Reply to James White I
Reply to James White II
Reply to James White III
Rom. 9 & Eph. 1
Eph. 1 - Exegesis
Home > Doctrinal
> Calvinism >
& John 6
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."
Will Always Accomplished?
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).
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."2 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
mood are preserved in the KJV/NKJV as should vs. shall,
vs. will, etc. But they are frequently lost in modern
Compare the following translations where the NIV discards this
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.
not necessarily Believing
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.
One that Got Away
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.
His Mission to do the Father's Will
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.
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
taught to His disciples specifically have a broader application. We
know this because all during Jesus' ministry He was training His
to take His message to the nations. When giving them the Great
Jesus commanded them to teach the new Gentile coverts to "observe
things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). We have
direct application of all His private teaching to His disciples being
to all nations until the "end of the age." This command
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
account in their application of Jesus' words.