The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: 1 Tim 2:3-6

This is part of my Exegetical Commentary series which I’m slllooowwwwly posting up here.

These verses are commonly discussed, which is why I haven’t posted notes on them before, but I recently saw a non-universalist trying to argue that God doesn’t intentionally choose to save all sinners from sin even if God wished it could happen, which is a standard position for non-Kaths to take. While he wasn’t answering these verses specifically, but rather 2 Peter 3:9 (on which along with some subsequent verses I’ve already posted notes here, this seemed like a good opportunity to clear up some key issues regarding these famous verses – though be sure to check 2 Peter 3:9 and 15-18 for a combined salvational scope/assurance argument, to which both Calvs and Arms appeal piecemeal.

1 Timothy 2:3-6: St. Paul argues that his readers/hearers should even pray for the pagan kings (who would otherwise be considered the tyrant oppressors), on the ground that God wills for all persons to be saved and to come to a realization of the truth. Most non-universalistic soteriologies, whether Calv or Arm variants, acknowledge that God’s will shall certainly be done here in regard to half of this prayer: all persons (and not only all human persons!) shall come to realize the truth. But then, if this (which Paul connects directly to salvation from sin) shall be certainly accomplished, and if God wills that the other shall be accomplished, and if (as Paul continues immediately afterward by saying) Christ is a ransom over all things (plural, which in context must refer to personal sinners) – then it seems like a very broken theology to deny that God will fail to accomplish His will on such an important deed!

Calvinists tend to reply that God may have a decreed will and a secret will, or anyway two wills about a topic; and this can be a reasonable reply, and one which Arminians and Universalists also can accept both in principle and (sometimes) in practice. For example, God would prefer that at least some sinners not sin, yet actively and authoritatively allows sinners to sin. Calvs would take this a bit further and argue that God prefers the non-elect to never be capable of anything other than sin, which is why He chooses never to even provide them the ability not to sin, much less lead them out of unrighteousness; but in any case God authoritatively chooses (and so wills, in that sense) that some creatures should be allowed to make unjust contributions to history. Thus Calvs and Arms may both argue, in somewhat different ways, that God might prefer (Arminians) or decree (Calvinists) that all people ought to be saved; yet be foiled in that preference (Arms) due to His greater will for creatures to be rationally free to choose to be finally unrighteous, or to have a secret will (Calvs) that in fact some sinners shall never be provided any ability or opportunity at all to be saved from sin (so that unrighteousness will be guaranteed according to various theories of what God accomplishes by the existence of unrighteousness).

However, to have two completely antithetical wills on the topic of the fulfillment of fair-togetherness (dikaiosunê, righteousness, justice) between persons, would be for God to choose a position that contravenes His own active self-existence as an interpersonal union fulfilling fair-togetherness with one another. It would literally be to choose to bring about final injustice! – which is why it is sin when we creatures do the same thing!

Nor can this result be dodged by appealing to verbal grammatic differences in the term we translate “will”, for at least four reasons.

First, even if that was possible the final result would still be the same, namely a doctrinal contravention of trinitarian theism (though admittedly that wouldn’t bother non-trinitarian theists).

Second, the term here, {thelô}, is the present active indicative verb form of the noun {thelêma}, which is the same noun for “will” at Ephesians 1:11, where God is working {energeô} (a present active participle) everything according to the counsel of His will: an energizing will which is exactly what Calvs appeal to (in exactly this verse) for predestined assurance of salvation! A possibly different term for ‘will’, {prothesis}, or ‘preference’, also occurs at Eph 1:11, perfectly in synch with the ‘will’ by which Christians assuredly receive the inheritance, by which all people shall come to the knowledge of the truth, and by which God wills all people to be saved. So either the term {thelêma} is that stronger version of ‘will’ which Calvinists appeal to for assurance of salvation, or Calvinists have been wrongly appealing to a weaker will for testimony of predestined assurance of salvation.

Third, in explaining why it is important to pray even for the salvation of all persons, Paul continues on to say that Christ is a ransom for all (thus also the one Mediator for all between God and man), which in itself obliterates a supposed difference between God’s intention for some sinners compared to others. And, less obviously, Paul introduces that part of his argument with the observation, “For there is one God”, in parallel with the observation that there is one Mediator between God and Man; and when Paul says this in other epistles while discussing salvation, such as Rom 3:29 and Gal 3:20 (compare also with his evangelism at the Mars Hill philosopher forum in Acts 17:22-34), he more explicitly means to insist that God is not the God of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles, one God (and one Messiah) being Savior over all. To foist an elect / non-elect distinction back into this solidarity of intention would be similar to saying Jews and Jews alone, not Gentiles, are elected by God to salvation.

Fourth, as noted above, the same active will for which God works all things in concert to achieve, results in all persons certainly coming, sooner or later, to a knowledge of the truth; which is generally acknowledged by both Calvs and Arms, though each would say that not all persons are brought to a ‘saving knowledge’. But Paul is clearly talking about salvation in parallel with knowledge of the truth; if one is sure to be accomplished, the other should be expected in proportion, and at the very least he must be talking about ‘saving knowledge’ of the truth.

A hardcore Arminian, who denies any salvational security for believers in this life, might be able to avoid the strength of this testimony, where the scope of saving intention is connected to the assurance of result; but only by also denying that God, the Living Truth Himself, will ever succeed in bringing all people to a knowledge of the truth. Softer Arminians who affirm God will surely save from sin whomever properly convinces Him to do so (in distinction from Calvinistic original assurance of God saving some persons from sin according to His plan), would appeal (though with subtle and important differences) to the same assurance promises implied here and stated in Eph 1:11 (and elsewhere), and certainly would agree with the scope of intention (just like harder Arminians); so either they must give up any assurance of God’s victorious purpose in salvation (becoming harder Arminians, so to speak), or accept that God shall surely succeed in bringing about His intention to save all sinners from sin, in parallel with them coming to the knowledge of the truth.

In short, the “will” to save all sinners here in 1 Tim 2, is the same “will” that shall bring all sinners to a knowledge of the truth here in 1 Tim 2, and the same “will” that shall accomplish salvation with original assurance at Eph 1:11. The key way out would be to deny that God shall surely succeed in bringing sinners to even a condemning knowledge of the truth, without which any condemnation would be inept at best. So far as the assurance of condemning knowledge is acknowledged to be certain, however, God’s will to save sinners from sin should be acknowledged as equally certain.

To put it more shortly, all good actions are acceptable to God, but Paul says that first of all he urges Timothy and Timothy’s congregation to plea for, petition for, pray for, and give thanks on behalf of all men, even for the pagan kings and overlords (hyperochre); and why is this especially good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior? Because God our Savior wills, thelmô, all persons to be saved and to come to the knowledge, the epignosis, the full over-knowledge of the truth – for which God has provided the one Mediator, Christ Jesus, upon Whose humanity Paul focuses (instead of His divinity as Paul does elsewhere), precisely to emphasize God’s will to save all persons.

Breaking the scope of this competent will, on the other hand, leaves a vapid hole for why Paul would emphasize the humanity of Christ here (leading various unitarian Christians, not incidentally, to cite this verse as evidence that Paul must have been trying to emphasize that Christ was only human or at least only some kind of lesser lord or god!) To deny this full scope of God’s potent will to save all sinners, in our doctrines, is at least tantamount to refusing to work with this Godly will; at the very least, such a denial cannot be specially good and acceptable to God our Savior.

(This is all aside from strong indications of Christian universalism before Eph 1:11 itself; see comments on Eph 1.)

As always, forum members are free to add to and discuss these verses in the comments below, pro or con, and also to link to other discussions of them on or off site.

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As an addendum, how often is {thelêma} or a cognate of it used to talk about assurance of salvation from sin? At least this often:

The Son gives Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil eon according to the {thelêma} of our God and Father. (Gal 1:4)

For your sanctification is the {thelêma} of God. (1 Thess 4:3)

By this {thelêma} we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all. (Heb 10:10)

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the {thelêma} of God, shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:19)

The Son prays, and teaches us to pray, that the {thelêma} of the Father shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:10)

The Son’s food is to do the {thelêma} of His Father in heaven and to accomplish His work. (John 4:34)

“This is the {thelêma} of Him Who sent Me: that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day! For this is the {thelêma} of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eonian life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:39-40

It is the same {thelêma} by which the Son wills in praying to the Father that “they also, whom You have given Me, [may] be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me.” John 17:24

Is doing this {thelêma} of God, agreeing and cooperating with it, important for a Christian as a Christian?

“Whoever does the {thelêma} of My Father Who is in the heavens, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Matt 12:50

“Not everyone who says to Me [the divine double address of] ‘Lord, Lord!’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the {thelêma} of My Father Who is in the heavens.” Matt 7:21 This is right before throwing those people who were also doing attesting miracles in His name, and by His power, into the outer darkness where the wailing is and the gnashing of the teeth.

So I am most certainly not going to deny or denigrate the Father’s {thelô} that all persons shall be saved! – no more than I am going to deny or denigrate God’s {thelêma} that those He intends to save shall surely be saved! That includes not denying or denigrating God’s {thelêma} of salvation for those whom He throws into the outer darkness for not doing the {thelêma} of God yet.

Fortunately, refusing to do the {thelêma} of the Father in salvation and then going out and doing it anyway, as evangelica Arminians and Calvinists both regularly do and support and pray for, is something the Father justly counts as doing His {thelêma}. Matt 21:31 Still, I wouldn’t want to be the one who knew God’s {thelêma} (Luke 12:47) to assuredly save all sinners from sin and did not act in accord with His {thelêma} on either the scope (1 Tim 2:3-4) or the assurance (Eph 1:11). For the {thelêma} of God is good and well-pleasing and perfect – though admittedly it takes a transformation by the renewing of the mind to approve of it. (Rom 12:2) It certainly did for me.

So then do not be foolish, but understand what the {thelêma} of the Lord is. (Eph 5:17)

Really edifying, well presented. It appears that the euaggelion of His eudokia is the revelation of His thelema.