Does John 6 Teach Irresistible Grace?
Does John 6 Teach Irresistible Grace?
Here are three ways to answer that question.
In a word:
But that answer is too terse, and needs a bit of support.
In Sentential Logic, Categorical Relationships, or Implications:
Regarding irresistible grace, the relevant, significant, and distinct terms in John 6:35-65 can be reduced to this list:
“B” is “having faith in, or believing in, Jesus”;
“C” is “coming to Jesus”;
“D” is “being drawn to Jesus by the Father”;
“E” is “having eternal life”, “never hungering”, “never thirsting”, “never being cast out”…;
“F” is “hearing and learning from the Father”;
“G” is “being given to Jesus by the Father”;
“L” is “looking on Jesus”;
“R” is “having C granted by the Father”;
“S” is “seeing Jesus”.
Implications (or category inclusions) can be represented as ->, Conjunction (and) as ^, and negation (not) as ~.
Some of these terms may also be equivalent, such as L and S, or B and C, or R and D. But it might be helpful to keep them distinct for the moment.
The key sections used to support the idea of irresistible grace are 35-40, 44-47, and 64-65.
To demonstrate irresistible grace, the following implication should be demonstrable from the passage:
D -> C (or D -> B).
That is, it must be demonstrated that there is some statement in the passage leading to the conclusion that being drawn by the Father necessarily leads to coming to (or having faith in) Jesus.
Here are the pertinent relationships present in the passages mentioned:
Verses 35-37: 35 Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And 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. 40 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.
C -> E (35, 37)
B -> E (35)
S ^ ~B (36)
G -> C (37)
L ^ B -> E (40)
Verses 44-47: 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. 45 It 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— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
C -> D (44) (See the note below for why this is the correct logical relationship)
C ^ D -> E (44)
F -> C (45)
B -> E (47)
Verses 64-65: 64 But 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.) 65 And he said, This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
C -> R (65)
There are a lot of relationships which can be derived from this list, some of which might be interesting. But the only ones pertinent for this discussion would be those which might lead to the originally sought statement, D -> C.
Two of the symbolic translations probably require explanation, particularly C -> D (44) and C -> R (65). The statement “none X but Y” is equivalent to “all X are Y”. So “no one lives in Dallas but those who live in Texas” is equivalent to the statement “all who live in Dallas live in Texas”. So “no one comes to me but those who are drawn by the Father” simply means “all who come to me are drawn by the Father” which is represented here by C -> D. Also, while C -> D does mean that ~D -> ~C (not being drawn implies not coming to Jesus), it does not mean D -> C, which is what the advocate of irresistible grace needs to find. So the fact that all who live in Dallas live in Texas cannot be taken to mean that all who live in Texas live in Dallas. Reversed implications (or categorizations) are one of the most common logical errors. And it is that error which is committed by those who think verse 44 justifies irresistible grace.
Back to the task at hand---finding a combination of available logical relationships which leads to D -> C. It doesn’t take long to realize that four statements give the best shot at finding such a combination.
G -> C (37)
C -> D (44)
F -> C (45)
C -> R (65)
From those statements quite a few derivatives are available, including:
G -> D (37 ^ 44), “Being given by the Father to Jesus implies being drawn”;
G -> R (37 ^ 65), “Being given by the Father to Jesus implies having been granted C”;
F -> D (44 ^ 45), “Hearing and learning from the Father implies being drawn”.
The first two statements contain the same idea, that no one is given by the Father to Jesus unless they are drawn, or unless it has been granted to them by the Father to come to Him. It is likely (but not logically necessarily) the case either that being drawn implies having been granted by the Father to come to Jesus, or vise versa, or both. But in none of those cases is there any help deriving D -> C, since R -> D or D -> R could only help with something if there were already a case in which D -> something else or R -> something else. But that relationship doesn’t exist anywhere in the text.
There is one case in which the advocate of irresistible grace could solve the whole problem. If G = D, then the problem would be solved. If being given by the Father to Jesus is the same as being drawn by the Father, then based on 37 and 44, it would be the case that D -> C, since G -> C, and G = D.
However, that equivalence is nowhere established in the text. Indeed, it is the whole point of the question in hand. If being drawn to Jesus by the Father is the same as having been given by the Father to Jesus, then of course grace is irresistible. But nothing implies that equivalence. In fact, as the next section argues, the intent of the text is not to equate being given with being drawn, but rather to make clear that the essential ingredient of coming to Jesus which is missing in the audience is not D (being drawn), but F (believing); that is, faith is the difference between being drawn and being given.
So do the logical relationships in John 6 lead to the doctrine of irresistible grace?
In the Context of What John Actually Teaches in John 6:
In overly brief terms, here is the point of John 6 in context.
(1-14) Jesus has followers because of the signs He has done. He feeds them, performing another sign. They like the signs and want to learn from Him.
(15-24) Jesus miraculously goes to Capernaum with His disciples. The crowds who were already impressed by His public signs follow and find him there. They ask about how he got there, giving Him an opportunity to share another sign with them.
(25-28) Jesus does not share the miracle of the sea with them. He rebukes them for just wanting physical bread and tells them they should find eternal bread. Since they regard Him as a prophet (endorsed by the signs) they ask what they should do.
(29-34) Instead of giving them a work to do, Jesus tells them that God’s work has the purpose or result of bringing them to believe in the One sent by Him. So they ask what work or sign He (Jesus) is doing to bring them to faith in Him. They ask if He will give bread from heaven like Moses did. Jesus explains that He Himself is the sign, since He Himself is the bread from heaven. They say they want that bread.
(35-40) Jesus affirms that He Himself is the bread from heaven, and that those who come to Him will have eternal life. But he also tells them that they have not come to Him since even though they see Him (He is the sign, after all) they do not believe. Jesus explains that if they do come to Him they will have life eternally, since He will fulfill His Father’s will, which is that everyone given to Him by the Father live forever. Then Jesus clarifies that the Father gives Him not those who see and do not believe, but those who look on Jesus and believe.
(41-51) The crowd is unimpressed that Jesus Himself is the sign since they know His parents, and it does not seem to them that He really came from heaven. Jesus says their complaining is the problem. Their complaining is evidence (or the actuality) that they do not believe (Him, the sign). They could not have believed at all if the Father had not drawn them. They would not have had the opportunity before them if God had not drawn them. And He has drawn them, having put the ultimate sign right in front of them. But drawing is not enough. Only those who hear and learn from the Father actually come to Jesus. Once drawn, if a person will simply have faith in Christ (evidence of having heard and learned from the Father), then Jesus is their life eternal. So they have no grounds for grumbling. (Trying to read this paragraph the reformed way makes no sense of the “stop grumbling” command in verse 43. “Stop grumbling for a sign. God hasn’t given it to you so just live without the sign, without faith, and without eternal life. But I’ll give life to the people not like you, the ones who get what you’re grumbling for.” God could respond that way if He wanted to. But it doesn’t make much sense here in the discourse.)
(52-59) Now the unbelieving argue about a different aspect of the sign, confusing the metaphor (the analogy Jesus is using to point to the sign/work of God) with its meaning (that Jesus is the work of God in the world to bring eternal life to those who believe). So in the synagogue of His hometown, Capernaum, Jesus confronts them more bluntly with what they have refused to receive.
(60-65) Many followers of Jesus complain again about how confusing His statements seem to them. Jesus then asks them if they will believe the sign that He came down from heaven if they see Him ascend up into heaven. He reminds them that while the sign itself, the bread and His own incarnation, may be physical, the thing the sign signifies is spiritual and eternal, not perishing with the bread and the end of His earthly ministry. But the eternal and spiritual are contingent on faith, which some of them still do not have. Of course, Jesus has always known who believes and who does not, just as He has always known Judas would betray Him. So Jesus clarifies again that they should not be complaining, since the problem is their lack of faith, not whether the Father has done the work to give them a sign, allowing them to come to Jesus. They could not be in the position to have their skepticism if the Father had not done the work to bring them to believe.
(66-71) Jesus’ confrontation with the unbelieving crowd turns many of them away. But the twelve are still with Him. So He confronts them with the same choice as the crowd. But they answer through Peter that they do believe He is the sign and the source of eternal life. And Jesus says that He has chosen all twelve of them, knowing full well that one of His chosen followers will betray Him, (and in turn, of course, betray that choosing).
At the core of the passage is the truth that Jesus’ presence in the world is the Father’s act to teach everyone, with the result that those who hear and learn (have faith) come to Jesus, and that Jesus secure the eternal life of everyone who comes to Him.
While this very brief exposition of John 6 is at least catawampus to the doctrine of irresistible grace, it is not the argument here that irresistible grace is disproved in it.
The point here is to discover whether John 6 teaches the doctrine of irresistible grace. So does it?
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