Historical Exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:4

In-between articles concerning the TULIP I will be taking a look at various objections to certain Scriptures from those who hold to reformed theology. Our first verse is 1 Timothy 2:4.

1 Timothy 2:4, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

The Arminian response to this verse would clearly be proud confirmation that God wishes all to be saved. If He wishes all to be saved wouldn’t predetermining the eternal fate of some be contrary to His desire?

The Calvinist response, on the other hand, seems more accurate on the exegetical side of things, at least on the surface. Pastor John Samson, a writer on reformationtheology.com, sees the verse as an example of hyperbole, indicating the phrase “all men” actually means “all kinds” of men, broadening the scope from every person on earth to merely every kind of person. Verse 2 in the same passage seems to support this, narrowing the scope to kings. However, the reason to deny the verse above, it seems, rests partially on the literal impossibility to pray for every person individually.

There is one vitally important aspect missing from this exegesis, and it’s one I pull skeptics up on all the time: the context of ancient culture. Seeing 1 Timothy 2:4 as a literal prayer (based on verse 1) for every individual is a false objection. As I’ve noted in link one below ancient culture was a collectivist society so one’s identity was found in one’s group or class. The idea of praying for every individual would not have entered the mind of a collectivist writer, and that’s precisely who the Biblical authors were, so the main objection to 1 Timothy 2:4 misses the point. Prayer for “all men” in this context would have meant prayer for the human race as a collective group. And I would argue that a range of broad prayers, such as peace, health, salvation, etc. would not be difficult to pray if humanity was seen as one.

A further objection states that God’s sovereignty fails if we take this verse as “all men” rather than “all kinds” of men. Since verse 5 says Christ is the mediator between God and man if one refuses salvation, Christ’s work would have been seen as a failure, thus we can conclude it was His sovereign plan from the beginning that some men would reject salvation to avoid this unfavourable position.

The problem is the position of failure is non-existent if we again provide cultural context. Since the nature of ancient relationships regarding a higher power and a lower class group was one based on patronage, a patron was hardly seen as a failure if the client rejected his care. Shame would have been on the client for rejecting such an offer, not on the patron. Likewise, God, being our patron, cannot be said to have failed if we refuse to accept His gift of salvation. The shame and disgrace would be on our heads and God’s sovereignty would not be denounced in the slightest.

Link 1

Link 2