Universal offer of Salvation in the Pastorals

I posted a while ago about limited atonement, and included a reference to 1 Tim 4:10, which I think is a helpful verse that can defuse some of the contentiousness about this point.  As I have been studying the Pastorals in more detail over the past few months, I have been on the lookout for more verses about the scope of salvation.

The first passage of note is 1 Tim 2:1-7, with the recurring word “all” (πάντων) standing out. Paul starts off by asking us to pray for all people (1 Tim 2:1). It becomes clear that praying for their salvation is in view since God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). 1 Tim 2:6 then goes on to say that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. These verses certainly fit nicely in the Arminian framework, and have to be qualified somewhat by Calvinists.

1 Tim 2:7 does however state that it is this universality of salvation that has resulted in Paul becoming a preacher to the Gentiles. In other words, the force of the all in this passage may be that Paul wants to say that God’s heart is for all nations, not just the Jews, and that Jesus is the Saviour for all nations, not just the Jews. This is why in 2 Tim 4:17, Paul says he wants all the Gentiles to hear the gospel.

Then we have 1 Tim 4:10. Here, God is the “Saviour of all people”, but especially the Saviour of “those who believe”. I take this to mean that he is the only Saviour available to people, but only actually saves those who believe.

The final verse of note is in Titus 2:11, which speaks of the “appearing of grace” (referring to Jesus’ incarnation). The coming of Jesus brought salvation for all people, which unless we are universalists, means that it provided a way of salvation available to all people.

In summary, the Pastoral epistles regularly speak of the offer and availability of salvation in universal terms, and if we want to be biblical Christians, we should do the same. Jesus is the only Saviour available to the people of this world, and his sacrifice was sufficient to atone for the sins of the world. As a Calvinist I am happy to affirm this. The sticking point remains at why some avail themselves of this salvation, and others do not. Is it rooted in the eternal choice of God, or in human free will?

Saturday Morning Theology – Salvation

I’ve had a few complaints recently that my blog isn’t being updated regularly enough. Part of the reason has been that my focus has been on preparing material for theology & Bible teaching sessions. Earlier this year, thanks to plenty of help from by good friend Mark Mould, I ran a “Saturday Morning Theology” course, consisting of 10 talks on the doctrine of salvation. It was the second course we had run, the first being on the doctrine of the church.

We didn’t take up the typical headings found in a systematic theology, but rather attempted to go chronologically, starting with God’s electing purpose before time, then to the fall, to the cross and resurrection, then onto the new birth, the Christian life, and finally persevering to the end and our future hope. We didn’t cover anywhere near everything that should be covered in a course on salvation, but it was really good to wrestle with these doctrines from slightly different angles to normal, and also to have some lively debate on controversial topics that can be too easily avoided or skirted around (like predestination and perseverance of the saints).

Anyway, thanks to the efforts of Matt Riley, all the talks are available to watch on video. The sound quality is sadly not that good, but most of the talks have handouts and presentations available to download. A few of them are available as MP3. The videos and additional downloads are available here.

I’m afraid new blog posts are likely to be sparse in the future too, as I’m currently working on a summer series of seminars on the book of Esther. I’ll try to turn my notes into posts if possible.

Schreiner on Judgment According to Works

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; …

10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

(Rom 2:6-7,10 ESV)

At first glance, what Paul says in Romans 2:7 (and 2:10) seems to be that you can earn your salvation by good works. The big problem with that, is that he categorically contradicts that idea elsewhere (for example, Rom 3:20 which states that no one can be righteous before God by the works of the law). So what exactly does he mean?

Naturally, some are willing to suggest that Paul has indeed contradicted himself, but this seems like a colossal blunder to attribute to someone who is such a coherent thinker.

An alternative approach, is to assume that Paul is speaking hypothetically here. That is, “Eternal life would be given if one did good works and kept the law perfectly, but no one does the requisite good works, and thus all deserve judgment”. In many ways, this is a good solution, since it harmonizes well with what Paul says later in chapter 3, while still fitting in with the overall argument of 2:6-11.

However, Schreiner has come up with an alternative and intriguing suggestion:

Paul elsewhere teaches that works are necessary to enter the kingdom of God (cf,. 1 Cor 6:9-11; 2 Cor 5:10; Gal 5:21). Since Paul asserts that works are necessary for salvation and also that one cannot be justified by works of the law, it is probably that he did not see these two themes as contradictory.

He thus concludes:

in verses 7 and 10 Paul is speaking of Christians who keep the law by the power of the Holy Spirit

Apparently he defends this view further in his commentary on 2:25-29, which I haven’t got to yet. In many ways, this idea is connected with his take on “the righteousness of God”, being both “forensic” (it is a declaration) and “transformative” (it actually changes us). Here again we see a synthesis between the two potentially competing concerns of salvation entirely based on grace not works, and a strong expectation that those who receive that salvation will indeed experience a transformation of behaviour.