Various Thoughts on The Use of John 6 And Related Passages From John’s Gospel to Support Calvinism

I have been meaning to do an extensive post on John 6 and related passages for some time, but have not gotten around to it yet.  In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to post various comments I have made about John 6 and related passages in John’s Gospel.  These comments mostly come from previous posts and comment threads, so it can feel like coming into the middle of a conversation at times.  Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to decipher what is being discussed.  At the end are some links to other posts and articles on John 6 that take similar approaches (though not necessarily drawing all of the same conclusions).

************************************************

“However, I do think the issue of why the Jews specifically rejected Jesus is a main concern for John. John’s gospel was written very late at a time when the church was shifting heavily to being primarily a Gentile church. I think John is addressing a major concern taking place at the time of his writing. The concern for the Jews would be to help them see why the Jews who knew Jesus rejected Him, which also explains why many Jews at the time of John’s writing were still rejecting Christ as their Messiah. No doubt many Jews were wondering why, if Jesus was the Messiah, did the Jewish leaders largely reject Him? Likewise, Gentiles would also be wondering why, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, did the Jewish leaders reject Him, and why are so many Jews still rejecting Him? Is their rejection an indictment on Christ’s claims?

If that is the case, then John is very focused on showing that the Jewish leaders and many of the Jews who encountered Christ rejected Him, not because He wasn’t from God, but because they (the Jews) were not “of God.” They pointed the finger at Christ saying that He was not of God, but the reality was that Christ was of God (one with Him, in fact), and the reason they didn’t recognize it was because they didn’t know God (were not in right covenant relationship with God). I believe that is the primary issue being addressed in Jesus’ confrontations with the Jews in John (chapters 5, 6, 8, and 10 especially). Look at this verse,

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20, 21, NASB)

If we interpret this as Calvinists (and some Arminians) do as a simple passage on depravity, we run into a serious problem. The text says that “whoever does what is true comes to the light”.

Coming to the light, in this context, is coming to Christ, i.e., putting faith in Christ. So this text is saying that those who “practice truth” come to Christ. That doesn’t sound like a biblical description of someone who is depraved. Someone who is totally depraved in the Calvinist sense is not someone who can be characterized as “practicing truth.” But if John’s point is the same as being described in John 10 (as well as in John 5, 6, and 8) that those who know the Father come to Christ, and those who do not know the Father reject Christ, then this passage makes perfect sense.

But if we universalize this passage to all people we run into the same difficulty. How is it that Gentiles who know nothing of God can be characterized as “practicing truth” prior to coming to Christ? It doesn’t really fit with that paradigm. But it does fit with the idea of faithful Jews submitting to the claims of Christ because they already know God (have a relationship with Him). It could, however, extend to Gentiles like Cornelius who knew God as well, prior to hearing the message preached by Peter. But his faith was based on his knowledge of God from the Jews. He was one of those “other sheep” who already knew God and would automatically recognize the Shepherd and His voice (which is the voice of the Father as well).

Another good one is John 7:17,

“If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.”

Here we see this principle being plainly described by Christ. The one who truly wishes to do the will of the Father (i.e. truly knows the Father and thereby “practices truth”) will immediately recognize that Jesus is speaking the words of the Father. Such people will be given, by the Father, to the Shepherd as His sheep. They recognize His voice, listen to Him and follow Him, just as they followed the Father.

The secondary application is simply that those who are willing to hear from the Father (however He may teach them) will be drawn by the Father to Christ. In our situation, this happens by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The principle is similar, but it is a different time and a different situation. We come to the Father through the Son, while in a very real sense the Jews of Jesus’ time came to the Son through the Father and were then able to take part in the new dispensation when only those joined to the Son can remain in right relationship with the Father. Here are a few things I wrote on drawing that might help shed light on what I am saying (how there is both a primary and secondary application),

“Not of God” [in John 8] simply means that these Jews were not in right covenant relationship with the Father when they encountered Christ and His claims. Since they didn’t know the Father they naturally would not recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son, nor would they recognize the Father’s teaching in the Son’s words (John 8:19, 20, 42, 54, 55, cf. John 5:37-40; 7:16, 17 12:44, 45). As long as they reject the Father and refuse His teaching, they will reject the Son and His teaching (which is also the Father’s teaching, John 12:49, 50) and will not be given to the Son (John 6:37, 44, 45).

None of these passages say anything about an unconditional eternal election being behind the description of these Jews as “not of God.” Such an idea is only read into these passages by Calvinists…. Second, as mentioned above, their inability to hear was not because God wasn’t working, but because they were resisting that working. Clearly, Jesus is still trying to reach them (8:27-31, 36, cf. John 5:44; 10:37, 38), which would be senseless if He viewed them as hopeless reprobates. This is especially evident in Christ’s statement to the same sort of resistant Jews in John 5 where Christ both declares their inability and yet tells them, “…not that I accept human testimony, but I mention it that you may be saved”, vs. 34. This is especially relevant to my point since the “testimony” Christ refers to is the prior testimony of John the Baptist. Christ then points them to other “testimonies” like His miracles, the Scriptures in general, and Moses, obviously implying that through the acceptance of these testimonies they may yet be enabled to “come to” Him and be “saved”, cf. vss. 39, 40; Luke 16:27-31).

Jesus’ method of discourse is actually a rather common teaching technique used for the purpose of admonishment in order for the “students” to fully realize their situation with the hope that in realizing it (coming to grips with this important revelation) they will be spurred on to change (i.e. repentance). I work in schools daily and see this type of teaching technique used all the time. It is similar to a Math teacher saying, “how can you expect to do division when you haven’t even learned your times tables? You can’t do division while you remain ignorant of multiplication.” Such instruction is not meant to highlight a hopeless state. It is not meant to express that the student can never do division. Rather, it is intended to get the student to re-examine the reality of their current state and how it makes further progress impossible, with the hope that they will learn what is required in order to move forward (e.g. John 5:41-45).

Likewise, Jesus is actually using much of what He says for the purpose of getting those who are listening to re-examine their present relationship to the Father and thereby realize that they are not in a proper position to be making such judgments about Christ and His claims, with the hope that they will yet “learn” from the Father so that they can come to a place where acceptance of Christ and His words is possible (e.g. John 5:33-47; 10:34-39, cf. John 6:45, etc). Had they already learned from the Father (been receptive to God’s grace and leading through the Scriptures, the prophets, the ministry of John the Baptist, the miracles of Christ, etc.), they would have immediately recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, Shepherd and King of God’s people, and been given to Him. Yet, not all hope is gone, for they may yet learn if they stop resisting the Father’s leading.

Christ’s teaching on drawing in John 6:44, 45, therefore, is not just descriptive, but for the purpose of admonishment, that they might be careful not to spurn and resist this drawing and miss eternal life and the promise of resurrection. God’s working in prevenient grace and drawing can be complex and operate in different ways depending on the person and the situation. God approaches us from a variety of angles. These passages illustrate that. Yet, we dare not assume that because the operation of prevenient grace on the human heart and mind doesn’t necessarily reduce to a simple equation or formula, God is not still working. Indeed, God is always working (John 5:17).”

************************************************

“The Calvinist might object that verse 25 [of John 10] is not in harmony with the above interpretation due to the fact that Jesus tells the Jews that they do not believe because they are not His sheep. It could be argued that verse 25 refers to a predetermined and unconditional election: The sheep are those who were elected by God prior to creation and then given faith to believe in Christ. The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus is describing a pre-temporal election of certain individuals for salvation. Such an eternal decree must be first assumed and then read into the text.

A more plausible interpretation is to understand Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29 in the context of the unique historical situation taking place at the time of His ministry with regards to the transition from the old dispensation to the new. The passage has a secondary application to believers of all ages (as described above) but the primary application concerned only the Jews who were alive during Christ’s ministry and were specifically being addressed in this and other similar chapters in John (John 5:24-27; 6:37, 40-44, 65; 8:12-59). The “sheep” in this context are the Jews who are currently living in right covenant relationship with the Father during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Jews that Jesus is addressing in this discourse and others like it throughout John’s gospel are not in right relationship with the Father during the time of Christ’s ministry. Since they do not know the Father (are not “of God”) they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in the Son (Jn. 7:16, 17; 8:19, 42-47). They reject the Son and refuse to trust in Him because they have rejected the Father. Therefore, they are not Christ’s sheep and cannot be given to the Son (John 6:37). If they had known the Father they would have recognized the Son as their Messiah and would have been given to Him.

So the primary application still addresses the issue of faith but not in the same way as we would tend to apply it today since our situation is different from that of the Jews and we are not living at a critical time in history where the faithful Jews were being given, by the Father, to their Shepherd and Messiah. For them it primarily involved the transition from one sphere of believing (in the Father) to another (in the Son). Those faithful Jews recognized the Father in the Son and as a result listened to Him and followed Him as their long awaited Messiah. In either case the “sheep” are those who are “listening” and “following” and the passage gives no indication that one cannot cease to be one of Christ’s sheep by later refusing to listen and follow.”

*************************************************

Other helpful posts and articles:

The Oder of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

Daniel Whedon on John 6

Benson on John 6

John 6:37 (Richard Coords)

Calvinism: John 6

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 1

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 2

Tim Warner Responds to James White on John 6 Part 3

 

Does Jesus Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in John 10:27-29?

Having examined the primary passages that teach apostasy we now examine the passages that the advocates of unconditional eternal security believe clearly support their doctrine:

John 10:27-29

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that there is nothing in this passage to suggest that the security being described by Christ is unconditional.  This is one of the greatest weaknesses of the Calvinist position.  One will look in vain for a passage of Scripture that explicitly makes salvation security unconditional.  The best that can be produced are passages which do not explicitly state a condition, but the absence of a stated condition does not necessitate the absence of a condition (e.g. Hebrews 13:5, cf. Deut. 31:6, 8, 16-18; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Joshua 24:19, 20). This is especially true since there are numerous passages which do state conditions and warn of defection from saving faith (as we have seen in parts 2-11 of this series).

In the case of John 10:27 we can even argue that a condition is stated, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  The verbs “listen” and “follow” are present active indicative in the Greek describing continual action.  The “sheep” are characterized by their “listening” to and “following” of Christ.  They are the listening and following ones, and only those who are listening and following can rightly be called Christ’s “sheep” and lay claim to the promises stated in John 10:28 and 29.  In other words, the sheep are believers who are presently believing.  It is to these believers alone that the promises are made.  Surely, those who are listening to and following Christ are secure in His arms and cannot be snatched out.  They also possess the eternal life that resides in Christ since they are in union with Him by faith (vs. 28).  There is nothing in the passage, however, to suggest that the sheep can never stop “listening” or “following” and no promise given for those who might indeed cease to do so.  The passage is only speaking of those who are presently listening and following.  It is a powerful promise to believers that as long as they are believing they are secure in Christ.  F. Leroy Forlines comments on this security in The Quest For Truth:

The teaching is simply this:  The believer’s relationship with God is a personal one between him and God.  Though all the powers of the universe were to combine against the believer, they could not take the believer away from God.  Some would add, ‘Neither can the believer take himself out of the body of Christ.’  Yes, that is true.  But, it is also true that he could not place himself into the body of Christ.  However, upon his faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit placed the believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).  If the believer renounces his faith, God will take him out (Jn. 15:2, 6).  There is no contradiction between the statements ‘No man can take us out of Christ’ and the statement ‘God the Father takes those people out of Christ who turn from Christ in unbelief.’ (pg. 275)

The passage does not state that faith cannot be renounced nor does it state that any such promise of security is given to unbelievers.  The promise of security in Christ described in John 10:27-29 is for believers who continue to believe and for them only.  The question then becomes, “Can believers cease to believe?”  The answer to that question cannot be resolved in John 10:27-29 and for that reason it fails as a proof text for inevitable perseverance.

Special Contextual Considerations for John 10:27-29

The Calvinist might object that verse 25 is not in harmony with the above interpretation due to the fact that Jesus tells the Jews that they do not believe because they are not His sheep.  It could be argued that verse 25 refers to a predetermined and unconditional election:  The sheep are those who were elected by God prior to creation and then given faith to believe in Christ.  The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus is describing a pre-temporal election of certain individuals for salvation.  Such an eternal decree must be first assumed and then read into the text.

A more plausible interpretation is to understand Jesus’ words in John 10:27-29 in the context of the unique historical situation taking place at the time of His ministry with regards to the transition from the old dispensation to the new.  The passage has a secondary application to believers of all ages (as described above) but the primary application concerned only the Jews who were alive during Christ’s ministry and were specifically being addressed in this and other similar chapters in John (John 5:24-27; 6:37, 40-44, 65; 8:12-59).  The “sheep” in this context are the Jews who are currently living in right covenant relationship with the Father during the time of Jesus’ ministry.  The Jews that Jesus is addressing in this discourse and others like it throughout John’s gospel are not in right relationship with the Father during the time of Christ’s ministry.  Since they do not know the Father (are not “of God”) they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in the Son (Jn. 7:16, 17; 8:19, 42-47).  They reject the Son and refuse to trust in Him because they have rejected the Father.  Therefore, they are not Christ’s sheep and cannot be given to the Son (John 6:37).  If they had known the Father they would have recognized the Son as their Messiah and would have been given to Him.

So the primary application still addresses the issue of faith but not in the same way as we would tend to apply it today since our situation is different from that of the Jews and we are not living at a critical time in history where the faithful Jews were being given, by the Father, to their Shepherd and Messiah.  For them it primarily involved the transition from one sphere of believing (in the Father) to another (in the Son).  Those faithful Jews recognized the Father in the Son and as a result listened to Him and followed Him as their long awaited Messiah.  In either case the “sheep” are those who are “listening” and “following” and the passage gives no indication that one cannot cease to be one of Christ’s sheep by later refusing to listen and follow.

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

Daniel Whedon on John 10:27-28

27. My sheep hear my voice—As the blind-born did. Those who are bent on holiness and salvation show it by listening to Christ and his Gospel. It is very illogical to infer from all this the doctrine that no man will lose or abandon the character of a sheep of Christ, that is, of a true believer. Qualities or conduct ascribed to persons as possessed of a certain character, do not imply that the character itself may not change. A hireling fleeth because he is a hireling; but that does not prove but that the man may cease to be a hireling. A thief and a robber will kill and destroy; but that does not prove that a thief or robber may not, like Saul of Tarsus, cease to be a thief and robber. So a sheep will follow Christ; but that does not imply but that the man may cease to be a sheep and even become a goat. For a man may as truly from a sheep become a goat, as from a goat become a sheep.

28. Shall never perish—No sheep of Christ can ever perish. The unbeliever and the apostate will perish, but neither the unbeliever or the apostate is a sheep of Christ. Perish… pluck—The literal sheep of the human shepherd may perish by the robber, or be plucked away by the thief; but the spiritual sheep of the true Shepherd no robber can kill, no thief can steal. He must by his own free act abandon or forfeit his spiritual character before he can lose his eternal privilege. (Daniel Whedon, Commentary, pg. 376, Wesley Heritage Collection CD)