Calvinism and John Six: An Exegetical Response,
Part Two,
Steve Witzki


So if John 6 does not teach unconditional election nor irresistible grace, doesn't it still teach unconditional eternal security? Schreiner and Caneday think so in writing,

The text [John 6:37-40] begins by asserting that all whom the Father has given to the Son "will come" to the Son. This coming to the Son is equivalent to believing in the Son. We know this from John 6:35, where Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (NIV). It is obvious in this sentence that comes and believes are synonyms, since the one who "comes to" or "believes in" Jesus satisfies his or her hunger and thirst. Therefore, when Jesus says in John 6:37 that those given by the Father "will come" to the Son, he means that they "will believe" in the Son. We know, however, that not all believe in or come to the Son, so the Father only gives some human beings to the Son. Those who are given, however, will certainly come [37a], and those who have believed in Jesus will never be driven away by the Son [37b]. What Jesus means by this is expressed more clearly in John 6:39: "I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day" (NIV). No one who the Father gives to the Son will perish; that is, not one believer will ever be lost. Jesus pledges that each one without exception will be preserved, and he also specifies to what they will be preserved when he says that he will "raise them up at the last day." When Jesus says they will be raised on the last day, he means that they will attain the resurrection. They will enter fully into the life of the age to come.
John 6:40 clarifies this as well. Those who look to the Son and believe in him "have eternal life." That is, they already enjoy the life of the age to come. Thus it inexorably follows, says Jesus, that "I will raise" such people up "at the last day." No one who now has eternal life will fail to experience the end-time resurrection. Jesus promises that they will experience the resurrection because of his preserving work. Those whom have been specifically given to him shall never be lost. This same theme is reiterated in John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (NIV). Here Jesus complements what he said in John 6:37. There he said that those given to the Father will come to the Son. Her he emphasizes that those who are not given cannot come to the Son. The idea, of course, is not that they sincerely desire to come to Jesus but that the Father prevents them from doing so. Rather, they cannot come because they do not have any desire to believe in Jesus. They are naturally repelled by him. On the other hand, those drawn by the Father are given the desire and will to believe, and once they believe they are guaranteed that Jesus will raise them up at the last day. The emphasis here is on the power of God's grace. He grants people the desire to come to Jesus, and once they come he ensures that they will never depart from him. These promises provide tremendous comfort and strength to believers [The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, pp. 249-50].
If the reader had read the first part of this two-part article they would have noticed that Schreiner and Caneday make the same mistake Schreiner and Ware made in linking the "come (erchomai) to me" in verse 35a, 37b, and 44, to "will come (heko) to me" in verse 37a. This led Schreiner and Ware to incorrectly conclude that John 6:35-44 teaches unconditional election and irresistible grace. Using this same reasoning, Schreiner and Caneday now conclude that John 6:35-44 teaches unconditional security— the natural conclusion to these other doctrines. We have demonstrated that unconditional election and irresistible grace are neither explicitly nor implicitly taught by Jesus in John 6:35-44. If our interpretation has been correct thus far then one cannot assume that Jesus was teaching unconditional eternal security as well.
In a few moments we will argue that Jesus taught the conditional rather than unconditional security of the believer. In the previous article we noted that when the believing community is in view ("all that" 6:37, 39), the promises are certain to be fulfilled. Jesus promised that the believing community "will come (heko) to Me," that he would "raise them up at the last day," and that he "shall lose none of them." These promises are certain because the "all that" in v. 39 was linked by Jesus to what he said in v. 40 by the connective word "for":
"And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that [= all believers regarded as a complete whole] He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

As Vincent said, "The Father's will in preserving and raising up that which he has given to the Son, includes in its fulfillment the believing contemplation of the Son and its issue in eternal life"[ Word Studies, 2:150, emphasis added]. So we agree with Schreiner and Caneday when they say,

Those who look to the Son and believe in him "have eternal life." That is, they already enjoy the life of the age to come. Thus it inexorably follows, says Jesus, that "I will raise" such people up "at the last day."

Jesus will certainly raise up such people who are fulfilling the condition as Calvinist James White explains,

Specifically, Christ says that he who looks (a present participle indicating an ongoing action, not just a glance, but a continuing steady gaze) and believes (another present participle, e.g.: continues believing) has eternal life. Those who do not look and keep on looking, believe and keep on believing, cannot put a claim on Christ for eternal life! [Drawn by the Father, p. 61, fn. 8].

Those who do not keep on looking to and keep on believing in Jesus cannot claim to be possessing eternal life nor can they expect to be raised up on the last day. The believing community is certain to be raised up because they comprise those who are fulfilling the condition—looking to and believing in the Son. We have noted that Jesus oscillates between the believing community (37a, 39) and its individual members (v. 35, 37a, 40) in this context. In both cases the believer's security is conditional upon an ongoing and living trust in Jesus. This is confirmed by the conditional language Jesus uses throughout his Bread of Life discourse:

"Stop working [for] the food that [is] perishing, but [be working for] the food that [is] remaining unto eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has set [His] seal [on] this One." Therefore, they said to Him, "What shall we do that we shall be working the works of God?" Jesus an- swered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you be believing in [Him] whom that One sent" (John 6:27-29).

Jesus said to them, "I am the Bread of Life! The one coming to Me shall by no means hunger, and the one believing in Me will by no means thirst at any time! But I said to you that you have both seen Me, and [yet] you do not believe. All that [= all believers regarded as a complete whole] the Father gives to Me will come to Me [via being "raised up on the last day"], and the one coming to Me I shall by no means be cast out. Because I have come down out of heaven, not so that I should be doing My will, but the will of the One having sent Me. Now this is the will of the One having sent Me, that all that [= all believers regarded as a complete whole] He has given to Me I should not lose [any] of them, but I will raise them up [on] the last day. For this is the will of the One having sent me, that everyone looking [to] the Son and believing in Him shall be possessing eternal life, and I will raise him up [on] the last day" (John 6:35-40).

"Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing possesses eternal life" (John 6:47).

"I am the Bread of Life . . . The one eating My flesh and drinking My blood possesses eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. The one eating My flesh and drinking My blood remains in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, [so] also the one feeding on Me, that one will also live because of Me. This is the bread having come down out of heaven, not as [your] fathers ate and died. The one eating this bread will live into the age [i.e., forever]!" (John 6:48, 54-58).

These promises should "provide tremendous comfort and strength to believers," as Schreiner and Caneday have said, but this comfort and strength is for those who are fulfilling the condition. No less than ten times we find the promises of not being spiritually hungry or thirsty; of not being cast out from Jesus; of possessing eternal life with the assurance of being raised up on the last day; of remaining in a life-giving union with Jesus; and of living into the age to come being conditionally rather than unconditionally guaranteed. It is to the ones believing, coming, eating and drinking, or feeding upon the Bread of Life who partake of the promises both now and more fully in the age to come. Consequently, it is not "those who have believed in Jesus [who] will never be driven away by the Son," as Schreiner and Caneday write, but those who have believed and continue believing in and coming to Jesus. The verb for comes (35, 37b) and believes (35) "are translations of present participles, denoting not a single act of coming or believing but a continuous coming and believing. Thus lifetime faith is implied" [Turner and Mantey, The Evangelical Commentary: The Gospel According to John, p. 161].

One cannot support the doctrine of unconditional eternal security or "once saved always saved" from passages like John 6:35ff. It is one thing to say that Jesus will not drive away anyone who continues to come to him in faith; it is another to suggest that "once they come he [irresistibly] ensures that they will never depart from him" [Witherington, John's Wisdom, p. 158, brackets are mine] as Schreiner and Caneday argue. Jesus taught the former but not the latter. Calvinist F. F. Bruce writes,

No believer need fear being overlooked among the multitude of his or her companions in the faith. The community [of believers] as a whole, and each [believing] member of the community, having been given by the Father to the Son, will be safely kept by the Son until the consummation of the resurrection life ‘at the last day' [The Gospel of John, p. 154].

Arminians affirm along with Calvinists that Jesus keeps believers safe and secure until the consummation of the resurrection life at the last day. However, this security is not guaranteed as a result of unconditional election and irresistible grace, or because a single moment of faith was exercised sometime in the past as Modified Calvinists suggest. The believer's security is conditional upon an ongoing and living trust in Jesus. Only those who are fulfilling the condition are assured of partaking of the promises that Jesus offers to give to them as the Bread of Life. Daniel Whedon writes in his commentary on John 6:40,

So long as he [the believer] performs the condition, so long is he heir of the salvation. When he ceases to be a believer he loses all claim to the divine promise, and all interest in eternal life. That he has once believed no longer secures him heaven, any more than the fact that he has once disbelieved secures eternal death [Commentary 2:288].

I hope to consider in a future article in the Arminian Magazine whether it is possible for a genuine believer to cease believing in Christ and lose claim to the promise of eternal life. But until then, let us be people who are continually partaking of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and looking forward to being raised up to life everlasting upon His glorious return.


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