Gary Shultz on 1 Timothy 2:3-6

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


There are three statements in the Pastoral Epistles that describe the atonement as being for all people. The first of these is 1 Timothy 2:3-6, which states, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the 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 proper time.” In the context of 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Paul109 is encouraging prayer for all people (v. 1), including kings and those in authority (v. 2), because such prayer is good and pleasing to God our Savior (v. 3),110 who desires all people to be saved (v. 4).111 The reasons that God desires for all people to be saved are because he is the one and only God, and because Jesus Christ is the one and only Mediator between God and humanity (v. 5).112 Jesus is the one who was a ransom for all (v. 6), and the one whom Paul was appointed to preach to the Gentiles (v. 7). Therefore Paul desires that all people pray everywhere without wrath or dissension (v. 8).

The primary interpretive issue in this passage that impacts the debate over the extent of the atonement is the meaning of “all” in verses 4 and 6. Advocates of particular redemption argue that “all men” refers to “all sorts of men,” or “all kinds of men”; essentially this passage is stating that God’s desire and Christ’s ransom encompass not only the Jews, but Gentiles as well.113 On the other hand, advocates of unlimited atonement assert that “all men” means “all people”; God’s desire and Christ’s ransom are for all people without exception.114 In defense of the first option, appeal is often made to 1 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul encourages prayers for all people, and then mentions specifically two groups of people, kings and those in authority.115 First Timothy 2:2 is understood as clarifying what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:1.116 Steven Baugh offers three additional arguments for this interpretation.117 First, the mention of one God and one Mediator (v. 5) echoes Deuteronomy 6:4, and demonstrates that God’s salvation is not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.118 Second, the phrase “in his own time” emphasizes the eschatological nature of Christ’s ransom as reaching out to all peoples.119 Third, in Titus 1:1-3 Paul proclaims that his commission to preach to the Gentiles is confirmation of God’s purpose to include Gentiles in salvation through Christ, and this proclamation explains Paul’s zeal in defending his apostolic calling in verse 7.120

The second option, that “all men” refers to “all people” and not to “all kinds of people,” seems preferable, however, for four reasons. First, it correctly understands 1 Timothy 2:1 as instructing believers to pray for all human beings, and not various classes of human beings.121 Second, it makes better sense of Paul’s argument regarding one God and one Mediator. God is the only God and Christ is the only Mediator, and therefore God is the God of all and Christ is the Mediator for all.122 These statements are true of all people without exception.123 Third, the focus of Paul’s reasoning in this passage is that Christ is the ransom for all.124 Most commentators understand verse 6 as going back to the thought of Mark 10:45,125 which emphasizes the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s ransom.126 The fourth reason, and perhaps the most decisive one, is that this meaning harmonizes with Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 4:10, which states “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” This statement is similar to the one in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, and it is extremely difficult to understand “all men” as “all sorts of men” in this verse; it seems clearly to refer to all people without exception.127 First Timothy 2:3-6 states that Christ’s atonement is for all people without exception because God desires the salvation of the all people without exception.

Shultz, Gary L. “A Biblical and Theological Defense of a Multi-Intentioned View of the Atonement” (Ph.D diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008) 131-136. [Bold original, italics original; footnotes and values original; and underlining mine.].


109This dissertation assumes that Paul was the author of the Pastoral Epistles, as they state (1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 2:1; Titus 2:1). For a defense of this position, see Ralph Earle, 1 Timothy, in vol. 11 of EBC, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 341-43.

110The phrase “God our Savior” appears 6 times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4). In this context the phrase is clearly soteriological, as “God our Savior” desires the salvation of all, and the verses following speak of Christ as the one Mediator and as a ransom for all. See Steven M. Baugh, “‘Savior of All People’: 1 Tim 4:10 in Context,” WTJ 54 (1992): 338-40; I. Howard Marshall, “Universal Grace and Atonement in the Pastoral Epistles,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), 55; and William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC, vol. 46 (Waco, TX: Word, 2000), 84-85.

111In light of the universality of the statement “God desires all men to be saved,” some have tried to argue that this verse is not speaking of God’s absolute will or purpose. Instead it merely speaks of his wish or his preference. This is based on a supposed difference between the word thelo (used here in 1 Tim 2:3), which means “wish” or “desire” and the word boule, which means “intend.” While it is theologically correct to distinguish between God’s “decretive will” and his “permissive will” (see John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God?” in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000], 107-31), there is no linguistic argument for weakening God’s desire for the salvation of all, as 2 Pet 3:9 states the same thing using the verb boule. The two verbs have different nuances, but they are essentially synonymous. God genuinely desires the salvation of all. Owen understood that this was the verb’s meaning and therefore argued that “all” could only refer to believers, because he believed that everything God desired would be accomplished. Owen, Death of Death, 232-33. For a summary of this argument and support of the above conclusions, see Marshall, “Universal Grace,” 55-57; and Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 85-86.

112“V. 5 possibly adds another argument to 1 Tim 2:1-7. Since there is only one God and only one mediator between God and people; all people are united under that oneness and all people should be offered the benefit of Christ’s ransom. If someone is excluded from salvation in Christ, there is no other salvation available.” Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 87.

113Baugh, “Savior of All People,” 338-40; Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, 465; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 396-97; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 119, 122; Letham, Work of Christ, 242-43; Long, Definite Atonement, 142; Nettles, By His Grace, 299-300; Nicole, “Definite Atonement,” 204; Owen, Death of Death, 233-36; Symington, Atonement and Intercession, 223; Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?, 489; and Wells, Price for a People, 121-24.

114Chafer, “For Whom Did Christ Die?,” 324; Demarest, Cross and Salvation, 190-91; Douty, Death of Christ, 113-15; Earle, 1 Timothy, 358; Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, NAC (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 89-91; Marshall, “For All,” 326-33; idem, “Universal Grace,” 51-69; Terry L. Miethe, “The Universal Power of the Atonement,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), 79-80; Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 84- 85, 89-90; Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 133-37; William S. Sailer, “The Nature and Extent of the Atonement: A Wesleyan View,” BETS 10 (1964): 192-93; and Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 183-86.

115pantas anthropous is picked up from v. 1 to correlate God’s attitude toward ‘all people’ with the request that we pray for all. As in v. 1 Paul means by the phrase all kinds of people, all sorts of people, including civil authorities.” Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 119.

116V. 2 is better understood, however, as a parenthetical reference, instead of explaining what Paul meant in v. 1. The point of the entire passage is that salvation is for all; therefore praying for all is good and pleasing to God. See Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 85; and Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 88-89. On the particular redemption understanding, the instruction for prayer is reduced to praying for the elect groups of people within all the groups of people in the world, as Christ was the ransom only for those people. This is clearly not the intent of the passage. See Marshall, “Universal Grace,” 62-63; and Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 135.

117Baugh, “Savior of All People,” 339-40.

118This statement is certainly true. That there is only one God and one Mediator demonstrates that God desires the salvation of Gentiles as well as Jews, but it also stands in opposition to the synagogue’s beliefs that God hates the sinner, that God only wants to save the righteous, and that salvation is only for a select few who have the right knowledge (cf. the statement that God wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth in v. 4). Therefore v. 5 does not support the meaning of “all sorts of people,” but rather indicates that God desires the salvation of all people without exception; sinners as well as the righteous and Gentiles as well as Jews. See Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 85.

119While there is an eschatological nuance to this phrase, this is no way demands that God’s ransom is only for the groups of the Jews and Gentiles and not all people. This phrase can be accurately understood in its context just as easily if “all men” means “all people without exception.”

120Baugh is correct to understand this emphasis. This emphasis can just as easily support an unlimited atonement view of this passage, however, as Paul’s passionate defense of his ministry could be intended to teach the Ephesian church that the gospel is for all people, including the Gentiles. See Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus,


121See n. 116 on p. 134 of this dissertation.

122“In Paul’s day, sectarian Judaism emphasized ‘our’ in an exclusive sense, and the opponents in the PE were making the same mistake. As a corrective, Paul’s usage goes back to the original emphasis of the Shema on ‘one’ God as opposed to ‘many’ gods. God is not the God of the opponents alone but is the only God and consequently the God of all. . . . In Rom 3:29-30 Paul argues that because there is only one God, all people will be justified in relation to their faith. Likewise here Paul argues that because there is only one God, all people must be the object of prayer since all can be saved through the one God and the one mediator.” Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 87. See also n. 118 on p. 134 of this dissertation.

123“First, Paul declared that there is one God. He did not intend that this be a prideful claim by an exclusivist Jew but rather an affirmation that the one God is to receive worship from all people. . . . Second, there is a single mediator between God and humankind.” Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 90.

124“Paul now arrives at the focal point of the creed and the second reason for his command in v. 1. Building on his earlier statement that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1:15), he now says that Christ died for everyone in keeping with God’s desire that all people be saved, the accent being on the word all. Therefore, not to pray for everyone is to treat the death of Christ with contempt.” Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 89. Similarly, “Since Paul is not setting out a theory of the Atonement of his own but citing what has become a theological cliché, it is fruitless to speculate about the complex of ideas lying behind it. The important words for him are ‘for all.’” J. N. D.

Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles, Black’s New Testament Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 63-64.

125Ibid., 63-64; Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 121-22; Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 91; William Lock, The Pastoral Epistles, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1924), 28; Marshall, “Universal Grace,” 59; Morris, Apostolic Preaching, 51-52; and Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 89-90.

126It appears to be firmly established that in Hebrew the word for ‘many’ often has the sense of ‘a great many as opposed to a few,’ rather than ‘only some as opposed to all.’ Thus ‘all’ is the appropriate paraphrase. It is the natural word to use in moving from a crassly literal rendering of the Hebrew to more idiomatic Greek.” Marshall, “Universal Grace,” 59. See also n. 27 on p. 105 of this dissertation.

127Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 85, 256.

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