I was recently asked to give my opinion of the Calvinist claim that John 6:35-45 agrees with their view of salvation. I have a very unique view of this passage, and I thought that it would be beneficial to share it with all of my readers. Here is the answer that I gave:
My view of John 6:35-45 is based on John 5:37-47. In that passage, we find Christ in Jerusalem telling the pharisees that the reason they do not believe on Him is that they had not previously believed the Father. The Pharisees claimed to be followers of God because they were followers of Moses, but Christ said that they were followers of neither God nor Moses, and therefore, that they would not follow Him either.
Now, with that in mind, we can see that John 6 contains a very similar message. In verse 2, we can see that the multitude that was with Him was there because of His miracles, and in verse 14, we can see that they were so impressed by the feeding of the five thousand that they wanted to make Jesus their king. Jesus left them at that point, and they later found Him again in Capernaum (vs. 24-25). When He had been found of them, Jesus berated them for following Him for the wrong reason. They didn't care about the miracles which proved that He was the Messiah; they wanted to make Him king just so that they could have access to all the free food (vs. 26).
In verse 28, the people asked an interesting question. They wanted to know how to "work the works of God." Jesus answered and said that the work of God is to "believe on him whom he hath sent." (By the way, this is the "good" that Jesus was speaking of in John 5:28-29, and it provides an indication that the two passages are linked.) The people understood that Jesus was speaking of believing that He was the Messiah, for they then asked what sign Jesus could give them to prove that He was the Messiah. Remember that this question was asked after at least a full day of watching Him heal people.
Jesus did not answer their question, but instead taught that He was the bread of life and then said, "But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not." This is a reference back to John 5:37-38 where Jesus spoke of the Father whom the people had not seen and of Himself who had been sent from the Father, and thus who was seen of them, yet who was not believed. Christ's reference back to this passage of John 5 indicates that there were many people in the crowd in Capernaum who had also been in the crowd in Jerusalem.
It was in this context -- speaking to people who had refused to believe that Christ's miracles were evidence that He was the Messiah, people who did not believe Christ because they did not believe the words of the Father in the Scriptures -- it was in this context that Christ began teaching that all those and only those who were given to Him by the Father would come to Him. The people did not like what they heard and began to murmur among themselves, so Christ provided an additional explanation (vs. 44) in which He declared that all those who come to Him must first be drawn by the Father. He explains how this drawing is to take place in the next verse by stating that those who have heard and have learned from the Father come to Him.
How do people hear and learn from the Father? The answer is found in chapter 5 where Christ said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (vs. 39) And also, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (vs. 46-47) Those who hear and learn from the Father are those who believe what is written in the Bible. These are the ones who will come to Christ. Those who do not believe the Bible do not believe the Father and, consequently, will not believe the Son either.
Thus it becomes clear that John 6 is not referring to a Calvinistic election of certain individuals to become followers of Christ. Rather, this passage is teaching that it is impossible to believe in Christ without believing God. This is a common theme throughout the Gospels. We find it, for example, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus when Abraham tells the rich man that if his brothers "hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:31) John 5 and 6 are another example of Christ teaching that those who refuse to believe the Bible will not be convinced to believe Him even if they meet Him in the flesh and speak with Him face to face. One must believe the written Word of God in order to believe in the living Word of God.
Click here to read how this view fits with John 10:26 and John 8:41.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)