This post is an excerpt from the book review of John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
What else would all mean? Just kidding. While Arminians are aware that all can be used in a variety of ways which ends up not meaning each and every person, the basic meaning of all is the same in each of its various uses. All can be used in a hyperbolic sense. This is an exaggeration where a person says all but when pressed would clarify meaning something less than all. Another more common use for all which ends up meaning less than “each and every” is an implied qualifier. Someone says all, but they mean all within the context.
This second sense, an implied qualifier, is the way most Calvinists explain the “all passages”. Christ died for all “sheep”. Christ died for all “races of’ men. They typically infer this into the context from 1 of 2 factors. Sometimes they look at an element of the context which says God is actually saving this or that person. From that they infer that if all means each and every person, each and every person is saved. Thus all really means all “sheep”. Other times they look at a Jew/Gentile discussion in the context and infer that all means all “races of” men.
Let’s look at one of the many “all” passages:
1 Timothy 2
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
Normally I like to form an argument by drawing a premise from the text to arrive at the conclusion. No need to do that in this case. The passage states the conclusion. This is a simple matter of grammar. Paul is saying that Jesus Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all. The controversy then is not in the words, but rather in the interpretation.
Explanation of the Passage
Let’s walk through the passage and see what it tells us in relation to Christ’s dying for all.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Verse 1 tells us to pray for all men. The thanksgivings here are not for the evil actions of men, but rather for the blessings God has given them. During thanksgiving, we don’t thank God our sons talked back to their teacher. Rather we thank God for our son’s health.
In verse 2, “all” doesn’t included Satan or queen bees, but all “men” as verse 1 states. This is an example of the right way to use an implied qualification for all. The qualifier is drawn from the immediate context. I am a little embarrassed bringing up these points regarding not praying for Satan and thanksgiving. But triablogue mentioned these points on their site, so I thought I would address them. (link)
Verse 2 indicates that Christians were having trouble with those in authority. We know this was a time of great persecution in the Church. I bring this up because those in authority were unlikely to be believers. But of course unbelievers are included in all men.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
The word “for” (gar in Greek) has a connecting force. It’s like saying “and here’s the reason I said what I did”. It’s used again to introduce verse 5. This shows the unity of the passage. The context is smooth, without seams which might allow for a sudden topic shift.
So why should we pray for all men? God wants you to because He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, that is to come to faith. This passage, along with Hebrews 10:26-29, another “knowledge of the truth” passage, are among the two strongest against Calvinist theology. But before we get carried away, let’s not forget that the focus for now is on those for whom Christ died. Let’s move on to the juicy part.
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
In verse 5, Christ is said to be the one Mediator between God and men. Men here is used in a general sense and as such can‘t exclude anyone. Let’s pretend for a second that it did mean “elect” men. Doesn’t that imply that non-elect men could have a different mediator? Could they go to Buddah? No. Men is being used generally.
This is a similar usage to “with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” or “we ought to obey God rather than men”. Men is being used in a general sense, so there can’t really be an implied qualification. Man is being contrasted with God. The picture here is the creation and the Creator – God on one side and everyone who is not God on the other side. Looking at this contrast we can plainly tell that no implied qualification would work.
There are other contrast passages which make this point even more clear such as 1 Tim 4:10 “who is the Savoir of all men, especially those that believe”. Rather than a contrast between men and God as we have in 1 Timothy 2, in 1 Timothy 4 we have a contrast between believers and by implication unbelievers. I brought this up to clarify the point regarding contrasts. Back to chapter 2:5.…
There can’t be exceptions. Consider the similar passage in John 14:6: “no man comes to the Father but by me”. Could this mean no “elect” man comes to the Father but by Christ? Could others get to heaven another way? NO!!! Christ is the only way to the Father, He is the only Mediator. No one can have another mediator. No exceptions.
Moving down to verse 6 we can see that the reason Christ can mediate for all is because He gave himself as a ransom for all. This is co-extensive with those for whom we are to pray, it’s co-extensive with those for whom God wants to save and it is co-extensive with those who can have no other Mediator besides Christ.
The passage concludes by saying that Christ’s ransom will be testified in due time. That is to say the message is being spread and will continue to spread.
Summing up what we have found regarding Christ’s death for all…
Christ’s death is co-extensive with the all men for whom we are to pray, including unbelievers who persecute the Church, it’s co-extensive with those for whom God wills to be saved and to come to faith, and it’s co-extensive with those for whom no one else can mediate. There is nothing in the context implying a qualification for all. In fact, the whole context labors against such a qualification.
A Few Objections
Let’s look at some objections from John Owens. (link)
P1: God’s will is either that of command or that of good pleasure
P2: In verse 4 which states God will have all men be saved, God’s will is that of His good pleasure
P3: God’s will of good pleasure always happens
C1: Therefore, either all men are saved, or there is an implied qualification
P4: not all men are saved
C2: therefore there is an implied qualification
Arminians deny P1-3 and have a different “model“ for understanding the will of God. We look at God’s will as either He wants us to do something (in which case it may not happen) or He wants Himself to do something (in which case it always happens). God wants us to do things and He also wants Himself to handle or judge what we do. So looking at verse 4 we see that God wants to save us, but He also wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth. Because He wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth, it may or may not happen. God want us to have faith, in order that we will end up saved and He wants Himself to save those that believe.
P1: all men sometimes means all “kinds of” men
P2: verse 2 introduces kinds of men, ie kings and those in authority
C1: therefore, verse 4 is talking about kinds of men
We deny the minor premise. This is talking about men within categories, not the categories themselves. Similarly, God doesn’t want to save the category Gentiles without considering any individual Gentiles in the category. But if Owens really means “some” men of all “kinds”, now we have two concepts implied into the verse to get it to work the way Owens needs it to.
We reject “some” men of all “kinds” for three reasons:
1) the co-extensive argument above
2) Using KISS (Keep it simple silly) when it comes to scripture is a good idea. With double implications you can really get any passage to say whatever you want.
3) nothing in the context to support either implication.
P1: Verse 1 states we are to pray for all men
P2: but we are not to pray for those who have sinned unto death (1 John 5:16)
C1: therefore we are not to pray for all men without qualification
Owen is saying don’t pray for everyone in order to take out the “co-extensive” argument. But there’s a problem here. The scope of whom we are not to pray would not only be those who have sinned unto death (i.e. the 1 John 5:16 person). Rather, it’s all non-elect, assuming Christ died for the elect alone. So that’s Owen implication here: don’t pray for anyone unless they are elect.
Let’s say we grant P2. We should still pray for all men, before they commit the sin unto death and if we don’t know if they have committed a sin unto death. What if God reveals that someone has committed a sin unto death (something like 1 Samuel 15:35 & 1 Samuel 16:1)? In those cases, we should stop praying for someone to be forgiven. We might still pray that God would change them, rather than that He should forgive them. In which case we are still praying for them, which fits under 1 Timothy 2:1. In any case, this is 1) a rare exception, 2) not what Paul had in mind, 3) not as extensive as Owen needs it to be and 4) not necessarily contradictory to the kind of prayer Paul is talking about.
Owens arguments 4 & 5 are really just expanding on argument 1. I will add a little here in relation to mediation… Christ is the mediator of all men in that He offers mediation to them and He can mediate for them. His mediation is based on His death. His being a mediator doesn’t necessarily mean He has mediated for them, but simply that He offers and can do so. Similarly His ransoming everyone means that He has provided a substitute that can be accepted by the Father on their behalf, if He also mediates for them.