John 6 contains some of the most important texts on the topic of election. It is not uncommon for Calvinists to frequently reference some of the texts of John 6 in their defense of Unconditional Election. Here is what these verses say:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37).
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 (John 6:39).
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).
And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65).
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70).
As can be seen, several of these texts seem to pretty clearly state that God sovereignly chooses who will come to Jesus.
How a Calvinist understands John 6:44
John 6:44 is especially strong, for Jesus says that no one comes to Jesus unless it has been granted to him by the Father. Palmer explains these texts in this way:
It is clearly seen that those who will be raised up at the last day—all true believers—are given to Christ by the Father. And only those whom the Father gives to Christ can come to Him. Salvation lies entirely in the hands of the Father. He it is who gives them to Jesus to be saved. … This is nothing else than unconditional election (Palmer, Five Points of Calvinism, 27).
In a similar vein, though with much stronger words, the Calvinistic author Spencer writes this regarding his belief about what Jesus is saying:
It is tantamount to blasphemy for anyone to argue that man is capable, of his own free will, to make a decision for Christ, when the Son of God says in words that cannot be misunderstood, “No man can come to me, except the Father … draw him” (Spencer, TULIP, 42).
John 6:44 and the Choice of Jesus
Despite the risk of being accused of blasphemy for disagreeing with Spencer, there are two strong indications in this text that not all is as clear as the Calvinist would have us believe.
The first indication is in John 6:66 when some of those who were following Jesus did in fact turn away and stop following. If Jesus loses none of those who come to Him, how is it that some of those who came to Him stopped following Him? Did Jesus lose them or did He not? Or, as a third option, maybe something else entirely is going on in this text.
The second indication that something else might be going on is found in John 6:70. Calvinists who like to cite John 6:44 and some of the other verses in this chapter as proof for their doctrine of Unconditional Election almost never cite John 6:70.
If they do quote the verse, they usually only quote the first half of John 6:70. Those who quote the whole verse often do so in an attempt to prove reprobation, that God chooses some for eternal damnation.
In this text, Jesus says that He has chosen all twelve of His disciples, but one of them is a devil.
Understandably, this verse causes great problems for those who teach that God’s election is only to eternal life. Jesus clearly chooses Judas, just as He chooses the other eleven. And yet, Judas “is a devil.” This text either proves that reprobation is true, or that the choice, or election, of Jesus is not regarding the eternal destiny of people.
And in fact, since this entire chapter is about how followers of God become followers of Jesus, and since we have consistently seen in previous posts that election is to service, it is better to understand John 6:70 in this regard, as well as the other verses in this chapter about those who come to Jesus.
The Choice of Jesus in John 6 cannot be to eternal life
If election is to eternal life as the Calvinist presumes, then John 6:70 contains the strange teaching that Jesus elected Judas to eternal life, knowing that Judas was (or will be) controlled by the devil.
Very few Calvinists would like to admit that Judas was elect, yet in John 6:70, Jesus clearly states that He chose all twelve, including Judas (cf. Luke 6:13). It makes much more sense to realize that election is not to eternal life, but to purpose and to service.
Only in this way can we allow for Judas to be chosen, or “elected” by Jesus, for Judas did in fact serve a very special role and purpose within the ministry and mission of Jesus. All the apostles were chosen for a vocation—including Judas. “Unquestionably Judas shared the election of the other eleven (Luke 6:13; John 6:70)” (Klein, The New Chosen People, 270).
Jesus does not say, “I have chosen eleven of you but the other is a devil.” The election of Judas was no different from that of the others. … Election was not about whether a person went to heaven or to hell; it was the bestowal of an office and a task (Marston and Forster, God’s Strategy in Human History, 138).
So how then are we to understand what Jesus is teaching in John 6?
While Jesus does explain how a person receivers eternal life (cf. John 6:40, 47), the reception of eternal life is not itself connected with a sovereign decree or election of God.
Quite to the contrary, in the overall context of John 6, Jesus is explaining why some people follow Him as disciples and others do not (cf. John 6:60-71).
So while the reception of eternal life by faith is mentioned in this passage, the overall theme is about discipleship. To be a disciple, of course, simply means to be a student, learner, follower, or apprentice. To be a disciple means to be taught by God, which is exactly what Jesus says in John 6:45.
Not all who have eternal life consistently follow Jesus in discipleship, and not all who are disciples of Jesus have eternal life. While it would be ideal for all believers to be disciples and all disciples to be believers, it does not always work out this way, as John 6 clearly reveals.
The various groups of John 6 could be pictured with a Venn diagram, where there is a group of people who believe in Jesus for eternal life but choose not to follow Him (John 6:60, 66), and there is a group who follow Him but who do not believe in Him for eternal life (John 6:70-71), but there is one overlapping group of people who both believe in Him and follow Him (John 6:68-69).
This sort of division in people’s response to Jesus can be seen throughout the Gospel of John. (Of course, there is also a fourth group in John, which neither believes in Jesus nor follows Him.)
John 6, however, is not just about these various groups.
Those given to Jesus by the Father
In the events described in John 6, Jesus also explains why it is that some come to follow Him while others do not. Jesus states repeatedly in this passage that those who come to follow Him were given to Him by God the Father (John 6:37, 39, 44, 65).
These are the texts that Calvinists often cite as evidence for the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
But note that none of these texts are in reference to the people who believe in Jesus for eternal life. Jesus is speaking about those who become His disciples.
Note as well that the ones about whom Jesus is speaking in John 6 are all Jewish. Jesus is not making a blanket statement about all people everywhere who will come to Jesus. Instead, He is speaking specifically about why certain Jews follow Him while others do not. Jesus’ explanation is that those Jewish people who come to Him are those who previously worshipped the Father. And now that the Father has sent His Son into the world, those who used to worship the Father are now directed by the Father to worship the Son.
In other words, God is giving His worshippers to Jesus. It is much like how the disciples of John stopped following him and became disciples of Jesus instead (cf. John 1:37-39; 3:25-30).
John 6 is a chapter about transition.
Jesus is explaining that those who hear and learn from the Father, will be instructed by the Father to hear and learn from Jesus (John 6:45).
Those who used to be disciples of God the Father, are now given to Jesus to be His disciples. In other words, those Jewish people who do not follow Jesus, simply indicate that they were not truly following God. They do not have eternal life, not because they were not elect, but because they would not come to Jesus in faith (cf. John 5:40).
Since Jesus is sent from God, those who follow God will now follow Jesus, and Jesus will not drop, reject, or lose anyone who comes to Him from God (John 6:39). All of this is reiterated and clarified in John 10 (which will be looked at in a future post), and the prayer of Jesus in John 17:2-24.
John 6 compared to John 17
In John 17, Jesus uses very similar language as He uses here in John 6, but in John 17, He is speaking primarily about the apostles. These twelve were chosen to receive special revelation about God through Jesus Christ (John 17:6). They belonged to God, but were given to Jesus by God (John 17:9) so that they might behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ (John 17:24). And though they were given to Him, Jesus lost none of them, except for Judas (John 17:12).
Over and over again, using terminology very similar to that used in John 6, Jesus speaks of His twelve apostles and the special purpose, privilege, and service to which they were called. The primary subject of Jesus’ teaching in John 6, 10, and 17 regarding the people whom God has given to Jesus are His apostles. “A definite group is being given to Christ during his earthly ministry—not before the foundation of the world. The ones given are Jewish disciples” (Vance, Other Side of Calvinism, 344).
They previously belonged to God as His followers, but God gave them to Jesus so that Jesus could fulfill and complete His earthly ministry. Even Judas, though he was unregenerate, had a role to play. Judas too was chosen by Jesus. He too had a task or ministry to perform (Klein, The New Chosen People, 129).
Eternal life and Being Chosen for Service
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore that in the context of Jesus’ teaching about those whom He chooses for service, He mentions the fact that He gives eternal life to those who believe in Him for it (John 6:40, 47). What is the connection between receiving eternal life by faith, and being chosen by Jesus for service?
It is this: While God sometimes sovereignly chooses individuals to serve Him in some special way, everyone and anyone who simply and only believes in Jesus for eternal life, will be accepted by God and given to Jesus for inclusion in His purposes in this world.
In other words, Jesus is saying that if someone wants to be chosen by God and given to Jesus, that person can simply believe in Jesus for eternal life. God will give such people to Jesus, and Jesus will lose none of them, but will raise all of them on the last day (John 6:40, 44).
Jesus teaches that a group of people are en route to a grand and glorious destination—resurrection to life everlasting. The Father has them in his care, and he has entrusted them to Jesus. They come to Jesus, and he will not turn them away.
Jesus assures his disciples that he will not lose any of these special ones; they will attain the resurrection. This is assured and even (pre)destined in the sense that God’s will has determined it all. But when we come to answer the question, Who is in this group? Jesus’ response is, “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him” (John 6:40).
God gives to Jesus the company of believers. Jesus will never reject on who comes to him in faith. This is God’s will.
The Drawing of John 6:44
But what are we to make of the word “draw” in John 6:44?
We discussed this text earlier in a post about Total Depravity, but a few additional comments are appropriate here as well.
Calvinists often point to this text, and then make the comparison between it and passages like James 2:6 and Acts 16:19 which uses the same word for “dragging” or “compelling” people to go where they do not want to go. Some scholars also point out that the word is used in classical Greek to refer to drawing water from a well. They then point out that nobody can “woo” or “entice” water from a well; it has to be drawn up irresistibly (Sproul, Grace Unknown, 36).
Yet they fail to mention that the same word is used as well over in John 12:32 where Jesus says He will draw all men to Himself.
If the Calvinist really wants to say that the word “draw” means that God irresistibly drags all the elect into eternal life, then they must also say that all men are irresistibly dragged into eternal life, which would make the Calvinist a universalist as well.
So which definition is correct? Does God irresistibly drag, or does God woo and entice?
The truth is that context helps determine which type of drawing in in view. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this:
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 (John 6:44). The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic (Kittel, TDNT, 227).
Regarding the specific context of John 6, William Klein adds this insight:
Jesus issues an invitation in John 6:45 that clarifies the “drawing” of John 6:44. Everyone (pas) who listens and learns from God comes to Jesus. God’s drawing is not selective nor irresistible. The “drawing” stand right in their midst; in effect, Jesus is saying, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The attraction, the reasons, arguments, and features are all there. The question is: will the Jews really listen and learn from God? (Klein, The New Chosen People, 143).
Conclusions about John 6
When everything is put together, John 6 clearly teaches that being elected or chosen by God is not an Unconditional Election by God in eternity past to eternal life. Rather, election is to service.
Furthermore, one condition to being chosen by Jesus was to have previously been a faithful servant of God. Only those who belonged to God in this way were then given by God to Jesus for continued service. Jesus had a special task to fulfill, and God gave Him helpers to aid in that task.
Have you ever studied these texts in John 6 or had discussions about them with others? What is your understanding? Do you have any additional insights to add to the ones above? Share in the comment section below!If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.