Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?

, posted by Patron

The content of this post was authored by Ben Henshaw and is posted on his behalf.

Before examining some of the other Calvinists “proof texts” for irresistible regeneration, we will take a moment to deal with a common Calvinist objection to the Arminian appeal to Jn. 12:32 as an example of universal “drawing”.

When Calvinists point to John 6:44 as an example of particular irresistible “drawing”, Arminians will often quickly refer to John 12:32 to demonstrate that the drawing of John 6:44 cannot be a reference to regeneration. The reason is that Jesus states in Jn. 12:32 that he will “draw all men” to himself. The same Greek word is used here as in Jn. 6:44. The implication is that if Jesus was speaking of irresistible regeneration in John 6:44, then his statement in Jn. 12:32 would lead to the conclusion that Christ will irresistibly regenerate all men. This would be a plain case of universalism (the teaching that all will be saved), a teaching that both Calvinists and Arminians reject (Luke 13:24). I noted in my last blog that the Arminian conclusion is confirmed by the entry in “little” Kittle,

    There is no thought here of force or magic. The term figuratively expresses the supernatural power of the love of God or Christ which goes out to all (12:32) but without which no one can come (6:44). The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic (p. 227).

Calvinists have recognized this problem and have suggested that Arminians have failed to carefully exegete Jn. 12:32. Calvinists Peterson and Williams state their case as follows,

      Arminian interpreters have appealed to the parallel use of the same word, draw (


      ), in John 12:32 and have concluded that God draws everyone to Jesus. There Jesus says, ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He means that when he is crucified (see Jn. 12:33), he will bring all men to himself in salvation. “All men” here does not mean every individual, however, but Gentiles as well as Jews. We say this because of the context, in which after “some Greeks” ask to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22) he apparently ignores them and talks about his approaching cross (Jn. 12:23-28). But he doesn’t really ignore the Greeks; he includes them in “all men” whom he will draw by his death. Jesus thus speaks of all without distinction (e.g. all kinds of people, Greeks as well as Jews) and not all without exception (i.e. every individual). (Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams,

Why I Am Not An Arminian,

    pp. 166, 167)

I have no problem with their consideration of John 12:20-22, nor with their statement that he includes the Greeks in “all men”. The part I take issue with is their conclusion that when Jesus says “all men” he means only “all without distinction” or “all kinds of people”. This is a conclusion that Peterson and Williams have read into the passage based on the necessities of their Calvinist theology. There is no exegetical justification for reading “all men” as “some men” from among “all men” in this passage. It makes just as much sense to say that because Jesus’ drawing power would go out to “all men” (without exception), that the Gentiles of Jn. 12:20-22 could then rest assured that they too would have access to the gift of God’s salvation. To say that the presence of Greeks in vss. 20-22 necessitates that Jn. 12:32 must be understood in a restrictive sense is a huge leap in logic, and a conclusion which the un-biased reader of Scripture would likely never come to on his or her own. Lets break their argument down to see how sound it is.

1) Jesus says he will draw “all men” to himself (Jn. 12:32).
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, when Jesus says “all men” he means “some men” from among “all men” (Jews and Gentiles).

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to see that 3) does not necessarily follow from 1) and 2).

The Arminian position could be stated as follows,

1) Jesus says he will draw “all men” to himself.
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, since Jesus will draw “all [conceivable] men” to himself, he will surely draw Greeks as well as Jews.

The conclusion to the first syllogism seems forced and artificial, while the second takes the Biblical data at face value and still accounts for the presence of Greeks which may have provoked Jesus’ statement. Robert E. Picirilli gives us a helpful and relevant exegetical reminder in Grace, Faith, Free Will,

    All of us who handle God’s Word do well to remember that we do not honor Him with our interpretive ingenuity but with submission to what He says. To say, even to show, that a given statement can be interpreted in a certain way does us no credit at all. The question is always not what the words can mean but what they do mean, here. (pg. 137)

Despite Peterson and William’s best efforts, there is no contextual reason to reject the Arminian interpretation of Jn.12:32. When we consider Jn. 12:32 and Jn. 6:44 together we are justified to conclude, with Kittle, that the drawing spoken of in these passages has reference to a universal, and therefore resistible, drawing. This interpretation harmonizes with the Arminian doctrine of universal prevenient grace, and renders Jn. 6:44 useless as a proof text for irresistible regeneration.

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