Study of 1Timothy 2:4
Study on the Extent of the Atonement)
The purpose of
this doctrinal tract is to set forth, in a readable outline form,
a positive polemic for the doctrine of definite atonement — a doctrine
which the author is firmly convinced glorifies the triune Jehovah
to whom salvation belongs.
outline method is used to assist the reader in his study of three
theologically controversial verses in the Pastoral Epistles on the
"salvation of all men." The outlines which follow were
originally prepared as separate theological tracts in conjunction
with an exposition of 1Timothy and Titus at Grace Reformed Fellowship
The author gratefully
acknowledges the assistance received from William Hendriksen's Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles
— an excellent work by
one of the foremost, if not the foremost, sovereign grace, New Testament
commentators in our generation.
THE THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM
IN 1 TIMOTHY 2:4. There is a twofold theological problem
in this verse: the first aspect of the problem pertains to the will
of God: the second aspect of the problem pertains to the universal
term "all" as it relates to the salvation of men (i.e.,
the extent of the atonement). Does God desire to save all mankind
absolutely; that is, each and every individual? Or does God desire
to save all mankind relatively; that is, all men without distinction
of race, nationality, or social position, not all men without exception?
Within Protestantism there are three basic theological interpretations
of this verse: the Arminian, the modified or four-point Calvinist
and the historic or five-point Calvinist interpretations.
I. THE ARMINIAN INTERPRETATION
[thelo]. God wants (desires) all men without exception to
be saved. However in the case of some His will
is resisted through obstinate unbelief because man has a free will
and God will not force His will upon man. If he did, man would not
be free; he would be a robot. Therefore, God only elects those who
He foresees will choose Him in time; that is, when they hear and
respond to the gospel. Man can respond to the gospel because he
has a free will — free to choose good or evil because Christ merited
this grace or ability for him and all mankind without exception
when He died upon the cross. Consequently, no one can blame
God for dying in unbelief and being condemned to hell. The
responsibility lies solely with man: he could have chosen to be
saved if he had so desired to choose Christ.
1. Logical: If God wants (desires)
all men to be saved absolutely; that is without exception, then
why does He not save them since none "of the inhabitants
of the earth . . . can stay His hand, or say unto Him, 'What
doest Thou'" (Dan. 4:35)?
2. Theological: God's will as desire [thelo]
proceeds from His inclination (nature), God's will as decree
[boulomai] is based upon His counsel and deliberation.
(in reference to salvation, His counsel and deliberation took
place in "eternity past" between the triune Godhead
in the covenant or counsel of redemption.) Can God decree something
contrary to His inclination or nature? No, humanly speaking,
God chooses (i.e., decrees) in harmony with His Holy nature.
And is not true that what God's soul "desireth [thelo],
even that He doeth" (Job 23:13)? In summary, if God desires
[thelo] to save all mankind absolutely, then each and
every individual will be saved, for what He desires to do He
does. The Arminian interpretation, therefore, says too much..
It leads to universal salvation which is expressly contrary
to Scripture and the doctrine of eternal punishment. Also, the
Arminian concept of God's foreknowledge (which is understood
to mean foresight) limits God and the certainty that His plan
of salvation will be accomplished because His will (according
to Arminianism) can be frustrated by obstinate unbelief. This
negates the clearly taught attribute of God which makes Him
God, "omnipotence", Rev. 19:6
3. Biblical: The term
"all men" taken by itself is capable of an absolute
meaning but the the context of 1 Tim. 2 does not support it.
That "all" or "all men" do not always mean
all and every man that were, are, or shall be, may be made apparent
by nearly 500 instances found in Scripture. "Paul definitely
mentions 'groups' or 'classes' of men; kings (v.2), those in
high position (v.2) etc., the Gentiles (v.7). He is thinking
of rulers and (by implication) subjects, of Gentiles and (again
by implication) Jews, and he is urging Timothy to see to it
that in [the] public worship [at Ephesus] not a single group
be omitted" (William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral
C. Conclusion: The Arminian
interpretation is not logical or theological or biblical. The expression
"all men," as used here, means all men without distinction,
men from every rank and class, tribe and nation (cf. Rev. 5:9).
The term "all men" does NOT refer to all men without exception.
The term is to be understood relatively. Why? Because there can
be no metaphysical disjunction in God's will as desiring and His
will as decreeing. Both aspects of His will are in perfect harmony
with each other.
II. THE MODIFIED OR
FOUR-POINT CALVINIST INTERPRETATION
A. It is God's will [thelo] to save all men.
Therefore, Christ died for all mankind without exception, placing
them into a savable position. They can be saved upon the condition
of faith. But, since none can believe because of being totally depraved,
God out of His loving mercy and free grace, sovereignly decreed
[boulomai] to elect some of mankind to be saved. This universal
provision of salvation, made particular in application by the effectual
working of the Holy Spirit and through the means of faith, makes
all men responsible to believe and permits the free offer of the
gospel to be genuinely made without preaching "tongue-in-cheek."
1. Logical: If a modified Calvinist
(who holds to universal redemption) believes that saving faith
is a gift of God and that Christ's death was indeed a substitutionary
death a — a penal-satisfaction for man's sins (i.e., a satisfaction
of the retributive justice of God) — then how can he logically
escape universal salvation — Faith is not a work, and the retributive
justice of God has been satisfied on behalf of those for whom
Christ died. If they be all mankind without exception, then
all must be saved; otherwise, Christ has failed to accomplish
the design of His Father's mission; that is, unless man's sins
are punished twice (on Christ at Calvary and again on the unbeliever
in hell). It should also be observed that "all" [pantas]
in this verse must be understood as absolute or relative. It
cannot be both. That God can save all without exception (not
considering His decree) no one denies; and that He desires to
save "all men," it is here affirmed. Therefore, if
"all men" here refers to each and every individual,
they will be saved (because, as stated in objections to the
Arminian interpretation, the will of God as desire cannot be
contrary to the will of God as decree). But, if God desires
to save all men without exception, as the modified Calvinist
teaches, then it is either true that: (1) God fails in His purpose;
or (2) each and every individual will be saved. POINT: "all"
in this verse must be understood in a relative sense as it is,
(according to John Owen, as mentioned before), some 500 times
elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., see John 3:26, Acts 19:10; 1 Cor.
9:22; II Cor. 3:2; Col. 3:11, etc.)
2. Theological: "All" must be theologically
understood in a relative sense. It is the same will which God
wills [thelo] all men to be saved (1Tim. 2:4) that He
exercises upon those whom He wills [thelo] to harden
(Rom. 9:18). God's desires [thelo] will come to pass
(cf. Job 23:13; Ps. 132:13,14). Note that it is also God's desire
that the same "all men" who are to be saved are "to
come unto the knowledge of the truth"; that is, to genuine
repentance and faith (see II Tim. 2:25 where this same phrase
is again used by Paul).
3. Biblical: (I refer you back to the third
objection to the Arminian interpretation). The term "all
men" is to be understood in a relative sense here as in
v.1. Relatively speaking, then, salvation is universal; that
is, it is not limited to any one group or class of mankind.
"Churches must not think that prayers must be made for
subjects, not for rulers; for Jews, not for Gentiles. No, it
is the intention of God our Savior that 'all men without distinction
of race, rank, or nationality' be saved. . . God desires ALL
men — men from EVERY rank and station, tribe and nation — to
be saved. . . For (there is but) one God, and (there is but)
one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (v.5)"
C. Conclusion: The modified Calvinist interpretation
is not logical or theological or biblical. The verse does not say
that "God desires to provide salvation for all men without
exception." The text says that God desires "all men to
be saved" and that God desires that the same "all men"
are "to come unto the knowledge of the truth." POINT:
God will have no more to be saved in this verse than He will have
come unto the knowledge of the truth. Those who, out of all classes
and ranks of men, come unto this saving knowledge (cf. II Tim. 2:25)
ultimately prove to be none other than God's elect — "Even
us, whom He hath called, not from among the Jews only, but "also
from among the Gentiles" (Rom. 9:24).
III. THE HISTORIC OR
5-POINT CALVINIST INTERPRETATION
A. God wills [thelo] to save all men without
distinction. He does this by bringing them unto a saving knowledge
of the truth through the "one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself as a [substitutionary] ransom
[antilutron] for all mankind without distinction [i.e., all
men regardless of rank, station, race, or nationality], to be testified
in due season" (I Tim. 2:5,6). "Not during the old dispensation
but only during the new can the mystery be fully revealed that ALL
MEN, Gentiles as well as Jews, are now on an equal footing; that
is, that the Gentiles have become 'fellow-heirs and fellow-members
of the body and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus
through the gospel'" [Hendriksen].
1. Logical: Historic Calvinists use
the theological term "condition of faith" in a different
sense than Calvinistic universalists; that is, Christ did not
die for any upon condition, IF THEY DO BELIEVE, but He died
for all God's elect THAT THEY BELIEVE and believing have eternal
life. Because saving faith itself is among the principal effects
and fruits of the death of Christ, salvation is bestowed conditionally
only as viewed by the lost sinner. For him to experience salvation
he must believe, but saving faith, which is the condition for
man, is also absolutely procured by Christ. Otherwise, if faith
is not procured for believers, then their salvation is not all
of grace. When the believer grows in grace and sees that the
condition of faith has been procured by Christ, then should
he not cry out, "O Lord, why me"?
2. Theological: (same objections to the two
previous theological interpretations.) The special and particular
design of God's love and Christ's atonement for the elect DOES
NOT hinder the free offer of the gospel to all mankind. It is
God and God alone who knows the identity of the elect before
they are called out of darkness into light. It is not for the
ambassadors of Christ to try and determine who they are before
God the Holy Spirit quickens them unto faith and repentance.
The concern of the ambassadors of Christ is to be obedient and
faithful to their commission to "Go. . . therefore, and
teach all nations, baptizing them [those saved out of every
nation, not each and every one in every nation], in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"
(Matt. 28:19). In summary, I believe, and the historic confessions
of the Church state that God's will, both as desire and decree,
will come to pass and that the key to understanding such passages
as Ezekiel 18:23,32 and 33:11 is that GOD DOES NOT DELIGHT OR
TAKE PLEASURE in willing "the death of the wicked,"
but He does desire and ordain their condemnation, does He not
(Jude 4)? But why? to "make His power known" and magnify
His justice while enduring "with much longsuffering the
vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22). "even
so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.", (Matt.
3. Biblical: (see the biblical
objections to the previous two theological interpretations).
The context is in harmony with the doctrine of a particular
redemption, a definite atonement. The context and other salvation
passages in the Scripture are harmonious. The atonement is not
indefinite; it is universal in a relative sense. It is limited
only in its application, but unlimited in its efficacy.
C. Conclusion: (see the conclusions
to the previous two theological interpretations).
God desires to save, He will save. And those whom God saves are
all men without distinction from all nations, not all men without
exception and all nations.
IV. A SUMMARY PARAPHRASE
OF I TIMOTHY 2:4, ACCORDING TO THE THREE THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS.
A. The Arminian Interpretation: "God wants
all men without exception by their own free will to be saved and
to come unto the knowledge of the truth."
B. The Modified or 4-Point Calvinist Interpretation:
"God desires to save all men without exception and to bring
them to the knowledge of the truth upon the condition of faith,
since Christ's atonement was universal and placed each and every
individual in a savable position."
C. The Historic or 5-Point Calvinist Interpretation:
"God desires, in harmony with His eternal decree, to save all
men without distinction (i.e., without respect to rank, station,
race, or nationality) and bring them to the knowledge of the truth."
CHRIST DIED A SUBSTITUTIONARY-RANSOM
FOR SINNERS. HE DID THIS EITHER PROVISIONALLY OR ACTUALLY, HYPOTHETICALLY
OR CERTAINLY. IF PROVISIONALLY OR HYPOTHETICALLY, THEN NO ONE WILL
BE SAVED IF SALVATION IS ALL OF GRACE AND NOT OF WORKS: IF ACTUALLY
OR CERTAINLY, THEN SOME OF ALL MANKIND WILL BE SAVED IF SALVATION
IS ALL OF GRACE AND NOT OF WORKS. "GOD FORBID THAT I SHOULD
GLORY, SAVE IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST", (Gal. 6:14)
Gary D. Long, Th.D.
This article is taken from
a tract written by Dr. Gary D. Long, The
Salvation of All Men, Grace Abounding
Ministries, 1977. pp 1-6.
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