Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:37–40)
A Text Without a Context May Be a Pretext
We closed our discussion yesterday with a brief discussion of the necessity for recognizing context in interpreting biblical texts. In all cases, we want to avoid the interpretive error of proof texting which, unfortunately, has become a substitute for sound exegesis. In our pursuit of an honest reading, let’s have a look at the context in which this passage occurs, starting from the immediate and moving outward.
The passage doesn’t stand on its own as it locates within a paragraph that runs from verses 35 to 40. The paragraph is notable because it is the first of the Lords ‘I Am’ statements in which He proclaims Himself to be the ‘Bread of Life.’ In an echo of the gift of God that gave life to the wandering Israelites (manna), Jesus teaches His querying disciples that those who accept and place their faith in God’s gift of Him will not hunger spiritually. Does he make this proclamation without reason? No, he is answering and clarifying an ongoing discourse on the miracle of Feeding 5000 and the disciple’s response. Notice that they are chastised for their non-belief despite being witness to the miracle. The Lord reiterates that eternal life will come from Him as people believe.
In the larger unit of thought which spans from 6:25-59 it is crucial to note the break in who Jesus is addressing that occurs in verse 41. He is turning His attention from His disciples to the Jews assembled in the synagogue at Capernum. Caution is indicated in making both of these pericopes into a single unit of thought due to this shift and the interpretation which each audience would bring to the message. [ Many times, 6:44 is casually associated with the content of our study passage but it is important to note the difference in listener.]
Moving outward in context is the book in which our passage appears, the Gospel of John, and the intentions of the author. As mentioned earlier, John gave his objective in the formation of this gospel, “..these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) This book is persistently evangelistic and our passage can be readily understood in this context. Those that the Father gives (active, present tense verb) are also those drawn (attracted) by the divine reflection of the Father they are seeing in the Son (and his signs) with belief being the preferable outcome of that encounter. To meet the objective of the book, the chapters work over and over to associate the signs with the divinity of the one performing the miracles that the reader might believe.
This post is too brief to outline the place of this passage within the next concentric circles of scope, the New Testament and the Bible as a whole. The overall message of redemption by grace that threads through the New Testament offers a consistent framework on which to organize this passage for understanding. The honest reading within all of these circles is simple to grasp, those who place their faith in the Christ will have eternal life and security in persevering.
Watch Your Language
Since our honest reading is done in a translated scriptures, it can be challenged by the exegete who delves into the original word usage and determines that our translation is unclear in conveying the true meaning of the original author. The next post will look into word usage to see if there are any obfuscated meanings that we need to consider. Until then… grace and peace to you.