A study of the universalistic passages of
Before I was convinced of the doctrines of Grace, the Reformed position, I used to read the universalistic passages of salvation very glibly, thinking, "God wants us all saved, and that is why He sent Jesus to die for us. This way, a plan of salvation was created and all we had to do was sign up for the plan, and... voila, we were saved!" WRONG! God's plan was to send Jesus to die for us, not to set up a plan that we had to sign up for, but to die in order for certain people to be saved. There is a great difference here! Jesus died to save certain people, not just to make a plan of salvation available for those willing. In the one scenario, a definite group of people are saved; in the other, the possibility exists that no one would be saved and the death of Jesus was in vain.
Man's religion is a synergestic religion. It is a religion in which God cannot save anyone, unless that person also works with God to save himself. It is a religion in which man is exalted with an "almighty" free will. Even the sovereign God cannot go against this "almighty" free will. In effect, man's free will has been exalted above God, making God a slave of man! In this synergestic two way street of compromises between "god" and "Man," "god" has to serve "Man," because "Man" does as he wants, and so "god" has to play the game according to the rules set up by the free will of man. This religion of man is completely humanistic, in which "Man" has become the god of this world and touching his "precious" free will is a violation of his rights of being that god. With his free will intact, man has made the death of Christ worthless and of no effect. The death of Christ accomplished nothing, because "man" and his free will brought it to no effect!.
Biblical religion is monergistic. God can and does save. He is not restricted by anyone and He does not have to save anyone. Yet, in the good pleasure of His infinite wisdom He has chosen some to be saved, but they cannot do it out of themselves. All, even those who have been chosen, are unable to make a positive step toward God and to please Him. Sin, which brought spiritual death and complete separation from God, has so marred man that He cannot make a choice contrary to that nature of sin to which he is in bondage. Yes, he is free, but his freedom is restricted to that nature which he received upon the advent of sin, and so, can only make decisions that are formed by that nature. It is because of this that God had to do the work of salvation for us. Electing those He did not have to save, He sent Jesus to die in their stead, and by His death He actually saved them. In this way the death of Christ was effective to save the elect and certainly accomplished what it was meant to do.
Is God's intention for everybody, the whole world, to accept the call of the gospel, or did He only have the elect in mind for salvation?
1 Timothy 2:4
 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:1-6 ESV1)
In verse 4 Paul writes that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Many would say "all" means "all." Sure "all" means "all." Yet, only as related to the context in which it is used can we find the scope of "all." When Jesus told Paul "For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard" (Ac 22:15 NASB2), did Jesus mean Paul was going to be a witness to every single individual, or to all kinds of men? When Paul was accused of preaching "to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place" (Ac 21:28 NIV3), did they mean that he was preaching to every single individual in this world, or to all kinds of people? Paul sets up this generic use of "all" elsewhere too.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:11 ESV) .
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)
It is consistent with the context of Paul's writings to recognize this use of "all." This is Paul's way of including all kinds of people. "All" in the above two passages cannot mean every individual, but all kinds or groups of people!
Coming back to 1 Timothy 2, knowing how Paul sometimes used the word "all," we need to have another look to see what Paul meant in verse 4 when he used "all people." In order to find this out we need to look at the context. In verse 1 Paul tells Timothy that we should be praying for "all people." Does he mean here every individual everywhere? I contend that he does not! Although the Bible tells us to pray for all people everywhere, I do not believe that Paul is telling us to pray for every individual everywhere in this verse. The meaning of "all people" in verse 1 is unambiguous. Paul sets up the scope of the meaning of "all people" in the very next phrase from verse 2: "for kings and all who are in high positions."
 Here then is my charge: First, supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings should be made on behalf of all men:  for kings and rulers in positions of responsibility (1 Tim.2:1-2 Phi4).
We have to remember the reason Paul wrote this. It was at this time that Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. It was a time of intense persecution for Christians, and not very long after this Nero had Paul and Peter executed. Paul reveals to us why we need to pray for "all these people:" "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." It would be the "kings and all who are in high positions" who would be able to ensure the peace of all in the land apart from God as its first cause. Paul was trying to make a point here. "Even pray for those in authority who seems to have your future in their hands. God even wants to save those types!" These "kings and all who are in high positions" are represented as classes of men. Now, having seen Paul's use of "everyone" or "all men," we can come to some conclusion about the phrase "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:4 NASB). God desires all kinds of people to be saved.
To find out more about Paul's meaning of "all" we need to also look at verse 5-6. For what reason do we need to pray for "all men" to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? Verses 5-6 tell us this reason. There is only one way of salvation without which no one can be saved. Now, let us get back to Paul's meaning of "all." First, if in verse 4 we take "all men" to mean "all men individually," then the conclusion here in verse 5 has to be that Christ must be mediator for "all men." If Christ then mediates for every individual, then He fails as mediator everytime an individual denies Christ as Lord and Saviour by his almighty free will. It is absurd to assert that Christ mediates for "all," but fails to save "all." Second, the ransom - His own sacrifice - that Christ gives in verse 6 is either a saving ransom or not a saving ransom. If that ransom is a saving ransom, and it is made in behalf of "all men", then "all men" would be saved. Is the intention of the ransom for "all men" to be saved? Then the ransom has failed miserably when the result is compared to the intention.
2 Peter 3:9
 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.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:3-13 ESV)
Once again the context of our verse is important. We have to realize the topic of this passage is not salvation, but the second coming of Christ! It mentions mockers questioning the promise of the coming of Christ. Peter tells them that the coming of Christ will be like a thief, and at God's own time. By the time Peter comes to verse 9 he merely mentions it in passing! However, there is a clear identification of the recipients and audience of this passage. When Peter refers to the mockers, he refers to them as "their," and "they." By verse 8 Peter's audience changes to the "beloved," "you" and finally "we" in verse 13 where Peter includes himself in this group. When Arminians read this passage, they assume the "you" in verse 9 - "but is patient toward you" - refers to everyone individually. Similarly, it is assumed that the "any" and "all" refer to every individual everywhere. However, the audience is here specific. The intended readers are the "you" and so the meaning of "all" and "any" are limited by the "you..." the intended readers:
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2 Peter 1:1 ESV)
So, Peter is here writing to a specific group, not every single individual, and verse 9 is intended for this group. A group that has already "obtained a faith of equal standing with [Peter and other Christians]." Therefore, the context of verse 9 is limited to the saved. Who, therefore, is the Lord patient toward? The "you." The "elect" (2 Pet 1:3). Peter is obviously writing directly to his audience here and that audience is the elect. Thus, the "not wishing that any should perish" group, and the "all should reach repentance" group must then be the same as the "patient toward you" group. The elect! Why did Peter say this, then? Peter is saying that the coming of Christ has been delayed to ensure the in-gathering of all the elect!
1 John 2:2
 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
What is the common explanation of this verse by humanistic religion? Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all Christians, but not just for Christians, but also for every individual everywhere in all times!
The Reformed position differs from this, however. Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of those believers John was writing too only, but for all believers everywhere, whether Jew or Gentile, everywhere in all times!
What does propitiation mean?
"Romans 3:25 tells us that God put forward Christ as a "propitiation" (NASB) a word that means "a sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in so doing changes God's wrath toward us into favor." Paul tells us "This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26). God had not simply forgiven sin and forgotten about the punishment in generations past. He had forgiven sins and stored up his righteous anger against those sins. But at the cross the fury of all that stored-up wrath against sin was unleashed against God's own Son... the sense of "a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God--and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us." This is the consistent meaning of these words outside the Bible where they were well understood in reference to pagan Greek religions. These verses simply mean that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin."5
Propitiation is an appeasement for God's wrath against sinners. When we understand God's attitude toward sin and our condition in sin without Christ, we will also understand why we need to be made propitious before God.
What does it mean to have an advocate with the Father? It comes from the Greek word παρακλητος (PARAKLHTOS), which means "one who appears in another's behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper... In our lit[erature] the act[ive] sense helper, intercessor is suitable in all occurences of the word."6 Jesus appears before the Father as an intercessor for us. Why is Jesus our intercessor before the Father? He intercedes for us to make propitiation for our sins. Not only does He stand in our behalf, He also brings His own blood.
The question now remains: Is Christ the propitiation for every single individual everywhere, whether elect or not? If that is the case, then we have to go back to verse 1 and insist that He is also the intercessor of every single individual everywhere, whether elect or not. This creates a problem. If Jesus is interceding for every single individual everywhere, whether elect or not, then we also have to accept the fact that His intercession has been a miserable failure, because a major portion of those He interceded for has gone to hell without the desired effect. They did NOT become believers! How can this be? How can the intercession of God the Son be a failure? How can God the Father not accept the intercession of God the Son? Can it be true that Christ's intercession amounts to a failure? May it never be!
Who has this advocate/intercessor? "[W]e have an advocate with the Father." It does in no way say that Jesus intercedes for anyone else but His own, the believers. John sets up this idea of the intercessor by imploring his readers not to sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an intercessor. Who does the anyone refer to? The same readers he was trying to encourage not to sin! If the target group, therefore, for Christ's intercession was meant for the believers John was writing to, who in essence represented the elect, then surely the propitiation effected by His intercession is meant for the same group, and the word "world" has to be seen in light of that context. Therefore, we can see it this way: "If you sin, Christ is your intercessor before the Father, and so He is the propitiation for your sins, and not only yours, but every believer in the world."
Obviously the charge is made against our interpretation of every passage here, that we change the obvious on-the-surface meaning of these passages. We have to remember that when these writers wrote these letters, their readers knew exactly in which context the letters were written to them and what the letters' intent were. When we read these letters, we do not have the writers' minds at our disposal, so we need to do very necessary exegesis to come to the heart of any passage of Scripture.
Use of "World"
"When it is said that Christ died "not for our
sins only but
for the sins of the whole world," I John 2:2, or that He came to "save
the world," John 12:47, the meaning is that not merely Jews but
Gentiles also are included in His saving work; the world as a world or
the race as a race is to be redeemed. When John the Baptist said,
"Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" he was
not giving a theological discourse to saints, but preaching to sinners;
and the unnatural thing then would have been for him to have discussed
Limited Atonement or any other doctrine which could have been
understood only by saints. We are told that John the Baptist "came for
a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might
believe through him," John 1:7. But to say that John's ministry
afforded an opportunity for every human being to have faith in Christ
would be unreasonable. John never preached to the Gentiles. His mission
was to make Christ "manifest to Israel," John 1:31; and in the nature
of the case only a limited number of the Jews could be brought to hear
Footnotes1. "Scripture qoutations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
2. "Scripture qoutations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockmand Foundation. Used by permission."
3. "Scripture qoutations marked (NIV) are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved."
4. "Scripture qoutations marked (Phi) are from THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN ENGLISH by J. B. Phillips. Copyright © 1960, 1972 by J. B. Phillips."
5. Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1994, p575.
6. A GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT and Other Early Christian Literature, A translation of the fourth revised and augmented edition of WALTER BAUER's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur by WILLIAM F. ARNDT and F. WILBUR GINGRICH, SECOND EDITION, REVISED AND AUGMENTED BY F. WILBUR GINGRICH AND FREDERICK W. DANKER FROM WALTER BAUER'S FIFTH EDITION, 1958, THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, CHICAGO AND LONDON, 1979. BAGD comes from Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker.
7. Boettner, Loraine, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1932, pp291-293.