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

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.

Are the doctrines of the Calvinist theological system the true doctrines of the Bible and all other beliefs false? Is belief in Calvinism the test for one’s love of God? Would the Apostle John consider his, and the other Apostles’, teachings to be the clear foundation for the five points of Calvinism? The answer to these questions, in this writer’s opinion, is a resounding no! But yet some would answer with a resounding yes. In the words of D. James Kennedy:

I am a Calvinist precisely because I love the Bible and the God of the Bible. The doctrines of the Calvinist theological system are the doctrines of the Bible. When you get to know what we actually believe you may find you too are a Calvinist, especially if you love the Lord Jesus Christ and desire with all your heart to serve Him.[1]

The intention of this article is to examine how Calvinists and Reformed Baptists define unconditional election and then take a close look at the teachings in the Gospel of John that have been cited by some as teaching unconditional election. Examination will also be done of other passages in the Gospel of John that appear to teach just the opposite.

Faith, belief, and regeneration are not chronological events that are steps on the way to salvation, but are rather a single momentary event. But, from a logical perspective the question of which comes first must be answered. If election was unconditional, then it would seem logical that regeneration would come first followed naturally by faith and belief. But, if election is conditioned upon faith and belief, then regeneration would logically follow after faith and belief have been exercised.   It seems clear that sovereignty and responsibility exist side by side in the Gospel of John. The position in this article is that election to personal salvation is not unconditional, and therefore, faith and belief must logically precede election and regeneration. The application of sound and consistent hermeneutical principles to the interpretation of the Gospel of John will demonstrate that the Gospel of John does not teach unconditional election.

In order to discuss an issue, it is necessary to first define the words at the center of the discussion. While the basic dictionary meaning of these words can be helpful, it is essential to understand that words can be given new meanings by the person using them.

Elect: according to Webster’s dictionary, means “one chosen or se apart (as by divine favor).”
Elect from the Hebrew [bachiyr] means “chosen, choice one, chosen one, elect (of God).”[2]
Elect from the Greek [eklektos] means “picked out, chosen, chosen by God.”[3]
Election: according to Webster’s dictionary, means “an act or process of electing.”
Election from the Greek [ekloge] means “the act of picking out, choosing.”[4]

It seems clear that there is nothing special or mysterious about the meaning of these words in any of the languages observed, but these words do raise some questions. Questions such as who is elected? Why were they elected? What are they elected to or for? As we ponder these questions let us be reminded of the words of Samuel Storms, “Clearly the terms used in the New Testament do not of themselves tell us anything definitive about the basis of divine election.”[5] Therefore any implied meaning concerning the basis of divine election must come from the grammatical, historical, cultural, and literary context within which these words are used. While there are several references throughout the Bible to divine election, nowhere is the term election ever preceded by the adjective unconditional. Let me point out at this time the nouns elect and election do not appear in the Gospel of John. The Greek eklego does appear in John’s Gospel and means “(1) choose out, select (for oneself), (2) choose from among (a number), (3) choose for (some purpose),”[6] This word appears in the following four verses in John’s Gospel:

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

“I do not speak of all of you, I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’” (John 13:18, NASB)

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:16, NASB)

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:19, NASB)

These verses will be looked at in detail later in their context and shown not to be related to divine election to personal salvation but rather to discipleship and fruit bearing.

Unconditional, Divine, or Sovereign Election as defined by Calvinists and Reformed Baptists: The following are definitions as given by some who consider themselves to be Calvinists or Reformed Baptists:

“All who will finally be saved, were chosen to salvation by God the Father, before the foundation of the world, and given to Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace.”[7]

“Election is, therefore, that decree of God which He eternally makes, by which, with sovereign freedom, He chooses to Himself a people, upon whom He determines to set His love, whom He rescues from sin and death through Jesus Christ, unto Himself in everlasting glory.”[8]

“We mean, therefore, by this doctrine, that God, in eternity, chose or picked out of mankind whom He would save (by means of Christ’s death and the work of the Holy Spirit), for no other reason than His own wise, just, and gracious purpose.”[9]

The logical implication of these definitions is that “Unconditional Election is a sovereign, eternal decree where God chooses who is going to be saved and who is going to be lost.”[10] The argument that God only chooses to salvation and not to condemnation (double predestination) is completely illogical. It is argued by Calvinists that:

In the Calvinistic system, election precedes faith, and preterition precedes perseverance in unbelief. God elects a sinner to the bestowment of regenerating grace, and faith in Christ is the consequence. God passes by a sinner in the bestowment of grace (though he may bestow all the grades of grace below this), and endless unbelief is the consequence. God is this the efficient cause and author of faith, but not unbelief. The electing decree is efficacious and originates faith. The non electing decree is permissive and merely allows existing unbelief to continue.[11]

For all to be lost and God to unconditionally take action on the part of some to save them and to leave the rest hopelessly condemned is clearly a choice in both cases. If it is God’s choice that only certain ones will be saved, then it is also His choice that some be damned. It is argued that even if double predestination is true that God would still be just in His choices and His creatures have no right to question those choices. Indeed God is always just; it is not God that is being called into question in this article but the Calvinist view of election. In this article, the terms Unconditional Election, Divine Election, and Sovereign Election, as used by Calvinists and Reformed Baptists, will be considered as meaning basically the same thing. Calvinists maintain that, “If any one of the five points of Calvinism are denied, the reformed heritage is completely lost. But it is certain that the truth of unconditional election stands at the foundation of them all. This truth is the touchstone of the reformed faith. It is the very heart and core of the gospel.”[12]

If this last statement is true and it can be proven that the Gospel of John teaches unconditional election, then the other Calvinistic doctrines must be accepted as true. But if the doctrine of unconditional election can be disproved, as this article will do in connection with John’s Gospel, then the other points of Calvinism will fall as well.

 

Part Two coming soon!

 

[1] Talbot, Kenneth G. and W. Gary Crampton. Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, iv.
[2] Strong, J. (1996). The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (electronic ed.) Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, H972.
[3] Strong, G1588.
[4] Ibid., G1599.
[5] Storms, C. Samuel. Chosen for Life. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 18.
[6] Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 138. (Logos Research Systems)
[7] Dagg, John L. Manual of Theology and Church Order. Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 309.
[8] Hanko, Herman, Homer C. Hoeksema, and Gise J. Van Baren. The Five Points of Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 13.
[9] Beck, Frank C. The Five Points of Calvinism. Ashland: Calvary Baptist Church, n.d., 12.
[10] Vance, Laurence M. The Other Side of Calvinism. Pensacola: Vance Publications, 2.45.
[11] Shedd, William Greenough Thayer and Alan W. Gomes. Dogmatic Theology. 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., s.344.
[12] Hanko, 28.