John 6 and Effectual Drawing: What Does It Mean to Hear and Learn?

This question was posed to me on the ever so scholarly debate platform Facebook.

Nate Labadorf what is your argument as to why election is not unconditional, and why Christ is not given all the sheep He is given by God in Him (Christ )in John 6?

Let’s answer that second question in this post. God gives all the “ones” (he said sheep in his question, but sheep don’t actually appear in John 6, they appear in John 10) to Christ and Christ loses none of them. John 6:39 “Everyone whom he has given me, I would not lose any of them, but raise them up on the last day.”

A Better Question: Who Are They?

But that’s not a very discerning question because it doesn’t get to where we disagree. It really should be asked this way: “what is the identity of those whom the Father gives the Son?” This gets to the real point where we disagree. I’m assuming he’d say that that the ones whom the Father gives are those who are elect before the beginning of time unto salvation. I disagree with this.

The text defines for us who those ones are: “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (Jn 6:40). Does it say the elect or the irresistibly graced? Does it say the elect or chosen? No. It says those who look and believe. This indicates that those people who respond to the Gospel in faith are saved.

I know that he’d point to John 6:44 to say that irresistible grace is in view: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Why do I believe that this does not involve irresistible grace? You have to assume that everyone whom the Father draws does indeed come. The text does not say that. It simply says that if you have come, you were drawn.

The next question is how does the Father draw? Verse forty-five answers that: “And they will all be taught [Gk: διδακτός; Hb: למד] by God” (cf. Is 54:13). The Father draws by teaching people. What does he teach? “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.18 O that you had paid attention to my commandments!” (Is 48:17-18). The drawing of the Father, at least in Israel’s case, was the commandments that he had laid out for them. As Moses said, “You once stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so’ (Dt 4:10).

Hearing and Learning in the Biblical Context

The next part of verse forty-five is intensely critical: “Everyone who has heard [Gk: ἀκούω; Hb: שׁמע] and learned [Gk: μανθάνω; Hb: למד] from the Father comes to me.” Here the two words heard and learned are important. Both conditions must be true in order for a person to come. Further, these words are standard references to the hearing and learning the law.

  • Deut 4:1 So now, Israel, give heed [lit: hear] to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.
  • Deut 4:10 How you once stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, “Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so.”
  • Deut 5:1 Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently.
  • Deut 31:12-13 Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Have people heard? For the people to hear two conditions must be met: preachers must be sent and the preachers must preach (Rm 10:14-15). Are preachers sent? Yes, as Isaiah says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Is 52:7, cf. Is 6; Rm 10:15). Yes, but did they preach? Yes, they preached, but no one believed: “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (Is 53:1; cf. Rm 10:16). Did the people hear? Yes, because they have seen and heard general revelation: “Their  voice  goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps 19:4; cf. Rm 10:18). So, the people heard the Father. They not only had the law (cf. the verse list above from Deuteronomy) but they also had general revelation from the Father which was available to them.

But did they learn what God taught? They were supposed to learn. For, “Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn [cf. Jn 6:45] to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, 13 and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess” (Dt 31:12-13).

Did they learn to fear God? No. The opposite of learning in the book of Deuteronomy is forgetting (שׁכח). Sandwiched in the middle of verses commanding the people to learn is this verse: “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life” (Dt 4:9; cf. Dt 4:1, 5, 10, 14). It did not take Israel long to forget what they had learned from God: “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs” (Jdg 3:7). This continued through Isaiah’s day: “For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge” (Is 17:10). Jeremiah also says, “Can a girl forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number” (Jer 2:32). And because of their forgetting, they were cast into exile (Eze 23:35).

But did God just let them go and forget him without trying to restore them? No. God says through the prophet Jeremiah: “They have turned their backs to me, not their faces; though I have taught them persistently, they would not listen and accept correction” (Jer 32:33). God speaking also through the mouth of Isaiah: “I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people” (Is 65:2). They rejected him even though he attempted to teach them. God’s teaching, then, is not effectual. If God teaches someone, they can refuse to listen to him.

Is this it though? The people had forgotten God without remedy? Is there no more teaching that will come from God? Will the people never learn again? God provided his answer in the person Jesus: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught” (Is 50:4). He is the teacher who will come, and he is the perfect learner of the law.

Conclusion

Let’s circle back to the restated question: What is the identity of those whom the Father gives the Son? Answer: Those who believe in the Son who’ve heard and learned from the Father.

Question: Who are those who hear and learn? Answer: in the Biblical context, the Israelites who received the law.

Question: was the teaching of God effectual? Did they all learn God’s law without the ability to refuse? Answer: No, because even though God taught them persistently, they forgot God’s law and would not listen to him.

So those whom the Father gives the Son are those in Christ’s context who heard and learned from the Father. Those who were faithful, believing Israelites were given to the Son. What Jesus says in this passage is that all the faithful Israelites will come to him. In this sense, you can say it is effectual: that those who are already truly following God will innately follow Jesus. Remember, Jesus is serving during a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. And he brought with him all who believed in God through the Old Covenant into the New Covenant.

Jesus is not saying that there are people chosen before the foundation of the world who will effectually come to him through some irresistible grace. None of that is in view in this passage.

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