John 6 and Related Passages

Just wanted to take a minute to recommend this excellent treatment of John 6 by Richard Coords at Examining Calvinism.

Gordan Gives Me Props And Rebukes At Reformed Mafia

Gordan from Reformed Mafia has been kind enough to devote an entire post to some comments I made in a combox at Triablogue. I thought I would return the favor by devoting a post to addressing his concerns. Gordan’s comments are in blue. I made some spelling corrections in my original comments that Gordan quotes.

I lifted this from the meta of a post over at Triablogue. Our sometime commenter/fomenter of dischord, Kangeroodort, a/k/a Ben left it there. I don’t know that they’ll answer it (although I may already be wrong about that) because it is off-topic, so I thought I’d interact with it a bit:

I asked the following comment which has so far been ignored directly, but answered indirectly by saint and sinner:

In the meantime, I have a quick question for you regarding John 6:44. Do you believe that one can “come” prior to regeneration? If not, then I suspect you see the drawing of John 6:44 as a reference to irresistible regeneration. Is that the case?

Would you object to an interpretive translation along these lines:”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me first regenerates them [gives them life]”?

S&S later said [concerning the contention that John 6:44 had reference to resistible prevenient grac]: “This is a basic exegetical error in interpreting John 6. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus is quoting the Prophet Isaiah. The quote comes from Is. 54:13, which is in the midst of a passage on the renewed creation and covenant. Like other passages in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27), it is thus speaking about regeneration, not a preaching of the gospel which we must then decide upon. Thus, those who are “taught of God” are the regenerate.”

So it would seem that the drawing of John 6:44 refers to regeneration in the Calvinist scheme. To say it refers to something less is to concede prevenient grace, which the Calvinist will not do. So it is quite reasonable to understand Jn. 6:44, in Calvinism, as saying: No one can come to be unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life].

I assume that S&S would also equate “come” with “believe” as most Calvinists do. So we could further define the passage as:No one can believe in Me unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life]. We could then simplify the teaching by saying, “no one can come unless the Father first gives them life.”Therefore, the giving of life, according to Calvinism, must precede coming or believing. I dare say that no Calvinist would object at this point.

What then did Jesus mean when He said in John 5:40:”…you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. “Here Jesus plainly says that “coming” precedes the giving of life. This flatly contradicts the Calvinists interpretation of John 6:44 and renders such an interpretation impossible. In view of John 5:40, the drawing of John 6:44 can have no reference to regeneration.

God Bless,
Ben

First, let me give Ben some props here for having a grasp on the Calvinist interpretation he seeks to argue with. I would state things a little differently than he has above, but not all that much. So, yes, it is the standard Calvinist interpretation of John 6:44, that it teaches that regeneration precedes faith.

Thanks for the concession and the “props”!

See what a nice Calvinist I am, Ben. I gave you some props. In fact, I’ll go ahead and give you some more. You have proven to me that you are a thoughtful Christian man who is zealous in the pursuit of truth.

I get props and I get called a thoughtful Christian man. Thanks Gordan, now I know you care.

But, sadly, those last props come in spite of what you’ve written in this comment, and not because of it. After reading what you’ve written, I stubbornly refuse to believe that this is really how you go about studying the Scripture. I choose to believe better of you, in spite of the current lack of evidence. (I’m a hopeless fideist…)

Oh, so much for the good feelings 😦

1. It looks like what you’ve done here is this: recognized that the Calvinistic take on John 6 is all about who comes to Jesus and why, and you’ve seen it has something to do with the new life of regeneration. Then, you took some of those key words, specifically “come” and “life” and you’ve looked with your concordance for other places where the two terms occur in close proximity.

Actually I noticed this while studying all the relevant passages in John 5, 6, 8, and 10 where Jesus has similar discussions with the Jews. Believe it or not, I actually read the chapters. During this study I found some very interesting parallels which I believe render the standard Calvinist interpretation of these passages untenable [as proof texts for unconditional election, etc.]. I appreciate the attempt at mind reading though. What am I thinking now?

Having found a place like that (John 5:40,) you’ve compared the way that place speaks of life and coming to Jesus and the way John 6 speaks of life and coming to Jesus. And, lo and behold, we see that you prefer the way that John 5 puts it, and have thus determined that the view you don’t like, from John 6, must be wrong.

Actually, I was trying to harmonize the passages and not discard one in favor of the other. Thanks again for trying to read my mind. It is not about what view I like or dislike, but what view is accurate. I suppose Gordan would deny that Calvinists bring a lot of theological bias to the text of John 6.

2. Let me illustrate why this is a truly horrible way to study the Bible. Let’s say, as a Calvinist, I don’t like the insistence that John 3:16 shows that God loves every individual in the world. And so, I hunt around in my Bible for other places that speak of the world, until I come to 1 John 2:15, where it says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.””Eureka!” I shout. “Now I’ve got all those synergists dead to rights! They’ll never overcome this challenge from Scriptural fact, for I have proven that love for the world is really the opposite of God’s attitude!”Does it not immediately occur to you why that would be really dumb?

It is as dumb as it is irrelevant to the passages in John referring to coming to Christ, as we shall soon see.

I’m sure it does, Ben, but for our readers let me spell it out: To do that would be to ignore simple considerations of context. Any synergist would be totally correct to then come and rebuke me for being too stupid to see immediately that the passages are not talking about the same things. And that’s true, even though John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15 use the same key words, like “God” and “love.”

Back to the snide remarks about me thumbing through the concordance.

A very simple, surface reading would show me, if I had bothered enough to check, that different things are in view. Again, that’s true even though the same author uses the same key words: He’s still talking about different things. The only reason I would possibly fail to see that is if I was so ideologically blinded that I was willing to deal fast-and-loose with the Word of God so long as I got to prove my point with it. And shame on me.

All this is very interesting. I agree that the context is very important as well as the meaning of words. I appreciate your illustration.

3. Apprapos 1 and 2, you try to make your point here by citing a place where the same author uses the same key words, and you’ve simply assumed that the two different discussions are talking about the same thing.

Actually, I paid attention to context and the meaning of words just like you have so kindly recommended.

4. But is the assumption of 3 above warranted? The discussion in John 6 is about why some come to Jesus in faith and are saved, and some do not. The matter at hand in John 5 is the sin of the Jewish leaders, who had refused to listen to any of the witnesses that God sent to them. Though they both have in common the presence of sinful unbelief, they really are two different conversations. In John 6, Jesus is explaining to His disciples the “why” of faith, and in John 5, Jesus is rebuking the Jews for the fact of their unbelief.

This is where it might have helped Gordan to carefully read the accounts. Oops, I should be careful not to engage in the same mind reading tactics that Gordan seems so fond of, so I will assume that he did read the accounts but just came to different conclusions. Since I am the one on trial here, I guess it is up to me to demonstrate that I did pay attention to context and the meaning of words.

Gordan is quite right that these are two different conversations. That does not mean that there are not important parallels. In John 5 Jesus is in dialogue with unbelieving Jews. The same is true in John 6. In John 5 Jesus is addressing the unbelief of these Jews. The same is true of John 6. In John 5:33 Jesus tells these unbelieving Jews that His words are intended to save them. This is an important part of the conversation:

“But the testimony that I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.”

Jesus actually desires the salvation of these unbelieving Jews. He wants them to have life in Him. This is the beginning of the dialogue which will eventually lead us to the passage in question. He tells them in verse 38:

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.”

The reason these Jews will not accept Jesus is because they are not in right relationship with the Father. They have not accepted the testimony of Scripture and are, therefore, unable to accept the living Word. Because they have rejected the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect revelation of the Father in Christ. Jesus further explains this in verses 44-47. The passage in dispute, however, is John 5:40:

“…and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life.”

Gordan will admit that “come” in this passage is synonymous with “believe” but takes issue with “life” having any reference to regeneration [see his comments below].

The passage in its immediate context reads:

“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” [John 5:38-40]

It is clear from verse 38 that these Jews are in a state of rejection and unbelief. They must, therefore, be spiritually dead. Jesus then tells them that the Scriptures they study will not give them the eternal life they desire and need because they refuse to come to the One of whom those Scriptures testify. The “life” of verse 40 must be the “eternal life” of verse 39. These Jews are dead in their sins and in need of life. Jesus is telling them that in order for them to have life they must come to [believe in] Him.

This is the same theme being discussed in John 6:44. The one’s who come to Christ are those who have learned from the teaching of the Father [John 6:45]. The Jews in John 6 had not learned from God and were therefore not in right relation to Him. Just like the Jews in John 5 who had read the Scriptures but not submitted to them, they were unable to recognize Christ. Had they been in right relation with the Father, they would have responded to the drawing of Christ’s words and came to Him in faith. They could not hear Christ’s words because they had not listened to the Father [compare John 8 and 10]. They rejected the Son because they first rejected the Father who sent Him. Had they known the Father, they would have known the Son and been given to Him.

Gordan continues:

In addition, I would grant that the “coming” of both passages is a metaphor for faith in Christ. But it is truly a stretch to assume that the “life” the Jews were actively refusing in John 5 is the new spiritual life of regeneration. Can you not see in the passage itself that there are different sorts of “life?” I mean, the Jews were certainly “alive” in one sense, and yet had refused another sort of life. How you conclude that they were refusing regeneration specifically, and neither the spirit-life of faith in Christ (as in Romans 8 ) nor eternal life with Him in heaven is beyond me. Regeneration is certainly not the focus in John 5: faith in Christ is.

I admit that I have difficulty understanding what Gordan is trying to say here. He is quite right that the Jews were alive in some sense [physically], but because they were spiritually dead, it was spiritual life that they needed. Theologians are in general agreement in calling the beginning of this spiritual life “regeneration”. Gordan seems to think that there is a spiritual life that one can have without first being regenerated. He refers us to Rom. 8 for clarification, apparently forgetting his previous stern rebuke concerning comparing unrelated passages. As He himself admits, Rom. 8 is dealing with the Spirit walk of the believer, and not the topic of conversion from death to life. John 5 is dealing with the need for conversion and the life that comes from an initial faith response. I wonder when Gordan believes the spirit life of Rom. 8 begins? How about the eternal life of John 5:39? Should we not assume that it begins at regeneration? Does not regeneration have reference to the beginning of new life? This is exactly what Jesus is addressing in John chapter 5. The unbelieving Jews cannot begin to experience life until they put faith in [come to] Jesus Christ.

Despite all of this, Gordan then makes the very bold claim: “Regeneration is certainly not the focus in John 5: faith in Christ is.” Gordan is right that faith is part of the focus of this passage, but it is just as true that the result of that faith is in focus as well. All one has to do is read the words Jesus uses and the context of the passage to see this. No concordance necessary.

While I appreciate Gordan trying to educate me in proper exegesis, I think I will stick to the my own method.

Gordan concludes his thoughtful treatment with the following.

5. And many such things you (synergists, generally) do. Use a passage that isn’t about why some believe and some don’t in order to argue with the grammatical-historical exegesis of a passage that plainly is. Another example of this sort of argumentation is the resort to John 12 to blunt the force of John 6. (Hey, they both mention a drawing of men to Christ: It has to be the same…except that it’s obviously different. But still, the one in John 12 is more likeable, so let’s go with that one.)

I would invite Gordan to read the post I wrote concerning the drawing of John 12:32 compared with the drawing of John 6:44. I would especially like to see him grapple with the theological absurdities I exposed in his position that regeneration precedes faith in my post “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?”.

Till then… (Go to Part 2)