This entry is part 81 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
2:3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 2:4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Various interpretations have been offered:
‘God wants all people to be saved. Since his will cannot be thwarted, all therefore will be saved.’
This is the view of Hanson. But, as Moo states, the problem with a universalistic interpretation ‘is that Paul teaches quite explicitly in this very letter—indeed, in the next verse—that faith, which Paul confines to this life and limits only to some people, is necessary for salvation (see also 1 Tim 1:16; 3:16; 4:10).’
‘This interpretation would make his missionary intensity incomprehensible—why such effort if none can be lost?—and defy clear statements that God judges the ungodly who fail to seek forgiveness and new life in Christ. With respect to Jews, for example, Paul writes that he labors “in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (Rom 11:14).’ (Yarbrough)
‘God extends the availability, and/or the offer, of salvation to all people’
Only some, however accept. This is the view of Grudem (Systematic Theology, p594-603).
Marshall thinks that there is ‘little doubt’ that ‘the reference is to God’s desire that all people should be saved, whether or not they actually respond to his gracious offer.’
It is also the view of Stott who, quite properly, wishes to preserve the antimony between the scriptural doctrine of election and that of the universal offer of the gospel; between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This, writes Stott, ‘is not a purely Pauline problem; we find it clearly within the teaching of Jesus himself. On the one hand he invited all to come to him [Mt 11:28; Jn 12:32]; on the other he said that his ministry was limited to those whom the Father had given him out of the world [Jn 17:6, 9]. Again, on one occasion he said, ‘You refuse to come to me’, on another ‘No-one can come to me unless the Father … draws him’ [Jn 5:40; 6:44]. So why is it that some people do not come to Christ? Is it that they will not or that they cannot? Jesus taught both.’
Hodge’s view is not dissimilar: ‘if the word will, θέλει, here means to purpose, then the passage teaches that all men shall ultimately be certainly saved. But if the word means here what it does in Matthew 27:43, to have complacency in, (εἰ θέλει αὐτόν,) then it teaches only what the Bible everywhere else teaches, namely, that God is love; that He delights not in the death of sinners.’ (Systematic Theology, Vol 3, p872)
‘God wants all people to be protected from danger’
‘Saved’, in this interpretation, is being used in its weaker sense of ‘preserved’ or ‘protected’ (specifically, from lawless misrule, or more generally, from physical danger). This may indeed be the meaning of the word in 1 Tim 2:11; 4:10. Simpson argues along these lines. But, as Guthrie comments, the passage as a whole is probably too theological to admit this meaning. Moreover, the very next phrase, ‘come to a knowing of the truth’ accords with spiritual salvation better than it accords with physical preservation.
‘God wants all kinds of people to be saved’
Marshall thinks that there is ‘nothing in the context’ to suggest this. To the contrary, this view takes good account of the context. God wants prayer to be offered for all kinds of people, because he wants all kinds of people to be saved.
It is clear that the word ‘all’ quite often does not mean ‘all people without exception’. See Mt 10:22; Mk 1:5; Jn 3:26; Acts 22:15: in such passages, ‘all’ obviously means ‘all kinds of people; all without distinction’. In the present passage, note that in v1 Paul urges that prayers be made for ‘everyone’. It is clearly impossible to pray for each and every person. V2 defines the scope as ‘all kinds of people’, with those in authority being mentioned as a special class. This context indicates that the same scope is in mind in vv4,6, ie, that no class or group of person is excluded from the offer of the gospel.
Hendriksen: ‘The expression “all men” here in verse 4 must have the same meaning as in verse 1. In a sense, salvation is universal, that is, it is not limited to any one group. Churches must not begin to 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 rank, race, or nationality” be saved.
Fee: ‘To say that God wants (not “wills,” and therefore it must come to pass) all people to be saved, implies neither that all (meaning everybody) will be saved (against 1 Tim 3:6; 4:2; or 1 Tim 4:10, e.g.) nor that God’s will is somehow frustrated since all, indeed, are not saved. The concern is simply with the universal scope of the gospel over against some form of heretical exclusivism or narrowness.’
Moo notes that ‘we have seen that Paul uses universal language in this sense elsewhere (Rom. 11:32), and 1 Timothy 2:1, with its call for prayers to be offered for “everyone” (same Greek words as in 2:4), supports this nuance.’ (in Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Guthrie: ‘There may have been a tendency towards exclusiveness on the part of some, who were influenced perhaps by the same urge that drove the later Gnostics into their own exclusive circles of initiates‚ and Paul, to provide an antidote‚ may here be stressing God’s universal compassion. These words fairly represent the magnanimity of the divine benevolence.’
Mounce agrees that ‘the force of the statement is directed toward the opponents’ sectarian theology. As Jeremias points out, this statement stands in firm opposition to the synagogue’s belief that God hates the sinner and wishes to save only the righteous and to the gnostic belief that salvation is only for those “in the know” (Wissenden).’
This is also the view of Yarbrough, Milne.
According to Calvin, ‘the apostle’s meaning here is simply that no nation of the earth and no rank of society is excluded from salvation, since God wills to offer the Gospel to all without exception. Since the preaching of the Gospel brings life, he rightly concludes that God regards all men as being equally worthy to share in salvation. But he is speaking of classes and not of individuals and his only concern is to include princes and foreign nations in this number.’ Helm takes this as evidence that Calvin believed in particular atonement, and so it might, if there were not many other instances of the Reformer’s belief that Christ died for the sins of the whole world. (See Allen, David L.. The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Kindle Locations 2067-2069). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
Calvin notes that those in authority, such as Paul has just mentioned, were sworn enemies of the gospel. Nevertheless, they should be prayed for, and are not excluded, either by reason of the lofty position or their present state of unbelief, from the call of the gospel.