What does it mean “to draw”?


John 6:44  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

In reference to John 6:44, does God compel people to come to him?  R. C. Sproul gives some background on biblical languages that helps us understand:

That passage, of course, is very controversial. In an older translation of it, Jesus says, “No man can come to me unless the Father draws him.” The dispute about that passage has to do with the meaning of the word translated “to draw.” What does it mean? There are those biblical scholars and Christians who believe that it means to entice, to woo, or to seek to persuade. For them, then, what Jesus is saying is, “People, if left to themselves, are not going to seek me out; there has to be something added to their normal inclinations before they would be moved to come in my direction.”Jesus is saying that God has to do something. And the old translation is that he has to draw them just as the Siren voices drew Ulysses to the sea. They tried to entice him, persuade him, and woo him to come by being as attractive as possible in granting the invitation.

Some people hold the strong opinion that wooing is the very opposite of compulsion, that God doesn’t compel people to come to Jesus but he does entice them and encourage them and try to woo them and show them how attractive Jesus is so that they will incline themselves to respond to Jesus.
I once had a debate on this subject with a professor of New Testament studies who was an expert in the biblical languages. I was taking the position that God does more than invite and entice and woo. I think the word here is very strong because it is the same word that is used in the book of Acts when Paul and Silas are dragged into prison. It’s not like the jailer went inside the bars and tried to woo Paul and Silas, saying, “Come on, fellows, please come on in here.” He compelled them to go inside that jail.  I think the word there is strong, and I pointed that out to the New Testament professor.

Then he surprised me somewhat because he quoted the use of the same verb that he found in some other Greek literature where the verb was used to describe the human activity of drawing water from a well. And the professor went on to say, “Now, you don’t compel water to come up out of a well.” And I said, “But I have to say you don’t woo it either. You don’t stand up there and say, ‘Here, water, water, water,’ and expect the water on its own power to jump up out of the well into your bucket. You have to go down with your bucket and take that water.”  I think the force of that verb is to say that we are in desperate need of the assistance of God to come to Christ, and we will not come to Christ unless the Father brings us to him.

Reprinted by permission of Ligonier Ministries from “Now That’s A Good Question” by R.C. Sproul.This book and others are available at http://www.ligonier.org.

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