Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not of My Sheep

In John 10:26 Christ says “you do not believe because you are not of my sheep”.  A good friend of mine said this was the clincher for him; the reason he became a Calvinist.  Calvinist argue that Christ’s sheep are the unconditionally elect and the reason some don’t believe is because they are not unconditionally elect.  But there’s good reason to think this is not what the passage means.  In this post I will argue that Christ's statement should be understood as providing reasons to know the Jews have rejected Him rather than stating reprobation causes unbelief.  

John 10:24 says: Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

About two months had passed since Christ’s Good Shepard discourse in John 10:1-19.  Now the Jews try to trap Jesus by asking if He was the Christ. The NKJV translates “τὴν ψυχὴν ἡμῶν αἴρεις” as “keep us in doubt”.  The ESV renders it: “keep us in suspense”.  Literally the phrase is hold up our souls.  As John Gill puts it:

and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt? or as the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions literally render it, "how long dost thou take away our soul?" that is, deprive us of the knowledge of thee; Nonnus renders it, "wherefore dost thou steal away our minds with words?" so Jacob when he went away privately, without the knowledge of Laban, is said to steal away the heart of Laban, as it is in the Hebrew text, in Genesis 31:20. In like manner the Jews charge Christ with taking away their soul, or stealing away their heart, or hiding himself from them; not telling them plainly (see Gill on John 10:24)

Now perhaps this is overstated a bit, and the phrase is just a manor of speaking, but non-the-less, I think the point stands that the Jews statement was a bit sharp and accusatory. They are saying Christ is doing something wrong; hiding who He really is.  The NKJV captures this sense well by “keep us in doubt”; in that the Jews were blaming their unbelief on Christ.  παῤῥησίᾳ has been translated “plainly”, or “boldly” or “openly”.  The idea is that Christ has been hiding who He is and He should clearly and confidently tell the truth about Himself. 

Now let’s look at how Christ answers this charge: John 10:25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 

Twice Christ says He already explained this and twice He says they don't believe.  The repetition seems to be for emphasis.  The Jews are saying "speak boldly" and Christ is saying "I already did".  He also cites the evidence backing up His assertion: the miracles He does in the Father's name.  Not only has He already spoken boldly, but He has provided evidence.  So He is not to blame for hiding the truth; they are to blame for not believing it.

But how does Christ back up His claim that they do not believe?  They say Christ is holding them in suspense - but Christ says no, you have already rejected me by not believing.  He says you do not believe because you are not of my sheep.  For some reason the NIV drops the ek (of or among).  Contrast the ESV's "you are not among my sheep" withe the NIV's "you are not my sheep".  The ESV is clearly correct given the Greek is ek ton probaton. This point is bolstered by verse 16 "other sheep I have which are not of [ek] this fold".  The ek makes it clear that the idea is not simply one of individual identity, but also identification with the group.  So the idea in verse 26 is they were not among or with Christ's sheep.  Anyone could see they were not following Christ.

The Jews are not in some neutral territory between accepting or rejecting Christ; no they have rejected Him in the face of bold claims and strong evidence.  Their accusation that Christ is keeping them in suspense or making them doubt is false; they have rejected Christ's words and the Father's witness.  Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  The fact that the Jews don't follow Christ is evidence that they don't believe and they are not on neutral ground.

The gar translated "because" or sometimes "for" often is used to settle questions, provide evidence or explanatory material like when people say I know there's a fire because I see the smoke. For example, in Mark 14:70, when Peter is called out “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it”, the "for you are a Galilean" is evidence the statement is correct, not an assertion of causality.  See also (Matthew 2:20, 3:9, 4:18, 6:31-32, Romans 13:11, 14:10, 16:17-18, John 4:45, Luke 6:32, 1 Corinthians 9:10, Mark 2:15 and in many other places).  And the contexts presses for this usage of gar, since Christ is denying and refuting the Jews accusation that He is making them doubt or holding them in suspense.  No, they are lying about being in suspense; they have already rejected Christ, otherwise they would be among His sheep and following Him.

And we can see this understanding is better than thinking of Christ's sheep as the elect and all others as reprobate.  First, if the passage is about reprobation, then Christ isn't answering the Jews.  He's wouldn't be giving a reason why He is right in disagreeing the the Jews claim that Christ is making them doubt.  Second, if sheep are the unconditionally elect, then it's not true the sheep are following Christ. They will eventually, but they are not currently.  Before the elect convert they don't hear Christ's voice and follow Him and they are not among Christ's flock.  Third, Christ's statements shame the Jews, but there is no shame in not being unconditionally chosen.  Finally, Christ is inviting the Jews to believe, especially in verse 38 "but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." But nothing could slam the door in the Jews face greater than being told by God they are reprobate.  

Now let's head off a possible objection to this interpretation.  Suppose someone grants Christ is giving reasons to think the Jews are unbelievers, but continues pressing the causal relationship.  After all, fire causes smoke so the reason we know there is fire is because we see smoke.  So while it's true Christ provides reasons to reject the Jews claim He keeps them in doubt, He does so by providing a causal connection between reprobation and unbelief.  However, what such an objection would miss is that following Christ is a "condition of" not a "condition for" salvation.  We do not earn or cause our salvation by following Christ - that would be works salvation.  Christ makes this distinction in verse 9 between entering the door and going in and out for pasture in verse 9:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Likewise, when Christ speaks of hearing Christ's voice and leading and not following strangers in John 10:3-5,  He's talking about Christian walk.  Christians do these things, but they don't become Christians by doing them.

So the idea is not that being sheep causes faith, but rather we can know they are unbelievers because they are not following Christ, since believers follow Christ.

One final argument that Calvinist bring up is based on John 10:16 "other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."  Calvinists argue that the other sheep are elect Gentiles who God will convert at a later time.  Frankly there's little to go on here.  Mormons claim they are the other sheep.  People tend to find their pet theology in ambiguous statements.  To me, it's far more likely that Christ is talking about others who were saved under the Old Testament system but hadn't yet heard about Christ because they were geographically remote.  But I won't be dogmatic about that, because Christ doesn't get into the details.  


The Seeking Disciple said...

Great post brother. Good defense of biblical Arminianism.

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks Roy. Very kind of you.

God be with you,

Anonymous said...

Your explanation of ek doesnt win over your case. Even if your correct and it should be rendered among that doesnt change what Christ is telling them. Lets change sheep to elect. You do not believe because u arent among my elect.

Among means to be grouped with, to be apart of. So using what u are saying i will read it back in.

You do not believe because you not "grouped with or apart of my sheep". That does no damage to the calvinist position and still says they cant believe on their own they can only believe if they were one of Christ sheeps which the Father gives to Christ and All that the Father gives to the Son He loses none.

BTW, how many sheeps do u know can free choose their shepard? None they are sheeps. Analogies mean something. There is a reason why we are refered to as sheeps and slaves neither are free. Scriptutes tells us we are slaves to either Christ or satan but either way we dont have absolute freedom.

I will enter another post about the errors in ur other use of the Good Shepard passage.

Godismyjudge said...

sorry you disagree, but your comments here don't engage the reasons why I read the passage as I do.

God be with you,

Jack Hanley said...

I am sure you know the original biblical languages far better than I myself. Therefore I would appreciate any instruction or correction. However I do see what I believe to be a problem with your interpretation in the English.

You seem to be saying that Jesus is giving a reason for the Pharisees not being His sheep. In other words I understand you to be interpreting Jesus as telling the Pharisees,

The reason you are not my sheep, is because of your unbelief.

However, if this is what Jesus intended, then why would He not say it in this way.

The way I understand it, Jesus is not giving a reason for the Pharisees not being His sheep, but rather He is giving the reason for their unbelief. He says,

The reason you do not believe is because,

So then, from these words we can see He is giving them the reason for their unbelief, not why they are not His sheep. The reason given for their unbelief is BECAUSE, they are not His sheep.

So again my point is, if Jesus was giving the Pharisees a reason for their not being His sheep, then He could have said,

The reason you are not my sheep is because of your unbelief.

However He does not say this, rather He says,

But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep.

There is a big difference in giving a reason for not being His sheep, and the reason for their unbelief. Their unbelief was caused by their not being His sheep.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Jack,

I am afraid there might be a miss understanding here. I am not saying Christ is explaining why they are not His Sheep. I am saying Christ is explaining why they don't believe. But He is giving the reason anyone should know they don't belive not the reason they don't believe.

God be with you

TheBlur2010 said...

Please allow me to demonstrate where the misunderstanding comes in then. You wrote,

The fact that the Jews don't follow Christ is evidence that they don't believe and they are not on neutral ground.

The first part of this sentence, (The fact that the Jews don't follow Christ), could also be translated, (The fact that the Jews are not His sheep.) Because I think we can agree, anyone who does not follow Christ is not His sheep. You go on to say,

This "is evidence that they don't believe and they are not on neutral ground."

In other words you are saying, the reason they don't follow Christ is because they do not believe.

However, this is not what Jesus said, rather He stated,

But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep.

My point! Either they did not believe because they were not His sheep, or they were not His sheep because they did not believe.

Hopefully we are attempting here, to get to the point of what Jesus intended. So then he either intended, that Jews were not His sheep because they did not believe, or His intent was they did not believe for they were not His sheep.

Godismyjudge said...


I am not saying the reason they don't follow Christ is because they do not believe. That would be the opposite of what Christ said.

Rather, I think Christ is saying their not being among His sheep is evidence that they do not believe.

You said: "Either they did not believe because they were not His sheep, or they were not His sheep because they did not believe."

While I technically agree, I doubt we are on the same page. "Because" is somewhat flexible. It can be used to explain causality (i.e. the coke can was crushed because the car ran over it). It can also be used to explain why someone should believe something (there must be a fire because there's smoke).

I think Christ's usage is more like the second sense than the first. He is explaining how we can know they don't believe more so than how it is that they don't believe.

Maybe it would help if I walked through some of the examples I cited above:

Matthew 2:20

20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, *for* those who sought the child's life are dead.”

Herod's death is the reason Joseph could know going back was safe, not the cause of his going back.

Matthew 3:9

9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

God's omnipotence is the reason the Jews bragging is vain; not the cause of their not bragging.

Matthew 6:31-32

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 *For* the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

The Gentiles seeking wealth explains why the Jews should not; but it doesn't cause the Jews not to.

In the same way, I think Christ is giving the reason to know the Jews don't believe rather than the cause of their not believing.

Put another way: their being Christ's sheep is the reason we know they don't believe, but it's not the cause of their unbelief.

God be with you,

arminianperspectives said...


Another important point you made that seems to be lost to those objecting is that the sheep are the listening and following ones. But if Calvinism is true, then His sheep do not always listen and follow. Nor do they always run from the voice of a stranger. Calvinism has Christ's sheep refusing to listen or follow Christ and following the voice of strangers for many years prior to conversion. That is a very strong point against the Calvinist interpretation that your friends ignored.

Also, we would need to assume that all of these here were not elect because they did not believe at that moment. This is the same conclusion we would have to draw from John 6 if the Calvinist interp is correct. But this is very strange since we should never assume that one is non-elect just because they refuse the message at some point (again, assuming Calvinism). According to Calvinists, the "elect" typically resist and reject God for a long time prior to God causing them to believe irresistibly. We could say it is different for Jesus because He knows who is elect, but then what good would this do for us? Saying they could not believe because they were not elect wouldn't help them any and it does not help us in our assessment of unbelief when we see it.

This view also seems at odds with the fact that many Scribes, Pharisees and teaches of the law did eventually receive Christ after the resurrection. Are we to assume that none of these in these various dialogues were among those who later believed? We would have to if Calvinism is true.

And you make the great point that Christ is reaching out to them here, calling on them to believe the miracles. We see the same thing in John 5 dealing with the same sort of resistant Jews. In John 5:34 Jesus even says, "I say these things so that you might be saved." Verses 37-40 seem especially relevant to your post. So if these are "not sheep" in the Calvinist sense of "non-elect" and Jesus says their unbelief is proof since He actually knows the elect (though we do not and so unbelief cannot be evidence of non-election in Calvinism), then why would Jesus try to get them to believe in John 10 and say they "might be saved" in John 5? The Calvinist interp is very strained at this point.

These texts can seem to support Calvinism if we approach them with Calvinism already in mind, but such an interpretation creates more problems than it solves and is contrary to context.

God Bless,