Scriptures: Matthew 23:37; 1 Timothy 2:4; & 2 Peter 3:9

Introduction:

There are many today who strongly disagree with Calvinism, also identified as the Doctrines of Grace and even more commonly known by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. In most cases, those who oppose Calvinism simply do not have an accurate understanding of what it entails. However, others vehemently reject it and deem it unbiblical; some go so far as to label it a “doctrine of demons” or outright “heresy.” In reality it is the most efficient, thorough, biblically based, systematic theology ever developed. It is unrelentingly Scriptural all throughout.

At the core of the issue is the unwavering dedication Calvinist’s have to the absolute sovereignty of God. Directly connected to God’s sovereignty is the issue of predestination, or election, and it is here where the line in the sand is often drawn.

There are three proof texts these objectors repeatedly turn to: [Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9]. They tell us to take these verses in their plain meaning, but that “plain” meaning is actually whatever their bias determines that meaning to be. If one truly believes the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and our ultimate source of authority for all things with which it addresses, then both sides need to properly exegete these passages.

In his book, The Potter’s Freedom, Dr. James White identifies these three favored Arminian (or anti-Calvinist) passages as “The Big Three.” I refer to these same passages as the “Arminian’s ‘Trinity’ of Proof Texts.”

The Arminian “Trinity” of Proof Texts:

One: Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (ESV)

They use this text in an attempt to show that one is able to resist God and His desire to save. They believe one is able to prevent this from happening through the exercise of their free will. But, is that what this passage is saying? Is that what is being portrayed by this imagery of of a hen and her chicks? Well the answer is both yes and no.

Let me start by saying sinful, fallen, corrupt people can and do resist God. In fact, they resist Him at almost every turn. Only a complete misunderstanding or misrepresentation of TULIP’s “I” (Irresistible Grace) could cause one to believe that those who adhere to Calvinism don’t believe in the ability of man to resist God. Not only does sinful man have the ability to resist God, their natural inclination is to resist God. Irresistible Grace, also known as Effectual Calling, refers to God’s absolute and complete sovereign work in the regeneration of His elect, His chosen.

Context:

This is going to sound elementary, but whenever one wants to know what the Scripture is teaching, especially a specific passage or text, it needs to be interpreted in its proper context. If you were to ask my former bible college students what is the single most important thing that I emphasized to them in regards to hermeneutics and exegesis I am almost positive they would unanimously answer, “context, context, context.” I probably echoed that phrase so often that they got sick of hearing it. However, that’s how important it is, and that is one thing Arminians repeatedly fail to do.

Well, following is the context we find this verse in:

Matthew 23:1, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, (3) so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice…(13) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in…(16) “Woe to you, blind guides…(23) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…(25) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…(27) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…(29) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…(33) “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced o hell? (34) Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, (35) so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (36) Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!(ESV)”

The verse we are discussing is found directly in the context of a severe rebuke of the religious leaders of the time, the religious leaders of the Jewish people to be specific. Pay particular attention to the pronoun “you” in verses 33-35. These verses are describing the killers of the prophets. Who is it that this “you” is referring to? We see the killers of the prophets (Jerusalem) being deeply grieved over “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city…your…you…”. To attribute the “you” here to anyone other than the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was rebuking is a monumental mistake, a grievous error of interpretation.

From here let’s take a closer look at who it was that was resisting and who it was that was to be gathered. When we look at the passage it is clear. It was the religious leaders that were resisting Him in His “gathering” or “drawing” of their children.

So, to close out this section let’s do a quick review. What we have here is a verse where the religious leaders of the Jews are being lamented, directly after what was probably the most severe rebuking ever given to anyone by Jesus, over their resistance to God’s drawing of the children of Israel.

This verse, or even the entire chapter, in no way contradicts any aspect of Calvinism. Reformed theology and Matthew 23:37 are not at odds with each other in any way, shape or form.

Two: 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (ESV).

In this passage I must admit at first glance it appears to support those who oppose Calvinism. The “plain meaning,” if you will, does look like it gives credence to our opponents. So, it’s only fair to say in this case the burden of proof lies with us Calvinists. I can handle and accept that, so here we go.

The traditional reformed interpretation of this particular verse is that the “all people” being referred to is “all kinds of people” which means all kinds of people despite their gender, race, social class, and the like. The reason for supporting it in this manner is twofold: 1) Paul has a habit, or pattern, of using the term in this fashion and he is the author of this epistle; 2) to interpret it differently forces one to believe that Jesus tries to save but can fail.

For exegetical purposes let’s go through Paul’s pattern mentioned above:

Titus 2:2 – “Older men are to be sober-minded… (3) Older women likewise are to be… (4) and so train the young women to… (6) Likewise, urge the younger men to be… (9) Slaves are to be… (11) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,… [3:1] Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities…”.

This passage clearly shows Paul using all people as all kinds of people. It is really not unusual to find this kind of language in a culture that is so divided by race, gender, social class, etc. Let’s move on to some more examples from Paul in to show this is a pattern of his.

Acts 22:15, “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard” (NASB).

In this example we have Dr. Luke recording Paul’s version of the charge Ananias placed before him. Is it most plausible for “all men” here to be referring to every single person in the entire world? Or, does it make much more sense for the meaning here to be men from every tribe and nation? Let’s move forward as there are other places as well where Paul uses this type of terminology for categories of people with the simple use of “all.”

Colossians 3:11, “Here there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (ESV).

Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (ESV).

In Acts 21:28 do we see Paul being accused of preaching to every single person everywhere as the non-Calvinist use of “all” would imply? Here’s the verse: “crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place” (NASB).

Context:

 o, back to the number two text of the Arminian “trinity” of proof texts being discussed. Is there any reason for us to think Paul is indeed talking about kinds and categories of people as opposed to “all meaning all and that’s all all means?” Yes, there is. Again, context is key:

1 Timothy 2:1-4, “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 come to the knowledge of the truth” (ESV).

The question that needs to be asked is this, “Is Paul urging Timothy to pray for every single person in the world?” Pay attention to what Paul says, “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Christians who are being persecuted and condemned are being urged here to include the very people persecuting them (kings and high officials) in their prayers. Paul is including a specific category of people instead of excluding them.

Even more troubling is the second item pointed out in our twofold reasons stated above: Jesus tries to save but fails to do so. As is pointed out by Dr. James White in his book, The Potter’s Freedom, “In its simplest terms the Reformed belief is this: Christ’s death saves sinners. It does not make the salvation of sinners a mere possibility. It does not provide a theoretical atonement. It requires no additions, whether they be the meritorious works of me or the autonomous act of faith flowing from a ‘free will.’ Christ’s death saves every single person that it was intended to save” (p.230).

Now would be a great time to add John 6:37-40 to the equation:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (ESV).

I submit in light of this passage, there is no other conclusion that can intelligibly be reached. This passage leaves absolutely no room for failure in the salvation of those souls procured by God.

So, to sum up the information regarding this second “proof text,” what we actually find in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is an encouragement from Paul to Timothy instructing him to include the kings and high officials in his prayers.

Three: 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” (ESV).

This verse could accurately be described as the most popular, and probably most tortured, of the “trinity” of passages under discussion. But at the same time, it’s the easiest one to refute. Let’s start with a few questions: What is Peter talking about? What promise? Who is Peter speaking to? Who is the “you?”

Context:

We are going to need more of the surrounding content than our earlier texts, so here we have 2 Peter 3:1-13:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, (2) that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, (3) knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (4) They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (5) For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, (6) and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (7) But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (8) But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (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. (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (11) Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, (12) waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (13) But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (ESV).

What exactly is the topic that Peter is addressing here? What is he writing about? He is writing about the promise of the return of Jesus. He’s writing about Christ’s second coming and the judgment that accompanies it. Reading the verse in context makes it clear that Peter included the verse with the intention of explaining the appearance of “slowness” in regards to our Lord’s return. With that in mind we see some questions surface. In regards to “not wishing that any should perish, but hat all should reach repentance” we need to ask “ANY of whom?” as well as “ALL of whom?”

Verse 9 used as a proof text against Calvinism can only be done apart from its context. Those who do so eisegete by assumption that the verse is referring to the promise of salvation and that the “any” and “all” refer to everyone, to every single person. They attempt to use it to show that there is no way God could have a predestined, or elect, group of chosen people, but instead, desires (but inevitably fails) to save every single person.

When put in its correct context though, we see that isn’t even the issue that Paul was talking about. Not only are these texts NOT talking about individual salvation, or election or predestination for that matter, they are talking about a specific set of people. Again, “any” and “all” of whom? Well, one need not search far for the answer. We see see that the “scoffers” are mentioned in the midst of this context, but Peter makes no effort, no indication, to include them in his statement: “…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The “you” here then is clear. The “you” in this context is the audience to whom the letter was written and is defined in the greeting, or salutation if you will: “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”

2 Peter 1:1-3, “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2) May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (3) His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” (ESV).

So, in summary (see, I told you this one was easiest), in 2 Peter 3 Peter is talking about the seeming, or perceived, slowness of Jesus in keeping his promise to return. In verse 9 Peter is dealing with the patience of God and how the calling of the elect to repentance needs to be completed before the return of Christ. It has absolutely nothing to do with the breadth, or reach, of the atonement, but instead, the timing of Christ’s return.

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Filed under: Apologetics

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