Monday, March 3, 2008

2 Peter 3:9 and the Analogy of Scripture

Here is the challenge: even if all the verses in Scripture which speak of God's electing grace in predestination were missing, would we be able to turn to 2 Peter 3:9 and get from it the idea that God has an active desire that each individual on the planet should repent at all times? Will the rest of the Bible allow that to be the meaning of this text?

This is a long post, and frankly boring, but I think it answers the question.


2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (ESV)

1. Is the phrase “not wishing that any should perish” an accurate description of God’s desire for every single individual on the planet? That is, is that a blanket statement that accurately describes God’s thoughts toward all people at all times?

a) If it is, one must account for why any do, in fact, perish. This becomes rather sticky once you take it home, and (like a roll of new carpet) begin to push it into all the corners. The baby that is stillborn, or miscarried, or dies of something like SIDS in the crib…are you going to postulate that God at no time willed or desired or “allowed” their deaths? What about the multitudes, including entire people groups, who lived and died for centuries before the first Christian missionary even found his way to their location? Or what about those ethnicities for whom, to this day, not even a scrap of the Word of God exists in their language? These examples represent multitudes spread across millennia, who lived and died with no access to the Word of God. If God actively desired that none of these should perish, it is then at least odd that He has allowed, and continues to allow, them to perish.

b) If it is, one must account for instances in the Scripture in which God plainly decrees that some should perish. Take for instance, all the multitudes that were living in Canaan at the time of Joshua’s entrance into the area. God commanded Israel to annihilate them utterly, even down to the babies. He commanded them to have no mercy upon them, to show them no pity. This is a strange command to give, if your active desire is, at all times, that none should perish.

i. Specifically, we mention the story of Eli the priest and his two wicked sons. In 1 Samuel 2, Eli rebukes and warns them, and we find this telling commentary on the situation in v.25: “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” Now, with reference back to the phrase we’re considering “not wishing that any should perish” we have here a specific statement that the Lord actively willed, or desired, the death of these two evil men. This story will also be useful when we begin to analyze the phrase from Peter that some take to mean that God always, actively desires that every individual on the planet should repent, and that this desire is so strong that it even causes Him to delay the Day of the Lord.

c) It is possible that some would, in consideration of a) and b), speculate that God has more than one will, or that He exists with competing and conflicting desires, such that the phrase “not wishing that any should perish” can indeed be accurate with regard to each individual on some level. It would exist in the realm of God wistfully dreaming that it sure would be nice, but not at the level of Him actually doing anything about it to make it happen that way.

But any maneuver of this sort immediately guts the verse of any force that it might have had against the Calvinistic concept of election and predestination. That is, if God’s active wish is that none should perish, but this wish does not reside on a level that actually causes anything to happen; and, in fact, the opposite does happen all the time, then this wish can hardly be said to nullify the idea that God has chosen from eternity to save some and not others, any more than it could be said that this wish keeps God from actively desiring and commanding the death of some.

CONCLUSION 1: “not wishing that any should perish” cannot be interpreted to mean that God always, actively desires that no individual on the planet should die, or perish in their sins.

2. If God actively, always desires that every individual on the planet should “reach repentance,” then why does God not give the gift of repentance to every individual?

a) Paul’s statement concerning repentance in 2 Timothy 2:25 is enlightening here. He tells the young preacher that he ought to patiently correct his opponents, gently, and then adds the reason why this is a good thing to do: “God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Two things to note from this:

i. Repentance is a gift. It is not a native, human ability. It is something that must be given to us, and not something we stir up from within ourselves. Other texts that show us that repentance is of God include Psalms 80: 3, 7, and 19; Acts 5:31, 11:18, and Romans 2:4.

ii. Paul did not consider that the gift of repentance is automatically, or universally, given to all men. He hopes that God “may” do it. It is a thing that resides in the realm of “perhaps.” Maybe God will, but maybe He won’t. This comports well with the astonishment that the converted Jews experienced when they realized that God had granted repentance to Gentiles in Acts 10-11: this is not the reaction of people who believe that God wants every individual, everywhere, at all times, to repent.

CONCLUSION 2: The fact that most individuals on the planet are not given the gift of Repentance is proof that God does not actively desire the repentance of every individual.

3. If Scripture itself shows God actively keeping persons from repentance, then it cannot be said that He actively and always desire that every individual on the planet should repent.

a) We reference again the inspired commentary on Eli’s sons from 1 Samuel 2:25. The text says that they did not heed their father’s voice (and thus, repent of their sins) specifically because the Lord desired to slay them. One must ask, then, which is it? Did the Lord actively desire that they repent? Or did He actively desire that they go on in their sins and be destroyed? The text will only allow one answer.

b) In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why He is teaching in parables. “And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (v.11) Jesus taught in parables in order to both reveal the truth to His own disciples, and, at the same time, to conceal the truth from others. Now, note that this concealing of the truth has certain consequences, which Jesus explains in the verses that follow, culminating with this quote from Isaiah, in Matthew 13:15:

“Lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn [or, repent], and I would heal them.”

This is a hard teaching for modern ears, accustomed to a light and breezy tickling. But what Jesus has just said is that He taught in parables in order to conceal the truth from some, with the end result being that they should fail to turn to Him and be saved.

Is this the action of a Messiah who actively and always desires that all individuals everywhere should repent?

c) Other instances could be adduced, which show God hardening a sinner’s heart (think Pharaoh) which would have the effect of making the sinner persist in his unrepentance. Did God desire Pharaoh’s repentance, or did He intend to display His awesome power by utterly destroying the most powerful man on the planet?

d) There is also Romans 11:8, but it’s almost unfair to reference that, since it is so clear. God Himself has sent a partial hardening upon the Jews, so that they will be blind and deaf with regard to the Gospel. This is not consistent with a desire that each individual everywhere, at all times, should come to repentance.

e) How about the Antichrist, or the Man of Sin, whichever terminology you prefer? Does God desire that this end-times Bad Guy repent, or hasn’t He already promised to slay him with His breath at the return of the Lord?

CONCLUSION 3: Since the Scripture shows God concealing the truth from some, and actively hardening others against the gospel, it cannot be true that God actively desires that every individual repent.

4. This is admittedly a logical, and not a strictly Scriptural objection, but that doesn’t automatically disqualify it:

If God is delaying the return of Christ because He wants to give every individual on the planet ample time to repent, then how is it that Christ will ever return, since there will always be new generations, new multitudes of people? At some point, if you believe this is why He is delaying, you must admit that His desire for every individual to repent will eventually end. God’s attitude toward sinners will eventually change, and abruptly so, when He says enough is enough.

CONCLUSION 4: God does not and will not delay the end of the world for everyone, or for every individual: at some point Jesus will return. Therefore it is wrong to think this verse means that God has the same concerns regarding every individual on the planet. Some get a long time to repent. Some don’t. Since the delay is not “across the board” then it is inconsistent to think the desire for repentance is either.


Exist-Dissolve said...

From the starting assumptions of Calvinism--i.e., that all that occurs does so only as the actualization of the divine ontology in creation as a result of the eternal will of God (which is necessarily essential with said ontology)--I would have to agree with you.

After all, why would God desire the repentance of those that God has--out of the depths of divine goodness and love--eternally condemned?

Of course, obviously the writer of 2 Peter was a bit loose with the language here as the writer allowed a few words in this passage that sound fairly ridiculous in light of the metaphysic you would presume him to espouse to creep in. Apparently God willed that inconsistency too...

Gordan Runyan said...

"God willed that inconsistency"

Well, of course, I'd argue there is no inconsistency present in that Scripture. Inconsistency arises from a certain interpretation, not from the inspired words of the text.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work Knuckles.

Exist-Dissolve said...

Well, of course, I'd argue there is no inconsistency present in that Scripture. Inconsistency arises from a certain interpretation, not from the inspired words of the text.

As God has willed it so, how could you argue otherwise? But then again, in the metaphysic you propose, the difference between "inspiredness" of words and gnat sneezes is irrelevantly dissolved in the primordial will of God as each (that is, Scripture and gnat sneezes) must attain to their own individual natures, and that infallibly (and as they both attain to their natures infallibly from the very emanation of the divine being of God, each are thoroughly and--most importantly here--equally infallible per their location within the eternal will of God), lest God be understood as something less than "sovereign".

Rhett said...


Gordan Runyan said...


The post wasn't about the doctrine of the Bible's infallibility, but just as a short rejoinder, you obviously misunderstand what guys like us mean when we speak of the Bible's infallibility, if you think that a "gnat sneeze" must be equally infallible in our view.

You're proposing an internal critique of our view, but that sort of idea is totally foreign to us. If a gnat does in fact sneeze, yes, we'd say that even that minute detail is under God's sovereign power and control. But the issue of "infallibility" is a completely different thing, and your suggestion that our view demands that they be the same thing is merely proof that you either don't understand or purposely distort our view.

Please do not take this as an invitation to continue to attempt to force this meta into the sandbox of your choosing.

kingofbleh said...

Gordon -

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

My pastor (mis)used 2 Peter 3:9 in a sermon recently comparing it to Acts 2:23 to justify his quasi-universalist view of repentence and election. I knew what my response should be to this criminal eisogesis, but I have been having trouble with wording it in a cohesive manner. You're post will help immensely.

Gordan Runyan said...


As George of the Jungle says,

"King of jungle, only here to help."

TheoJunkie said...

It appears that the answer is very simple and can be answered primarily within 2 Peter 3 itself:

1) 2 Peter (per 2 Peter 1:1) is written "to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours."

2) 2 Peter 3:1 affirms (lest we have forgotten) that the immediate context is written to the "beloved."

3) 2 Peter 3:7 states that the current heavens and earth are "being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly".

4) The promise mentioned in 2 Peter 3:9 is not merely the promise of salvation, but is also (if not primarily) the promise that God plans to destroy the ungodly. The reference to God's delay being an explanation that he is delaying for the very purpose of destroying the ungodly (see Eccl 8:11). Note that it is a DELAY (slowness) with regard to the ungodly, "but"-- contrast-- PATIENCE with regard to "you" (the beloved).

5) 2 Peter 3:14-15 refers again to God's patience, but with direct (and exclusive) reference to the beloved.

6) Therefore, when 2 Peter 3:9 says "but"... and refers again to "you" (the beloved intended recipients of this letter), this means that "any" and "all" is "any and all of the beloved."