Have you individually been given to Christ by the Father, or are you one who believed in Christ through the message of those who were given to Christ by the Father?
The Calvinist interprets John 17 to mean that all of us have individually been “given to Christ by the Father” in the same manner that His elect apostles were while Christ was on earth. Let’s look at the text:
6“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
Clearly Jesus is praying for those he was WITH while on earth, those given the words and the authority to take those inspired words to the rest of the world. These are individual Israelites selected to fulfill the noble purpose for which the nation of Israel was elected. They have been given the inspired words of God. This is what has set them apart as being authoritative in their teachings. Shall we presume that we have been set apart in the same manner as these divinely elected messengers of God? Is it not a bit presumptuous and maybe prideful of us to assume that we are set apart and given to Christ in the same manner that describes His chosen apostles from the elect nation of Israel? Let’s continue to read the text:
13“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them byd the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Clearly his prayer is temporal, not universal, in that he is praying while He is “still in the world” for those at that crucial point in human history who have been entrusted with the foundation of His bride, the church. However, He does not stop there. He goes on to pray for those who will come to believe through their message, which makes the distinction very clear between the authoritative messengers and those who believe their message.
20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Notice that he does not describe these who believe in the message of the appointed messengers as being “given to Christ by the Father.” Should we assume from silence that we deserve that kind of authoritative recognition? Could we be undermining the unique authority of the apostle’s appointment as inspired delivers of God’s truth? Is it possible the phrase, “given to Christ,” is reflecting God’s selection of messengers who were set apart to ensure the purpose of Israel’s election and given to Christ by the Father while Christ was on the earth?
Consider this interpretation objectively for a moment and notice how many unanswered questions it solves. When you understand the book of John in its actual context, while Christ was on earth being entrusted with the remnant from Israel to be sent with the inspired truth, it takes on a very clear and unified meaning. In John chapter 6, as Christ is addressing a large Israelite audience, we get a peek at Christ speaking in a very provoking manner as he tells the crowd to eat his flesh and drink his blood without qualification or explanation. This is not the first time we witness Christ speaking in difficult and hard to understand language. We see in Matthew 13, for example, Jesus speaking in parables so as to prevent Israel from understanding and repenting. Why would that be necessary if indeed all people are born totally unable to willingly respond apart from the effectual calling? There is no need to blind people who are born totally blind already. There is no need to speak in parables to prevent faith if indeed the doctrine of total inability is true.
Please understand this perspective, Jesus is purposefully blinding everyone from the truth except a preselected few. To his divinely selected apostles he has entrusted the mysteries of these parables and hard sayings (Matt. 13:11). This is also what we see happening in John chapter 6. Read through it again from this perspective and see if it does not make perfect sense.
The crowd does not understand his flesh eating parable and thinks He is teaching cannibalism so they bail (wouldn’t you?). Could Jesus have stopped them and said, “Wait, let me explain, that is not what I meant?” Of course he could, but he was trying to drive them away, or as Paul teaches in Romans 11, Jesus is “cutting them off” or “giving them a spirit of stupor.” So, instead of stopping the disgruntled crowd He let’s them leave and concludes by saying, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65). And then turns to the twelve and asks if they will leave him too, which clearly reveals the contrast between those “given to Him by the Father” and the rest who are being judicially blinded from the truth. See, Jesus is speaking about coming to Him right then, while he was on earth in the flesh.
Typically when I get to this point in my conversation with a Calvinist I am met with an objection which goes something like this:
“Are you saying none of this applies to us, but that it was all about them at that time? Are you seriously suggesting there is no application from John 6 for us today!?”
My reply: No, I still believe that no one can come to Christ unless they are drawn by his truth. As Paul states, “How can they believe in one whom they have not heard?” But one must understand that the Jews of that day were “seeing but not perceiving” because of their being judicially blinded by God (John 12:39-41), not because of a innate disabled nature due to the Fall. It is not until the powerful and enabling truth of the gospel is completed in Christ’s resurrection and He is lifted up that He sends that gospel to be proclaimed in all the earth, thus drawing “all men to himself” (John 12:32). By the way, I’m fine with interpreting John 12:32 to mean “all nations” because even that interpretation fits perfectly with what has been explained regarding the national hardening of Israel.
For this people’s [Israel’s] heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen! (Acts 28:27-28)
Israel has become calloused otherwise they might turn and be healed, but the Gentiles, who have not become calloused, will listen to the message. The means of drawing all men is the gospel and even Calvinists admit that is sent to be proclaimed to every individual. “Faith comes by hearing” and the only reason someone may not “have ears to hear” is if God has purposefully blinded them as He did to Israel at that crucial point in history. So, unless you happen to come across someone who is being blinded by God from the truth of the gospel so as to accomplish the redemption of the world through their rebellion, you can assume that the gospel is more than sufficient to enable their response to it’s appeal. The gracious spirit wrought gospel truth is the means God has appointed to DRAW all men to himself, so preach it boldly and confidently knowing that it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
Another objection I often hear from my Calvinistic brethren goes something like this:
“Well, how is that interpretation any better than ours? You still have God blinding Jews from hearing the gospel and blaming them for their rebellion. Don’t you believe that makes God unfair?”
I love this question because finally I get to say in response to my Calvinistic friend, “Who are you oh man to question God!?” And ironically it is probably the first time they have heard that reply where it actually fits the context of the original objection. What many Calvinists do not realize is that we do allow for the objector in Romans 9, but we just happen to believe it is the same objector Paul addresses in Romans 3:1-8. It is not the objection of a non-elect reprobate born hated by God and unable to respond to his clear truth. It is the objection of a Jew who has grown calloused by his own choices, but who now is being blinded by God in that rebellious condition so as to accomplish a greater good for all the world.
That individual Jewish man who hears he has been blinded would say, just as Paul anticipated, “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?” (Romans 3:5). This is the SAME objection Paul addresses in Romans 9, yet Calvinists would like us to believe the objector is a non-elect reprobate, born totally hardened, and unable to ever be saved. How can that be? Consider these 3 questions:
- If the individual who has stumbled has not stumbled beyond recovery, can they be the non-elect reprobate of Calvinism?
- If the individual who has been cut off may be grafted back in, can they be the non-elect reprobate of Calvinism?
- If the individual who has been hardened may be provoked to envy and saved, can they be the non-elect reprobate of Calvinism?
The clear answer to all 3 of these question is, “NO!” Yet in Romans 11:12-32 each one of these potentials are presented for the stumbling, hardened, cut off individuals of Israel. How, therefore, can the infamous objector of Romans 9 represent an objector against the Calvinistic dogma? He cannot! Thus, the objection against Calvinism remains unanswered biblically. In contrast, the objection against the perspective presented above is answered sufficiently by Paul, thus it is an objection we should be willing to accept as it is clearly afforded by the text itself. For clarity, here are two objectors side by side so that you may judge which is the one standing against Paul in Romans:
Calvinism’s Objector: The objector is an non-elect, hated reprobate who God has chosen from before the foundation of the world to pass over and leave to be born in a fallen and completely hardened condition from the time they are born until the time they die and thus without hope of salvation EVER.
Corporate Election’s Objector: The objector is a Jew, who has rebelled in the face of God’s loving patience for generations (Rm. 10:21; Mt. 23:37), but who is now stumbling, being cut off, and hardened in their rebellion so as to accomplish a greater redemptive good through their rebellion. However, though he has stumbled he has not stumbled beyond recovery (Rm 11:12); though he has been hardened he may be provoked to envy and saved (Rm 11:14); though he has been cut off from the vine he may be grafted back in if he leaves his unbelief (Rm 11:23).
Which objector is the one represented in the text? You decide.
Finally, the objection regarding the greek word “helko” used in John 6:44 is often raised and it goes something like this:
“God does not force anyone against their wills but the bible does say that God draws some people, which literally means ‘to drag by irresistible force.'”
John 6:44 does not stand alone. We need only to look at Christ’s own explanation in order to understand His true intentions. Jesus’ meaning was made more clear by His own commentary in verse 65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” This obviously indicates that one must be “enabled” or “granted” the ability to come.
Does the historical context matter as to what Jesus’ intention was at this point? Does it matter that the Jewish audience he just drove away are being actively hardened by God, cut off from the vine, and sent a spirit of stupor (not enabled or granted the ability to come to him while on earth)? Does it matter that those who stuck around were referred to specifically as ones “given to Him by the Father” to be the elect messengers from Israel (His remnant enabled and drawn by persuasive signs and wonders to learn from the incarnate Christ Himself) for the purpose of fulfilling God’s chose of that nation thousands of years earlier? Is it possible that God had not granted or enabled the crowd of Israelites to believe at that time, but instead only reserved a few from Israel to be taught directly by the Messiah incarnate while he was here on earth? Is that too difficult to believe might be the intention of Jesus given the facts we know to be true concerning the historical context?
NOTE ADDED: Is there any sense in which we too are “given to Christ?” Yes, of course, but not in the same sense intended by the author in that context. That is the point of proper hermeneutics; to answer the question, “What is the intention of the author?” The intention of the author is to point out that these men were entrusted to Christ by the Father for a special purpose, a purpose that you and I are not entrusted with in the same way they were.
I haven’t meet Jesus in the flesh, have you? I haven’t walked on water with Jesus, have you? I haven’t touched his nail scared hands, have you? I wasn’t blinded on a road, were you? I didn’t help start the first church, did you? I haven’t written a book of the bible, have you? I haven’t preformed miracles, have you? What makes you distinct from the apostles? That question must be objectively addressed to deal rightly with this passage and the historical context of the entire New Testament.
To listen to my response to Dr. James White’s Dividing Line program: CLICK HERE