John 6:44 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Joh 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

This verse is quoted by Calvinists as an appeal to divine determinism. Calvin writes:

Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. 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. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 397369-397375). . Kindle Edition.

To Calvin, insisting that mankind has choice in being “drawn” is “false and profane”. Calvin’s reason is emotional: he cannot accept man making himself obedient to God through his own efforts. But contrary to Calvin, the context of the verse suggests otherwise:

Joh 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Joh 6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

Verse 45 is commentary on verse 44. In verse 45, the parallel is that people listen to God, accept God, and then “come to” Jesus. If this is the case, then verse 44 can be better read as “No one can come to me unless inspired by God”. Roger Olson writes:

With regard to Calvinists’ appeal to John 6: 44, in chapter 7 I will discuss whether the Greek word translated “draw” really means “compel” or “drag” or “draw irresistibly” as Sproul and other Calvinists argue. As with so many other proof texts used by Calvinists for their distinctive doctrines, this one is open to other and even better interpretations. For example, if the Greek word for “draw” in John 6: 44 can only mean “drag” or “compel” rather than “woo” or “call,” then John 12: 32 must be interpreted as teaching universal salvation. There Jesus says “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The Greek word translated “draw” there is the same one used in John 6: 44. Thus, if the word has to be interpreted “compel” or “drag,” then Jesus would be saying in John 12: 32 that he will compel or drag all men to himself. That’s not how the verse is understood even by Calvinists!
Olson, Roger E.. Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology (p. 51). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Olson’s case is that the word “draw” might be better understood as “woo”. The action then takes more of a passive roll. Both word interpretations are valid, context should be the key to determining the most likely reading.

This verse might also be limited to its historical context. Jesus is preaching about his own earthly ministry, and how his own hearers come to him. He is aggravating those who come to hear him yet reject his words. It could well be a mistake to export this chapter as typical of a modern Christian conversion.

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