Why I Am An Arminian
Part V: Unconvinced by Prooftexts

, posted by Martin Glynn

Here I intend to go through certain Scriptural arguments that I have heard from Calvinists, as well as providing links to more extensive examination of them. In the post after this, I’ll look at the Scriptural arguments for Arminianism which I think are quite solid:

Romans 9

Romans 9:8-24: This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory– 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

First, may I offer the traditional Calvinist interpretation. In the interpretation, the offspring of God are God’s elect. Isaac and Jacob are examples of God’s unconditional election and Ishmael, Esau and Pharaoh are examples of God’s unconditional reprobation, as made evident by the fact that Jacob was chosen before Jacob and Esau were born, and the quote from Exodus. The potter metaphor is then employed to show that reprobation and election are God’s creative purposes for individual people. Therefore, this is a glorious example of the might of God’s sovereignty.

In all of this, I have to agree with one thing: this passage is about God’s sovereignty. Paul’s argument indeed is that God has the right and the power to do what He will, and to elect as He will. However, the problem with the above interpretation is that it does not properly engage with the OT references being made, and it does not properly appreciate the passage within its greater context in Romans.

First of all, Paul’s thesis in all of Romans is to be found in Chapter 1, verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ” Paul’s thesis is concerning what the gospel is: the means of God’s saving grace. This thesis contains two parts. First, this grace is dispensed by faith, or belief. The second is that this grace is extended to everyone, both Jew in Gentile. Though he treats both sides of this thesis throughout the book, in Chapters 1-8, Paul is focusing on his first point. This is where you get the comparison’s between faith and works.

But in chapter 9, and extending through chapter 11, Paul shifts topics and begins to focus on his second point: the inclusion of the Gentiles in salvation. If this is the case, why does Paul start with a discussion of God’s sovereignty?

Well, he doesn’t. Paul starts his argument back in verse 1, and it is verses 1-7 that provide the necessary context for understanding what Paul is saying. He starts with a beautiful description of Israel’s elective status (verse 1-5) and then shifts gears, arguing that the present inclusion of the Gentiles by faith (his point from chapters 1-8) does not mean that God failed by choosing Israel. He is talking about what it means to be the elect people of God.

It is important here that we understand that by election, the Scripture is talking about the election of nations. This is evident if we assume that Paul is not taking these verses out of context. The first verse referring to Jacob and Esau reads: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” It is important to note that Esau never served Jacob, but Edom did serve Israel and it is only if we take this to be nations that we recognize that it was fulfilled. Additionally, the second quote from Malachi 1 is directly talking about God’s historical commitment to Israel over Edom, not about the two individuals.

Thus it is important to note that the text is not trying to describe unconditional election, but is in fact denying election by lineage. The Jews thought that they were elect by birth and justified by works. In other words, the entered the covenant by birth, and maintained it by works. Paul’s original thesis makes this clear. These examples are not examples of God choosing Isaac and Jacob, but examples of God not choosing Ishmael and Esau (as well as their descendants), even though they were sons of Abraham.

Thus, when we come to verse 14, this protest is not spoken by an Arminian or a Pelagian. These are not categories that Paul was familiar with (nor was Calvinism). Instead, this protest comes from the incensed Jew who was discovering that his lineage wasn’t providing him with an in.

For more on Romans 9, view my thoughts and some links here and thoughts from Arminius here. Also, I found that one of the most fantastic and in-depth works I’ve seen on the subject is Brian Abasciano’s doctoral thesis.

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Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1:3-12: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are blessed in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in the Loved One.

In Him, we have redemption through His blood: the excusing of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.

Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot (being predetermined according to the plan by which all things are worked out and according to the purpose of His will) to be who we are, for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.

This is my own translation.

To be perfectly fair, I totally get why Calvinists find this passage so convincing. In fact, I will say that this is the strongest passage the Calvinists have. However, I remain unconvinced. Why? Because nothing uniquely Calvinist is actually stated here.

I mean, sure, Paul talks about election, but he never defines it as being unconditional. He talks about predestination, but he never claims that God predestined everything that ever came to pass. Most Calvinists I have interacted with seem to believe that the mere mentioning of either election or predestination is enough to prove Calvinism. However, Arminianism confirms both of these concepts, and thus has no problem with the text at all.

However, there are a couple of other factors why I believe that this doesn’t, in the end, serve as a Calvinist prooftext. First, the context is not doctrinal but liturgical. Paul isn’t trying to lay down a foundation on the doctrines of predestination and election. Instead, he is using the concepts of predestination and election to praise God for the inclusion (or predestining) of the Gentiles in election.

Second, this text does not apply directly to all Christians (though indirectly it does). The text above is directly talking about the election of the Jews. God predestined the Jews to be the sons of God on this earth, and to establish them to be who the are. This is evident in verse 13 where Paul directly contrasts the “we” in the above verses with the Ephesians themselves. The text only applies to us in the sense that we are now given something that we didn’t have before: inclusion in the promises of the Jews.

Third, the central themes here are also not election and predestination. Instead, they are revelation, redemption, and the dominion of Christ. When you begin to try and make this text to be a proof-text for Calvinism, you lose sight of Paul’s heart.

Finally, to believe in unconditional election undermines Paul’s whole point in the book of Ephesians. Paul makes his point most clearly in 3:5-6: In former generation this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Remember the paragraph in chapter 1. Paul was talking directly about the promises and the inheritance. This is because this was something that belonged only to the Jews, and now such divisions have been cast down. That wall of separation between the elect and the reprobate has been torn down and the two peoples have been made one by faith. However, in the Calvinist system, the wall isn’t brought down, but merely moved. There isn’t now one people, but two simply defined differently. This is simply not what Paul was talking about.

I have more thoughts on Ephesians here, and I highly recommend this articles as well: The New Perspective and Ephesians and Divine Election and Predestination in Ephesians 1.

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Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

OK, this is one of the silliest proof-texts that Calvinists use. First question, what does this text teach? It teaches that when bad things happen to God’s people, God will take that bad thing, and turn it into something good. And an Arminian and a Calvinist both believe in this concept so this isn’t a point of contention at all.

The difference is how we understand how God does this. For the Calvinist, they believe that when a bad thing happens to the elect, God caused it to happen in order to accomplish something good later on. In other words, all bad things have a good reason. This interpretation isn’t in the text, but it doesn’t contradict it either.

For the Arminian, we believe that though God punishes and chastises His people to correct them, no truly bad thing has an origin within Him. However, due to human sinfulness in the world, bad things do happen, but He is here with you through it, and ultimately He is in control and everything will turn out alright. It is also important to note that this interpretation also doesn’t contradict the text. Thus the text cannot be considered a Calvinist proof-text at all.

I would also argue that the Arminian view is the plain sense interpretation of the text. If you look at the context, it is eschatological in view. The next couple of verses list all of the blessings that Christians receive from God (listed with a crescendo order, not a chronological order), ending in glorification which is the greatest in the list. Thus the basic sense of the text is that though bad things happen, we are going to be glorified, and that far exceeds any present pain or trouble. Any interpretation that doesn’t have this sense as its base is taking the verse out of context.

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Ephesians 2:8

Ephesians 2:8 For you see it is from grace that you have been saved through faith; not from yourself. This is a gift of God, not from works so that none may boast.

Ah yes, we are all familiar with this verse. I think it is important to understand what Paul’s theology is here really. It is important to note that the basic clause of the first sentence is “you have been saved through faith”. Everything else in that first sentence, and even the entire above passage, relies on us understanding that this is the basic view that Paul has about the salvation process. Indeed, the fact of salvation by faith isn’t even Paul’s point; it is Paul’s assumption.

Paul’s point is that the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works is something worth celebrating. It is the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works that is a gift from God, and the cause of any boasting being void. When we remember that God has the sovereign right to decide upon what terms He is going to base salvation, and then realize that humans would expect it to be based upon works (hence every man-made religion doing so), we can then recognize how gracious it is for God to base it upon something as simplistic as faith!

And faith here doesn’t simply mean mentally believing something. It is talking about utter reliance and trust on Christ. This is why it is impossible to boast about faith, because the very nature of faith is relenting our own power and abilities. It is saying, “I give up. Christ, You do it.” Who can boast in that?

For more, please see this article on “the gift of God”, and And I casually treat it in this article

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John 6:25-71

John 6:36-40 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 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 him up at the last day.

John 6:44-45 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.

I used an excerpt here because, although all passage is in purview here, these are the texts that Calvinists focus upon, and I am trying to be brief (though I know I am failing :)).

Quick run-down of the Calvinist interpretation (this is an oversimplification): The text is distinguishing between those that follow Jesus and those that do not. To be given to the Son implies that the Father unconditionally elected them and then gave them to the Son. Indeed this is emphasized with the word ‘draw’ in verse 44 which implies being dragged against your will and is thus a picture of irresistible grace. Therefore the point of the passage is the futility of these Jews trying to come to Jesus on their own, and Christ is telling them that they can’t because the Father isn’t drawing them.

The good thing about this interpretation: John 6 is one of the most enigmatic speeches that Christ ever gave, and most of us need some kind of model in order to even begin to understand what Jesus is saying here. The Calvinism interpretation, for all intents and purposes, works. It explains the oddities in the text while being consistent with itself.

The problem: While Calvinism easily answers many of our questions about John 6, it is purely eisogetical, not exegetical. In other words, Calvinism can be offered as a comprehensible explanation for the text, but one cannot claim that one can derive Calvinism from the text. The two terms in discussion here are never defined within the context, and are not even at the heart of what Jesus is saying. Therefore, it can’t be a proof-text for Calvinism at all. There is a basic apologetic confusion here. Just because your position has an answer, it doesn’t guarantee that your position is the answer.

Here’s what the Calvinists get right. John six is absolutely differentiating between those that come to Jesus and those that don’t. But the distinction being made is not one of unconditional election, but previous devotion. The disciples and others that are coming to Jesus during Jesus’ ministry are doing so because they already are devoted to the Father and because of this recognize the Father in Christ. Those that don’t come were never really committed to the Father to begin. Thus the call to them is repent.

If you think about it, it is kind of odd that Christ would waste this much time to convince the crowd that they didn’t have a chance of coming to salvation. Saying that He said it so that it would be written and we could understand doesn’t answer this either. He could have easily have explained things (clearer I might add) to the disciples when they were alone to accomplish that. Additionally, why did He say it so bizarrely?

This makes more sense if we see that Christ is trying to convince these people to look beyond their physical wants and needs and to focus on heavenly things. The entire rhetoric of the passage is Christ pushing them to go beyond their understanding, and to truly commit to God. Why would Jesus do this if they could not be saved?

Therefore, we understand the terms “be given to” to refer to the Father already having them in possession, and giving them over to Jesus. Indeed, “be given to” can only refer to this point in Jesus’ ministry because of how Christ uses the term in John 17 (note the transition in verse 20). The term “to draw” doesn’t refer to irresistible grace, but to the Father having taken possession of them. In other words, the Father must have them first. The resistibly is just never discussed.

For more details on John 6, I have a fuller breakdown of my thoughts here, Richard Coords has a good break down of the Calvinist argument, Daniel Whedon’s commentary is a good read, and Eric Landrstrom’s work.

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Acts 13:48

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Here I used the KJV because the source of this being a prooftext for Calvinism has to do with the KJV translating tasso as ‘ordained’. This is also what makes this verse easy to counter. The word tasso doesn’t mean ‘ordain’. It means ‘to set’ or ‘to position’.

That’s not the only problem. It also completely betrays the construction of the Greek text. The Greek runs as follows:

kai (and) episteusan (believed[aorist {or past} tense]) hosoi (as many as[nominative {subject}]) esan (were [verb]) tetagmenoi (positioned [nominative particple]) eis (into) zoen (life[direct object]) aionion (eternal[adjective])

The word order doesn’t work in English, so there’s nothing wrong with it being rearranged, but when you are interpreting a sentence, you first look for the verb, and then the subject. This sentence has two verbs (‘believed’ and ‘were’), and two subjects(‘as many as’ and ‘positioned’).

Let’s talk a little about the participle. In English the participle (-ing) usually is used as an adjective: “This is a boring book”, though occasionally it can be used as a noun (such as “human being”) or present tense verb (“I am going to the store”). In Greek, it is usually used as a noun, usually meaning a thing which is defined by the action (“For the asking will receive, the seeking will find, and the knocking will have the door open for them”- Matthew 7:8). It is important that the past tense participle form of tasso is being used here as a noun (tetagmenoi), meaning “those who are positioned”.

Given all of this, the common sense reading will assign the first subject with the first verb, and the second subject with the second verb. Therefore we would get this: “And as many who believed; the positioned in eternal life were.” Well, that doesn’t really make sense. However, with the verb ‘to be’ in the Greek, if the verb is being used to equate two things as the same, both words can be in the nominative form (i.e. the subject). Therefore it would read: “And as many who believed were those positioned in eternal life” or “And ones who believed were the ones that were set in eternal life”. This is really the best rendering.

As such, we can see that the text doesn’t blatantly say whether the positioning or the believing came first. It merely equates the two things: if you believe, then you are positioned in eternal life. Additionally, belief being mentioned first makes it the primary point of the text. Considering all of this, I find it very difficult to believe that Luke was trying to argue that “everyone there who God had predestined to have eternal life began to believe that day”. That is really not doing the text justice. The text is clearly arguing that “everyone who believed that day was set to live eternally”. If anything, the text simply implies that eternal life comes by faith.

For more on this text see Joseph Benson’s commentary (highlight here), Dr. Whitby’s Discourses on the 5 Points (highlight here), and this nice commentary on Wesley’s thoughts.

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