Sunday, 11 September 2011

Drawn by the Father

John 6:44 is viewed by many to teach that God elects specific men to salvation. It is favoured by Calvinists as supporting their theology. While a Calvinist interpretation can be maintained, this interpretation does not seem to fit with several other passages where we are commanded to choose service to God. Further the entire pericope offers other challenges in interpretation which may indicate that further considerations need to be given to understanding this passage.

John 6:43–44 in the ESV states
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
There is discussion on what the word "draws" means. I do not intend to comment on this in depth. From what I currently understand, the view that "drawing" is something that originates in the subject. This seems reasonable for inanimate objects, especially given that they are unable to actively resist such drawing. It may not be that the same meaning is intrinsic to objects of will. In English a magnetic draws iron filings irresistibly, but a person draws another person resistibly. The same word is understood to be deterministic or non-deterministic depending on the ability of the object to resist. Whether ηελκυο can be understood the same way I cannot answer.

But I wish to suggest an alternative possibility in interpretation here.

Starting with the larger context before focusing on the smaller; what is striking in John is how often Jesus refers to God the Father. Much of the book involves Jesus explaining his identity in the Father. The word "father" occurs over 100 times in John, most of which refers to God. At the beginning of John we see Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father (John 1:14,18). Jesus is upset with how his Father's house is treated (John 2:16). Later we learn that the Father has given all things to the Son,
For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:34-36)
Then Jesus informs the Samaritan woman that it is not important where one's fathers worshipped, rather that one worships the Father (John 4:21-24).

Jesus is opposed by the Jewish leaders for calling God his Father thus identifying himself with God (John 5:17-18). Jesus explains that he only does what the Father does, that the Father loves the Son, that the Father reveals to the Son what he himself is doing.

There is a strong emphasis on both the fatherhood of God and the relationship of the Father with the Son. Later the Jews try to stone Jesus associating himself with God the Father (John 10).

After feeding the crowds bread Jesus says that he is the true bread (John 6). Then Jesus gives a long speech about who he is. Jesus says the following. Red represents Jesus, blue the Father.
  • Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.
  • This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
  • I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 
  • All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 
  • For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
  • For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
  • Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
  • 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
  • not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
  • I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
  • Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
  • This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
  • Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
  • But there are some of you who do not believe. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.
Jesus draws parallels between manna and himself. The Father gave manna to sustain the Israelites in the desert, ie. to give them life; but the Father gives eternal life thru Jesus who is the true bread.

Jesus is saying that if you can see the Father in his provision of the bread, you should recognise Jesus because he is the greater bread.

In this context we see that those who recognise who Jesus is do so because they already know the Father. If they do not recognise Jesus, they do not really know the Father. They may know the story about the manna in the desert, but this story points to Jesus; if they really know the Father who sent manna they will see the true manna.

If we grasp this is the focus of Jesus' discourse here, we can see that when Jesus says that the Father draws men to Jesus, the Father is drawing those who already know him (God who provided the manna) to Jesus. It is not so much that the Father is drawing people who don't know God to Jesus; he is drawing those who know him to meet his Son.

People are not outside being drawn irresistibly inside, they are inside and gaining the Son.

This makes sense of the last line (v. 64). They do not believe and therefore God does not draw them to the Son.

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