Richard Coords, “Lazarus”

, , Comments Off on Richard Coords, “Lazarus”

The essence of the Calvinist gospel is this: I was dead and in need of a resurrection. (This combines the Calvinist doctrines of Total Inability and Irresistible Grace.) Naturally, then, Calvinists feel that Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead to be a perfect example to illustrate their concept of the gospel, that is, of Jesus calling elect people from death to life with an irresistible calling, just as Jesus irresistibly called Lazarus out of his tomb. Calvinists add that Lazarus didn’t have a choice in the matter, in that he wasn’t invited but instead ordered.

John 11:40-44: “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

Calvinists are like: “Hey look—something relevant to bodily resurrection! Must be an example of effectual faith!” Right from the start, as an apples to oranges comparison, it’s obvious that Calvinists are conflating the apple of physical resurrection with the orange of spiritual resurrection.

An additional problem, among several, is that if Lazarus was already a believer, how can this rightly be used to illustrate how unbelievers come to faith? Interestingly, though, this miracle does indeed contain a lesson on coming to faith, not necessarily for Lazarus, but for the witnesses of the miracle. In other words, people would believe who Jesus was—not by being called out of their so-called spiritual tombs, as Calvinists have pulled out of thin air—but simply by seeing a miracle performed and then knowing what it would mean about who Jesus must be, namely their long-awaited Messiah. So, instead of needing a spiritual regeneration in order to believe, all people needed to believe was to see a miracle take place. Certainly, that doesn’t say much for the Calvinist doctrine of Total Inability, that is, if people can believe simply by witnessing miracles, which is also Jesus’ point at John 10:37-38, though at the same time, Jesus also said at John 20:29 that it is more blessed to believe and yet have not seen than to believe only after visible proofs.

What do Calvinists believe?

James White: “On the level of spiritual capacity the unregenerate man is just like Lazarus: dead, bound, incapable of ‘self-resurrection.’ It would be patently absurd to demand that Jesus first ask Lazarus for ‘permission’ to raise him to spiritual life. Corpses are not known for engaging in a great deal of conversations. No, before Lazarus can respond to Christ’s command to come forth, something must happen. Corpses do not obey commands, corpses do not move. Jesus changed Lazarus’ condition first: Lazarus’ heart was made new; his mind revitalized. Blood began once again to course through his veins. What was once dead is now alive, and can hear the voice of his beloved Lord, ‘Come forth!’ The term ‘irresistible’ then must be understood as speaking to the inability of dead sinners to resist resurrection to new life.”220

R.C. Sproul: “We respond in a manner similar to that of Lazarus when, after being loosed, he stepped out of the tomb. In like manner we step out of our tombs of spiritual death. We also respond when we hear the call of Christ.”221

R.C. Sproul: “Arminians do not appreciate this analogy and protest that we are here comparing apples to oranges. Obviously in the case of physical death, a corpse cannot respond or cooperate.”222

Our reply:

The reason why non-Calvinists reject the notion that the raising of Lazarus has anything to do with spiritual regeneration is because:

  1. Lazarus was already a believer, whom Jesus knew and called His “friend.” (John 11:11)
  1. Neither Jesus nor any apostle ever cited this miracle in the context of the spiritual regeneration.
  1. Jesus stated what the purpose of this miracle was, which was so that witnesses “may believe.” (John 11:42) And that is precisely what resulted: “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.” (John 11:45)
  1. Jesus did plenty of other miracles as well, such as cleansing a leper (Matthew 8:2-3) and commanding the healing of a Centurion’s sick servant. (Matthew 8:5-13) Why don’t Calvinists develop metaphors around those things? I think we all know why. Those people were just sick and diseased, not dead. At John 5:6, Jesus asks: “Do you wish to get well?” Obviously, Calvinists can’t cite that miracle either since Jesus conditioned it on a choice.
  1. Lazarus was only temporarily raised and later died. So, how do Calvinists wish to fit that into their extra-biblical explanation? Will they suggest that spiritual resurrection is therefore just temporary?

Calvinists will insist that, like Lazarus, we too are dead, that is, dead in our sins. However, being dead in sins is illustrated at Ephesians 2:11-22 as separation, not unconsciousness. A perfect example is found at Luke 15:24: “‘For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” Obviously, that was only figuratively being dead, and not literally. In our own culture, we hear the expression: “You’re dead to me.” Certainly, that doesn’t mean that a person is lifeless, but rather is cut off, which can be restored under the right conditions.

Calvinist objection:

The context of raising Lazarus from the dead clearly dealt with the matter of salvation because Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will. (John 5:28-29)


Sure, in terms of witnesses becoming believers (i.e. “…so that they may believe that You sent Me” John 11:42), but Lazarus was not an unbeliever transformed into a believer, and yet, that is exactly the comparison that Calvinists are trying to make, that is, in which Lazarus supposedly depicts unbelievers becoming spiritually regenerated to become believers. If Lazarus was not an unbeliever, then Calvinism’s extra-biblical metaphor really has no basis, and it’s puzzling that more Calvinists don’t realize this.


220 The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 284-285.
221 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 186.
222 Ibid.

[This post has been excerpted with permission from Richard Coords, Calvinism Answered Verse by Verse and Subject by Subject, © 2020.]