Does the Gospel of John Teach Unconditional Election? | Part Four

February 19, 2015

Dr. Bill Helton | Leroy A. Peterson Professor of Homiletics
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY

*For more information about Dr. Helton or Clear Creek Baptist Bible College click HERE.

Click HERE for Part One.
Click HERE for Part Two.
Click HERE for Part Three.

John 6:65
“And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (NASB)

It is argued that this passage teaches “God’s enabling activity, which involves the exercise of His elective prerogative, conditions—one could even say triggers—the human decision to come to the Son.”[1] Without question, “There is a sense in which all life is the unfolding of the timeless divine will. The Father (not my Father) here is looked upon as the source (ek) from whom all flows. Comp. 10:32; 1 Cor. 7:7; (2 Cor. 2:2). It must be noticed likewise how here the divine and human elements are placed in close juxtaposition, given, come.[2] The mystery must be left with the assertion of both of the concurrent parts, the will of God and the will of man. This is another case of the Calvinist choosing the divine side of the argument to the exclusion of the human side and proceeding to jump to unnecessary conclusions.

Again, the fact that God grants something to a human being does not demand unconditional election of that person in order for him to receive the gift. From Robertson:

“Except it be given him of the Father” (ean me ei dedomenon autoi ek tou patros). Condition of third class with ean me and periphrastic perfect passive subjective of didomi. Precisely the same point as in verse 44 where we have helusei instead of ei dedomenon. The impulse to faith comes from God. Jesus does not expect all to believe and seems to imply that Judas did not truly believe.[3]

Whitacre suggests, “A more literal translation captures better the element of grace here: “unless it has been given to him from the Father.” Again we see the Father as the source of all. In this passage the role of the Father, the foreknowledge of Jesus and the life-giving role of both the Spirit and Jesus are all coordinated as an antinomy to the role of the believer’s faith.[4] Judas was chosen as one of the twelve, but yet his failure to exercise personal belief and faith in response to the initiative of God, left him in a state of eternal separation from the Son. Jesus does not spell out the role of God’s grace in detail here, but “Jesus made it clear that no one can become attached to him unless God made it possible (cf. vv. 37, 44). The point is that Jesus was not surprised at rebellious people, and that should be an important lesson for Christians (cf. Eph. 2:1).”[5] John Calvin himself seems to have understood the need for surrender on the part of individuals as he discussed this hard saying of Jesus in connection with eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “The hardness was in their hearts and not in the saying. But the reprobate are wont to gather together stones out of the Word of God to dash themselves against; and when in their hard obstinancy they rush against Christ, they complain that his saying is hard, which really ought to have softened them. For whoever submits humbly to Christ’s teaching will find nothing hard or rough in it.”[6] It would seem that to submit humbly to Christ’s teaching would require a willful act on the part of the believer rather than a forced submission. Once again I would argue, the only part in salvation that man can play, and must play, is that of a beggar who in response to God’s calling cries out like the Publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13b, KJV)

John 6:70
Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” (NASB)

There can be no question that in this context, Jesus chose all twelve of these men to be His disciples. There can also be no doubt that Judas was not a true believer who possessed eternal life. Therefore, the context of this verse cannot be that of unconditional election to salvation. The choice here was to be disciples, not believers. Yet some will argue that there are two different contexts in this verse. In connection with Judas, “The ‘choice’ of which Jesus speaks is a step removed from sovereign election to actual salvation in the full sense. Still, for the remaining eleven Jesus choice of them for service proved to be of a piece with their election to salvation. Is Judas possibly among those of whom Jesus speaks in this difficult saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14, NASB)?”[7] To make this verse have two different contexts, and thus the word “choose” have two different meanings, seems to be a violation of basic hermeneutical integrity. If Jesus had intended to mean two different things with the word “choose” He would have said something like, “Did I not choose eleven of you to eternal salvation and service and one of you to be a devil? For the above quote to allow for the possibility that Judas might have been called but not chosen would fly in the face of the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace, which is essential to making the case for unconditional election.

The context of this verse is clearly that of a calling of the twelve disciples and must be removed from that context in order to even remotely teach unconditional election to personal salvation. It is clear here that Judas was chosen by Jesus and considered by others to be one of the twelve and yet was proven to be an agent of Satan and eternally damned. It was Judas’ willful rejection of Jesus that damned him, not an eternal decree from God. The opposite of election is disobedience.

John 8:47
“He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (NASB)

Calvinists maintain, “From a standpoint that stresses the autonomy of the human will this logic is backward; Jesus should have said, the reason you do not belong to God is that you do not hear and believe.”[8] The larger context of this discussion begins in 8:31 which follows that transitional statement in 8:30, “serves as the end of this section and the beginning of the next. The evangelist summarized his argument here with the familiar note that many believed (cf. 2:23; 4:39) The studied reader of John, however, has learned that such statements about believing can be double leveled and therefore are not always a conclusive or final evaluation of reality (cf. 2:23; 6:66; 12:42-43).[9] In reference to 8:47 Borchert points out:

As Jesus was not convinced by the believing of the Jews in 2:23-25, he was not misled by believing noted in 8:30. Instead, he called forth from those who believed the quality of consistency epitomized in the Johannine term “abide,” “continue,” or “remain” (menin, “hold to”). The believer who is committed to abide in Jesus and his word is in this Gospel to be designated as an authentic (alethes) disciple (cf. 6:64-66; contrast 5:38)[10]

This discussion is not about the act of making an initial profession of faith in Jesus but rather a test of whether such a profession is indeed valid. We are not doubt by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and when we reach the age of accountability and willfully sin we are children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). But there is hope; when we put faith in Christ, we become the children of God as pointed out in John 1:12. Wiersbe points out “But the person who finally rejects the Savior and prefers self-righteousness (the devil’s substitute) becomes a child of the devil. (See Matt. 13:24-30, 36-42, where the children of the devil are portrayed as counterfeit Christians.) … Remember, these “children of the devil” were not grossly immoral people; they were self-righteous religious people who rejected Christ.”[11] A person can appear to be a true believer, as the tares among the wheat, but in the end the truth will be revealed. The true believer who has heard and responded to God’s call to salvation will continue to hear and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. A return to rebellion and disobedience at any point reveals that the person was not truly born of God. This double level of understanding occurs throughout the Gospel of John: two temples (one of stones the other of flesh, John 2); two births (natural and spiritual, John 3); two waters (natural and living, John 4); two professions of belief (one true and the other false, John 8). In context, John 8:47 is not contradictory to the autonomy of the human will and certainly does not teach unconditional election.


Final Part coming soon!


[1] Screiner, Thomas R. and Bruce A. Ware, eds. Still Sovereign. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 51.
[2] Westcott, Brooke Foss (Hrsg.); Westcott, Arthur (Hrsg.): The Gospel According to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version. London: J. Murray, S. 110. (Logos Research Systems)
[3] Robertson, A.T.: Word Pictures in the New Testament. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, S. Jn. 6:65.
[4] Whitacre, Rodney A.: John. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, S. 175. (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 1) (Logos Research Systems)
[5] Borchert, Gerald L.: John 1-11. electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, S. 275. (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 25A)
[6] Calvin, John, The Gospel According to St. John, Part One, 173.
[7] Screiner, 51.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Borchert, S. 301.
[10] Ibid, S. 302.
[11] Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 233. (Logos Research Systems)


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