Hiding Behind Whosoever - Why the Argument Fails, and Fails to do Justice to Scripture
One of the major arguments and opposition that believers in divine election run up against is the argument that Scripture says “whosoever,” and that the word whosoever invalidates and disproves God’s gracious and sovereign election of His people to salvation. By the end of this post, we should be able to see quite clearly that it is the believer in election -the Calvinist- who can interpret these Scriptures properly, and not the freewill believer. In fact, the Scriptures, and the word, in question, actually support the belief in election more than the exegete who denies it.
The two major Scriptures used to deny sovereign election via the word “whosoever” are John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10, 13. We see that the verses read as follows, first from the KJV and then from the ESV.
John 3:16 (KJV): For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that *whosoever* believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 (ESV): For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that *whoever* believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 10:9-10, 13 (KJV): That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…For *whosoever* shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Romans 10:9-10, 13 (ESV): Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…For *everyone* who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The translations are slightly different, but that shouldn’t bother us much. Personally, I prefer the KJV translation in John 3:16; specifically as it relates to referring to Jesus as the “only begotten Son” of God. As far as Romans 10 goes, as we will see, each translation adds to the other and when both translations are taken into consideration, we get the full range of the meaning of the word “whosoever” (KJV) and “everyone” (ESV). As an aside, people do this with the Hebrew word for Covenant as well, forcing one specific meaning on it and not allowing the word its full range of meaning. Taking the route of forcing a Covenant to be what they define it to be instead of allowing Scripture to dictate to them what the covenants teach. The result is a synergistic mess that results in salvation by works righteousness. As we will see soon, the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints as well as the doctrine of Unconditional Election are both fully supported by these Scriptures.
To begin, we need to understand just how freewill believers interpret these Scriptures. In John 3:16 when they see the phrase “whosoever believeth” they interpret this to mean something along the lines of “everyone universally is able to believe.” In other words, all humanity universally has the inherent ability to believe and be saved. Now from our perspective (the human side) we must treat every person universally as a potential convert. We are after all, commanded to preach the gospel to everyone universally. And likewise, when they see Romans 10:10 and see that we must believe with the heart and confess with the mouth, they see this as a clear reference to freewill, and when they see Romans 10:13, they see essentially the same phrase as John 3:16. Namely, when it says “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord” they read this just like John 3:16: everyone universally has the ability to believe.
There are two expressions of this belief within “freewill” Christianity. One is the Arminian, Wesleyan, freewill Baptist, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that God’s grace must precede the decision made by the person. Nevertheless, the final decision is left completely up to the person to be saved or not. The other expression is Pelagian. This is the belief that God’s grace is nice and God’s grace can help us, but it is not completely necessary in order for a person to make a decision for Christ. The first belief borders on being outside of biblical teaching and the second one (Pelagian) is completely heretical.
There are however, numerous objections the Calvinist can raise to these interpretations. The first is that neither passage says anything at all about ability. In fact, the Scriptures that do speak of human ability teach the exact opposite. The same gospel of John contains these Scriptures just a few chapters later.
John 6:37, 44, 65 (KJV): 37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out…44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day…65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come to me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
And the apostle Paul says much of the same.
Romans 3:10-12 (KJV): 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understand, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Thus, John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 cannot possibly be talking about universal ability since the Scriptures that do talk about ability teach universal inability, and one thing that is certainly true is that Scripture never contradicts itself.
So, if the passages in question (Jn 3:16, Rom 10:9-10, 13) do not teach universal ability, what does the word “whosoever” speak of? And regarding Romans 10:9-10, how is that explained?
First of all, we can use a simple analogy using the word whosoever to show that the word itself teaches absolutely nothing about ability. Here is my analogy:
Whosoever becomes an eagle can fly.
Is this a true statement? Yes, of course it. On the other hand, are we able to become eagles? No, obviously we are not. It is simply a factual statement. Thus, when John quotes Jesus when He says “whosoever believeth” he is writing a factual statement. Any person who believes on the Lord will be saved. And when Paul writes “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” he is saying the same thing.
Yet, there is more to the issue. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Put simply, we can do a quick concordance search and find that the Greek words used that are translated as “whosoever” have quite a wide range of meaning. From looking at Strong’s Concordance, we see that in the KJV the word used in the Greek translated as whosoever in John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 is pas (3956 in Strong’s). It is translated as the following:
All (976 times)
Every (133 times)
Whosoever (31 times)
Every One (28 times)
Whole (12 times)
Any (9 times)
Whatsoever (7 times)
And there are other ways it is translated as well. We also see in the ESV that the same word translated as whosoever in the KJV in Romans 10:13 is translated as “everyone.” We also see from Strong’s that the most common translation of the Greek pas is “all.” This is not to say that the Greek used in these passages must have all the meanings every time it is used. But it does help us an awful lot by seeing the different possible meanings it can have as well as recognizing that the word itself is an adjective. It’s part of speech tells us clearly that it is not a stand alone word. It always modifies something else. Thus, another argument that fails that is commonly used by freewill believers is when they force the word all to always mean “all humanity universally.” Again, this word is an adjective and it always modifies something. Thus, although the word all certainly always means all, it also always means all of something in particular. It can mean all of humanity without exception of course, but the majority of the time it is speaking about all of something else. Simply put, a word’s part of speech is vitally important. Freewill believers have a decided tendency to turn things into nouns quite often. The adjective all is one example. They will say: Christ died for all. And that’s the end of the sentence, making all a noun in this case, or at the very least, implying a noun in the phase (all humanity universally). But what needs to be defined is who the all is that Christ died for. Certainly He died specifically for the totality (that is: all) of some group. Since both sides agree that the ones who will be saved, we must either come to the conclusion that He died for all of the sheep (or, "all" people without distinction. I.e. Jews, Gentiles, and every people type, which includes exclusively all of the individuals whom the Father has given Him) or for all of humanity universally (which would include all of His people from all tribes and nations plus all of those who are not His people). The question is that group just believers, those who are His, or is that group every single person who ever was conceived? Similarly, they love to turn the active verb “foreknew” in Scriptures such as Romans 8:29 into a noun as well, making the word an attribute of God (He just knows because he is omniscient). Thus, they take the active verb “foreknew” (Greek: proginosko) and turn it into something God possesses (a noun: inherent knowledge). Therefore, when Romans 8:29 uses the word foreknew it is referring to God actively making a choice to do something (know His people personally before they are even conceived, choose to enter into salvific relationship with them), not God having knowledge of future events (which of course He also has). The same word, minus the prefix is used by Jesus in Matthew 7:23: I never "knew" (ginosko) you. And of course, it's a verb, not a noun. The noun it is modifying is "you." The word is not referring to God’s omniscience. These mistakes are rampant in the freewill camps. Parts of speech are extremely important when exegeting and grasping the proper and intended meaning of a text. Thus, when saying whosoever (adjective) believeth (verb) in Him (noun), they are essentially adding to an adjective a noun (ability) that is nowhere in the passage. And we know that adjectives come before the verb or noun they are modifying. In other words, what the adjective is talking about is written. Likewise, nouns aren’t part of adjectives. Occasionally, it is obvious and we can imply a noun or verb, but that is the exception, not the rule. However, on the contrary, adjectives modify nouns and tell us something specific about the noun. But the text does not have the Greek adjective in question (3956 pas) modifying the noun ability. It does not say “everyone has the ability (noun)” or “everyone is able (verb).”
We can see quite simply that the word speaks none about ability. It is simply an adjective that modifies another word or phrase. Whosoever of what? Whosoever does what? Every what? All what? Any what? Notice it never says “everyone is able” or “everyone can.”
We can also see that the Koine Greek pas (3956) has a wide range of meaning. However, only the Calvinist can retain the full range of meaning of the word along with retaining everything the Scriptures say about inability. Let us check that out quickly.
John 3:16 can be translated as “whosoever believeth.” The Calvinist as well as the others can affirm this. We can also translate it as “anyone that believeth.” Again, the Calvinist as well as the others can affirm this as well. We can also translate it as “everyone the believeth.” The Calvinist can affirm this as well. However, many of the others cannot. Those that deny final perseverance must deny this translation, as it would not be true in their theology, since some of those who once believed lose their salvation. Thus, everyone that believes is not finally saved. The same problem arises for them that deny perseverance if we translate as “all the believing ones,” since some of the believing ones will eventually perish. There are only two theologies that can affirm all of these translations, allowing the Greek its full range of meaning: Calvinism and OSAS Freewill Fundamentalism. However, as mentioned above, the freewill beliefs cannot deal with the numerous Scriptures that teach Unconditional Election and the inability due to our fallen state. Thus, only the Calvinist can affirm all Scripture has to say in these matters. The same logic applies completely to Romans 10:13, where the ESV translates as “everyone” and the KJV as “whosoever.”
Applied to our analogy from above, we can see the following:
Whosoever becomes an eagle can fly.
Everyone that becomes an eagle can fly.
Anyone that becomes an eagle can fly.
All of them that become eagles can fly.
All of these are true statements, and all use common translations of the Greek pas (3956). None of them say any of us has the ability to turn into an eagle.
There is however, one more hurdle to jump. Romans 10:9-10 (ESV) states: Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Notice Paul’s statement. In verse 9 he says first confess with your mouth and then believe in your heart. If both of these are done, the person is saved. In verse 10, he reverses the order. First, the heart believes then the mouth confesses. His point is simply this: both are necessary to be justified and saved. Remember, it is the same Paul who wrote in Romans 8:30 “those He justified He glorified.” Freewill believers (the non-Pelagian ones) interpret this Scripture to mean something like: the Spirit convicts the heart, but then it’s up to the freewill to confess and be saved. Thus, the new birth is the result of the person’s outward confession. But in light of the entire teaching in Scripture on the matter, this cannot be the case. We know due to the inability of man that only God can possibly change the heart. Belief in the heart, as Paul mentions in Romans 10:9-10, can only be accomplished by the Spirit creating belief in the heart; or convicting, if you will. Confession with the mouth, on the other hand, can only be done by us. However, we know from other Scriptures that:
Matthew 12:34 (ESV): You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Thus, what is in abundance in the heart the mouth will speak. Therefore, in Romans 10:9-10, when God changes the heart, gives us a new one (Ez 11:19, 36:25-27, Jer 31:31-34), the mouth will confess. We will then, of our own volition, confess Christ. Thus, we are regenerated (born again) prior to confessing Christ. The heart is changed first. We do not a) change our own heart, or b) confess Christ and then have our heart changed. If the latter is true we would end up being born again and saved first, and then justified after. But, how is it possibly to be saved and not justified, even if it is for two seconds? An unjustified person is an unregenerate person and is an unsaved person.
Hiding behind the word whosoever in order to deny sovereign election and try to use it to prove freewill is a fallacy. A person is being dishonest to the Scriptures to scream “whosoever, whosoever, whosoever,” and use that as an attempt to disprove the sovereignty of God in salvation. It would seem that a student of Scripture would not do this (use whosoever to deny election and hold up a poor reading of John 3:16 over against everything else Scripture teaches), but it is much more common than one would think. Personally, I’ve seen a very large amount of people deny God’s sovereignty simply with this one word; forcing it to mean more than it does and differently than it does. As we have seen above, the Scriptures in question are fully supportive of Calvinist doctrines, and less so of the doctrines of freewill, whatever form they take. The supposed strongest Scriptures for their position, when looked at in any depth, actually become weak links that their doctrines cannot fully support without forced interpretation, and looked at in context along with the rest of the information Scripture gives on the issue, actually are perfectly consistent with the doctrines of grace. Only the Calvinist can consistently interpret these Scriptures in question along with all the Scriptures that teach the total depravity and inability of man. Even this cursory study of just a few Scriptures shows us conclusively that the doctrines of grace are true. All five of the famous points on the TULIP are present in the Scriptures presented above. Thus, taking John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 and hiding behind the word whosoever and allowing these two Scriptures to trump everything else the Bible says about the issue is not only dishonest to Scripture, it’s a fallacy that cannot be justified from those two verses alone, as the interpretations aren’t even totally correct.