Another look at those who Come to Jesus


I agree with John Calvin, writing his two volume commentary on the Gospel of John, when he says that the phrase “come to Christ” is used as a metaphor for believing in Christ. And it would be hard to miss the repetition of the phrase “comes to Me” as one reads through John 6:25-65. Examining these verses we can deduce the following:

  • Everyone that comes to Jesus has been given to Jesus by the Father (37)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus will not be cast out (37, 39)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus has eternal life (40, 47, 53, 54)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus will be raised on the last day (40, 44, 54)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus is drawn by the Father (44)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus has heard and learned from the Father (45)
  • Everyone that comes to Jesus has been granted by the Father (65)

A person that comes to Jesus can draw great encouragement from the promises that Jesus makes in John 6. They will have eternal life, will be raised on the last day, and will not be cast out or lost.

According to this passage the Father does four things for a person that comes to Jesus. He draws them, teaches them, enables them, and gives them to Jesus. These actions on the part of the Father are often used to defend the 5 points of Calvinism. Sam Storms wrote a blog post that affirms that Jesus was a Calvinist based on John 6.

Jesus says that it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to come to Christ apart from the “drawing” of that person by God the Father (6:44,65). … Jesus also says that it is impossible for someone whom the Father “draws” not to come to him. He says in verse 37, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me”‘ In other words, just as it is impossible for a person to come to Christ apart from the Father drawing him/her, so also is it impossible for a person not to come to Christ if the Father does draw him/her.

Storms interprets Jesus statements in this passage in a manner that would support the Calvinist views on unconditional election and irresistible grace. This interpretation is based on several assumptions.

Two Views on those who are drawn and given

First, that all  who are drawn by the Father (6:44) are the same people as those who are given to the Son (37). This is illustrated by the blue and white circles on the right. Second, that those who are given to the Son are the elect as defined by a Calvinist. And third, that the drawing and giving are describing the same operation which is performed on a person before they come to Jesus (believe).

Given these assumptions, Storms does present a plausible interpretation for John 6. I have written out his argument in its logical form based on the statements Jesus makes in verses 37 and 44:

premise If one is given to the Son then one must come to the Son
premise If one is drawn to the Son then one is given to the Son
observation one is drawn to the Son
conclusion Therefore one must come to the Son

Based on these assumptions Storms goes on to conclude:

Since this drawing of people by the Father to the Son is always efficacious, it cannot refer to the so-called enabling grace of Arminianism. … Why not? Because millions and millions of men and women do not, in fact, come to Christ! And yet Jesus says that all who are given by the Father are drawn by the Father and shall come to Christ. There is no escaping the clear and unequivocal language of our Lord Jesus Christ: no one can come unless drawn by the Father; but if one is drawn by the Father he shall come.

Calvin draws similar inferences. In his 2 volume commentary on John, Calvin described those who are given to the Son in John 6:37 as follows:

Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, “Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel.”

Calvin infers a lot from this text – certainly more than the text requires. As he expounds on John 6:44, Calvin makes it clear that the elect that are given to the Son are the same as those who are drawn:

The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected.

Is the interpretation presented by Storms (and Calvin) the only view that is possible? Or can a reasonable interpretation of this narrative be given that supports the claim that “Jesus was an Arminian”?

Who is given to the Son?

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. – Jesus (6:37 ESV)

I think most would agree that the people given to the Son are the elect. However, the Calvinist and the Arminian have different definitions on who are the elect.

The Calvinist would define the elect as the sinners whom God unconditionally chose to give eternal life before the foundation of the world. These elect were not chosen based on God knowing in advance that the person would choose to believe.

The Father gives the elect to the Son so that they will come to Jesus (believe).

The Arminian would define the elect as those whom God knew in advance would – through the enablement of prevenient grace – freely accept eternal life by coming to Jesus (believe).

The Father gives the elect to the Son [because they have already come to Jesus (believed)].

How we define the term “elect” will influence how we interpret this passage.

When do those who are given to the Son actually come?

If the verb “come” refers to believing in Jesus then there is a problem with the Arminian rendering of 6:37a because the verb “come” is in the future tense. The giving precedes the action of coming/believing. The giving is done so that the person “will come”, not because they have already come to Jesus.

However, this is not the “deal breaker” it appears to be. At the start of this post, several statements were summarized from John 6, which contained the phrase “come to Me”. Reading the passages in English it is hard to see that one of these statements does not actually fit with the rest.

In John 6:37, the Greek word (ἡκω) is translated as “come” in the phrase “will come to Me”. This is different than the Greek word (ερχομαι) which is translated as “comes” in the phrase “comes to Me” in the latter part of the verse. It is also important to note that the Greek word ερχομαι lies behind all of the other verses that contain the phase “come to Me” in John 6.

According to BDAG, the word ερχομαι focuses on the movement from one point toward another, focusing on the approach. The word ἡκω focuses on the arrival to a destination based on having moved.

It is possible to see this verse as the Calvinist does, treating the two Greek words as meaning essentially the same thing (believing in Jesus).

The Father gives the elect to the Son so that they will come (ἡκω) to Jesus (believe). And those that come (ερχομαι) to Jesus (believe) will not be cast out.

However, it is also possible to interpret this verse differently. The author may want to highlight a different aspect of coming to Jesus in the first part of 6:37 than is intended in all of the other passages in John 6. This change in meaning could be indicated by the author’s choice to use a different word.

It is probable that the focus is not on believing in Jesus (which the author indicates by using the word ερχομαι), but instead refers to the person arriving in front of Jesus in the kingdom when they are raised on the last day.

The Father is giving the elect [those who have already come (believed)] to Jesus and they will arrive (ἡκω) before Jesus (in the kingdom). And those that come (ερχομαι) to Jesus (believe) will not be cast out (of the kingdom).

Keep in mind that “raised on the last day” is a repeated theme in this narrative (6:39, 40, 44, 54) and all of the occurrences of the verb “to raise” are in the future tense as is the word ἡκω. All occurrences of ερχομαι in John 6 are in the present or aorist tense. [1]

If the Arminian interpretation is correct, than “the drawing” that results in coming (ερχομαι) to Jesus (6:44) is not necessarily the same as “the giving” that results in arriving (ἡκω) in the kingdom (6:39).

Do all who are drawn come to Jesus?

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. – Jesus (6:44 ESV)

Who is drawn to the Son? The Calvinist would answer the elect. And since the drawing is efficacious then all who are drawn by the Father are regenerated believers. This being the case, Calvin realized that he must restrict the meaning of “all” in John 12:32 to avoid teaching universalism.

Next follows the method by which the judgment shall be conducted; namely, Christ, being lifted up on the cross, shall gather all men to himself, in order that he may raise them from earth to heaven. …

I will draw all men to myself. The word all, which he employs, must be understood to refer to the children of God, who belong to his flock. Yet I agree with Chrysostom, who says that Christ used the universal term, all, because the Church was to be gathered equally from among Gentiles and Jews, according to that saying,

A reader accepting the presuppositions of the Calvinist view will have no problem with this. But the text does not require this view to be taken.

The two valid logical forms of Jesus’ argument in 6:44 looks like this (affirming the antecedent):

premise If one is not drawn then one is not able to come to the Son
observation one is not drawn
conclusion Therefore one is not able to come to the Son

and this (denying the consequent):

premise If one is not drawn then one is not able to come to the Son
observation one is able to come to the Son
conclusion Therefore one was drawn

The assertion made by Jesus only requires all that are able to come to Jesus (believe) to have been drawn by the Father.

  • All (not drawn) are (not able)
  • All (that are able to come) are (drawn)

However, it is logically possible that some who are drawn to the Son will be able to come but will not in fact come to Jesus (believe). They will choose to remain in unbelief.

Jesus does not give the form of the argument, which the Calvinist presupposes:

premise If one is drawn then one must come to the Son
observation one is drawn
conclusion Therefore one must come to the Son

Given the premise that belief requires ability it is a fallacy (denying the antecedent) to require the conclusion that one was not able to believe.

premise If one comes to Jesus (believes) then able
observation one does not come to Jesus (unbelief)
conclusion Therefore one is not able

Once we understand that the connection the Calvinist makes between verses 39 (those who are given) and 44 (those who are drawn) is not required, nothing in this passage requires that the drawing is irresistible nor does this passage tell us the means by which the Father draws. The drawing enables a person to come to Jesus, but it can be either accepted or rejected.[2]

Therefore, it is possible that Christ being lifted up (going to the cross) will be a means of drawing all men. However not all men will come. This perspective aligns with the blue and white circles in the chart above.Only those who do come (believe) will actually be given to the Father and thus be raised on the last day.

Based on studying this passage, it is possible (and in my opinion preferable) to interpret this narrative as aligning with the Arminian view point.


[1]  Credit goes to Steve Witziki who highlighted the different Greek words translated as “come” in his article. This encouraged me to dive into Bible Works and examine the Greek in this passage. It also made me appreciate the importance of being able to refer back to the original text as well as read the English translations when working on a difficult passage. 
[2] I also recommend Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace? and its examination of the Greek word translated “draw”.

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