Friday, January 15, 2010

Discussing Destiny: Unless the Father Draws Him

In the discussions I've had, seen and heard regarding predestination and the Bible, I've witnessed a variety of reactions from one side. There are those who were completely unaware the debate exists. Others are shocked and consider the idea virtually heretical. Still others recognize that some well-meaning Christians believe it, but quickly dismiss it as easy to answer. What all these people have in common is a failure to recognize that there are some passages in Scripture which are not easily "dealt with," and which must be taken seriously.

I'm going to start this series in earnest by presenting some of these passages, starting with this one:

"Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread that came down out of heaven.' They were saying, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down out of heaven"?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, "AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.'" (John 6:41-45, emphasis mine)

In this short passage of Scripture, Jesus says two things which deserve some close attention in this debate.


The Jews grumbled among themselves, questioning how Jesus could say He came down out of heaven when they recognized Him, and knew in whose family He was raised. Jesus' response is strikingly unexpected: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." One might have expected Him to answer their objection directly, but He didn't. He could have easily answered their murmuring by pointing out that He came down from heaven at the time of His conception, but He didn't.

Instead, He totally ignores their reason for objecting, and instead implies that it is not possible for anybody to come to Him in belief unless the Father has chosen to draw them to Him. To prove that the NASB (my preferred translation) is not out in left field in the way they render this verse:

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (NIV)

"No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me" (Amplified)

"For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me" (NLT)

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (KJV)

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (ESV)

"No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me makes them want to come" (CEV)

Even the liberal paraphrase The Message renders it similarly: "The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that's the only way you'll ever come" (MSG). It's difficult to escape the implications of Jesus' words. Of course, that hasn't stopped some from trying.


Some argue that when Jesus speaks of the Father drawing somebody, it means He woos him. In other words, it's an invitation or calling, an appealing one at that, but nevertheless able to be refused. Yes, they may admit, left to their own devices nobody would come to Christ. However, the Father woos everyone in this way, at the very least at one point in their lives and to some extent or another. Some of them would go so far as to say God woos everybody equally and at all times. The point is, the Father draws everybody, and everybody can choose to refuse.

With due respect, I think people who reason in this fashion are not doing justice to the text. For one, if this is all that Jesus is trying to say, His words make no sense in the context of the discussion in which He spoke them. His words only make sense if the implication is that His objectors may not have been drawn. Second, if everybody is drawn, it would be akin to saying, "No on can come to Me unless they are human." The phrase "no one can" becomes meaningless; He might as well have said, "Everyone can come to Me because the Father draws them all."

But if that weren't enough, the original Greek from which our English Bibles are translated seems to seal the deal.


The word "draws" in John 6:44 is the Greek ἕλκω, or helkō (pronounced "helkuo" or "hel-koo'-o"). To get an idea of its true meaning, let's look at how it's used elsewhere in Scripture:

"Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew [ἕλκω] it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus" (John 18:10)

"And He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.' So they cast, and then they were not able to haul [ἕλκω] it in because of the great number of fish." (John 21:6)

"Simon Peter went up and drew [ἕλκω] the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn." (John 21:11)

"But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged [ἕλκω] them into the market place before the authorities" (Acts 16:19)

"Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged [ἕλκω] him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut" (Acts 21:30)

"But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag [ἕλκω] you into court?" (James 2:6)

Did Peter woo his sword from his scabbard? Did the fishermen have difficulty calling the net up? Were Paul and Silas seized and invited as captives to the market place? Of course not. We see, then, that the word ἕλκω speaks of being forcefully drawn, made to move as desired by the one doing the drawing. This holds true outside of Scripture, too:

"And he drew [ἕλκω] the bow, clutching at once the notched arrow and the string of ox's sinew" (Homer, Iliad, 4.122)

"then he grasped the balance by the midst and raised [ἕλκω] it" (Homer, Iliad, 22.212)

"But Sarpedon with strong hands caught hold of the battlement and tugged [ἕλκω], and the whole length of it gave way" (Homer, Iliad, 12.398)

When a drawstring is pulled back, when a balance is raised and a battlement is tugged and made to fall, these things are not invited, or called, or wooed. They are forced back, forced up and forced over. The meaning of the word cannot be clearer. Nobody is capable of coming to Jesus unless the Father makes him do so.


Remember that earlier I said Jesus said two things in this passage deserving of close attention. The second was this: "It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:45). Now that we understand the previous verse, in which Jesus said "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him," this next verse makes logical sense. Of course if "draws" means to force, then anybody who is drawn by the Father comes to the Son.

Could Peter's sword have refused to be drawn? Can a bow's drawstring choose to remain slack? Of course not. In the same way, verse 45 naturally follows from the meaning of verse 44: since nobody can come to the Son unless the Father forces him to, then anybody forced by the Father comes to the Son. But notice how the Father "draws" people to the Son: He speaks to them. He teaches them. He reveals truth to them. He opens their eyes.

So, what are the implications of Jesus' words in this passage? In my introduction to this series I defined "determinism," and the following summarizes Jesus' words:

"humans will always, if left to our own devices, freely choose to reject God. The reason any place their faith in Jesus Christ is because God chose to intervene...those whom God chose are 'regenerated' such that...they now operate from a new life in the Spirit, and place their faith in Jesus Christ as a result of that work of God."

These are the implications of this passage. This is why I said at the beginning of this post, "there are some passages in Scripture which are not easily 'dealt with,' and which must be taken seriously." Indeed.


The observant reader may notice that in listing New Testament passages in which ἕλκω is used, I left one out: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw [ἕλκω] all men to Myself" (John 12:32). Some point to this passage as proof positive that ἕλκω cannot mean what it means everywhere else when Jesus uses it. If "draw" means to force, then everybody must come to Jesus, for here He says He will "draw all men" to Himself.

This, however, is not what "all men" means. The word "all" is the Greek πᾶς, or "pas", and can mean "each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything." However, it can also mean "some of all types." For example:

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all [πᾶς] men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all [πᾶς] men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Was Paul urging Timothy to pray for every single human being? No. Paul urges Timothy to pray for all types of men, "for kings and all who are in authority." Likewise, God desires all types of men to be saved--not just kings, not just those in authority, but members of both groups.

Earlier I pointed to Paul's being dragged out of the temple in demonstrating the meaning of "draw." The reason the city reacted the way they did is because the unbelieving Jews stirred them up, saying, "Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all [πᾶς] men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place" (Acts 21:28). Did Paul preach to every single human being everywhere? No. He preached to all kinds of men, everywhere he went.

Therefore, Jesus' words in John 12:32 do not change the meaning of "draw" (ἕλκω) in John 6:44. He did not promise He would draw every man to Himself. He said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (NKJV). He will draw "all peoples" to Himself, all kinds of people. Gentiles and Jews; kings and paupers; men and women; free men and slaves; rich and poor; intelligent and simple.


It is passages like John 6:44-45, which seem very powerfully to teach of man's inability to choose God and God's choice to bring some to His Son, that must be dealt with seriously. There's a reason why many Christians throughout the history of the Church have believed and taught determinism. Trust me, this is far from the only difficult passage. As we'll see, there are many. Uncomfortable yet?


  1. Ricky Verndale KylesJuly 18, 2010 at 5:09 PM


    Thank you for the well-written article. It was a blessing to be able to better understand how to exegete this passage. I was first made aware of this passage by viewing a DVD series by Dr. Sproul and you have now allowed me to be able to teach the issue better to the students in my class.

  2. I am so blessed that what I've written has proven helpful for you. Thanks so much for letting me know!

  3. Dear Chris,

    Just to get all my cards out on the table, I am not a Calvinist. Where that leaves me I'll leave it to others to determine but as I don't come to the text with your presuppositions, I see a different possible interpretation of these "difficult" passages and, honestly, I haven't been made to feel that uncomfortable.

    In my view, the context of Jesus' ministry that we are reading about here in John 6 is a strictly Jewish one at this point (cf. John 1:11). One of the differences in my view compared to yours is the identification of those who are said to belong to the Father. In my view, they are the Jews who, previous to Jesus' ministry, were true worshippers of Yahweh. One of the reason's that I'm inclined to see these people in this light is because the way that Jesus referred to the same group, presumably, in John 17. There, in vs. 6, Jesus said,

    "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; THEY WERE YOURS AND YOU GAVE THEM TO ME, and they have kept Your word."

    I find further confirmation of this in John 6:45. There Jesus says,

    "Everyone who HAS heard and [has] learned from the Father, comes to Me."

    Notice the use of the past tense. And this is exactly what we would expect from followers of God at the point when the Messiah comes on the scene. And we shouldn't be surprised to find that God would "draw" these people to Christ and "grant" that these alone should come to Him. As far as the word "draw" is concerned, as Jesus used it, I'm unconvinced by your analysis. There is nothing that doesn't allow for the metaphor to mean something along the lines of a moral persuasion, both here and in John 12:32. And, of course, all those who had previously heard and learned from the Father would surely come to Jesus when coming under such persuasion.

  4. Dear Chris,

    Now that you've "drawn" us here to John 6, I wanted to point out one of the reasons that lead me to reject your form of "determinism" and perhaps you could explain why it doesn't contradict your view. When those who were seeking out Jesus arrived at the other side of the lake, Jesus responded to their question of when He arrived there with the following:

    "Jesus answered them and said, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man WILL GIVE TO YOU, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.'" John 6:26-27

    Later, Jesus said,

    "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life TO THE WORLD." John 6:33


    "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD is My flesh." John 6:48-51

    To me, the context clearly shows that Jesus was mainly addressing His protagonists in the crowd; those who were grumbling at His words. Jesus Himself said that they were not believers. It is to this group He declares that He will give "food which endures to eternal life." The food is further identified as the "bread of God" which "gives life to the world." Finally, Jesus equates this bread with His flesh, which, He says, He "will give for the life of the world." I'm assuming that 'particular redemption' is a logical extension of the determinism that you hold to and, if it is, I wonder how Jesus could say this to the crowd gathered there unless His atonement was general in nature and not particular. After all, He said that He would give His flesh (the bread) for the life of the world. Unless you insist that all whom Jesus spoke to that day were those whom the Father had given to Jesus (according to your understanding of the text), I fail to see how these statements can be reconciled with your determinism.

    Thanks Chris. I look forward to more discussion, Lord willing.

  5. Hi, John! Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate the time and thought you put into it, as well as the kindness and respect with which you delivered it. I'll try and reciprocate, even though I sometimes fail :(

    When I discovered Steve Gregg's (and yours, and that of others) view, that in John 6 Jesus is referring to the Jewish, true worshipers of Yahweh, I found it compelling, and do somewhat to this day. However, I fail to see how that changes what I've argued are the implications of His words. Allow me to explain...

    First of all, even if we can legitimately limit Jesus' words to the Jewish remnant of His day, I'm doubtful that we ought to conclude that whatever He says about how they came to Him does not apply to Gentiles (and Jews) today. I don't think Scripture indicates that such a one who comes to Him did not first hear and learn from the Father, was not first drawn by Him, and was not first granted it by Him. Of course, if you disagree with me, we can discuss that point, for I think it's a message taught elsewhere in Scripture as well.

    But second, and more importantly, even if Jesus is referring to the Jewish remnant of His day, I still think that Calvinists' conclusions are valid with respect to them (even if not Gentile and Jews today). For example, your own words ("we shouldn't be surprised to find that God would 'draw' [then-contemporary followers of God] to Christ and 'grant' that these alone should come to Him") suggest that those Jews who were not true worshipers of Yahweh were not drawn to Christ and were not granted to come to Him, which sounds an awful lot like God's actions are a prerequisite to faith, and that He would not in such fashion act toward the unbelieving Jews of that time. (Continued...)

  6. Now, not being completely familiar with your view, trying best I can to put myself in your shoes, I might respond by saying, "Well if those Jews who were not truly worshipers of Yahweh would turn to Him, then they, too, would be drawn by the Father to the Son, and granted to come to Him." OK, on the surface that sounds like a reasonable response (even if it's not the one you would give, which might be a better one; I'll have to wait and see), but it strikes me as odd, then, that the evangelistic effort toward the Jews on the part of the Apostles recorded throughout the book of Acts does not appear to be one of turning first to Yahweh and then to the Son; rather, it seems to be one of turning to the Son.

    When the Apostles preached to an audience comprised (presumably) of both the remnant and false worshipers of Yahweh, why only preach a message to which only a subset of the audience can respond, if the rest must first respond to a different message of turning to Yahweh without respect to the Son? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Of course, non-Calvinists often ask us a similar question, asking something like, "Why preach a message to which only some can respond?" Well we don't believe there's something that the unregenerate must first do in order to be "drawn" and "granted" to come to Jesus; those are actions God takes unconditionally in our view. So we preach--and we believe the Apostles preached--such a message, knowing full well that only the elect will respond in faith, and knowing full well that there's nothing the non-elect must or can do first in order to be made able to believe by God. So our view, it seems to me, is more consistent here.

    What's more, you go on to say, "of course, all those who had previously heard and learned from the Father would surely come to Jesus when coming under such persuasion." Really? Was there no possibility to the contrary? Was it not possible that Jesus' contemporaries who were truly worshippers of Yahweh might nevertheless turn away from God, rather than come to His Son? That sounds an awful lot like irresistible grace and/or perseverance of the saints to me.

    So the point I'm getting at is, with the admittedly limited understanding I have of your view, Reformed soteriology still largely applies to this Jewish remnant which was drawn and granted to come to the Son, and to those false worshipers of Yahweh who were not. And while the election might be argued to have been conditional, we might then look at what the Bible says about why any Jew truly worshiped Him to begin with. (Continued...)

  7. As to your second comment posting, I think this statement of yours identifies exactly where we disagree: "Unless you insist that all whom Jesus spoke to that day were those whom the Father had given to Jesus (according to your understanding of the text), I fail to see how these statements can be reconciled with your determinism." You seem to suggest that what Jesus says about the group of people to whom He was speaking must be identically true of every single individual within that group. I don't see the logic in that. When one addresses a crowd, I don't think it can be reasonably argued that what one says must equally apply to every single individual within the crowd.

    I believe Jesus was addressing the Jews as a whole, to whom the Messiah was primarily sent, some of whom were elected to believe. I don't think the people to whom the Lord was speaking can be treated as a homogenous group of identical status with respect to their being true worshipers of Yahweh. And so, He can say that God will give to "you"--that is, Israel--the bread of life. Whether or not every Israelite to whom He was speaking would eat is another question.

    I actually think Jesus' calling some of them unbelievers works in Calvinism's favor. Why? Because He immediately follows "Do not grumble among yourselves" with "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him," and so forth. In other words, the lack of hearing, learning, drawing and granting explains why they did not believe. This seems to me to identify these actions on God's part as being prerequisites for belief. The reason they did not believe (at this time; certainly it's possible they would be so drawn later) was because they had not heard or learned from the Father, been drawn by Him, and been granted belief by Him. (Continued...)

  8. As for the "world" statements, I've seen critics of Calvinism often point to such language as if it goes contrary to our view of particular redemption, but I don't see how. My understanding is that it can be demonstrated that the word "world" is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. For example, in Matthew 4:8 when Satan shows Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world," I don't think it meant every person on the planet. On the other hand, in Matthew 13:35 "the foundation of the world" does appear to refer to the planet. When Jesus said in John 8:26 "the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world," I don't think it meant He spoke those things to every single person on the planet, or even every single person He came across. And when He said in John 14:17 that "the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it does not see Him or know Him," that cannot refer to every single person on the planet since in that very clause He says some people, His disciples, know the Spirit. And of course, although the bread of life was given to the world, Jesus says in John 17:9 that He doesn't pray for the world, but only those who were given to Him.

    So "world" is used in a number of ways, I think. And in these passages in which "world" is used, which you think are a challenge for particular redemption, what do I think it means? I think it means the world and not Israel only. That simple. Romans 3:9 and 19 read, "both Jews and Greeks are all under that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God." Paul goes on in chapter 4 to say that Abraham would be "the father of all who believe without being circumcised...and the father of circumcision...for the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world..." Salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ is not granted to only people of a particular nation (Israel), or particular caste of society, or particular level of intelligence, etc. It is granted to Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, intelligent and simple, male and female, slave and free. He truly did come to save the "world," but that doesn't mean every single individual in it.

  9. Chris,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer me. I really appreciate it considering how busy you must be! Let me address first the point I was trying to make in the first part of my response, which, in hindsight I could have been more clear about. When I said a "Jewish context" what I meant was that at the time that Jesus showed up on the scene, God was still dealing with the Jewish nation almost exclusively. More importantly, it was the unique period between the phasing out of the Old covenant and the instituting of the New covenant. The group that I see as those whom the Father gives to the Son are all those alive in Israel who had been justified by faith (like Abraham) prior to Jesus' ministry and who belonged to God in that sense. I'm thinking of people like Simeon, or Anna, or Elizabeth and Zacharia, or Andrew and Peter, for example.

    So if this is what Jesus is referring to in John 6 when speaking of all that the Father gives me, etc., then what we have is not so much a teaching on how God accomplishes salvation for individuals, though it is not unrelated, but an explantion, more or less, of how God is bringing those who are already His children into the New Covenant. And if this interpretation holds any weight, what it means, of course, is that your argument from John 6 does not necessarily prove your point regarding God's unconditional election of believer's or the unregenerate person's ability or inability to choose God. For that, you would have to go elsewhere in the Scripture. This was the main point I was trying to make. I hope this is more helpful to your understanding of where I'm coming from. (Continued…)

  10. Now let me briefly address your response to my second posting. You wrote,

    "When one addresses a crowd, I don't think it can be reasonably argued that what one says must equally apply to every single individual within the crowd…I believe Jesus was addressing the Jews as a whole, to whom the Messiah was primarily sent, some of whom were elected to believe."

    I must disagree. I think He was addressing a much smaller group who had followed after Him because they were hungry and were looking for another free lunch. And when He said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you…Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you..."--a clear allusion to His dying for them--I have to wonder on what basis, specific to the immediate context, you could exclude anyone in that crowd from the import of His words. Jesus' dying for someone doesn't save them, just as His giving them "bread from heaven" won't give them "life". They must eat it (believe, repent, surrender, etc.)

    The reason that Jesus could say what He did to this crowd, or any crowd, and have the entire crowd in mind, elect or non-elect, is because He planned on giving this "bread" for the life of the world. Of course you can point out different usages of the word "world" as it is used throughout Scripture, but that is irrelevant. What you need to show is why it's meaning here should not include all men.

    I'll have to leave it at that for now. Goodnight all.

  11. Just wanted you to know, John, that I haven't forgotten about this. As you hinted at, I'm super busy. Most particularly, my energy is focused on preparing for my upcoming debate. I'll return to this later on, OK?