Whole Counsel Theology

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sermon Review Part the Fifth: 2 Peter 3:9

This is the fifth post in a series I'm doing in review of a sermon my former pastor preached. You can find the original post here, which contains a link to the audio file at a free file server.

In the course of the message, this was another one of the texts he cited to try to demonstrate General Redemption; that is, that Jesus died for the sins of every single person in the world. However, there are a lot of problems with taking this verse that way. First of all, I'd like to quote it here (emphasis mine):
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Most often, that little word that I bolded is ignored. In order to determine who Peter is talking about, to whom the words "any" and "all" refer, we MUST understand who the "you" is. It seems that the majority understanding is among those of a more Arminian slant on the Atonement (if they even address it), and they take it to mean every single person, ever. However, this is certainly a stretch.

I'm not going to go into it too much here, since I've already written about it briefly before. Others also have done excellent work on this verse as well, which includes this article by Alan Kurshner from which comes this quote:
The Arminian who quotes this verse either does not want you to hear the phrase before it, “He is patient with you,” or they are so entrenched in their tradition that they are not aware of what the verse says in its entirety. The context demonstrates that the word “anyone” and “everyone” is limited to the “you.” Who are the “you”? Peter is writing to Christians, the “beloved,” the “elect.” Peter’s point is to contrast unbelievers who will receive judgment, with the elect who will be brought to repentance during the course of time preceding, and up to, the Lord’s Coming, hence, the delay. It is an exegetical leap to say that this text teaches a universal desire on God’s part to save every single individual. This notion does not square with the context that Peter is dealing with as noted; but this context is frequently ignored and this notion of “universalism” is assumed by the Arminian.

....and another excellent post is this one by Dr. James White, from which comes this quote:
Since this is so, it becomes quite clear that the Arminian is badly misusing this passage by ignoring what Peter is really saying. The patience of the Lord is displayed toward His elect people (the "you" of verse 9). Therefore, the "not wishing any to perish" is logically and contextually limited to the same group already in view: the elect. In the same way, the "all to come to repentance" must be the very same group. In essence Peter is saying the coming of the Lord has been delayed so that all the elect of God can be gathered in. Any modern Christian lives and knows Christ solely because God’s purpose has been to gather in His elect down through the ages to this present day. There is no reason to expand the context of the passage into a universal proclamation of a desire on God’s part that every single person come to repentance. Instead, it is clearly His plan and His will that all the elect come to repentance, and they most assuredly will do so.
Further, it should be noted that if one suggests that there is no referential connection between "you" and "any/all," the text is left making no sense. Consider it. The phrase "but is patient toward you" is left hanging in mid-air, disconnected and undefined. Obviously, what follows is modifying and explaining how this patience is expressed. And if this is the case, then how can God's patience toward "you" (in the context, the elect) be exemplified by simply stating some kind of universal salvific will? How is God's patience to the elect demonstrated by stating God wishes every person, elect or non-elect, to come to repentance? An Arminian might say that since election is based upon foreknowledge God's patience gives men with free-will a chance to repent, but the Arminian is not making the non-referential argument to begin with. We will see this is the argument of certain modified Calvinists.

With that said, this text cannot be interpreted to mean that God doesn't have an elect people, or to be taken to affirm a general atonement. The context simply doesn't allow for it, and the context must always be given primary consideration.

For the Glory of Jesus!
David Hewitt

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  • Notice that in that brief quote by James White, the term "elect" is used at least 8 times. Why is that important? Because the term can cause ambiguity and/or equivocation in arguments. See this post:

    Ambiguity and the Elect Term

    If the "you" (or "us" as some texts have it) references those being written to, then they are believers. They are the elect who have believed. If the "any" and the "us" are referencing the same class of people being spoken to, then apparently they are in danger of perishing and need to savingly repent. But they are believers who already have. One has to commit an equivocation fallacy to use the high Calvinist letterhead argument on 2 Peter 3:9. That's why the term "elect" is so common in the argument. The distinction between the believing elect (those in real union) and the unbelieving elect (those merely in virtual union) gets blurred.

    Peter is writing to the believing elect, but he can still classify them as sinful humans. A preacher can include himself when he says to a given congregation: "We need to repent. We must believe in God and trust in the savior. He doesn't wish for us to perish." How can the preacher include himself by saying "we" and "us" when he and other believers present have already repented and believed? It's because he's considering himself and others in the sense of sinful humanity that stands in need of God's grace. A preacher can assure people in his local town, city of country that God does not wish any of them to perish because of the broad principle that he doesn't wish ANY of mankind to perish. That's what Peter is doing, I think. I think Calvin understood the passage quite well. He didn't associate 2 Peter 3:9 with the secret or decretal will, but with the revealed will of God in the gospel.

    See this article by a Reformed Baptist:
    Erroll Hulse on 2 Peter 3:9

    By the way, did you know that James White DENIES that God desires the salvation of the non-elect??? I thought you might want to know that David. He's even departed from High Calvinsts in holding that view, such as Tom Ascol, John Murray, Ned Stonehouse (2) and even the likes of Francis Turretin. That's no small presuppositional matter when it comes to the interpretation of this text! Given your theology and admission that there is a sense in which God desires the salvation of the non-elect, you could take a revealed will reading of this text and not really have a problem. White, on the other hand, has a vested theological interest to not admit even the possiblity of a revealed will reading that suggests that God desires the salvation of all. That position is ruled out a priorily from the start in his systematic presuppositons.

    This James Ussher qoute is so apropos:

    "Neither is there hope that the Arminians will be drawn to acknowledge the error of their position, as long as they are persuaded the contrary opinion cannot be maintained without admitting that an untruth must be believed, even by the commandment of him that is God of truth, and by the direction of that word, which is the word of truth." James Ussher

    By Blogger YnottonY, at Friday, November 03, 2006 6:26:00 AM  

  • By the way, I have NO IDEA how White would reconcile his denial that God desires the salvation of the non-elect with a well-meant gospel offer. As far as I know, he hasn't written or talked about that issue. If he denies the well-meant gospel offer, then he would be a hyper-Calvinist by objective historical standards. But, there's no information on this from him, as far as I know. Frankly, I don't think he wants to talk about it much.

    Claiming that one is not a hyper-Calvinist because they engage in evangelism is not satisfactory at all. Not all hypers were against evangelism, missions or preaching. They were just against indescriminate "offers" because that concept suggested a kind of conditionalism (which is true in the sense of an instrumental condition) in the gospel covenant, as well as some sense of ability to believe in the unregenerate (which is true in the sense of constitutional ability). Some just thought that God offered the gospel to the elect (we are to preach to all, but God only offers Christ to the elect). They were particularly against WELL-MEANT offers since they did not think that 1) God desires the salvation of all and 2) that Christ suffered sufficiently for all.

    Also, not all of them were against duty-faith. The hyper-Calvinistic Protestant Reformed Church (Hoeksema, Engelsma etc.) affirms duty-faith, but denies common grace and the well-meant gospel offer. That's just one example that proves my point. So, just because one engages in evangelism and affirms human responsibility, it doesn't follow that one is not hyper. Some hypers were against those things, but not all. Unfortunately, some Calvinistic theologians FREQUENTLY paint a caricatured picture of hyperism (as if one is only hyper if one is against evangelism).

    By Blogger YnottonY, at Friday, November 03, 2006 7:22:00 AM  

  • One other quick note. Notice that James White calls me (yes, he was talking about me personally there) and others "modified Calvinists." He says:

    "We will see this is the argument of certain modified Calvinists."

    That's funny. I am the one taking Calvin's viewpoint on 2 Peter 3:9, as well as on my view of Christ's death. If there is anyone "modifying" Calvinistic soteriology on these issues, it's James White.

    By Blogger YnottonY, at Friday, November 03, 2006 8:07:00 AM  

  • Tony, first of all, if you have something that you don't have worked out with Dr. White, then you need to address it to him. I can't speak for him, so if you want something answered, I suggest emailing him calmly or calling the Dividing Line after he gets back from the AOMIN cruise in a couple of weeks.

    Besides, the mentioning of "modified Calvinists" sounded a lot more like a reference to the claims of Norman Geisler (per his book Chosen But Free) than a reference to you. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised if I were correct.

    Further, (I guess I will speak to this a little), I know for a fact that, like myself, Dr. White does believe Common Grace to be a reality. As far as MY view on the "well-meant" offer is concerned, I have been confused a little, but here it is, and then on to the discussion of the term "elect:"

    When I share the Gospel with people, I truly mean it well. I desire their salvation, and my hope is that they'll receive it. If they do, then they were elect, and the fact that God's elect are out there gives me confidence that evangelism can and will be successful.

    Now, does GOD mean well when His Word goes out to the non-elect? I have to think that the answer to that is yes and no. Yes, per Romans 10:21 and the passages I cited in my previous post from Ezekiel, He does indeed want them to be saved. That is, He wants it in some sense, because of the desires of His loving nature and a few things besides.

    However, I would also have to say, in another sense, the answer to the "well meant" question is a NO. Yes, His loving nature would desire it (per Ezekiel 18) but His justice and righteous nature would be only be condemning them, with their rejection of the Gospel being more evidence against them, more wrath for them being stored up for the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). SO then, we see two senses at work here, two different aspects of the will of God. I don't know if they fit into the decretive/preceptive thing perfectly, but that might indeed be what we're talking about.

    In any case, if you want Dr. White's take on it, you'll have to ask him. I'd love for you to call into the Dividing Line myself; having corresponded with you like this, it would be nice to know what you sound like too. :D

    Anyway, on to the discussion of the verse. You are right in saying that Dr. White used the term "elect" several times in his comments on the passage. Why? Is the term ambiguous? He didn't seem to think so, and neither do I, despite reading one of your posts on the matter on your blog (forgive me, I've not read them all). The point of 2 Peter 3:9 is that Peter is addressing elect people, and He calls them "beloved" in verse eight.

    Of course, the people he is writing to in his letter are believers. You rightly point out that, since they have already come to Christ, there must be a wider sense of who the "you" is (or us) in verse 9 than simply believing elect people. The next question to be asked would be is there anything that would describe Peter's audience in the same way that he describes those for whom the return of Christ is delayed?

    The answer is yes, and there is no need to go the whole route and say that we're talking about every single person. Of course, that would be something that Peter's audience would with them, but it doesn't fit the description of "beloved" given in verse 8, nor does it qualify as a reason for the delay of the second coming. Peter's whole point is telling his readers this:

    "Don't worry that Christ hasn't returned yet. He loves you, and He isn't delaying, though some might think Him slow about it. He's patient with you and all those on whom He's set His love, and God doesn't want any of them to perish, but for all of them to come to repentance. If He were to return now, then the rest of His beloved wouldn't make it home."

    That's Peter's point. There are others out there that fit the same category as his audience -- the "you" refers to that particular characteristic of Peter's readers: they are "beloved" or "elect." There are many others who are like them, and they are the reason Christ is delaying His return.

    To make it say "every single person" is again eisegesis, and neglects to take into account the fact that it is for the sake of the "you" in some sense why Jesus isn't returning. If the "you" refers to every single person, then the rest of the verse doesn't make sense, no to mention that people who are not coming to Christ won't care about His return. No, since God is delaying the return of Christ for the sake of His beloved, and since Peter's readers are some of that group, the you is referring to just that -- others of the elect, some of whom Peter is writing to.

    That's the only consistent way to interpret it.

    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Saturday, November 04, 2006 7:38:00 PM  

  • Hi David,

    I've taken some time to think about whether or not I should continue to respond to your posts on 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Tim. 2. What prompted me to reflect on whether or not to respond were your comments like these:

    "That's the only consistent way to interpret it."

    "There is no doubt; 2 Peter 3:9 is referring to God's elect."

    A friend of mine recently sent an email that encouraged praying for those we differ with. I just typed this in the email response:

    "I have been speaking with David Hewitt on his blog and noticed a final comment by him on 2 Peter 3:9 that says "That's the only consistent way to interpret it." Given the different views among Calvinists throughout history, that's a pretty strong statement to make. So, I am convinced now that David's mind is closed on the matter. I have to ask myself, "What's the point of going on? Is it wise to continue after such a dogmatic comment?" In some situations, it may be wise to pursue it further. One may teach others who are reading by pointing out the weaknesses in the arguments being made. That's a legitimate motive to have. Or, one might think like this: "His argument is weak. I could post arguments that will pound him into submission to that fact." hahaha In other words, one might have a motive to "win," so to speak. But what's really won? I've noticed that my motives in talking to people online have been complex. There's a mixture of: 1) an effort to persuade the particular person I am talking to and 2) an effort to pursuade others who are reading the issues. Also, I am sure there are times when I want to 3) pound my opponent into the dust for daring to resist "the obvious facts." Now, even if I have the right viewpoint, the "wrath of man" (or my fleshly frustrations) still does not accomplish "the righteousness of God," as James talks about. It seems that the impure #3 motive can only be overcome by following what you suggest, i.e. praying for those we talk to in conjunction with following other spiritual disciplines. The #3 motive may not be altogether wrong in all contexts and situations, but when it's out of sync with the first two and not balanced by godliness (or other virtues), then it is wrong. The prophets and Apostles, at times, pound their opponents into the ground with logic on fire, so there is a place for that. However, when they did it as motivated by the Spirit, it was always accompanied with other virtues. That balance, I think, requires prayer."

    That's what I said in the email response. I have to be honest, David. I have not prayed for you, but I believe that my motive has been to persuade you to the truth so that you may see the scriptural teaching clearly with a view to blessing the church through your ministry. In this instance, I don't think my motive has been "to win" a debate on the point. Nor has my PRIMARY motive been for others to see how to argue with your perspective successfully. My interest has been to open your eyes to what I believe to be the truth. I suspect you have had the same motive in speaking to me, hopefully.

    However, I have to confess that I believe that you are not open to being persuaded, at this point. Your mind is FIRMLY made up. Your comments convey the strongest of dogmatism possible, despite what so many solid Calvinists have thought from the time of the early reformation to the present, including John Calvin himself. Even William Twisse (a high supralapsarian), in setting forth various interpretations on 2 Peter 3:9 in contrast to Arminianism, respects the revealed will interpretation as a legitimate possibility. This is not the case with David Hewitt. You have ruled it out as entirely impossible and inconsistent with the "context."

    So, what am I to do? Is it wise to continue to dialogue on the passage? I no longer think so. If I did continue, it would probably be perceived as "pushy" and just an effort to "win" on the point in the presence of an internet audience looking on. That hasn't been my motive, so I don't want it to start to be the case now. You're mind is settled and fixed, for the time being. All I feel I can do now is pray for you and encourage you to study other Calvinistic alternatives offered throughout church history. There is a strong case for a revealed will interpretation, such as Calvin's own take on the passage.

    I sincerely wish you well in your theological studies and in your ministry. We shall just have to agree to disagree for now :-)

    If there are others who are interested in investigating these matters further, then some links have been provided. There's no need to clutter David's blog with further advertisements to my own hahaha.

    I will keep you and your family in mind for prayer, David.

    Until we chat again,
    Tony :-)

    By Blogger YnottonY, at Saturday, November 11, 2006 5:14:00 AM  

  • Tony:

    I have to say, that was a very gracious response and I appreciated it greatly. I have no problem agreeing to disagree, and indeed, there have been other alternatives suggested by others throughout history on this passage. Indeed, I am strongly convinced (especially on this Peter passage) of its meaning, and yes, it is based on the context, including words right around it and the whole point it was written.

    I've skimmed through one of the arguments you linked to and heard those who disagree with me on it (including John Piper, whom I respect VERY much), but I am still compelled to hold fast to this interpretation -- that 2 Peter 3:9 is indeed referring to the elect, and that there are more of them/us to gather in is the very reason the return of Christ is delayed (as discussed in the context of the passage). For that reason and others (including the fact that words "some" and "any" in verse 9 are from the SAME root), I am compelled to hold on to the interpretation I hold to.

    Something else you have said has resonated with me a little. You mentioned that part of what I'm doing is trying to maintain a certain set of beliefs presumably over and against other viable interpretations. My presuppositions are slapping me around in that regard; this would seem to be your implication. Regardless of whether it is true or not, you made me think, and to take caution. Never, NEVER can we allow presuppositions to take the place of careful exegesis, and as I'm sure you'd agree, we are ALL vulnerable to it. It's an important and always timely reminder to be sure.

    Further, I wanted to thank you for your prayers. They are most certainly appreciated, especially as we are looking for a church right now.

    I have enjoyed our discussion, Tony, and look forward to visiting with you again sometime.


    By Blogger David B. Hewitt, at Saturday, November 11, 2006 9:02:00 AM  

  • Greetings

    I concur with David on his understanding of this verse. In a study of the Westminster Confession of Faith our minister used this text (along with many others)as proof text for i) the effectual call of God, ii) the certainly of salvation for the elect.

    The King James version read better: 9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

    Furthermore, when you read the chapter it deals with scoffers and their end, followed by the certain salvation of God's people.

    This text cannot be used to support the "well meant offer" in any shape or form. Our minister is against the rejection of the "well meant free offer" but plainly taught that this verse means that God is not willing that any of the elect shall perish period.

    The free offer of the Gospel is a different arguement, one which the "free offers" cannot use this text!

    By Blogger wsa, at Monday, January 28, 2008 2:01:00 PM  

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