Bread of life: drawn

bread-of-life-tabernacleComing to the Lord. 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

Jesus now addresses the crowd for a second time and tells then to stop their grumbling. Then he repeats the saying of v.37, but in a slightly stronger form. In v.37 the word “come” (hēxei) is future, active voice and means that the person (subject) will be in the process of “coming.” But in v.44 the subject is God who will helkysē (draw, haul by force – EDNT v.1:435) the person to him.

In the midst of everyone considering the great Eucharistic questions posed by John 6, it is easy to Passover one of the great doctrines of the Gospel and the Christian faith: divine initiative. John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, held that such divine initiative was irresistible –and if irresistible, then God chose who to save and who to condemn and thus held to “double predestination.” The 4th century British monk, Pelegius (or at least his followers) held that people, theoretically, could come to Jesus (and salvation) on their own. The Catholic Church holds both of these positions to be in error. But that does leave the question of human involvement. “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be “left in the hand of his own counsel,” so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” The church clearly calls this God’s “plan of love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1730). All this certainly does not rehearse arguments for each position, but simply states how a simple verse has been seen throughout the ages.

To that understanding of the “plan of love,” Borgen sees the verb (helkysē) as a legal term, equivalent to the Hebrew משׁר (which it often renders in LXX), and which means “to take possession of” (i.e., by drawing the object to oneself). Borgen regards Jesus as the agent of the Father and understands this verse to mean, “only those of whom the sender (through the agent) takes the actual possession are received by the agent, and nobody else.” But this implies acceptance, cooperation, and willingness on the part of the person to be drawn. The great missionary scholar Lesslie Newbigin wrote, in speaking of evangelization, that it is “God who sends Jesus for souls, on the other hand, draws souls to Jesus. The two divine works, external and internal, answer to and complete each other. The happy moment in which they meet in the heart, and in which the will is thus gained, is that of the gift on God’s part, of faith on man’s part….faith becomes possible when one abandons hold on one’s own security, and to abandon one’s security is nothing else than to let oneself be drawn by the Father” (The Light Has Come [Grand Rapids, 1982] 231).

In the midst of all this, while we might lose a sense of focus, not for one moment does Jesus lose his sense of mission. For the third time he refers to his future activity of raising up his people at the last day (v.44).

Teaching, believing, and having life. 45 It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

In v.44 Jesus has restated the central theological themes of the preceding discourse: God’s initiative in drawing people to Jesus and the promise of resurrection on the last day. At the beginning of v.45 he gives those themes scriptural support by appealing to “the prophets.” The OT verse cited in seems to be a paraphrase of the LXX of Isaiah 54:13, although its content also recalls Jer 31:33. The citation underscores God’s initiative in making faith possible and the universality of God’s actions (“they shall all be taught …”). The emphasis on God’s role and the appeal to Scripture build on the list of witnesses developed in 5:31–40 (John the Baptist, the signs, the Father, and the Spirit). Jesus’ claims are grounded in God’s work of the sign and in Jesus’ relationship with the Father. They cannot simply be dismissed as Jesus’ own, unfounded assertion.

At the end of the verse, Jesus alludes to another theme of 6:36–40: the faith response. “Hearing” (akouō) and “learning” (manthanō) in v. 45 function analogously to “seeing” and “believing” in vv. 36 and 40; they are metaphors for human receptivity to what God offers. Verse 45 states that God’s teaching is offered to all, but the latter part of the verse suggests that only those who hear and learn what God teaches will come to Jesus. As in 6:36–40, God’s initiative toward humanity is held in tension with human decision and response. The emphasis on teaching, hearing, and learning in vv. 44–45 suggests that the reason for the crowd’s grumbling lies in their perception, not in Jesus’ claims. God has taught them (v. 44), but they do not hear and learn (cf. 5:37).

Yet even those who learn from the Father do not see the Father. Verse 46 reasserts Jesus’ unique relationship to God, recalling the conclusion of the Prologue 1:18 (“No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed Him.”). For the Fourth Evangelist, it is through Logos-Jesus alone that the believer has access to God the Father (5:23, 38, 42–43; 14:6–9) and access to eternal life (v.47).

NOTES

John 6:44 drawn: In rabbinic sources the same word (in Hebrew) translated as “drawn” is the expression used to described a Gentile being brought close to the Torah and thus to conversion.

John 6:47 Amen, Amen, I say to you: Moloney, a Johannine expert, says that John’s use of this expression is generally not stating “what follows is true, so pay attention,” but is used to link what came before with what follows. He offers a more contextual translation as “because this is the case.”

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