Q&A on 2 Timothy 2:25, 26

, posted by Ben Henshaw

Question: I am wondering if you can provide, or point me to, an Arminian exegesis of 2 Tim. 2.25-6? This scripture is often used by Calvinists as a counter to 1 Tim. 2.3, as well as to advance the idea that God has two wills, one of universal love to mankind, another more narrow in which He controls who will and won’t repent unto salvation (the latter underscored by 2 Tim. 2.25-26). I am looking for a good Arminian analysis here.

Answer: I don’t see anything in these verses that should lead one to the conclusion that the repentance spoken of here is irresistibly “given” or “granted”, nor that this is meant to convey the idea that God arbitrarily decides to cause some to repent while denying repentance to others (which would, as you point out, contradict Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 2:4 that God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth).

Rather, the natural reading seems to simply be that through Timothy’s careful and gentle correction, those who oppose Timothy and sound teaching may find the ability and opportunity to “come to their senses” (literally, wake up as from a slumber or drunkenness) and repent as God empowers them through Timothy’s efforts. The idea is that through Timothy’s obedience in trying to reach these deluded individuals with the truth, they might come to repentance as God grants them the power and ability through Timothy’s words and the working of the Spirit that would accompany these words (as is always the case when men turn from error and turn towards God in faith). God’s use of Timothy and his gentle corrective teaching may lead them back to God in turning them from their false beliefs towards embracing again the saving “knowledge of the truth.”

The technique Paul advocates seems to be tailored towards reaching these specific individuals. They are described as oppositional and “quarrelsome”, people who enjoy contesting the claims of others. Such people would likely respond to a strong rebuke with great resistance, but it may be that if they are approached in a gentle, careful and loving manner, that they will let down their guard long enough to actually consider a different view and possibly receive the saving instruction that they need (much like the old adage of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar- a lesson we would all do well to remember). Timothy’s gentle approach may also serve to shame them with regards to the very behavior that is causing them problems and creating a barrier for them to receive vital instruction and truth.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning the way he approaches them also underscores Paul’s desire for them to be saved, rather than just put in their place. This concern parallels God’s concern for all to be saved as Paul made clear in 1 Timothy 2:4. Any uncertainty with regards to God granting them repentance primarily lies in their potential response to Timothy’s corrective efforts, whether they will receive his correction (and as a result be led by God to repent) or resist his correction (thereby effectively shutting themselves off from this God given opportunity to rethink their situation and repent).

It would really be no different than saying something like, “If you go and speak to that person, lovingly correcting her false perceptions of God and His word, God may use that to lead her to repentance.” However, we would never assume from this that God would lead her to repentance through that correction in an irresistible manner, nor would we assume that this means that God only desires to lead some to repentance, or causes some to repent irresistibly, while purposely denying this ability or opportunity to others. Rather, God’s desire is for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). So there is no inconsistency between 2 Timothy 2:25, 26 and the plain declaration of God’s desire for all to be saved through the Mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all men (1 Tim. 2:1-6, cf. 4:10). The teachings of these passages are perfectly harmonious.

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