Putting the Exegesis on the Table

By Evan May.

As we wait to see what will become of BaptistFire, I thought I would put an exegesis of John 6 “on the table.” This texts most clearly presents the doctrines of grace, and it would be very useful to have it exegeted early and often. This post will serve two purposes: 1) to aid our readers now in better understanding this text, and 2) to have an exegesis of this text in the archives that we can point to when needed in the future. So here we go.

Synergistic theology allows for someone to be given to the Son by the Father and be drawn by the Father, yet not be raised up on the last day. Does the text of John 6 allow for this? Is this an accurate understanding of the text? My answer is “Absolutely not.” Opponents to the sovereign grace of God have attempted every conceivable means to dodge the plain teaching of this passage, but every single attempt, no matter how genuine it seems at first, collapses in light of fair and consistent exegesis of the passage:

36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

This passage initiates as an explanation of unbelief. We must keep this in our minds as we exegete the passage. Jesus is explaining why, even after what he has said about himself, many do not believe. If any interpretation of this passage does not account for Jesus’ explanation of unbelief, it is an interpretation that turns the text on its head. Jesus, in this explanation of unbelief, distinguishes between the category of believers and the category of unbelievers. But he starts with those who come to Christ. He tells us:

A. The Father gives a number to the Son
B. The number will come to the Son (as a result of the Father’s giving)
C. Coming to the Son results in being raised up on the last day

A always leads to B, and B always leads to C. Verse 37 is very crucial: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” Not only does this verse tell us that all whom the Father gives to the Son will come to the Son, but it also tells us that the coming to the Son is a result of the Father’s giving. Therefore, the Father’s giving determines the coming to the Son, not the other way around. The most ultimate action in this passage is the Father’s giving of the number to the Son. That is the action that determines everything else in the order of this presentation. From the beginning, the notion that the number the Father has given to the Son encompasses the entirety of the human race must be rejected. The number that is given is the very same number that is raised. It is inescapable. No one can be given and yet not be raised, for “All whom the Father gives to me will come to me.”

The text expands upon what is involved in coming to the Father and being raised up on the last day. But it does not abandon what has already been stated. It is only after establishing that the ultimate determining factor for those who come is the giving of the Father that we then read, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This gives us the “human side” of v. 37-39. But it has not added any more qualifications that have not already been presented. Looking on the Son and believing in the Son is paralleled to coming to the Son, and it has already been established that all who are given to the Son will come to the Son. Those who behold the Son are only those who are given to the Son by the Father. Therefore, any interpretation that isolates v. 40 from the rest of the text and then eisegetes that interpretation into the preceding verses is absolutely against the thinking of the passage. There is one more thing must be noted from v. 40 that we will later see to be important. There is no disjunction between those who believe and those who are raised. The very one who believes is the very one who is raised. No one denies this. But we must recognize the structure of this verse so that we can recognize it later in v. 44. Here in v. 40, the one who believes is the one who is raised. We continue in the text:

41So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus, detecting their unbelief, does not respond with an attempt to “woo” them so that they could choose him out of their own “free will.” Rather, he explicitly proclaims their inability to believe. He states emphatically that there is no reason for these unbelievers to grumble because it is not within their capacity to believe. They have not been drawn. Therefore, they do not believe. Now, at this point in exegesis the opposing side interjects that God draws all men to Christ (and this is where they usually flee to John 12). But this is a simple abandonment of the context. Furthermore, the structure of the verse simply does not allow for a disjunction between those who are drawn and those who are raised:

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, καὶ ἐγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.

Note the double parallel singular accustative autos. The very him who is drawn is the same him who is raised. “…Father draws him, him I will raise…” Moreover, the ending phrase, “And I will raise him up in the last day” is the same ending phrase that is found in v. 40. As surely as there is no disjunction between those who believe and those who are raised, there is no disjunction between those who are drawn and those who are raised. If someone is going to assert that text allows for one to be drawn but not be raised, he must also concede that the text allows for one to believe and not be raised. Nevertheless, the text does not allow for either one.

Jesus starts with, “Do not grumble among yourselves.” His statements are a response to their grumbling and to their unbelief. We must ask why Jesus said this. What was the message He was trying to convey? If all are indeed drawn, then Jesus was basically saying, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And the Father has drawn all of you. Therefore, all of you are able to come, but you are unwilling to do so. Why do you not believe, since the Father has drawn you and made you able to believe?” But the context shows us that this isn’t Jesus’ intention at all. He isn’t showing them that they have been drawn and made able to come and yet they still do not believe. Rather, He is explaining their disbelief on the basis that they have not been drawn and are not able to come. We have established that this passage seeks to explain unbelief (verse 36). The phrase “Do not grumble among yourselves” continues this thought. Jesus is answering their unbelief. The fact that they do not believe has been established, and Jesus explains it by the fact that they are unable to do so.

Notice that Jesus then tells us the means of the drawing, and the number of those drawn:

45It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me

Everyone who experiences the means of the drawing will be saved. Then the passage brings more clarity further on:

64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus says, “I told you that…” but He hadn’t used those words (“granted him by the Father”) yet. He is obviously alluding to what He earlier told them about being drawn by the Father, that no one is able unless they are drawn (verse 44). Once again the context of this verse is unbelief. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” The “this” in “this is why I told you” is very important. What is the “this” or the “for this reason”? It is because “there are some of you who do not believe.” So what are Jesus’ intentions in telling verse 65? Is it to draw a portrait of ability, saying that the unbelievers are able to believe, and yet they do not? Absolutely not. In fact, the reason Jesus told us that no one can come unless he is made able is because he is explaining unbelief. He tells those who do not believe, very frankly, that the reason they do not is because they are reprobate and cannot. The fact that they do not believe is explained by their inability, so that nothing happens apart from God’s intentions. “This is why I told you. I told you that no one is able unless he is made able. I told you this because even now some do not believe. But remember: it is because they are unable to do so. Because of this reason, because no one is able unless he is made able, you aren’t to be surprised when certain people reject the Gospel. God must grant faith first.” John Calvin, in his commentary on John 6, writing specifically about verse 37 and later verse 44, says this:

Verse 37: To make sure that their unbelief does not take anything away from His teaching, Christ says that the reason for their obstinacy is that they are reprobate and do not belong to God’s flock. So, Christ is here distinguishing between the elect and the reprobate, so that His authoritative teaching is not undermined even though many people do not believe it.

What this statement [verse 44] amounts to is this: we should not be surprised if many people refuse to embrace the Gospel, since no one is ever able of himself to come to Christ unless God first comes to him by His Spirit. So it follows from this that not everyone is drawn, but that God gives this grace to those whom He has elected. This is not the kind of drawing that is violent, as if it were compelling men through external force. However, it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit which enables men to be willing to follow Christ, men who had been unwilling and reluctant previously. Therefore, it is a false and ungodly assertion that nobody is drawn unless they are prepared to be drawn, as if a person could make himself obey God through his own efforts. Men’s willingness to follow God has already been given to them by God, who made their hearts to obey Him.

This is clear and consistent exegesis of the passage. It accounts for the context, for Jesus’ interaction with the crowd, for the order of Jesus’ presentation, and for the thought process in the mind of our Lord as he presents these concepts.

Evan May.

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Exegetical Issues

3 Comments on “Putting the Exegesis on the Table”

  1. David Hewitt Says:

    Very nice, Evan! I’ll be linking to this one.

  2. Mike Ratliff Says:

    I agree! Me too.

  3. 4ever4given Says:

    Reading this… one of those posts that just blew me away. Excellent. Edifying. Thank you.


Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: