Sunday, September 26, 2010

To Terry: Unless the Father Draws Him

This post is for Terry, who graciously agreed to discuss the doctrine of predestination, since it undergirds my position in the debate we've had on baptism. Terry, I would like to bring to your attention chapter 6 of the gospel of John, as a starting point for this discussion.

"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.


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." 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.


Terry, I sincerely appreciate your time, and personally I think you've been more gentle and respectful (1 Peter 3:15) toward me than certain other visitors to my blog. I thank you for that, and though I'm sure I've not been 100% successful, I've tried to reciprocate. I assure you we can talk about baptism again, but because this my belief in predestination based on this passage and others so powerfully undergirds my position on baptism, I think this is an important issue to discuss. Let me know what you think.


  1. That is all very interesting but I don't see what is the point you are making?

  2. The point that I'm making is that in this passage and many others, the Bible teaches very clearly that a) no human being makes the decision on their part alone to place their faith in Jesus Christ, b) God chooses to open the minds of only some human beings to the truth of the gospel, and c) every single one of those human beings to which God reveals this truth will place their faith in Him.

    Would you agree?

  3. I think this undermines the fact that God gave us the freedom to choose to either do His will or join Satan's ranks.

    Also, if I fall into the less gentle and less respectful column, I apologize. I can't promise to always be humble, but I can say I will do my best from now on, and I think everyone should agree.

  4. To add to my first comment, I think that God does draw us to Him, but everyone, not an 'elect' few. He does this in the same He allows Satan to 'draw' us away from God. It is a veritable "tug of war" between Heaven and Hell, and our Souls are the rope. I have not any Scripture to back that up yet, just throwing my opinion at the wall to see if it sticks, so to

  5. Hi, Aaron. I think we've both at times been less gentle and respectful than we ought to be, and I, too, will do my best to do better moving forward.

    I understand what you're saying about the "drawing." The problem is, that neither does justice to the text of John 6, nor its context. Jesus makes it very clear that the "drawing" of which He speaks is not extended to everybody, that those whom are not drawn will not come to Him, and that all those whom are drawn will.

    As for the freedom to choose, this doesn't undermine that at all. We do, certainly, have the option to follow Him. However, what this text and many other passages make clear is that the nature of man is such that we will never exercise that option.

  6. you mean that the nature of man is that we will never exercise that option without knowing, right?

  7. What do you mean by "without knowing?" What this passage teaches is that the nature of man, sinful and wicked from birth ("by nature children of wrath," as Paul puts it elsewhere), is such that no matter how clearly the gospel is presented, we will all reject it. It's who we are. Only when God opens our hearts and minds to the truth of the gospel will we accept it, and all those whom God opens in this fashion will accept it. That's what this passage teaches.

  8. What damage doe that do to 1 Timothy 2:3-4? which says:

    3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

  9. It doesn't do any damage to that text, for two reasons. First, as I explained in the text above, the word "all" doesn't necessarily each and every one of, but can instead mean every kind of. Look at the context of what you've quoted: "1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." So I think what this text is saying is that God desires that all kinds of men be saved, not that each and every human being be saved.

    Second, and arguably more importantly, God desires in a certain sense all sorts of things that don't happen. He doesn't desire that we sin, for example, and yet we do. Theologians have rightly taught that the Bible differentiates between two "wills" of God. There is sovereign will which by necessity results in His desires becoming reality. For example, the creation of the universe. On the other hand, there are those things that God desires, but which He allows not to happen. One of the visitors to my blog more competent than I am may know the terminology I'm looking for, as I don't remember the words used to describe this concept.

    So John 6 and 1 Timothy 2 illustrate these two "wills" of God. John 6 tells us God sovereignly decides who will place their faith in the Son. 1 Timothy 2, if it's speaking of "every man" instead of "all kinds of men," as I've posited, is an example of that "will" of God which does not consist of a sovereign decree, but a desire which He allows not to come about.

  10. What of it? The fact that it says God gives life to the world? I don't think you're a universalist, so I believe you already know this doesn't mean that God gives this kind of life to every single human being. Giving life to the world simply means that life is given to people throughout it.

  11. This life he gives to the world is the Grace freely given, but never earned.

  12. Well, I think the free gift of grace results in the life spoken of, but yeah. The point is, it's only given to some, those God chooses to give it to.

  13. In referencing 1 Tim 2:4, clearly in verse 2 "all who are in authority" means everyone who is in authority. So when you get to vs 4 it does not make sense Paul would change the meaning of the same word in the same sentence to another meaning.
    Also, if God predetermined before creation all who would be saved, then in vs 4 He would essentially be saying, "God desires that all those whom He irrevocably & irresistably saved before time began should be saved". That is overly redundant.

    I think I see where you are going with this. But,Christ ultimately does draw 'ALL' men to himself in the sense that no one can escape the day of judgement.

    When Adam fell, death entered the world so now 'ALL' men will die.

    But when Christ entered the world we were 'ALL' made alive.(Will live forever)

    Paul said, "ALL are under the law, both Jew and Gentile", 'ALL' are ultimately subject to Him. At the last day 'EVERY' knee shall bow. In otherwords, 'ALL' will be made subject to Him and then based on the choices we made in our lives, some will go on to eternal life, some on to eternal agony, but 'ALL' have their eternal destiny.

    What God predestined is that 'ALL' creation comes to oneness in Jesus Christ. That is His will. However, it is conditional upon the choices we make:

    John 1:12
    Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God

    Col 1:22-23
    But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 'IF' you continue in your faith,

    Rev 3:20
    'IF' anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

    God gives us 'ALL' human beings immortality, whether we desire it or not. By His will 'ALL' individuals will face 1 mutual fate. Either an eternity in His presence or an eternity removed from it; and it is all determined by 'IF' we choose to love Him or reject Him.

  14. Terry, like I already said, even if you're right about Paul's use of "all" in that passage, it doesn't do any damage to the clear teaching of John 6. God has both His sovereign will which will by necessity come about--such as the universe coming into existence and the drawing of John 6--and His desires which He allows not to come to pass. Theologians have recognized this for a long, long time.

    As for your if/then statements, those do no damage to the clear teaching of John 6, either. If one continues in the faith, it is because one was chosen, and is then reconciled before God. If one hears His voice, it is because one was chosen by God, and Christ will then fellowship with him. If one receives him, it is because God chose one to do so, and they will then become children of God.

    I've noticed that nobody has addressed the actual text of John 6 (the portion I exegeted, anyway). No matter how hard one tries, one cannot change the meaning of the word "draws" in this passage. It simply cannot refer to drawing everybody in any sense, for in context Jesus is explaining why some did not believe in Him, and thus they are not drawn. Besides, He goes on to explain that the drawing is done through inward revelation from God.

  15. You asked if I agree with your statement. It is a little hard to agree because of the way it is worded. And there aren't specific scriptures backing the "way" you've worded it. Not that they don't exist, you just didn't provide any.

    As for John 6, I notice it inlcudes the words heard and learned. So, the gospel must be preached, heard, learned & believed. Hearing and learning does not sound like being forced to do something.

    Then, it gets interesting in just a few verses later He discusses we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life.

  16. Then if we go further in John 7:39 it says:

    "by this He meant the spirit which those who believed in Him were later to receive" You believe first, and then receive the HS.

  17. Regarding John 7:39, I hope you'll take a second look and reconsider your interpretation. These words were spoken prior to Pentecost, at which point the Holy Spirit began operating differently within the New Covenant community than He had in the Old. This is clear from Peter's application of Joel's prophecy in Acts 2. You can't apply the words of John 7 in the way you have; John records Jesus as speaking of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles were later to receive at Pentecost, not the order of salvation for Christians throughout all time.

  18. I will provide additional Scriptures to back up the "way" I've worded what I've said, but again, you still have yet to address the actual text I've exegeted. The Greek word rendered "draw" has a very specific meaning as I've demonstrated; it is not as equivocal as other words we've looked at. And in context, it is absolutely undeniable that the "drawing" done is only done to some, and that all those whom are drawn will come to Jesus Christ. Simply asking questions about other passages--which nevertheless are compatible with the clear teaching of this one--does not succeed in sidestepping this one.

    If you'll notice, the "learning" spoken of in this passage is done by God. Yes, we know that hearing comes by the Word of God. But who is the one that does the teaching in this passage? God. God through His Holy Spirit opens our hearts to the message preached. All those whose hearts God does not open in this way will reject the message; and all those whose hearts God does open in this way will accept it. There is no way around this in this passage.

    As for eating His flesh and drinking His blood, it is very clear from the passage that He's speaking metaphorically of belief in Him. A belief He prompts.