Luke 9:62 (DRB) Jesus said to him: No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.


According to Calvinists, what does "looking back" refer to?


3 Answers 3


A Calvinist would not fail to use the same care at exegesis as any other serious Christian. If you look at 1 Kings 19, where God tells Elijah to annoint Elisha as his successor, what is Elisha's answer to Elijah?

19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”

“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”

21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

In the case of Jesus, the person who wants to say goodbye to his family is having a hard time disentangling themself from their former life. Elijah, being grumpy and discouraged, has the same opinion of Elisha, but Elisha's heart is firm and decisive. His goodbye is an irrevocable decision. Once he has slaughtered his oxen and fed his family, servants and neighbors, he can't go back to farming. He has forfeited his means.

I have heard one interpretation that "say good bye to my parents" is an idiom that means live with them until they die, to fulfill one's family obligations, then follow Jesus once free to do so. Regardless, Jesus knew the heart of the one boasting before him, and it was evidently not the heart of an Elisha.

Thus the commitment was not complete, indicating a faith that was not a saving faith. The person was not saved.

NOTE: Others have commented on the connection between these verses.




  • I'm not entirely sure Jesus is referring to this instance. Isn't He referring to going along a path, setting your hand to the work, and then giving up and going back to something else? Reprobates cannot be said to ever truly put their hand to the yoke, can they? (Cf. Luke 8:13: "the believe for a while") +1 in any case. I'm marking your answer as the answer until further notice. Thanks. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 20:08
  • I added references to answers on hermeneutics that make the connection between these verses. Many who see a connection do not know how to interpret that connection. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 21:06
  • Fair enough, however I think the soteriological version as well as the historical episode requires a real setting out on the journey, whereas according to Calvinists, no reprobates actually receive the grace to do this initial setting out on the Christian journey. Again, Jesus says, "they believe for a while;" shoudln't we take Jesus at His word, that they did believe, but were tempted, drawn away, "grew" (were not always) cold, etc? This be not the right place for this discussion, though. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 21:14

From the Calvinist perspective, there is an emphasis on the "Perseverance of the Saints" the idea that if you are genuinely born again. A.K.A saved by God's sovereign Grace. God will not "fail" in his attempt to save you. He will carry out the act of bringing you through this earthly life, having maintained faith in Christ throughout the whole time.

This idea can be bolstered with scriptures such as these

Romans 8:29-30 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

The idea that God from the beginning is the "Author and Finisher of our Faith" (Heb 12:2)

jude 24 KNJV - Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

From the earthly perspective, this looks like the individual keeping the faith, but from the Calvinist vantage, it's God who keeps the true Believers.

Now that we have this framework to understand, we can answer the question at hand. What does it mean to "Look back".

The looking back is abandoning the working of the field, which hopefully we can easily see is the mission of spreading the Gospel/Word of God. (John 4:34-38). (Matt 13 parable of sower etc)

Well to look back is to stray away from the faith in some manner. We can see examples of this with Paul in 2 Timothy

2 Tim 4 9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia

Here we see an example of one previously called a "Co-worker" in Philemon 24.

So from the Calvinist perspective, one who does not persevere, or who "Looks back" is one who is "Not Fit for the Kingdom of God".

1 John 2:19 speaking of those who "look back".

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

So the Idea being that those who look back, were never fit for the kingdom of God, and their looking back, just reveals that they were not fit from the beginning.

Because if they were fit, they would persevere, by God's grace. And it is God who makes us fit, not ourselves. It is not the looking back that Makes them unfit but rather the looking back which is outward evidence of their being unfit.

Similar to the idea that you will know a tree by its fruit. The tree is the same all along, but when it produces fruit, then you have evidence of what type of tree it was.

John 6:64-65

But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”


One possibility:Jesus lived in a culture that was aware of rural activities e.g. ploughing. I have done some ploughing using a tractor but the principles are probably the same with an animal. In order to plough well one has to constantly look ahead to keep the furrows parallel. Worry that what one is doing, leading to looking round to see if ones fears are justified, just about guarantees that one will fail to keep a good line over the next few yards. The tractor/animal moves on unstopping, it is not good to stop its flow. The past will be less than perfect but the best way to look after the future is to give it ones full attention. As a Christian there is nothing to do but forget about fears of the result of ones past actions inhibiting one from making good decisions regarding the future. Whether I am a Calvinist, or whoever, the wisdom that Jesus is giving here, I imagine, is relevant to many walks of life. Jesus' reply to the man who wants to bid farewell may have meant to him, 'be careful to make looking back an exception because the future has so much for you to think about'.

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