What comes before the Giving in John 6:37?
What comes before the giving in John 6:37? Nothing according to Dr. James White on his October 23, 2017 podcast of the Dividing Line Program (segment starts at 1 hr 2 min 30 second mark). But is James White correct that John 6:37 shows that only unbelievers are given to Jesus? Let’s walk through the context of this verse and compare it to what Dr. White claims is the only proper way to understand this passage.
An important note:
Dr. White defines those who disagree with him as “Anti-Calvinist”, in particular, he identifies a “lady anti-Calvinist”. I appreciate that James White remembers that he reviewed my work on John 6 on the Dividing Line a few years ago. However, for many of us, the term anti-Calvinist is not true or fair. One can vigorously disagree without having an “anti” label attached. Does James White call himself an anti-nonCalvinist? I have never heard him refer to himself that way.
In this world, it is usually Liberals who are eager to label pro-life people as anti-abortionists. But for Christians, I think “anti” is a pejorative term that is unnecessary in a Christian in-house debate. I am not an anti-Calvinist. I am pro-Biblicism. I love to dig into the Scripture and accept what the passage teaches by respecting the inspired grammar and the inspired words. Some have accused me of being a Calvinist because I can agree with James White in many areas of John 6. The fact is that I love truth. I appreciate whenever someone points out the truth of God’s word, in context, without adding or taking away from the text. However, when James White paints Calvinism into the passage in contradiction to what Jesus had already said, I can vigorously disagree with him. I can also spell out why I disagree with him, without calling Dr. White a pejorative name. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to respond with gentleness and reverence. It is reverence for Christ that causes us to respect those who have placed their faith in Him – we are not to rip at the sheep.
The Summary of James White’s problems with the pro-Biblicism “Better than normal” argument
At the 1hr:02min:30sec – 1hr:05min:53sec mark of the program, Dr. White explains why he is opposed to the view that has God giving God-fearing people to Jesus, rather than giving Jesus unbelievers. Dr. White says:
- That the understanding that Jesus is talking about believing Jews in John 6:37 does not explain verse 36.
- That this explanation turns the text “on its head” because it is the giving of the Father that brings the coming to Christ.
- That people such as Simeon and Anna are not examples of believers who were given to Christ.
- Being “given to Christ” is not because one has placed their faith in God.
- The teaching that believers in the Father are given to Jesus is “not an unusual” teaching.
- The teaching that believers in the Father are given to Jesus, is one of the “better” arguments from non-Calvinists.
- The pre-condition of faith before the giving of the Father to Jesus is not in the text at all. There is not even a “hint” of a pre-condition of faith.
- A pre-condition of faith overthrows the order of assertion made in verse 37 that it is the giving of the Father that results in the coming to the Son.
- If there is a pre-condition of faith, then it would divide YHWH up because you would be saying that one can believe in the Father without believing in the Son.
- This view still doesn’t explain verse 36 (the verse that explains the unbelief of the Jews).
- This view makes John 6 a “man-centered” passage and makes Jesus say, “you know you never believed in YHWH that is why the Father hasn’t given you to Me.”
- This view makes Jesus to be saying “If you have been good enough…” Implying that the giving of people to the Son is because of their goodness.
- This view shows a fearful understanding from the person teaching it that if one removes any human determination of salvation then only God is left and so the view of believers being given to Christ is a “back door mechanism” of putting man back in control because John 6 says nothing about faith before giving.
- This view shows that a person teaching this position doesn’t believe that God is in control of salvation. Any alternate view to Calvinism is just a “way around” God being in control of salvation.
- Positing a non-divinely ordained group of non-elect people who naturally in and of themselves as members in the Jewish community believe in YHWH and that is a meritorious act that results in their being given to the Son by the Father.
- There is no support of this view in the text but it “allows” people to rescue a man-centered salvation.
I am going to answer these points, but first, the audio portion of October 23, 2017, Dividing Line is below for anyone who wants to listen to James White give these points himself. After my answers, I will summarize the things that James White fails to address.
1. John chapter 5 through to John 6:36 explains John 6:37
What comes before the giving in John 6:37? We must pay attention to the teaching of Jesus before John 6, when He taught on the signs of unbelief in the Father and His Word. In John 5:38, Jesus testifies that unbelievers do not have God’s word abiding in them.
The bold shows the emphasis in the Greek. The emphasized point in the primary clause is that God’s word is NOT abiding in the unbelieving Jews. Jesus adds in John 5:42 that these unbelievers do NOT have the LOVE of God abiding in them. Abiding means to continue in a certain state, condition, or activity.
Jesus also reveals an inability in John 5:44 that associates receiving glory from men with unbelief in Him.
John 5:44 “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
These unbelievers cannot believe because of their man-centered desire for approval with no care for the approval of God. In John 5:44, Jesus used the same word for inability as He did in John 6:44. Jesus then gave a strong condition. IF these people believed Moses, they would believe Jesus.
The precondition for these Jews for believing Jesus is first believing the words of Moses that were written about Him. But if they refuse to believe Moses, they have no way forward to believe Him. There is a pre-condition. Note that Jesus didn’t say that if God chose you to save, you will believe His words. He simply said that if they WOULD believe Him if they believed Moses.
Now we come to John 6:36.
John 6:36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
Are these people unable to believe in Jesus because of the preconditions set out in chapter 5? Yes! They could not believe Jesus because they did not believe Moses. They could not believe Jesus because they were seeking for a full belly instead of seeking the glory of God. They had an inability because of the preconditions that Jesus revealed. Note: For further research, my main article on John 6:37 is here.
2. Does my view of John 6:37 turn the text on its head?
Let’s look at the order of the wording in John 6:37. The giving of the Father precedes the coming to Christ in John 6:37. The giving of the Father is vital in John 6:37, however, there is also something that precedes the giving of the Father. This pre-condition that is found prior to chapter 5 and in chapter 6 as well. The giving of the Father has a pre-condition. In John 6 it is mentioned in verse 45.
John 6:45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
Learning from the Father is a pre-condition to coming to Jesus. Jesus was in front of a whole crowd of unbelievers, but none of them were coming to Jesus. Why? Jesus had already identified the pre-condition in John 5. John 5 comes before John 6, and John 5 is in the context of faith in God’s word that precedes belief in Jesus. Jesus set out the principle that the Jews would absolutely believe Him if they believed Moses.
John 5:46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.
Jesus also set up the principle that the crowd would absolutely not be able to believe Him if they did not believe Moses.
John 5:47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
Their ability to believe was preconditioned on having faith in the light that had already been given them. Their inability to believe was pre-conditioned on their refusing to believe the light that had been given them. Saying that it was unbelievers who were given to Jesus in John 6 turns the text on its head! Nowhere does the text show one who refuses to believe the Father’s word was able to come to Jesus. It is the exact opposite. While James White says there is not a single word in the text that says believers were given to Jesus, the words of Jesus in John 5 are a testimony to the truth. John 5:25 is another example of what comes first.
John 5:25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
John 5:25 is about the spiritually dead. The order is listed as: first, the Son of God speaks, then the dead hear, then those who hear will live. The hearing comes before spiritual life. I have an entire article on What Can The Spiritually Dead Do? here.
3. Examples of people given to Jesus
James White seems to think that the teaching that says only believers were given to Jesus involves only believing Jews. However, I think the best examples of people given to Jesus are non-Jews: Cornelius and Lydia. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who was called a “devout man and one who feared God”, in Acts 10:1. God divinely directed this God-fearing Gentile to send for Peter so that Cornelius could hear the gospel. Peter witnessed to Cornelius, his family, and friends about Jesus as the One about whom the prophets wrote concerning forgiveness of sins to everyone who believes in Him. While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Cornelius was a believer in the Father, and he believed the light that had been given him. God divinely brought the message of the gospel to Cornelius, and Cornelius believed.
Lydia’s story of being brought to Christ was in some ways similar to that of Cornelius. Lydia was a “worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). Paul had been divinely directed through a vision to go to Macedonia by a man who said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul concluded that this was a call from God to preach the gospel in Macedonia. Paul went to Philippi, a leading city of the district of Macedonia, and on the Sabbath, he went to a place by the riverside where he supposed there would be a place of prayer. There by the river, Paul found Lydia, and she listened to Paul as he presented the gospel. God ministered to Lydia by opening her heart to “respond” to the truth of the gospel. To respond means to pay attention to what is said. Lydia responded in faith, and she was baptized in the name of Jesus. Lydia also said to Paul in Acts 16:15, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” Lydia was judged as one faithful to the word of the Father, and she was divinely brought the message of the gospel of Jesus. Paul was called to go to Macedonia through a vision and he was directed to share the gospel with Lydia. When God opened Lydia’s heart, Lydia was given to Jesus.
Cornelius and Lydia are examples of two God-fearing Gentiles who believed in the Father’s word with the light that they had been given. Both of them instantly accepted the gospel from a place of faith and not unbelief. They are examples of people who did not know about the gospel of Jesus, but who were divinely given to know Jesus.
Another Gentile was identified by Jesus as one who had great faith, greater than anyone in Israel. This man is not named in the Scripture and is only identified as a centurion. In the Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel according to Matthew, author Leon Morris says this centurion was certainly a Gentile:
This centurion would have been in the army of Herod Antipas; he may not have been a Roman, but he was certainly a Gentile (vv. 8, 10). Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (p. 192).
This Gentile came to Jesus as a man who had great faith. He did not come to Jesus as an unbeliever.
The Old Testament has a foundation provided by God to show us His determination concerning those who fear God. Malachi 3:16-17 and Psalm 25:14 are two witnesses about God’s plan.
16Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name.
17“They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”
Psalm 25:14 The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant.
YHWH promised that his secret (the Hebrew meaning is close friendship – a friendship characterized by social or emotional intimacy), is for those who fear Him. And He will make them know (the Hebrew sense is to make known – to cause to be known to someone, perhaps particularly through instruction) His covenant. Jesus is God’s covenant and His salvation. I also have an article on Why People are not Coming to Jesus, here.
4. The Giving of people to Jesus is divinely directed towards believers not unbelievers
Dr. White gives no example of an unbeliever, one who has rejected the word of the Father, who is then given as an unbeliever to Jesus. All unbelievers walk away from Jesus in John 6 except for Judas because they are unable to come to Him. Jesus identifies Judas as an unbeliever and betrayer in John 6:64. Judas was not given to Jesus in that unbelieving state.
5. The teaching that believers in the Father are the ones given to Jesus is not an unusual teaching
Dr. White affirms that the teaching that believers are the ones given to Jesus is not an uncommon or unusual teaching. At the same time, he denies there are any verses that support this view. He has not responded to the verses found in the context of John 5 about the inability of unbelievers and the promise to believers of God’s word that they would believe Jesus. The teaching of inability comes first in John 5, and the inability is connected to a precondition. Dr. White will need to explain why the words of Jesus about inability and unbelief in John 5 are not important as a foundation for the discussion of unbelief in John 6.
6. The teaching of believers given to Jesus is one of the better arguments of non-Calvinists on John 6
Since Dr. White is affirming that the teaching of “believers given to Jesus” is one of the better arguments from non-Calvinists on John 6, I would ask that he consider the full argument starting with John 5. I would also think that he needs to provide a scriptural proof that unbelievers were given to Jesus. Which text says this?
7. What comes before the giving? James White says there is not even a hint that a precondition of faith exists in the text.
James White is avoiding the issue. Logical Fallacies: Avoiding the Issue.
Description: This happens when an arguer responds to an argument by not addressing the points of the argument. Unlike the straw man fallacy, avoiding the issue does not create an unrelated argument to divert attention, it simply avoids the argument.
When James White says that there is not even a hint of a precondition of faith, he is ignoring the truth presented by Jesus in John 5. The book of John is the context of Jesus’ teachings about faith and unbelief. The truth given in John 6 will not contradict what Jesus had already said in John 5. What comes before the giving? Faith in what God has already revealed comes before the giving. Note: I have an article on Does Jesus Draw All People to Himself, here.
8. Is the order “overthrown” in John 6:37?
The order is correct in John 6:37, however, the order does not deny a pre-condition found in John 5. If James White could show us that Jesus denied any pre-conditions before the giving, we would be very happy to look at the Scripture to examine it carefully. But understanding the pre-condition that Jesus Himself spoke of in John 5 does not “overthrow” or change the order in John 6:37. The order stays. The pre-condition also stays as it is very applicable.
9. Is YHWH divided up by teaching that believers are given to Jesus?
While the Trinity has always been united in one will, the humanity of Jesus brings an in-time expression of that will. This doesn’t mean that the Trinity is divided up and one person has a will opposing the other. Jesus, as a man, said “not My will but Thine be done”, but this doesn’t mean that the Trinity is divided. Similarly, in time, believers in the Father are given the revelation of Jesus so that they may also believe in Jesus. They are said to be “given” to Jesus, but this in no way divides the Trinity into different wills, or different ownership that belong exclusively to one and not the other. Jesus said that all things that belong to the Father also belong to Him:
John 17:10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.
Events that happen “in time” cannot possibly divide up the Trinity.
10. Does the view that the Father gives believers to Jesus fail to explain verse 36?
John 6:36 is a direct reference back to John 6:26, and the verses that follow also show why the crowd was not given to Jesus.
John 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
In verse 26 Jesus identifies the motive of the crowd. They were “seeking” Jesus because He had provided them bread to eat. They were not following Him because they had placed their faith in Him. They were unbelievers. In verse 36, Jesus clearly identified them as unbelievers.
The crowd asks for Jesus to do another work so that they may “see” and they may “believe” in Jesus.
John 6:30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?
Jesus said that they did “see”, but they did not “believe”.
John 6:36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
The crowd HAD been given enough light to believe. However, the fact that they could physically see Him and they could see the miracles, did not produce faith in them. Verse 36 identifies them as unbelievers. In verse 37 Jesus explains why they are not able to believe in Him. Jesus limits those who are able to come to Him, as those who were given to Him by the Father.
John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
They had to belong to the Father by believing His word for no one who rejects the Father can come to Jesus. Simply speaking, unbelievers do not belong to the Father.
In John 17:9-10 Jesus records that those who belonged to Him also belonged to the Father.
9“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;
10and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.
John 17:9-10 records that those who belong to the Father are NOT those that are of the world.
John 6:36 is a definitive verse that explains why this crowd is not given to Jesus. They are not given to Jesus because they do not believe the light that they have been given. They do not believe the Father and so they do not believe Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus said in chapter 5.
What John 6:36 does NOT say is that this crowd does not believe because the Father does not want to save them. This verse does NOT say that these people were chosen from eternity past as people that Jesus would “pass by” and not save. Jesus who does not lie, told of the Father’s intention. Jesus said that the Father “gives you” (the unbelieving crowd) the true bread out of heaven.
John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.
This crowd had been given enough light to put their faith in Jesus, and the Father was giving Jesus to them, but they refused to believe. Note: My full article on Why People are Not Coming to Jesus is here.
11. Does this view make John 6 to be a “man-centered” passage because it defines Jesus as saying “you never believed in YHWH that is why the Father hasn’t given you to Me”?
This kind of thinking limits God. It says that God cannot do things a certain way or He will be accused of being “man-centered”. The fact is that God can do anything He likes. God does not have to give salvation to someone who believes in Him. God has chosen (this makes it God-centered) to pay the price for all but to require a response from man because the price paid is IN Jesus. Those who respond in faith, God Himself places them IN His Son. Those who respond in faith do not save themselves, and they cannot place themselves IN Christ. God initiates salvation by Himself, He accomplishes salvation by Himself, and He gives a new heart Himself. To say that God cannot do this because it would limit Him to placing man first, is an argument that is without a biblical basis. We cannot tell God how He may give salvation. He does as He pleases. For those who disagree, please give me one verse in the Bible that explains why God cannot do as He pleases in this way. Note: I have a full article on why No One Can Come to Jesus Unless the Father Draws Him, here.
12. Does this view make Jesus say the giving is about “If you have been good enough…” Implying that the giving of people to the Son is because of their goodness?
Nobody is saying that the giving is about our “goodness”. It is about faith. Faith is a response, but it is NOT a human initiative. Faith comes because God has chosen to reveal Himself, and then people respond to that revelation in faith or in unbelief. No one can respond in faith if God has not first revealed Himself. Romans 1:18-19 explains that which is known about God is made evident to people.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
Without God making Himself evident to them, they could not believe. The charge that this view equates faith with being “good enough” is a straw man argument. It is not what we or anyone we know is saying. Note: I have an article on this subject called Are You Better Than Those Who Say No? here.
13. Does this view show we are fearful that if one removes any human determination of salvation? Is our view a “back door mechanism” of putting man back in control because John 6 says nothing about faith before giving?
As a Biblicist, I only want to believe the truth. I am not fearful of the text. I am also not interested in searching for a “back door” to add man as a cause for salvation. The fact is that Jesus made clear in John 5 why people cannot believe.
John 5:44, 46–47
44“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
46“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.
47“But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
The crowd was not given to Jesus because they saw Him and His works and still did not believe (John 6:36). They had not believed the Father and so they were unable to believe Jesus. I did not come to the passage with a preconceived notion that people cannot believe because the Father only chooses some unbelievers to receive a gift of faith and the vast majority of unbelievers He passes them by. The fact is that no unbeliever was given to Jesus or else Jesus did not give a true testimony in John 5 and throughout John 6. I believe the pre-condition to faith because Jesus taught it and I would rather believe Jesus than a human tradition. Note: I have an article on who makes the choice called Calvinism: Who Chooses The Shepherd? Or The Sheep? here.
14. Does this view show that its advocates do not believe that God is in control of salvation? Is it just an alternate view to Calvinism as a “way around” God being in control of salvation?
The charge that my view is just a “way around” Calvinist is not true. God is in control of salvation, and He gives life to whomever He pleases. That fact is that He is pleased to give eternal life to those who respond in faith to His initiation and His revelation. Period. What James White has presented as a “way around” Calvinism is not answering my view because he is charging those of us who believe this view with things that we do not believe. It is a false statement to say that we believe that man is in control, or that we are looking for a “backdoor” so we don’t have to believe that God is in control. I believe that God is in control of salvation. I believe that He gives salvation to whomever He pleases. I just believe that He has revealed the answer “to whom He pleases”. I appreciate Dr. White for all that he has taught that is true. However, he has failed to respond to the argument from the book of John that the Father gives believers to the Son. James White has not given a single piece of evidence to show that unbelievers are given to the Son.
15. Does this view assume a non-divinely ordained group of non-elect Jewish people who naturally in and of themselves as members in the Jewish community believe in YHWH and that is a meritorious act that results in their being given to the Son by the Father?
Not at all. I do not see Jesus in John 6:37 limiting his words to Jewish people. In fact, Cornelius and Lydia are two examples of Gentiles who believed in YHWH and who ultimately came to faith in Jesus through divine circumstances. People do not “naturally” and “in and of themselves” believe in God. Romans 1 shows that God must first reveal Himself. Faith is not possible “in and of oneself”. Faith comes from the word of God.
Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
John 6:45 shows that God has revealed that He will teach all. Yet Jesus said it is those who have “heard” and “LEARNED” who come to Him.
John 6:45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.
Faith is not a meritorious act, and faith is never without God’s revelation first. Thus faith is not man-centered, but God-centered because that is the way that He chose. Note: I have an article on this subject about who does the work of salvation, called God’s Conditions: From Doing to Seeing in John 6:30-33, here.
16. Does this view have “no support” in the text but does it “allow people to rescue a man-centered salvation”?
I have answered this accusation throughout this post. Jesus has revealed the reason why people cannot come to Jesus. There is no rescuing a “man-centered” salvation because salvation is OF the Lord, not OF men. “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13 is our obligation, but we cannot call out to Him on our own “naturally” without His initiative. Paul wrote in Romans:
13for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?
15How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Note: I have an article on The Will of The Father John 6:38-40, here.
Below is a summary for Dr. James White to address the things that he does not address when he tries to refute the teaching that it is believers who are given to Jesus.
What comes before the giving? A summary of things James White does not address:
- He does not point out where in the text it says unbelievers are given to Jesus. He just assumes that unbelief is a precondition for the giving of the Father to Jesus.
- He does not explain how belief is NOT a precondition for the ability to go on to believe in Jesus.
- He changes the teaching that he is trying to refute to add-in a “natural” belief that is “meritorious”. My writings and those that are like me do not say that a person’s faith merits salvation. In this way, Dr. White does not address the fact about our belief that faith cannot “earn” salvation. If he truly understands the view, why would James need to create a meritorious straw man?
- He does not explain how the order of verse 37 is turned “upside down” by the condition of faith shown from the context of John, especially John chapter 5.
- He does not explain why he has no verses in the OT that are a foundation for his view that requires unbelief as a pre-condition for the giving. In contrast, my view (and the view of others) has a foundation in the Old Testament for the giving of the Father to those who fear God.
- He doesn’t seem to conceive of a person who believes that God is in control of salvation, but who also believes that God is also completely free to demand a response from a person without ever losing His Sovereignty.
- He doesn’t explain how non-Jewish God-fearing people like Cornelius and Lydia can quickly come to faith in Christ through a divine encounter without having the precondition of unbelief at the time that they came to Christ.