Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?

Before examining some of the other Calvinists “proof texts” for irresistible regeneration, we will take a moment to deal with a common Calvinist objection to the Arminian appeal to Jn. 12:32 as an example of universal “drawing”.

When Calvinists point to John 6:44 as an example of particular irresistible “drawing”, Arminians will often quickly refer to John 12:32 to demonstrate that the drawing of John 6:44 cannot be a reference to regeneration. The reason is that Jesus states in Jn. 12:32 that he will “draw all men” to himself. The same Greek word is used here as in Jn. 6:44. The implication is that if Jesus was speaking of irresistible regeneration in John 6:44, then his statement in Jn. 12:32 would lead to the conclusion that Christ will irresistibly regenerate all men. This would be a plain case of universalism (the teaching that all will be saved), a teaching that both Calvinists and Arminians reject (Luke 13:24). I noted in my last blog that the Arminian conclusion is confirmed by the entry in “little” Kittle,

There is no thought here of force or magic. The term figuratively expresses the supernatural power of the love of God or Christ which goes out to all (12:32) but without which no one can come (6:44). The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic (p. 227).

Calvinists have recognized this problem and have suggested that Arminians have failed to carefully exegete Jn. 12:32. Calvinists Peterson and Williams state their case as follows,

Arminian interpreters have appealed to the parallel use of the same word, draw (helko), in John 12:32 and have concluded that God draws everyone to Jesus. There Jesus says, ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He means that when he is crucified (see Jn. 12:33), he will bring all men to himself in salvation. “All men” here does not mean every individual, however, but Gentiles as well as Jews. We say this because of the context, in which after “some Greeks” ask to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22) he apparently ignores them and talks about his approaching cross (Jn. 12:23-28). But he doesn’t really ignore the Greeks; he includes them in “all men” whom he will draw by his death. Jesus thus speaks of all without distinction (e.g. all kinds of people, Greeks as well as Jews) and not all without exception (i.e. every individual).  (Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian, pp. 166, 167)

I have no problem with their consideration of John 12:20-22, nor with their statement that he includes the Greeks in “all men”. The part I take issue with is their conclusion that when Jesus says “all men” he means only “all without distinction” or “all kinds of people”. This is a conclusion that Peterson and Williams have read into the passage based on the necessities of their Calvinist theology. There is no exegetical justification for reading “all men” as “some men” from among “all men” in this passage. It makes just as much sense to say that because Jesus’ drawing power would go out to “all men” (without exception), that the Gentiles of Jn. 12:20-22 could then rest assured that they too would have access to the gift of God’s salvation. To say that the presence of Greeks in vss. 20-22 necessitates that Jn. 12:32 must be understood in a restrictive sense is a huge leap in logic, and a conclusion which the un-biased reader of Scripture would likely never come to on his or her own. Lets break their argument down to see how sound it is.

1) Jesus says he will draw “all men” to himself (Jn. 12:32).
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, when Jesus says “all men” he means “some men” from among “all men” (Jews and Gentiles).

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to see that 3) does not necessarily follow from 1) and 2).

The Arminian position could be stated as follows,

1) Jesus says he will draw “all men” to himself.
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, since Jesus will draw “all [conceivable] men” to himself, he will surely draw Greeks as well as Jews.

The conclusion to the first syllogism seems forced and artificial, while the second takes the Biblical data at face value and still accounts for the presence of Greeks which may have provoked Jesus’ statement. Robert E. Picirilli gives us a helpful and relevant exegetical reminder in Grace, Faith, Free Will,

All of us who handle God’s Word do well to remember that we do not honor Him with our interpretive ingenuity but with submission to what He says. To say, even to show, that a given statement can be interpreted in a certain way does us no credit at all. The question is always not what the words can mean but what they do mean, here. (pg. 137)

Despite Peterson and William’s best efforts, there is no contextual reason to reject the Arminian interpretation of Jn.12:32. When we consider Jn. 12:32 and Jn. 6:44 together we are justified to conclude, with Kittle, that the drawing spoken of in these passages has reference to a universal, and therefore resistible, drawing. This interpretation harmonizes with the Arminian doctrine of universal prevenient grace, and renders Jn. 6:44 useless as a proof text for irresistible regeneration.

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8 Responses

  1. That was excellent. I especially like what Picirilli wrote — that is so true!

    I hope you’re getting a lot of hits!

    Billy

  2. Thanks, Ben, for directing me to your website. I will check it out after work tonight.

    Here is my site, which I edit, little by little each day:

    http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/Gospels.html

    The other website which I frequently visit is Peter Lumkins’ SBC Tomorrow:

    http://www.peterlumpkins.typepad.com/

  3. Concerning John 12:32, my argument recalls Charles Spurgeon as a hostile witness, who states: “What is the election of a nation but the election of so many units, of so many people? and it is tantamount to the same thing as the particular election of individuals.” (Jacob and Esau, emphasis mine)

    So if Jesus draw all nations to be saved, then by Spurgeon’s reasoning, it follows that He wants all individuals of those nations to be drawn, because what is a nation but so many units of so many people?, which is tantamount to the same thing as individuals since, what is a nation but the sum of its parts?

  4. Thanks for pointing your readers to books published by Randall House. It’s good to see your thoughtful theological blog promoting the Arminian perspective. The web needs more voices explaining these beliefs.

  5. Hello “examiningcalvinism”,

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the helpful comments. I am just starting to check out your website. It looks great so far. I have not yet looked at your friends but will very soon. If you don’t mind, I will probably post a link to your site and blog.

  6. Hello Keith,

    Thanks for stopping by. How did you find this blog? I am happy to plug Randall House. I think Free Will Baptists are among the best Arminian apologists out there. I hope we will soon be blessed with more books by Forlines, Picirilli, and any other up and coming Free Will Baptist Theologians. Keep me posted.

  7. I agree that John 12:32 could go either way — if it were the only verse in the Bible, it would basically be a coin toss or even slanted towards the Arminian view.

    However, if Jesus did draw every individual to himself — in the prevenient grace interpretation — then John 6 no longer makes sense.

    Especially in light of 6:35-36 (All who are given by the Father will come, yet these Jews had not come — very simple tautology, at least how it reads to me). Of course, that is a different metaphor, but also a different angle (“being given” to Jesus by the Father is not the same thing as the Father “drawing” them — but they describe two angles of the same event).

    Of course, keep in mind that the Greek in 12:32 has no noun — it’s simply, “I will draw all to myself.” The word ‘men’ does not appear (it does elsewhere as explicitly ‘all men,’ though, as a side note), So, John 6 being really quite clear, what does Jesus mean by “all”? All of what?

    I think it is important to note the presence of the Greeks in this section. John included that for a reason. Indeed, the “crowd,” presumably including those Greeks, is mentioned again right before our phrase, in verse 29. In light of this, and the lack of an explicit “men” in the Greek, it seems at least possible for Jesus to be saying “I will draw all — not just Jews — to me.”

    As a last note, it would be good to notice that Jesus rarely (if ever) talks about being the Savior for the Gentiles as well during his earthly ministry. It is hinted at, but usually only when he quotes an OT prophet. So, if Jesus was referencing his plan to save more than just the Jews, it would make good sense that he would say it rather ambiguously (in this case, by just saying “all” instead of “all of Israel’ or something — no one at this point would expect him to mean “all the world, even past Israel!”).

    So, in summary, the basic argument is that John 6 clearly argues for individual election (with “drawing” being to the elect), while the “drawing” here is, at the very least, possible to go either way. Therefore, the more certain interpretation (John 6) should be kept, since it has been shown that the usage of “draw” there is quite possible to be maintained here. Especially since an arminian “drawing” in chapter 12 would contradict the idea of 6:35-36 where only a number are given to Jesus and certainly come to him.

  8. Alex,

    You wrote,

    I agree that John 12:32 could go either way — if it were the only verse in the Bible, it would basically be a coin toss or even slanted towards the Arminian view.

    Where did you get the idea that I thought the verse could go either way? The Calvinist interpretation is wholly implausible.

    However, if Jesus did draw every individual to himself — in the prevenient grace interpretation — then John 6 no longer makes sense.

    It makes perfect sense since John 6 doesn’t say that only some are drawn.

    Especially in light of 6:35-36 (All who are given by the Father will come, yet these Jews had not come — very simple tautology, at least how it reads to me). Of course, that is a different metaphor, but also a different angle (“being given” to Jesus by the Father is not the same thing as the Father “drawing” them — but they describe two angles of the same event).

    The fact that you admit that being given and being drawn are not the same thing undoes your entire argument. If you want to say that they are different but two angles of the same event, then I will just say that those who are given are those who respond to the Father’s drawing (see 6:45). This does not mean that they alone are ever drawn. Nowhere does the text suggest that all who are drawn come. Rather, the text simply says that no one can come unless drawn. Big difference.

    Of course, keep in mind that the Greek in 12:32 has no noun — it’s simply, “I will draw all to myself.” The word ‘men’ does not appear (it does elsewhere as explicitly ‘all men,’ though, as a side note), So, John 6 being really quite clear, what does Jesus mean by “all”? All of what?

    John 6 is quite clearly not teaching what you assume.

    I think it is important to note the presence of the Greeks in this section. John included that for a reason.

    As I noted in the post.

    Indeed, the “crowd,” presumably including those Greeks, is mentioned again right before our phrase, in verse 29. In light of this, and the lack of an explicit “men” in the Greek, it seems at least possible for Jesus to be saying “I will draw all — not just Jews — to me.”

    “I will draw all” (and “all men” is demanded by context) is quite a different thing than “I will draw some among all”. It is not even remotely similar. As I noted in the post, I will draw all without exception explains the mention of the Greeks without the need to make any unwarranted restrictions that contradict the plain language of the text. The Calvinist simply cannot force particularism onto this text.

    As a last note, it would be good to notice that Jesus rarely (if ever) talks about being the Savior for the Gentiles as well during his earthly ministry. It is hinted at, but usually only when he quotes an OT prophet. So, if Jesus was referencing his plan to save more than just the Jews, it would make good sense that he would say it rather ambiguously (in this case, by just saying “all” instead of “all of Israel’ or something — no one at this point would expect him to mean “all the world, even past Israel!”).

    I think you need to review the book of John some more. Jesus has already been described as the one given for the whole world numerous times (e.g. John 1:29; 3:14-18 [and note the parallel with John 12:32 with regards to what it means that the Son will be “lifted up”]; 4:42; 6:33, 51). Also, look at John 12:47, 48,

    “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

    “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”

    Notice that the one who rejects Christ is included among those in “the world”, the very same “world” that Christ came to save. This is big trouble for the Calvinist interpretation (compare with John 3:17, 18).

    So, in summary, the basic argument is that John 6 clearly argues for individual election (with “drawing” being to the elect), while the “drawing” here is, at the very least, possible to go either way.

    Sorry, John 6 doesn’t clearly teach this at all, and John 12:32 can’t go “either way”.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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