“1. I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: 2 for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 4 who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all; the testimony in its own times; 7 to which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth in Christ, not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
It is common to hear Arminians quote 1 Timothy 4:2 in favour of the fact that God desires all men to be saved, they reason that if God has intended to only save an elect group of people that this is contradicted by the “clear teaching” of 1 Timothy 4:2. Insofar as what the scope of this post intends, I wish to interact with this claim and happily consider what this text does say (and by implication – what it does not).
I definitely agree that the Scriptures should be the place to go to, to test all of our theological notions, our theology must be derived from the text of Scripture. I need to continue by saying that I obviously believe this text, that God “desires all people to be saved.” Unfortunately, what I understand this verse to say is not what the Arminians understand this verse to say. Let me explain:
- Considering What “All Men” means
Non-Calvinistic thought constantly plagues our ears stating that “all means all,” and “world means world.” No kidding, right? Of course “all means all,” but they always appear in context. If I were at a kids party and said “everyone is getting a lollipop,” I do not think anyone in the immediate context would assume that every single individual on the planet is what I meant, they would qualify the “everyone” by those attending the party.
This is exactly how we should read Scripture, every instant of “all,” “everyone” and “world” must be read in scope of the larger context. With that said, I believe an observation and close look to the text will be quite helpful. In verses 1-2, Paul tells us that he wishes Timothy to pray for all men, and he qualifies what he means by that; saying “for kings and all who are in high places.” Immediately Paul is drawing on people groups. This sheds some light on what is meant by “all men.” How? The Bridgeway Bible Commentary states,
“ They should pray for all without distinction, for God wants all to be saved (2:1-4).”
Paul is telling us that Timothy should pray for all men, that is, all sorts of men. He should pray even for kings (a people group), he shouldn’t be selective in the kinds of people he prays for (e.g. persecuted minorities, and poor people). This then is qualified in the proceeding verses (verses 3-4), that it is pleasing to God our Saviour, who desires all people, namely all kinds of men to be saved. I do not think that Paul is saying “Get the Ephesian phone book Timothy, and go through the list.” Unless we are comfortable with saying that all men are every single individual that has lived or will live, we need to say that Timothy necessarily needs to pray for every single individual, or we can say Paul wants Timothy to pray for all men, include the people group of kings and all those in authority, which would be all people groups of men. To say “all men” means “every man that has lived or will live” is what is meant simply wouldn’t make sense, he is saying that he should pray for all men without distinction–all kinds of men, because God’s salvific desires are for all kinds of men to be saved.
Furthermore, I have decided to deal with verse 5-7. In these proceeding verses, Paul again continues saying that there is one God and one mediator between God and man. He states then that this mediator gave himself as a ransom for all men, immediately what one needs to realize is that if Christ mediates on behalf of all men, his mediation does not actually accomplish anything perfectly. It tries to save all men, but it cannot, and thus makes our own intercessions needless to — because the free will of man, rather than God is its determining factor. Furthermore, the role of high priest, which is Christ’s mediator role in the Bible is made affirmatively for God’s elect, and by implicit and direct teaching not made for every single individually. Christ’s intercession (and sacrifice) is perfect and always perfects those for whom it is made (John 17:9; Romans 8: 32-34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:11-28; 10:10, 14).
It must always be emphasized that after Paul states that Christ gave himself as a ransom for all (v. 6), he qualifies what he means stating “to which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle… a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” Paul is saying Jesus Christ gave himself for all, namely both Jew and Gentile, this is what is meant by all since he qualifies this in the proceeding verse (v. 7).
- Intercessions And Possibility
If salvation is by means of man’s choice to follow God, and we should pray for all people to be saved, wouldn’t this mean that God would override their “free will”? If God wills to save everyone without exception, and we need to pray for everyone without exception (which would not make sense), the prayers would be needless because salvation hinges upon man’s choice.
If God desires the salvation of all sorts of men, then this verse makes a lot of sense. God would then not be trying to save, but would actually be saving. God’s desire for saving all kinds of men is not frustrated, it is universal (all kinds of men), and specifically to his elect people whom he predestined since before the foundation of the world.
Some Calvinist expositors have taken alternative roots, speaking of God’s will of disposition being present within the text of 1 Timothy 2. However, I find this reasoning unconvincing since Paul ties the salvation of all men to praying for them, Christ’s mediation, and ransom/atoning sacrifice.
- The Elect In 1-2 Timothy
“Therefore I endure all things for the chosen ones’ sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
Another interesting aspect of the letters written to Timothy would be the fact that in evangelism Paul endures everything for the sake of the chosen ones, or elect. In Paul’s mind, the elect people that were predestined unto eternal life were one important reason for missions.
Also, the elect then are not necessarily current believers. There are elect people who do not presently believe. They were elected, and appointed unto faith and eternal life (Acts 13:48).
- What This Verse Means
There are various other verses where “all” and “all men” are used, and these terms do not then mean “every single individual.” (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; etc.).
In considering what this text says, I believe this text is saying that God desires all kinds of men to be saved. God’s redemptive and salvific plans are universal, but they are also particular. God’s elect people are from all kinds of men, from all ethnic groups. I believe this interpretation to be the forthright meaning in light of the (1) flow of the epistle, and (2) the overall theology of the New Testament.