You Do Not Believe Because You are Not My Sheep

Calvinist James White lists John 10:11-15 as a proof-text for the notion of limited atonement, which is a prior corollary of the theory of unconditional election, rhetorically stating: "When we keep in mind the biblical teaching of the power and completeness of Christ's atonement we can see in these passages the particularity that is so vehemently denied by the Arminian."1 When presented by universal passages, not particularity passages, relegating Christ's atonement to "the world," or "the whole world" (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 3:16, 17; 4:42; 6:33, 51; Rom. 3:23, 24, 25, 26; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2), one might rightly conclude: "When we keep in mind the biblical teaching of the power and completeness of Christ's atonement we can see in these passages the universality that is so vehemently denied by the Calvinist."

James White curiously ignores the universal passages and emphasizes the particularity passages. Why? Does he not do so in order to advance his preconceived notions? Of course he does. One might suggest that the Arminian is guilty of the same. The only problem with that argument, however, is that the particularity passages do not present a problem with Arminian soteriology. The same cannot be admitted with regard to the universal passages and Calvinism. But even more peculiar is how the John 10 passage actually betrays his referencing them among the particularity passages.

Jesus Himself states: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11) This is a simple statement that is in no sense exhaustive. In other words, the passage does not suggest that He lays down His life only for the sheep. Ignored by most Calvinists, Jesus is here referencing the Jewish people (cf. en. 49:24; Ps. 23; 78:52-53), as He later adds: "I have other sheep [among the Gentiles] that do not belong to this [Jewish] fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16)

The apostle Paul writes about this unity of the Jewish and Gentile flock: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace [both Jew and Gentile]; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Eph. 2:13, 14) The "other sheep" were not redeemed sheep until they were united to Christ by grace through faith in Him. The Calvinist must deny this fact, however, for the Calvinist thinks that, since Christ redeemed the unconditionally elect sheep, then those sheep are already redeemed in the eternal mind of God.

This error leads easily to the hyper-Calvinist (in a proper sense) doctrine of eternal justification. Since some Calvinists posit that Christ was crucified before the foundation of the world, which is a faulty notion deriving from poor translations of Revelation 13:8 NIV (cf. Rev. 13:8 NRSV; Rev. 17:8 NRSV), and since the unconditionally pre-selected sheep are already redeemed in the eternal mind of God, then the same were justified in eternity past. Only the application in real-time awaits such persons. But the errors of the hyper-Calvinist and the Calvinist cannot be supported logically or biblically.

Let us examine the Calvinist's argument from Jesus' words in John 10: the unbelieving Jewish leaders demanded Jesus to tell them if He is the Christ. He answers: "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep." (John 10:25, 26, emphasis added) For Calvinists, the cart is positioned properly before the horse, as they insist that the reason why the unbelieving Jewish leaders, and by consistent logic all other perpetual unbelievers, do not believe in Jesus is because they have not been unconditionally elected unto faith and eschatological salvation. Will the text support this novel concept?

We understand clearly that the Calvinistic logic is distorted on this count because of the words themselves. For Calvinists, a person must first be a sheep in order to believe. But this error contradicts the tenor of Jesus' teaching. Faith precedes becoming a sheep. "But to all who [first] received him," writes John, "who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12). A person becomes a sheep, a child of God, by receiving and/or believing in Jesus' name. John adds: "who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13) Calvinists long for this verse to prove their error of regeneration preceding faith, which only further supports their interpretative method at John 10, but this is unsupportable.

James White, for example, passionately desires for this verse to support his Calvinism. From my perspective, he stretches the text beyond its breaking point, and accomplishes little else than eisegesis. Remembering that White is rightly correcting some of Norman Geisler's theological errors, we clearly see his own errors, especially related to John 1:12, 13: "where is the connection drawn between the will of man in belief in verse 12 and the spiritual birth of verse 13? Is not birth logically prior to action?"2 Never mind that the apostle John does not frame the issue in the manner as does White -- White intends to rely upon his erroneous philosophical meandering and name it "exegesis."

Yes, spiritual birth originates solely from God, not human beings. No one can effect one's regeneration. Either God brings to fruition one's regeneration and salvation or no one can be saved. The appropriate question is, Upon what condition does God bring about one's regeneration? Ignoring context, a Calvinist might quickly answer, "In fulfillment of his own purpose [or will] he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures." (James 1:18) But that is actually the wrong answer to our question. The question regards not the method but the condition upon which God regenerates a person. Yes, God wills to regenerate, but upon what condition?


According to Scripture, the condition upon which God regenerates an individual is by receiving or believing in Jesus Christ. "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12) Note carefully the condition upon which one is granted the right to become a child of God: to all who receive; to all who believe in His name. Becoming a child of God is a transformative action rendered by God in Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (cf. Titus 3:5). First, a person receives and/or believes in Christ, and then one becomes a born-again child of God. James White and other Calvinists who tout the error of regeneration preceding faith have the biblical issue inverted.

Since becoming a child of God, one of Christ's sheep, derives by the proactive grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we better understand Jesus' words to the unbelieving Jewish leaders: "but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep." (John 10:26) The Greek word for "believe," πιστεύετε, is a present active indicative, rendering "but you do not believe and are not believing." Why are the Jewish leaders in a present active state of unbelief? Calvinists answer: "Because, ὅτι (some mss. offer γάρ, meaning "for"), they are not His sheep." Therefore one must first be a sheep -- be a redeemed and regenerate child of God -- in order to believe.

The Greek ὅτι is translated as "that" ("in that"), "since," or "because."3 Some manuscripts do not contain ὅτι but rather γάρ, meaning "for," so that the translation is given a proper qualifier: "for you do not belong to my sheep." Supplying an interpretive notion for ὅτι from γάρ, which BDAG allows,4 we may translate the passage: "in that you do not belong to my sheep." What this indicates is that the Jewish leaders were not believing in Christ, with the resultant that they were not belonging to Christ or placed among His sheep. The Expositor's Greek Testament comments:
"But you on your part do not believe" -- the reason being that you are not of the number of my sheep. Had you been of my sheep you must have believed; because my sheep have these two characteristics (John 10:27), they hear my voice and they follow me (John 10:28): and these characteristics meet a twofold response in me, "I know them" and "I give them life eternal." (link)
Even the late Presbyterian scholar Albert Barnes comments: "'Are not of my sheep' -- Are not my people, my followers. You do not possess the spirit of meek and humble disciples. Were it not for pride, and prejudice, and vainglory for your false notions of the Messiah, and from a determination not to believe, you would have learned from my declarations and works that I am the Christ." (link) (emphases added) In this, Barnes does not seek to support a preconceived notion that the reason why the Jewish leaders were not believing in Jesus is because God the Father had not unconditionally pre-selected them unto faith and salvation, a notion entirely absent from the tenor of New Testament texts.

Jesus states that His sheep listen to Him and follow Him (John 10:27); the Jewish leaders, to a great extent, refused to listen to Him or to follow Him. In other words, they were not His sheep, for sheep follow their leader. Their refusal to listen to and follow Jesus demonstrates that they do not belong to Him. This fact gives further strength to the interpretation of ὅτι as "that," or "in that," in a demonstrative sense -- as does γάρ in other manuscripts. There exists a special relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep (John 10:14). This the Jewish leaders lack. They are suspicious of Jesus' motives, jealous of His influence over many of the Jewish people, and are offended by His inherent authority. They cannot be among His sheep -- they cannot listen to or follow Him -- and this is demonstrated in their unbelief.

Once one understands the biblical teaching on how one becomes a child of God, a sheep under the care of Christ Jesus, then we can dispense with any notion that Jesus was informing the unbelieving Jewish leaders that the reason why they maintained their unbelief was because they were not unconditionally pre-selected by God for faith and salvation. As a matter of fact, the notion becomes not only increasingly silly, but overtly shocking the more one ponders on the novel error. But this is the same error perpetuated in the Calvinistic interpretation of John 6.

To suggest that Jesus informed the Jewish people in John 6 and the Jewish leaders in John 10 that God the Father had pre-selected to unconditionally elect unto faith and salvation some people but not others is among the most outlandish and sophomoric interpretations in Christian theology. The primary and innovative error fueling Calvinism is the fallacy of unconditional election. Rid the Calvinist of this fifth-century Augustinian novelty and all of Calvinistic philosophical theology can be truly Reformed.

__________

1 James R. White, The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 247.

2 Ibid., 184.

3 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition BDAG, revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000), 731-32.

4 As a "marker of causality" the "subordination is often so loose that the translation for recommends itself." Ibid., 732.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.