Answering Calvinistic Proof-Texts

In one sense, answering Calvinistic proof-texts is no more fair than a Calvinist answering Arminian proof-texts, since both systems interpret all of Scripture through a particular lens -- what we call a hermeneutic (the science or art of interpretation). Often, proponents of both sides of the theological debate lodge their particular proof-texts at their opponents, insisting they "answer" their proffered evidence supporting their system.

The primary problem with hurling proof-texts at one another, of course, is that we each answer those proof-texts according to our respective hermeneutic. The answers given can in no sense satisfy or convince the opponent, since the answer can in no sense correspond or correlate or cooperate within the framework of the opponent's hermeneutical system. In order for one to change one's mind, regarding a particular doctrine to which he or she holds, the person is obligated to view the matter through a different frame of reference.

For example, Arminians and Calvinists can read a passage like John 3:16 and conclude with contradictory conclusions. John Calvin, with regard to the providentially-universalistic claims of God's salvation to all who embrace Christ, concludes: "Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith." (link) (emphasis added) Here we see an excellent example of how Calvin's hermeneutic -- or his presupposition -- that God has unconditionally elected to save only some, by decree, governs the manner in which he interprets the text of Scripture. If a passage appears to negate his base hermeneutic, then the text must be, somehow, intended to convey a meaning that corroborates consistently with his overall systemic beliefs.

This is not germane to Calvin alone: we all interpret Scripture through our respective hermeneutical grid -- we cannot escape doing so, since we interpret all of life (politics, culture, texts religious or otherwise) through our respective frame of reference. So, Arminians can easily answer Calvinistic proof-texts, but what will that accomplish? What Arminians achieve in answering their critics is merely the display of the hermeneutical grid by which they interpret the texts of God's word. That is what is presented here: an Arminian hermeneutic for proof-texts proffered by Calvinists to support Calvinism.

MATTHEW 1:21: GOD WILL SAVE HIS UNCONDITIONALLY ELECT

This proof-text is contextually unwarranted for the Calvinist to demonstrate that God has unconditionally pre-selected to save only some. Here, the context regards the Jewish people, and not the alleged unconditionally elect. The point is well taken, however, that Jesus' mission was to offer deliverance from sin to "His people," which were the Jewish people (Matt. 1:21), those to whom He was initially sent: "salvation is from the Jews." (John 4:22) Even the Gospel was first spread by the disciples among the Jewish people: they were witnesses first in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and then, years later, nonetheless, to Samaria and the rest of the world. (Acts 1:8) St Paul even confirms this by writing: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16, emphasis added; cf. Rom. 2:9, 10)

Some Calvinists interpret Matthew 1:21 in light of John 6:37, which is interpreted in light of John 17:2, further demonstrating that a hermeneutic is driving and forcing an interpretation that may not at all be correct. The interpretive problems are obvious: (1) the elect are conceptualized as having already been given by the Father to the Son from eternity past (John 17:2, contextually referring to the Disciples alone), which is contradicted by Jesus' narrative at John 6:37; and (2) the category known as "His people" is thus framed by an erroneous presupposition as "the unconditionally elect." Therefore, with this hermeneutic as a guide, one encounters passages such as Matthew 1:21, entirely ignoring its context, in this case its Jewish context, and then wrongly assumes and concludes that "His people" is a categorical referent to the unconditionally elect.

JOHN 3:3, 5: GOD ENLIGHTENS HIS UNCONDITIONALLY ELECT

At John 3:3 as well as John 3:5 Jesus uses two different Greek words in connection with being born again (or born from above, regenerated) and the kingdom of God: without regeneration no one can "see" (John 3:3), ὁράω, or "enter" (John 3:5), εἰσελθεῖν, the kingdom of God. Granted that the kingdom of God is not comprised of principles one adopts and affirms we can, then, dispense with the interpretation that Jesus is here conveying a message that regeneration must precede faith. That is a concept foreign to and must be interjected into the context. God does not merely enlighten His alleged unconditionally elect; Jesus is "the true light, which enlightens everyone" (John 1:9).

Jesus qualifies His statement at John 3:3, regarding one being able to ὁράω (see) the kingdom, by referring at John 3:5 to one being able to εἰσελθεῖν (enter) the reign of God. Though ὁράω can refer to perception (John 7:52; Acts 8:23; 28:26), the word also refers to seeing with one's physical eyes (John 8:57; 9:7; 12:21; 14:7, 9; 16:22; 20:18, 25, 27, 29). In other words, Jesus qualifies and contextualizes what is meant by seeing the kingdom of God: it refers to entering the kingdom; hence, contextually, at John 3:3, 5, seeing and thus entering God's eternal and righteous kingdom requires the new birth.

1 JOHN 5:1: GOD REGENERATES HIS UNCONDITIONALLY ELECT

A similar idea is promoted by use of 1 John 5:1. The apostle St John emphatically states: "Everyone who believes," believes being a present active participle (i.e., the one continually believing), "that Jesus is the Christ has been born," has been being a perfect passive indicative (or "is born"; cf. ASV, Darby, 1599 Geneva Bible, Douay-Rheims, KJV, NASB, NCV, NIV, NKJV, RSV, Wycliffe), "of God" (1 John 5:1). This is merely an obvious statement from the apostle: those who are believing that Jesus is the Christ are also a born again (regenerated) child of God; and those who are children of God should also love their brothers and sisters, who are also children of God.

To suggest that the apostle is here attempting to teach the notion that regeneration must precede faith betrays not only the Greek tenses, obliging them to support a preconceived notion, but also authorial intent. Calvinist James White, appealing also to 1 John 2:29 by way of parallel to 1 John 5:1, would have us think that the apostle was teaching this very notion that regeneration must precede faith (regardless of context).2 While White is correct regarding the grammar of 1 John 2:29, he is very conveniently neglecting to read it properly regarding 1 John 5:1, making a grammatical mountain out of a mere mole hill, if that.

At 1 John 2:29 we learn that those who are continually practicing righteousness (present active participle) manifest that they have been regenerated or are now regenerate (perfect passive indicative); while at 1 John 5:1, those continually believing (present active participle) manifest that they have been regenerated or are now regenerate (perfect passive indicative). But who could deny that those who are practicing righteousness, and are believing in Christ, have not been regenerated? Of course such people have been regenerated and are now regenerate! But to insist that regeneration was the primary cause of their righteous acts, or their faith -- and thus regeneration precedes faith -- is to miss John's point entirely.

These brief answers are treated in a fuller sense by clicking on the link provided at the end of each proof-text. Answering these proof-texts in this concise manner is intended to entice the reader to dig a little deeper. If an Arminian opponent is genuinely interested in Arminian answers to their proof-texts, then he or she is obligated to actually read Arminians who offer those answers. Also, as an alternative to the Calvinistic TULIP, those at the Society of Evangelical Arminians have constructed the Arminian FACTS, a summary of Arminian theology and the biblical doctrines of grace. This is a must-read.

JOHN 6:37, 39, 44, 65: GOD WILL SAVE THE UNCONDITIONALLY ELECT

Unacknowledged by most Calvinists, there are Arminian proof-texts in this passage (John 6:27, 29, 32, 38, 39, 40, 45, 47, 50, 51, 53, 54, 56, 66). I think an inevitable and appalling implication of a Calvinistic interpretation of John 6 -- one that is both unwarranted and for which we have no evidence -- is that Jesus would be proclaiming this message to the crowds of people gathered around Him that day: "God has unconditionally pre-selected to save some of you." If we accept the Calvinistic interpretation of John 6, at face value, then this was Christ's message to the thousands of people whom He had just miraculously fed the day before. To say that such an interpretation is untenable is an understatement.

There are people who by the grace of God hunger and thirst for Him, and these are the ones whom the Father gives to the Son: "Everything [pan, accusative singular neuter -- "the whole lot or group or mass," intended to convey a corporate substance] that the Father gives [present active indicative: gives and keeps on giving] me will come to me [i.e., for salvation, and be given to Christ as a gift by the Father], and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away" (Jn. 6:37). Whom does the Father give, didōsin (offer, bestow, grant, draw), to Jesus? Will He give Jesus unbelievers or believers? Must not a person, according to Jesus' own words, believe in Him, come to Him (where else shall they go? asks the disciples, cf. Jn. 6:68), and find in Him the satisfaction for one's hunger and thirst?

Yes, the Father will give to, as a gift, and draw unto Jesus the one who believes in Him (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Heb. 7:25). The invitation of Jesus was already spoken: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) Hence God the Father gives "none to Christ," writes Arminian scholar Daniel D. Whedon, "who rejects his teachings [cf. Jn. 6:45] and drawings; none who do not freely consent to be given and go to his Son. Such is the great scheme of salvation."1 The invitation to "come" (cf. Isa. 55:1; Rev. 22:17) presupposes the responsibility of the individual to do "the coming," just as the command to "believe" presupposes the responsibility of the individual to do "the believing." In other words, God does not do "the coming" or "the believing" for us -- we must come to Jesus; we must believe in Jesus; even though God, through the Spirit, must be the Enabler of both.


JACOB ARMINIUS AND JOHN CALVIN

We think elkusē is best translated as "draw" or "influence" rather than "drag" here, given that the subject of John 6:44 is not an inanimate object, but a human being. Inanimate objects must be drawn, unsheathed, and dragged. Rational human beings, however, must be influenced, reasoned with (Isa. 1:18), persuaded. When the Spirit of God convicts sinners regarding sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11), He does not "drag" anyone to a belief, but rather convicts, elegchó, convinces, compels, persuades one of his or her sin, lack of righteousness, and the future judgment.

Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that the Spirit of God "drags" anyone to believe any notion imagined. The sinner needs an enabling grace, not an enforcing grace, as St Paul himself attests: "For he has graciously granted [echaristhē] you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well" (Phil. 1:29). God must, due to our inherent fallenness, echaristhē, exercise grace and bestow favor upon us if we are to be able to trust in and come to Christ Jesus for salvation.

ACTS 13:48: GOD HAS ELECTED TO UNCONDITIONALLY SAVE SOME

Word-order in Greek is not always an exact science, as all Greek scholars admit. The last section of Acts 13:48 in Greek reads, in order: καὶ ἐπίστευσαν ὅσοι ἦσαν τεταγμένοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον; translated in order, "and believed as many as were appointed/arranged/drawn up in order [lit.] into/to life eternal." The aorist active indicative translated "believe," ἐπίστευσαν, is usually placed last in the sentence in English, suggesting that faith in Christ is the result of some having been "ordained" or "appointed" to life eternal, whether unconditional or not we cannot tell, rather than the notion that those who believed were appointed for eternal life. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers argues:
The words seem to the English reader to support the Calvinistic dogma of divine decrees as determining the belief or unbelief of men, and it is not improbable, looking to the general drift of the theology of the English Church in the early part of the seventeenth century, that the word "ordained" was chosen as expressing that dogma. It runs, with hardly any variation, through all the chief English versions, the Rhemish giving the stronger form "pre-ordinate."

The Greek word, however, does not imply more than that they fell in [line] with the divine order which the Jews rejected. They were as soldiers who take the place assigned to them in God's great army. The quasi-middle force of the passive form of the verb is seen in the Greek of Acts 20:13, where a compound form of it is rightly rendered "for so he had appointed," and might have been translated for so he was disposed. (link) (emphasis added)
The case for the word τεταγμένοι, from τάσσω, being translated as "appointed," "disposed," or, perhaps, "arranged in order,"3 is a strong one, given that its use elsewhere does not wear the clothing of any subject being preordained for salvation to one degree or another. Thayer takes the same vein on the Greek word τάσσω in this manner as well. (link) Biblehub grants: "tássō ('place in position, post') was commonly used in ancient military language for 'designating' ('appointing, commissioning') a specific status, i.e. arranging (placing) in a deliberate, fixed order." (link) (Cf. Matt. 28:16; Acts 15:2; 20:13; 28:23; Rom. 13:1; 1 Cor. 16:15; Acts 22:10)

ROMANS 9: GOD JUSTLY UNCONDITIONALLY ELECTS TO SAVE SOME

Briefly answering this chapter, used as a proof-text in Calvinistic ideology, is nearly impossible. My hope is that Arminian opponents will read at least one of the references I list for further study of Romans 9, contextually with Romans 10 and 11, from an Arminian and not from a Calvinist scholar who claims to be presenting the Arminian position.

Succinctly, the God of Israel entrusted to His Jewish people -- who are the primary contextual referents in the chapter -- the right of spiritual adoption, His glory, His covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple worship and His promises (Rom. 9:4); to them belong "the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Rom. 9:5). Just because many ethnic Jews rejected that Messiah does not render God's word of promise null and void (Rom. 9:6). Why? First, because some Jews are trusting in Jesus, and thus God's word of promise is remaining faithful to them; and second, because what makes people spiritually Jewish (cf. Rom. 2:28) -- children of promise, redeemed children of God -- is not ethnicity but personal faith in Christ (Rom. 9:7, 8).

Paul grants examples of this latter truth: Isaac and Ishmael (9:7, 8) and Jacob and Esau (9:10, 11, 12, 13, 14). Ishmael and Esau represent the children of the flesh, to whom the promise of salvation is offered, but not automatically, via ethnic communication, which was a common assumption; while Isaac and Jacob represent the children of the promise, to whom the promise of salvation is offered, but not automatically, via ethnic communication, but by grace through faith in Messiah Jesus. These men are used as representations.

Does this render God unjust? (9:14) Not at all, since He reserves the right to offer salvation to anyone He chooses. (9:15) So salvation does not depend on human will, ethnic connections, or works of the Law. (9:16) God shows His mercy to those undeserving of His mercy. (9:17, 18) Why does He still find fault with the Jewish people attempting to keep the Law and merit His favor? Who can resist God's will in this matter of grace and salvation, as well as justice and condemnation? (9:19) Who is a fallen mortal to judge a holy God? is the answer. (9:20) He is patient with the wicked who refuse His grace (9:21, 22), and kind toward those who are trophies of the same (9:23). (See also Keith Schooley, "Romans;" Brian J. Abasciano, Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis; and Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis; F. Leroy Forlines, Romans; Robert Picirilli, Romans; Jack Cottrell, Romans.)

EPHESIANS 1: GOD UNCONDITIONALLY ELECTS SOME FOR HIS GLORY

All spiritual blessings, including salvation, can be found solely in Christ. Hence there is no secret blessing -- an unconditional election unto faith and salvation -- since all of God's blessings are found in a universal Savior, who does not show favoritism to anyone, yet restricts those same blessings to the recipients of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We find believers who εὐλογητός, bless God and Christ; and then we find that God εὐλογήσας, has blessed us -- our blessing Him being subsequent to His blessing us.

Surprising to some, unconditional election is not taught in the first chapter of Ephesians, nor throughout the entirety of the epistle. Calvinist pastor John Piper himself even admits that Ephesians 1:4 will not settle the issue of the theory of unconditional election (link). He almost interprets the core message of Ephesians 1:4 correctly, especially noting, "God chose us to come to salvation in Christ, not apart from Christ. But it was us that he chose. These words are not strained at all in carrying this meaning that God chose particular people to be his children through their union with Christ." (link) (emphases added) We can agree with this interpretation in so far as it places Jesus Christ at the center of both our election and our salvation -- but neither are unconditional in nature.

We, believers in Christ, are the recipients of God's spiritual blessings, which are a cause for praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3). The apostle continues: "For," lit. according as, "he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Eph. 1:4 NIV) God the Father -- the one who saves and blesses believers in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ -- chose (elected), before the creation of the world, us who are (or would be) in Him, that is, in Christ, to be holy and blameless in His sight.

Note carefully the reality and context of God's choice: the text does not teach that God chose us to be "in Christ," but that those who are in Christ, by grace through faith (Eph. 2:5, 8), are elected to be holy and blameless in His sight. Dr. George E. Harpur comments:
God's election antedates creation [we all agree on that truth], and the selection is made in Christ [we all agree on that truth, as well]. The objection to taking this to mean "chosen to be in Christ" is that the purpose of the election is clearly stated -- to be holy and blameless. Positive sanctification and negative blamelessness begin now, but are not fully achieved until we are in his sight.4 (emphases original)
These uncontested facts are further demonstrated in St Paul's letter to the Colossians: "he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him" (Col. 1:22 NRSV; cf. 1 Cor. 1:8; Eph. 5:26, 27; Phil. 1:10; 2:15; 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23). This spiritual blessing is restricted to the one "in Him" (Eph. 1:4).

There are many other proof-texts which are offered on various topics in a Calvinistic theology: Psalm 115:3 for God's deterministic sovereignty; Ephesians 1:13, 14 for necessary perseverance of the saints; John 10:11 for limited atonement; Ephesians 2:8 for irresistible grace; none of which can actually be maintained aside from a Calvinistic hermeneutic, so we think -- meaning that, if one has not been taught how to view these passages of Scripture in a Calvinistic light, then the average reader will not likely conclude with a Calvinistic interpretation.

Such has been demonstrated by missionaries who merely give new converts a Bible, check on them years later, and without Western (and Calvinistic) influence they are profoundly and decidedly not Calvinistic at all. This justly grants more strength to the truth confessed by Dr. Kenneth Keathley regarding an Arminian understanding of the Bible: Arminianism has always been considered, even if anachronistically so, the teaching of the early Church fathers, as well as Eastern orthodoxy.5 Therefore, we are not surprised that people, without a Calvinistic influence, naturally interpret all of Scripture in an Arminian light.

Such has historically been the case from the beginning of Christian theology since the first century. Not until the prominence of St Augustine in the early fifth century was Christian theology morphed into what would later become known as Calvinism. Therefore Calvinism is not firmly rooted in early Christian theology, but is a novelty constructed by one primary figure in the fifth-century church, St Augustine. If one is searching for a vibrant theology rooted in early Christianity, the option has always, historically, been clear: Arminianism.

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1 Daniel D. Whedon, A Popular Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels: II. Luke-John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1874), 287.

2 James White, The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen but Free (Amityville: Calvary Press, 2000), 288.

3 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition, revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 991.

4 George E. Harpur, "Ephesians," in The International Bible Commentary with the New International Version, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1428.

5 Kenneth D. Keathley, "The Work of God: Salvation," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 703.