"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Book Review: The Infinite Merit of Christ, by Craig Biehl | Main | The Bible - through the eyes of a child »

    Understanding 1 Timothy 2:4 by Pastor John Samson

    God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:4

    I have often times heard people quote 1 Timothy 2:4 to dismiss, out of hand, the biblical teaching on Sovereign grace or Divine election. In quoting the verse they have told me that God has no interest in electing certain people to salvation but that His desire is for every person to be saved. Yet, we must remember that the word "all" always has a context. It can sometimes mean all people everywhere - many times it does - but it sometimes means "all" in the sense of "all kinds" or "all classes, types" of people or at other times it refers to all within a certain type or class.. For instance, we do the same thing in our English language when a school teacher in a classroom may ask the question, "are we ALL here?" or "is EVERYONE here?" She is not asking if everyone on planet earth is in the classroom, but because of the context in which the question is framed (the school teacher's classroom) we understand she is referring to all within a certain class or type - in this case, all the students signed up for the class.

    I believe 1 Tim 2:4 is speaking of all in this sense of "all types."

    What is my biblical basis for saying this?

    The context. Lets read the passage:

    1 Timothy 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Who are the "all people" of verse 1? I believe the "all people" of verse 1 are the same "all people" of verse 4, as the subject matter does not change in any way at all in the intervening verses.

    When Paul wrote "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.." was he asking Timothy to get the equivalent of the local phone book and starting with the alphas and going all the way through to the omegas (the Greek alphabet) make supplication, pray, intercede and make thanksgiving for each individual in the city... or more than that, the whole world?

    I don't think so. Why do I say this? Because Paul qualifies verse 1 with verse 2 when he speaks of "kings" (kings are types of people) and "those in high positions" (again "those in high positions" are types of people).

    Why should we pray for them?

    One of the reasons we should pray for them is because these people (kings and those in high positions of authority) make decisions which affect society at large. If these people have their eyes opened, they will not be persecutors of Christians but will enact laws that will actually restrain sin so "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." So one of the reasons to pray for them is because good government can mean a measure of peace in a society, and it is a lot easier to spread the Gospel when there is no civil unrest.

    The passage also points us to another reason to pray, namely that God desires all (all who?) .. all types of people.. including these influential people with authority in society.. to be saved.

    His message to Timothy was this: Do not just pray for the peasants, the farmers and the uneducated (the people who seem to be coming to Christ in great numbers right now), but remember to pray for kings and the very rulers in society who are at this moment persecuting Christians. Make prayer of this kind a priority - do it "first of all" - pray for these people Timothy - make sure the Church is praying for these people - because God desires all kinds of people - even kings (or Emperors like Caesar) and the elete in society - people of every kind, to be saved.

    We must remember that the earliest Christians were almost all from the lower class of society, so this would be BIG news to them. As Paul wrote elsewhere..

    1 Corinthians 1:26-29 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

    Turning to another Scripture in Revelation chapter 5, we are given prophetic insight into the future, revealing to us what Jesus the Lamb actually achieved in His atoning work on the cross. He did not save everybody or make a mere potential atonement available for everyone, but he made an effectual atonement - a powerful one that achieved its desired end or goal of saving certain specific people. What exactly did He achieve?

    In Revelation 5:9, the heavenly anthems ring out in praise of the Lamb saying, "...for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (specific, actual) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation..."

    Note the words, for they are very specific. It does not say that Jesus ransomed the people OF but people FROM every tribe and language and nation. The Greek word for "from" is ek meaning "out of" - He redeemed people out of every tribe, language, people group and nation.. NOT all without exception, but all without distinction.

    I mention this verse in Revelation 5 because this is in perfect harmony with 1 Timothy 2:4 which teaches very clearly that God desires all (all kinds of people) to be saved. God will have every tribe, tongue, people group and nation represented around the throne as the heavenly hosts sing of the Lamb who was slain to redeem them.

    Posted by John Samson on April 24, 2009 01:52 PM


    In this case I believe that the “all” means everyone created.

    My position is simply that the Creator created all things, including all men. He came to redeem all that He had created. He came to redeem the entire creation, including all men.

    Regarding the word “all”. I believe the “all” in 1 Timothy 2:4 is the same “all” in 1Co 15:22. The “all” that died in Adam is the same “all” who will be made alive in Christ.

    (1Co 15:22) For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive.

    He reconciled “all” things, including all men.

    (Col 1:20) and through him to reconcile all things unto himself,

    Jesus created all things, redeemed all things, all things were given to him by the Father. Which is to say, that Jesus has care and control of all things. Being that Jesus is not a loser, he will not lose anything or any man, woman, or child.

    The Cross still works beyond this life and this age.

    With Gentleness and Peace,

    ..............Dennis Thomsen

    P.S. I admit that there are verses in the bible which can be used to support the restrictive sense of the word “all”, but there are also verses which can be used to support the inclusive sense of the word “all”. I used to believe the Calvinist way, but I have since been persuaded toward the Universal Reconciliation position, while still maintaining a firm full belief in the Sovereignty of God. Why the switch, you may ask? I asked Him, “Show me your heart toward the un elect sinner”. The love of God constrained me.

    I can´t resist to express my personal reflection on this matter. I'm convinced that the word "all" is a reference that only includes those who are called to salvation, both the elected as well as the non-elected.It is known that the external call or vocation is general or universal while the election is personal. See Revelation 22:17 on the issue of the universal call.I believe that this was the meaning expressed by the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:14. That is why there is in reality an effective, but also an uneffective call. Not every call is effective, as we may experience in our daily life.The reformed doctrine on predestination is clear on this issue. See David S. Clark, for instance.

    Interestingly enough you use the scenario of a teacher and a classroom; however, when Jesus was standing outside with Nicodemus and addressed him saying ‘that whosoever believes’ see Jn 3:16….Context, context, context….then the call is all inclusive…not exclusive….then ‘all’ and ‘everyone’ works in the classroom called the ‘world’. I am suggesting one consider that there is a difference between what God wants or best desires for mankind to that which He gets to give mankind. Why? Men actively choose to reject God knowingly (see Rms 1). God gives a general call to mankind (God initiates) because we are not actively seeking God. ‘No one seeks after God’ not even Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. Yet these men had to do their part in co-operation with the call on their lives. Could not these men have snubbed their noses at God? Did they have no choice in the matter? At best some sort of compliance. Jesus says ‘Follow me’ and men choose to act. I do not see Jesus using force to enlist the disciples. Actually, when Jesus finished giving his address of ‘cross carrying’ meant everyone stopped following Christ to where even Jesus asked the 12 if they too were going to leave. Yes, we know Peter’s response; however, was it a free or coerced choice by the Holy Spirit? Does man have any responsibility in his co-operation when the Spirit initiates a ‘Come and Follow me’ call? Does the Lord really wish to pull the wool over his entire creation into thinking He is just ‘Just and Holy’ sprinkled with love crumbs and that when He states ‘many are called but few are chosen’ thus because He had no real intention on really giving the ‘reprobate’, who God predestined to be so, free-will to either accept Grace or reject it? Is the ‘All’ in ‘All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God’ not the same as everyone has sinned? Adam and Eve: Did they sin because they were depraved? I think not. Before they had any offspring the promised ‘Seed” referencing the future Messiah had been pre-determined by God to one day occur. Here is a serious question. Because God claims that he is just and holy and no one gives him counsel are we to think that our response to this God is of freewill or mere conditioning since to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind is a commandment? Frustration: If the ‘all’ as you state is merely ‘all kinds’ and because most lay students of the bible apparently then must rely on the experts in Greek and Hebrew should we not pour fuel upon our ill translated bibles, thus burning them and give up studying until we get a properly translated Bible that is worth its salt so we might truly be the salt of the world? If God actively selects some whilst actively rejects the rest at the same time with no qualifications due to any period of time would suggest that He is playing chess with our lives. Yes, God does all things according to the good pleasure of his will. We then must be onto fully translating our Bible so that the message is clear. Consequently, ‘For God so loved the world (select members with passes of grace) that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever (only if God chose you to believe) believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ I think this would clarify the phrase so purported by evangelicals “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’, which really should state ‘God loves only you to enter Heaven and for so and so to go to hell’. Why? If Man is a sinner and all were formed in iniquity in the womb, of no fault of their own, since none of us asked to be born into a sin condition are at the pickings of God; then it would have been better had none of us been born if God purposely created a man or woman with the expressed purpose of them sharing with Satan an everlasting torment. Conclusion: God then lied about the lake of fire being ‘created for the Devil and his angels. I do think better things of God than being some sort of a liar, lunatic, or at best a cosmic bully. When He created He said ‘It is Good’.

    Natural unregenerate man has the moral responsibility to believe in Christ but not the moral ability, because his nature is hostile to God. Abraham, Noah, etc, therefore were regenerated in order to have the ability to come to Him. Jesus taught clearly that man does not have the ability to come to Him outside of God's intervention.

    Regarding John 3:16, Dr. Sproul comments: "It is ironic that in the same chapter, indeed in the same context, in which our Lord teaches the utter necessity of rebirth to even see the kingdom, let alone choose it, non-Reformed views find one of their main proof texts to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. It is John 3:16:

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

    What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing.

    The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ. A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind. What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will receive B (everlasting life). The text says nothing, absolutely nothing, about who will ever believe. It says nothing about fallen man’s natural moral ability. Reformed people and non-Reformed people both heartily agree that all who believe will be saved. They heartily disagree about who has the ability to believe.

    Some may reply, “All right. The text does not explicitly teach that fallen men have the ability to choose Christ without being reborn first, but it certainly implies that.”

    I am not willing to grant that the text even implies such a thing. However, even if it did it would make no difference in the debate. Why not? Our rule of interpreting Scripture is that implications drawn from the Scripture must always be subordinate to the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must never, never, never reverse this to subordinate the explicit teaching of Scripture to possible implications drawn from Scripture. This rule is shared by both Reformed and non-Reformed thinkers.

    If John 3:16 implied a universal natural human ability of fallen men to choose Christ, then that implication would be wiped out by Jesus’ explicit teaching to the contrary. We have already shown that Jesus explicitly and unambiguously taught that no man has the ability to come to him without God doing something to give him that ability, namely drawing him.

    Fallen man is flesh. In the flesh he can do nothing to please God. Paul declares, “The fleshly mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7, 8).

    We ask, then, “Who are those who are ‘in the flesh’?” Paul goes on to declare: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). The crucial word here is "if."

    What distinguishes those who are in the flesh from those who are not is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one who is not reborn is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. People who are in the flesh have not been reborn. Unless they are first reborn, born of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be subject to the law of God. They cannot please God.

    God commands us to believe in Christ. He is pleased by those who choose Christ. If unregenerate people could choose Christ, then they could be subject to at least one of God’s commands and they could at least do something that is pleasing to God. If that is so, then the apostle has erred here in insisting that those who are in the flesh can neither be subject to God nor please him.

    We conclude that fallen man is still free to choose what he desires, but because his desires are only wicked he lacks the moral ability to come to Christ. As long as he remains in the flesh, unregenerate, he will never choose Christ. He cannot choose Christ precisely because he cannot act against his own will. He has no desire for Christ. He cannot choose what he does not desire. His fall is great. It is so great that only the effectual grace of God working in his heart can bring him to faith."

    It may come as a big surprise to learn that in the original Greek of John 3:16, there is no word "whoever." The word "whoever" is expressing a phrase in Greek which is difficult to express smoothly in English.

    Literally, the text reads "in order that every the one believing in Him, not to perish, but have everlasting life."

    It says "every" or "all the one believing..." That's hard to express in English, but in essence, it is saying "all the believing ones." That's what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes. Though our English translation says "whoever believes" the literal rendering is accurately translated as "every believing one" and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the "whosoever" but on the belief. The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.

    Why? Because of the main verb - because God GAVE His Son. God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.

    John 3:16 actually speaks of a limitation of a particular rather than a universal redemption, for clearly, not everyone will be saved, but only those who believe in Christ. The Father gave His Son for the purpose of those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but opposite to that, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.

    So, what John 3:16 teaches is:
    ALL who do A (believe in Him)
    will not B (perish)
    but will have C (everlasting life)

    What does this text tell us about who WILL believe or who CAN believe?

    Again, the answer is: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The text does not address the issue of who WILL believe or who CAN believe.

    However, if you do want to know John's view on who CAN exercise faith, he does deal with that question - just not in this text. If you go back a few verses in the chapter to John 3:3, John quotes Jesus as saying "unless a man is born again he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God." That's clear isn't it?

    How amazing to me it is that so many believe "all" is every created person that Jesus came to secure salvation for, and yet "all" dont get saved...thats so rediculas because Jesus is perfect God of perfect God, and some would have it that he didn't do his job. It never accures to people that if Jesus came to "secure salvation" then, he actualy did just that. He didnt die for all people everywhere or they would "all" be saved. If He secured it, it is done, he is God. It is done for those who he has called.

    I am a 5-point Calvinist and I have heard many people use this particular verse to refute Calvinism (1 Timothy 2:4). If we read on to verses 6 and 7, Jesus becomes a mediator. If the 'all men' in verse 4 meant every single person without exception, then the contextw would be saying that Jesus is interceding for everyone who is in Hell, and that would make God a failure. Other Scriptures say it very clearly that Jesus lives to intercede for His elect, those who the Father has given him. So the 'all men' in 1 Timothy 2:4 means all of the elect scattered all over the world. Jesus's intercession does not fail.

    It's amazing how everyone wants to lean on their own satisfy themselves..people just go with what the bible says and have faith and pray...if you don't understand something..then go to the person who really does know everything..god..and he will help you to better understand :)

    I have grown up in a reformed (PCA) church. I completely believe in the existence of predestination...I also believe completely in free will. I believe in both because there is scripture that shows both. We as finite human beings cannot look down the corridor of both free will and predestination and see how they work together to serve the purposes of Abba. We tend to "lay hold" of one or the other and carry it out to it's (usually ridiculous) end. This verse in Timothy does show that the heart of God is that His whole creation be restored and that all would see and love the Gospel made possible through our Savior, Brother, and King Jesus. There is also evidence that though God values free will (could there even be honest love without it) that He is very involved with His creation...He is not distant or without power. Here are some summary statements that put my thoughts on this great debate, ha.

    1) The presence of the forbiden tree is proof enough that choice and free will are essential to God.
    2) Without the call of God we could never come to Him.
    3) There is such thing as blashpeming the Holy Spirit.
    4) While we must open the door when He knocks...we would never even know that a door existed if He did not.
    5) Predestination: yes. Free Will: yes. A complete knowledge of how the two work: no. Follow either one to their end and you either end up with a God who has created a whole host of people who, without any possibility of escape, were created to suffer an eternity in Hell, or you have a God who sits up in a far away place and says, "awe shucks...there goes another one that got away".

    God is all-powerful, all-sovereign, all-good, and is love. Any "doctrine" that disputes any of those truths is a poor one.


    The "all" in verses 1-2 definitely refer to "all types". The context of the verse is not completely conclusive on either side for me although it seems to me the "all" in verse 4 refers to the "all" in verse 1, or "all types". The 2 wills of God made very popular by John Piper is somewhat satisfying but I don't find it particularly convincing, especially considering that "all" is most certainly referring to "all types" in numerous other texts in the Bible. On any case, this verse certainly doesn't negate the numerous clear teachings on election. Also, if God is indeed desiring that ALL (universal) be saved, it is striking how few texts seem to indicate this. Rather, we see very many texts indicating God desiring to save His own but precious few that event hint at the universal intent of salvation.

    To countspankula:You did not give a proper Exegete of John3:16 on the "who so ever". Gk:Pas Ho Pastewuen. pas modifies the participle; Ho Pastewuen. secondly,"Passive voice" which means what the object is a recipient of the subject to in the "durative". Which the literal English translation of the Greek text reads;"the ones believing" not the "who so ever will". There is no getting around in the Greek. Another example; One cannot violate GrandSharp's Greek-Grammar construct Rule and get away with it.

    What a pity that so many see as "the use of force" the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in making alive the spiritually dead human to willingly respond to the loving effectual call of God. Jn. 6:37 declares that every one who is given to Christ WILL come to him. The same chapter instructs us that NO ONE can (is able) come to Christ unless they are DRAWN by the Father. How is it that we don't understand the difference between being drawn and being 'forced?'

    A Calvinist once told me that "If God truly wills all men to be saved, then all men would be saved. However, that is not so. All men will not be saved."

    This is why a Calvinist cannot accept that 1 Tim 2:4 cannot mean all people. However, consider the following argument from evil as to why God cannot exist.

    The argument goes like this:
    1.If God exists, then He is omnipotent, omniscient, and all good.
    2.If God is omnipotent, then He can do anything that is possible.
    3.If God is omniscient, then He knows everything that is true.
    4.If God is all good, knew that an evil was about to occur and that he could have prevented it, then He would have prevented it.
    5.If God had prevented all evils, then there wouldn’t be any.
    6.There are evils that could have been prevented.
    7.Therefore, God does not exist.

    The argument as to why God's could not desire that all be saved is has the same error as the argument from evil. I suppose the Calvinist could only answer the problem from evil with "God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all good and since evil does exist, evil must be good.

    Isiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil ...

    The argument from evil only has one answer and it is the one answer a Calvinist cannot give.

    You need to include verse 5 to get a better sense of this verse. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity." Is Christ the mediator between just God and the elect? No. He is the mediator between God and all of humanity. Sometimes all means all and we should leave it at that. God does not desire that the wicked should perish (Ezekiel 18:32). With verse 5 showing that Christ is the mediator between God and all mankind it makes more exegetical sense to interpret all in verse 4 and 6 to mean all.

    Calvinist say that the (all) in the verse refers to the elect. I thought about this, and everything Calvinist believe (tulip). If your one of the elect, there is nothing you can do to reject Christ. Then someone please tell me why God desires his elect (those ppl that can't reject
    salvation,) to be saved. Why desire when God is already forcing it. Makes no sense. This is why there is free will in the world, why would God force anyone to love him.0


    God desires His elect to come to Christ and will make sure they do come (John 6:37 says this).

    What we need is not free will but wills made free. See

    Thanks for the insight. I appreciate your examination of the passage in light of the Word, rather than in light of human sentiment. I'm not a Calvanist, but I do believe the Bible, in which we consistently see the doctrines of grace.

    It is hard to definitively say who can be saved or better yet what is the initiating factor that jump starts the process of salvation. In one fact, I know of someone who was evidently tormented by some life event and lived a life of drugs and alcohol to deaden the pain. They eventually died of a drug overdose. They did go to church a few times within the last year of their life and had several notes in a bible they had been reading. I am not sure where they are spending eternity now.

    On the other hand, my mother was an alcoholic for much of her life, but God got a hold of her and changed her instantly and from then on she could hardly hold a conversation without Jesus' name coming up.

    The bible speaks of seeking and finding. I find it hard to comprehend that God would go through all of this only to be a puppet show.

    Thinking out loud, I can't help but think that God made creation as a sort of filter to test each man's free will to see what sort of soul he is as to fill heaven with only those who truly love Him. Not saying that God does not already know, but that God created each man with free will that determines if He has ability to love and obey him.

    That being said , I lean towards God extending the ability to believe to all those who seek Him with all of their being as week as the human flesh is.

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