From The 16th Century Calvinism To The 1st Century St. John’s Teachings (john 6.37-41)

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 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 he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

Calvin Jewish Studies for Christians When reading the Bible, we can easily read modern theological meanings into the ancient text that were in many ways foreign to the first century context. John especially is often read in this way, particularly against the background of 16th century Catholic-Protestant theological debates that eventually spilled over into inter-Protestant discussion and debate. Please, allow me to explain.

If you have spent time in Christian circles, you have probably encountered the 5 points of Calvinism that Calvin’s disciples systematized from the teachings of this beloved Swiss Reformer and a truly great man of God (in my opinion). If you have done any theological studies, especially within a Protestant context, then you are familiar with the terms 4 point and 5 point Calvinism. These terms are shortcuts for very complex theological constructs. Some accept only 4 out of 5 points affirmed, and so on.

One of the key teachings of Reformed Christian theology (a direct heir of the Protestant Reformation) when it comes to salvation is the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.”  In other circles it is also, and less accurately, called – “eternal security.”

Basically, the question is, can a believer in Jesus ever lose his or her personal salvation already gained through belief in Christ? Once person is “saved” (using evangelical lingo), is he saved forever? Or is it possible that he can step into the darkness and never come back? Debates continue to rage to this day.  However, the reason I am raising this issue is not that I arrogantly think I can settle this age old debate. I do so rather because vs. 39 is a supporting verse for this doctrine. It, along with many others, from the Gospel of John, is often quoted. In this verse, Jesus states that he will not lose anything that was given to him by his Father to preserve (vs. 29).

While I do think that personal application may be in order here (that is to say that I do not dislike Calvinism), I also think reading this passage in purely personal ways is a serious interpretive mistake. This mistake is often committed by interpreters of the Holy Bible, particularly by those from the Protestant Christian tradition. Please, let me continue. If we consider a wider context for the Gospel of John, we notice that this same passage, if read on the national (and not on a personal) level, will affirm a very different message. Follow me here for a moment.

The Judean Temple authorities (and their followers) accused Jesus of seeking approval from the Galilean Jewish People of the Land (Am HaAretz). They also accused him of being a Samaritan (an incorrect charge, but the kind strangely enough he does not deny). Given this background, it is possible that this verse does not refer to a personal experience of salvific power of God at all, but to Jesus’ royal commitment to the salvation of “all Israel,” which would include other Israelites like the Israelite Samaritans.

This is not the first time something like this happens in the Bible. For example, the author of the books of Chronicles in contrast to the author of the books of Kings essentially retells more or less the same stories, but from a very different perspective and with a different goal in mind. The Chronicler, for example, makes all his points in the context of unification language, constantly bringing up one message that God is concerned with “All Israel,” the entire people of God, while the writer of Kings has a different purpose and therefore a different emphasis.

So, imagine the same Jesus who told the Samaritan woman that he was the Messiah, expected by all the ancient Israelite movements, who now says to the representatives of the Jerusalem Temple authorities in Galilee – I will not lose anything my Father has entrusted me – not any group under the Ancient Israelite umbrella. In a sense he is saying,  “I have not come only for Judeans, or only for Samaritans, or only for Essenes or exclusively for any other single Jewish/Israelite group.  I have come as a true King of Israel to reunite and lead ‘all Israel’ out of exile to the long awaited redemption.”

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40 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.”  41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Bread and wine jewish studies jesusThe words of Jesus in this discourse become increasingly more provocative and intense. This is so, because more and more he is showing those who follow him that he is not just another Messianic candidate that the Jerusalem authorities can simply accept or reject. He is Israel’s King, the one anointed by Israel’s God. He is God’s Logos/Memra, who has come from heaven to the Ancient Israelites to meet all their needs and unite them in the coming redemption.

Therefore, Jesus here underscores a point that is nothing less than scandalous – unless Jesus is really who he says he is. We read in vs. 40: “… everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus claimed the power to give life. In ancient Israelite theology, such a claim was rightfully reserved for Israel’s God alone.

What is surprising, as we carefully read the text, is not that hoi Ioudaioi objected to Jesus’ words – but to which words in particular did they object? Notice, that it would have been more logical for them to object to the words – “I will raise him up on the last day” (vs.40). Instead, we read that they objected to the earlier words of Jesus “I have come down from heaven” (vs. 38).

“Why is this so?” you should be asking just about now. The answer is, simply that there is not much difference here between the two statements. If one is true, so is the other.

Jesus being the bread of life, sustaining life by coming from heaven, is the same Jesus who is the source of life, giving life to the dead. We will see more of this, as very soon Jesus will speak the most difficult words that the disciples and others would ever hear from his mouth. Many will leave him at just that point. Those who had ears to hear would stay, but more about this in the later chapters of this study.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

To sign up for weekly posts by Dr. Eli, please, click here. It is recommend by Dr. Eli that you read everything from the beginning in his study of John. You can do so by clicking here “Samaritan-Jewish Commentary”.

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  1. Kingsley, Abang-Tiku

    Dear Sir, I congradulations for your exellent study for this passage.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you dear friend and welcome to our study group! Dr. Eli

  2. kostya

    Shabbat Shalom!
    People often misquote (perhaps unconsciously) John 6:39 as “I will lose ‘no-one’ that the Father has given me and will raise ‘him’ up at the last day”. (I know I have). But the pronouns are neuter in the Greek. This is probably due to our protestant theological glasses that we look through, as you have said, but is also because they carry over the preceding verse which does say “whoever’ and over-personalise.
    Thanks for helping me to see these verses in a different way.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Very helpful! Thank you, Kostya.

  3. Dr Stan

    Having studied theol. from various denom. and faculty points of view, I learned from my Grandfather to measure all by the Word. I quickly came to the conclusion that all humans have a pre-mindset that we defend vigorously thinking we are defending the Gospel – sinner and saint alike! From an early stage I love v Zinzendorf’s slogan: I have one passion and that is HE (Jesus) – it tookthe Gospel to the uttermost regions when Europeans were comfortly arguing their theologies! In discussion with Prof W Snyman he told me how he had altered his “mainline” from Church to Kingdom. My dissertation on Hebrews was enamoured not by the kingdom but by the KING himself and started to realise (as I now teach in Christian Hermeneutics in interdenom. situations) as an ancient Rabbi said that the prophets wrote exclusively with the eye to MESSIAH – the way Jesus, Paul and the Gospels also quoted the Word. My background is reformed but measured by good hermeneutics that also measures scholarly criticism by that “MEASURE of faith as in Jesus Messiah”. Hope it makes some sense!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Some of what you wrote makes more sense than other parts :-). What I understood I loved very much. Thank you so much for your comment, Dr. Stan. eli

    2. Drs. Charles van den Berg

      The kingdom is nothing without the King . But what is a King without kingdom. Exclusive , however, is that the Messiah is the King here. I think that he may be the King of kings is correct to that fact.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        yes!

  4. Michael Strauss

    This discourse takes place in Galilee, just after the feeding of the 5,000. The “Jews” referred to are the Jerusalem spies. I would think that Jesus’s words could be applied both on a personal and a national level, thus addressing the Apostles, the common people and the more learned “Jews”. These pronouncements are very spiritual, and would be axiomatic truths applicable to all.

  5. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Yes, I am trying to do something like this now. I think deconstruction and then reconstruction, especially of texts like John, is absolutely necessary. I am not sure that my Hermeneutics are systematized, but perhaps they are. 🙂 Perhaps, you can comment upon what you see that I do in this Commentary. Blessings and peace, eli

    1. Drs. Charles van den Berg

      Deconstruction and reconstruction: You are doing it in the literal meaning and you are doing it in the sense of linguistics (I am glad this is only a part of your thinking). When you have a battle with systematic theology , you have to be systematic. Do you do that? I think you usually do.
      In the historic, geographical and cultural gap you are the master. In the linguistic gap I like to get you sharp. You are walking a systematic way with a part ( for example hoi Ioudaioi) across everything.
      But to be systematic is also to place and to show the part constantly in the large overview.
      To be more concrete, while writing you theme stay thinking: 1) What’ s the place of this within the great themes of the Gospel of John? 2) What is the place within the broad lines of Scripture(s) (John did writing his gospel) ? 3) What is the place within the immediate context?
      Note : You did it ( 1, 2 and 3) in a great way in your post ‘How to interpreted chiasm – John 5, 19-39).
      About point 3 (show you in concrete) : I should appreciate it , when you should first deal in a broad line in an introductory and separate post John 6, 25-59, and after that fitted in this context the post about 25-27, 28-31 etc. Eli, you are great, but I know in everybody is always more. So hoi Ioudaioi is a great thing to deal with, but don ‘t make it a dissertation on hoi Ioudaioi, you are talking about more.
      Blessings and peace, Charles

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Charles, your last point is well taken (don’t make figuring out how the “hoi Ioidaioi” are in John THE point of entire commentary). Very helpful. I think I have to watch against that. I think this danger is real, because this study started as a dissertation (at Leiden University) on this topic :-). I did not continue it (it was going to be my second phd). So I think your criticism is fair.

        About other battles I am doing like systematic theology… hm… I am not sure. I do not think that I am fighting systematic theology, I simply thing that our systematic theologies must be checked and off set by our biblical theologies. Then our systematic theologies can be more faithful to the Bible. I guess I can come across as someone criticizing systematic all together, but I am really not. Humans need systems. Systems are part of life. I want the systems to be controlled and double and triple checked however. I think that is my point.

        eli

        1. Drs. Charles van den Berg

          Eli, I pointed to the ‘ systematic theology’ reflecting on the consistency between dogmatics and moral theology . When you do systematic theology in the sense of doing theology in a systematic way reflecting on biblical contents it is a bad case to have a battle.
          Moreover I was not (yet??) reflecting on how systemized you are in your deconstruction and reconstruction , but on how systemized you are in the determination of the area where you applies your deconstruction and your reconstruction. Let’s keep thinking together(I think we become clear with each other).
          Blessings and peace,
          Charles

          1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            🙂 Love you, Charles!

  6. Drs. Charles van den Berg

    Hermeneutics is also in Calvinism from the theology defined.
    Eli, how real or unreal (and possibility or impossibility of this) is the desire to come to a new defined hermeneutics, which is based only on linguistic rules of the biblical language, the biblical facts (including historical, geographical and cultural background) and in the manners how biblical facts are sometimes interpreted within the bible himself?
    So real bible and bible- historical context extracted hermeneutics?
    In your opinion? You are trying to do something like this now.
    Charles

  7. cesar umali

    George Barna wrote The State of the Church in 2002. Barna conducted a survey of self-pronounced Christians and here’s what he found about their knowledge of the Bible.

    Now, remember these are Christians…

    – 48% could not name the four Gospels.

    – 52% cannot identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples.

    – 60% of American Christians can’t name even five of the 10 Commandments.

    – 61% of American Christians think the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

    – 71% of American Christians think “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.

    Listen, you may or may not be an American, I don’t know.

    But the point is, you don’t want to be a so called “Christian” but doesn’t know what God’s Word is.

    You and I should consistently read, memorize, and meditate scriptures. Cesar Umali God save the world

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      OK 🙂

    2. Peita Shipstone

      The Bible says “Jesus says those who come to me and believe in/on me will be mine. Peita paraphrased.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Yes. Welcome to our study group, Peita.

  8. Bonnie Fordham

    Good morning, I always find the Calvinist point of view interesting because the church of which I am a member was the unification of 3 different point of view one of the being Calvinist. We study the Word and encourage others to study the Word. We believe in the “once saved always saved” and thus endorse it. John Calvin must have stirred up quite a controversy when he put forth his view points. There are people who to this day still argue these points and most likely always will. We as believers must seek and search out God’s word and ask ourselves, “how does apply to me and my life”. We must never take anything as face value because there are and have always been people who will preach their own form of bible (I am not saying that is what you are doing). This is how cults are formed. When I get to heaven two of the people of my list to have long talks with are the apostle John and John Calvin both of whom God has used to bring people in faith to Him over the ages. Blessings and Shalom to you today.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      🙂

  9. Kat Hobaugh

    I really, really want to understand this and how it applies to those who were drawn to God before they heard the gospel (me). I reread Sherlock and Calvinism and have questions (Eli I was hoping would end the debate). First, Gal 3:23 talks about the law being a schoolmaster before faith came. Why isn’t this God’s work (preparing our heart for Christ)? Second, 2 Cor 7:9 says repentance leads to salvation. How can we hear God’s voice and why would we come to Jesus without repentance (at least those of us outside all the circles). I accepted revealed truth before Jesus, why would God lose me and not those who were “placed” where they could hear the gospel. Wouldn’t accepting Jesus without God’s work leading to faith be stumbling? Sorry, questions are how I think.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You have a lot of good question. What I am saying in this article is not that “salvation can be lost” but rather that these are not the verses upon which this teaching may be based upon. Hope this helps, a bit. Dr. Eli

  10. Michelle

    I do enjoy reading what you share with us, Dr. Eli. And I remind myself all the time, as I read the gospels, Jesus was talking to Jews, not to Christians. Everything in the gospels was pre-crucifixion.

    Question: The Jerusalem Jews were offended at Jesus because He said, “I have come down from Heaven.” Yet is it not true that in Genesis 18 we read that the LORD came to Abraham, and had lunch with him?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Michelle, its a comment 🙂 The answer is yes 🙂