“All” and 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Here is the text:

 1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ESV

Arminians will yank this passage out of its context in order to say, “See God desires that all be saved, therefore Jesus’ atonement cannot be limited.” Arminians never seem to acknowledge that Reformed folk might possibly have considered this possibility, and read the passage.

Verse 4 is part of a longer sentence that begins in verse 3. Well, verse 3, in turn begins with “This.” To what does that “this” refer? Well, it refers to the prayers made for all people in verse 1. So we see that the “all” in verse 4, must be the “all” in verse 1. To whom does the “all” in verse 1 refer? Well, it has primary reference to the kings and all who are in high places in verse 2. Paul’s concern here, then, is that God does not restrict salvation to only one social class. Rulers can be saved just as common people can be saved. It is easy, when one is in a particular social class, to look down on all other social classes. This can happen whether one is high up on the social ladder, or lower down. This interpretation is confirmed by verse 5, which goes on to note that there is only one Mediator. Someone lower down does not need someone socially higher up in order to be a Christian. He does not need a fallible human mediator, but a divine-human infallible Mediator.

The other aspect of this passage has to do with the will of God. Traditional Reformed theology has always distinguished between the written revealed will of God in the Bible, which can be disobeyed, and the decretal will of God, which cannot be thwarted. If God desired all to be saved in the decretal sense, then all would be saved. But it is quite possible that we are talking about the revealed will of God, where God does indeed call on all to repent and turn from their ways. God does not take delight in the death of the wicked, though it does serve a noble and laudable purpose in God’s will.


  1. Gomarus said,

    November 22, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    I agree with your evaluation of 1 Tim. 2:1-4. I’d like to see waht you think of John Piper’s article, Are there two Wills in God? which can be found online here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

    He admits to a genuine will/desire in God for “all” to be saved, etc. — an understanding which he allows not only in 1 Tim 2 but as derived from other passages. He makes some good points, but I’m not sure where I come out after reading it.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    There are some good things in that article. I was wondering where Deuteronomy 29:29 fit into his picture. It also occurred to me that the distinction between revealed and decretal wills in God corresponds to the law/Gospel distinction in Luther’s theology. What do you think?

  3. November 22, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Lane, can you briefly expound what you mean by the corresponding relationship you menation?

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Sure, David. The revealed will corresponds in some ways to the law, while the decretal will corresponds in some ways to the Gospel. The law was given as God’s will for what people ought to do. At the same time, God knew that we could not obey the law because of our sin. God’s revealed will, therefore, was for people to obey the law, even while the decretal will of God could not have willed that, or it would have been done. However, in the Gospel, Jesus Christ obeyed the law, according to the decretal will of God. Then it is that we can have the obedience of Christ credited to us by the decretal will of God. How’s that?

  5. November 22, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    It seems the Gospel is part of the revealed will of God as well. God reveals the good news of Jesus Christ through His Word. And I’m not sure the Law is totally immune from the decreative will of God. Though God did decree fallen humanity would not keep the Law, He did decree that Christ would. And is not the fact that the obedience of Christ is imputed to us part of God’s revealed will as well. For example does not Paul teach this in Romans? I’m sure I’m missing something simply here, so I appreciate your forebearance.

  6. Gomarus said,

    November 22, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    Regarding what God desires, or what pleases him, I am reminded of two passages:
    Psalm 115:3- But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
    Psalm 135:6 – Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

    Here we are told that God not only does whatever he pleases, but whatever pleases him he does. I am equating the idea of God’s desire with “what pleases him.”

    I have trouble with the idea that God wills and accomplishes something contrary to any desire in him. I agree with the distinction between a preceptive will and a decretive will, as Lane is making. But some are suggesting a distinction between what God desires and what he decrees (or accomplishes). Piper suggests that God “desires” all to be saved, but sets that aside for the sake of a greater desire (or greater good). In any event, it seems to me you are left with a God who is eternally frustrated, having desired something which he did no bring to pass.

    Maybe I’m off base here, but I felt free to throw it out for comment. :-)

  7. November 22, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Historical reformed thought recognizes the “will” of God being manifested in three distinct ways in the Bible.

    1. God’s decreative will – I think we all know what this means. Considering God’s Law, does God decree we will keep His Law? No. If He did, no one would ever break it. This aspect of God’s will cannot be disobeyed.

    2. God’s preceptive will – This is the Law. These are those precepts He has given us. God wills we remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. This aspect of His will can be disobeyed and the Law is disobeyed all the time.

    3. God’s will of disposition – What is God disposed towards? His desire is that none should perish. He takes no delight in the deathof the wicked. So we say His disposition is towards righteousness, goodness, mercy, truth, etc. And likewise this aspect of His will seems frustrated as well.

    It is a mystery to know how these aspect of His will, which at times seem at odds with one another, are actually in perfect harmony one with the other. Yet we know God is a God of order, not confusion.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Well, David, I don’t think you’re missing anything. The analogy does break down if pressed too far. I really only meant to point out that there was an analogy. I would like to know how you distinguish the decretive will from the will of disposition. How is that any different from God’s character?

  9. Seth McBee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t want you think I am a “look at me” junky, but I wrote a blog on what gomarus wrote on God desiring “all” to be saved. 2 Peter 3:9…take a look if you wish…I enjoyed the study immensely as I wasn’t totally convinced of my own argument before I studied it out.


    Great article though Lane, I love talking about these tough passages

  10. November 22, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    God’s decretive will sets forth those things which must needs come to pass. These things God ordains will happen, therefore leaving no other possible contingency regarding them. In this sense God decrees/ordains sin.

    Now if we look to the God’s “will of disposition” we are talking about those things which please God or that show forth those things He is predisposed towards. For example, the Scriptures teach He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. We know the angels rejoice over the converision of a sinner. Yet we know He decrees condemnation. So that even though God is not disposed towards or takes pleasure in the death of the wicked, He still ordains it. This suggests He has ordained something He takes no pleasure in or is not disposed towards. This is why I mentioned there is a mystery to it that is hidden in the veil of His decretive will, which will He has left hidden from our eyes.

  11. Seth McBee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Sounds as though you would back double predestination instead reprobation, am I correct? God never ordains sin, that is what our human will desires to do, it is called the flesh. Does God work out His plans regardless of our sin? Yes…Genesis 50:20 and Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2 on the crucifixion of Christ. If God ordained sin we would not be liable for our sin but Jeremiah 25 plainly shows this that the Babylonians were to be held accountable for their sin even though the plans were God’s. Is this difficult, of course and as Lane pointed out, Deut 29:29 is where we must lean. Ordaining sin and ordaining plans have to be different. For who can thwart the plans of God?

  12. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    We tread muddy waters here. However, God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, yet such that He is not the author of evil. Evil is not outside His control. He ordained that sin should happen. We need to be careful, because if we say that God’s ordaining does not include the realm of evil, then ultimately, evil itself can thwart God. And yet, God is not the author of evil, either ultimately, or in any person’s heart and mind. These two paradoxical statements must be held together.

  13. November 22, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Seth, WCF 3:1 begins saying “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass”

    God does in fact ordain sin. Yet the Westminster divines were careful to note this doesn’t not make God the author of sin. The doctrine of of sovreignty of God teaches nothing takes place apart from His decree. Yet this in no way abrogates the responsibility of man or as the divines put it “offers no violence to the will (of man)”. I do not teach double predestination as it is understood in a “positive/postive” construct.

    As for our responsibility for our sin, Peter preached in Acts 2 Jesus was betrayed and handed over by the foreordination of God. This in no way excused Judas, the Pharisses, Pilate, and the others who desired to see Christ killed.

  14. Seth McBee said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Lane and David.
    I was overlooking the issue of author vs ordaining…apologies.

    Thanks for clearing up your position on that David.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    November 22, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    I figured that was what you really meant, seeing that you are Reformed. :-) No need to apologize, though.

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