Monday, October 18, 2010

Does 1 Timothy 2:4 teach "unlimited atonement"?

Discussion of the scope of the atonement of Christ is important.  That is why Christians fight so vigorously for their particular interpretation of this doctrine.  Is the atonement limited or unlimited, and for whom is it intended?  It can be easy to get bogged down by just asserting the "plain meaning" of the text and not giving any foundation for it.  Scripture interprets scripture, and that is why we cannot simply quote a verse without giving the context, this especially is the case when speaking of weighty matters like the atonement of the Son of God. It is also essential that other texts that speak to the issue at hand must be taken into account.  Sadly, some passages are bandied about without assessing the issues within the text; for example, 1 Timothy 2:4 "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  At first glance, it might seem that hundreds of years of reformed theology have just gone out the window with the "simple reading" of this text.  A closer examination of the context surrounding it reveal otherwise.

In 1 Timothy 1 Paul was warning Timothy about teachers that didn't have correct doctrine. Then Paul speaks of others who have been cast out of the church because of their conduct.

 Then, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 Paul says:

"1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.5  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time."

In the end of V.1 we get the first use of the phrase "all men."  Then Paul tells us what he means by "all men" in V.2, "kings and all who are in authority."  Paul is saying that all classes of people, even those in authority, should be the objects of prayer.  But why does Paul have to say this?  There are some reasons of note:1. Paul was implying that the false teachers from chapter one were teaching the people not to pray for those in authority, 2. Paul has to command that the those in authority should be prayed for, because those in authority were persecuting the church, hence the church wasn't praying for those that persecuted them.  So Paul is speaking here of a class of people, namely "kings and all who are in authority."  This has bearing on how we interpret V.4, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  Here in V.4, "all men" means the same thing it did in V.1.  Namely that it refers to "all" different classes of people, not every single person ever to live.  Paul isn't commanding that prayers be made for every single individual in the whole entire world.  Rather, he is urging them to pray for the people that they had been neglecting to pray for.  Not that praying for the whole world is wrong, Paul is just not specifically commanding prayer for every single individual in V.1. V.5 Paul then bases this admonition to pray in the fact that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God.  V.6 This is then linked to the mediation and atonement of Christ.  If this mediation is on behalf of every single individual, does it not follow that Christ's mediation fails for some, since all are not saved? If "all" means every person ever to live in V.4, then is it not the case that God's purpose is frustrated by the sovereign will of man?  If we are to take the "all" in these texts as extensive, then it follows that the "ransom" spoken of in V.6  is merely a potential one.
The same thing is going on in Colossians 3 as in 1 Timothy 2:4.  Colossians 3:11 "a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."  Paul is speaking again about classes of people.  He is saying that the Gospel renews all different kinds of people.  He is obviously not saying that Christ is renewing every single "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman."

In Mark 10:26-45 Jesus is explaining the need for humility in order to be great in His Kingdom.  Jesus' words in Mark 10:45 are helpful here: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Here Jesus' serving isn't a mere potentiality, and neither is His ransom.  "Ransom" carries this idea of actually paying for the freedom of a slave, and thus resulting in the freedom of that slave.  Notice also that the "ransom" here is for "many" and not all.  This is exactly the testimony of the Bible; that the atoning work of Christ is definite, and it does what it's intended to do.  If this isn't the case, how can one say the atoning work of Christ is perfect when it doesn't reached it's intended goal, which is the salvation of the whole world?  In Isaiah 46, God establishes Himself as the one true God over the idols of Babylon.  In V. 10, God says "... My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure."  If it was God's purpose and good pleasure for the entirety of the human race to be saved, it would happen.  In fact, the intercession of Christ is only for His Bride.  Romans 8:34 "who is the  one who condemns?  Christ  Jesus is the one who died...who also intercedes for us."  Romans 8:33 says who this "us" is--"who will bring a charge against Gods elect? God is the one who justifies."  The "us" is God's elect.  These two texts spell out clearly that the intercession of Christ is only on behalf of His Church.  The reason  a charge can't be put to God's elect is because they have been justified ("He also justified" Romans 8:30).  These verses speak nothing of Christ interceding for the non-elect.  Part of the purpose of God's election is the election unto His intercession.   Intercession and mediation, the ransom and the atonement are all unalterably connected; they are for all kinds of people, but not for every single individual, if it was for every single individual then every single individual would be justified.  Christ intercedes for those He died.  God doesn't try, He accomplishes all of His holy will.


Justin said...

How do you know that Paul isn't saying, "You need to pray for all men, EVEN kings and all who are in authority." This is a week argument. Wouldn't the verse say "some" if God meant that?

ivanovich831 said...

I would like to know why it's weak. I also would like to hear an argument for the universality of"all men." The word "all" cannot be merely assumed to be universal, it needs to be proven. Speculation about what an author would have written can be done with any text. The question is does Paul qualify the statement "all men"? In this context I think the reformed have warrant for this interpretation. If "all men" was universal Paul logically wouldn't have to say right after, "kings and all who are in authority, "all men" would obviously entail "kings and all who are in authority." If you say it's universal, you must accept the theological consequences. Are you willing to say that Christs' ransom fails for some, because of mans freedom? Texts like these cannot be used to overthrow clear passages specifically on salvation, like, John 6, Romans 9, and Ephesians 1. Thanks for reading Justin you are awesome! Next week is 2 peter 3:9!

Ron said...

As you said, Ivan, Scripture interprets Scripture. Have you considered 1John2:2, "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."? Also 2 Peter 2:1, "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them..."

God Bless,

Ivan Ortega said...

Thanks for reading. I was going to do a post on 2 Peter 3:9, but since you mentioned 1 John 2:2, and 2 Peter 2:1, I will do posts on those first and start with 1 John 2:2. I will have it up some time Monday. God bless.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I would suggest is extending the context to v.7 - Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for "all kinds" of people, and for that reason, Paul was called to reach the gentiles.

But yes - this is a common issue when dealing with interpreting “all” (greek “pas”) or “world” (“kosmos”).

Instead of looking at the context and nature of the issues confronting the early church (primarily whether gentiles could be Christians at all without first becoming jews), many people simply assume that “all means all” and these words must be referring to every single person. But as you've discussed, "all" does not always mean every single individual example without exception.

1Tim6:10For the love of money is the root of all (“pas”) evil (KJV)

Here is one example of “pas” in Pauline correspondence. Is the love of money the root of every single kind of evil? Did David commit adultery for money? Or do more modern translations understand the greek more accurately when they translate this verse as “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

Acts2:17In the last days, God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all (“pas”) people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy…”

This prophecy of Joel was fulfilled at Pentecost, yet none of the unbelievers received the Spirit. Here again “all” does not mean “every single person” – “all” means “all kinds”: men and women, young and old, but specifically the people of God or “elect.”

Or another example where some choose to ignore the surrounding context:

Heb2:9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (“pas”).
10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.

The "all" or "everyone" in Heb2:9 is defined and clarified by the surrounding context. Jesus died for the "sons/ brothers/ children/ those who are made holy/ Abraham’s descendants (c.f. Gal3:29)."

But sorry if I'm jumping ahead... :)


Ivan Ortega said...

Great comments