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John 6
Copyright © Tim Warner - 10/2003

John 6 is one of Calvinism's alleged "bullet-proof" texts. So, in fairness to Calvinists, we should examine this passage. 

John 6:37-44
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. 

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. 

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. 

Matt 2:3
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and ALL JERUSALEM with him.

Acts 21:31
31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that ALL JERUSALEM was in an uproar.

Matt 3:5-6
5 Then went out to him JERUSALEM, and ALL JUDEA, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

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: 

John 6:39 
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.

John 17:12
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.

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.

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." 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. 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. 

My second argument will center around the peculiar historical circumstances of this discourse in the general dispensational scheme. 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. 

Mark 4:10-12,33-34 
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! 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! 

Now, this may seem absurd, given the fact that God desires to save all men. 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. 

Acts 2:22-24,36-41 
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. 

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. 

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! 

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). 

Eph 1:4 
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. 

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. 

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? Jesus said clearly in John 17 that Judas was given Him by the Father! 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. 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.

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). 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.

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! But, lets not stop here, but look down a few verses. 

John 6:63-66 
63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
64 But there are some of you that believe not. FOR JESUS KNEW FROM THE BEGINNING WHO THEY WERE THAT BELIEVED NOT, and who should betray him.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

Notice two things here: First, Jesus had FOREKNOWLEDGE about who would believe and who would not, and this was a factor in this discourse! Secondly, Jesus told them the REASON He said, "no man can come to me except it were given him of the Father." He indicated that a peculiar kind of "drawing" was going on in this circumstance. The Jews were being blinded by the riddle about eating His flesh and drinking his blood. Some of these Jews were being drawn at this point, but not all! That this was a unique situation is proven from Jesus' contrasting statement later in John. 

John 12:32 
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Note Jesus did not say He was ALREADY drawing all men. He was not! He was selectively drawing only a remnant for a specific purpose. He said that after He was "lifted up" (crucified) He would draw "all men unto me." Prior to the crucifixion, God drew ONLY a select few in order to establish His core Church, and train them to take the Gospel to the nations. The rest of the Jewish nation was blinded so the crucifixion could occur. After the crucifixion, God drew all men, as evidence in Acts 2. Many of those who had not been called prior to the crucifixion, who had not believed because they could not, repented and were saved. Did you think that 3000 Jews being saved on the Day of Pentecost was because of Peter's great preaching??? It was pretty good. But I've heard better! It was the drawing of Christ through the Holy Spirit! Same with the 5000 more Jews saved a short time later! After Pentecost, the drawing of ALL MEN began! John 6 is limited by this context, and applicable only to the Jewish people during Jesus' public ministry, when only a select remnant of Jews (and no Gentiles) were being drawn to salvation! Calvinists' mistake is to forget the historical setting, and interpret such language before the crucifixion as universally applicable to Christian theology after the crucifixion.

Dr. James White, well known Calvinist author, apologist, and host of the radio program, Dividing Line, posted a rebuttal to this article on His Alpha and Omega Ministries website after a caller referenced it on White's radio program. We have responded to his rebuttal in the following two part article. Part I, Part II.

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