinding of Israel so that the crucifixion could occur. John 6 must be understood against the background of the following passages.
Why? Why must it be understood in such a context? Does the text tell us this? Surely it does not. Here we see the direct insertion of eisegetical external considerations, resulting in the complete overthrow of the meaning of the text. Such reasoning could be used to overthrow any specifically soteriological teaching prior to Calvary, as if Jesus’ teaching on the subject is somehow only relevant to a particular time and place. And yet, the truths of John 6 clearly transcend the synagogue in Capernaum, do they not? Is it not true that Jesus is the bread of life throughout all ages? Of course. So this is an artificial means of explaining away the plain meaning of the text, and should be rejected by anyone who takes the exegesis of the text seriously.
10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; LEST AT ANY TIME THEY SHOULD BE CONVERTED, AND THEIR SINS BE FORGIVEN THEM. …
33 And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it.
34 But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
Jesus spoke to the Jewish crowds in PARABLES for the expressed purpose of keeping them in the dark! He spoke in riddles. But, He expounded the true meaning of these parables to His disciples! Why? If not, the crowds might have believed on Him! And having the crowds on their side was necessary for the religious leaders to carry out the crucifixion. Also, if the religious leaders had understood the Mystery that God had hidden, they would NEVER have crucified Him!
John likewise notes the judicial blinding inherent in the preaching of Christ in John 12:37-43. But there is no reason to insert this truth into some dispensational context and come to extended conclusions that are then used as a lens through which to read the text.
Paul states this clearly in the following passage.
1 Cor 2:7-8
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
The crowds had a lot of power. The leaders were afraid of the crowds. And any uprising of the people would most certainly bring down the wrath of the Romans on the Jewish leadership! That is why the Pharisees had such heartburn on Palm Sunday, when some of the worshippers cried “Hosanna” at Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem for Passover. The ONLY WAY the crucifixion could be carried out was IF the crowds and the leaders rejected Jesus! So, Jesus’ words and actions were designed to force the Jews to reject Him! This is very apparent in John 6. The RIDDLE about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and about His being the “bread from heaven” was more than most could bear! The whole “Bread of Life Discourse” was intended to DRIVE AWAY the crowds!
Intended to drive away the crowds? An amazing conclusion, but one that misses the real issue: the truth offends those who are not subject to it. Jesus drove away all false “disciples” by pressing the truths concerning Himself. He is the sole source of spiritual nourishment and sustenance: an offensive concept to those who still trust in their own self-righteousness and goodness. A person who has yet to see their need of a Savior will always be offended at being told they are nothing without Him. The crowds are indeed driven away, but they are driven away by truth. The same thing happens today when the same truths are proclaimed.
Now, this may seem absurd, given the fact that God desires to save all men.
Of course, that assumes a particular understanding of passages such as Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, or 2 Peter 3:9, which I have addressed in The Potter’s Freedom.
But, let me quickly point out that after the crucifixion and resurrection, this situation no longer existed, and many of the Jews who had been hardened against Jesus, who were part of the mob that cried “away with him, crucify him,” were also converted on the Day of Pentecost, and 3000 of them were baptized and added to the Jerusalem Church! This is proven from Acts 2.
This situation no longer existed? I am left wondering, then, if this author would say that we should not preach John 6 today? I have encountered the very same rejection of God’s sovereignty when preaching John 6 that the Lord Jesus did in Capernaum. This is what happens when dispensationalism becomes a traditional filter through which the text is forced to pass.
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, YE HAVE TAKEN, AND BY WICKED HANDS HAVE CRUCIFIED AND SLAIN:
24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. …
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, WHOM YE HAVE CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ.
37 Now when they heard this, THEY WERE PRICKED IN THEIR HEART, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
No longer did God blind the Jews! (Although many of them continued willfully in their blindness). Some of the very same Jews who abandoned Jesus in John 6, and cried “away with Him,” turned to Christ and were saved on the Day of Pentecost. John 6 MUST be understood within this framework.
Notice that an entire truck-load of unwarranted, eisegetical conclusions are being inserted into the text at this point, all in the vain effort to avoid the actual text of John 6 (which has not yet been touched by the author). The only reason I can see why the text MUST be seen this way is that if it isn’t, the author’s system falls apart! Where does Acts 2 make any connection to those in the synagogue in Capernaum? It doesn’t, of course. Acts does tell us about God’s sovereignty in salvation (Acts 13:48, 16:14), but it surely does not provide any foundation for the construction of this utterly a-contextual, elaborate, dispensational framework that removes the relevance of Jesus’ teaching about His own centrality as the sole source of spiritual life from the modern preaching of the church.
God elected certain Jews to be saved during Jesus’ ministry, as the core of His church. He spent three years preparing them to be missionaries to the whole world. All the while, He kept the crowds and the religious leaders in the dark about what His real purpose was, by using parables. Mark said that without a parable He did not speak to them! In this way they were “blinded” to the Gospel. This dynamic is also important to understanding Paul’s teaching on election in Romans and Ephesians. But, we’ll save that for another article.
My apologies, but, “I can hardly wait.” J
Now lets look at the Calvinists alleged “proofs” from this passage. Verse 37 says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Calvinists often claim that this means God draws only the elect. But, that is not what it says. It says no one can come unless called. But, Jesus also said, “Many are called, but few are chosen (elect)” (Matt. 22:14). And as we shall see later, ALL are called!
Actually, no meaningful discussion of v. 37 is going to involve “calling.” First you start with what the text says: it says all that the Father gives to the Son will, as a result of being given, come to the Son. Calvinists say God the Father gives the elect to the Son. The drawing issue is found in verse 44, not verse 37. The author then again throws context to the wind by pulling in a completely different context from Matthew 22:14, without even attempting to demonstrate that a different author is using the same word in the very same fashion. (One is tempted to say, “Oh, but that was before the cross, so it really doesn’t matter”). As to the assertion, “ALL are called,” does the author refer to the general call of the gospel, or to the effective call that results in salvation? If he does not make this common distinction, how then does he explain Romans 8:30 which says that those God calls He justifies? Is our author a universalist? Surely not.
Calvinists also claim that God’s giving the elect to Christ prior to their coming shows that the work of grace precedes our choice to come. But, elsewhere we learn that God’s giving them to the Son is based on His foreknowledge. It occurred BEFORE WE WERE BORN, before the foundation of the world. (Rom. 8:29 & 1 Pet. 1:1,2).
Again, a very common claim, but one that has been refuted for many centuries. See the relevant sections in The Potter’s Freedom. The author shows no familiarity at all with the exegetical errors upon which his system is based, such as confusing the substantive “foreknowledge” at 1 Peter 1:2 with the verbal form at Romans 8:29. The fact is the grammar and syntax of John 6:37 does indicate the giving of the Father results in the coming of those given; how, then, can God’s action be based upon this unbiblical concept of “foreknowing”? We are not told, for it is obvious the author is operating on the basis of extra-scriptural tradition, not exegesis, at this point.
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
He is not speaking of some imaginary renovation of the heart prior to salvation, but of God’s election, based on His foreknowledge. Of course that occurs before we come.
The term “foreknowledge” does not appear in Ephesians 1:4 To found God’s actions in eternity upon some passive taking in of knowledge of actions in time is to not only rob God of His sovereignty (and to misunderstand the action of foreknowing), but it turns each of these texts on its head. The reader should note how far from the text of John 6 we have now traveled! This is necessary in order to overthrow its plain meaning, however.
Calvinists also point out that we cannot be cast out, claiming this proves the “perseverance of the saints.” But, cast out of what??? This is a figure of speech. He was saying that those who come to Him He will not turn away. Jesus was not speaking of perseverance, but of acceptance by Him of all who come. Furthermore, even IF He was speaking of being cast out of the family of God (which is not implied in the text), this in no way precludes one’s voluntarily leaving and forsaking God! God NEVER casts anyone out of His family. But, they can leave of their own free will.
It is truly a testament to the power of tradition that one can look at John 6:37-39 and miss the direct connection to the last two verses. Jesus reveals the will of the Father for Him: that He lose none of those given to Him. Here is “eternal security” to the nth degree, but it is based upon the perfection of the work of the Savior, not upon the “free will” actions of men. Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep, and they shall never perish. “Choosing” to lose one’s life in apostasy is just as much a means of perishing as any other. Needless to say, our author is simply repeating his traditions here: the text is being used only in a surface manner.
Next, they point to verses 39&40 as proof that none will be lost. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
But, what about Judas?
Obviously, Judas was the son of perdition, and was not given to the Son by the Father for salvation.
Jesus said clearly in John 17 that Judas was given Him by the Father!
Refuted above. Note how the text is ignored by immediately fleeing to some other supposed issue.
Yet, Judas was lost. Jesus said so! Furthermore, the passage is NOT an all inclusive statement! Jesus said that it was the Father’s WILL that none be lost and that He raise all up at the last day.
I get the distinct feeling the author has never seriously considered any Reformed exegesis of the relevant passages. See the chapter in The Potter’s Freedom.
This sets the stage for the rest of the verses in this chapter which speak about raising up the saints at the last day. They are understood in light of this statement, that such is the Father’s WILL or desire. Jesus used the same word (will) when He said, “NOT MY WILL but thine be done.” Peter said “God is not WILLING that any should perish!” And Paul said that it was God’s WILL that we “should abstain from fornication.” Yet, many Christians have fornicated. In each of these cases, the will of God was not totally carried out.
More common exegetical errors, as if the term “will” has the same meaning wherever it is found! This is basic level material! What is more, the terms translated “will” in the above passages are not even identical in the original languages!
Again, Calvinists point to verse 44, “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
But, God draws ALL MEN at some time in their lives (John 12:32).
This common error is refuted in The Potter’s Freedom as well, and is indicative of the shallow nature of the argumentation of this author. There is no exegesis of the text, just eisegetical leaping from passage to passage elsewhere.
Jesus was merely saying that it is impossible to come without the intervention of God. He is NOT excluding ANYONE from this drawing. He did NOT say that ALL who are drawn will be saved, only that coming requires first being drawn. The Father’s giving some to Christ is strictly speaking of election based on foreknowledge, NOT on an actual act preceding one’s conversion.
As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the author is ignoring the fact that those who are drawn are also raised up. See the relevant chapter in TPF.
Jesus had just said that His raising up believers at the last day was the Father’s will or desire. (And we saw that God’s will is not always carried out). The rest of the verses in this chapter that repeat part of this statement imply what was stated in verse 39, that none perishing, and all being raised at the last day, is God’s will or desire, but that is not necessarily a universal fact!
That is the problem with Calvinists! They want to press the language to the literal extreme when it suites them, like here and in Rom. 8, but do precisely the opposite when it comes to God’s drawing all men, or that the atonement is for all, or that God desires to save all!
We shall end our reply here, since there really is nothing of substance left to refute. The author failed in his initial attempt to establish his argument, and has added to that failure a large dose of common, traditionally-driven eisegetical errors that have little if anything to do with the actual text. And now we find him, having made numerous errors in his handling of the language, saying “that is the problem with Calvinists!” Well, it is painfully obvious it is the author who has not done his homework, either in the text, or in the writings of those he dismisses. The teaching of John 6 stands firm, with yet another failed attempt at escaping its teaching left upon the scrap heap of man’s traditions.