Whole Counsel Theology

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A few comments on 2 Peter 3:9, An addendum to Part Two

After I completed my post, I noticed that I hadn't dealt with 2 Peter 3:9, which was a verse that the AG cited in their position paper in that section. It got past, because they cited the reference in their introduction, but didn't mention it in their elaboration on that point. Sneaky. (grin)

I also want to make it clear that my purpose for this series of posts is not to slam the Assemblies of God. I firmly believe they have taken an unscriptural position, but that doesn't mean I want in any way to gloat over them. There once was a time when I denied the beautiful doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints and the rest of Reformed Theology, but God saw fit to bring me to a deeper understanding of His grace, and that salvation, through and through, is of the LORD and not of us. My prayer is that all who read these blogs, and even the Assemblies of God, would come to understand that and to give God the glory.

Without further delay then, here it is, the verse in its entirety:

2Peter 3:9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

OK, there is the verse! Now, this verse is often used by Arminian-leaning people to state that God desires the salvation of every person ever born, and has planned for no one to perish. After all, God is patient; He is hoping that all will eventually come to Him, so the reasoning goes.

I am not here to tell you that God in some sense doesn't love every person in the world (though I would argue that He doesn't love them all in the same way, or everyone indeed would be saved; we'll talk about 1 Timothy 2:1-7 at some point probably; for a WONDERFUL discussion of most of this, see this link), but I *am* saying that this passage doesn't support that. The number one rule of interpretation is context, and the context insists that we give this passage the meaning that Peter is talking about the Elect of God, and NOT every single individual in the entire world.

How can we be sure of that? Part of the reason is that "all" doesn't mean "all" the way most people think it does. Think about it -- how often when we use the words "all" "everywhere" "never" "always" or other universal terms, do we actually mean what we are literally saying? People use those words all the time to explain what they mean -- see? Do people REALLY use those words "all the time" or do they do it frequently? If someone were to use those words "all the time" then they would be doing nothing else! -- WAIT -- YES they would! They would be breathing, looking around, probably hearing something (their own voice if nothing else), perhaps thinking about various topics, having blood circulate throughout their bodies, etc.

You see, many, MANY times, when people use universal terms, they really are not intending them to be taken in a universal sense. The Scripture is no different, and here is a clear example:

John 12:19 Then the Pharisees said to one another, "You see? You've accomplished nothing. Look--the world has gone after Him!"

Ah, there is a universal term! We see here the term "world." Now, does it mean that every single person in the world had gone after Jesus? Of course not, because, if no one else, those Pharisees weren't going after Him! They were merely observing that Jesus had a large following at that particular time. There are other examples, such as in Luke 2 (I'll be using the ESV for this ONE verse):

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Ah, "all the world." Does this mean that every single person everywhere was going to be registered? Such a decree never went out in that case, and we'd have to declare the Scripture in error. Of course, Luke is not saying that all parts of the world received this decree. He is saying the whole ROMAN world received the decree, and is using a universal term to convey that meaning.

So then, we need to ask ourselves how Peter using the terms in this passage. Is he talking about every individual unconditionally, or is he referring to "all" of a particular sort of people? When we look at the passage, it appears very much that the latter case is true.

First, let's look at what Peter is trying to do to encourage them. "The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay.." What promise is Peter referring to? Verse four tells us:

2 Peter 3:4 saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation."

It would appear that the promise Peter is writing about then (in fact, it's very obvious) is Jesus's coming. This also wouldn't be His first coming, as that has already happened; this is the second coming of Jesus, when He would return in glory. So, it would appear very much so, that Peter is writing this to encourage believers. Furthermore, let's consider verse 1 of chapter three:

2 Peter 3:1 Dear friends, this is now the second letter I've written you; in both, I awaken your pure understanding with a reminder,

OK, this is his second letter. Do we have his first letter? We do! Peter introduces his second letter to believers, and he does the same with the first one. However, the first letter is even more important in ascertaining Peter's audience.

1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To the temporary residents of the Dispersion in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen
1 Peter 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for the sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

I went ahead and emphasized the word "chosen." The word is often translated, as in the ESV, elect. The word in the Greek is eklektos which means "picked out, chosen by God (to obtain salvation in Christ)" (Thayer, Strong). So then, Peter's audience is the same in both letters; He is writing to the Elect of God, those chosen to receive salvation!

With that in mind, let's go back to 2 Peter 3:9 and discuss a different word and how the "all" should be taken, along with another universal term, "any" --

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

With whom is the Lord being patient? He is being patient with "you." Who is the "you?" We established before that Peter's audience is "those chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Foreknowledge was discussed in part two. :) Peter's audience is the elect, those chosen by God for salvation. So then, given Peter's audience, we can deduce through exegesis that the "you" in this passage is referring to God's elect. Context indicates that we need to interpret it this way.

That being the case, the "you" being the elect, who then is Peter saying that God is not wanting to perish? If He is "patient with you, not wanting any to perish," context indicates that the "any" would be referring back to the you. In other words, Peter is in effect saying "not wanting any of [you] to perish." In addition to that, the thought follows that Peter would be qualifying the word "all" in the same way. He is using universal terms, but isn't really meaning the universal statement by them, as I discussed above. So then, the verse means this:

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you [the elect], not wanting any [of you, the elect] to perish, but all [of you, the elect] to come to repentance.

Given the context and exegesis of the passage, this is the correct meaning, and is also why the AG cannot use it to support their first summary statement, that is, that salvation is available for every man. When we share the Gospel we do so indiscriminately, because we do not know who the elect are; God doesn't tell us who they are anyway. We present salvation to every person without distinction, but ultimately, only the elect will be saved. It is available for everyone who will believe, but only the elect will believe, and they are the ones Jesus is delaying His return to save: those chosen before the foundation of the world, according to Ephesians 1 as discussed in part two.

******* UPDATE 6/11/2006 *****************
Dr. James white has written an excellent article that references 2 Peter 3:9 and the context very well, highlighting some things that I didn't address in this post. You can find the article HERE, and I strongly recommend its reading.

To God Alone be the Glory

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  • David,

    I loved this one. The passage makes a lot of sense to me now.

    Though the AG is Arminian, I received news that there is a growing number of Pentecostals turned 5-pointers here in my country, the Philippines.

    By Anonymous Albert, at Friday, October 19, 2007 10:57:00 AM  

  • Albert:

    Thanks be to God that it was helpful to you! Good to know that there is a Reformed movement in the AG church too. May God always continue to Reform us all!


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Sunday, October 21, 2007 3:02:00 PM  

  • Thanks, David. I am not really sure if there is a Reformed movement within the AG. I think those who embrace the doctrines of grace eventually leave their church and join a Reformed one. I was referring to Victory Christian Fellowhsip (http://www.victory.org.ph/). :)

    By Anonymous Albert, at Saturday, October 27, 2007 8:52:00 AM  

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