I love passages of Scripture that interpret themselves. Sometimes we will read something “difficult,” or hard to understand, but the Bible itself will provide us with the correct interpretation.
Perhaps, you have heard people say, “Let the Bible interpret the Bible.” The Bible Geek in me comes out when we find passages like this.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard John 6:37 ripped out of context and given a Calvinistic interpretation, while completely ignoring the fact that Jesus himself interprets this verse just a few verses later.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus’ word for it. Let me show you what I mean.
“Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me.”John 6:37-38 | Lexham English Bible
No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.John 6:44 | Lexham English Bible
These verses are often interpreted to mean that God infallibly calls some people, as opposed to others, to come to Jesus, and they will be saved. In other words, it is impossible to come to Jesus, that is believe in Jesus (John 6:35), unless you are first infallibly called by God.
Usually, there is a strong emphasis on the word “draws” which can be interpreted as “drags”. Nobody comes willingly, they must be dragged, effectually called; in other words, caused.
Let’s ignore the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology. The text is king. Whatever God’s word says, we shall stick with, even if we don’t like it.
There is one major problem with this interpretation: it completely ignores Jesus’ interpretation.
Jesus’ interpretation? Yes, Jesus himself explains what he meant by these words. We don’t need anyone to tell us, we can just read Jesus’ words.
One, two, skip a few, look down at verse 65.
And he said, “Because of this I said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by the Father.”John 6:65 | Lexham English Bible
Jesus gives the reasoning himself. He says, “Because of this.” Because of what? The “this” is in reference to what he had just previously said. What did he just say?
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)John 6:64 | Lexham English Bible
The important thing to notice here is that when Jesus says he knows that some of “you” do not believe, he is referring to his disciples. Jesus made the original statement in verse 37 in front of a larger crowd, however, he only gave the explanation to his disciples. This is something Jesus commonly does in John’s Gospel. He shares explicit information with his disciples only, often leaving the larger crowds “in the dark.”
So, although some of Jesus’ disciples were following him (redundant, I know), they did not actually believe. For this reason, Jesus said “No one can come to the Father unless it has been granted to him by the Father.”
Question: Why would God not grant some disciples, specifically Judas since he was the one “who would betray him,” to not come to, or believe in Jesus?
Repeatedly throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of how his “hour had not yet come” (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20).
What hour was he referring to? Again, the text tells us itself.
And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man will be glorified.John 12:23 | Lexham English Bible
Now before the feast of Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, and having loved his own in the world, loved them to the end.John 13:1 | Lexham English Bible
Jesus said these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven he said, “Father, the hour has come! Glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them—everyone whom you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you have given me to do. And now, Father, you glorify me at your side with the glory that I had at your side before the world existed.John 17:1-5 | Lexham English Bible
I included much more of John 17 because I find it especially helpful for interpreting John 6. John 17 brings together the theme of “Jesus’ hour” and “God’s giving of people to Jesus.”
Again, some read the verses in John 17 and say, “See, the text says “in order that he would give eternal life to them–everyone whom [God has] given him. God chooses who will have eternal life.”
Again, let the text interpret the text.
Who has God given to Jesus? The text literally says “just as you have given him authority over all flesh, in order that he would give eternal life to them.” (emphasis mine)
God has given everyone, all flesh, to Jesus. This is not a reference to the elect. It is a reference to “all flesh”. And Jesus has given eternal life to “all flesh.” Whether they accept it in faith, or not, is a different story, but it has been given. He is eternal life, the bread of life, and he has given himself to the world, all flesh.
Now, back to my original point with respect to John 6.
Why would God not allow some to come to Jesus, especially Judas? The hour of his death had not come.
Earlier in John 6 we read this:
Then Jesus, because he knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king, withdrew again up the mountain by himself alone.John 6:15 | Lexham English Bible
Obviously, many people were misunderstanding what Jesus’ purpose was. If they had been allowed to come to Jesus, they would have attempted to make him king, which was not why he came. He came for “his hour.” He came for a cross, not a crown.
They had to be prevented.
Likewise, considering Jesus’ purpose in coming (the Cross), someone had to betray him and turn him over to be crucified. This was Judas, and it was done in accordance with the Scriptures (John 17:12).
For a temporary period of time, people were prevented from “coming to Jesus” so as to fulfill the purpose of Jesus coming into the world: Jesus getting to the cross and dying for the world’s sins.
In John 6, Jesus is specifically speaking to his disciples. When he says that not all of them have believed, and that is why he pointed out that God must grant them to come to him, we are told that Judas, or the one who would betray him, is specifically in mind.
There is no indication from the text that Jesus is teaching unconditional election, or effectual calling.
To further bolster this point, it should be pointed out that the word “draw” in John 6:44 is also used in John 12:32.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Now he said this to indicate by what sort of death he was going to die.)John 12:32-33
So, if you think John 6:44 teaches that you must be “drawn” by God in order to believe in Jesus, and that this “drawing” is infallible, then in order to be consistent you must affirm that all people (John 12:32) have been drawn by God and since this drawing is infallible, everyone is saved (universalism).
However, there is a better option. One that is derived from the text itself and not a predetermined soteriological system.
In John 6, people were being prevented from coming to Jesus, so that God’s plan for him to get to the cross and die for the world’s sins would be fulfilled. However, after he accomplished this will, everyone would be “drawn,” or granted permission, to come to him.
This is good news for Christians. God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world. He desires all to be saved, and we can take the Gospel around the world, to every individual, knowing that every individual is being drawn to the Son.
12 thoughts on ““Everyone whom the Father gives” John 6:37”
Quick question here:
Have you ever done any serious reading of Calvinists/Reformed theologians? Without getting into all the details, it seems to me that you don’t have an accurate grasp of Calvinistic/Reformed soteriology.
If you have read Calvinists and Reformed theologians, great. I hope you begin to portray their position with more accuracy. If you haven’t, I suggest you do so that you can begin to interact with their position with much more integrity. A great place to start would be with the Canons of Dort, one of the confessional standards of the Reformed churches.
If you have any questions or would like to get into the details, let me know. Otherwise, have a good night. I look forward to hearing from you!
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Please, get into the details.
Ill stick with this article and point out three things:
1. In your post you “ignore the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology.” I would like to know what some of those consequences are, just to get a sense of how you conceive of Reformed soteriology. In my experience, most people reject Reformed theology because of its alleged horrible implications, but they at the same time do not understand either Reformed theology or its implications. Plus, you immediately say that we should “stick with” God’s Word since it is king. I agree. But from the outset it appears that your “predetermined soteriological system” leads you to interpret the text in a specific way (i.e., in a non-Calvinistic way). I can’t help but think you’re rejecting Calvinism before you get to the text, not as a result of your reading the text.
2. I agree with you that Jesus interprets the text, but I don’t think we agree on how exactly he does interpret it. It appears to me that v. 37 is an explanation of v. 36, which you fail to mention in your post. In other words, v. 37 (“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out”) explains why there are some who do not believe in Jesus (v. 36). Could you interact with v. 36 and explain your understanding of its relation to v. 37? Jesus has been teaching that he is “the bread of life; whoever comes to him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in him shall never thirst” (v. 35). But not all do believe in him (v. 36). What’s the reason for that? If you follow the logical order of the text, it seems that v. 37 gives us our answer: only those who are given to Jesus by the Father will believe.
3. I also find it somewhat strange that in your attempt to answer the question: “Why would God not grant some disciples . . . to not come to, or believe in Jesus?” you jump from John 6 to John 12, 13, and 17. No doubt, clearer passages of Scripture help us interpret unclear passages. But it seems strange that you commend reading the Bible in its context only to basically ignore most of the context of John 6. John includes a lot of information about “the hour” of Jesus’ coming, but I don’t see that playing much of a factor here in John 6 since that concept isn’t found here. It appears to me that you’re allowing your preconceived theology to dictate how you’re reading the text at this point. Further, I think it’s questionable to say that “drawn” in John 6:44 can mean “granted permission.” Can you provide any examples of where Scripture allows for that kind of interpretation? Also, regarding Reformed soteriology specifically, can you cite any Reformed theologian who thinks that God has elected “only a select few”? I think your last paragraph in particular demonstrates your lack of understanding regarding the implications of Reformed soteriology.
I hope that everything I’ve written here makes sense, and I look forward to interacting with you further. If you have any questions or need me to clarify something, I’d be happy to. Just let me know! Have a good day.
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1. My argument was from the text, so if you think it was preconceived, give evidence.
2. I agree with this point and said as much in the original article.
3. “Jumping” from John 6 to other passages in John is unwarranted? Odd. You don’t see how the theme of “the hour” throughout an entire book might not be of importance for interpreting a single text in the same book? In John 6, Jesus pulls away from the crowd intentionally to avoid them trying to make him king. He isn’t allowing them to come. The statement in 37 is explicitly said to explain why some at that specific time and place, like Judas, weren’t permitted to come (or believe). John 12 is instructive because the same word for “drawn” is used to describe the whole world being drawn after Jesus is lifted up. In John 6, when Jesus is doing ministry, only some (his disciples) were drawn by God. Later, after he is “lifted up,” the whole world will be drawn.
That’s straight from the text. Let me know if you need clarification, I’d love to help. Thanks!
1. I think the reason that your argument appears to stem from a few preconceived notions is because you seem to jump from doing an exegesis of John 6:37ff. to a discussion of the theme of “the hour” in John’s Gospel. I’m not denying that this is an important theme throughout the book, but I am questioning its relevance for this particular passage. I guess my question is why bring in a discussion of this theme when it’s not present in John 6:37ff.? If your argument is from this text, what part of this text leads you to think that “the hour” has something to do with Jesus’ actions and teaching here? Doesn’t this demonstrate that you’re allowing one part of your theology (e.g., the importance of “the hour”) to dictate how you read this particular text, thus proving that your argument is not from the text only, but also from how you read the text in light of your preconceived theological notions?
2. I think there is a bit of miscommunication on this point, because if you agree with what I’ve said above then you must affirm both unconditional election and irresistible grace. I don’t think you affirm those two doctrines, so let me rephrase what I’ve said in hopes of clearing up some of the miscommunication. My basic point here is that v. 37 is an answer to v. 36. In short, only those whom the Father has given to the Son (v. 37a) will believe in the Son (v. 37b). Those who do not believe (v. 36) have not been given by the Father to the Son, otherwise they would believe (v. 37b). In other words, Jesus is pointing out the sovereign prerogative of God to save whom He will. That’s why Jesus goes on to say that in accomplishing the Father’s will (vv. 38-39), he “should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (v. 39). If any are finally lost, it must be the case that they had not been given by the Father to the Son, otherwise the Son would have saved them and raised them up on last day. If all have been given by the Father to the Son, and yet some are finally lost, then we have to say that the Son somehow failed to accomplish the will of the Father, which amounts to not only a soteriological error, but also an error in theology proper, since there would be a radical disunity in the economy of salvation. In short, the Father and the Son would be at odds when it comes to working out human redemption (the Father choosing all, the Son only saving some), meaning that there is a fundamental breach of the unity of the divine essence and will. This seems to me to be a grave error.
3. Again, I think it’s a mistake to jump from exegeting John 6:37ff. to John 12 and use the latter text as an interpretive key for the former. Besides, I think it’s questionable to think that “all people” in John 12:32 must mean literally every human who has ever lived or will ever live. In the context, Greeks show up to worship at the feast and want to see Jesus (v. 20). He then begins to explain to the crowd, which would have been full of both Jews and Greeks, the method by which he will die (vv. 23-33). So when he says that he will “draw all people” to himself (v. 32), he’s not referring to every human who ever lives, but to Jews and Greeks. In other words, Jesus is saying that when he dies he will draw both Jews and Greeks; he is not merely a tribal savior, but a savior of all kinds of people. That seems to me to be the best way to read the text, and this reading undermines the point you are making about the word “draws” in both 6:44 and 12:32.
Back to that point: Can you demonstrate from the text that the “drawing” action referenced (6:44a) can be ultimately or finally resisted? The second half of the verse demonstrates that all those who are drawn will be raised up on the last day (v. 44b). So if every human without exception is drawn by the Father, doesn’t that mean that every human without exception will be saved? It seems to me that there’s no evidence in the text which suggests that this drawing can be ultimately or finally resisted; so the only two options that we are left with are either universalism (the logical conclusion of arguing that God draws every human without exception) or unconditional election/particular redemption/irresistible grace. Also, I would still like to hear about “the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology.” Again, in my experience, most people reject Reformed theology/soteriology because of the alleged negative consequences. But I would like to hear what you think those are, just so we’re on the same page. And I’d be more than happy to tell you what I see are the God-exalting, comfort-giving, missions-motivating, and perseverance-producing consequences of Reformed theology. Just let me know!
I hope this is clear, and sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I wanted to make sure and give your points a fair reading and give us both time to think deeply about these issues. I’m looking forward to reading your response!
I like this interaction, and I look forward to the rest. In the meantime, however, Haden, if Jesus meant that Judas could not come to him in a physical sense, similar to the way he did not allow the people to come to him to make him king, how is it that Judas was part of the disciples?
I didn’t mean in a physical sense. I meant in a “believe” sense in both cases. Both were kept from believing in him.
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If one is “kept” from believing, is this not tampering with one’s Free Will, especially, if it is God who is preventing one’s belief?
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Also, regarding Judas, if one spends enough time studying (who we now call) the Essenes, and what they were up to during the days of Jesus, a completely new perspective of Judas may present itself: a view of Judas not as a “traitor”, but a most trusted confidant of Jesus, and the one who was trusted to implement a crucial part of the “2nd Exodus Plan”. Just some food for thought.
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I have posted a counterargument to this post. Just a friendly heads up. kristafalsmusings.blog/2019/10/29/the-meaning-christ-give-john-637-counterargument-to-haden-clark-part-i/
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I hope that our interactions in this comments section will continue to produce clarity and to be helpful for people as they think through these issues. In addition, I have produced an exegetical and theological exposition of John 6:35-44, which I trust is a faithful and consistent reading of the text. I hope that you have a chance to read it, and that it would edify and encourage anyone else who stumbles across it. It’s entitled “God’s Freedom and Power to Save Whomever He Wills (John 6:35-44),” and can be found at this link:
Likewise, it can be found at the top of my blog’s home page. I’d also be happy to answer any questions that you might have in response. I’m looking forward to our continued correspondence. Talk soon!