>John 6:44-45 – A Grammatical Note

>One of the key texts on which Arminians and Calvinists disagree is John 6:44-45. That passage states:

John 6:44-45

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, καὶ ἐγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. ἔστι γεγραμμένον ἐν τοῖς προφήταις· καὶ ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοὶ Θεοῦ· πᾶς ὁ ἀκούσας παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μαθὼν ἔρχεται πρὸς με.

Calvinists assert that the same group is discussed throughout. That group is the elect. The group is the group that comes, that is drawn, that will be raised up, that is taught of God, and that hears and learns. Some Arminians disagree.

For example, some Arminians try to say that one group is “taught” but only a sub-group of that “hears” and “learns.” This position is not necessarily the position of all Arminians. When Arminians argue this, however, there a clear grammatical answer.

The expression “taught of God” is expressed using a predicate adjective that we translate “taught” (διδακτοὶ) with the genitive form of God (Θεοῦ). The adjective διδακτοὶ, when referring to people, conveys that the people have received the educational effect of the teaching, much like “engraved” means that something has received the effect of the engraving, or “shattered” means that something has received the effect of the shattering.

Various forms of the word διδακτός are found in Scripture. When that word refers to things, it refers to the objects of instruction (the lessons) and when it refers to people it refers to the subjects of instruction (the students).

In the latter sense it seems to be more rarely used. In addition to this one instance in the New Testament, we find it similarly in the Greek translation of Isaiah 54:13 (διδακτοὺς θεοῦ) but also in a related form in 1 Maccabees:

1 Maccabees 4:7 (Apocrypha) And they saw the camp of the heathen, that it was strong and well harnessed, and compassed round about with horsemen; and these were expert of war.

That expression “Expert of war” is διδακτοὶ πολέμου. In the context of 1 Maccabees 4:7, it should be clear that the focus of the word is on the result in the heathen. The point isn’t that they all went to boot camp, but rather that they all were expert (as the KJV puts it). The use of “of war” πολέμου may specifically suggest that these were veterans. Their expertise was forged in the fires of armed conflict.

Another instance and even more similar reference can be found in the ancient pseudepigraphic literature called the “Psalms of Solomon”:

Psalms of Solomon 17:32 (Pseudepigrapha) And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all will be holy, and their king will be the Lord Messiah. (translation by Robert B. Wright)[FN1]

Again it should be clear from the immediate context that the idea is not simply that the king was at a school, but that he was actually educated. There is no question about whether he heard and learned, but rather it is given as a result. He did not just sit under teaching, he is taught.

Finally, let’s consider the context of the usage in Isaiah 54:13. Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint provides the following context:

Isaiah 54:11-17

11 Afflicted and outcast thou has not been comforted: behold, I will prepare carbuncle for thy stones, and sapphire for thy foundations; 12 and I will make thy buttresses jasper, and thy gates crystal, and thy border precious stones. 13 And I will cause all thy sons to be taught of God, and thy children to be in great peace. 14 And thou shalt be built in righteousness: abstain from injustice, and thou shalt not fear; and trembling shall not come nigh thee. 15 Behold, strangers shall come to thee by me, and shall sojourn with thee, and shall run to thee for refuge. 16 Behold, I have created thee, not as the coppersmith blowing coals, and bringing out a vessel fit for work; but I have created thee, not for ruin, that I should destroy thee. 17 I will not suffer any weapon formed against thee to prosper; and every voice that shall rise up against tee for judgment, thou shalt vanquish them all; and thine adversaries shall be condemned thereby. There is an inheritance to them that serve the Lord, and ye shall be righteous before me, saith the Lord.

Notice that the discussion in Isaiah 54:11-17 with respect to the people of God is essentially monergistic. The point in the passage are the good things that God is going to do to his people. The KJV translation of the Hebrew text provides the same context:

Isaiah 54:11-17

11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. 12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. 13 And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. 14 In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. 15 Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake. 16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. 17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.

Notice that God is the one making the foundations from sapphires, the windows out of agates, the gates out of carbuncles (red stones), and their borders from other precious stones. The point is not just that the children will have access to a good education, but rather that they will get the education – they will be taught. We can tell this because it is nestled between the comments about building and the comment that these God-taught children will have great peace. God will establish them and give them freedom from oppression. The only human actions are the actions of their enemies, actions that God will render fruitless.

Applying this understanding of the infrequently used word διδακτός to John 6:44-45, we see that it is mistaken to act as though “taught of God” is a broad category of which “hear and learn” are subsets. It is wrong to try to suggest that there are some people who are taught of God but who do not hear and learn.

Instead, the correct way to understand “taught” as being in parallel to “heard and learn.” They are two ways of talking about the same group. Those who are God-instructed are the same ones who hear and learn. Everyone who is taught by God (i.e. who hears and learns) comes to God (vs. 45), and only those come (vs. 44). This is similar to the discussion later in the chapter in which Jesus explains that everyone who eats of him will have eternal life (vs. 54) and only those (vs. 53).

This helps us to understand that Jesus’ discussion is about the elect specifically. That is to say, Jesus is explaining that the elect and only the elect come to the Father because the elect and only the elect are drawn of the Father, that is they are taught of God. Consequently the elect and only the elect ultimately believe savingly on the Lord Jesus Christ.

This fits within the immediate context. Jesus is responding to their disbelief about his claim to have come down from heaven. Jesus is explaining the reason for their disbelief. The point of Jesus’ response is that the Father hasn’t drawn them, he hasn’t taught them. They haven’t heard and learned from him. This fits quite well within a Calvinistic soteriology.

It doesn’t fit well within a view of Universal Prevenient Grace (UPG) and Libertarian Free Will (LFW). In such a view everyone absolutely (each and every person who has or will ever live) is given sufficient grace to believe. Then they exercise their free will either to believe or not believe. If that were the case, Jesus’ words wouldn’t make much sense. The reason wouldn’t be that God hasn’t drawn the people, or that they haven’t been taught of God. Perhaps one could try to seize on the terms “heard” and “learned” (since in some cases those terms can have more proactive senses – though there is no reason to impose such a meaning here). Nevertheless, the rest of Jesus’ explanation for why the people shouldn’t murmur would not make sense.

Thus, while the passage may not specifically use words like “election” or “predestination” the passage is a very Calvinistic passage. It helps us see that what makes the difference between faith and unbelief is not human free will, but rather is the drawing and power of God.

– TurretinFan

FN1: Wright’s is probably the leading translation of the text. However, there are a number of other translations available, which I’ve collected below. There is some question about when the text was originally written (the consensus seems to place it in the late intertestamental period). The original language of the text may have been Hebrew, but the text did not survive in Hebrew. The title of this work is found in what amounts to the table of contents of Codex Alexandrinus, although the text of the work is missing from the existing copy of the codex. Readers of this blog will be pleased to note, incidentally, that Athanasius’ letter to Marcellinus (which we discussed earlier) was included as a preface to the books of Psalms in that codex.

Here are some alternative English translations of the verse in question:

NETS: And he shall be a righteous king, taught by God, over them, and there shall be no injustice in his days in their midst, for all shall be holy, and their king the anointed of the Lord.

G. Buchanan Gray: (32) And he (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God, over them, 36 And there shall be no unrighteousness in his days in their midst, For all shall be holy and their king the anointed of the Lord.

Heerak Christian Kim translates it: And this righteous king, taught by God, shall be over them. 36 And there is not injustice in his days in the midst of them, because all are holy, and their king is the annointed of the Lord.


One Response to “>John 6:44-45 – A Grammatical Note”

  1. Coram Deo Says:

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