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"...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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  • « The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus | Main | Correspondence with a Roman Catholic »

    Understanding 2 Peter 3:9

    From Chapter 9 of the book, "Twelve What Abouts - Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election" by John Samson

    Without doubt, this is the single most popular verse used to dismiss the biblical doctrine of election, bar none. The meaning of the verse is simply assumed, and because of this, no time is taken to study it, which is the very hallmark of tradition. I have to admit that I did this for many years. Those most enslaved to tradition are those who think they do not have any.

    First of all then, let us read the verse in its context:

    2 Peter 3:1-9––“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

    But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

    The first thing we notice is that the subject of the passage is not salvation but the second coming of Christ. Peter is explaining the reason for the delay in Christ’s second coming. He is still coming and will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (v. 10).

    The second thing to notice is that the verse in question (v. 9) speaks of the will of God. “God is not willing” for something to happen.

    Theologians have long recognized that there are three ways in which the will of God is spoken of in Scripture.

    There is what is called the Sovereign Decretive Will. This refers to the will by which God brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. This is something that ALWAYS happens. Nothing can thwart this will. (Isa. 46:10, 11).This will is also known as the secret will of God because it is hidden to us until it comes to pass in the course of time.

    Secondly, there is the Preceptive Will of God. This is God’s will revealed in His law, commandments or precepts. As the course of human history reveals, people have the power to break these commandments and do so every day. It is important to state though that, although men have the power to break these precepts, they do not have the right to do so. His creatures are under obligation to obey all His commandments and will face His judgment for not doing so.

    Thirdly, we have God’s Will of Disposition. Dr. R. C. Sproul states, This will describes God’s attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, yet He most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked. God’s ultimate delight is in His own holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His own righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience. He is sorely displeased when we are disobedient. (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith)

    There are many in the Reformed community who look at 2 Peter 3:9 and feel that what we have here is God expressing His will of disposition. They believe the text to be saying that God is not wishing or desiring to see any human being perish (in one sense), even though that is exactly what will happen if a person does not come to repentance. The fact that people perish is not something that makes God happy. He would rather it never happened. But to uphold His holiness and justice, He must punish rebellious sinners by sending them to an eternity in hell.

    A lot could be said for this view of the text and I have many Reformed friends who hold to it. It does seem to solve many problems. However, I take a different view because of what I see when I follow the pronouns of the passage.

    WHO ARE THE “ALL”?

    The people Peter is addressing are clearly identified. He speaks of the mockers as “they”, but everywhere else he speaks to his audience as “you” and the “beloved.” I believe this is very important.

    But surely “all” means “all,” right? Well usually, yes, but not always. This has to be determined by the context in which the words are found. When a school teacher is in a classroom and is about to start the class and asks the students, “Are we all here?” or “Is everyone here?” he is not asking if everyone on planet Earth is in the classroom. Because of the context in which the question is framed, we understand that he is referring to all within a certain class or type––in this case, all the students in the class. To say that he is referring to all people on planet earth would be to grossly misinterpret the intended meaning of his question.

    So, the question in 2 Peter 3:9 is whether “all” refers to all human beings without exception, or whether it refers to everyone within a certain group.

    The context of 2 Peter 3:9 indicates that Peter is writing to a specific group and not to all of mankind. The audience is confirmed when Peter writes, “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved…” (2 Peter 3:1).
    Can we be even more specific? Yes, because if this is the second letter addressed to them, the first makes it clear who he is writing to. 1 Peter 1:1––“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect…”

    So Peter is writing to the elect in 2 Peter 3:8, 9 saying “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

    I would agree with Dr. Sproul (and other scholars) who believe that the will of God spoken of here is not God’s will of disposition but His Sovereign decretive will. God is not willing that any should perish. He will not allow it to happen.

    Allowing for this premise then, if the “any” or “all” here refers to everyone in human history, the verse would prove universalism rather than Christianity. (Universalism is the false doctrine that teaches that everyone will in the end be saved, with no one going to hell). If God is not willing (in His decretive Sovereign will) that any person perish; then what? No one would ever perish! Yet, in context, the “any” that God wills not to perish is limited to the same group he is writing to, the elect; and the “all” that are to come to repentance is the very same group.

    This interpretation makes total sense of the passage. Christ’s second coming has been delayed so that all the elect can be gathered in. The elect are not justified by election, but by putting their faith in Christ. If a person is to be saved they must come to Christ in repentance and faith. The doctrine of Sovereign Election simply explains who will do so. The elect will.

    Jesus assured us of this when He said, “All that the Father gives to me will come to me” (John 6:37) and is confirmed by the testimony of Luke in Acts 13:48 when he observed that “… all who were appointed to eternal life believed.”

    2 Peter Chapter 3 teaches us that the reason Christ has not yet returned is because there are more of His elect to come into the fold. That is why He did not return yesterday. At this point in time, not all of the elect have come to repentance and faith. Therefore Christ has not yet returned to the Earth in power and glory. Christ’s second coming may seem delayed (to some) but God is being very longsuffering toward us (you, beloved) not willing that any should perish but that all come to repentance. Speaking personally, I am so glad that the Lord Jesus did not return the day before I was converted. I would have been lost in sin forever.

    Rather than denying election, the verse, understood in its biblical context, is one of the strongest verses in favor of it. The context of 2 Peter 3 shouts and screams that Peter, when writing of “all,” is actually referring to all of the elect.

    Posted by John Samson on December 14, 2013 03:34 PM

    Comments

    There is a new found appreciation for this understanding and that verse that I've come into of late. Your article makes this appreciation just that much more clearer.

    It started to become clear as I've been pouring over 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles the last couple of years.

    We see some amazing understanding of God's predisposition to save His Elect by His Mercy and Grace when looking how He interacts with His Elect in those writings. This comes into sharp focus with verses such as these:

    But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” (2 Samuel 21:17 ESV)

    Building on this idea of "not" willing that this lamp of Israel go out we read this exchange between God and Solomon:

    Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:11-13 ESV)

    The most pronounced verses about this idea of God keeping His Grace and Mercy on His Elect comes to me from studying King Hezekiah and uniquely this about that:

    For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV)

    And to cap it off how God simply was then and still is now unwilling that this class or group perish we read this about that too:

    The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.

    ... For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the Lord. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:12, 17-20 ESV)

    It is just my opinion but I believe it is these verses and others like them that the Holy Spirit used when enlightening Peter to pen the very Words we now embrace, 1&2 Peter?

    Geeeesh, missed the one verse that touches on the prediction Peter wrote about and you cite:

    So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV)

    There were scoffers back then, yet God, not willing that His Elect perish moved on them then in the midst of scoffing and scorn as He will these days too and will circumcise the heart of those He has chosen to save giving them one heart as well!

    John, your interpretation that "all" means the elect in 2 Pt. 3:9 is well defended. A parallel passage is: “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones [sheep] perish” (Matt. 18:14).

    You stated: "But surely 'all' means 'all,' right? Well usually, yes, but not always. This has to be determined by the context in which the words are found."

    The scriptures define "all" as Jews/Gentiles: "both Jews and Greeks are all under sin" (Rom. 3:9); "for there is no distinction; for all [believing Jews and Gentiles] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:22-23); "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all" (Rom. 10:12). The scriptures' target readership are people from the nations, not the people of one tongue prior to Babel who already were in eternity. Since "all" means Jews/Gentiles it cannot mean every person that ever lived. The predominant usage of universal terms such as "all", "world", "mankind",etc. are those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

    “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (Rom. 11:32). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He accomplishes His desires for He says: “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Is. 46:11). Thus, God will save all men. “The living God, who is Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10) “says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND’” (Acts 2:17) “AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE [experience] THE SALVATION OF GOD” (Lk. 3:6). “All flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever” (Ps. 145:21; cf. Ps. 145:10b). Christ, the “Savior of the world” (1Jn. 4:14) “takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). He “who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5), “died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14). Moreover because all died in Him through imputation, He “will draw all men to [Himself]” (Jn. 12:32) thus “bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11) and “justification of life to all men” (Rom. 5:18). “Christ is all [meritoriously and efficaciously], and in all” (Col. 3:11).

    Many other scriptures could be cited as examples of how universal scriptural terms refer to all kinds of people without partiality, not every person that ever lived.

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