Understanding John 6:44 – the drawing of the Father

by Jun 21, 2020John0 comments

- ...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17 NRS) -

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. (John 6:44; Greek)

No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise that person up on the last day. (John 6:44, English)

John 6:44 is a considered a key reference for some who hold to a deterministic theology of God. In this approach the verse is outlined as followings:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him;

             and I will raise him (the person who is drawn) up on the last day.

Determinists strengthen their case by referring to John 6:37-40, stating that the one drawn is the one who is given to Jesus.

However, there is a better way to understand this that engages the affirmed lexical definition, the grammar, the context, and the rhetorical nature of the discourse.

The Bauer-Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT (BDAG), which is the standard for New Testament scholarship, assigns the following definition to ἕλκω (HELKŌ; “draw”) in this verse:

2. to draw a pers. in the direction of values for inner life, draw, attract

Other lexicons are consistent with this meaning.

This is also the same meaning that is used for “draw” in John 12:32, which I will discuss later.

The same type of meaning is used in Jeremiah 31:3 (LXX – 38:3):

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore have I drawn thee in compassion. (Jeremiah 38:3; Brenton’s translation from the LXX)

In this case, we see the same lexical meaning in play, where it is God’s love that draws or attracts Israel to himself, calling them via messengers from the hills of Ephraim (31:6) to return to the Lord in Zion.

The concept of “draw” as an attraction better fits the narrative since eternal life requires a “coming” (in faith) to Jesus.  This should be seen as a form of persuasion on some basis.  This is God’s way of providing what is necessary to come to Christ.  However, we should not see it as compulsive.

Concerning the grammar, the compulsive case rest on the pronoun αὐτὸν, which is found as the object of ἑλκύσῃ (draws) and also as the one who is raised up.  (See the highlights above.)  That seems fairly straightforward and they will argue that this is the most natural reading of the text. Therefore, the argument is that the verbs “draw” and “will raise up” are tied to the same direct object and there is an interdependency between them due to their proximity to each other.

However, simply because they are in close proximity does not mean that they are equivalent references as noted by Wayne Grudem in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – 1 Peter (179).[1]

In analyzing the grammar of the sentence, there are three clauses in this verse.  We can label them as follows to make the analysis simple:

A-Clause:  No one is able (δύναται) to come to me

B-Clause: Unless drawn by the Father who sent me

C-Clause:   And I will raise that person (“him”) up on the last day.

In the A-Clause, we see that the primary verb, the indicative, in this clause is δύναται (“is able”) and that is the subject is negated yielding “no one.” This negative pronoun is a singular masculine and is the inverse of the one who is able to come. The infinitive ἐλθεῖν (“to come”) acts as part of the object of that verb. We often forget that infinitives are indeclinable verbal nouns (Wallace). We also need to understand that the clause is introduced by a singular masculine pronoun (οὐδεὶς; “no one”) that is the inverse of the one who is able to come.

In the B-Clause, we have two key elements to consider. The first is the conjunction ἐὰν μὴ (“unless”), which is a negation of a conditional (“unless” = “if not”). The second is the use of the aorist subjunctive ἑλκύσῃ (“he draws”). This makes this clause the protasis of a conditional statement, and the A-clause is the apodosis or resulting clause. The use of ἐὰν μὴ grammatically ties the A and B clauses together as a logical unit (the conditional statement), and in our analysis we can reverse these to see the condition:

If B, then A: If the Father… does not draw him (a person), he is not (“no one”) able to come to me.

That is, apart from the drawing of the Father, the ability to come is absent.  This can be expressed in a positive manner as well.

If -B, then -A: If the Father… draws him (a person), he is able (or enabled) to come to me.

Generally, the converse of a conditional is not necessarily true, but the use of ἐὰν μὴ makes this exclusive, essentially an “if and only if” condition.  Logically and grammatically, the final object in the condition (the apodosis) is the expression “to come to me.”  That is, it is referring to a person coming to Jesus.  The consequence of the drawing (the action of the Father) is that the person is enabled to come to Jesus.  Therefore, we should read these two clauses (A and B) together, since they form the unit of a conditional statement.  The final outcome of the conditional is not that one comes to Jesus, but that one is able to come to Jesus.

We still need to determine which clause is being referenced by the pronoun αὐτὸν (“him” or “that one”) in the final clause. Arguably, the proximity of the two instances of αὐτὸν can be seen as tying them together into a single reference on a grammatical basis. Logically, however, the reference in the apodosis of the conditional statement implies that this is the one who comes.

The fundamental question then is, does αὐτὸν in the C-clause refer to the “him” in the protasis of the prior conditional statement or to an inferred “one who comes to me” based on the apodosis? It is here where context will begin to dictate the meaning.

The C-clause is separated from the A- and B- clauses with a standard conjunction κἀγὼ (“and I,” καὶ ἐγὼ in some Byzantine texts). This expresses a reciprocal relationship (BDAG, definition 1) as in John 6:56.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. (John 6:56 NRSV)

In John 6:56 we see a relationship between the one who abides in Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (metaphorical for partaking of the life of Christ) and the reciprocal relation where he abides in them. If this is a parallel idea, then what is inferred in 6:44 is better understood as reading that Jesus will raise up the one who comes, not simply the one who is enabled.  There is an unspoken inference that if one comes, for his part Jesus will raise him up.

Other parallels also exist when we begin to review who is raised up in the prior clauses:

6:35 –       Whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry and whoever believes will be raised up.

6:39-40 – Everything that is given to Christ is raised up, and all who see the Son and believe in him are raised up.

The parallels strongly argue for the inference that one must come and believe because Jesus has already stated this previously and explicitly in 6:35.

It should be noted that for some, verse 39 suggest that what is raised up are individuals who are given to Jesus. However, the singular neuter adjective-pronoun combination πᾶν ὃ (“everything that”) does not suggest an individual giving, but a corporate giving of all believers per F. F. Bruce and Raymond Brown. While I hold to a somewhat different view of these pronouns, these scholars make a sufficient case that the neuter instance (πᾶν ὃ) is not the equivalent of the masculine instance (πᾶς) of the same adjective later in verse 40.  When referring to people, John is consistent in his use of the masculine, and in this case, they must see and believe to be raised up.

Is the prior context sufficient to provide and inference of an implied condition that those who come are raised up?  Absolutely!  In fact, the condition is explicitly stated:

33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes (ὁ πιστεύων) in me will never be thirsty.
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37 Everything that (πᾶν ὃ, neuter singular) the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away;
38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that (πᾶν ὃ, neuter singular) he has given me, but raise it (αὐτὸ, neuter singular) up on the last day.
40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all (“everyone,” PAS, masculine singular) who see the Son and believe (πιστεύων, masculine singular) in him may have eternal life; and I will raise him (αὐτὸν; masculine singular) up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:35-41)

Rhetorically, Jesus has already established the rhetorical premise that everyone who believes in him receives eternal life and that person is raised in the last day. What separates 6:44 from these prior verses is 6:41-43, the complaint of the Jews, which initiates the response of 6:44.  Therefore, we are still in the same context and the inferred premise, that the one who believes or comes the Jesus is the one who is raised up, is based on what has been explicitly stated.  It does not need to be repeated in the statement of John 6:44. Therefore, we have a pre-established condition within the context that indicates that it is the one who comes, the one who believes, who is raised up.  They simply cannot come until the Father draws them.  This seems to be the better understanding of what Jesus is saying.

As noted above, in the context of Jeremiah 31, the sentinels or messengers from Ephraim are those who initiate God’s drawing of Israel to himself.  They act as the agents of God’s drawing.  We can look broader in the context of the gospel of John to see that Jesus himself is the agent of God for the drawing and he will draw all persons to himself via the cross. This drawing is of all persons (πάντας, masculine plural) is a universal drawing.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32 NRSV)

The agency of Christ is well attested to in John (as in John 5, just prior to the bread of life narrative), so we can see that while the drawing was conditional in John 6 (hence the use of the subjunctive aorist), it will be completed (indicative future) in the crucifixion. John 6:44 is preparing us for this coming event, and the eating of the flesh of Christ is metaphorical for belief in Christ’s completed work.

There is one final verse to review when considering this. John 6:65 seems to be referring back to the 6:44, equating God’s “granting” (δεδομένον) with the drawing of the Father. It is stating that God grants the person the ability to come.  In both cases, John 6:44 and 6:65, the act of God the Father is to enable the coming, not irresistibly compel the coming. This makes the drawing of the Father necessary for someone coming to Christ, which no one denies.  However, the idea of granting someone to come evokes to image of a suzerain and hence the imagery of covenant.  The drawing is the invitation to come into covenant with God, or for those in exile, to be restored to covenant.  This drawing is universally applied through the event of the cross.  The person who comes is raised up to life both spiritually now and eschatologically at the judgment.

Contextually and rhetorically, the stronger parallels point to the idea that the one who comes is the one who is raised up. The drawing is the enabling of coming to Christ, which is the act of faith in the bread of life, who is the giver of life. The Father’s drawing is certainly a necessary condition for coming to Jesus, since it enables coming.  However, it does not necessitate the coming. One still must come to Christ in faith to receive eternal life.

[1]  Grudem is arguing against a principle proposed by Henry Alford (Alford’s Law) that suggests the opposite, that when a word is used successively in close proximity, it carries the same meaning.