David Cloud is a fundamentalist, King James Only teacher who runs www.wayoflife.org. He maintains a mailing list and sends his articles out with regularity. Often we can agree with David Cloud’s social commentaries, for example, and I have often pointed to the fact that he is one of the very few KJV Only advocates who has had the temerity to criticize Gail Riplinger, for which he has been, of course, soundly attacked by the ever vigilant Mrs. Riplinger.
Quite a while back I heard that David Cloud was going to be involved in a seminar criticizing Reformed or Calvinistic theology. So I invited him to engage me in debate on the subject at the conference. He declined. Then he posted an attack upon Calvinism on his website, and I again contacted him and challenged his errant conclusions. Unfortunately, the correspondence degenerated quickly. Each time I would point out an error in his interpretation, he would respond with shorter and shorter replies, each with considerably less, shall we say, brotherly kindness. Eventually I was informed he had no interest in dialoguing with me on the subject. And yet again I was left to conclude that those who oppose the Reformed position do so out of a dedication to tradition, not out of a dedication to the text of the Word of God.
On April 14, 2003, David Cloud sent out to his mailing list an article that contains, by and large, the very errant information I had refuted in my e-mails to him only a few months ago. Since he has not seen fit to publicly debate these issues (we have invited him to appear on the Dividing Line, and, failing that, to do a written debate over John 6:37-45—he has firmly declined every invitation), we would like to offer yet another example of the role of tradition in producing eisegetical false interpretations of the Scriptures, this time from the pen of David Cloud. [Of course, Cloud uses the KJV throughout his article. We will use the NASB]
John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not 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 Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Cloud begins by demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Reformed theology:
Calvinistic theology focuses on the first part of John 6:37 to support the TULIP doctrine of irresistible grace. According to this doctrine, God sovereignly chooses who will be saved and who will be lost, without regard to the individual’s response to the Gospel, and those who are chosen for salvation are irresistibly drawn.
Actually, the first phrase of John 6:37 (and the following explanation and expansion of it on the part of the Lord) first presents the truth of unconditional election, and then, flowing from that, teaches irresistible grace. It is quite true that the flow of the text teaches both: the giving of the Father to the Son of a particular people precedes and determines who is coming to Christ; and the fact that all so given come does definitely substantiate a belief in irresistible, or effectual, grace. Of course, it should also be explained, for simple honesty’s sake, that Calvinists do not believe man will make any other “response to the Gospel” other than rejection outside of the effective work of the Spirit in converting them to Christ.
At this point a meaningful response would involve examining the actual text of John 6:37, including looking at the fact that the giving of the Father to the Son precedes, in time, the coming of those so given to Christ, etc. But standard non-Reformed replies to this text do not involve such an examination. Instead, we encounter exactly what we have here from David Cloud:
This doctrine flies in the face of the testimony of Scripture, though. If the first half of John 6:37 is taken out of context, it does appear to teach some sort of irresistible grace, but it cannot be forced from its context.
It is the regular contention that the “testimony of Scripture” flies against the Reformed conclusion. Yet, how do you discern the “testimony of Scripture” outside of specific texts, such as this one? Cloud realizes he must at least make an appearance of dealing with the text (the exegesis of the text has been provided to him in the past, though he had no response to it then, either). So he writes:
First, there is the immediate context to consider. The first half of the verse cannot be divorced from the last half and from the verses surrounding it. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me” refers to the fact that the Father has ordained that every believer will have eternal life. This is explained clearly in verse 40 – “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.” Words could not be plainer, and this is what the New Testament repeatedly promises. The Gospel is not limited to the elect. The Gospel is for whosoever will, and the elect are the whosoever will.
It is sad to realize that this kind of commentary is taken as “exegesis” by many in fundamentalist circles today. Surely it is true that the first half of the verse cannot be divorced from the last half. But Cloud does not even attempt to deal with the actual words of the first half of the verse, let alone the second, nor how they are related to one another. Indeed, the text itself is simply ignored. Further, the relationship of these words of Jesus to the entire context is not even touched by Cloud. Instead, a completely a-contextual assertion is read into the text as if this has something to do with exegesis. We are told that the first phrase of John 6:37 “refers to the fact that the Father has ordained that every believer will have eternal life.” While it is quite true that the Father has so ordained, that is not what John 6:37a says. Cloud simply makes the assertion, but offers no substantiation whatsoever for his conclusion. He then leaps from verse 37, does not say anything about the second half of the verse nor how it is related to the first, skips past the tremendous testimony of verses 38-39 (and the witness it gives of the perfect ability of Christ to save outside of man’s assistance), and, ignoring the flow of the argument, lands on verse 40, hoping that the reader will allow him to engage in this blatant example of eisegesis. Verse 40 is to be understood in light of verses 37-39, not the reverse. And yet, since Arminians of various stripes actually teach the opposite of what Jesus did, they are left turning the text on its head as well, going to verse 40 and then reading the text backwards in the light of their traditions.
John 6:40 does not provide a foundation for the traditions of fundamentalism. Read in context Jesus is speaking of those who have been given by the Father to the Son, whom the Son perfectly saves, not losing a single one. Those who are so blessed by God’s grace respond by looking upon (present tense) and believing in Him (present tense). It is just here that the refusal of fundamentalism today to hold to the sovereignty of God’s grace has led it into a shallow view of the gospel. The on-going nature of saving faith, which is so clearly presented in Scripture, does not fit with the human tradition enshrined in modern fundamentalism: fundamentalism, reacting against works-salvation schemes, but failing to accept the sovereign grace of God by clinging, in most cases, to the central pillar of human-centered religion, the concept of libertarian free will, has fallen prey to “easy believism” and a concept of faith that is point-action, not on-going. For many, the result is a mixture of historic positions, combining Arminian free will with a belief in “once saved, always saved” (while denying the only logical, rational, and biblical foundation for such a belief) but modifying it so that saving faith is not on-going but is seen more in a point-action concept. “I believed on such and such a date” and therefore, no matter what happens after that point, even if that faith fails, salvation is still present. The role of this kind of tradition is seen here in the false interpretations forced onto the text by David Cloud.
Having passed over in utter silence the actual text that is allegedly under consideration, Cloud continues:
Consider the teaching of John chapter six which refutes the TULIP doctrine of irresistible grace: (1) The Lord Jesus Christ died for whole world (Jn. 6:51; compare Luke 2:10,30-32; John 1:29; 3:16; Rom. 15:8-12; Eph. 2:11-22; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:19-21; 1 John 4:14).
While the listing looks impressive, there is actually little here relevant to John chapter six. The only text provided is John 6:51:
John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Of course, the assumption is that “for the life of the world” means “for every single human being.” John himself explains what this means in John 11:51-52:
51 Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Likewise in Revelation 5:9-10:
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10″You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
The “world” encompasses Jew and Gentile, and Christ gives His flesh for the life of both Jew and Gentile. It is ironic that Cloud would jump more than ten verses down the context, show no connection to the text allegedly being discussed, and even then present a passage as being “contradictory” to one element of TULIP (limited atonement or particular redemption) when even he would have to admit that the passage limits the giving of the life in the flesh of Christ to those who believe (i.e., eat His flesh). Who, then, receives this life, but those who believe (and, in context, back to 6:37, who believes but he who is given by the Father to the Son?)? And if this is the case, is not Cloud saying that John 6:51 says that Christ’s self-giving provides only a theoretical atonement? Or is it that His death cannot give life without man’s addition of an act of faith? In any case, leaping from John 6:37 to 6:51 and then citing all the common passages (that have been fully addressed over and over again) is hardly helpful.
(2) It is God’s express will for all men to saved (Jn. 6:40; compare John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
Again this is not exegesis. We have seen the error of inserting his Arminian tradition into 6:40; we have dealt with 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 fully in The Potter’s Freedom, and John 3:16 in our open letter to Dave Hunt.
(3) Any man who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ has eternal life (Jn. 6:40,47,51).
Of course: and the only ones who will believe are those given by the Father to the Son (6:37, 44).
So, we see that his attempt to deal with the “immediate context” has completely failed. Not only has the text been left utterly untouched, without a scintilla of exegesis offered, but he has improperly run through the text of Scripture, collecting disparate passages, all of which must be read in the context of his tradition to be relevant whatsoever.
Cloud’s second point is derived, we are told, from the entire Gospel of John. We are told that the theme of the book is the “universal call of God inviting sinners to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Of course, Cloud assumes that a universal call means universal ability, but he does not even attempt to make this argument. He simply repeats his tradition, and then quotes John 20:31, as if this somehow is relevant to the topic at hand. Again, not only does Cloud not understand the position he is seeking to refute, but he has failed to interact with it sufficiently to realize that his arguments are without weight. No Calvinist says otherwise: we just allow the entire text to speak, including John six (left untouched by Cloud), John eight (such as verses 43 and 47), John ten, and John seventeen (especially verse nine). Cloud assumes that a general call results in a general ability, but does not even attempt to establish how or why this is. Isn’t it “plain” he might ask? Of course: as long as you enshrine your tradition as the ultimate authority in all things, it’s as “plain” as can be.
Cloud digs himself ever deeper into the quagmire of tradition-driven eisegesis when he attempts to work through John 6:44, a passage that simply destroys the synergist’s attempt to call his theology “biblical.” He writes,
Someone will doubtless point to verse 44 to support the doctrine of irresistible grace: “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.”
Actually, someone would point to the verse first and foremost with reference to its witness to the depravity of man and his resultant incapacity to believe outside of divine grace. Then, upon noting that Christ raises up at the last day those the Father draws to Him, one would establish, by extension, irresistible grace. But Cloud is not up to tackling this passage:
This verse does not prove that God sovereignly chooses who will and will not be saved, for the Bible also tells us that God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
Note the mantra-like repetition of 1 Timothy 2:3 and 2 Peter 3:9. As with Geisler and Hunt, the mere citation of the texts is enough to overthrow whatever the plain meaning of John 6:44 is. But, of course, John 6:44 is not about God’s election anyway: it is about man’s inability and God’s power. The teaching of election is found in 6:37-39, which then connects with 6:44 in that those who are drawn are those who were given by the Father to the Son. But it is sadly obvious Cloud has never even considered the Reformed exegesis of the passage. He continues:
It is absolutely true that no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him, but Jesus said in John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL MEN unto me.”
Again, for those expecting something new, Cloud offers nothing. The same old a-contextual, tired replies are repeated again and again. It is as if the rebuttals of these hackneyed arguments do not exist. For the person who truly wants to see the non-Reformed side engage the issue it is exceptionally frustrating. Leaping off to a completely different context (and ignoring that context) so that this drawing becomes universal, Cloud does not see that he then turns John 6:44 into a proof-text for universalism, since all those who are drawn are raised up on the last day. But it is self-evident Cloud is not concerned about giving an accurate or meaningful response to Reformed theology here: it is his purpose to rally the troops who are not likely to have seriously considered these things anyway, hence the viability of such surface-level responses.
What follows is a litany of the standard, a-contextual, refuted a thousand times over arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with John chapter six. Cloud writes, “2 Thessalonians 2:10-12 tells us that those who are lost are lost not because they are not chosen for salvation, but because THEY RECEIVED NOT THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED.” Who ever said otherwise? Only the elect receive a love of the truth, of course. He goes back through John 6 and eventually asks, “Why did most of the Jewish people not believe? Why did the Jewish leaders not believe? It was not because God had not chosen them? It was because of THEIR OWN HARD HEARTS.” Of course, the question is not why they did not believe but why anyone did believe. The over-riding power of tradition is plain. Yet, this question, answered so clearly in John six and eight and twelve is ignored by Cloud. Did not Jesus answer his question plainly?
John 8:43, 47 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 47″He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
John 12:37-40 37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.”
Cloud then demonstrates the power of tradition by repeating the same errors we hear over and over again regarding Matthew 23:37, namely, that Jesus was “weeping” over Jerusalem (there is no weeping in Matthew: in fact, this is part of the strong denunciation of the Jewish leaders), and that He desired to save the unbelieving Jews. He ignores the distinction between the Jewish leaders and those under their authority, and assumes, again on the basis of tradition, that this “gathering” was a hoped-for salvific work. Again it is obvious he has never interacted with any Reformed exegesis of the text whatsoever. He then states,
The problem was the will. Christ would, but they would not. Man has the capability to reject God, and He has the capability to receive God. That is taught from the beginning of the Bible to the end.
When you see that phrase “from the beginning of the Bible to the end” plopped down in the middle of a long recitation of “tradition statements,” you know you are about to see tradition trump the text. “Man has the capacity to reject God.” Quite true: in fact, as a slave of sin, man not only has the capacity to reject God, he will do so, consistently, without fail, until changed from a slave to a son, freed from the bondage of sin, raised from spiritual death. This is why the second phrase, offered without a scintilla of scriptural evidence, flowing wholly from tradition with a capital “T,” is so completely foreign to a biblical anthropology, if what is being said is man has the capacity to “receive God” based upon his allegedly “free will,” rather than as a result of the gracious work of God. Cloud knows he must at least make reference to the work of the Spirit, but note he can never, ever let that work be actual, powerful, or free: it must remain under the control of man (or else God would get all the glory!):
We do not deny that there is a special work of God in the believer’s life to draw him to Christ. It is impossible for a man to come to Christ except God drawn him and enlighten him and convict him; but this is precisely what God does by the Holy Spirit for every man who hears the Gospel (John16:8).
Ah, but thus says Rome as well. Everyone says such things are necessary, but are they sufficient? Is God’s Spirit limited in His capacity to bring spiritual life to the spiritually dead? Cloud again shows no familiarity at all with the real issues, for if the drawing of John 6:44 happens with every person who hears the gospel, then it follows that every person who hears the gospel will be raised up on the last day, for those who are drawn are raised up by Christ! This is obviously not what Cloud means, but when you interpret by tradition rather than by exegesis, you are left with this kind of error.
As with Geisler and Hunt as well, Cloud plays the “foreknowledge” card, though he does not offer a single word in defense of the assumed meaning of “foreknowledge,” nor does he even try to respond to the documentation of the error of his assumption:
God’s election cannot be divorced from His foreknowledge. We are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:2). God has known from all eternity who will and will not receive the Gospel.
Why does this kind of surface-level statement “work” in most fundamentalist circles? Because the “God looks down the corridors of time and sees what we are going to do” statement, being drawn from tradition rather than Scripture, is so ubiquitous in those circles, that all one must do is repeat it to make it work. Is it accurate to the meaning of the verbal form of “foreknow”? No, it is not, but how many of Cloud’s intended audience will know this? Indeed, to be charitable, does David Cloud know it? We can only hope not.
I was raised in the midst of fundamentalism. I know what it means to think that everyone else has traditions but you do not. I know what it means to call your traditions “the plain reading of the Word of God.” It is the constant experience of most in fundamentalist churches today. But the traditions of men that invalidate the sovereign freedom of God and make His work of salvation dependent upon the creature flow from the same polluted well of falsehood from which Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, or any other such group draws its tradition of libertarian free will. David Cloud’s completely failed attempt at dealing with the text shows us how very dangerous tradition can be when it blinds us to the very living words that are before us in the text of Scripture. We invite Mr. Cloud to get past his tradition and deal directly with the text of John chapter six.