John 6 and Calvinism


I listened to a 4-part radio debate that James White had with Michael Brown on Calvinism (before I was on this forum, so I’m going on memory here), and John 6:35-45 was one of the three big texts that White brought forth for Dr. Brown to exegete (the others being Rom 8-9 and Eph 1, which I could and might make other threads on.):
The two verses that White argues from the most are verses 37 and 44; on verse 37, he argues that the Father chooses whom to give to Christ and whom not to, and that Christ’s saying that those who come to Him will be “by no means cast out” by Him doesn’t make any sense if they can fall away. On verse 44, White argues that the aforementioned free choice that the Father makes is the only way that one can come to Christ, and says that “and I will raise him on the last day” refers to those drawn by the Father (I’m not an expert on Greek grammar, so I don’t know whether that’s true or not) such that if the Father draws everyone to Christ, universalism follows, and if the Father draws some people to Christ, Calvinism follows.
So, how would you respond to him?


Why couldnt someone fall away? If one draws to Christ he will not be cast out. The text does not seem to prohibit one who draws toward or away at different points. And of course there is an abundance of other Scripture describing exactly that.

I dont follow the universalism argument. Coukd you expound the supposed logical sequence?


He doesn’t use a formal argument, but this is, I hope, a good representation of his argument.
Premise 1: Christ will raise up all whom the Father draws on the last day.
Premise 2: No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, someone will be raised up on the last day if and only if the Father draws him.
Premise 3: Universalism is false.
Conslusion 2: Therefore, Calvinism is true.

Now, I don’t have thhe knowledge of Greek grammar necessary to evaluate Premise 1. But if it is true, I don’t see how anyone can deny the conclusion.


I do not see how Premise 1 equates to universalism because no one in this particular argument denies that someone can come to the Father without Him first drawing that person with grace.

The verse in RSV-CE says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Who is the Father raising? Those who “come,” right? An abundance of translations word it that way. And no one can come to Him unless he is drawn, right? No problem there either.

As well, that interpretation does not seem to account for all the evidence to the contrary, such as God so loved the world, the comparison of Christ as the new Adam (and the latter’s work certainly affected “all”), God wills the salvation of all especially the elect, etc…

At any rate, here is how Robert Sungenis replied to the argument after a quick web search. I had vaguely recalled hearing Sungenis respond to this some years ago.


Btw, if all who come to Christ are raised on the last day, isn’t that OSAS?


Catholic tradition distinguishes between those who are predestined to conversion and those who are predestined to final perseverance. Neither can proceed without our free will cooperating, but there are more who convert once and then fall away than there are who convert and then “persevere to the end”.

In reference to these specific passages, I believe that the classic Catholic interpretation is that it is referring to those who are predestined to final perseverance. The “drawing” that God gives here is more than the “drawing” that God gives to all men; in the “drawing” of verse 44, the men whom God draws to His Son cooperate by coming to Him, and stay with Him. This “perseverance to the end” is the reason they will be saved. Not all men are granted this gift of final perseverance because not all men accept it.


No, OSAS says once someone comes to Christ at any point in their life, they “cannot” turn away. Think of it this way, one who comes to Christ will be raised, but one who comes to Christ can stop coming to Christ and no longer be raised as long. His name could be “blotted out” from the Book of Life, as Scripture sometimes words it.


I believe you are describing the Thomistic understanding here, correct?


Well, the text says that Christ will raise them up on the last day. I mean, OSAS is completely bankrupt, so I know there is an answer, I just want to know what it is.


Calvinism flattens so much biblical data, and turns it into a simple yes or no. Catholic theology is more complex and nuanced, and the subject of predestination is an example of this. There are a number of different ways to approach the topic, and none of them are threatened by exegesis of this section of John.

I’ve heard Mr. White present the chapter many times, and not once has he interacted with the Catholic positions in any way whatsoever. This is a shame, because his goal is to offer a polemic for traditional Calvinism, but it is not to help a neutral mind come to conclusions with the aid of objective and balanced data. In this way, he is an able defence attorney, but he does not behave as a scholar does.

Regarding verse 37: there is a difference between being “by no means cast out” and being “by no means permitted to leave.”

Regarding verse 44: if this verse is interpreted to mean predestination to final salvation, then that is quite acceptable. But this should not imply that only those who are predestined to final salvation experience an initial salvation. (At this point, I would urge Mr. White to abide by his own standard of exegeting a text in question without running here and there through all of revelation to data-mine for various interpretive presuppositions.)

As Jimmy Akin once wrote, “The idea that a person can be predestined to come to God yet not be predestined to stay the course may be new to Calvinists and may sound strange to them, but it did not sound strange to Augustine, Aquinas, or even Luther.”

I would very strongly recommend Dr. Lawrence Feingold’s lectures on these topics. You can find the series here, and it will give you a very firm foundation in all the aspects of Catholic theology that ultimately deal with this very difficult subject of predestination. There’s a lot to explain and take in, however, and you would be most wonderfully served by going through this series, especially lectures five through ten.


I think I explained why that doesn’t equate to OSAS, but maybe I’m a bad communicator.


I think Molinists, Augustinians, and Congruists believe that interpretation as well.


As I understand it, important detail that is often overlooked when approaching texts like these is that some of the key verbs are in the Present-Tensein the Greek, meaning the action is being done continuously. In English, this isn’t always easy to convey, and can come out sounding as a past-tesnse-completedaction. Take John 6:40 as an example: “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” This might sound as if the “looking” and “believing” are one time acts that happen(ed) in the past, but that’s not accurate. In actuality, these (and other such) verbs are in the Present-Tense, which means they are continuous actions. Thus, John 6:40 should be actually understood as: ‘everyone who continues-to-look upon the Son and continues-to-believe in him should continue-to-have eternal life.’ This is the case for the other verbs in John 6:37-40 and 10:27-29. With that in mind, what emerges is a theme of Security-by-Perseverance and not one of single-moment-in-time Eternal Security.

Two final points on those texts: (a) the use of the term “eternal life” in John’s writings is not used to mean “legally worthy of entering Heaven,” but rather being in a current relationship with the Trinity - in other words, God’s life dwelling in your soul presently (see John 17:3 and 4:14, cf 1 Jn 3:15) - thus John is never saying “believe and eternally saved”; (b) the comments about “not losing” those who come to Christ is to be taken in the sense of external forces, like Satan, not being able to over-power Christ and snatch His Sheep away - such comments are not speaking of the Christian turning to sin and falling away, which the Gospels clearly and repeatedly warn against (e.g. in John 6:70f and 17:12, Judas is said to be “chosen” by and “given” to Christ, yet he fell away due to personal sin).


Here is a post on Romans 8:29-30

Here is a Catholic Debate with a Calvinist on Romans 9:

Here is a post on Romans 9:


I think that one of the main points of White’s argument on verse 37 is the Father giving people to the Son; is this unconditional election?


I don’t see enough evidence to suggest “unconditional” here; we’re simply not told the basis the Father sends certain people in the first place.

But the verb tense in Greek I believe does suggest that many of the actions must continue to take place in order for the reactions/rewards to apply:

John’s Gospel carries the theme that the Jews were rejecting the Messiah.
Consider John 12:
37 Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; 38 it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed our report,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart,
lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
The blinding of the Jews in John’s Gospel is largely tied to a punishment for their history of refusing to believe/repent. And yet verse 12:42 says many did end up believing in Jesus, but they were afraid to publicly profess Jesus. A Calvinist like James White can only conclude the belief in 12:42 is fake belief, but that’s reading an assumption into the text. The belief here is described as genuine, and yet clearly it wasn’t enough for them to be saved.

What is also ironic is that White would use John 6 as a testament to limited salvation, and yet he rejects the apex of the chapter which is Jesus calling those with real faith to partake in the Eucharist. It seems White has just as hard of a time believing as the disbelieving Jews in John 6.

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