If God desires all to be saved then why aren’t they?

"But even after the objector has submitted his emotion to what he sees the Bible clearly teaches, there are still a few Scriptures that need explanation." - Cripplegate

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David R. Brumbelow's picture

It seems Archer is contending that God says,

I really wish everyone would be saved – but nah, I’m just going to save a few. 

Many believe the Bible teaches God desires all to be saved, but in His sovereignty, He chose to make man with a free will.  Therefore, while God wants all to be saved, He does not force you to believe. 

And many believe in corporate election. 

David R. Brumbelow

ScottS's picture

As my title to this post indicates, I believe Archer is already off track in his title to his essay on the 1 Tim 2:3-4 passage when he incorrectly assumes "Why aren't they?" (all saved, that is).

In my pananastastic view of how salvation works, there are two things people need saved from: physical death (the legal penalty of sin) and God's wrath (the relational consequences of unrighteousness; some label as spiritual death).

God has sovereignly chosen and worked out Christ's atonement (his death) to universally save all people from the first issue, reconciling the world (i.e. all humanity) to God on this matter, and hence believers and unbelievers will all be resurrected (saved from the legal penalty of sin by removing that sentence and state of death); He also has sovereignly chosen and worked out Christ's atonement (his blood) to apply particularly for cleansing those who seek reconciliation with Him, the believers, which reconciliation and cleansing heals the relationship between them, removing the wrath, and allowing God to declare believers righteous.

Both solutions worked through the atonement are needed to save mankind from sin's effects, and both are a salvation from one of those effects. This is why Paul in 1 Tim 4:10 notes two levels of salvation, one to all mankind, one especially for believers. So in the context of this very letter, Paul already acknowledges two levels of salvation. Now with that in view, the earlier passage under discussion here in 1 Tim 2:1-7 (particularly vv.3-4 in the article) can be read in a different light that makes more sense (NKJV):

1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For 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 between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

I cover this passage in more detail on pages 244-248, but the short version is this:

  • v.1 indicates there is not any type of man, nor any particular individual, for which a Christian is not to be praying for: all people are included.
  • v.2 indicates that this includes even those one might have something against, those who rule over them (our present United States context fits here very well, both perviously during the Obama era, and the current Trump era)
  • v.3 indicates that this praying for any/all people is good and acceptable to the God who is "our" Savior: now in context, "our" can be Paul being inclusive of (1) he and Timothy, to whom he is writing; (2) he and all believers, as the exhortation (v.1) would appear to be much broader than just Timothy (cf. v.8), or (3) he and all mankind, since v.4 makes an inclusive statement to clarify, and as noted from 1 Tim 4:10, Paul is quite comfortable referring to Christ as a Savior in a lesser sense for all people. While I lean to (3), in this verse, it really does matter, since the expansion does come in v.4.
  • v.4 indicates God desires two things: (1) all men (ἄνθρωπος; i.e. all people) to be saved, and (2) all those to come to the knowledge of truth. We know from 1 Tim 4:10 that (1) is fulfilled in some lesser sense: God gets His desire, all men will be saved (which my studies have shown must be the resurrection). We know from other passages that (2) will also eventually be fulfilled, as all people will come to know and acknowledge the truth (Isa 45:23; referenced also in Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10-11). But some will come to this knowledge in this life (believers), and some only after this life (unbelievers; Lk 16:27-31). So God will get what he wants.
  • v.5 indicates the grounds for the prayers for any/all people (ἄνθρωπος), which are good and acceptable to God, is the fact that there is one Mediator that stands between men and God, Christ. A mediator helps two parties come to an agreement, so some might balk at how Christ mediates between God an unbelievers. The answer is twofold. First, Christ resolved the legal issue of God's decreed penalty for sin that should have kept unbelievers (and believers, but the focus here is on unbelievers) in death, and so they get resurrected, hence He saves all men from that effect of sin. Second, Christ brings a place of distinction, yet agreement, for a person's desires and God's desires about their relationship to each other: those that want a right relationship with God are given that relation (believers), while those that do not want a right relationship with God (or simply attempt to ignore Him) remain his enemies and under His wrath (unbelievers). Both God and man gets what each wants in the relationship, regardless of belief, so a successful mediation occurs (even though after the fact, unbelievers might regret they wanted what they wanted, they still get what they wanted). But Christ acts as the mediatorial pivot between the two amicable agreements: to agree to be family or agree to be enemies.
  • v.6 indicates Christ gave his ransom for all (i.e. all ἄνθρωπος, all people, the referent from vv.4-5; there is nothing in the passage to cause this to not be the referent of "all" and limit it to only believers, as the passage has gone out of its way to indicate otherwise), which will be testified of in its own time (whether here on this earth, or after the resurrection when all know the truth of it).
  • v.7 indicates this testimony of the ransom for any/all people and Christ's role as mediator for all of them for the God who is the Savior of all them for which we all ought to be praying is what Paul was appointed to proclaim, "speaking the truth in Christ and not lying" (1 Tim 2:7). Most specifically, he was appointed to the Gentiles (who Jews might have thought were excluded from the Messiah's work), though Paul often went to the Jews first. But his declaration of the ransom, mediatorial role, and salvation provided by God is to go out to all. 

So the passage can be read in a very natural meaning for what it says: God desires to save all people. He plans to do so, preserving them all from the first death, resurrecting them to be unable to so die again. And no matter which state of belief, all will come to know the truth of what God did for them, and all will bow their knees.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16