Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Serious Arminian Exegesis of Calvinist Prooftexts (Second Half)
12/18/2004 - James WhiteThe irony found in these exegetical notes is that the actual wording of the text is always subjugated by the author to an outside interpretational grid that itself would have to be derived from exegesis of other passages, etc. Osborne begins by stating "While there is some truth to the above statements, they for the most part neglect John's other emphasis, man's responsibility." First, this assumes a particular, narrow view of "man's responsibility" that rejects, a priori, the concept of compatibilism and the reality that God can hold men accountable for their actions while remaining sovereign and actively in control of human events (Gen. 50:20, Acts 4:27-28). But this is not strictly exegesis: it is theology. Secondly, one must establish Osborne's particular understanding of "man's responsibility" as being actually present in John's writings in the fashion he assumes it is.
Next Osborne claims, "Verses 37-40 are based upon verse 35, where we see that eternal life is dependent on coming and believing. Moreover, the present tenses of the participles indicate it does not speak about a crisis faith-decision but rather about persevering in those two states." Why are verses 37-40 based upon verse 35, and not verse 36? Isn't verse 36, with its adversative alla and its introduction of unbelief on the part of the audience a clear dialogue direction marker? How can this be overlooked? Is not the Lord explaining the giving of a particular people to the Son in light of His startling and challenging statement that these men, though they have come across the lake "seeking" Him, are in fact, not believers? There is no question, of course, that eternal life is the possession of those who are coming and believing, and that both participles are indeed expressing to us the on-going nature of this kind of saving faith, a point I have often made. But upon what basis do we pass over the fact that Jesus is explaining their unbelief in the light of His miracles and words? I suggest it is the over-arching necessity of Arminian theology, resulting in eisegesis rather than exegesis. Likewise, the citation that follows concerning the guilt of those who do not believe is quite true, but likewise based upon the assumption that if one believes in divine sovereignty one does not, at the very same time, believe in human responsibility, a concept unwarranted on any grounds, and surely one not derived from this passage. The unbelievers are accountable: but this does not in any way change the meaning of the text at hand.
Next we have another example not of exegesis, but of unwarranted theologizing, when Osborne writes, "This is not to denigrate the strong emphasis on the sovereign will in this passage; it is rather to point out that the sovereign force considers human responsibility before moving." What is the connection to the text here? We are simply not told. What does it mean to "consider human responsibility before moving"? Is this not an assertion that God is responding to human beings in the very matter of salvation itself, rather than sovereignly initiating and accomplishing? Where does this text even begin to suggest such a thing? We are not told. This is not an exegetical insight; no attempt is made to derive it from grammar, lexicography, or syntax. It is simply asserted.
In the next paragraph, Osborne notes the terms drawing, giving, coming and believing. But, without grounding his assertion in the text itself, he writes, "They illustrate the two sides of the salvific act, God's part in drawing, man's part in coming." But the text indicates that God's giving results in all who are so given coming to Christ. Where is the recognition of this reality? The text likewise says that no one has the ability to come outside of that drawing and that those so drawn are raised up on the last day. All of this in explanation of why these men do not believe and why, in fact, they will walk away from Him by the end of the encounter. One would think if one is exegeting the text so as to derive one's position therefrom, these issues would be front and center. But I would suggest that Arminianism's best move in regards to John 6 is simple survival: try to find a plausible explanation that isn't overly complex and move as quickly as possible somewhere else. Osborne asks, "Here we must ask if God's drawing determines man's coming and if man's coming thereby is an act apart from the decision of his will." But to ask the question in this fashion is to once again assume a particular framework into which the text must be forced. There is no question that the one coming does so by an act of will. The writer simply assumes, without deriving his basis from the text, that if the will is involved, then God's sovereignty must be secondary thereto (i.e, he assumes libertarianism). Surely man's coming is not an "act apart from the decision of his will," but that does not makes man's coming dependent upon a libertarian human will rather than the divine work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The fact is man comes as a result of that work, and that infallibly (all who are given come).
At this point the common, and invalid, response of leaving the context of John 6 so as to establish an a priori interpretational grid by reference to a future passage (thus leaving the current passage unintelligible to those to whom the words were first spoken) and that without even accurately handling that future passage (John 12:32), is seen. We are informed that while John 6:44 seems to be presenting a sovereign work of God, we must take this passage in the light of "John's entire 'draws' theology, which stresses the attraction itself, not the certainty of it." This is derived from John 6? Surely not! Is it drawn from John 12? Surely not again! The mere assumption (and there is no evidence, even in the footnotes to this section, that the writer wrestles with the meaning of "all men" in John 12:32, despite the context of the Greeks seeking Jesus) that John 12:32 indicates a universal drawing is sufficient for the conclusion that John 6:44 could not possibly be saying what it says! How many times we have seen this in less "scholarly" contexts, and yet it is just as invalid a means of interpretation when it is performed by a professor as it is when performed by Dave Hunt. Exegesis requires us to deal with the text, and Osborne is showing us how he explains away the text in light of his pre-existing theology. The reader, it is hoped, will see a markedly different approach in my exegesis of the text. You begin with the text, determine its meaning in context before you start the process of harmonization. Osborne is flying above the text in the realm of tradition, touching the text only in so far as to deflect its words from damaging the matrix of his theology. This explains how, without the slightest foundation from the text, he can then make the bland assertion, "In itself, then, it does not teach irresistible grace but rather God's universal salvific love." Try to follow this "serious" exegesis for a moment: leap from John 6 to a completely different context six chapters removed in the future; take a questionable interpretation of one verse, read it back into verse 44 (leaving the actual text untouched) and voila! You have banished irresistible grace and instead introduced "God's universal salvific love." In the process, of course, you've destroyed God's ability to save monergistically and therefore perfectly, but there is the process of "serious" Arminian exegesis, as recommended to us by a self-professed "Calvinist" scholar.
Next, v. 45 is likewise misused at the hands of this Arminian exegete. In a single sentence Osborne turns v. 45, which is in reality an expansion and explanation of 44, on its head. In context, if you simply allow the text to flow as one would expect it to, the Lord is defining the "drawing" in terms of hearing and learning from the Father. All who hear and learn come to the Son. This is how the drawing is accomplished. But rather than assuming some kind of libertarianism and reading it into these terms some theological view of the will, the point is that the "hearing" and "learning" is the result of God's action of teaching, and all who thusly hear and learn come to Christ. Seeing the parallel of 37, 44, and 45 explains Jesus' point perfectly: this is not the "hearing" the unbelievers were doing, in hearing the sound waves reaching their ears. No, this is the hearing that is divine in nature. "Who is able to hear?" is the question that will rightly be asked in 6:60. And what is the answer? Those given by the Father to the Son, and drawn by the Father to the Son, and taught by the Father, and who hear from the Father. The consistency of the Lord's language, argument, and presentation is compelling, but it is lost in this Arminian exegesis which only rarely touches down in the text, and then only long enough to tell us what the text cannot possibly be saying. Real exegesis tells you what the text is positively saying.
So we can conclude this hopefully educational foray into "serious Arminian exegesis" by noting once again the fact that Arminians can indeed engage in the process of accurately interpreting the text of Scripture, but, seemingly, only when it does not undermine libertarianism. That is, we can say "Arminians cannot do exegesis" in the context of adding the term "consistently." That is, if they were to apply the same rules of hermeneutics to John 6 and Romans 8 that they apply when defending the Deity of Christ or the resurrection, they would be forced by the inspired Word to abandon their philosophically-derived beliefs. And this is exactly what Osborne's "exegetical" notes have proven yet once again.