This brother over at The Everyday Christian is working his way through the TULIP tenets and, in his discussion of Unconditional Election, he mentions that he is wrestling with John 6:44. This verse is often discussed in this context, specifically because of the (English) word draws. To draw someone or something in English implies either an attraction or a compulsion in the form of forcibly pulling the object toward a target location. To derive meaning from our Bible, especially where there can be multiple meanings, we must turn to the original Greek.
Here is the verse in English:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (NIV)
And now in Greek:
οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.
And here is the Greek with the English translation beneath it:
οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ
No one can [to] come to me unless Father having sent me should draw him and I
ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.
Will raise up him in the last day
The word we are most interested in is helkō. [Kittel – Theological Dictionary of the New Testament] The basic meaning is to draw, tug, or in the case of persons, compel. The Semitic world has the concept of an irresistible drawing to God ( ie: Hos 9:7) Here it expresses the force of love. This is the point in the two important passages in John 6:44 and 12:32. There is no thought here of force. The term figuratively expresses the supernatural power of the love of God or Christ which goes out to all but without which no one can come. The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic.
[Bauer: Danker – A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature] Bauer lists three meanings:
- To move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion – draw with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself or in the case of persons is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover (cf: James 2:6, Acts 21:30)
- To draw a person in the direction of values for inner life. This is the usage in John 6:44 and 12:32 – Well testified outside of NT
- To appear to be pulled in a certain direction
[Louw-Nida – Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains] LN leans toward the use of force, but there is little testimony about alternative usage.
My purpose here is not to reinforce my chosen interpretation of this key word in the verse. Theologically, we must place this word into its immediate context, the context of the book of John, and then the New Testament as a whole in order to decide which of the possible translations is most appropriate. In this verse, the theologian is faced with this question: does God draw persons to himself by force or does He move them toward himself by His love?
See this brother’s discussion of this important verse in the post “Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace?