This is the second in a series of posts examining verses commonly cited as "proof texts" for Calvinism. Click here to read the first post on Acts 13:48.
Calvinists believe that the only people who will be saved are those upon whom God has chosen to bestow his irresistible grace. All who receive this grace will believe and be saved. Everyone else will persist in unbelief and be damned. One verse commonly cited to support this doctrine is John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (ESV). In this post, I offer an alternative interpretation of this verse which accords with Wesleyan/Arminian theology.
Consider first the immediate context of Jesus’ words:
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.
Jesus follows the negative statement ("no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him") with the positive corollary ("everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me"). These two parallel statements clarify that to be drawn by the Father entails hearing and learning from the Father.
This connection between 6:44 and 6:45 is critically important. The same verb that is translated "draw" in John 6:44 (ἕλκω) is used in John 21:6 and 21:11 to describe fishermen pulling in a heavy net filled with fish. Thus, if taken in isolation, the language of John 6:44 could easily be taken to mean that God draws people irresistibly to Jesus. However, Jesus’ words in John 6:45 clarify that this is not the case. One is drawn by the Father when one hears from the Father and learns from the Father. And of course, one can refuse to listen and learn.
Consider what Jesus said in the previous chapter:
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (5:45-47)
Obviously, the problem here is not that these Jews had no access to the Torah. The problem, according to Jesus, is that these Jews stubbornly refused to believe the Torah. Their rejection of the incarnate Word revealed their prior rejection of the written Word. In the language of John 6:45, these people had not "learned from the Father," but not because the Father had declined to speak to them. Rather, these people had not "learned from the Father" because they had stubbornly refused to heed his words.