Fr. James Guirguis over at Out of Egypt has recently posted a discussion of 1 Timothy 2:4, which was part of his homily from this past Sunday. The reading was 1 Timothy 2:1-7, and the relevant portion of Fr. Guirguis’ post is reproduced here:
Today we are focusing on the Pauline epistle to St. Timothy. In this passage from St. Paul’s letter we heard these words “God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I love this verse. It reminds me that above all God is love. It is His very desire to see all men saved! It is His desire that each and every man, woman and child should know the truth about God’s love as He demonstrated it through His Son Jesus Christ. I am sorry to say that not all people believe that God desires that all should be saved. There are even some “Christian” groups who claim that God chooses who He wants to save from before the foundation of the world. This is a belief called predestination, specifically double predestination. Among those who believe this are the Presbyterians.
Needless to say, this sermon intrigued me, not least because I’ve been preaching through the 1st Epistle to Timothy myself for the last couple of months, and because of his handling of 1 Timothy 2:4, a verse that makes a regular appearance in debates between those of us who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and those who disagree with us at this juncture.
Allow me to provide you with the verse in its immediate context:
Παρακαλῶ οὖν πρῶτον πάντων ποιεῖσθαι δεήσεις προσευχὰς ἐντεύξεις εὐχαριστίας ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων,ὑπὲρ βασιλέων καὶ πάντων τῶν ἐν ὑπεροχῇ ὄντων, ἵνα ἤρεμον καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάγωμεν ἐν πάσῃ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνότητι. τοῦτο καλὸν καὶ ἀπόδεκτον ἐνώπιον τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ, ὃς πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι καὶ εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν.
Εἷς γὰρ θεός,
εἷς καὶ μεσίτης θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων,
ἄνθρωπος Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς,
ὁ δοὺς ἑαυτὸν ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων,
τὸ μαρτύριον καιροῖς ἰδίοις.
εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγὼ κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος, ἀλήθειαν λέγω οὐ ψεύδομαι, διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.
“First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all men, for the sake of kings and of all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and acceptable before God our Savior, since he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the appropriate time. For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (my translation)
The key to understanding this passage is its context. The first appearance of the phrase “all men” comes at the end of v. 1, and the meaning isn’t ambiguous. Paul isn’t instructing Timothy to conduct an unending prayer meeting in which the Ephesian phone book is opened and every individual listed becomes the object of prayer. In fact, the very next verse continues the thought begun in v. 1, and further explains what Paul is driving at. This can be seen clearly in the Greek text which opens with the preposition ὑπὲρ (“for the sake of,” or “on behalf of.”) and then continues with an epexegetical genitive (or genitive of definition). So we might translate the text to read, “First of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions be offered on behalf of all men, namely, on behalf of kings and all who are in authority.”
As Fr. Guirguis well knows, the early Christians were a hotly persecuted people, an this persecution ordinarily came from those with the authority to enforce it. It is, therefore, easy to understand why there is an apostolic command to pray for the very ones who were using their God-given power to persecute the Christian church.
But the question remains, “Who are kings and all who are in authority?” The answer is that they are classes, or kinds, of men. This is a normal Pauline usage of the phrase “all men.” An example is Titus 2, where Paul speakes of the grace of God which brings salvation appearing to “all men” (Titus 2:11). Paul clearly mens all kinds of men, since in the preceding verses Paul has addressed such groups as older men (v. 2), older women (v. 3), younger women (v. 4), younger men (v. 6), slaves (vv. 9-10), and just as in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, rulers and authorities are also mentioned (Titus 3:1). It is completely consistent with the immediate context of Paul’s writings, as well as the body of the Pauline corpus, to recognize that Paul often speaks of “all men” in a generic fashion, and then further explains that he is speaking of specific classes of individuals.
Returning to 1 Timothy 2, Paul goes on to state that such prayers for all types of men are good and acceptable “before God our Savior, since he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” If we are consistent with the preceding context we will see the phrase “all men” in v. 4 in the same manner as “all men” in hte preceding verses: all kinds of men, whether rulers or kings.
I find it interesting that like almost every opponent of Calvinism who deals with this text, Fr. Guirguis isolates this verse from the two verses immediately following. If we allow this two verses to speak, they raise weighty questions that should be asked of our non-Reformed friends. V. 5 begins with the word “for” (the underlying particle in Greek, γὰρ, is post-positive), indicating that the connection between vv. 3-4 and vv. 5-6 is explanatory. Why should Christians pray that all men, including rulers and all of those in authority, should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? Because there is only one way of salvation, and without a knowledge of that truth, no man can be saved. Paul says, “there is one God and one intermediary between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” This immediately takes us into the meat of the discussion regarding the extent of the atonement, but I only intend to raise a few points.
First, if one takes “all men” in v. 4 to mean “all men individually,” then doesn’t it follow that Christ of necessity must be mediator for all men as well? If one says, “Yes, Christ mediates for every single human being,” does it not follow that Christ then fails as mediator every single time that a person negates His work by their all-powerful act of free will? I certainly hope that a pastor with the experience that Fr. Guirguis clearly has couldn’t ever promote such an idea, especially given the relationship between the atonement, mediation and intercession of Christ in the book of Hebrews knows quite well that to make such an assertion is to utterly destroy the argument of Hebrews 7-10.
My second point is related to the first: the ransom that Christ gives in His self-sacrifice is either a saving ransom or a non-saving one. Those are the only choices. If it is actual and really made on behalf of all men, then inevitably all men would be saved. But we should see that it is far more consistent to recognize that the same meaning for “all men” and “all” flows through the entire passage, and when we examine the clear statements of Scripture regarding the actual intention and result of Christ’s work on the cross, there is no other consistent way of interpreting these words in 1 Timothy.