Does the Holy Spirit draw all people for salvation? Or is it only a few who are chosen?
(Seining for fish in a river, image courtesy Wikipedia)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
1. Challenges from John’s Gospel
There are 3 challenging (even confusing) verses in John’s Gospel. They are:
‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away’ (John 6:37 NIV).
Some interesting questions emerge from this verse for me:
- Does the Father give the elect to Jesus and that is the basis of their coming to Jesus Christ for salvation?
- ‘Whoever’ comes to Jesus won’t be driven away, but are they only the ones the Father gives to Jesus?
- Here, do we have God’s sovereignty of giving people to Jesus and of human beings choosing to come to Jesus?
- If they will not be driven away from Jesus, does that mean they experience irresistible grace that they cannot refuse?
‘‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:44 NIV).
The questions rising are:
- Since nobody can come to Jesus without the Father’s drawing, what is the meaning of drawing?
- Is it like drawing people together by persuasive preaching?
- Trawler fishermen search for prawns in the ocean with trawling nets and then they drag the nets in.
(The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0, public domain)
· Is the drawing of a person to Christ like a tug-of-war pulling or a gentle drawing of a cloth together for sewing purposes? We’ll need to examine the Greek verb for ‘pull’ to try to understand its meaning.
- I look forward to the ‘raising up’ of believers at Jesus’ Second Coming.
(Easy tee shirt midi dress sewing tutorial – It’s Always Autumn, image courtesy Pinterest)
John 12:32 uses the same verb for ‘pull’ in John 6:44: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (Jn 12:32 NIV).
For me, questions include:
- Jesus’ being ‘lifted up’ most often refers to the crucifixion. How can all people everywhere be drawn to him since the crucifixion?
- Are they all saved? If so, this is the heretical doctrine of universalism.
- I can accept the need of the Father to draw people to Jesus, but how can John 12:32 avoid universal salvation?
2. Let’s check some major theological views on John 12:32
2.1 The Calvinistic view
The Calvinistic website, Monergism, includes an article, ‘Does the Spirit Draw All People That They May Have An Opportunity to Respond?’
In it, the author John Hendryx states concerning John 12:32:
Remember that Jesus speaks of John 12 in a completely different context as John 6. Take the time to read that passage and you will quickly discover that it is an entirely different discussion. In John 6 Jesus is speaking to some unbelieving Jews and in John 12 to a group of Gentiles. The emphasis is that Jesus was doing something new…
Up to that time only the Jews were privy to God’s revelation…
Gentiles were largely excluded. Now Jesus was grafting the gentiles onto the vine … so in content of John 12… Jesus is not teaching that he is going to draw all men without exception, but all men without distinction – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Calvinistic commentator, D A Carson, takes a similar line of interpretation in John 12:32:
Here, ‘all men’ reminds the reader of what triggered these statements, viz. the arrival of the Greeks, and means ‘all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike’, not all individuals without exception, since the surrounding context has just established judgment as a major theme (v. 31) [Carson 1991:444].
The late Leon Morris admitted:
“All men” is something of a problem. In fact not every man is drawn to Christ as this Gospel envisages the possibility that some will not be. We must take the expression accordingly to mean that those who are to be drawn will be drawn. That is to say Christ is not affirming that the whole world will be saved. He is affirming that all who are to be saved will be saved in this way. And he is speaking of a universal rather than a narrowly nationalistic religion. The death of Christ would mean the end of particularism. By virtue of that death, “all men” and not the Jews alone should be drawn. And they would be drawn only by virtue of that death (Morris1971:598-599).
These are verses from John’s Gospel that confirm ‘all men’ does not mean everyone who has ever lived since the crucifixion – according to the above scholars.
2.2 ‘Draw’ means to ‘drag’
Ligonier Ministries (the teaching fellowship of R C Sproul) claims:
It is also clear that any position that says the Lord only “woos” us cannot be maintained. The same word translated “draw” in John 6:44 is found in Acts 16:19 and James 2:6 where the apostolic authors speak of someone being “dragged” somewhere. Though the elect may try at first to resist God’s drawing, He drags us, against our fallen wills, to Jesus. God overcomes our natural enmity toward Himself and guarantees that His elect people will choose to follow Christ.
This is an extreme Calvinistic view, not supported by the Lexicons’ definition of helkuw (or helkw). Thayer agrees with Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich in defining elkuw: In Acts 16:19 and James 2:6 it means ‘a person forcibly and against his will (our drag, drag off)’. However, in Jn 6:44 and 12:32 it is used ‘metaphorically to draw by inward power, lead, impel…. I by my moral, my spiritual, influence will win over to myself the hearts of all’ (Thayer 1962:204-205).
2.3 Arminian views
John Wesley considered John 12:32, ‘I will draw all men — [to mean] Gentiles as well as Jews’.
An Arminian Baptist wrote of this verse:
The Calvinist who takes “all” to mean “all kinds” has to resort to saying, “There was a common misconception among the people known to the Evangelist who really wanted only one kind of people to be saved, and the Evangelist emphasises “all kinds” to fix this misconception.” Maybe such people thought that God only wanted men saved whose last name began with ? (pi). But you don’t find such stuff in John’s Gospel. There simply is no emphasis on the diversity of the Elect in John’s Gospel, or in John’s letters, either.
What you do find in John’s Gospel is the incredible news that Jesus even loves you! For Jesus loves everyone! The Calvinist inverse of this statement, “Jesus doesn’t love everyone! He might not love you!” is so shocking and contrary to expectation, that if it were true, you’d expect John to make explicit exclusive statements to this effect, including long, protracted argumentation.
2.4 A moderate Calvinistic view
The late Dr Norman Geisler considered himself a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (Geisler 1999:52). It seems to be his views could be those of a ‘moderate Arminian’ his following exposition explains.
2.4.1 John 6:44
Of John 6:44 he wrote that ‘no free human act can move toward God or do any spiritual good without the aid of His grace’ (Geisler 1999:35).
‘Draw’ is from the Greek, helkuw, and some extreme Calvinists (e.g. Ligonier Ministries) want this to mean ‘drag’ as in Acts 16:19; 21:30 and James 2:6.
In other passages such as John 18:10; and 21:6, 11 it can mean ‘drag’. The LXX translates with helkuw in Deut 21:3-4.
Does that mean all translations of helkuw must mean ‘drag’? Certainly not! There is a range of meanings for many words and helkuw in the NT is no exception.
Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon gives the meaning of helkuw in John 6:44 as, ‘figuratively of the pull on man’s inner life’ – John 6:44:12:32 (1957:251).
2.4.2 John 12:32
Geisler admits sometimes the NT allows helkuw to mean to drag a person or object (e.g. John 18:10; 21:6, 11; Acts 19:10). However, at other times the Standard Greek Lexicons allow for the meaning ‘draw’ as well as ‘drag. The LXX used both senses of the word: Deut 21:3-4 uses it to mean ‘drag’ while Jer 38:3 provides the sense of ‘draw’ out of love.
As for John 12:32, it cannot mean drag – irresistible grace – because this verse would prove too much for the Calvinist. Jesus said: ‘”But I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself”. No true Calvinist believes that all men will be saved’.
In this verse it is important to note the word, ‘all’ as it cannot mean ‘some’. In John 2:24-25, Jesus said he knew all people sinned. In that situation it is clear he wasn’t speaking of some people – the elect. So, ‘all’ cannot mean ‘some’ – the elect.
Here in John 12:32, if Jesus meant some he could have used a separate Greek word, tis, which is a diverse word meaning: anyone, anything, someone, many a one or thing, or somebody (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 1957:827). Therefore, under the weight of Greek exegesis, irresistible grace crumbles.
Geisler shows that people ‘being drawn to God’ is ‘conditioned on their faith’. The context of their being “drawn” (6:37) was “he who believes” (6:35). Later in John 7:17, Jesus stated: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out where my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17)’ (Geisler 1999:93).
3. John 6:37
John 6:37 (NIV) reads, ‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away’.
This is the immediate context for this verse:
36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:36-40 NIV).
(photo of draw-bridge, the Tower Bridge, London, courtesy Public Domain Photography)
The ESV translation of John 6:37 is more accurate than the NIV, in reflecting the nuances of Greek grammar: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (Jn 6:37 ESV).
- ‘All that’ is pan (neuter singular), an abstract idiom and seems to include the whole mass of believers down through the ages.
- Then John became personal: ‘Whoever comes to me’ – ton erchomenon pros me. Here, Jesus places the responsibility on each person to respond to God’s drawing to salvation.
There are 2 parts to this verse:
There is the sovereign ministry of God the Father: ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me’. Could we call this election or predestination. However, there is a second part to people’s coming to Christ:
‘The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out’. This is a figure of speech known as a litotes ‘in which something is affirmed by negating its contrary’.
Jesus affirms that whoever comes to him will never be driven away. So, the two parts are:
a. The sovereignty of God in giving believers to Jesus, AND
b. The human responsibility of ‘whoever comes to me’. In modern philosophy this is called ‘compatibilism’.
John does not see human responsibility as lessening God’s sovereignty. Both are necessary in God’s plan of salvation.
Norman Geisler regards this as another example where ‘both God’s sovereignty and our responsibility’ are in the same text’. However, ‘only those the Father preordains to do so will come to Christ (Jn 6:44). On the other hand, it is also true that “whoever” chooses to come will be saved (Rom. 10:13) (Geisler 1999:40).
Geisler pointed to an example of this in Acts 13:48 (NIV): ‘When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed’. Then Acts 14:1 states: ‘At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed”
There’s the combination: (1) God’s sovereignty and appointing people to eternal life, and (2) Through effective preaching a ‘great number’ of Jews and Greeks became Christian believers.
Therefore, Geisler concludes ‘there is no contradiction between preordination and persuasion, since God preordained the means (persuasion) with the end (eternal life)’ (1999:41)
So John 6:37 affirms God’s sovereignty in drawing people to salvation and human response to the offer of salvation. However, I’m aware that even free-will decisions are contaminated by comprehensive depravity.
4. Another example of draw and not drag
I was alerted to this example in Richard Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament (1880/1953:72-74).
There are two Greek words, of theological importance, that show the difference between draw and drag. They are surein and helkuein. Both of these are in the infinitive form. Surein is most often translated as ‘to drag’ and helkuein (to draw).
Surein includes the notion of violence (see Acts 8:3; 14:19; 17:6). However, helkuein does not have violence as its primary meaning, although it is seen in Acts 16:9; 21:30 and James 2:6.
Only by keeping in mind the difference which thus exists between these, can we vindicate from erroneous interpretation two doctrinally important passages in the Gospel of St. John (Trench 1880/1953:72).
He refers to John 12:32 and asks, ‘How does a crucified, and thus an exalted Saviour draw all men unto Him? Not by force, for the will is incapable of force, but by the divine attractions of his love’. In John 6:44, helkuein rejects being ‘dragged to God’ as a machine but it relates to ‘potent allurements’ or attractiveness of love by the Father for the son.
The Septuagint of Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV) uses the word, ‘The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”’.
Helkuein is predominantly the sense of drawing to a certain point. In surein, merely of dragging after one … likening a man to a fish already hooked and dragged through the water. [See Isa 3:16], which is forcibly dragged along with no will of its own; a dead body (Trench 1880/1953:73).
Compare John 21:6, 8, and11 where helkuein is used for ‘a drawing of the net to a certain point; by the disciples to themselves in the ship, by Peter to himself upon the shore.
However, at verse 8, helkeuein is taken over by surein, ‘dragging the net full of fish’ (ESV).
These three verses from John 6 and John 12 confirm the need for people to be ‘drawn’ to Jesus for salvation. This is not based on irresistible grace where the Father drags people to Jesus.
I reject the Calvinistic understanding by which salvation is preordained, without the need for a human response.
However, Trench has masterfully demonstrated the difference between ‘to draw’ (helkuein) and ‘to drag’ (surein).
6. Works consulted
Bauer, W; Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).
Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Thayer, J H 1962. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Trench, R C 1880/1953. Synonyms of the New Testament. London. Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt, Gordon College, Wenham, MA March 2006. Available at: https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/new_testament_greek/text/trench-synonyms.pdf (Accessed 27 March 2020).
 At this point Morris gave no references from John to support his statement.
 2020.Man’s Radical Fallenness, Exposition of John 6:44. Available at: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/mans-radical-fallenness/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).
 John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, John 12. Available at: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=43&c=12 (Accessed 26 March 2020).
 The Universality of Jesus’ Drawing All to Him (John 12:32) 2010. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online), 9 February. Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-universality-of-jesus-drawing-all-to-him-john-12-32/ (Accessed 26 March 2020).
 See above @ 2.2.
 I posted the following as Fate… Free Will vs Determinism#464. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/fate-free-will-vs-predestination.81557/page-24 (Accessed 26 March 2020). Some of this exegesis came from Carson (1991:290-291).
 This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).
Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 March 2020.