Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874) on 1 Timothy 2:1-6

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in 1 Timothy 2:4-6


Ver. I. I exhort then., first of all, that petitions, prayers, supplications, thanksgivings, be made for all men. The connection marked here by the ouv with what precedes cannot be designated very close, and our then may more fitly be taken to represent the illative particle than the therefore of the Authorized Version. But it is absurd to deny, with some German critics (Schleiermacher, De Wette), that there is any logical connection whatever. The apostle had immediately before been charging Timothy and others situated like him to take heed to fulfill with all good fidelity the gospel charge, so that they might be able to war a good warfare, and escape the dangers amid which others had made shipwreck. What could be more natural, after this, than to exhort to the presentation of constant prayers in behalf generally of men, and especially of kings and rulers, that by the proper exercise of their authority these might restrain the evils of the time, and make it possible for God-fearing men to lead quiet and peaceable lives? The multiplication of terms for this intercessory function is somewhat remarkable: petitions (deeseis) the simple expression of want or need), prayers (proseuchas), supplications (enteuzeis, the same as the preceding, with the subordinate idea of closer dealing, entreaties, or earnest pleadings). The distinction between them cannot be very sharply drawn; for in several passages certain of them are used where we might rather have expected others, if respect were had to the distinctive shade of meaning suggested by the etymology (as in chap. iv. 5, where enteuzeis is used of ordinary prayer for the divine blessing, and Eph. vi. 18, where supplications of the most earnest kind are intended, and yet only the two first of the words found here are employed). The variety of expression is perhaps chiefly to be regarded as indicating the large place the subject of intercessory prayer had in the apostle’s mind, and the diverse forms he thought should be given to it, according to the circumstances in which, relatively to others, the people of God might be placed. Hence, thanksgivings were to be added, when the conduct of the parties in question was such as to favor the cause of righteousness and truth,–a fit occasion being thereby presented for grateful acknowledgments to God, who had so inclined their hearts. And when it is said, that first of all such thanksgivings and supplications should be offered, if the expression is coupled with the acts of devotion referred to, it can only mean that they should have a prominent place in worship, should on no account be overlooked or treated as of Httle moment, not that they should actually have the precedence of all others. But the expression is most naturally coupled with the apostle’s request on the subject; he first of all entreats that this be done; it is his foremost advice that people should deal with God in the matter, as the most effectual safeguard.

Ver. 2. By mentioning all men as the object of their prayers and thanksgivings, the apostle undoubtedly meant to teach Christians to cherish wide and generous sympathies, and to identify their own happiness and well-being with those of their fellow-men. But he specially associates the duty with those on whose spirit and behavior the peace and good order of society more directly depended–kings (quite generally, as in the address of our Lord to His disciples. Matt. x. i8; also Rom. xiii. i; i Pet. ii. 13; hence affording no ground to the supposition of Baur, that the emperor and his co-regents in the time of the Antonines were meant by the expression), and all that are in authority (heperoche, strictly eminence, but here, as elsewhere, the eminence of social position–a place of authority). Then follows the more immediate end, as regards the praying persons themselves: in order that we may pass a quiet and tranquil life, in all godliness and gravity; that is, may be allowed freely to enjoy our privileges, and maintain the pious and orderly course which becomes us as Christians, without the molestation, the troubles, and the unseemly shifts which are the natural consequence of inequitable government and abused power. The last epithet, gravity, semnoteti, is quite in its proper place; for though it has respect to deportment rather than to Christian principle or duty, it is very closely allied to this, and is such a respectable and decorous bearing as is appropriate to those who live under the felt apprehension of the great realities of the gospel. The term honesty in the A.V. is quite unsuitable, in the now received sense of that word.

Vers. 3, 4. For this–namely, to make intercession to God in behalf of kings, of rulers generally, and of men of all sorts–is good and acceptable before our Savior God,–a thing which in His reckoning is good, and is sure of meeting with His approval: for there seems no need for confining the before God to the latter epithet alone; it should be connected as well with what is good as what is acceptable, though things really and properly good are such also apart from Him. But by placing both epithets in connection with God, it is more distinctly implied that they are to be taken in their fullest import. (Àpodektos found in New Testament only here and at chap. vi. 4.) Then follows the reason why such conduct meets with God’s approval as right and proper: who wills all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truthèpignosin, knowledge in the fuller sense, knowledge that reaches its end, saving knowledge; and the governing verb, it will be observed, is thelei, not the stronger Bouletai, which would have expressed will with an implied purpose or intent (see at ver. 8). Nothing can be better than the comment of Chrysostom here:

Imitate God. If He is willing that all men should be saved, it is meet to pray for all. If He willed that all should be saved, do thou also will it; but if thou wiliest, pray; for it is the part of such to pray….But if God wills it, you will say, what need is there for my prayers? This is of great benefit both for you and for them: it draws them to love; thyself, again, it prevents from being treated as a wild beast; and such things are fitted to allure them to faith.

There seems no need for going beyond this practical aspect of the matter; and either to press the passage on the one side, with some, to universalism,–as if it bespoke the comprehension of all within God’s purpose of salvation,–or, on the other, to limit it, so as to make, not strictly all men, but only all sorts of men (with Calvin1 and others), the object of the good contemplated, is equally to strain the natural import of the words. It seems to me unnatural to understand the all men, twice so distinctly and emphatically expressed, as indicative of anything but mankind generallymen not merely without distinction of class or nation, but men at large, who certainly, as such, are to be prayed for. As the objects of the church’s intercessions, there can be no difference drawn between one portion and another; and we are expressly taught to plead for all, because it is the will of God that they should be savedsothenai: not His will absolutely to save them, as if the word had been sosai; but that they may be brought through the knowledge and belief of the truth into the state of the saved. And the whole character of the gospel of Christ, with its universal call to repent, its indiscriminate offers of pardon to the penitent, and urgent entreaties to lay hold of the hope set before them, is framed on very purpose to give expression to that will; for, surely, in pressing such things on men’s acceptance, yea, and holding them disobedient to His holy will, and liable to aggravated condemnation, if they should refuse to accept, God cannot intend to mock them with a mere show and appearance of some great reality being brought near to them. No; there is the manifestation of a benevolent desire that they should not die in sin, but should come to inherit salvation (as at Ezek. xxxiii. ii), if only they will do it in the way that alone is consistent with the principles of His moral government and the nature of Christ’s mediation. This, necessarily, is implied; and it is the part of the church, by her faithful exhibition of the truth in Christ, by her personal strivings with the souls of men, and earnest prayers in their behalf, to give practical effect to this message of goodwill from Heaven to men, and to do it in the spirit of tenderness and affection which itself breathes.

Such appears to be the fair and natural interpretation of the apostle’s declaration, and the whole that it properly calls us to intermeddle with. It is true that all whom God wills to be thus entreated and prayed for shall not actually be saved–not even many who have enjoyed in the highest degree the means and opportunities of such dealing. And seeing, as God does, the end from the beginning, knowing perfectly beforehand whom He has, and whom He has not destined to salvation, grave questions are ready to arise as to whether the work of Christ can be really sufficient to meet the emergency occasioned by the ruin of sin, or whether God be sincere in seeking through His church the salvation of all,–questions which touch upon the deep things of God, and which it is impossible for us, with the materials we now possess, to answer satisfactorily to the speculative reason. Knowing who and what He is with whom in such things we have to do, we should rest assured that His procedure will be in truth and uprightness; and that the mysteries which meanwhile appear to hang around it will be solved to the conviction of every reasonable mind, when the proper time for doing so shall have arrived. But enough is known for present duty. God has unfolded for one and all alike the terms of reconciliation: He is willing, nay desirous, for His own glory’s sake, that men should everywhere embrace them; and for this end has committed to His church the ministry of reconciliation, charging it upon the conscience of her members to strive and pray that all without exception be brought to the saving knowledge of the truth. What more can be required for faith to rest on, and for the intercessions and labors of an earnest ministry?

Vers. 5, 6. For there is one God, one Mediator also of God and men. The connective particle (gar) presents what is here stated as an adequate ground, more immediately for the statement in the preceding verse, that God would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; but also, more remotely, for the call to prayer in behalf of all men, that so the benevolent desires of God toward them may come into effect. For in the mind of the apostle the two are essentially connected together; and what affords a valid reason for the one, provides it also for the other. What, then, is the reason? It is, that all stand related to one and the same God, also to one and the same Mediator; for mankind generally there is but one Dispenser of life and blessing, and one medium through which the dispensation flows; and in the invitations and precepts of the gospel all are put on a footing in regard to them: there is no respect of persons, .or formal preference of some over others. Substantially the same thought is exhibited in the Epistles to the Romans (iii. 30) and the Galatians (iii. 20); there, as grounding the universality of the gospel offer, as here the universality of the goodwill, which the provisions of the gospel on God’s part, and the prayers of His people on theirs, are ever breathing toward men. The oneness of the Mediator is followed by a declaration respecting His person and work: man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. The want of the article before anthropos is noticeable; not the man as contradistinguished from some others, but man, one possessing the nature, and in His work manifesting the attributes, of humanity. Not, however, as if this were all; for the very fact of Christ’s mediating between God and men implies that He was Himself something that other men were not: they men, indeed, but in a state that men should not occupy toward God (hence requiring a Mediator); He, man in the ideal or proper sense, true image and representative of God, and as such capable of restoring the relations which had been disturbed by sin, between Creator and creature, and rendering earth, as it was designed to be, the reflex of heaven. Man, therefore, is used here much in the same emphatic manner that Son of man was by Daniel in his prophetic vision (vii. 13), and by our Lord Himself in His public ministry; man as ordained by God to hold the lordship of this lower world, to hold it for God, and therefore to establish truth and righteousness through all its borders (Heb. ii. 6-18). He who should be this is the true Head as well as pattern of humanity–the New Man, and at the same time “the Lord from heaven” because only as related to that higher sphere, and having at command powers essentially divine, could He either be or do what such an exalted position indispensably requires. So that the use made of this passage by Unitarians is without any just foundation.

Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for alló dous éauton àntilutron úper panton; a participial clause indicating how especially Christ did the part of Mediator = Christ Jesus–He who, as Mediator, gave Himself, etc. The expression plainly involves the idea of substitution, an exchange of forfeits, one in the room of all, and for their deliverance. The words are, with a slight variation, an adoption of our Lord’s own, who said that He came to give His life lutron ànti pollon (Matt. xx. 28). For that in both passages it is mainly the death of Christ by which the ransom was paid for, or in exchange of, the persons indicated by the many in the one place, and by the all in the other, can admit of no reasonable doubt. And as the apostle is here contemplating Christ as the Messiah that had been promised, and now come for mankind at large, it is perhaps most natural to understand the language here with reference to those prophetical passages which represent the Messiah as obtaining from the Father the heritage of all famihes or nations of the earth; not the preserved of Israel alone, nor a few scattered members besides of other nations, but also the fullness of the Gentiles (Ps. ii. 8, xxii. 27; Isa. xhx. 6; Luke xxi. 24). So Cocceius, who remarks: “When it is said that Christ gave a ransom price for all, it is also signified that Christ of His own right demands all for His inheritance and possession. This, therefore, is a sure foundation for our prayers, that those whom the Father gave for an inheritance to the Son, we should ask may become the Son’s possession; and since we know that all are given to the Son, we should pray for all, because we know not at what time God may be going to give this rich inheritance to the Son, and who may belong to the inheritance of Christ, who not; yet we do know, that if we ask all, we shall imitate the love of the Son.”

The testimony–that which is to be testified or set forth–for its own seasons: a pregnant clause standing in apposition not to the immediately preceding term ransom, but to the whole participial clause, which declares Christ to have given Himself a ransom for all. ” I understand it to mean,” says Scholfield {Hints for Imp. Version), “that the great fact of Christ’s having given Himself a ransom for all is that which is to be testified by His servants in His times; that is, in the times of the gospel: it is to be the great subject of their preaching.” (Kaipois ìdios, the dative of time, the temporal sphere or space within which the action takes place; Winer, Gr. § 31. 9; Fritzsche on Rom. xii. i, note. The own however, is more appropriately coupled with the testimony than with Christ: comp. Gal. vi. 9; here, vi. 15; Tit. i. 3.) The matter in question being primarily a fact–the death of Christ–but that fact in its doctrinal bearing as a ransom for the sins of men, it is here and in other places presented under the aspect of a testimony. It was above all other things the subject to which the apostles had to bear testimony, since it was through Christ’s name, as that of the crucified, atoning Savior, that they proclaimed the pardon of sin and eternal life to the penitent. And its times–the times specially appropriate for the bearing of such a testimony, and the witnessing of its results are those which follow the great event itself, and reach onward to the second advent. All was but preparatory before; it was the time only for the anticipations of hope respecting it, or the longings of spiritual desire. But with the introduction of the reality, there came also the period destined for its fall and proper exhibition, that through belief of the testimony its merciful design might be realized.2

Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Greek Text and Translation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1874), 110-119.  [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; Greek transliterated; italics original; footnotes mine; and underlining mine.]

Credit to Michael for the find.


1[Fairbairn misreads Calvin here. Calvin denies will of God terminates upon singulars (individuals) of nations, but rather, it encompasses nations of singulars, and by this he means whole classes of kinds. Calvin is directly discountenancing the very idea that Paul signifies that ‘this man, but not that man’ is the object of God’s salvific revealed will.

2[Appendix A, not included.]

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