Does John 6:37 Teach Calvinist “Predestination”?
“Please explain John 6:37. Who are those ‘given’ to Christ? Does this mean that they were selected by God before the foundation of the world, and are ‘elected’ — irrespective of their personal obedience?”
The passage under consideration reads as follows:
“All of those whom the Father gives me shall come unto me; and him who comes to me I will in no wise cast out.”
First, the Bible student needs to remind himself of this premise. The Scriptures are the inspired word of God (1 Thes. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Coming, then, from Jehovah as the ultimate source, they do not contradict themselves; instead, they are perfectly harmonious (Dt. 32:4; 1 Cor. 14:33a). When one encounters a passage, therefore, that may appear to conflict with plain-spoken texts contained elsewhere in Scripture, he must look carefully at the more obscure text and determine if there is a reasonable way to bring it into harmony with the other.
Having said that, let us further emphasize this point. No sacred text must be viewed in any way that would negate the following fundamental truths.
(1) Man has been granted free will (Mt. 23:37b; Jn. 5:39; 7:17; Rev. 22:17).
(2) His salvation is dependent upon his personal acceptance of divine grace, in obedience to the requirements of the gospel of Christ (2 Thes. 1:7-9; Heb. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 4:17).
To suggest that God, before the world’s foundation, chose certain ones to be saved, and others to be lost, independent of a personal reception of truth, is a doctrine that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures — regardless of the number of sincere people who subscribe to it.
There are several crucial questions that must be addressed in connection with John 6:37. When did the “giving” of certain people to the Son take place? In what sense does the Father “give” these people to his Son? What relationship does the “giving” bear to their “coming” to him? And, what is the significance of the promise, “I will in no wise cast out”? Let us take each of these in order.
(3) When did the “giving” take place? The idea that believers were unconditionally “given” to Christ, in the eternal counsel of God before the foundation of the world, is negated by this very passage. The verb “gives” (
didosin) is a present tense form, indicating action in progress; the Father, at that very time, was in the process of giving certain ones to his Son. This passage cannot possibly be employed, then, to establish a “done-deal” gift back in pre-world eternity. As Reynolds noted, “‘The giving’ implies a present activity of grace, not a foregone conclusion” (17, p. 201).
(4) In what sense did God “give” people to his Son? The terms “gift” and “given” are frequently employed idiomatically in the Scriptures to denote divine favor as expressed in Heaven’s redemptive work on man’s behalf — without there being any inclination of an “unconditional election.”
For example, David prophesied that Jehovah would “give” the “nations” (Gentiles) to Christ as an inheritance (Psa. 2:8; cf. Acts 4:25-26). Surely no one will contend that all Gentiles were unconditionally predestined to salvation irrespective of their response to divine truth. Even the most cursory examination of the book of Acts, from chapter 10 onward, reveals that the Gentiles were admitted into redemptive favor by yielding to the requirements of the gospel. Salvation was not as a consequence of an eternal decree independent of human obedience (cf. Acts 10:34-35,43; 11:14; 15:8-9; 1 Pet. 1:22-23).
(5) What relationship is there between the “giving” and the “coming” in John 6:37? There is a significant connection. The “giving” represents what God has provided in the great plan of human salvation; the “coming” represents the acceptation of that plan as manifested in the sinner’s obedience.
The subsequent context affords a wonderful illustration of this — with slightly different imagery, but with corresponding thought. Note the language of verses 44-45.
“No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes unto me.”
In this passage, God’s “drawing” is parallel to his “giving” of verse 37. And yet, clearly in vv. 44-45 the drawing is accomplished by hearing his word, learning, and coming to the Lord. Jehovah provides the redemptive information, but humanity must access it. By a comparison of these passages, therefore, one may logically conclude that this is how men are “given” to Christ as well. As Bloomfield once observed, “The term [gives] therefore (here and at ver. 39 and 65) must signify something compatible with the free agency of man” (I, p. 363).
When former Baptist minister Robert Shank issued his book, Life in the Son, it produced shock waves among Calvinists. Professor William Adams of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary characterized the book as “one of the most arresting and disturbing books” he had ever read (p. xiii). In this instructive volume, Shank has a special Appendix, “Whom Does the Father Give to Jesus?” in which he discusses this very passage. Therein the author fires this parting blast:
“There is nothing about God’s gift of believers to be the heritage of the Son who died for them which somehow transforms the Gospel’s ‘whosoever will’ into a ‘whosoever must’ and a ‘most of you shan’t.’ There is nothing about it which binds men in the strait jacket of an antecedent decree of positive unconditional election and reprobation, while insisting that they are ‘free’” (p. 339).
(6) Our final question is this: “What is the meaning of the affirmation, ‘I will in no wise cast out’?” Some allege it suggests the dogma of the impossibility of apostasy, i.e., that no one “given” to Christ in the eternal scheme of things could ever be lost. The child of God, therefore, can never fall from grace — or so it is claimed.
The passage does not even remotely suggest this pernicious doctrine. Even Albert Barnes, who subscribed to the Calvinistic doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy (see his comment at Matthew 7:23), conceded the following, with reference to John 6:37b. “This expression does not refer to the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, but to the fact that Jesus will not reject or refuse any sinner who comes to him” (pp. 246-247).
This admission, combined with the scriptural declarations that God wants all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), and that “whosoever will” may come to Christ, are death blows to the theory that some were chosen by God for salvation, and others for damnation, before the world began. Perhaps no dogma has ever been so misguided.
- Barnes, Albert (1954), “Luke — John,” Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker).
- Bloomfield, S.T. (1837), The Greek Testament with English Notes (Boston: Perkins & Marvin).
- Reynolds. H.R. (1950), “The Gospel of John,” The Pulpit Commentary, H.D.M. Spence, Joseph Exell, Eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Shank, Robert (1961), Life in the Son (Springfield, MO: Westcott).
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.