Another core text of Calvinism besides Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 is John 6, starting at v. 37. Here is how I would summarize a Calvinist reading of the passage, heavily borrowing much language from the chapter itself. Before you read my interpretation though, please listen to the scripture itself.
- v. 37-40: All that the Father gives to the Son come to the Son (which earlier in ch. 6 is defined as a hungering/eating/drinking desirous belief).
- All who come to the Son are never cast out, are never lost, have eternal life, and will be raised up on the last day (salvific expression for resurrection unto eternal life; cf. 5:28-29).
- No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. The one who is drawn will come to the Son and be raised up on the last day (v. 44).
- Jesus knows who among his apostles did not believe: Judas. Jesus summarizes his earlier teaching in ch. 6 by explaining the unbelief of Judas: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (v. 65)
- Judas doesn’t salvifically come to Jesus / believe on him because it wasn’t granted him by the Father, which Jesus identifies (“this is why I told you…”) as equivalent to the teaching he earlier spoke of, that no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. So Judas didn’t believe on Jesus because he wasn’t individually drawn. Remember, v. 44 teaches that if he was drawn, he would come to the Son and be raised up the last day.
- Being given to the Son by the Father (i.e. drawn by the Father, granted by the Father to come to the Son) effectively renders it certain that one will come to the Son, and Jesus ensures that all who come to him have eternal life. That someone doesn’t come to the Son is explained by this: they haven’t been drawn by the Father, they haven’t been given to the Son by the Father, and they haven’t been granted by the Father to come to the Son.
- Amidst teaching this Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63) How apropos!
- The chief Arminian argument against this above reading is from another context in John 12:32, where Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” I see two main problems with this:
- First, if “all people” in 12:32 is referring to all individuals and is speaking of drawing in the same sense as John 6, then from John 6 we would have to conclude that all individuals come to the Son and are given eternal life. In the end with this reading, there would be no final unbelief to explain. And even if there was final unbelief to make sense of, imposing the Arminian reading of John 12 on John 6 would mean that such unbelief couldn’t be explained by the unbelievers not having been granted by the Father to come to the Son. But Jesus equated being granted by the Father to being drawn by the Father, and he taught that those who are drawn come to the Son and are raised up on the last day, so his own argument collapses if Judas is among all who are drawn (in the sense of John 6). Again, he explained the unbelief of Judas by appealing to the teaching that one couldn’t come to the Son unless it was granted him by the Father, and he linked this (“this is why I told you…”) to his teaching that no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. In other words, Jesus explains the unbelief of Judas by appealing to the fact that Judas wasn’t drawn by the Father. And again, in John 6:44, Jesus says those who ARE drawn by the Father DO come to the Son, and are most certainly raised up on the last day!
- Secondly, there is the context of John 12:20-36. Some Greeks wanted to speak with Jesus, and Andrew and Philip went to go tell Jesus of them. When they tell Jesus, Jesus is triggered with a sense of his death that is shortly forthcoming, of the deeper meaning and beauty of him being “lifted up” (on a cross), and of it being the focal point of his glorification. Think about that: What Jesus is about to say is triggered by the very presence of non-locals, of visiting Greeks. When Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”, I think his point is that the means by which he will draw people to himself is by the very paradoxical, mysterious beauty of his shameful and horrific death. 12:33 goes on to say: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” The broadness of the “all people” (which in the Greek is merely “all”; “people” is supplied by translators for style and clarity) seems informed by the fact that Greeks have shown up. Jesus will bring to himself—by means of the cross—people from (to borrow a phrase) “every tribe and language and people and nation” (see Revelation 5:9, recorded by same author, John).
- A bonus observation comes from the subsequent text in John 12, where John quotes Isaiah as explanation for why “they [the unbelieving people among whom Jesus had performed miracles] could not believe”: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (v. 40) This is only supplemental evidence, but it ironically seems to fit better in a Calvinistic framework. When the Gospel of John explicitly explains unbelief, it doesn’t appeal to philosophical notions popular today. It appeals to the fact that they haven’t been granted by the Father to come to the Son, and that God has hardened their hearts as prophesied.
These are hard and unpopular teachings, but as Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Sometimes you just have to let God be God.
- Romans 9 – The Unstoppable Purpose of God in Unconditional Election, by me
- Romans 9-11 as Varied Layers of Explanation for Israel’s Unbelief, by me
- James White on Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and John 6