Calvinism and Arminianism: 
Myths & Realities

John 11:41-48: “Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’

Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “Arminians do not appreciate this analogy and protest that we are here comparing apples to oranges. Obviously in the case of physical death, a corpse cannot respond or cooperate.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)

R.C. Sproul: “We respond in a manner similar to that of Lazarus when, after being loosed, he stepped out of the tomb. In like manner we step out of our tombs of spiritual death. We also respond when we hear the call of Christ.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)

​Calvinists take the physical resurrection of a saved believer, Lazarus, and infer an analogy to a spiritual resurrection of those who are lost and in need of salvation. Even more significantly is that Jesus didn’t use this event in the way that Calvinists do.

Calvinists know full well that they are blurring spiritual regeneration with physical resurrection. They know what they are doing; they just don’t care. But such is hardly convincing to anyone other than a fully committed Calvinist, so I don’t know what Calvinists hope to accomplish with such deliberate trickery. So lets now turn the tables, and ask how a Calvinist reads the story of Jesus raising Lazarus: “Father, I thank you that you hear me. I know that you always hear me. But I say this for the sake of the people standing here, that they may [understand how I sovereignly regenerate spiritually dead rebel sinners.]” Instead, Jesus says something completely different: “ that they may believe that You sent Me.

​Question: What does the Bible say about deadness, relative to spirituality?

Answer: The Bible describes spiritual deadness in a way that don’t necessarily mean spiritual unconsciousness, but instead separation. Luke 15:32 states: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” Mephibosheth referred to himself as dead, when falling before King David: “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?” (2nd Samuel 9:8) Moreover, the context of Ephesians 2:1 says something different about deadness than what Calvinists would otherwise have you believe: “...remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13) So there it is. The Confirmation Bias of Calvinists simply places no weight, whatsoever, on Paul’s concluding remarks, and only on the word “dead” itself, without regard to similar usage or contextual elaboration.

Steven Hitchcock: “Was Jesus’ calling of Lazarus from the dead a demonstration of how someone can come to a saving faith in Christ or was it a demonstration of who Jesus is? ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”’” (Recanting Calvinism, p.106, emphasis mine) 

Exactly. Jesus said why He did the miracle, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Calvinism. 

Calvinist, James White: “I have often used the illustration of Jesus’ calling Lazarus from the dead as an image of Christ’s awesome power over life and death. Dave Hunt objects to the application of the illustration to spiritual matters, pointing out that Lazarus received physical life rather than spiritual life. While that is quite true, is Christ limited in His capacity so that He can sovereignly bestow only physical life, not spiritual life?” (Debating Calvinism, p.349, emphasis mine) 

Certainly Jesus can bestow spiritual life, but that doesn’t prove that He bestows spiritual life in an irresistible and unsolicited manner as described by Calvinism. What James White is proposing is a very liberal method of interpretation, by drawing a very loose spiritual inference from a text which only discusses a physical matter.

James White: “On the level of spiritual capacity the unregenerate man is just like Lazarusdead, bound, incapable of ‘self-resurrection.’ It would be patently absurd to demand that Jesus first ask Lazarus for ‘permission’ to raise him to spiritual life. Corpses are not known for engaging in a great deal of conversations. No, before Lazarus can respond to Christ’s command to come forth, something must happen. Corpses do not obey commands, corpses do not move. Jesus changed Lazarus’ condition first: Lazarus’ heart was made new; his mind revitalized. Blood began once again to course through his veins. What was once dead is now alive, and can heart the voice of his beloved Lord, ‘Come forth!’ The term ‘irresistible’ then must be understood as speaking to the inability of dead sinners to resist resurrection to new life.” (The Potter’s Freedom, pp.284-285, emphasis mine)

But Lazarus was saved. Was he not? So why compare him to a situation involving the unsaved? The most unusual aspect, though, remains the fact Jesus never made any comparison of raising Lazarus from the dead to preemptive regeneration. Calvinists are simply putting words in Jesus mouth (adding to Scripture). The other thing is that Jesus raised numerous other people from the dead, so why then do Calvinists fixate over Lazarus? The answer from Calvinists is that they just like the Lazarus example. No other reason is given. What about when Paul raised someone from the dead, who otherwise fell asleep and fell out of a window? (Acts 20:9) What metaphor do Calvinists wish to draw from that? Should we be asking whether Eutychus had a choice? Should we infer some cryptic metaphor that believers nowadays must get an Irresistible Grace from the Church which otherwise now dispenses spiritual regeneration? Haphazardly drawing metaphors from Scripture is a dangerous thing.

Dave Hunt responds to James White: “He continues to mistakenly equate spiritual death with physical death and reasons that because Lazarus didn’t give ‘permission’ to Jesus to raise him from the dead, sinners don’t have to believe the gospel to be sovereignly regenerated. ... White must rely on this false and unbiblical comparison....” (Debating Calvinism, p.210, emphasis mine) 

Luke Liechty explains: “So what were the other healing miracles? I know why they do not use them. Because those other people were merely sick and not dead. Many had the ability to approach Jesus on their own and one even touched Him without His permission. In other cases, then we can see where a person incapable of walking to Jesus could be carried by others and thus we would have to conclude that we, in some sense, are responsible for the salvation of others to which no Calvinist could affirm. Also, in other miracles, sins were forgiven BEFORE there was a change in the physical and the only reason there was a change in the physical was to demonstrate that Jesus DID have the power to forgive sins. I believe that the miracles of Jesus are an area of battle in which the case for Calvinism falls short.” 

Luke Liechty adds: “The story of Lazarus is not about salvation but rather about the resurrection. It was to demonstrate that Jesus had power over death. Physical death. And He who has power over physical death also has the power to forgive sins. But Lazarus is NOT the picture of a dead in sins person but rather a physically dead, though having died in faith, being raised again person. John 11:25 makes that pretty clear.”

Quite right. Lazarus was not a picture of a man who was dead in sins, but a man who was saved: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” (John 11:23-24) So why, then, are Calvinists using the physical resurrection of Lazarus as an example of an Irresistible Grace for the unsaved? The answer is that they like the imagery of how it depicts the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace, even though Jesus used this event in no such way. Calvinists would be better off citing an illustration that Jesus actually did use, such as John 3:14’s use of the Serpent on a Standard (Numbers 21:6-9) when illustrating Calvary. (Of course, I say that because it contradicts the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement, but it is a legitimate illustration, because Jesus used it as such, unlike what Calvinists do with respect to Lazarus.) 

Randy Alan Donahue asks: “Why is the example of Lazarus used consistently by Calvinists to defend their position? The truth of Lazarus’ resurrection was never used in scripture any way at all as an allegory about salvation. That’s what really get’s under my skin. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ raising a dead man, for all intents and purposes a believer in him from what I can tell, back to physical life. Trying to use that to justify Calvinist theology is like hammering a square peg in a round hole.”  (Calvinism is an Abominable Theological Position)

Kate Snyder comments: “It’s disturbing that Calvinists would use the death and resurrection of Lazarus as a springboard to promote their error of total depravity, limited atonement, etc. They can’t see the forest for the trees. The purpose of this miracle was not only to bring glory to God and obviously bless Lazarus and his family, but to bring about the salvation of many Jews. That’s the end result of the dead raisings recorded in Scripture. The religious leaders were so pissed off about Jews converting as a result of witnessing Lazarus alive again that that’s when they decided to kill Jesus. And they wanted Lazarus dead too. Think about it. The poor guy was super sick, dies, comes back to life, and now somebody wants him dead again. Why? Because people were believing on Jesus as a result of Lazarus. How dare Calvinists use an awesome act of God that produced life all throughout the community to minister a warped message of death. I just find this one manipulation of Scripture especially infuriating, because I don’t see much difference between the unbelieving Pharisees wanting Lazarus back in his tomb and Calvinists misusing his resurrection as an opportunity to tell people how God wants to save only an elite group of sinners hand-picked in some sort of pre-creation salvation sweepstakes.”

Ben Henshaw adds: “Why don’t Calvinists go the metaphor of the Bread of Life in John 6 which Jesus used to explain how people come to have life in Him? For obvious reasons of course. One must eat His flesh and drink His blood [by faith] in order to have life (Jn. 6:51-58).”

Here is a link to a Blog discussion on this topic.

Here is a link to an additional discussion.

Here is additional discussion on this topic.

Spiritual Death: Lazarus or the Prodigal Son?

Calvinist Charge:  Arminians deny the Lazarus Metaphor.

Myth or Reality:  A common illustration used by Calvinists is that of Lazarus, which allegedly is a picture of Irresistible Grace. However, Jesus never used this event in the metaphorical way that Calvinists do, and therefore Arminians should not be criticized for not doing so either.