It Is God’s Will That All Men Be Saved
In the comments section of Fisher’s post John Calvin on Fatalism, the conversation seemed to have found its way to 1 Tim 2:4. And since this verse seems to generate a lot of debate these days, at least from my perspective, I thought it would be a good idea to explore 1 Tim 2:4 a little bit more thoroughly.
1 Tim 2:3-4 “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”
The key part is “who will have all men to be saved” (KJV). Other versions state it as “who desires all men to be saved” (NASB) and “who wants all men to be saved” (NIV) but it essentially means the same thing.
The first thing we need to do is look at the context of this verse. According to John MacArthur (from whom I’m getting this explanation), this verse falls in the middle of a section of scripture addressing Evangelistic Prayer (verses 1 through 8). So given the context of this section, we should remember that Paul is addressing how we, as believers, should be praying for the lost to be saved as this lines up with Gods desire. It is Gods desire that all be saved so therefore it should also be our desire that all be saved.
The full explanation can be found here, but I just want to look at the words will, desire and want as used in verse 4 of the various english translations. In each case we find it has been translated from the Greek word “thelo” into will, desire, or want. Now, working back to the Greek from will (KJV). There are two basic Greek words for will and they are “thelo” and “boulomai”. So what does each of these words mean? “Thelo” reflects the will of desire springing from feeling and inclination while “boulomai” speaks of a will that comes from precise determination.
So the will/desire/want used in 1 Tim 2:4 is not the will/desire/want in the “boulomai” sense; that God has precisely determined the salvation of all men. It is not a sovereignly ordained fact that everyone is going to be saved. 1 Tim 2:4 is not talking about that kind of will but that of “thelo” which is the word used in the original Greek text.
It’s not simply a “What God wants he gets” in some sort of universalistic salvation or that we have some sort of impotent God who is unable to fulfil His will. There’s a distinction between God’s sovereign will and His moral will.
To put it another way, we would all agree without equivocation that God does not desire people to sin. Could we agree with that? We do not believe that God desires people to do evil, to sin, to be disobedient, to be unholy, to fail to give Him glory. No, we would all agree with that. In fact the spectrum of evangelical theology would agree to that. We know God desires men not to sin. We do not for a moment advocate anything different than that. So turn the table a bit. Would we would all agree then that God desires all men to be holy? No one would argue against that, right? God desires all men to be righteous. God desires all men to be sinless. God desires all men to give Him glory and give Him honour and give Him respect. God desires all men to be obedient. I mean, He commands men over and over and over and over to be obedient. He calls for righteousness. He calls for holiness. He calls for sinlessness. He calls for everyone on the face of the earth to give Him honour and give Him glory. He calls for all men everywhere to repent. Nobody debates that. We all know God wants men to be holy.
Therefore, we conclude that people sin though God does not want them to. That’s obvious. People are unholy though God does not want them that way. People do not give God glory though God does not want them not to give Him glory. Then why is it such a hard thing for some people to realise that people also go to hell though God does not want them to? God wants all men to be saved. That is the desire of God.
Men sin and they go to hell, not because it is God’s express sovereign purpose for them. They go to hell because they denied God’s moral will for their life. He calls them to repent. He calls them to be saved. If anyone goes to hell, they go there not because of the predetermined choice of God, but because of the rejection of Jesus Christ. That’s what He’s saying. He wants all men saved.
In the exact words of John MacArthur;
I believe in the sovereignty of God, I believe in election, I believe in predestination, beloved, I also believe that God wills men to be saved and by their choice they are not saved and that is their responsibility not God’s. And if you ask me how those two things harmonize, I say I’ll tell you our first day in heaven, I’ll explain the whole thing. But I know this, God has a broken heart because He desires salvation from the ends of the earth, why else would Jesus weep over Jerusalem. “O how often I would, I willed to gather you together but you would not.” He said that. You wouldn’t do it. Why will you die? Why will you reject?
So in tying this with the challenge in the comments of Fishers post, I believe the will of God espoused by John Calvin, Ryft and Fisher with regard to the issue of choice, election and predestination is the will of “boulomai.” It is not the will of “thelo” that we find in 1 Tim 2:4.