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John 12:32.. Jesus speaking here obviously, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (NASB)

Who or what are the referents for the "All" in this passage and what is the rationale/evidence behind that opinion?

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The word in the Greek for all here is πάντας (pantas) whose root is πᾶς (pas).

Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says of πᾶς:

When used without the articles, it means, "every kind or variety." When used with the article, it means "whole or the totality of persons or things referred to."

Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Friberg) says:

without the article...with distributive significance, denoting each individual in a class

The word all in the verse has no article so it means "all kinds of men", so it isn't talking about every single man (universalism), it just denotes a broad spectrum.

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Good question! Most English translations take παντας as "all men," or "all people" simply because παντας is an adjective functioning substantively, and it makes sense to render it that way in English. Usually when we have a substantival adjective we want to look for an antecedent noun, but in this case there is no easily identifiable antecedent. Our theological choices might be 1) people, 2) elect/believers, or 3) things. The answer will depend on what Jesus means by "draw" (ἑλκύσω). The verb ἕλκω is used six times in the GNT, with five of those instances occurring in John and four of them having very physical meanings (e.g John 18:10, 21:6). Many times people try to conflate this instance of draw with John 6:44- "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." There isn't a strong argument for that textually, however. I think a better argument is found in the comparison between Jesus reference to being lifted up from the earth here and his description of himself as the snake lifted up on the pole in John 3:14. Just as the snake was lifted up and all who looked to it were healed, so Jesus will be lifted up and all who look to him will be healed. This is the drawing. It is an effectual drawing which accomplishes that which the Son was sent to accomplish, one which glorifies the Father (12:28) by bringing many sons to glory.

That's a short answer.

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Thank you. Interesting answer. This is one of the verses often used as a proof of a sort of resistible prevenient grace that will visit all men. This "Drawing" grace that touches all men who can then choose to respond to that grace and the salvation offer behind it.. – Mike Walsh Nov 19 '13 at 14:19
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! This is a great answer, thanks! – Dan Dec 11 '13 at 1:18

The previous verse talks about the imminent judgment of the world. Therefore, in this context, "all" in verse 32 is referring to all the judgment that the world deserves. Jesus, when lifted up (like the serpent) will draw all of our deserved judgment to himself. To say that Jesus will draw all men to himself is in contradiction to the verse that states that no man can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him.(John 6:44) There is no context clue indicating that the unstated antecedent of "all" is "men."

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Susan - great comment!! Do you know how to hyperlink the verse reference you made? If you can hyperlink your verse references, folks will be able to check the verse for personal reference. (Finally, in the future, can you tie something from the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, to help to see any possible connections?) Thanks!!! – Joseph Apr 22 '15 at 0:39
I'm sorry, Joseph, but I don't know how to hyperlink verse references. Can you help please? Regarding your second point, do you mean to do something other than mention the serpent being lifted in the wilderness? – Susan Apr 23 '15 at 1:13

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