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Brief evaluation of some disputed passages

 

Since I have found out from studying the Bible that the doctrines of Calvinism and election are what Scripture teaches, I will now evaluate some passages in the Bible about which Arminians and Calvinists disagree when interpreting. I will give what I have found to be the prevailing Arminian interpretation (found on a number of sites) of each passage and then evaluate it. In doing so I hope to show how these passages do not contradict Calvinism, and hoe it fits in with the rest of Scripture and its teachings on election. For the evaluation of passages in addition to those here visit my page on atonement.

 

John 6:37 (Jn6:35-51)

Arminians reply that "those given to me" in vs. 37 are the same as those who "believe in him" in vs. 40. In other words, when God foresees that some will believe, he gives them to Christ. See that in vs. 45, those who have "heard and learned from the Father" are the ones who "come to me."

Is this possible in the context of the passage?  Well the passage has no mention of God’s foreknowledge.  The interpretation of v. 45 is correct (it’s what the verse states), but then saying that those given to Christ are those fore-seen by God to believe is reading more than the passage says.  It is true the passage says that those given by the Father to Christ will be those who believe, but the passage makes no mention of whether they were fore-ordained or only fore-seen by God that they will believe.

In short this passage does not teach the doctrines of either Calvinism or Arminianism.  By itself it seems to fit into both doctrines.  Whether God foreordains or only foresees is determined elsewhere in Scripture.  But v. 37 seems to support the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace.  But again, it is not a good proof-text for either set of doctrines.

 

John 6:44,65 (Jn6:35-65)

Arminians agrees that these passages teach total depravity. However, they argue the Father draws all men to Christ (Jn. 12:32; 16:8).

They further hold that to assign the cause exclusively to the Father ignores vv. 29,35,40,47. To attribute the cause exclusively to the Father regardless of the response of the person flies in the face of the stated will of the Father in vs. 40 that "every one who beholds the Son and believes in him" be saved.

Finally, with regard to limited atonement and double-predestination, these are positions that depend on the earlier conclusion (unconditional election), and therefore beg the question.

Jn12:32 etc teaches that the Father draws all men to Christ is teaching that God is indiscriminate in His drawing of men to Him (i.e. He does not judge according to race etc).  This is shown by the context the verse 12:32 is in.  Jesus saying this would have been prompted by the presence of Greeks (v. 20).  So to say that v. 44 is because everyone is totally depraved is correct in light of the rest of Scripture.  Romans 3:10-12 etc show that no-one chooses God, so no-one comes to Jesus unless God draws them because they can’t choose Him on their own (i.e. Calvinism is correct here).

The second paragraph sums up those verses well with v. 40: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life…”  This is not ignored.  The Arminians rightly demand we read in context but what about v.39?  It says that it is the Father’s will that Jesus lose none that the Father has given Him.  So vv. 39&40 are clearly saying that it is the Father’s will that Jesus will not lose any of the people which God gives Him, and that those people will have eternal life.  Clearly those who believe in vv. 29, 35, 40 & 47 are those whom God has chosen and given to Jesus.

The final paragraph is a fair comment, but the Arminian view just doesn’t hold up, especially in light of the rest of Scripture.

 

John 15:16 (Jn15:12-17)

Arminians point out that the statement is made to the disciples with reference to their apostleship, not to their salvation. This interpretation accords well with the next phrase "that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain. . ." See also Jn. 6:70 referring to the same choice. Clearly, Judas was chosen, but not saved.

I would agree with this interpretation of this passage.  They are correct in stating that the context shows that Jesus was referring to them being disciples of Him.  But this does not undermine the doctrine of election.

 

Acts 13:48 (Ac13:46-52)

Arminians point out that the participle translated "had been appointed to" (tetagmenoi) is the middle-passive voice form of tassw.

In Greek, the same form is used to designate both the middle voice and the passive voice. The NASB translates it in the passive voice (the subject receives the action). However, if it is translated in the middle voice (the subject initiates the action), the passage would read ". . .as many as set themselves to eternal life believed" (cf. 1 Cor. 16:15 where the same participle is translated in the middle voice). This translation resolves the difficulty.

The context (see v. 46) indicates that Luke intended the middle voice in verse 48. In vv. 46, Paul says of the Jews, "…you repudiate it (the gospel), and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life." Luke is purposefully contrasting the Jews' response to that of the Gentiles, who "began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had set themselves to eternal life believed."

Because of this grammatical ambiguity, neither view should base its position on this passage.

There is grammatical ambiguity in this passage with regards to the word tetagmenoi so the final sentence above is correct, no-one should use this passage to base his position on.  Whether the word is in middle or passive voice is in dispute, so both interpretations are equally likely to be correct without taking the whole of Scripture into account.  With doing that, I am inclined to translate tetagmenoi as ‘appointed’.

But even Luke intended it to say “as many as set themselves to / chose eternal life believed” this can quite easily fit in with the doctrine of election.  For the Bible says that no one seeks life (Rom 3:11) and that God acts in all men causing them to turn to Him.  For those in Acts turning to God are, you could argue, working out their salvation.  So Philippians 2:12-13 can fairly be used to explain what happened:  “..work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  This clearly shows that the act of us choosing God is in fact Him acting in us.

Although Calvinists should not use this to base their position on, they can use other passages (e.g. 2:47, 16:14, 17L26-27, 18:9-10 from Acts alone – although these in Acts aren’t perfect)

 

Romans 9:16,22,23 (Rom8-11)

See here for my evaluation of this passage.

 

Galatians 1:15,16

Arminians would point out that Paul's election and calling were based on God's foreknowledge of Paul's decision to believe. Some Arminians acknowledge that Paul may have been unconditionally elected and irresistibly called by God, but point out that this does not prove that God deals with all people in this way. There is no reason to think that God cannot deal with some people differently than others. Arminians would argue that the burden is on the Calvinist to demonstrate not just that God elected someone unconditionally, but that he elects all Christians in this way.

Briefly:

No one seeks God (Rom 3:10-12), so if God only chose those whom He knew would believe, He would foreknow that no one would turn to Him and believe, and He would thus choose no-one.  So those who have faith are those chosen by God, who has chosen them entirely by grace, without any merit of theirs (including their faith – which is a gift from God Rom12:3, 1Cor12:7-9).  Their response to God is Him acting in them.

I don’t have the space to go through everything.  See Jn6:44,65 above.

 

Ephesians 1:4,5 (Eph1)

Arminians agree that vs. 4 is teaching God's election of the believer to salvation.

However, they call attention to the significance of the phrase "in Him." This phrase, it is argued, means that Christ was the chosen One (Is. 42:1) and that believers corporately participate in his chosenness because they are baptized into him when they believe (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:13).

With regard to vs. 5, Arminians hold that this passage is referring not to God's choice of who will be saved, but of God's choice that those who believe will be ultimately glorified. They interpret "adoption as sons" as a reference to the glorification of believers (cf. Rom. 8:23 for Paul's use of "adoption" in this way).

Arminians also insist that God's election and predestination are based on his foreknowledge of our choice to believe in Christ (1 Pet. 1:1,2*; Rom. 8:29).

Well this entire argument is lacking.  So are they now saying that baptism is a requirement for salvation?  The first and second paragraphs above do not hold up in light of Scripture.  The first paragraph is not how it is.  With the second paragraph I’ll agree that “adoption as sons” is a reference to glorification, but God still predestined from eternity that some would be glorified.  This glorification is directly connected with salvation; God choosing those who will be glorified is Him choosing those who will be saved (as only those people saved will be glorified).  There is no reference to God conditioning His choosing on His foreknowledge of those who would accept Him; this statement goes against the rest of Scripture.

With 1Peter 1:1-2 and Romans 8:29, God foreknew those who He would save because He foreordained them.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:13 (2Th2)

Arminians point out that “from the beginning” could refer to the beginning of their Christian lives (i.e., conversion). Paul uses this same phrase in Phil. 4:15 to refer to people’s conversion. If the term “salvation” refers to glorification (see vs. 14) or spiritual maturity (1 Thess. 5:23), Paul is simply reminding them of God’s purpose for their lives.

The words translated as “from (the) beginning”, ap arch", can also be written as aparch", meaning “(as) first fruits”.  ap arch" has many manuscripts (inc. a) and most miniscules, aparch", has a number of manuscripts supporting it and has some other support (which is why the UBS’ committee chose it):

“(a) ap arxh" occurs nowhere else in the Pauline corpus (pro twn aiwnwn is used in 1Cor 2:7 and apo twn aiwnwn in Col 1:26 to express the idea ‘from eternity’);

“(b) except for Php 4:15, arch in Paul always means ‘power’” (possibly also Col 1:18)

“(c) ajparch occurs six other places in Paul (though in five of them it is with a qualifying genitive); and”

“(d) elsewhere copyists took offense at ajparchn and altered it to at ajp arch" even though the latter expression is inappropriate in those passages.  One manuscript emphasizes the middle voice of eilato by reading eautw ajp arch"

(Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 2nd Edition)

So as you can see “as first fruits” is the preferred word from internal evidence, but “from the beginning” is also a serious possibility.  Using the word “as first fruits” renders the Arminian argument above void.  But regarding the words “from the beginning” the Arminian argument is not possible because of the context of the passage.  Verse 11 says that God has sent a deluding influence causing all men to believe what is false, and out of this God chose “from eternity/the beginning” those who will be saved.

 

1 Peter 2:8 (1Pe2:1-10)

Arminians point out that the specific cause for their stumbling is not God, but that "they are disobedient to the word." Peter is not saying that God made them disobey, or that they cannot repent. He is simply saying that God has ordained judgment for those who reject the gospel.

This argument is also rubbish because of what the verse clearly states.

The only question about this verse is: Is the doom they are appointed to their stumbling or their disobedience?  Probably their disobedience.

 

Jude 4

Arminians point out that the participle “previously marked out” (progegrammenoi) can also be translated “previously written about.” For an example of this usage, see Rom. 15:4. Since Jude goes on to cite several recorded examples of the destruction of ungodly persons (vss. 5-18), this translation is seen as preferable.

They are correct in saying “written down” is a better translation.  The question now is: Is this meaning God writing down those damned from eternity or written prediction of the doom of those people?  The latter interpretation is most likely, so the Arminian argument here is correct.  This has no conflict with the doctrine of election.

 

Copyright Steven Shaw 2000

Browse through the order I made them:

My first page on Predesination Romans 8-11