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2 Peter 3:9 vs. Calvinism

Many people say that Calvinism is unbiblical and a key verse they will use to prove this is 2 Peter 3:9. For most people just quoting the verse will end the discussion but it shouldn’t. Here is what 2 Peter 3:8-10 says:

3:8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. -NET

The people quoting this passage will emphasize the phrase, “because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” When this phrase is isolated it could mean what the Arminian/non-Calvinist wants it to mean. They want us to believe that the atonement of Christ was “unlimited”. The atonement of Christ was for every single person not just for a specific group of people. The problem is this phrase isn’t isolated.

First, we need to recognize that this passage is addressing the second coming of Christ. Peter is highlighting that people were persecuting believers by saying:

‘Where is his promised return? Forever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’ -2 Peter 3:4

Peter’s response is, “a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.” That is the main concern that Peter is addressing. The coming of Christ is delayed for a reason. God said that he is coming soon but that doesn’t mean he is coming soon in the way we use the word. Soon could be any finite number to God. When someone quotes this passage we need to make sure the main purpose does not get lost. Now, some may say, “Yes this is about Christ coming back but Peter still said that God wants, ‘all to come to repentance‘.”

My response to that is, “God wants all to come to repentance. But what does ‘all’ mean?” That is the question that needs to be addressed. I have heard many times from preachers who say, “All means all and that’s all all means.” Well…uh…yes…all does mean all but all can be, and most often is, limited. Let me give you an example:

Hey Josh, give me all of those books. 

Josh would never think that I am asking him for every book ever written. “Those” modifies “all” in this example. In the same way “all” in 2 Peter 3 is modified or limited. Lets quote verse 3:9 again:

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Here we see Peter is responding to the question asked by the unbelievers when he says, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness.” Then, we have Peter limiting the range of all in the next phrase when he says, “but is being patient toward you.” Who is the “you”?

The “you” are also called “dear friends” in verse 8. Peter is addressing believers. The “you” Peter talks about are the elect of God. The point Peter is making is that God wont come back until all of his elect are brought to repentance. “You” modifies both “any” and “all” in verse 9 just like “those” modified “all” in the example I gave earlier. If “you” refers to believers, also known as the elect, then it follows that “any” and “all” would refer to the same thing. Jesus’ return is delayed because he wants every single elect person to come to faith before he returns.

Think about it. If Jesus came back in the time of Peter you and I would never have been born. We would never have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We would not be saved. That is Peter’s point in this passage. Taking into account the argument I made allow me to clarify the passage for you:

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise to return, as some think of slowness, but is patient toward you, because he does not wish for his elect to perish but for all to come to repentance.

I want to emphasize that this is not to trump the Bible, rather, it is to highlight Peter’s point.

Many believe that this passage goes against the Calvinistic teaching of limited atonement but, in reality, this passage affirms it. God has his people all around the world and in every generation. And we should all thank God that he is patient towards us.

Thanks for reading.

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About Travis Berry

I am a blatantly honest person who loves to think, read, discuss, and write about God and theology. I have a bachelor's degree in Youth Ministry from Crown College. I work at a church in Houston, TX as a Youth Director and love every minute of it! I am married to a wonderful woman named Becky and we have one amazing child! I have a love for God's Word, and a fervor to live it out in the fullest, and I pray this blog reflects that. Thanks for checking out AnotherChristianBlog!.

Posted on February 23, 2012, in Christianity, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. And “for God so loved the world” means just some of the world…and I thought Calvinists took the bible seriously 🙂

  2. The context of verse 8 is the 2nd coming, but the context of verse 9 is salvation. This is made abundantly clear by the specific word “perish.”

    You’re replacing the clear “all” with something other than “all.” Stop trying to “reconcile” God’s Word to your false assumptions. Read Rev. 22:18-19 as well as Deut. 4:2 so that you may understand the gravity of what you’ve done in making the following statement.

    “The Lord is not SLOW concerning his promise TO RETURN, as some THINK OF SLACKNESS, but is patient toward you, because he does not wish for his ELECT to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

    That’s NOT THE BIBLE!!! You’ve altered the word “all” to be not “all.” Please carefullly read the following verses, and I highly encourage you to not replace the clear “all”s with something other than “all.”

    1Tim.2
    [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.

    1John.4
    [14] And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the WORLD.

    Heb.2
    [9] But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for EVERY man.

    2Cor.5
    [14] For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for ALL, then were ALL dead:
    [15] And that he died for ALL, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

    John.1
    [29] The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the WORLD.

    1John.2
    [2] And he is the propitiation for our sins: and NOT FOR OURS ONLY, but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.

    Sorry if I come across as slightly mean. We are commanded to not sin in our anger, and I apologize if I did. Such blatant falsity arouses anger in me like no other. I am convinced that God experiences similar anger when HIS OWN PEOPLE INTENTIONALLY REWRITE HIS WORD!

    Galatians says that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” Calvinists say “Ok, I agree that He doesn’t tempt man with evil, He rather FORCES man to do evil.” The God of the Bible doesn’t hold man at arms length yet beckon man to come to Him. The God of the Bible extends His arms to every man, yet certain men hold HIM at arms length. Any other interpretation makes no beepin sense.

    • Joel,

      I have not re-written the word of God. I have not even misinterpreted the word of God. The context of 2 Peter 3 is Christ’s return. What Peter is saying is that if Jesus came back when he wrote that you and I would not be saved. Sorry that you didn’t pick that part of the context up. Also, quoting all those verses doesn’t help your cause. All it does is hurt it because the context gives the meaning of words. For a discussion of the word “world” check out my post on John 3:16.

      You said: “The God of the Bible doesn’t hold man at arms length yet beckon man to come to Him. The God of the Bible extends His arms to every man, yet certain men hold HIM at arms length. Any other interpretation makes no beepin sense.”

      Me: You are right God doesn’t hold man at arms length. That is not the reformed position. The reformed position is that man will always stray from God unless God enables man to come to him. This is what Jesus says in John 6.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Travis

  3. If God is not wishing “all” to perish, why are some perishing without Christ? Joel, are you saying all will come to repentance?

  4. this is an extremely poor handling of the text. The greek has NO context or meaning that even remotely hints at the doctrine of the elect. There are other passages where you could argue the case for Election. This is not one of them and to add meaning to a passage in order to fit any doctrine is a grave error and sin. leave it alone as it is and move on to the passages that seem to support your theology and be satisfied with God’s fullness in scripture being beyond your own and not always fitting with your human doctrine.

    • Hey Joe,

      I think my exegesis stands. Maybe you could offer how you would handle this text, if I am incorrect. The real question is who is the “you” in the text? If it is every single person then you are forced to be a universalist. In that case, that would be a “grave error” or “sin” as you pointed out to me. However, if the “you” are Christians, then my handling of the text is consistent and correct.

      It strikes me that you would claim that I am sinning by my exegesis. I’ve never heard that one before!

      Travis

  5. Below is an exogetical response differing form yours to the same argument. I personally believe in the free will of man. I am not sure if you attended Crown College of the Bible in Powell Tennessee or not but I happen to know that you did not learn Calvanistic doctrine there. I would be careful with this view as that could mean that your amazing child is not part of the elect and therefore could not be saved. I believe God wants all men to be saved just as this verse states and that salvation is by faith and faith cometh by hearing the Word of God.

    White advocates the idea that “any” and “all” of 2 Peter 3:9 refers to “any elect person” and “all elect persons.” The process of thought that leads to this conclusion is suspect and most certainly has led many to bad ideas about the verse. I will respond to White’s two main arguments and make a positive case for seeing “any” and “all” as addressed to all men generally, believers and unbelievers, elect and non-elect.

    Some passages are more equal than others
    White’s first argument is that 2 Peter 3:9 occurs in a context that is primarily eschatological, not soteriological. Since the verse is not primarily soteriological, it is “illogical,” he says, to “demand deep specificity and great depth of information” about salvation from the verse. That is, White believes it is illogical to make deep inquiries about soteriology in this passage that primarily teaches eschatology. I have always thought this concept to be destructive to good reading. In my opinion, it is illogical to impose restrictions on possible meanings — provided the meanings are legitimately drawn from the text — because of the topic of the context of the statement. Context may be king, but White’s rule makes context a wicked tyrant, depriving statements of their rights.

    But even if we concede to White that we can’t make deep demands of a casual reference, White is himself demanding great specificity and depth of information from this verse. Whereas the common reading — that God is not willing that any man should perish — is plain on the face of it and requires no deep technical analysis, the reading advocated by White requires one to make highly technical and strained (if not completely fallacious) interpretations regarding categories of men. The simple reading of the verse on its face is much more in keeping with the idea that this is a passing thought in the mind of the apostle.

    “Context” and Peter’s Audience
    White’s second argument — by far the more important one — is that 2 Peter 3:9 should be understood in light of its context as an epistle from Peter to a group of believers. Understanding who is being addressed gives us the contextual setting. Quoting White,

    he [Peter] speaks directly to his audience as the “beloved” and “you.” He speaks of how his audience should behave “in holy conduct and godliness,” and says that they look for the day of the Lord. He includes himself in this group in verse 13, where “we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth.”
    Let us concede that the epistle is addressed to believers. So far, so good. Now White says of 3:9, “In any other passage of Scripture the interpreter would realize that we must decide who the “you” refers to and use this to limit the “any” and “all” of verse 9.”

    But there is no such rule. Why must the “any” and “all” refer to the antecedents of the pronoun “you”? I don’t know exactly why White says that “the interpreter … must….” He doesn’t really say why and so we must guess. One thing we can say for sure: there is no rule that indefinite pronouns must be limited by the antecedents of other pronouns occurring in the immediate context. Antecedents to the indefinite pronouns may be implicit or understood from the context, and must be analyzed accordingly.

    The word “any” in the phrase “not willing that any should perish” is the Greek word tinas and is a form of the word tis. The lexicons define this word as an “indefinite pronoun.” Indefinite pronouns do not refer to specific persons or things. This being the case, we do not need an explicit antecedent to make sense of the sentence. In 2 Peter 3:9, the Greek word tinas means “anyone.” The word needs no explicit antecedent. Obviously, “any” need not refer to the antecedents of “you” in the previous clause.

    There are many examples where the indefinite pronoun tis (or one of its forms) is used without an explicit antecedent. Here’s one example:

    1Cor. 9:22 – To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some [tinas].
    No explicit reference to an antecedent is required. The antecedent may be understood from the context or from the very nature of the case (as in this example).

    Another good example comes from the first occurrence of the word in 2 Peter 3:9. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some [tines] men count slackness….” The word “some” in this clause is the same word in a different form. Here it means “certain people.” Does this instance of the indefinite pronoun require an explicit antecedent? Interpreting it according to White’s rule, we should read it this way: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some of you count slackness.” Is that the right way to read it? Some commentators think not. Jamieson, Faussett and Brown refers “some” to the scoffers. Matthew Henry refers this to ungodly men who “charge a culpable slackness on God….” John Gill refers this to “scoffers or mockers.” These commentators have referred “some” [tines] to the scoffers of verse 3, even though this is not explicit in the verse and despite the presence of the pronoun “you” in the immediate context.

    Returning to the question: in 2 Peter 3:9, must “any” [tinas] refer to the same group as “you”? Many good interpreters did not believe so. Calvin certainly did not so interpret the verse.

    “Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost.” (Calvin comment on 2Peter 3:9.)
    The commentaries of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, and Albert Barnes are in substantial agreement with Calvin. The Geneva Bible translation (as well, I would argue, as Luther’s translation) reflects the idea that God’s will is that no man should perish.

    The same concepts apply to the “all” of “that all should come to repentance.” Further examples could be multiplied (of either “any” or “all”), both from Peter’s writings and from the New Testament generally.

    Thus it is not the case that the careful exegete must (as White insists) refer the “any” and “all” indefinite pronouns to “you” in verse 9. The careful exegete will decide the proper antecedent of the indefinite pronoun based on the subject matter and other contextual clues. The rule that White has proposed is inaccurately stated and will lead to inaccurate results.

    White tries to establish his case for the close connection between “you” and “any/all” by asserting that the clause “patient toward you” (“longsuffering to us-ward”) is left dangling if the material following (including the “any” and “all” clauses) does not modify the “longsuffering” clause. (I note in passing that this is the only real argument given for the connection White insists on.) He says,

    “it should be noted that if one suggests that there is no referential connection between “you” and “any/all,” the text is left making no sense. Consider it. The phrase “but is patient toward you” is left hanging in mid-air, disconnected and undefined. Obviously, what follows is modifying and explaining how this patience is expressed.”
    I am willing to grant that the “longsuffering” clause relates to the following clauses. But does this mean that “you” limits the “any” and “all”? Certainly not. The longsuffering that God exhibits towards believers need not be limited to believers alone. That God is longsuffering to “you” is explained by the fact that he exhibits longsuffering to all men generally. We could read the verse this way: “God is longsuffering to you inasmuch as he is not willing that any man should perish but that all men should come to repentance.” That is, the “you” is included in the “any” and “all”; it is not a limitation of the “any” and the “all.” This is the normal way to read the verse; White’s reading is a strain.

    The Positive Case
    What is the positive case for seeing the indefinite pronouns (“any” and “all”) as referring to a group larger than the audience of the epistle? White insists that the audience is believers. Agreed. But consider that while the epistle is addressed to believers, the “any” who risk perishing and the “all” who should come to repentance are clearly unbelievers. Thus by the simple reading of the verse, our minds are naturally drawn to a larger category than Peter’s immediate audience. These are saved, those are unsaved. White’s rule results in an interpretation that is 180 degrees opposite of the true reading.

    This interpretation is buttressed by the mutually reinforcing nature of the final clauses. We have not just “no man” or “all men.” We have contrasting clauses that each serve to emphasize the other. On the one hand, God is not willing that any man should perish; that not one man should perish is explained by God’s desire that all men come to repentance. And the class who should come to repentance is not just a general class of men, but it is a class that has no exceptions – that none of them should perish. The two clauses taken together clearly speak of a universal desire of God that covers all men in general and every man in particular. Another way of putting this is, “God … commandeth all men every where to repent.”

    What of the elect?
    Some high Calvinists insist that though this verse refers to unbelievers, it must refer to elect unbelievers. White argues this based on several contextual clues that he claims support this idea. But consider that in order to come to White’s interpretation, we must accept the following argument:

    Major premise: all believers are elect;
    Minor premise: all of Peter’s audience are believers;
    Conclusion: All unbelievers referred to at the end of verse 9 are elect.
    The argument requires no further refutation. To see it spelled out is to see its invalidity. (The proper conclusion is, of course, “all of Peter’s audience are elect.” But this says nothing of the unbelievers mentioned in the verse.)

    White’s idea that the indefinite pronouns refer to elect unbelievers is unsupported by the text. The passage does not make any mention of elect unbelievers. Rather unbelievers in general are mentioned. As Calvin says of this verse, “no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known unto us in the gospel.”

    The Uncontroversial Interpretation
    Reading the verse as referring to God’s unwillingness that “any man” should perish and that “all men” should come to repentance is completely uncontroversial from a Biblical standpoint. The Bible elsewhere makes these same points. God is good to all men (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:16-17), which goodness – especially His longsuffering (cf. 1 Peter 3:20) – is designed to bring men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God does not take delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11); rather God’s will is that all men everywhere come to repentance (Ezekiel 33:11, Acts 17:30). The ideas of God’s patience with all men and desire that all men come to repentance are brought together and emphasized here as nowhere else in scripture, but the ideas are not taught here alone. This fact supports the proposed interpretation.

    The interpretation proposed here has a good Calvinistic history, as evidenced by the Geneva translation of the verse:

    2 Peter 3:9 (Geneva Bible) “The Lord is not slacke concerning his promise (as some men count slackenesse) but is pacient toward vs, and would haue no man to perish, but would all men to come to repentance.”
    The original Geneva notes reflect Calvin’s understanding of the verse:

    He speaketh not here of the secret & eternal counsel of God, whereby he electeth whom it pleaseth him, but of the preaching of the Gospel, whereby all are bidden to the banquet.
    Conclusion
    Good theology, good hermeneutics, or good logic: any of these – and all of them together – lead us to see 2Peter 3:9 as expressing the will of God that no man (whosoever he may be) should perish, but that all men (“all mankind” as Calvin put it) should come to repentance.

    Parenthetically
    (Regarding the textual issue: for myself, I think “us” (following Calvin, Luther, Geneva Bible, and KJV) makes more sense than “you.” “Us” is defined by the “any” and “all” clauses rather than limiting them, thus making the entire verse to have a universal reference. That is, “us” refers to the children of men.)

  6. I haven’t read everything in the comments, nevertheless, I’m thinking when Brother Bill replies to “White” they’re meaning Dr. James White. I’m not a Calvinist, although my bookshelf does boast of a lot of White’s material, Piper and N. T Wright, so although I am, as White would describe, a. .synergist #gotta say it with the right amount of snide#, I do appreciate the amazing believers in the Calvinist tradition. I was meaning to ask, have you ever listened to the material or Jerry Walls? I’ve reads from and listened to a few opponents of the reformed position (e.g. Trent Horn, Norman G), and overall, I’ve often been left cold by them, their level of interaction really disappointed me.

    Jerry however did an awesome job of interacting with the position, then explaining why he isn’t in that same camp. Dr. White afterwards interacts with Walls too, and their attempted rebuttal left me very cold! Anyway, I’d like to recommend you give Jerry Walls’ “What’s Wrong With Calvinism” a look, it’s on YouTube. The names a little inflammatory, but honestly I consider him a very generous critic. Thanks for reading, brother Travis (everybody’s a brother thanks to Brother Bill suddenly), God bless you and keep you.

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