Calvinism & Arminianism: Controversial Passages


Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

Multimedia lecture is available on this subject

The following passages are interpreted differently by Calvinists and Arminians:

  1. John 6:37
    "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." 
    1. Calvinists argue that this passages teaches irresistible grace. The individual cannot refuse God's choice, therefore all those given to Christ will respond.
    2. Arminians reply that "those given to me" in 37 are the same as those who "believe in him" in vs. 40. In other words, when God foresees that some will believe, he gives them to Christ. See that in vs. 45, those who "have heard and learned from the father" are the ones who "come to me."
  2. John 6:44,65
    "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." 
    1. The Calvinist holds that these passages teach total depravity, unconditional election, and also imply limited atonement and double predestination. This is because: 
      • "No one can come to me unless . . . " because they are totally depraved
      • "it has been granted him from the Father" or "the Father draws him" meaning unconditional election. Unconditional in this case, because the cause is the father, not the individual.
      • Limited atonement and double predestination are usually inferred from the face that it is impossible to come to him without election. Therefore, those whom the Father has not drawn are naturally destined for judgement, and are therefore those for whom Christ did not die.
    2. The Arminian agrees that these passages teach total depravity. However, they argue that the father draws all men to Christ (Jn. 12:32; 16:8). They further hold that to assign the cause exclusively to the Father ignores vss. 29; 35; 40; and 47. To attribute the cause exclusively to the Father regardless of the response of the person, flies in the face of the stated will of the Father in vs. 40 that "Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him" be saved. Finally, with regard to limited atonement and double predestination, these positions depend on the earlier conclusion (unconditional election), and therefore beg the question.
  3. John 15:16
    "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain..." 
    1. Some Calvinists (and Augustine) have argued that this a proof text for unconditional election, emphasizing the irrelevance of human choice.
    2. Arminians point out that the statement is made to the disciples with reference to their apostleship, not to their salvation. This interpretation accords well with the next phrase "that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain." See also Jn. 6:70 referring to the same choice. Judas was chosen but not saved.
  4. Acts 13:48
    "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." 
    1. The Calvinists argue that this verse teaches unconditional election, because it would have been easy to say "as many as believed were appointed eternal life" but the reverse is stated.
    2. The Arminians point out that the participle translated "were appointed to" (tetagmenoi) is in the middle-passive voice. This means that the same form is used in Greek to designate both the middle voice and the passive voice. The NASB has translated it in the passive voice. However, if it is translated in the middle voice, the passage would read ". . .as many as set themselves to eternal life believed" (cf I Cor. 16:15 where the same participle is translated in the middle voice).
  5. Romans 9:16,22,23 
    1. The Calvinist position is that Romans 9 teaches unconditional election and double predestination. This is because: 
      • Vs. 16 "it [God's choice] does not depend on the man who wills"
      • Vs. 18 refers to double predestination.
      • Vs. 22, 23 refer to "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and "vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory."
      • The election involved is not a national election, because vs. 24 states that the vessels of mercy are "us, whom He called not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles,"" (i.e. believing Christians).
    2. Arminians argue that the first part of Romans 9 deals with God's choice of nations and their roles in his plans. 
      • Vs. 1-5 make clear that the context is that of national choice. This is confirmed in verses 6,7 because all Israelites were not saved and all Ishmaelites were not damned. Also, in vs. 13 Malachi 3:2 is cited to demonstrate that God had favored the nation of Israel over the nation of Edom.
      • Vs. 16 refers to God's choice of how to lead the nation of Israel through the wilderness, which was independent of Moses's opinion. Personal salvation is not in view in the original passage (Ex. 33:19).
      • Vs. 18 is in the context of vs. 16 see above, and vs. 17 which refers to God's temporal destruction of the Egyptians when they wanted to destroy Israel. The verse teaches therefore, that God caused his choice of Israel to stand regardless of Moses' attempts to help or Pharoah's attempts to hinder. Neither Moses' nor Pharoah's personal salvation was in view in these passages.
      • Vs. 22,23 refers to nations which have either glorious or a judgmental role in history. God allows evil nations to exist, and often uses them to bless the chosen nation, Israel. Today, believers are able to participate in the covenant blessings of Israel, because they have been "grafted in to the rich root" of God's purpose in history.
        Another explanation is that the "lump" of clay in vs. 21 refers to national Israel. God has the right to divide Israel into two vessels: unbelieving Israel, which has now become a vessel of wrath (for "prepared", read fit or suited to destruction), and believing Israel, which, along with believing Gentiles has become a vessel of mercy.
    3. Any interpretation of Rom. 9 must account for the transition that Paul makes from national choice in vss. 1-5ff. and individual salvation in vss. 24-33. Therefore, neither view can claim that the other is completely out of context. The question becomes one of which transition is more believable, and makes the most sense of the Old Testament quotations.
  6. Galatians 1:15,16
    "But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles..." 
    1. Calvinists interpret this passage to mean that God irresistibly called Paul because he was elected to salvation. They further argue that Paul's salvation is typical of all Christians in this regard.
    2. Arminians would point out Paul's election and calling were based on God's foreknowledge of Paul's decision to believe. Some Arminians acknowledge that Paul may have been unconditionally elected and irresistibly called by God, but point out that this does not prove that God deals with all people in this way. There is no reason to think that God cannot deal differently with some people than others. Arminians would argue that the burden is on the Calvinist to demonstrate not just that God elected someone unconditionally, but that he elects all in this way.
  7. Ephesians 1:4,5
    "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" 
    1. Calvinists cite this passage as teaching unconditional election. God "chose us. . .before the foundation of the world." He "has predestined us to adoption as sons. . .according to the kind intention of His will." These phrases are taken to mean that God has sovereignly decided in advance who will be saved, completely irrespective of human choice.
    2. Arminians agree that vs. 4 is teaching God's election of the believer to salvation. However, they call attention to the significance of the phrase "in Him." This phrase, it is argued, means that Christ was the chosen one (Is. 42:1), and that believers participate in his chosenness because they are baptized into him when they believe (Eph. 1:13). Arminians also insist that God's election and predestination are based on his foreknowledge of our choice to believe in Christ (I Pet. 1:1,2; Rom. 8:29).
      With regard to vs. 5 Arminians hold that this passage is referring not to God's choice of who will be saved, but of God's choice that those who believe will be ultimately glorified. "Adoption as sons" is seen as references to the glorification of believers (cf. Rom. 8:23 for Paul's use of "adoption" in this way).
  8. II Thessalonians 2:13
    "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." 
    1. Calvinists interpret this passage to refer to unconditional election.
    2. Arminians refer the term salvation to either glorification (see vs. 14) or maturity (I Thess. 5:23). Otherwise, why would it be "through sanctification"?
  9. I Peter 2:8
    "...for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed." 
    1. Some Calvinists find support for double-predestination in this passage. God appointed certain people to "doom" and therefore they rejected Christ.
    2. Arminians point out that the specific cause for their stumbling is not God, but that "they are disobedient to the word." Since the noun "doom" is not found in the Greek text, it would be better to see stumbling as the antecedent. It is clear that they were appointed to stumble because they were disobedient in the same way as those who were hard of heart in the time of Isaiah (Is. 6:9,10). God veils his truth to those who stubbornly disobey his word (Mt. 13:12; Amos 8:11,12).
  10. Jude 1:4
    "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." 
    1. Calvinists hold that this passage teaches double-predestination. The false teachers were "long ago marked out [by God] for... condemnation."
    2. Arminians point out that the participle "previously marked out" (progegrammenoi) can also be translated "previously written about." Since Jude goes on to cite several recorded examples of the destruction of ungodly persons (vss. 5-18), this translation is seen as preferable.