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Calvinism & John 6
Response to Dr. James White - Part II
Copyright © Tim Warner - updated 04/10/2004

In response to our comments regarding verses 37-39, White wrote, "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."

Is God's Will Always Accomplished?
White makes an assumption that Scripture simply does not warrant or support. As we proved in our article, God's Will, the expressed will of God is not always done. In this passage, Jesus explained what the will of the Father was. That is, God's purpose or desire. Jesus did not describe the unalterable decree of the Father. The same Greek word for "will" is found in the following passage, where God's will is clearly not carried out with absolute certainty. Paul wrote, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit," (1Thess. 4:3-8). Paul recognized that some Christians could reject the "will of God," and that God's will for them could be thwarted by their disobedience, despite the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. That is, the free will of man can interfere with the accomplishment of the will of God.

Jesus did not tell the Jewish crowds what God had absolutely decreed, but God's desire and purpose. "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. 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" (John 6:39-40).

White may object that in John 6, it was Jesus who was to carry out the Father's will, and therefore must do so perfectly. But that argument assumes there are no other factors that bear on the completion of God's purpose. Peter tells us that "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Pet. 3:9). Paul agrees, stating that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). Yet, most are not saved. Has Jesus failed in His mission to carry out the Father's wishes and purpose in salvation? Has the Holy Spirit failed to draw all men? Or is there something else that hinders the full accomplishment of God's desire expressed by Paul and Peter? Surely, it is the latter. And that obstacle is man's resisting the call of God to repentance, (Rom. 2:1-11, esp. v. 4).

Grammatical Uncertainty
We noted that the statement by Jesus in these verses relayed the Father's will, not the final outcome. This alone permits an element of ambiguity regarding the final outcome. The grammar is consistent with this idea.

The Greek verb, in the phrase translated "should lose nothing," is "apolesw" — first aorist active subjunctive. The purpose of the subjunctive mood is usually to imply some level of uncertainty, and "generally represents the verbal action (or state) as uncertain but probable."1 This probability depends on certain objective factors or circumstances. Likewise, in the clause, "I should raise him up at the last day," the verb translated "should raise up" is "anasthsw" —  aorist active subjunctive. This is a statement, not of result, but of intent  or purpose alone. Jesus communicated the Father's desire that Jesus would eventually raise up all who saw Him and believed on Him. These verses do not state what absolutely WILL occur. Rather, Jesus relayed the wishes of the Father. The importance of this will become obvious when we compare Jesus' final report to His Father regarding His completing this mission at the end of His earthly ministry.

Another good example of the Johannine use of the subjunctive mood in relation to God's will and intention can be found in the first few verses of John's Gospel. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe" (John 1:6-7). The underlined words are translated from the Greek verb, "pisteuswsin" aorist active subjunctive. The context here clearly indicates that God's intent and purpose for sending John to announce the coming of Christ was so that "all through him might believe." Yet, not all did believe. In fact, only a minority believed. If White should attempt to claim that "all" in this verse refers only to all the elect, we need only continue with the next two verses to overturn his argument. "He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world" (vss. 8-9). That statement cannot be twisted to refer exclusively to the elect. John took great pains to inform his readers that it refers to everyone. It is therefore clear from verse 7 that God's intention was that all people should believe through Christ. John used the subjunctive mood with regard to God's purpose because it is clear that the desired result is not guaranteed.

In John 6:40, the phrase, "that everyone who sees the Son and believes ... may have everlasting life," the Greek verb "ech"  is also in the subjunctive mood (present active subjunctive). In clauses where the subjunctive verb is used following "ina," "the focus is on the intention of the action of the main verb, whether accomplished or not." Once again, God's intention was that all who at that time saw Jesus and believed on Him MAY have everlasting life.

White thinks all believers were given to Christ by the Father before the creation. Yet, in John 6:37, Jesus said, "all that the Father is giving to me will be coming to me." That is, He used a present indicative verb, indicating a present continuous action of "giving." The idea is that a continuous stream of people were being given to Christ and were coming to Him in faith. In verse 39, Jesus made a similar statement, but used the perfect tense instead — "all He has given Me..." The perfect tense indicates a past completed act. How do we account for this shift? Simply, that in addition to those who were currently coming to Christ because they were being given Him by the Father (v. 37), others — the disciples — had already been given Him by the Father. It is obvious, then, that the "giving" of the individual to Christ by the Father was something that was still continuing at that time, contrary to Calvinism's concept of this occurring for all the elect before the foundation of the world. That concept might be compatible with the statement in verse 39, but not with the statement in verse 37. Our view fits smoothly with both.

The subtle nuances of the subjunctive mood are preserved in the KJV/NKJV as should vs. shall, may vs. will, etc. But they are frequently lost in modern translations. Compare the following translations where the NIV discards this distinction.
Young's Literal NKJV (KJV) NIV
John 6:39-40
39 "‘And this is the will of the Father who sent me, that all that He hath given to me I may not lose of it, but may raise it up in the last day; 
40 and this is the will of Him who sent me, that every one who is beholding the Son, and is believing in him, may have life age-during, and I will raise him up in the last day.’"
John 6:39-40
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."
John 6:39-40
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but [implied 'shall'] raise them up at the last day.
40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

If Jesus was a Calvinist, surely He would not have cast doubt upon the certainty of their eternal destiny. It is disingenuous to claim these verses indicate "absolute certainty and security" when Jesus clearly allowed in the grammar the possibility that some could fall away, assuming that the Father's will was not fully accomplished. As we observed 1 Thess. 4:3-8, the perfect completion of the Father's will for man is not something we can simply assume. 

Seeing is not necessarily Believing
Given that Mr. White wants to remove this passage from its historical setting, we must ask him, how many people have actually SEEN Jesus since His ascension? Does not this passage refer to those who have actually seen Jesus in person and then believed? "Everyone who sees the Son and believes ... may have everlasting life" (v. 40). Is not this in direct contrast to the words Jesus spoke to Thomas? "Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). White will be forced to allegorize this term. But, that will be an uphill battle. There is no hint in the context that the word "see" should be understood figuratively. White will get no help from Johannine usage either. John used the term 31 times in his books. In only one case (John 4:19) the word might have been used in a figurative sense. The rest referred to something people saw with the eyes.

Both "seeing" and "believing" in verse 40 are present participles. They referred to people doing these things at that time. Since the immediate audience actually did see Jesus with their eyes, there is no doubt that they understood Jesus literally in this verse. To allegorize the term in order to stretch the scope of Jesus' teaching beyond the immediate audience is "wresting the Scriptures" in my opinion. The idea of seeing Jesus and then believing that He was the Messiah is repeated many times in the Gospels. It has reference to their seeing the miracles that Jesus did as proof that He was the Messiah. His miracles were all the proof required.

When John sent disciples to Jesus to find out for sure whether He was the Messiah, Jesus told them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (Luke 7:22-23). John's Gospel pays particular attention to this fact. "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did" (John 2:23). Nicodemus is another example. "This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.'" (John 3:2).

In fact, the very chapter we are discussing begins by making note of the fact that Jesus' very audience had come for this purpose, to see Him and evaluate His miracles for themselves. "And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased" (John 6:2). And again, "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world'" (v. 14). Later that day, Jesus rebuked some of them. "Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled" (John 6:26, see also: 7:31, 9:16, 11:47). The discourse we are examining in John 6 really began as follows: "Therefore they said to Him, 'What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?" (v. 30). They then indicated that Moses gave them a sign, the manna from heaven. Jesus responded that He was Himself (in the flesh) the "bread from heaven." In verse 36, Jesus said to them, "But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe" (v. 36). This is followed almost immediately with His remark, "everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life." (v. 40). Clearly, "seeing" Christ in this passage refers to actually observing Jesus in the flesh with the eyes. 

Finally, the Apostle John summarized the whole "seeing" but not "believing" of the majority of the Jewish nation. "But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them" (John 12:37-40). There is no question that Jesus' statement in chapter 6 to the Jewish crowd, that those who were both seeing and believing might have everlasting life, referred to their actually witnessing the miracles of Christ for themselves and believing that He was the Jewish Messiah. This is proof that Jesus' teaching in John 6 was meant for His immediate audience, the scope being God's dealings with the nation of Israel during Jesus' public ministry.

Judas, the One that Got Away
In his rebuttal to our article, White took issue with our use of Judas as an example of one who was given by the Father to Christ, yet ultimately was lost. White objected, "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." White is absolutely wrong to say that Judas' inclusion in those given to Christ was not in the context of salvation, as in John 6. He attempts to make a distinction between those given to Christ by the Father in John 6, and those given to Christ by the Father in John 17. His contention is that those given in John 17, among whom Judas was first included but later "lost," was not for the purpose of salvation. However, it seems that White is the one ignoring the context. John 17 argues strongly against White's colossal misrepresentation of the text. All of verses 6-23 refer to a single group, those given to Christ by the Father during Jesus' public ministry. The description of this group leaves no doubt that they are the same people Jesus spoke about in John 6. Keep in mind that after Jesus' discourse in that chapter, all forsook Him except the twelve. Therefore, the twelve are the group Jesus was primarily speaking about who had come to Him in John 6.

John 17:6-23
6 "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.
7 "Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.
8 "For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
9 "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.
10 "And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.
11 "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.
12 "While I was with themin the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none OF THEM  is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
13 "But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
14 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
16 "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
21 "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

In this passage, Jesus prayed for all of His current followers shortly after Judas had gone away from them to carry out His evil deed. There is no question that the context proves Jesus was referring to the same kind of "giving" to Him by the Father as in John 6. There is also no question that Jesus included Judas in the larger group of those given Him by the Father, with the words, "none of them is lost except..." Of course, this presents a huge problem for White's Calvinistic interpretation of John 6. But, as we have shown, Jesus merely communicated the will (desire and purpose) of the Father for His mission on earth in the flesh, not an absolute unalterable universal decree. Likewise, we have shown from the grammar that Jesus left open the possibility that some might fall away. 

We must keep in mind that none of the people who believed on Jesus were actually redeemed at the time of their believing. Their salvation was not secured until Jesus died on the cross. Jesus prayed for those who had come and believed, but were not yet completely "saved." None of those whom the Father gave to Christ in John 6 were actually redeemed in the same sense that we are now until after Christ died and rose again. How then can White claim eternal security for these people from the text of John 6? In John 17, the night before Jesus was to accomplish eternal redemption for those whom the Father gave Him, He indicated that He had "kept" or preserved them all except Judas. The "keeping" by Jesus Himself of those whom the Father gave Him was for the interim period between their coming to Him, and His purchasing their redemption, so that none would be lost before their redemption was sealed.

Jesus Completed His Mission to do the Father's Will
It is obvious, from the comparison of John 6 and John 17, that Jesus' personal mission, described in John 6, was concluded at the cross. The exception being his future task of raising these people at the last day, another act He will do in person when He comes back to this earth. The "will of the Father" expressed in John 6 dealt exclusively with Jesus' mission in the flesh to the Jewish nation at a particular crisis in their history. This is proven when Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (v. 38). He was referring to His doing the Father's will in person here on earth. The "will" of the Father, that He articulated in the following verses, was carried out by Jesus while living in Israel in the flesh. Jesus' prayer in John 17 indicates the completion of His mission described in John 6. Jesus stated in His prayer in the garden, "I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). He then made direct reference to the subject of John 6. "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word" (v. 6). Jesus went on to say that only one of them was lost, the Son of Perdition. This fact indicates why the grammar in John 6 leaves open the possibility of some being lost whom the Father gave to Christ. In the same verse, Jesus handed over the responsibility for "keeping" His followers to the Father. "Keep through your name those whom you have given me." (v. 11).

It is apparent, therefore, that the scope of John 6 is limited to the earthly ministry of Christ to the Jewish nation. Those of Israel who believed on Christ needed to be "kept" by Him, none being lost, until the atonement was secured for them. Afterward, Jesus turned their care over to the Father.

During Jesus' ministry, God was dividing that nation into two camps. The one camp was blinded so that Israel would reject Christ and carry out His crucifixion. The other camp (those drawn by the Father) went on to form the nucleus of Jesus' Church after His crucifixion. This unique situation was described by Paul in the following passage.

Rom 11:1-7
1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying,
3 "Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"?
4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."
5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant [of Israel] according to the election of grace.
6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect [of Israel] have obtained it, and the rest [of the Jews] were blinded.

Verse 7 speaks specifically of the situation described in John 6. The context is Israel, not all people. "Israel" as a whole nation did not obtain what it sought. That is, the universal blessing of the whole nation so clearly described in Old Testament prophecy. However, "the elect" of Israel — those drawn by the Father (John 6) — obtained it. The rest of the Jewish people were "blinded" (Matt. 13:10-16). That is why Jesus said only those drawn by the Father could come to Him. It is obvious that the historical situation in John 6 was something unique. The blinding and drawing that occurred during Jesus' public ministry is not a universal law for Jew and Gentile alike for all time. It was something God was doing with his covenant people, Israel, in order to bring about the crucifixion of Christ so that all could be saved.

We are not suggesting that the things taught by Jesus to unbelieving Israel are necessarily true only in that historical context, or more precisely, are necessarily untrue outside of that historical context. Certainly, some things can be applied more broadly. Our point is that Jesus' actual teaching in this instance did not extend beyond the nation of Israel during Jesus' public ministry. Therefore, using these verses to prove alleged universal truths goes beyond what Jesus actually taught in that passage. This is the difference between "interpretation" and "application." "Interpretation" is rightly understanding what Jesus actually meant when He spoke to that particular audience. Right "application" is determining what things can be learned from that particular interaction, and correctly applying the principles to our own situation. The former demands "understanding" (epignosis).  The latter demands wisdom (sophia).

On the other hand, the things Jesus taught to His disciples specifically have a broader application. We know this because all during Jesus' ministry He was training His disciples to take His message to the nations. When giving them the Great Commission, Jesus commanded them to teach the new Gentile coverts to "observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). We have Jesus' direct application of all His private teaching to His disciples being extended to all nations until the "end of the age." This command excludes the things the disciples overheard Jesus teaching to the Jewish crowds or religious leaders. Surely, there are some truths contained in Jesus' other discourses that discerning Christians can apply to ourselves. But this requires first having a thorough handle on what God was doing with the Jewish nation at the time. The problem with the Calvinist approach to John 6 is that they do not discern this distinction, nor take it into account in their application of Jesus' words.

Go to Part III

1. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 461.
2. ibid, p. 472. Wallace goes on to claim an exception for cases where the Divine will is involved, claiming that in such cases, "ina  is used to express both the divine purpose and result." (p. 473). However, it is evident that this conclusion is based on Wallace's own Calvinistic bias rather than the grammar of the examples he cites. His primary example for this is John 3:16, in the clause "should not perish." Wallace writes, "The fact that the subjunctive is all but required afterina does not, of course, argue for uncertainty as to the fate of the believer. This fact is obvious, not from this text, but from the use of of (sic) ou mh in John 10:28 and 11:26, as well as the general theological contours of the gospel of John." 

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