Great Quotes: Charles Spurgeon on 1 Timothy 2:3-4

What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. “All men,” say they,—”that is, some men”: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said “some men” if he had meant some men. “All men,” say they; “that is, some of all sorts of men”: as if the Lord could not have said “all sorts of men” if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written “all men,” and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the “alls” according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, “Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth.” […] My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. […] So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word “wish” gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus—”whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God’s wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are.
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9 Responses

  1. Spurgeon’s comment is nice but it leaves unaddressed the real argument. When Paul speaks of “all men” he speaks in the sense of gentiles as well as Jews. He explains this in Ephesians 3 and references it elsewhere in his letters – e.g., to the Jew first and then the gentile in Romans 1.

    When Paul writes that God will have all men to be saved, we have sound exegesis to understand this to mean both Jew and gentile as follows from the other references he makes to both Jew and gentile in his other letters. That would make the statement consistent with other Scripture and truth.

    Had Paul meant each and every individual, he would have made God weak in only being able to desire that each person would be saved but unable to save each person as such salvation would then depend on the desires of the person. Yet, Paul writes in Romans 9, I [God] will have mercy on whom I will have mercy making God the omnipotent God that He is – no wishing and hoping from the God that Paul serves; God who desires the salvation of a person has mercy on that person and saves them.

    So, we need a quote from a Calvinist that addresses the real sense of the verse from Paul’s perspective of salvation being for gentiles as well as Jews – even an Arminian take on this would be interesting.

  2. When Paul speaks of “all men” he speaks in the sense of gentiles as well as Jews….Paul’s perspective of salvation being for gentiles as well as Jews

    Even if we understand all such passages as referring strictly to the idea of “Gentiles and Jews”, that would still be a reference to everyone (since we are all either Gentiles or Jews). The Calvinist always need to take an extra, and completely unwarranted, step to make it: “some Gentiles and some Jews”, which is never born out by the actual language or context. In fact, to turn “all” into “some among all” betrays the fact that “all” is actually universal. Same with “world.” The Calvinist arguments against the universal texts are extremely weak and contrived.

  3. The term, “all men,” is the same as saying, “both Jews and gentiles.” Whether some or all (each and every) Jews and gentiles is in view is determined from context but is not necessarily relevant – all that may matter is that the gentile shares with the Jew in whatever in in view.

    Examples.

    “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:5)

    – “All men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not each and every person personally.

    “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5)

    – “All men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not each and every person personally.

    “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men…” (Titus 2:11)

    – Here “all men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not that any specific person, or each and every person personally.

    “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18)

    – The first “all men” refers to each and every person: the second to each and every for universalists and some less than each and every for non-universalists.

    No extra and unwarranted steps are required to limit the meaning to “some” Jews and gentiles rather than each and every person without qualification.

    I don’t see that the Calvinist arguments against the universal texts must be weak or contrived as the above citations demonstrate.

  4. Rhutchin,

    The term “all” is the same as “Jews and Gentiles” in the sense that “all” certainly includes both Jews and Gentiles. But it is a mistake to assume that when “all” is used, the Gentiles/Jews distinction is always specifically in focus. You mention context being determinative, but many of the passages you cite below (and many universal passages that reference “world” as well), give no indication that a specific concern regarding Jew/Gentile distinctions is in view.

    But you assume, based on a few passages that do seem to have this specific distinction in view, that “all” such passages have this in view. But that is unwarranted. And again, “all” will certainly include both Gentiles and Jews when used in reference to “all” people, since all people naturally and obviously includes both Jews and Gentiles (just as Jews and Gentiles includes everyone).

    You write:

    The term, “all men,” is the same as saying, “both Jews and gentiles.”

    Which again, includes everyone.

    Whether some or all (each and every) Jews and gentiles is in view is determined from context but is not necessarily relevant – all that may matter is that the gentile shares with the Jew in whatever in in view.

    That is just an unfounded assertion on your part, and none of your examples serve the purpose of showing how “all” used in the universal passages should ever be understood as “some” from among “all, rather than simply “all.” And there aren’t even any significant contextual limitations in the samples you cite here. Now to your specific examples:

    “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:5)

    – “All men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not each and every person personally.

    This actually undercuts your argument, since “in a general sense” would most naturally include everyone. In a general sense certainly does not exclude anyone. In fact, that is the main point here. The point is that nobody would be excluded with regards to Paul’s witnessing efforts. That doesn’t mean it is intended to suggest that Paul will have the opportunity to witness to every single person on the planet. But it does mean that whoever he has an opportunity to witness to, he should witness to (no one excluded).

    In other words, Paul should witness to everyone he has opportunity to witness to (as far as “all” applies to his sphere of influence). That is the natural reading, and it in no way supports the idea that your “general sense” means that some that Paul encounters should not be witnessed to. It certainly does not mean that when Paul encounters someone, he should consider whether or not he should exclude this person from the command to be a witness to all people. Paul should witness to everyone he encounters.

    This is the same with most of your examples you give below.

    “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” (Philippians 4:5)

    – “All men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not each and every person personally.

    Here it first needs to be pointed out that you are reading “Jew and Gentile in a general sense” into the passage without any contextual warrant. There is no indication here at all of a specific Jew/Gentile distinction being a concern. That is an assumption you have read into the text. It simply means “everyone”, and as with the Acts 22 passage, would have the sense of “everyone you encounter” or “no one excluded.” It certainly doesn’t mean “only some people you encounter” or “some (or many) people excluded.”

    Is there a limitation here? Only in the sense of there being a limitation to the people we will encounter in our lives (since nobody will have the ability to literally encounter all people on the planet), but there is no limitation with regards to the people we do encounter. So again, it essentially means “no one excluded”, which is the same sense of the universal passages, except that those passage are not limited in scope at all, since they truly do include all people everywhere (since they have reference to God’s intention and provision, and not to the limited sphere of influence of a particular person being addressed).

    “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men…” (Titus2:11)

    – Here “all men” simply means Jew and gentile in the general sense and not that any specific person, or each and every person personally.

    But this is just another assertion on your part to try to limit the scope of the passage. There is no reason at all to see this as excluding anyone. And there is no specific Jew/Gentile concern in the immediate context. So again, while you say “in a general sense”, you still need to take an extra unwarranted and contrived step to try to say this would quite possibly exclude certain individuals or that certain individuals would not be included.

    “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18)

    – The first “all men” refers to each and every person: the second to each and every for universalists and some less than each and every for non-universalists.

    Not really. Contextually, we can see that justification is contingent on faith, while the provision of justification for all (through faith) is as universal as the problem of sin and condemnation, in the same way as Rom. 11:32 states that God desires to have mercy on the same “all” that have been bound to disobedience. That certainly includes everyone.

    No extra and unwarranted steps are required to limit the meaning to “some” Jews and gentiles rather than each and every person without qualification.

    I don’t see how any of your examples have helped your case at all. If anything they have just proved that my initial contention was accurate. You will always need to take an extra and unwarranted step to turn “all” into “some” in the universal passage which specifically speak to the scope and extent of the atonement or God’s desire to save all.

    As Spurgeon rightly notes, the Holy Spirit was certainly able to easily communicate the sort of limits you assume as a Calvinist in such passages. But instead, He consistently communicated God’s universal desire for all to be saved based on a universal provision of atonement (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-6), with no contextual limitations at all.

    I don’t see that the Calvinist arguments against the universal texts must be weak or contrived as the above citations demonstrate

    I don’t see how the above citations demonstrate anything other than my initial contention was entirely accurate. God bless.

  5. “The term “all” is the same as “Jews and Gentiles” in the sense that “all” certainly includes both Jews and Gentiles. But it is a mistake to assume that when “all” is used, the Gentiles/Jews distinction is always specifically in focus. You mention context being determinative, but many of the passages you cite below (and many universal passages that reference “world” as well), give no indication that a specific concern regarding Jew/Gentile distinctions is in view. ”

    From Ephesians 3, we can conclude that the revealing of the “mystery” that salvation was for the gentiles was a pretty big deal for Paul. It is a theme we might expect to see incorporated in his letters and we do.

    Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” and “Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too…”

    1 Corinth: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,”

    Galatians: ‘The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”’

    Colossians: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

    1 Thess: “[The Jews] displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.”

    1 Timothy: “for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle–I am telling the truth, I am not lying–and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.”

    2 Timothy: “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”

    That God was saving gentiles was a big deal to Paul and seems to have always been on his mind. Consequently, whenever Paul uses such terms as “all me” there is support for thinking that Paul was thinking in terms of Jews and gentiles. The burden is on those who would take Paul to be speaking of “each and every person” to argue that such is the case.

    Your claim is that my conclusion that Paul had a certain mindset that dominated his letters amounts to assertion without proof. That’s fine: the same claim can be made against your position. Thus, we have two opposing positions. At least, I have evidence fro Paul’s letters that the idea that God was saving gentiles was a really big deal to Paul. It remains for you to demonstrate the Paul – with equal explicitness – was also of the opinion that God wanted to save each and every person.

  6. Rhutchin,

    I never suggested that Paul never had a specific Jew/Gentile distinction in mind or that God’s reaching out the Gentiles was not important to Paul. Of course it was, since he was called to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. But that does nothing to help your case. Since God loves all and desires all to be saved, that of course includes Jews and Gentiles (as I have repeatedly said). The problem is that you read that distinction into everything Paul says, even into areas where that distinction is not the main concern (though it remains in the background to some extent since, again, all people certainly includes Jews and Gentiles and Jews and Gentiles would likewise refer to everyone).

    But even if I granted to you that whenever Paul said “all” that was what he had in mind, it still does nothing to limit the universal passages at all. And that is what you need. You need a necessary limitation. These passages will never give you that. The specific language will never give you that and the context will never give you that. So you have zero Biblical warrant to limit “all” to “some” in these passages. None. And again, appealing to a Jew/Gentile distinction or the fact that for Paul God saving Gentiles was a “big deal” doesn’t change that one bit.

    And when we add to that passages that refer to “world” like 1 John 2:20, which plainly have nothing to do with a Jew/Gentile distinction, or passages like John 12:47-48 where Jesus makes it clear by His specific use of language that the “world” He came “to save” includes those who will ultimately reject His message and be condemned as a result, we see further that the Jew/Gentile distinction is not what is always specifically in view in the many universal passages. So your argument is very strained and artificial in my opinion, and I am confident that nobody would ever draw such conclusions if they were not already committed to a theological system that seems to logically demand limitations to passages that have no such limitations in view.

    For me, the existence of so many scholarly 4 point Calvinists further highlights just how strained and artificial such limitations to the universals texts actually are. Despite the fact that it creates inconsistencies in their theological system, these Calvinists recognize that the Biblical evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of unlimited atonement and God’s desire for all to be saved, that they refuse to try to re-interpret these passages in contrived and artificial ways in order to preserve the consistency of their system. Kudos to them.

  7. It remains for you to demonstrate the Paul – with equal explicitness – was also of the opinion that God wanted to save each and every person.

    Actually, since the language is universal, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that “all”, “all men”, “every man”, world” and “whole world” in the universal passages means “only some.” Good luck with that.

  8. “Actually, since the language is universal, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that “all”, “all men”, “every man”, world” and “whole world” in the universal passages means “only some.””

    Context rules. Sometimes a passage will refer to each and every person; sometimes not. Everyone knows that.

    Can you make your case for Paul’s letters? I’m guessing that you have never looked at Paul closely on this point.

  9. Rhutchin,

    You are spinning your wheels. The language is universal, so the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of someone who looks at the deliberate universal language and says, “that actually means ‘only some’ people.” You haven’t even begun to shoulder that burden.

    You say context rules, but you can’t demonstrate from the context of any of the universal texts that a limitation is implied that would somehow turn “all”, “all men” “every man”, “[not]anyone”, “world” or “whole world” into “only some.” That’s why Calvinists typically go running to other passages where they think a limitation might be implied to try to undercut the universal passages.

    You keep referring to Paul and the Jew/Gentile distinction, but continue to miss the point that such a distinction being in view does nothing at all to limit the universal texts (esp. since not all them are written by Paul and many of them clearly do not have the Jew/Gentile distinction in view as I mentioned above). You can keep repeating “Jews and Gentiles” for as long as you like, but that will not turn “all” into “only some”, no matter how badly you might want that to be the case. Thanks for the discussion. God bless.

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