The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: 1 Tim 4:10

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

This verse and its context are commonly discussed by universalists, and even sometimes appealed to by non-universalists; so until now I haven’t bothered to post up notes on it. But today I’m getting around to it. :slight_smile:

1 Timothy 4:10: St. Paul here makes a distinction between the living God being the Savior of all persons, and the living God being {malista}, very much so, or especially, the Savior of believers. Non-universalists have read this as meaning God definitely does not save all persons, but is only an impotent or inconstant Savior of them (intending to do so but failing or choosing to quit for some reason); or God is only the Savior of all persons in potential strength (being able to do so if He chose but He doesn’t choose to) – broadly the Arm and the Calv interpretations respectively (with their Catholic predecessors either way). The verse is even quoted as positive evidence against universal salvation being true, the idea being that Paul would not have made any distinction if he had expected God would really save all sinners from sin (and that kind of salvation is certainly the context).

However, whenever the term is used elsewhere in the scriptures in a comparative sense, it always everywhere else fully includes the prior general group with some kind of special emphasis on a limited group.

Paul’s congregation grieves over his departure but {malista} over his prediction that they would not see his face again (Acts 20:38).

Paul is brought before all the audience by Festus, but {malista} before King Agrippa, to be heard and judged so that Festus will have some information to send on to the Emperor (Acts 25:26).

Paul answers that he considers himself fortunate to make his defense before Agrippa, {malista} because Agrippa is an expert on disagreements among the Jewish parties (Acts 26:3).

Paul writes to the Galatian congregation that they should do good to all people while they have an opportunity, and {malista} to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal 6:10).

All the saints greet the Philippian church, {malista} those of Caesar’s household (Phil 4:22).

Onesimus should be received by Philemon no longer as a slave but as a brother, {malista} to Paul, and how much moreso to Philemon (Phm 1:16).

Paul warns Titus there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, {malista} those of the circumcision (Titus 1:10).

Peter affirms that God knows how to keep the unrighteousness under punishment for the day of judgment, and {malista} those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires (2 Peter 2:10).

Nor does this fully inclusive emphasis change in the Timothy epistles! Paul wants Timothy to bring the books when he comes, {malista} the parchments (2 Tim 4:13); a supposed Christian has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever if he does not provide for his own people, and {malista} for his own household (1 Tim 5:8); the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, {malista} those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17); for we labor and strive (in evangelism) for this reason, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, Who is the Savior of all men, {malista} those who believe (1 Tim 4:10).

At worst, the term simply indicates that those who believe have some kind of honor or pre-eminence or authority among the general group of all persons, whom the living God is the savior of – but the term definitely does NOT exclude the general group as being unreal somehow!

It isn’t technically impossible that Paul might take a term he himself uses elsewhere in uniform agreement with other authors and speakers in NT Greek, and use it in a way that means something different this time. But there would need to be a strong argument for the change by appeal to the immediate or at least the local context. And the local context would be 1 Tim 2:3-6, where Paul emphasizes both the scope of evangelism and its actively willed success (both of those being reasons why we ought to cooperate with God by praying for the salvation even of “hyper-ogres”!)

Unless an argument can be strongly made from local context otherwise, however, the term {malista} itself, in its grammatic deployment here (compared to other examples), would be immediate grammatic evidence in favor of the salvation of all people being certain: Paul’s assurance that God is especially the Savior of those who believe is a how-much-moreso emphasis.

If someone wishes to reply that this statement, which Paul says is faithful and worthy of all welcome, and for which he and his fellow-believers were toiling and being reproached, is actually only a “profane and old-womanish myth” (4:7), and that it is “withdrawing from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons in the hypocrisy of false expectations thanks to a cauterized conscience” (vv.1-2) by somehow involving abstaining from foods or forbidding marriage (v.3), as though affirming God can and will save all creatures does not thank God for every creature of God and as though we are thus denying the truth that every creature of God is ideal and nothing is to be cast away but rather (where necessary due to sin) made holy through the Logos of God (Who is Christ) and by {enteuxis} or “pleading” (vv.4-5) – the same word used by Paul back in 1 Tim 2 to refer to evangelizing and praying for the salvation of even hyper-ogres, and which is never used elsewhere in the New Testament except for seeking the salvation of someone…

…then someone is welcome to try that, I guess, and I have seen people try it before. But I personally wouldn’t recommend the attempt. :wink:

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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I’ve seen non-universalists claim that it would be more accurate to say that the word ‘sōtēr’ that is translated as ‘saviour’ (without the ‘u’ if you’re wro… I mean American :wink: ) would be better understood as ‘preserver’. Any thoughts on that, Jason?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that attempt, but I could imagine some Calvs or soft Arms trying to argue that the term actually refers to God keeping reformed sinners saved once saved, and that another term (for example reconcile) means to actually save people from sin.

I think any attempt to apply that theory broadly is going to crash into huge problems. But even granting Paul might mean “preserver” here and “savior” elsewhere (like two chapters earlier when talking about why God is pleased when we pray and plead even for hyper-ogres, a term I will never get tired of saying :mrgreen: ), the immediate problem would be that the translation (here in chapter 4) would then involve the living God being the preserver of all persons especially the preserver of those who believe.

How is that supposed to be a non-universalistic interpretation without crazy levels of contradiction (God preserves all sinners in sin, but especially preserves those whom He saves from being preserved by Him in sin)? – or without effectively claiming there is a special class of unfallen humans whom God preserves from ever falling and so from ever needing to be saved from sin?

(If the theory is that there is no salvation from sin at all, but only the preservation of unfallen humans from sin, I’m going to have other problems with the theory. :wink: )

I don’t want to unfairly satirize an attempt to get around the implications here – for example I’m completely setting aside the fact that I don’t recall ever seeing the term used demonstratively to mean preserver instead of savior – but I would want to see an example of how this theory is supposed to work in exegetical practice.

On the other hand, universalists (AND non-universalists) like to point out strong cultural contexts of the term {sôtêr} being the title of someone who restores someone or something to health and wholeness. Roman officials, especially Emperors, earned (or gave themselves) that title for being authoritatively responsible not only for rescuing a region from attack but for repairing it completely after some kind of catastrophe.

It’s not along the lines of preservation that you’re thinking of - in many ways, it’s even more nonsensical.

The view that I’ve seen expressed is basically in reference to common grace - so they’ll say that it means preserver in terms of the idea that God is gracious to everyone in allowing them to exist, to continue to live, in providing for them, in not immediately bringing them under judgement and casting them out of existence. I don’t recall seeing any particular back up for this word actually meaning that kind of preservation (I did read one person try and back up their view by referencing a number of New Testament verses as evidence that the word ‘saviour’ can be used to describe God’s providence in preserving/enabling us to continue to live, despite the fact that NONE of the verses he referenced actually used that word at all).

My main problem with it, apart from that seeming lack of evidence of it being used that way elsewhere, is that two verses before in verse 8, Paul is talking about the “promise for both the present life and the life to come”. The context of this doesn’t seem to support that idea of preservation at all; it actually seems to rule it out.

Not that I disagree with the principle, but yeah the term isn’t applied that way in the NT. The Son is named Jesus because He will be gracious in allowing His people to exist… from their sins??

It runs into the same petition problem I mentioned earlier, too.

I sure wouldn’t want to be the Calvinist trying to take that line either, though that sounds like a particularly Calv way of trying to get around “savior” being super-explicitly applied in regard to all sinners (even out to rebel angels) several times in the scriptures: God is gracious to the non-elect in allowing them to exist WITHOUT ANY POSSIBILITY OF DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS OR EVER BEING SAVED FROM THEIR SINS, to continue to live (for a while or forever) WITHOUT ANY POSSIBILITY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, in providing for them BUT NOT IN PROVIDING FOR THEM ANY POSSIBILITY OF EVER DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS, etc. Only the last part might make any sense on Calv soteriology, God being gracious in not immediately bringing under judgment THOSE WHOM HE HAS CHOSEN NEVER TO EMPOWER, MUCH LESS LEAD, TO EVER DO RIGHTEOUSNESS. But it still requires a freakishly truncated notion of graciousness. Nor could such graciousness ever be categorically applied to all persons both elect and (Calv variety) non-elect, unlike the other notions of graciousness (apart from salvation from sin); and yet, Christ and the apostles don’t hesitate to include both (apparent) categories under God’s gracious, um, “preservation”. :wink:

Which is why such theories are attempted at all, of course, to keep affirming non-universalism.

Come to think of it, I have on rare occasion heard or read of theologians trying to go this route (of common preservative grace – which God then doesn’t preserve after all :wink: ) to avoid a scriptural exegetic conclusion of universal salvation (or to put it more charitably, to avoid what would be to them a contradiction in scripture with parts of it testifying to that and other parts testifying, they think, to some kind of hopeless punishment or fate or some sinners.) But it’s been so long ago I don’t recall the details. :confused:

My wife is definitely not a Universalist… What I find interesting is that when I showed her all these verses (this being one of them) she said to be “It doesn’t mean what you think it means. It just means that Christ is the potential savior of those people, if they decide to believe.” I was dumb founded to how she could come to such a conclusion. How could anyone read that into the verse? In fact, a sharp disagreement arose, since she had passed judgement on me and said “I am worried about you… You have twisted Scripture”… At first I was a bit upset, but then I realize, truly God must open the eyes for people to see it. I don’t think it is possible for her to see this now. I don’t think anyone will embrace Universalism until they ‘fear God’ literally.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” - I find this so interesting… What if fear really does mean fear and not merely ‘respect’?.. Then, I find that this is how most people come to understand Universalism. They go through a period of fear, which leads them to a greater wisdom of God! But, those who don’t fear and say “I gave my life to Jesus on and so so date, so none of the warnings in scripture apply to me anymore” and so they live without fear and in such a state, if one is not a Universalist, one can never become one while remaining in that state.

After seeing story after story, anecdotally, I don’t think you can convince anyone of Universalism until they are ready to hear it. They will not be ready to hear it until God works in them, in some way. Oh well, that is my take.

Gabe, I think you’re right.

To be fair, the certainty of the salvation in this particular verse (and its immediate contexts) is only a subtle implication from using {malista} for emphasis – and maybe in Paul’s emphasis that all creatures are created good and God intends them to be sanctified, where necessary (due to sin), including by pleading: the forms of this term being only used for evangelism when referring to the relationship of God to unjust persons.

I do think the implication is there, but I wouldn’t want to hang on it.

What is explicitly there is the scope of God’s intentions for saving sinners. Arminians have no problem with that scope, of course, yet they often resort to Calvinistic explanations of {malista} anyway in order to synch with an expected failure by God to save sinners.

But that just isn’t grammatically feasible. {Malista} always elsewhere fully implies a stronger version of some broad strength, not a stronger version of some broad weak meaning.

(Jesus does make some ironic how-much-moreso arguments, but those are clear by their sharp contrast: if even an unjust judge will do that, how much moreso God. If even you, who are evil, will do that for your children, how much moreso your Father in heaven. That ‘ironic moreso’ form is absolutely not being used by St. Paul here.)