Limited Atonement in 1 Timothy 2:4

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.

All Men/One God and One Mediator Between God and Man: Did Christ Die for All Men?

1 Timothy 2:4 is one of the more famous prooftexts for Arminianism, but does it really support the idea that God desires “each and every” man to come to salvation? Although a very quick reading of the passage might lead one to think that Paul is informing Timothy that God desires “[each and every man] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” upon closer inspection we see that the context in which verse 4 occurs militates against any such interpretation.

In chapter 1, Paul has already set forth the Law/Gospel distinction, Timothy’s call to preach the Gospel, and his own call to serve as an example of the Lord’s longsuffering toward His elect. He tells Timothy: “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Tim. 1:15-16).

Similarly, Paul’s main concern here, as it is in chapter 1, is the propagation of the Gospel message for those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Who are these who are going to believe? They, like Timothy, are children of God by faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2), not by adherence to traditional interpretations of the Law or by genealogical affiliation (see my previous post for more info). They are the elect; and they are from every imaginable classification of peoples. That is why Paul uses the term “all” in 1 Tim. 2:1-7. [And that is all that all means: “all types.”]

To interpret v. 4, therefore, to mean that God desires each and every man to be saved misses the point of Paul’s writing to Timothy to defend and preach the Gospel against what seems to be nationalistic and legalistic (i.e. Judaistic) opposition. Paul’s contrast between all men and One God and One Mediator between God and men, and Paul’s own ministry to the Gentiles only gives this further emphasis. Christ “gave Himself a ransom,” therefore, “for all [types of men], to be testified in due time, for which [Paul] was appointed  a preacher and apostle…a teacher of the Gentiles…” (2:6-7).

Our Lord’s commission to preach the Gospel to all the ends of the earth was taken very seriously by Paul, who, unlike us much of the time, was fully aware of the ramifications of such a calling. He knew that “in due time” the fact that Christ “gave Himself for all” would be made evident. The apostle John gives us a glimpse of this in Revelation 7:9-10, where he writes:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Did Christ, then, die for all? Yes, but this “all” refers to: (i.) all who would believe on Him, and (ii.) all nations, tribes, people and tongues – that is to say, all types of men. For men everywhere on earth, from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, there is only one God and one Mediator between God and men. Therefore, it is Timothy’s job, as it is ours, to preserve the Gospel’s truth, and to proclaim the Gospel to all men, for there is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved. It is only through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Do we see that our call to proclaim the Gospel is much bigger than ourselves? Do we, like Paul, recognize the magnitude of our calling to be salt and light, and to tell the world about the hope we have in Christ?

Just something to consider…

-h.

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