Not of the will of man

A friend of mine recently asked me what I made of John 1:11-13:

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Calvinists (of the sort who deny free will) like to point to this passage, especially verse 13, as proof that man cannot choose to place his faith in Christ.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that “His own” in verse 11 are the Jewish people. “Borne not of flesh and blood” refers to the fact that it is not physical dependency that determines one’s placement within the promise of Abraham. This sentiment is also echoed elsewhere by Paul in Romans and Ephesians.

Verse 13 is very far removed from verse 11 in that Jesus is primarily addressing the notion by the Jews of his day that they were among the chosen people and because of that they were guaranteed to be the “children of Abraham” who were to inherit all of God’s blessings.

So verse 13 is emphatically stating that the blessing is not seminal. It does not pass down generation to generation no matter what the fathers or “will of man” is. The Jewish audience of John would likely remember Jacob and Esau here and how Esau was not included in the promise even through his father clearly wanted him to be.

This idea of the promise not coming in the form of the law or according to the way the Jews expected it to come is at the heart of John’s whole gospel. To make verse 13 to be about a philosophical notion of whether man can actually place their faith in Christ is actually to go against the whole book John wrote by ripping it out of the clear context it is in.

For example, John goes from his introduction straight into John the Baptist who preaches according to the soon to be Old Covenant based on law. Then John moves to Jesus, then Nathan (law), then back to Jesus (wedding). So I would say that verse 13 is simply referring to the core theme John is writing about throughout his book, namely that Jesus is the promised messiah through which the blessings foretold will come.

In sum, you can’t say that verse 13 of chapter 1 has anything to do with our inability to place our faith in Christ since that is exactly what John is persuading his audience to do.

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12 responses to “Not of the will of man

  1. "Calvinists (of the sort who deny free will)"

    I listen to a lot of Calvinists and have never heard them characterize it this way. Maybe hyper-Calvinists do, but that looks like a straw man to me. They don't deny free will, they believe that spiritually dead people don't have it in their nature to turn to God. They can do all things freely that are within their nature, but they can't trust Jesus any more than they can fly like birds..

    I am shifting ever more towards Calvinism. Mainly because of the texts, but also because its critics — who are often very well reasoned on other topics — do a horrific job of debating the topic. The mischaracterizations and appeals to emotion are disappointing.

    • When you say a person is free and then define that freedom to mean something other than freedom, how is that at all being consistent with the meaning of the words and terms used? I find that hyper-Calvinists like James White are refreshingly honest about the logical conclusions derived from the initial premises found in Calvinism.

      For example, a friend of mine recently found out his 4 month old son has an aggressive form of cancer. It's pretty serious. While sitting in the hospital he turns to another friend of mine and tells him that because of the present situation he is leaning more towards Calvinism. Why? My friend didn't launch into a debate with him at the moment, he only vented to me later, but the logical implication of that is the conclusion that God gave his son cancer. And that is impossible to reconcile with the teaching that God is loving, righteous, and trustworthy. It is not merely a matter of mystery, it is a logical contradiction.

      Much like the issue of free will. Either we are really free with respect to certain decisions (chief among them being whether or not to accept Christ as Lord) or we aren't. Ironically both the universalist and the particularist come to their respective views based on the same faulty view the freedom God has given man here.

  2. You're taking the concept of will and then redefining it so as to remove from it its basic attribute.

    "They can do all things freely" is wholly opposed to "that are within their nature" and your further bit about birds demonstrates the absurdity of your logic since birds, like other animals, are dominated by their instincts. As far as we know they HAVE no moral duties simply because they have no ability to choose to perform them or not. A bird does not fly because it wants to, it fly's because that is how it is made.

    Similarly a human does not accept or reject God because they have been magically rendered something other than a human. They accept or reject God because they are, by God's design, decision-making creatures. If you want to talk about nature then you should be consistent, it is the nature of man to make moral choices since man is made in the image of God.

    Words have meaning and if we are going to have a productive conversation about Calvinism both individually as well as corporately, we shouldn't try to deconstruct words to make them fit our theology. If you want to say men are slaves to their nature and by nature they are autonomous robots then you should stick to that instead of taking a word like will and redefining it to mean something else entirely.

    • Words have meaning and if we are going to have a productive conversation about Calvinism both individually as well as corporately, we shouldn't try to deconstruct words to make them fit our theology.

      Says the Christian who can describe his god as all-loving while knowing that he allows for eternal torture chambers to exist. Brilliant irony!

  3. "A bird does not fly because it wants to, it fly's because that is how it is made. "
    Exactly! The *nature* of the bird is to fly. The *nature* of an unregenerate man is to sin.

    "Similarly a human does not accept or reject God because they have been magically rendered something other than a human."
    Exactly! A man is finally willing to love God when he becomes a regenerate *human*. Not a non-human.

    "If you want to talk about nature then you should be consistent, it is the nature of man to make moral choices since man is made in the image of God."
    But, since the heart is "deceitful", "desperately wicked", and set on "only evil continually", what sorts of moral choices does it make? Man is made in the image of God, but ti has been corrupted. God made man upright, but he has sought out many devices.

    "Words have meaning and if we are going to have a productive conversation about Calvinism both individually as well as corporately, we shouldn't try to deconstruct words to make them fit our theology."
    Amen, and I say the same to you, especially when you're doing exegesis. You change the meaning of John 1:13 by getting context from anywhere other than the preceding verses.

    Men are limited by their nature. If their nature is moral, yet totally contaminated (as would be the case if "whatsoever is not of faith is sin"), then men freely sin all the time before regeneration.

    • "You change the meaning of John 1:13 by getting context from anywhere other than the preceding verses."

      That's a little unguarded, but it's definitely wrong to get context from somewhere else to change the meaning of a verse in its immediate context.

      • You mean the verse right before 1:13 which begins the sentence that is finished in 13? Try as you might you cannot squeeze causal determinism out of the second half of a sentence which contains two causal preconditions on anyone who seeks to be borne from above.

        To force your theological framework to fit, you'll need to redefine the words "repent" and "believe" in v12 to refer to God and then flip the subject mid-sentence from God to man from verse 12 to 13.

    • "The *nature* of an unregenerate man is to sin."

      Sin does effect our ability to reason, but nowhere is it said to eradicate it completely. That is something Calvinists like yourself read into the text without warrant.

      "A man is finally willing to love God when he becomes a regenerate *human*. Not a non-human."

      Unregenerate men are still men. You don't stop being a man when you are clothed in righteousness.

      "Man is made in the image of God, but ti has been corrupted."

      Corrupted does not mean eradicated. Yes man's mind is darkened by sin, but his ability and responsibility to make decisions is by no means eradicated.

      "Men are limited by their nature."

      Limited, but not causally controlled. There is a big difference between having limited choices and having no choices whatsoever.

      • "You mean the verse right before 1:13 which begins the sentence that is finished in 13? Try as you might you cannot squeeze causal determinism out of the second half of a sentence which contains two causal preconditions on anyone who seeks to be borne from above."
        Nope. Clearly, I mean from passages that don't bear directly on this one, or different books, or a custom-built philosophy. Being a great bible teacher, you know that immediate context has the greatest hermeneutical bearing on the meaning of a verse.

        "To force your theological framework to fit, you'll need to redefine the words "repent" and "believe" in v12 to refer to God and then flip the subject mid-sentence from God to man from verse 12 to 13."
        I don't see "repent" in v.12. Either way, you are wrong. Man receives, believes, receive the right, are born. Heck, they even repent. You must be thinking of another theological framework.

        "…nowhere is it said to eradicate it completely. That is something Calvinists like yourself…" Interestingly, "Calvinists like myself" don't believe that corruption eradicates man's reasoning ability. I believe it is corrupted, just like I said; and many of us have said for numerous years, often writing it in confessions and books. But, here you lend aid to my case. Is man saved by his ability to reason? Well, he must be for his salvation to be up to him.

        "Unregenerate men are still men. You don't stop being a man when you are clothed in righteousness."
        Absolutely true! We're saying the same thing here.

        "Corrupted does not mean eradicated. Yes man's mind is darkened by sin, but his ability and responsibility to make decisions is by no means eradicated."
        I know. We Calvinists have always believed that.

        "Limited, but not causally controlled. There is a big difference between having limited choices and having no choices whatsoever."
        Once again, in complete agreement!

        Will–free or not–isn't even at issue here; not is reason–perfect, corrupt, or gone. A reasonable man can accept all of Christianity as reasonable, and even true, but he'll still hate God if his nature is not changed. You need to find a way for man to begin to change his own nature, though I don't know what his sin-loving, God-hating motivation would be.

  4. Man, the attack on Calvinism.

    looks like just a bunch of Strawmen to me. I encourage everyone to read The Potter's Freedom by James White (a Calvinist, not a hyper-Calvinist which is someone who denies the responsibility to preach the Gospel and evangelize…which is something White does often) and a debate between Dave Hunt and James White put into a book called, Debating Calvinism.

  5. Unregenerate men are dead in their trespasses. How can a dead man decide to follow Christ? Christ spoke to Lazarus while he was dead. But dead men can't hear or respond. Therefore God commanded but also regenerated Lazarus so that he could believe – unless you believe that Lazarus regenerated himself while he was dead. That would be an impossible task.

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