(Jn. 6:44, 65) Does this passage teach that God will only draw some people to Jesus and leave others for judgment?

CLAIM: Calvinist interpreters understand this to refer to irresistible grace: that is, if the Father gives someone to the Son, then he will bring them to eternal life. The logic of their position is as follows:

(1) All that the Father gives to Jesus will definitely come to Jesus (v.37).

(2) If the Father gives people to Jesus, then Jesus will definitely raise them up on the last day (v.39). This resurrection must refer to eternal life.

(3) Therefore, if the Father gives someone (and not another), they will definitely get eternal life.

Calvinist Bruce Ware writes, “The point of Jesus saying what he does in verse 37 was so that the Jews who rejected Jesus would conclude that they have not been given to him. If they had been, they would have come. But their disbelief and hardness of heart are evidence that they have not been given to Jesus by the Father. In contrast, Jesus tells them, ‘Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me.’ Therefore, some specific ones are given to Jesus by the Father, and other specific ones are not.”[1] Likewise, J. Ramsey Michaels writes, “Those who ‘come to Jesus’ are those whom the Father gave him, and no one else.”[2]

Furthermore, Calvinists note that Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him… No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (Jn. 6:44, 65). Calvinist interpreters argue that these passages support the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Arminians typically respond with different interpretations:

OPTION #1: Jesus is referring to OT, believing Jews coming to Christ

Under this view, the “all” given to Jesus refer to OT believers who learned from the Father. If they believed in the Father, then they would believe in Jesus too. In verse 45, Jesus said, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.” These people are the people whom the Father “draws” (v.44). This drawing is not an irresistible act (as Calvinists claim), but rather, it refers to being drawn through the OT Scriptures.

The main difficulty with this view is that Jesus uses universal language: “world” (v.33), “whoever” (v.35), “everyone” (v.40), “whoever” (v.47), “anyone” (v.51), “world” (v.51), and “whoever” (v.54, 56-58). For this reason, we find this interpretation untenable.

OPTION #2: Those who “come” to Jesus and are “drawn” by the Father are those who “hear” and “learn” from the Father (v.45) and consequently choose to “believe” (v.40)

We will give a verse by verse exegesis of this view:

(6:37) “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” The “all” here is neuter and singular. It refers to the collective group of all believers. However, the second half of the verse refers to individual persons: “The one [masculine singular] who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” This second half of the verse shows how individuals become part of the “all.” They are responsible to “come” to Jesus through faith. Calvinist interpreters don’t believe that this is a universal call for all people to come to Christ, but rather it is a “universal-sounding declaration.”[3]

Later in verse 45, we discover who will “come” to Christ. Jesus said, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (v.45). Thus when Jesus says that the Father will “give” people to the Son, this refers to those who were willing to “hear” and “learn” from the Father—not those who were unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world.

(6:38-39) For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

If someone is a true believer, Jesus promises not to lose them. However, faith is instrumental to this process. Later, Jesus said, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (Jn. 17:12). Clearly, Judas was “given” to Jesus, and yet, Judas perished. Why? Because God failed? Not at all! Judas was “given” to Jesus and even “chosen” by Jesus (Jn. 6:70), yet Judas refused to trust in Christ.

(6:40) For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.

Calvinists typically emphasize verse 39 (“all that He has given Me I lose nothing”). However, note carefully what Jesus is saying here: It is God’s will for all people (“everyone”) to have exercise faith (“behold the Son and believe in Him”). God didn’t will who would have faith, but he willed that those who have faith “will have eternal life.”

(6:44) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

The Greek word for “draw” (helkō) was a term used of fisherman “drawing” their nets (c.f. Jn. 21:6, 11) or of Peter “drawing” his sword (Jn. 18:10). It was also used of men being forcibly dragged somewhere (Acts 21:30; Jas. 2:6).

However, this term is also used of drawing all men to Christ. In John 12, we read, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (helkō) all men to Myself” (Jn. 12:32). Thus, if this is describing irresistible grace, then this would imply universalism! Later, John writes, “[The Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). Clearly, we can ignore God’s drawing and conviction in our lives (cf. Lk. 7:30; Mt. 22:3; 23:37; Acts 7:51). Later in this chapter, Jesus said, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” (Jn. 6:70) Clearly the “choosing” cannot refer to unconditional election and irresistible grace, because Judas was “chosen” and yet he went to hell (Jn. 17:12).

How do Calvinists respond to this problem?

Option #1: All men refers to all types of men. John Chrysostom,[4] John Calvin,[5] D.A. Carson,[6] Leon Morris,[7] Merrill Tenney,[8] and Colin Kruse[9] state that “all men” in John 12:32 refers to all types of men (i.e. ethnicities), rather than simply all people on Earth. They point to the fact that there were “Greeks” in Jesus’ audience (Jn. 12:20), and these men wanted to come to Jesus (v.21). However, we fail to see any such distinction. In John 12:31, Jesus said, “Judgment is upon this world [i.e. all people].” This universal judgment stands in contrast to his universal offer of salvation. Later Jesus said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (Jn. 12:47).

Option #2: All men refers to all believers drawn by the Father from John 6:44. J. Ramsey Michael writes, “The point is not that every human being is ‘drawn,’ but that all those drawn by the Father are drawn by the Son.”[10] Again, this fails to do justice to the language: “all men” means everyone on Earth.

Arminians agree that no one would come to Christ unless God pursued, convicted, and pulled that person to Him first (through what is called prevenient grace). This is what Jesus is referring to when he says, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (Jn. 6:65). However, we disagree over the notion that this pulling is irresistible. In fact, in this passage, how exactly does the Father “draw” people to himself? Is this an irresistible and inward change of the heart? Not according to the text. Verse 45 tells us that God draws people because they “heard” and “learned” from Him. That is, God “draws” people through his revelation in the OT Scriptures.

(6:45) “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.”

Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13 (or possibly Jeremiah 31:34). Earlier, Jesus taught the religious leaders that they failed to recognize him because they didn’t listen to the Father through the reading of the OT Scriptures. Jesus said, “The Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form… You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life… If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (Jn. 5:37, 39-40, 46-47). The Father “draws” people in this passage according to the revelation he gives to humanity—not through some inward, irresistible change of heart.

[1] Bruce Ware, Perspectives on Election (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 42-43.

[2] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (p. 377). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[3] Emphasis mine. Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (p. 377). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[4] John Chrysostom, Homilies on John 67.3.

[5] John Calvin, The Gospel according to St. John, trans. T. H. L. Parker (Grand Rapids, I, 1959; II, 1961).

[6] Carson writes, “The context shows rather clearly, however, that 12:32 refers to ‘all men without distinction’ (i.e. not just Jews) rather than to ‘all men without exception.’” Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991. 293.

[7] Morris writes, “He is speaking of a universal rather than a narrowly nationalistic religion. The death of Jesus would mean the end of particularism. By virtue of that death ‘all men’ and not the Jews alone would be drawn.” Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (pp. 531–532). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[8] Tenney writes, “Christ draws men to himself indiscriminately, without regard to nationality, race, or status.” Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[9] Kruse writes, “all ethnic backgrounds would put their faith in him, one example of this being the Greeks seeking Jesus (20–22).” Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, p. 268). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (p. 700). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.