Thursday, August 18, 2011

John 12:32 and the Guy Who Lives in a Hut

This stems from a conversation I had with a friend recently. The question often arises, “But what about the guy who lives in a hut in a jungle in Africa who has never heard about Christ? What happens to him?” This is a perfectly valid question. As I argue in another blog post, it is at least technically possible that such a person may yet have righteousness imputed to him, under certain specific circumstances and if God so chooses.

I also have before discussed with Calvinists the idea of irresistible grace. In disputing such a notion I often turn to John 12:32. Before yesterday, it had never occurred to me to apply the verse to this situation. The verse is, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

In context, Jesus had been discussing individual responsibility using categorical statements like “any” and the implied “whoever.” “If any man serve me, let him follow me,” and “He that loveth his life shall lose it…” are good examples (found in vs. 26, 25 respectively). Neither can verse 32 be dismissed on contextual grounds from the following verses. That is, it will not do to say “all men” in verse 32 only refers to all types of men; for Jesus seems to mean all men earlier, and this is followed by verse 34, where people who do not believe Christ are the hearers!

In any case, all men are drawn to Christ. Romans 1 corroborates this by stating that all of us have an innate knowledge of God, but we suppress it willfully. This was part of Paul’s argument that sinful man is not excused for his sin.

Now, even with inclusivism, it is sometimes alleged that these people would come to God in a way those who have heard the Gospel directly from believers do not. This claim is that these people would come to receive imputed righteousness apart from God’s working in their lives. John blasts that into oblivion.

Consider the-guy-who-lives-in-a-hut-in-the-jungles-of-Africa. This guy has never heard the Gospel. Yet, according to Romans 1, he has knowledge of God. In his sin he fights against it, and this is why he would be without excuse for his sin. However, according to John 12:32, God draws even this guy to himself. Suppose at some point this guy, because of the drawing, recognizes there is one true God, that the guy has sinned, repents of his sin, and asks for forgiveness. Why would God not impute righteousness to him? His sins have been paid for. What’s the problem again?

The most interesting part of the passage of John 12:32 is not that “Jesus will draw all men who hear the Gospel from a believer to himself.” That is adding to the Scriptures something I do not think is theologically necessary. Rather, the most interesting part is “Jesus will draw all men to himself.” Even the guy in the hut.

What about the guy who lives in the hut in the jungles of Africa? God loves him too. God will draw all men to himself. Perhaps it is the case such a man would reject God even with his drawing; Scripture and experience tell us this is the case millions (and probably even billions) of times. But just as John means God loves all individual people, so John 12:32 indicates God passionately reaches out to the sinner, even in the uttermost parts of the earth.
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  1. Does it really say "all men"? No, it doesn't. It just says "all." All what? I would submit to you that since Jesus was talking about judgment, that the "all" refers to judgement.

  2. Hi csc, thanks for your comment. Of course, it does really say "all men." The subject of "men" or "people" or "peoples" or "everyone" is found in John 12:32 translated as such by the KJV, NKJV, NLT, NIV, ESV, NASB, and the RSV. Essentially, we would need to know why we should think all of these translators were wrong. At the very least, it is owed to us an argument as to why your rendering/interpretation is to be preferred.


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