The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: 2 Peter 3:9, 15-18

Part of my Exegetical Compilation series.

2 Peter 3:9: “[The Lord] is patient with you, not intending anyone to perish, but all to make room for repentance.”

Some non-universalists appeal to this verse as evidence for hopeless punishment, or at least for hopeless death. But the statement has nothing to say about the death being hopeless, only that it’s something to be saved from, and the sooner the better.

Calvinists recognize and rely heavily elsewhere on {makrothemia} testifying to God’s intention to save sinners from sin, and believe (for various reasons both metaphysical and scriptural) that God will succeed in saving whoever He intends to save. But this same “patience” is testified in this verse! – and Arminians regularly recognize, that this intention includes everyone! A Calv interpretation of makrothemia plus the overtly obvious scope of intention would add up to Christian universalism.

Nor can this be voided by appealing to the “intention” as less than God’s chosen will, since not only is it connected with God’s {makrothumia}, the term itself is actually {boulomai} which means “counsel”, about which Jesus and apostles other than Peter have important things to say regarding God bringing about salvation, as Calvinists are very well aware in other regards! For example, when Paul expects his readers to ask why God judges evildoers whose hearts God has hardened in Rom 9:19, he imagines them asking according to the principle, “Who has withstood God’s intention?” The Hebraist says (Heb 6:17-19), “God, intending more superabundantly to exhibit the immutability of His counsel {boule}, to the enjoyers of the allotment of the promise, interposes with an oath, that by two immutable matters, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong expectation lying before us, which we have as an anchor of the soul, both secure and confirmed.” James 1:18 says that by intention, God teems us forth (or gives birth to us) by the word of truth (a reference to Christ as Logos) for us to be some of the firstfruit of His own creatures – and the whole point to the firstfruit offering is gratitude for the promise that the whole harvest will surely be brought in! Again Paul writes to the Ephesians 1:11 that God works everything according to the counsel {boulê} of His will – an energizing will to which Calvinists appeal to in exactly this verse for predestined assurance of salvation. Christ Himself, as reported in Matt 11:27 and Luke 10:22, says no one can recognize the Father except the Son and whomever the Son intends to reveal Him.

Admittedly, the term (including its cognates) isn’t usually used to talk about God’s intentions, but much more often human intentions, but the few times it happens are occasions highly important for Calv soteriology per se. So to turn around and deny the strength of the term here at 2 Peter 3:9 seems highly inconsistent, and while not impossible would require strong contextual argument for a weaker application – though the context seems to reinforce the strength of the term (again) instead. Nor can the weight be avoided by appealing to the negative form of God “not intending to perish”, since the contrasting intention is immediately supplied, “that all should make room for repentance” and thus for salvation from sin.

An Arminian could reply that they certainly don’t interpret God’s patience with certainty of success, and such certainty of success isn’t otherwise testified to here; but the typical Calv reply about secret vs decretive wills can only be undermined by the presence of makrothemia in relation to the scope of God’s intention. (See also comments on vv.15-18 next.) Moreover, we know from other verses that we are already perishing now, and yet God can save us from that in any of various ways (even though we’ll all have to perish in at least one way eventually, even if there’s a rapture for some of us at some time – we may not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.)

Perhaps relatedly, Peter goes on immediately afterward to speak of the destruction of the heavens and the earth in very strong terms yet with a positive goal of restoration after the total destruction: “yet we, in accord with His promises, are hoping for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness is dwelling.” Calvs and Arms both typically don’t regard this as different heavens and earth, but as ones remade after destruction.

2 Peter 3:15-18: here St. Peter warns that although St. Paul speaks things difficult to understand, there are those who twist his words and the rest of the scriptures to their own destruction.

As in just about any theological disagreement, verse 18 is sometimes quoted against Christian universalists. The topic however is explicitly about making sure we deem the {makrothemia} or patience of the Lord as salvation, in agreement with what Paul writes to us concerning these things.

But Peter has just previously said that God in His patience intends all to come to salvation! Arminians quote that verse 3:9 to show the scope of God’s salvation; Calvinists quote 3:15 as a warning not to regard the {makrothemia} of the Lord as resulting in less than salvation from sin. Universalists, believing both testimonies, do not then turn around to find ways to twist verse 9 to mean less than full scope, nor to twist verse 15 to mean less than full assurance of success! Consequently, “knowing this beforehand, be on guard, lest being led away with the deception of those who do nothing {athesmôn} the ones who do not enact, ones who mistreat foreigners or guests, as Sodom did, also thus described at 2 Peter 2:7], you should be falling from your own steadfastness.” St. Paul regards those currently outside citizenship in God’s kingdom as guests and travelers, Ephesians 2:11-22.

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A recent thread here on the forum about these verses: 2 Peter 3:9

I’ve been reading through this passage over the last two or three days and I’m not entirely sure about verse 7. If verses 10-13 spoke of the heavens being destroyed then I could see a probable comparison here but Peter uses a different word, which gets translated in the ESV as ‘dissolved’ and which could mean something alone the lines of ‘break-up’ or ‘loosen’, although given the discussion of burning and melting, I think dissolve seems like a better fit.

I’m wondering if there’s a specific reason he uses dissolve here rather than destroy. One of the commentators I read made a comparison between the destruction of the ungodly in verse 7 and the dissolving of the heavens in verses 10-13, arguing that the destruction of the ungodly is permanent, whereas the heavens are dissolved so that they can be made new. I can’t quite work out if this is a good point or not, whether there’s a difference between the fire dissolving the heavens and the earth and yet destroying the ungodly, nor can I work out if verse 9 and 15 should dictate the way we read verse 7 or whether verse 7 combines with verse 9 or 15 to dictate the way the other is read.

Fortunately the question of whether one term is supposed to be permanent and the other not, can be set aside: context is what indicates the heavens and the earth won’t be permanently “dissolved” (though the term and imagery might be being borrowed from Greco-Roman beliefs of material nature slowly arising from and slowly returning to elemental fire in a never-ending cycle); and my argument about the salvific meanings in this chapter would be a contextual argument indicating the ungodly in verse 7 won’t be permanently destroyed.

Though if it’s any further consolation, the term for what happens to the ungodly in verse 7 is just a cognate of apoluo- again, which definitely doesn’t have to mean hopelessly lost. Whereas the term for dissolve is, well, a weaker form of the same word, luo-. They’re really just cognates of each other, though apoluo- can admittedly be stronger. Though not as strong as the cognate of the same word from which we get “cataclysm”, used back in verse 6 for those who perished during the flood! – and if Peter says Christ evangelizes and saves them, then He can evangelize and save them after a lesser destruction, too, if we insist on appealing to relative word-strengths. :wink:

In fact Peter uses two cognates of luo- at verse 6 to talk of those who perished in the flood, the stronger term of which is usually translated “deluged”. The word for “perish” is exactly the same (apart from tense suffixes) as the word being translated “destroy” in verse 7. So again, if God can save sinners who were {apôleto} in the flood, He can save any sinners who will be {apôleias} in the fire. The important thing is that it is not the boule of God that anyone should {apolesthai} (though that happens by God’s authority) but rather the boule of God is that all should come into repentance.

If God sends fires and floods to apolet- the unrepentant even though that is not His boule, how much moreso shall He accomplish what actually is His expressly stated boule!

Which leads back around to the main argument, yo. :mrgreen:

I am just writing this as it occurs to me but I had another look at the passage today.

I’m wondering if the scope really is that obvious. Is it possible that Peter was merely intending that God’s patience is towards his audience? After all he is specifically addressing them in chapter 3 (3:1) and in verse 9, he writes “God is patient toward you” before elaborating on the character and intention of God’s patience. Did Peter really mean the world in general when he wrote that God didn’t want any to perish or did he mean his target audience - as in God is not willing any of you to perish but that all of you should come to repentance?

I guess there are arguments either way - you could say that if it was just believers that he was writing to (which seems to be the case at the start of the letter and I guess, implicitly in places in chapter 3) then mentioning God’s patience in leaving them room to repent seems redundant. Then again if he’s writing to churches who contain those who are not yet believers, then it doesn’t seem so bad a reading.

Any thoughts?

If so, the lesser in this case assumes the greater: there is no way Peter could be sure that God intended with patience for the non-Christians in the congregations to repent, unless he believed the scope being so wide surely included them, too. No one at any time, to my knowledge, has ever tried to argue that merely attending church is sufficient evidence of being among the special elect whom God shall surely save with His makrothumia (which we had better never despise per later in that chapter) according to His counsel of salvation (which other epistles strongly testify toward assurance of saving victory).

This is especially true since Peter is complaining here and elsewhere about false teachers in the church – so obviously simply being in the church cannot be a sign of special election (in the Calv sense)! But if special election to salvation isn’t in view, then the scope is generally broad, and “you” includes those mockers from a few verses earlier who follow after their own lusts and say “Where is the promise of His coming?” as though He will not be judging people for their deeds.

Granted, Peter basically classifies them (here and elsewhere) with those who also didn’t think God would be arriving to punitively judge the world and so who were caught and destroyed in the flood. But then comes the question of whether Peter in his 1st epistle thinks those sinners in prison for their stubbornness are hopelessly lost or not. Better not to be punished of course, but better still not to despise the makrothumia of God toward sinners in any direction: those who do so put themselves on par with those who claim God will not bother to judge the unrighteous. Either way, people are despising God’s saving longsuffering patience toward sinners.

Yeah, I think you’re probably right, Jason. I don’t think I can really fault anything you’ve said there.

I had to leave previously before working out a nuance to this effect, that I agree the verses aren’t in themselves decisively in favor of total scope. The prima facie meaning could, in theory, be modified by a restriction somewhere else.

What I want Arminians to understand, who (I think rightly) read the apparent testimony for total scope as actual testimony, is why Calvinists complain that Arminians as such (i.e. non-universalists) must necessarily treat the makrothumia of God for all to be saved, as NOT BEING SALVATION! – which Peter explicitly warns against doing, in ways which he identifies with false teaching leading to the destruction of false teachers.

But I also want Calvinists to understand that if they try to whiffle away the total scope as only being apparent not actual, which is explicitly said to be the will of God, and for which God has makrothumia, then the standard tactic of trying to claim that this is only the decreed or “decretive” will of God and not the secret will of God, won’t work. And not only because of metaphysical incoherencies in having two such radically opposed wills of God (especially in trinitarian theism) though that’s a decisive problem, too: a supposed secret will where God authoritatively chooses not to save some sinners from sin is utterly contradictive to a public or decreed will that all shall be saved from sin. They can’t legitimately argue as though God would prefer for all sinners to be saved but due to some more important preference or purpose which is otherwise consonant with saving sinners (like respect for free will in Arminianism) He lets them be destroyed or can’t save them from being destroyed. The whole point to the special Calv gospel assurance is that God has the power and competency to save whomever He intends to save from sin – it is purely the choice of God not to do so for the non-elect.

But leaving that metaphysical issue aside, there are still two exegetical reasons a Calv can’t coherently call in extended context to undermine the decreed will of God here.

1.) The Calvinist gospel assurance is itself exegetically dependent, and strongly so, on the same {boulê} which they’re trying to undermine here. That includes Paul’s revelation that the “secret will” of God (using all forms of will/preference/intention which a Calv might try to get around with as being the ‘secret’ will of God for non-salvation) is to save all sinners from sin! The extended context they want to appeal to, not only runs instead in favor of God’s salvific will being completed, but runs directly against a supposedly secret will for non-salvation.

2.) Trying to call in a secret will of God over against the decreed will of God here, ends up despising the makrothumia of God which is decreed to be for the same persons they’re trying to exclude by secret fiat. Aside from that makrothumia again being a strong exegetical ground for their special gospel assurance of salvific persistence to victory, which they cannot undermine without undermining their own important gospel assurance, Peter explicitly warns that we must regard God’s makrothumia as salvation – on pain of being false teachers, who twist the words of Paul around to their own destruction (and Paul warns we are not to despise God’s makrothumia or we’re building up wrath from God against ourselves in the Day of YHWH to come.) In other words, appealing to some supposed secret will of God over-against God’s makrothumia for none to perish but for all to make room for repentance (and so be saved), puts that theologian in the same boat of condemned theology as the Arminian, for voiding God’s makrothumia for the salvation of sinners.