Hard to accept: grace and will

Trinity64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” 66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Some believe and some don’t. This is a theme woven throughout John 6 – the tension between divine initiative and human choice. Verse 65 echoes vv. 37,39, and 55 – we are drawn to Jesus via the initiating action of God.

As mentioned in a previous commentary, these verses are also something that divides Christian theology. The basic question is the grace that draws one to Christ irresistible? If it is, then why do some disciples walk away (v.67). If such grace is indeed resistible, then has salvation become a human work relying too much on human free will? Some Christians resolve the question by their theology of “double predestination.” The followers of the Reformer John Calvin, in the generation following Calvin, decided that before people are born their judgment is already given – heaven or damnation – and is apart from any choices they could make in their lifetime: human will and action have no standing. Other Calvinists, principle among them Jacob Arminius, held that God provided “prevenient grace.” It is divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer [CCC §2670]. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC §1742] notes: “The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world.”

And so some disciples, in freedom and apart from the grace of God, walk away; some stay.

Some Believe. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

The desertion (v.66) is the catalyst for Jesus’ question to the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Again it is an encounter in which divine initiative and human choice again meet. The Twelve must choose whether to accept or reject the offer God has made to them in the person of Jesus.

Simon Peter, given the role of spokesman for the Twelve, chooses to accept what is offered in Jesus. His words in v. 68 acknowledge that he has heard and learned (cf. 6:45) from the bread of life discourse, because he knows that Jesus has “words of eternal life” (cf. 6:63; see also 6:40, 47, 51, 54, 58). This has the form of a confession of faith: “We have come to believe and are convinced.…” “Believe” (pisteuō) and “know” (ginōskō) function as synonyms here, as they do in many places in the Fourth Gospel (e.g., 10:38; 14:7; 16:30). The use of both verbs intensifies Peter’s confession. Both verbs are also in the perfect tense, indicating now and continuing.

Neal Flanagan [992] keenly observes: “The chapter concludes (vv. 66–71) with a presentation of two models. Peter is one. He takes the risk, opening himself to the Word whose revealing words give eternal life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69). The other model is Judas. He will remain in the group, living a divided existence, but already moving into darkness and into the demonic power which that darkness symbolizes (13:26–30).”

Notes

John 6:67 Twelve: Verse 67 is the first time the expression “the twelve” (οἱ δώδεκα hoi dōdeka) occurs in the Fourth Gospel. That expression occurs infrequently in John—only in this passage (vv. 67, 70–71) and in one of the resurrection stories (20:24). The Fourth Evangelist has narrated no call of the Twelve and he introduces the expression with no explanation. It seems likely that he assumes the expression’s familiarity to his readers from other traditions about Jesus. Indeed, the reference to the Twelve and the prominent role of Peter in John 6:66–71 suggest that the Fourth Evangelist draws on traditions similar to those drawn on by the synoptic Gospels. John 6:67–71 is frequently referred to by scholars as the Johannine version of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13–20; Mark 8:27–33; cf. the related confession at Luke 9:18–20). The Fourth Evangelist’s use of this tradition here can be compared to his use of Petrine traditions in 1:42–44.

John 6:69 go: The word for “go” used here is that used also of Judas’s going to the chief priests to betray Jesus in Mark 14:10.

Sources

  • Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995). 337-46
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 609-13
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990) –
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm
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