Posted On October 9, 2010

Introduction

This paper will attempt to prove that the  word all in 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Tim 2:4 and the word whole world in 1 John 2:2 considered in their proper contexts are expressions used to teach that the atonement is sufficient for all, but only effective for some.

Scripture uses two classes of texts to speak of Christ’s saving work in general terms. The first class contains the word world (John 1:9, 29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). The second class containing all (Romans 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9). The use of these expressions in the New Testament is to deal with the false notion that salvation was only for the Jews alone. Phrases such as all men, the world, all nations and every creature were used to correct the mistake that salvation was only for Jews, and teach that Christ died for all men without distinction and without exception.[1]

The context of 1John 2:2

1 John 2:2 appears within the context in 1 John 1:1-2:26 a section that teaches God is light and Christ is the way to God. In the immediate context of 1 John 2:1-6 John is teaching the active role of Jesus in one’s everyday life. In 1 John 2:2, propitiation means appeasement or satisfaction. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin. (Rom. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:3).

Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because He is a holy God. Thus His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith. The actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 8:32, 37; Eph.5:25). The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (4:9, 14; John 5:24). There is no other way to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

The meaning of world in 1John 2:2

The Greek word for world (kosmos) has several meanings in Scripture. First, world in Scripture can refer to the entire elect both Jew and Gentiles. Secondly, world can refer to the public who surround Christ, especially the Jews. Thirdly, world can refer to all kinds of people, such as kings and subjects. Fourth, world refers to humankind under the righteousness judgment of God. Finally, world can refer to the creation, or in the classical sense, to an orderly universe, or to a great number of people.[2] Dr. Walvoord a conservative Christian theologian offering a different perspective on the atonment taught that the phrase world in 1John 2:2 means that Christ in His death made a forensic provision for the entire world and has provided reconciliation for all, not just the elect.[3]

John teaches that the whole world does not mean that every person will be saved, because the forgiveness of sins only comes to those who repent and believe the Gospel (1st John 2:4, 23; 3:10; 5:12; John 3:18; 5:24). 1John 2:1-2 is a difficult passage as it makes a distinction between a limited atonement and a universal one.

There are several different ways in which this verse might be understood. John may be stressing the universal application of Christ’s work. When the scope of this verse is not restricted Dr. Boice a Reformed Pastor-Theologian believes that this passage teaches universal salvation and not universal atonement.[4] Dr. Towns a conservative Christian theologian believes that when one understands the meaning of the satisfaction Christ made for sinners on the Cross that the atonement cannot be limited.[5] Dr. Grudem a leading Reformed theologian believes that the preposition “for” in 1 John 2:2 is ambiguous with respect to the specific sense in which Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the world. He continues by stating it would be consistent with the language of the verse to think that John is simply saying that Christ is the atoning sacrifice who is available to pay for the sins of the world.[6]

Dr. Long a Reformed theologian notes there are four primary references in the New Testament where the word “propitiation” is used (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Three of the four references clearly teach propitiation is strictly limited to a definite people, namely, the elect of God.[7] Dr. Lightner espouses the view of four point Calvinists when he explains that the meaning of propitiation in 1 John 2:2 means all mankind without exception.[8] Dr. John Owen a famous Puritan theologian responds to the objection raised by Dr. Lightner when he writes that the issues in 1John 2:2 lies in the extent of propitiation and world in 1 John 2:2. Owen continues by stating that the four point Calvinist believes the meaning is obvious as the words themselves, they say, without any wresting, signify all men in the world, that is, world means world.  Owen then asks: On what ground do they perish, all their sins having been expiated? [9]

The context of 1 Timothy 2:4

1 Timothy 2:4 falls within the context of Paul’s letter to his student Timothy. Paul writes to Timothy to remind Timothy of all he has taught him, and also encourage him. 1 Timothy 2:4 falls within the context of 2:1-3:13 a section in 1 Timothy where Paul gives Timothy a description of Gospel-Shaped Living. Paul in the first chapter of 1 Timothy chapter one denounced the idle speculation of false teachers. Now Paul turns to expounding in specific terms what true gospel living (1:5) should look like. He calls Timothy to prayer and addresses hindrances to prayer (2:1-15), qualifications of overseers (3:1-7), and qualifications for deacons (3:8-13).

The meaning of all in 1Timothy 2:4

The Greek word for desires in 1 Timothy 2:4 is not that which normally expresses God’s will of decree (His eternal purpose) in Scripture, but God’s will or desire. The distinction here lies between God’s desire and His eternal saving purpose, which must transcend His desires. An example of this would be, the Lord hates sin with all His being (Pss. 5:4; 45:7); thus, He hates the consequences- eternal wickedness in hell. God does not want people to remain wicked forever in eternal remorse and hatred of Himself. Yet, God, for His own glory, and to manifest that glory in wrath, chose to endure, “vessels prepare for destruction” for the fulfillment of His will (Rom. 9:22). In His eternal purpose, He chose only the elect out of the world (John 17:6) and passed over the rest, leaving them to the consequences of their sin, unbelief, and rejection of Christ (Rom. 1:18-32). Ultimately God’s choices are determined by His sovereign, eternal purpose, not His desires (2Peter 3:9). Those who come to the knowledge of the Truth come to Christ because they learn that the Gospel is the ground for all Truth (1 Tim. 3:15; 4:3; 2n Tim 2:15, 18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4; Titus 1:1, 14).

1Timothy 2:4 figures prominently in theological disagreements over the extent of the atonement. This passage cannot be read to suggest that everyone will be saved (universalism), because the rest of the letter makes it clear that some will not be saved (4:1; 5:24; 6:10). The crux of this verses hinges on how one answers the following question, Does 1 Timothy 2:4 mean God desires something (all people being saved) that he cannot fulfill? Arminian and Calvinist theologians respond that God desires something more than universal salvation. Arminians believe that God’s greater desire is to preserve genuine human freedom, which is necessary for genuine human love. The Calvinist believes that 1 Timothy 2:4 teaches God’s greater desire is to display the full range of His glory (Rom. 9:22-23), which results in election depending upon the freedom of his mercy and not upon human choice (Rom. 9:15-18). Regardless of how one understands 1 Timothy 2:4 what is clear is that it teaches the free and universal offer of the gospel to every single person. Desires then must mean that this offer of salvation bona fide expression of God’s good will towards sinners.

Paul reveals that “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1st Tim. 2:3-4). Since “God does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3 NASB), and since he will accomplish all he has purposed (Isa. 46:10), and since “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35), and since the Potter’s will cannot be thwarted by mere clay (Romans 9), it is certain that the all in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 is undoubtedly “all” the elect. Bridges and Bevington both conservative theologians note that the all for whom the ransom was actually operative and effective resulted in the transaction in which those who believe are purchase out of slavery to sin.[10]

Speaking of this all, Jesus proclaimed, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Dr. Joel Beeke is considered one of the preeminent scholars on Reformed theologian notes regarding the context of 1 Timothy 2:4-6 that the words ransomed for all are set within the context of prayers being offered for all people (vv.1-2). He continues by explaining that the word all does not always mean all individuals in either Greek or English usage in Scripture, so there is no compelling reason to conclude that the all in verses 4 and 6 refers to every single person.[11]

Historical Consideration on 1 Timothy 2:4

The history of the debate on 1 Timothy 2:4 goes back to the time of Augustine. Augustine, one of the best theologians in the history of the Church rejects idea of the Pelagians’ that God desiring the salvation of every individual somehow frustrates God’s divine will by the free choice of the sinner.[12] Augustine taught that the all in 1 Timothy 2:4 are the elect of God are those whom God wills to come to the knowledge of the truth.[13] Augustine understood Paul to mean “that no man is saved unless God will his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will, but that no man is saved apart from his will.”[14]

Prosper of Aquitaine, Augustine’s defender, and contemporary states that the extent of Christ’s redemption extends to all only as a result of Him taking on human nature common to man. Prosper distinguishes between Christ and humanity by explaining that only humanity shares the fallen condition, and concludes by saying that that Christ was crucified only for those who were to profit by his death who are none other than the elect.[15]

The Bible says that Christ died a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6). Dr. Horton a leading Reformed scholar explains that all does not always mean “each and every person.”[16] William Tyndale was one of the English Reformers taught regarding 1Timothy 2:4 that  Christ’s blood only deals with the sins of the elect, as those who are elected are elected to everlasting life by Christ’s blood.[17] Martin Luther on the all of 1 Timothy 2:4 taught that Christ did not die for everyone, because Christ says “This is My blood which is poured out on you” and for many”- He does not say: for every person- ‘for the forgiveness of sins.” As the Apostle says, “Everything for the sake of the elect.”[18] Charles Spuregon the famed Reformed-Baptist evangelist raises the objection to those who hold to the doctrine of universal when he states that if it was Christ’s intention to save every person He has been sorely disappointed, for there is a lake of fire, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. We cannot preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross.[19]

Dr. Horton brings this discussion full circle when he states that to affirm a universal atonement, then, one is left with only two options 1) either to limit the atonement in its effect- that is in what it accomplishes- or 2) to accept at face value the clear statements of Scripture regarding the nature of redemption. Horton continues explaining if Christ’s death secured redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction then one must affirm that each and every individual will be saved or that the work of Christ itself must be limited in its scope. Otherwise the atonement is limited in its nature.[20]

If one is going to Charles Spuregon on this point concludes the examination of 1 Timothy 2:4 by explaining the historic position of the Church on the atonement as literal payment for sin requires one to either accept universal salvation (Christ dying for everyone) or an atonement limited in scope.

It is clear from 1 Timothy and the history of the Church that the historic position of the Church on the atonement requires one to either accept universal salvation (Christ dying for everyone) or an atonement limited in scope. Finney a famous revivalist choose to embrace a view of the atonement based only on following Christ’s example. Finney argued that a belief that Christ died for the elect alone assumes that the atonement was only a payment of a debt which does not consist with the nature of atonement.[21] Finney’s weak understanding of Christ’ work on the atonement is demonstrated in the fact that he believed that everyone could be saved by making a decision or by living a holy life. An atonement that doesn’t atone, a redemption that doesn’t redeem, a propitiation that doesn’t propitiation, a satisfaction that doesn’t satisfy does not help anyone. Dr. Lightner states regarding those who believe in definite atonement that they believe the work of Christ on the cross was effective in and of itself.[22] Christ secured the salvation for all whom He died.

The context of 2 Peter 3:9

2 Peter like 1 Peter was written to elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1). 2 Peter 3:9 falls within the context of 2 Peter 2:11-4:11 which teaches what it means for the believer to bring God in a hostile world to the Gospel. Peter explains in this section how believers should live as sojourners admit a world that rejects the Gospel as they bear witness to the gospel when they live in a way that pleases God.

The Meaning of all in 2Peter 3:9

2nd Peter 3:9. The “us” is the saved, the people of God. He waits for them to be saved. God has an immense capacity for patience before He breaks forth in judgment (Joel 2:13; Luke 15:20; Rom. 9:22; 1 Peter 3:16).God endures endless blasphemies against His name, along with rebellion, murders, and the ongoing breaking of His law, waiting patiently while He is calling and redeeming His own. It is not impotence or slackness delays final judgment; it is patience.

The “any” in not willing that any should perish must refer to those whom the Lord has chosen and will call to complete the redeemed the “us.” Since the whole passage is about God destroying the wicked, his patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all His own. He can’t be waiting for everyone to be saved, since the emphasis is that He will destroy the world and the ungodly. Those who do perish and go to hell, go because they are depraved and worthy only of hell and have rejected the only remedy, Jesus Christ, not because they were created for hell or predestined to go there. The path to damnation is the path of a non-repentant heart; it is the path of one who rejects the person and provision of Jesus Christ and holds onto sin (Isaiah 55:1; Jer. 13:17; Ezek 18:32; Matt. 11:2; 13:37; Luke 13:3; John 3:16; 8:21 24; 1 Tim. 2:3,4; Rev 22:17).

All (“us,” “any”) in all should come to repentance must refer to all who are God’s people who will come to Christ to make up the full number of the people of God. The reason for the delay in Christ’s coming and the attendant judgments is not because He is slow to keep His promise, or because He wants to judge more of the wicked, or because He is impotent in the face of wickedness. He delays His coming because He is patient and desires the time for His people to repent.

Calvin on 2Peter 3:9 asks, if God wishes none to perish why is it that so many do perish? His answer is that within 2 Peter 3:9 no mention is made of the purpose of God by which the reprobate are doomed to ruin but only of God’s will made known in the Gospel. In the Gospel God stretches forth his hand without difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.[23]

Historical Considerations on 2 Peter 3:9

Dr. Boice a Reformed Pastor-Theologian believed that 2Peter 3:9 is not talking about the salvation of all men, but only of the elect. He continues explaining that the delay of Christ’s intention is not out of indifference to man but rather as a result of God wanting to bring to repentance those whom he has determined would be saved.[24]

John Owen one of the finest of the many Puritan theologians on 2 Peter 3:9 asks, “Who are these of whom the apostle speaks?” Owen then goes to explain that such as had received “great and precious promises,” chap. 1:4, whom he calls “beloved” (chap. 3:1); whom he opposeth to the “scoffers” of the “last days,” verse 3; to whom the Lord hath respect in the disposal of these days; who are said to be “elect” (Matthew 24:22). Owen bringing his argument into focus states that those who argue that because God would have none to perish but that all of them to come to repentance, therefore he hath the same will and mind towards all and everyone in the world (Even those to whom he never makes known his will, nor ever calls to repentance, if they never once hear of his way of salvation), comes not only short of extreme madness and folly.[25] Dr. Towns a conservative Christian theologian and co-founder of Liberty University states that the Calvinist has misunderstood the separation between the historic accomplishments of salvation and how an individual obtains salvation. He continues by first explaining that to teach that Christ died for all does not mean all will be saved, nor does it mean God has failed if some are lost. This does not question the sovereignty of God, but it does show a misunderstanding of the purpose of God by those who hold to limited atonement. Towns contends that God’s desire is that none be lost since God created a plan for all, He offers it to all, and wants all to participate in it. Responding to objections to his teaching he first says that God did not provide a universal salvation to question His attribute of love. Continuing to answer objections to his view on limited atonement he says that God saved all apart from the appropriate discharge of human responsibility is to question God’s integrity. Responding specifically to the Calvinist Dr. Towns says that God to say God elected some to salvation, but not all is to question His justice since the human response necessitates one’s understanding of God’s relationship to His creatures.[26]

Charles Spuregon the Prince of Preachers on 2 Peter 3:9 taught that the Arminians say that Christ died for all men. He continues by asking what the Arminians mean, Christ died for all men. Spuregon asks them, “Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men?” The Arminians response to Spuregon is, “No, certainly not.” Spuregon continues asking them the next question, “Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular?” They answer, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if” –and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Spuregon goes back to his original statement by saying- Christ did not did so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did he? Spuregon at this point says the Arminians must say “no”; you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.[27]

Conclusion

This paper began by seeking to prove the meaning of all in 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9, as well as the meaning of world in 1 John 2:2. The meaning of world and all must be restricted otherwise it leads to universal salvation which denies there was a design in the atonement. This paper through careful exegesis, historical exploration, and biblical argumentation has sought to clearly set forth that the atonement is sufficient for all, but only effective for some. The death of Christ has infinite value to man because the death He died- He died for man’s sin in man’s place to appease the wrath of a holy God. Only Christ’s death saves, so man cannot be saved through of his/her own free will but only by the sovereign grace of God by believing in the Gospel Christ died for on the Cross. The design of the atonement as set forth in Scripture teaches that Christ’s death is of infinite worth to man because by believing in it those who elected by God will be saved by His grace, for His glory forevermore.

Bibliography

Beeke, Joel, Living for God’s Glory An Introduction to Calvinism (Florida; Reformation Trust, 2008), 93.

Boice, James, Ryken, Philip, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 131.

Bridges, Jerry, Bevington, Bob, The Great Exchange My Sin for His righteousness (Illnois, Crossway, 2007), 200.

Calvin, John, Commentary on Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus & Philemon trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, reprint from 1610), 420.

Contra Julianum, 4.8.42; PL 44:759-60.

Finney, Charles G., Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1985), 217, 206.

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Michigan, Zondervan, 1994), 598.

Lightner, Robert P., The Death Christ Died- A case for Unlimited Atonement (Des Plaines, Illnois: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), 81.

Lightner, Robert, “For whom Did Christ Die?” in Walvoord, a Tribute, John F. Walvoord and Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982), 162.

Long, Gary D., Definite Atonement (MD; New Covenant Media, 2006),103.

De Pred. Sanct. 14; PL 44:971

Enchiridon, cap. 103; De Corrept. Et Gratia, 47.

Owen, John “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967),173-147,191.

Quoted in J.I. Packer, Introduction to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), note 12.

Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Grace into grace, (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 244, 247-248.

Steele, David N., Thomas, Curtis, C, Quinn, Lance S., The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Document. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004.

Towns, Elmer, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 430, 433.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 233-234.

Walvoord, John, Jesus Christ our Lord,(Chicago, Moody Press,1969)),182.


[1] David N. Steele, Curtis, C. Thomas, S. Lance Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented (New Jersey: P&R, 2004) 50.

 

[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 233-234.

[3] John Walvoord, Jesus Christ our Lord,(Chicago, Moody Press,1969)),182.

[4] James Boice, Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 131.

[5] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 430.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Michigan, Zondervan, 1994), 598.

[7] Gary D. Long, Definite Atonement (MD; New Covenant Media, 2006), 103.

[8] Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died- A case for unlimited Atonement (Des Plaines, Illnois: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), 81.

[9] John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967),191.

[10] Jerry Bridges, Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange My Sin for His righteousness (Illnois, Crossway, 2007), 200.

[11] Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory An Introduction to Calvinism (Florida; Reformation Trust, 2008), 93.

[12] Contra Julianum, 4.8.42; PL 44:759-60

[13] De Pred. Sanct. 14; PL 44:971

[14] Enchiridon, cap. 103; De Corrept. Et Gratia, 47.

[15] Cited in Godfrey, Tensions, 75; “Reformed Thought,” 135.

[16] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 244.

[17] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 247.

[18] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 247.

[19] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 248.

[20] Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 144.

[21] Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1985), 217, 206.

[22] Robert Lightner, “For whom Did Christ Die?” in Walvoord, a Tribute, John F. Walvoord and Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982), 162.

[23] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus & Philemon trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, reprint from 1610), 420.

[24] James Boice, Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 127.

[25] John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 173-174.).

[26] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 433.

[27] Quoted in J.I. Packer, introduction to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), note 12.

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