Drawing and Coming: Meditations on the Effectual Work of the Father in John 6:44

In John 6:44 is recorded an amazing statement made by the Lord Jesus Christ that radically shapes my understanding of salvation. Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (ESV). Let’s unfold the meaning of this text by asking two questions.

First, what does Jesus mean by “come to Me?” The answer is not hard to find. The Greek verb is erchomai and it means to come from one place to another and can be used to speak of both arriving and returning. Erchomai is used eleven times in John chapter six. The first six uses of the term include references to: a multitude of people coming to find Jesus (v. 5); Jesus being called the prophet who should come into the world (v. 14); people coming to take Jesus by force in order to make him king (v. 15); Jesus and the disciples being in a ship which went across the sea (v. 17a); Jesus not coming to the people (v. 17b), and boats coming from Tiberias to the place where the people ate bread (v. 23).

The other five uses of erchomai refer to people coming to Jesus Christ and have obvious salvific implications. They are: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (v. 35); “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37); “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 44); “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— “(v. 45); “And he [Jesus] said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’” (v. 65). A careful study of these verses makes it unmistakably clear that Jesus is using the physical act of coming as a metaphor for the spiritual act of believing. Verse 35 is the first hint of this as Jesus parallels coming to Him with believing on Him – the former satisfying our hunger, the latter satisfying our thirst.

Verse 37 categorically asserts the certainty that all who are given to the Son by the Father will come to the Son. The following verses indicate that this coming is equivalent to believing. Verses 38-40 read: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Notice how verses 39 and 40 both describe those who will be raised up at the last day. Verse 39 says that they are those given to the Son by the Father. Verse 40 says that they are those who see and believe on the Son. Those two verses perfectly accord with verse 37: “All that the Father gives me (parallels v. 39) will come (parallels v. 40) to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. “ Rather, He will raise them up in the last day. Again, Jesus clearly equates coming with believing.

But verses 64 and 65 really nail it down. In verse 64, Jesus tells those who reject Him: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Then verse 65 connects their not believing with their not coming: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Jesus explains the unbelief of some by reminding them that they cannot come unless it is given to them by the Father, a clear allusion to verse 44. Therefore, we can say without doubt that the phrase “come to Me” is a metaphorical way of describing believing on (or trusting in) Jesus Christ.

Second question: what does “draw” mean? Some would say that “draw” means nothing more than “woo.” They would interpret this verse to mean that no person can come to Christ until the Father first woos him. And they would then assert that the Father does this wooing for all men without exception. This is the Arminian or Wesleyan interpretation, commonly known as “prevenient grace.” Wesleyans believe that John 6:44 teaches that God “draws” all men to himself, thus giving them the opportunity to choose salvation.

This view is linguistically impossible and contextually unthinkable. The verb “draw” (Gk. helkuo) is used only eight times in the New Testament. It always carries the idea of compulsive drawing or dragging, such as dragging a net (Jn. 21:6, 11), drawing a sword (Jn. 18:10), forcibly dragging Paul and Silas into the marketplace (Acts 16:17), dragging Paul out of the temple (Acts 21:30), and dragging someone into court (Jas. 2:6). The other two uses (Jn. 6:44; 12:32) are used respectively to describe the Father and Son’s drawing of sinners to the Son for salvation.

In his excellent book Chosen by God, R. C. Sproul gives a humorous anecdote which enforces this understanding of the word draw. He says: “I once was asked to debate the doctrine of predestination in a public forum at an Arminian seminary. My opponent was the head of the New Testament department of the seminary. At a crucial point in the debate we fixed our attention on the passage about the Father’s drawing people. My opponent was the one who brought up the passage as a proof text to support his claim that God never forces or compels them to come to Christ. He insisted that the divine influence on fallen man was restricted to drawing, which he interpreted to mean wooing. At that point in the debate I quickly referred him to . . . the other passages in the New Testament that translate the word drag. I was sure I had him. I was sure that he had walked into an insoluble difficulty for his own position. But he surprised me. He caught me completely off guard. I will never forget that agonizing moment when he sighted a reference from an obscure Greek poet in which the same Greek word was used to describe the action of drawing water from a well. He looked at me and said, “Well, Professor Sproul, does one drag water from a well?” Instantly the audience burst into laughter at this startling revelation of the alternate meaning of the Greek word. I stood there looking rather silly. When the laughter died down I replied, “No sir. I have to admit that we do not drag water from a well. But, how do we get water from a well? Do we woo it? Do we stand at the top of the well and cry, ‘Here, water, water, water’?” It is as necessary for God to come into our hearts to turn us to Christ as it is to put the bucket in the water and pull it out if we want anything to drink. The water simply will not come on its own, responding to a mere external invitation.”

Not only does the verb helkuo demand that this “drawing” be effectual, but so does the context of John 6. The rest of verse 44 says, “I will raise him up in the last day.” Who is raised up by Christ in the last day? Those who come or those who are drawn? The answer is yes! This demands that this drawing be an efficacious work, because all (not some) who are drawn will come and be raised up on the last day (Jn. 6:44c).

Verse 45 concurs. Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah 54:13, saying “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— ” Notice that all (the children, see Isa. 54:13) are taught of God and that everyone who has heard and learned of the Father comes to Christ. The teaching, hearing, and learning in verse 45 give Jesus’ own definition to the drawing in verse 44, and the effectual nature of this drawing is underlined by the words “all” and “every.”

In conclusion, what does John 6:44 teach in light of the meaning of the words “come” and “draw”? The answer is simple. Consider the following three lessons. 1. We learn from this verse that no one can possibly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation unless they are first drawn to the Son by the effectual and irresistible work of the Father. 2. We learn that every single person who is thus drawn to the Son by the Father will necessarily believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. 3. We learn that every person who thus believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will also be preserved so as to be resurrected in glory on the last day.

It is amazing to me how much truth can be packed into one short verse of only twenty-three words! Meditate on these words and the truths which they uncover and glorify the God who saves (and does not just try to save) sinners!


mwh said...

I'm curious about your reasoning concerning the meaning of "draw." Just because every other context where "draw" (in Greek) is used it has a connotation of 'dragging,' must it necessarily follow that it has to have that connotation in this passage as well?

To use an anecdote, I could easily write a long novel (comparable in length to the NT), heralding the exploits of a young, courageous Roman soldier. Quite naturally throughout the book I would speak of the soldier drawing his sword, carrying (drawing) his comrades off the battlefield, dragging (drawing) his enemy down off his stead, and in a case of mutiny hauling (drawing) one of his soldiers into before the magistrates for court martial. Like every good novel hero and Roman soldier, though, he would of course have a lady friend in a supporting role. And equally naturally in this novel, I might describe how he draws her into his love by his heroic and gentlemanly deeds.

And if my anecdote illustrates that a single author can use the same word differently, what about the fact that a number of your cross-references are of non-Johannine authorship?

You may well be right in your overall argument concerning John 6, and cross-references can certainly give us an indication in how a word might be used, but must it follow that this Greek word "always carries the idea of compulsive drawing or dragging"? And as a corollary, must it follow (from word gloss) that God compulsively draws/drags us to Himself?

Brian G. Hedges said...

I don't really mean that God literally "drags" us to himself, only that the word draw (helkuo)carries the connotation of powerful or effective drawing or leading (hence "compulsive drawing OR [not and] dragging"). True, we have to consider the Johannine semantic field of this word before appealing elsewhere, but the other three uses in John affirm this meaning in 6:44 and 12:32. And this interpretation makes sense of other contextual indicators that John (and Jesus!) understood this drawing to be effective (since all who are drawn are raised up on the last day, Jesus own explanation of his words in v. 45, etc.).

Regarding your example, the question is whether the word "draw" in English perfectly corresponds with helkuo in Greek (i.e. can the Greek word carry every connotation of the English word we translate with). Maybe it can, but I don't know of a biblical example (in John or elsewhere) where the word helkuo refers to an ineffectual drawing, a drawing that is successfully resisted. When I said that this word "always carries the idea of compulsive drawing or dragging" I meant always in the New Testament. I confess that I have not studied the word in non-canonical writings.

And of course, I think God does draw us by wooing us - but it is an effectual wooing. It is telling, isn't it, that there are no NT examples of the word being used to describe an ineffectual attempt to lead or draw something or someone?

William Hendriksen, in his commentary on John, rehearses the same references that I did, then says, "To be sure, there is a difference between the drawing of a net or a sword, on the one hand, and of a sinner, on the other. With the latter God deals as with a responsible being. He powerfully influences the mind, will, heart, the entire personality. These, too, begin to function in their own right, so that Christ is accepted by a living faith. But both at the beginning and throughout the entire process of being saved, the power is ever from above; it is very real, strong, and effective; and it is wielded by God himself!" (Hendriksen, p. 239). That's what I mean.

mwh said...

In reviewing my post, I can see that I wasn't very clear in my question asking.

The question at hand is not whether or not "the word 'draw' in English perfectly corresponds with helkuo in Greek." The question at hand is that given the same word can have such a wide range of meanings, is it not also possible that this is the case with this Greek word? To put it simply, do the meanings of the word in other contexts impinge upon the meaning of the word in this context. I would argue that although it is fair to consider other uses of the word in order to get an idea of how we might look at it here, it is a far cry from making it "linguistically impossible" for it to have a non-efficacious connotation.

Moreover, it is quite clear that Christ is using the word metaphorically, which should cause us to be hesitant in 'reading over' connotations from its literal/physical usage. Both BDAG and "The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament" list its use here as "extended figurative meaning."

But to step back from the issue slightly, even if the meanings in the other contexts did control the meaning here, it still says nothing about efficacy. "Draw" is an action verb, and it's used to connote just that, an action. The word does not communicate anything about success. So to answer your question, I do not find it telling "that there are no NT examples of the word being used to describe an ineffectual attempt to lead or draw." It is true that all the attempts were successful, but the word itself communicates nothing about successfulness. I do find it telling that neither of the lexicons mentioned earlier give any indication that the word "carries the connotation of powerful or effective drawing or leading." It is true that it carries the connotation of drawing or leading, but powerful or effective are an interpolation. If you were to remove John 6:44 and 12:32 from the canon of Scripture, and hence the controversy that accompanies them, and simply wanted to do a lexical study of the word, the idea of efficacy would never cross your mind. You would simply come away with the understanding of draw, attract, lead, drag, etc... And this is exactly why that is all the lexicons have. The word itself just simply does not communicate anything about efficacy.

To step back a little further, it is true to say that Christ will raise up on the last day everyone who comes to Him, AND that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws him. This is a mild restating of verse 44. But it does not necessarily follow (from verse 44 alone) that everyone who the Father draws will necessarily come. You raise the good question, "Who is raised up by Christ in the last day? Those who come or those who are drawn?" But your emphatic answer is left without proof: "The answer is yes!" The answer MAY be yes, and there are many other passages we might consult, but such a dogmatic answer is not warranted by verse 44 alone. Therefore your conclusion that "this demands that this be an efficacious work" also is not warranted by verse 44 alone. To use another one of my silly anecdotes, suppose verse 44 were to read "No one can come to me unless he swim across the Jordan River. And I will raise him up on the last day." We would say that it is fair to conclude that nobody gets to Christ without traversing the Jordan river. But we would not conclude that everyone who traverses the Jordan River necessarily comes to Christ.

Now, to simplify things for us just a little: There are a number of other passages that shed light on this issue. And they are all worthy of consideration in their own right. I'm not questioning whether or not it is true that everyone the Father draws does necessarily come to Christ: there are other passages and even other verses in this passage that should be considered when answering that question. I am simply questioning whether efficacy is required lexically based upon "draw" and logically based upon verse 44. I ask this because this was part--though certainly far from all--of your argument.

mwh said...

I visited your post again this morning and reread parts of it and my comments. It got me reevaluating a couple of things. As far as my comments go, I do think an argument about efficacy is asking too much from the word. But I think my questions concerning the logic of verse 44 were somewhat artificial. While it may be true that the logic of verse 44 ALONE doesn't require efficacy, in reality nobody does good exegesis that way--on one verse alone! So it was rather sterile of me to press that point. You were fair to consider other pointers from the text that would indicate how we should view Christ's own understanding of the Father's drawing, and it was artificial of me push these aside.