Friday, October 26, 2018

All of what?

Arminians often ridicule Calvin's interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4, where he says Paul is not talking about every individual but representative individuals. Here's another example: 

Comment on 1 Timothy 2:4. Augustine, in his writings on predestination, decided that the word “all” in this really didn’t mean “all” but rather “all the elect.”…The theology of salvation becomes much more messy when we take the Bible as it stands, without imposing our pet theories on it...God really does want all people to be saved, not just the elect.

Now, I happen to prefer the interpretation offered by scholars like Schreiner and Towner:

So I won't be defending the interpretation offered by Calvin or Augustine. But since the proper force of "all" is a perennial issue in exegetical debates between Calvinists and freewill theists, I'll briefly discuss this issue.

1. I'm picking on Dembski because he's highly intelligent. He's not a village Arminian. It's striking that he regards his interpretation as self-evident. Notice that he doesn't even bother to say what he thinks "all" means. He simply uses the word, as if that's self-explanatory. 

2. In a philosophically rigorous sense, I think "all" means "for all x" or "for all of x". Take Paul's statement:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). 

If you're a universalist, you regard those two groups as coextensive. But if you're not a universalist, you take it to mean that all who are in Adam die while all who are in Christ will be rejuvenated. Despite the parallel, the two groups are not coextensive. Rather, it's all of x within each domain: the domain of Adam or the domain of Christ. Every son of Adam will die while every Christian will be rejuvenated. 

Keep in mind, too, the parallelism is a rhetorical device, so we need to guard against treating that mechanically. 

3. It's ironic to compare this with what he says about the scope of Noah's flood:

A face-value reading of these chapters [Gen 4-11] requires, among other things, acceptance of the following highly dubious claims…How, then, to interpret Gen 4:11?…Consider that scriptural claims to universality are often hyperbolic or eschatological, and thus not fully realized in the present. For instance, Paul in Rom 10:18 describes "there sound" (i.e., the preaching of the gospel) as having gone "into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world". So far as we know, the preaching of the gospel in Paul's day did not extend beyond the Mediterranean basis, the Middle East, and perhaps India. It certainly did not extend to the New World. W. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (B&H2009), 170-71. 

On that issue, he isn't taking the Bible "as it stands". He rejects the face-value impression of universality when words like "all" are applied to the scale of the Flood. He's conceding that in Scripture, universal quantifiers are sometimes hyperbolic or generalities rather than exceptionless claims. 

4. Finally, although Calvin's interpretation isn't my preferred interpretation, there's nothing outlandish about his distinction. When Paul enjoins Christians to pray for "all people, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Tim 2:1-2), does that mean 1C Christians have a duty to pray for Sargon, Nebuchadnezzar, Ramesses II, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Henry the VIII, Louis XIV, Philip II, Montezuma II, and Suleiman the Magnificent? Are they obligated to pray for dead kings or future kings they never heard of? Or does the implied range of reference concern contemporary rulers in the Roman Empire? 


  1. I'm having a hard time trying to understand the Calvinist conception of God's salvific love for humanity; both scriptural and experiential. But I'd like to focus on the experiential part. Let's assume that the Calvinist is right, and God doesn't want all to be saved, but only the elect. That would imply that God doesn't love everyone, and thus that He didn't die for all. In regards to my daily life; my daughter was born a month ago, and I cannot stop thinking about how I, as a parent, assuming I'm a Calvinist, can sincerely tell my child God loves her, and wants her to be saved. Wouldn't I be lying if she in fact happens to be reprobate? This is not an attack on Calvinism, I just want to know your thoughts about it. God bless.

    1. Those are difficult questions, not due to Calvinism in particular, but due to the kind of world we live in. The problem of evil. Damnation.

      i) What's so great about indiscriminate love? Surely your daughter will want you to love her more than you love all the neighborhood kids. She will need to know that her father loves her in a special way.

      ii) It may sound nice to say God loves everybody and wants everybody to be saved, but that means he didn't do anything more for the person who went to heaven than the person who went to hell. So as far as God's love is concerned, it's random who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. God's love doesn't make the difference, so it could just as well be the other way around.

      iii) Suppose you used to be a Calvinist, but you convert to freewill theism. Now you believe God loves everybody.

      However, the fact that you adopt a (supposedly) kinder theology doesn't make the world a kinder place than when you were a Calvinist. You can *talk* about God's universal love, but that doesn't change the world you live in. It's a nice-sounding sentiment, but the world is just as vicious and cruel as when you were (ex hypothesi) a Calvinist. The slogans change but reality stays the same.

      iv) Do men like Juan Perón and Pablo Escobar need to be told that God loves them just as they are, or do they near to *fear* God?

      v) According to freewill theism, God loves the elderly bedridden woman in the nursing home and God loves the male orderly who rapes her several times a week or burns her with a hot iron. That kind of indifferent love doesn't resonate with me. The God of universal love won't protect your daughter from a human trafficker.

      vi) Parents are temporary stand-ins for God. Initially, they learn love from their parents (and grandparents). God is something they need to discover for themselves as they mature.

    2. Federico Matias Alvarez Zarza

      "In regards to my daily life; my daughter was born a month ago, and I cannot stop thinking about how I, as a parent, assuming I'm a Calvinist, can sincerely tell my child God loves her, and wants her to be saved. Wouldn't I be lying if she in fact happens to be reprobate?"

      I wanted to briefly say you might be interested in searching Triablogue's archives for Steve's thoughts on "the free offer of the gospel" (or something along those lines). I think that might be relevant to your question too.

  2. I'm now a Calvinist but I grew up in an Arminian church. The go to verses for Arminians always seemed to be:

    1 Corinthians 9:27: Paul talking about being a castaway
    2 Peter 2:21: It would have been better for them not to have know the way of salvation.

    1. Calvinism denies that people can lose their salvation, not that they can lose their faith. Some people have a token faith that isn't rooted in grace. They simply believe whatever their peer group believes. If their peer group changes, their beliefs change.