Not Willing That Any Should Perish

Having already issued one letter to the persecuted and exiled believers throughout modern-day Turkey, east of Greece and north of Israel, St Peter sends another message: "To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. 1:1 NRSV) Whether Peter penned this letter is not under scrutiny: most likely his amanuensis (secretary) took dictation and then subsequently sent the letter. Peter H. Davids notes: "The Letter of 2 Peter had a more difficult time joining the canon than did any other New Testament letter."1 Still, the work is deemed by the Church as witnessing to the Word of God, in a proper sense, and we do well to count it among the other Christian scriptures, as to "a lamp shining in a dark place." (2 Pet. 1:19) We always remember St Paul's words: what is inspired of the Spirit of God is not the author but the γραφὴ, the writings, the scriptures. (2 Tim. 3:16)

The apostle encourages the believer, in this second letter, toward the truth that the divine power of God has granted to us who believe in Christ "everything needed for life and godliness;" and that, through God's precious promises, we may "escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature." (2 Pet. 1:4) He continues: "For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love." (2 Pet. 1:5, 6, 7)

Now, should the believer obey these words, he adds: "For if these things are yours and are increasing among you [plural], they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. 1:8) Bearing fruit by the grace of God, in Christ, by the inwardly-working of the Holy Spirit, is our calling as believers in and disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself confesses: "I am the vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." (John 15:1, 2, emphasis added) In light of these truths Peter explains: "For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins." (2 Pet. 1:9) In Christ we are forgiven of sins, given spiritual power for godly living, and are able to be fruitful in our knowledge of (or relationship with) Jesus Christ. Yet we are called to spiritual disciplines. (2 Pet. 1:5, 6, 7)

Peter then grants us this command: "Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you." (2 Pet. 1:10, 11) A few observations are necessary. If God's so-called election is unconditional in nature, and obviously secret to us, then we cannot obey Peter's command; for we cannot know with certainty God's secret decree from eternity past; we therefore cannot be eager concerning such an election; nor can we maintain any semblance of confirming this secret and unconditional election and special calling. If God's election of believers is unconditional in nature, by what means possible are we given to the confirming of said calling and election? By mere belief? That poses quite the problem.

If one suggests that belief in Christ confirms God's unconditional election of an individual, then we are forced to ask why Peter instructs believers toward the increase of the spiritual disciplines mentioned at vv. 5, 6, 7, suggesting that such keeps one from being ineffective and unfruitful in one's knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8). Moreover, the conditional nature of v. 8 warrants attention, as Peter is not at all convinced dogmatically that these believers will work toward the same: "For if these things are yours and are increasing among you" (v. 8, emphasis added). In the scheme that promotes the theory of unconditional election, the conditional statement is rather misplaced, or at least misstated. Furthermore, the mention of "stumbling" is problematic in this same scheme.

When instructing believers to confirm the call and election of God on their own behalf, and to do so quite eagerly, he conditionally concludes: "for if you do this, you will never stumble." (v. 10b, emphasis added) Here is yet another conditional statement: if the believer will eagerly confirm her own call and election of God, on her behalf, then she will never stumble. Consequently, should she assume a lackadaisical attitude toward spiritual disciplines, the possibility of "stumbling" remains. This stumbling, πταίσητε, refers to sinning, erring, or transgressing. (link) Thayer's Greek Lexicon grants: "b. to fall into misery, become wretched (often so in Greek writings): of the loss of salvation, 2 Peter 1:10." (link) This "stumbling" is a permanent falling away or forfeiture of salvation.

The same word is used at Romans 11:11 and refers to falling away from a right position in or relationship to God. St Paul writes: "So I ask, have they [the Jewish people] stumbled so as to fall [i.e., everlastingly]? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous." (Rom. 11:11) Yet he grants the Jewish people hope: "Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!" (Rom. 11:12) Though the Jewish people have stumbled, having rejected Jesus as Messiah, this stumbling can be rectified by grace through faith in Christ. However, the stumbling in the second letter of Peter is a stumbling away from Christ, a possibility for anyone who neglects spiritual disciplines (2 Pet. 1:5, 6, 7), increasing in them (2 Pet. 1:8), becoming forgetful (2 Pet. 1:9) and is apathetic or dispassionate regarding the confirming of the call and election of God in the life of the believer (2 Pet. 1:10). Let us consider the call and the election of God.

We do well in being careful toward dogmatically adopting the ordo salutis mentioned at Romans 8:30: "And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified." (More on this below.) Calvinists parse the "call" of God unto salvation in terms of a "general call" to all and a particular, inward, "effectual call" to the unconditionally elect. Laurence Vance comments that Sam Storms "concedes that 'the Bible does not use the word external with reference to a call of God,' but insists that because 'God issues an invitation which is universal, yet ultimately ineffective,' Calvinists are justified in using the term anyway."2 We think Calvinists are not justified in use of the qualifying terms of general call and effectual call.

Consider the following conundrum: "Although the Bible does distinguish between types of calls, this in no way proves the general/effectual dichotomy of the Calvinists."3 The "call" dichotomy of Calvinism is necessitated by the sole driving force of TULIP theology, the error of unconditional election; without which, limited atonement, irresistible grace and necessary perseverance of the saints -- even the strained philosophy of the deterministic sovereignty of God -- lose all fundamental imperative. In other words, the error of unconditional election creates all of the unnecessary, soteriological complications and errors within the Calvinist system. No one can know the secrets contextualizing the alleged unconditional election of God; yet Calvinists insist that Peter allegedly commands believers to eagerly confirm that God has effectually, and particularly, called them unto salvation via irresistible grace, and the pre-faith act of regeneration, and unconditionally elected them unto salvation -- an impossible feat if Calvinism is true.


Quoting A.W. Pink, to the effect that the Bible does not use the word "called" when referring to those who receive a general call unto salvation, Vance answers: "The problem with this statement is twofold. Not only is there no distinction in the Bible between a general and an effectual call to salvation, [but note also that] the word call (and its derivatives) does not necessarily refer to a call to salvation. In fact, the primary designations to calling are not to salvation at all. [Matt. 2:7; 4:21; John 1:24; Rom. 1:1; 9:26; 1 Cor. 1:2, 9; 7:15; Gal. 1:6; 5:13; 1 Thess. 4:7; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 5:4; 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 3:1; Rev. 11:8]"4 Moreover, as mentioned above, the ordo salutis mentioned at Romans 8:30 is not consistently maintained throughout the rest of the New Testament:
In Matthew 20:16 and 22:14, calling comes before "election," but in Romans 8:29 it is after predestination. In Acts 2:23 foreknowledge comes after the supposed predestination, but in 1 Peter 1:2 and Romans 8:29 it doesn't. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 sanctification follows "election," but in Jude 1:1 it precedes calling. According to 2 Timothy 1:9 and 2 Peter 1:10, the order is salvation, calling, and then election. In Jude 1:1, however, one is sanctified, preserved, and then called. But in 1 Corinthians 6:11, the believer is washed, sanctified, and then justified.5
In other words, to force St Paul's words at Romans 8:30 as offering a definitive ordo salutis is not merely sophomoric, but impossible to consistently maintain. God's "call" unto salvation is granted to each and every person ever to exist (cf. Acts 17:30). Those who, by grace, answer this call unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ, the same are referred to as "the called," their identity being grounded in the Elect One Himself, Jesus (Isa. 42:1).

Peter intends to keep reminding the believers of the truths mentioned at 2 Peter 1:1-11 (2 Pet. 1:12-15), since he and the other disciples have seen God's glory in Christ (2 Pet. 1:16-18), thus possessing confirmation of the prophetic message of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:19-21). He also warns of false prophets (2 Pet. 2:1-22). He then concludes his letter with a confession: "I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles." (2 Pet. 3:1, 2) He reminds them of scoffers springing up and mocking Christ's promise to return (2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), granting us insight into the perception of time that God possesses (2 Pet. 3:8), and offering a revelation concerning the delay of the second advent: "The Lord is not slow about his promise [to return and deliver or save His own], as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (2 Pet. 3:9)

Peter underscores the fact that God is being patient, regarding the return of Christ, and this patience accounts for the delay. If God can be charged as being "slow," then we are permitted to think that He is "slow to anger," cf. Exodus 34:6. But, Peter particularly notes God's patience toward ὑμᾶς, you (us or we). The personal pronoun ὑμᾶς is plural: you (us, we) all collectively: ὑμᾶς is the accusative plural of ἐγὼ ("I"), referring to us, we, our (cf. Geneva Bible 1599, KJV, MEV, NKJV, WEB, YLT), though the preferred reading is "you."6

Who are the referents? Calvinist James White proffers the following: "Yet, the context indicates that the audience is quite specific. 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."7 Rarely are we granted such a striking glimpse into the hermeneutics of Calvinistic interpretation: first, the Calvinist determines the particulars, and then he restricts the universals. This is how the Calvinist can infer from John 3:16 that the universal "world" actually refers to "the unconditionally elect." But, of course, our Greek-to-English lexicons will not permit us such an interpretation.8

If we use White's Calvinistic interpretation then we are inevitably relegated to the adoption of an obvious redundancy: God is being patient toward "you all" unconditionally elect, not desiring any among "you all" unconditionally elect to perish, but for each one among "you all" unconditionally elect to repent. In the same third chapter, Peter instructs "you all" to lead lives of holiness and godliness (2 Pet. 3:11); that while "you all" are waiting for these future realities (2 Pet. 3:12), strive to be found by Him at peace, without spiritual blemish (2 Pet. 3:14); and to regard "the patience of our Lord as salvation." (2 Pet. 3:15) So, the "you" of 2 Peter 3:11, 12, 13, 14 refers to those who are already living and encouraged to continue living a holy life, but the "you" of 2 Peter 3:9 is an alleged demonstration that God is being patient toward the not-yet saved unconditionally elect in the congregation? This interpretive conclusion is too onerous to consider viable.

We assume here a rather universal and generic referent for "you," or "you all," pertaining to whomever may read, or hear the letter read aloud, a referent that extends beyond the immediate, first-century recipients of this letter. Moreover, we may specifically refer the "you" to its contextual referent within the immediate passage, that belonging to the scoffers (2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7): i.e., God is being patient toward you scoffers,9 not desiring for you scoffers to perish and become vessels of wrath, but to come to repentance and be graciously saved through faith in Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 3:9) "Presumably, then, when the judgment comes, God will have decided that he cannot deliver any more people through continued delay."10 According to the exhaustive foreknowledge of God (cf. Judith 9:6; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2, 3), this foreknowledge belonging to and deriving from His own essence, the number of believers -- called the elect because they are in union with the Elect One, Jesus (cf. Isa. 42:1; Eph. 1:4) -- is fixed and will be completed in due time by the grace of God, in Christ, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working within the hearts and minds of all sinners through the gospel. (cf. John 16:8-11; Rom. 1:16, 17; 11:25)

God does not βουλόμενός, wish, want or will (not "will" in the sense of a strict decree, render certain, bring to fruition by divine fiat, but a desire), for τινας, anyone at all, to perish everlastingly, or experience His wrath, but that πάντας, all, everyone, would come to repentance and faith in Christ. This echoes St Paul's words: "God our Savior . . . desires [θέλει] everyone [πάντας] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:4) His words echo that of the prophet Ezekiel: "As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live." (Ezek. 33:11; cf. Ezek. 18:23) Though Paul and Peter use two different Greek words to express the desire, wish, or will of God, in the salvation of all, Reformed Arminian scholar I. Howard Marshall argues that the differences in the two words really amounts to nothing:
So far as the linguistic problem is concerned, it is true that theló [at 1 Tim. 2:4] normally expresses a wish or desire, but this does not necessarily mean that it expresses a mere wish as opposed to a real purpose. The range of meaning of the less-commonly used verb boulomai [at 2 Pet. 3:9] is also wide. It can express both an intention and a determination. The closeness of the meanings of the two verbs can be seen by a glance at the associated nouns; both can express the will or purpose of God. For example, Paul says that he is an apostle by the thelēma of God. In fact he does not use the noun boulé except at 1 Corinthians 4:5 (where it refers to human plans) and in Ephesians 1:11 where it means the plan that issues from God's will (thelēma). It appears that the noun thelēma can cover the meanings of both verbs, and this suggests that the verbs are close in meaning.11
Moreover, Marshall notes how St Paul uses theló at 1 Corinthians 12:18 in exactly the same manner as he uses boulomai at 1 Corinthians 12:11. He concludes (emphasis added):
He, therefore, who contends that it is a weaker verb that is used here [at 1 Timothy 2:4] must explain why the [so-called] stronger verb is used to the same effect in [2 Peter 3:9]. The fact is that, while theló has the wider range of meaning, so that it can on occasion refer to desires and perhaps expresses more the element of personal desire that lies behind the expression of the will, the two verbs are essentially synonymous, and nothing can be built on the fact that one is used rather than the other.12
The message of 2 Peter 3:9 is as universal concerning grace and the genuine offer of salvation to all as in any other text (cf. Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 1:9, 12, 13; 3:14, 15, 16, 17, 36; 6:40; 12:32; Rom. 2:5; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 2:16; 1 Tim. 2:4, 5, 6; 4:10; Heb. 7:25). Although God is willing to demonstrate His wrath upon unrepentant and willfully stubborn sinners, He endures with much patience the objects of His wrath, who are fitted for destruction. (Rom. 9:22) Note again the patience of God. That same patience is present at 2 Peter 3:9. Note that the objects of God's wrath are not predetermined to that fate (cf. Rom. 9:22, 23): "[I]nstead of immediately releasing His wrath, God through longsuffering withheld His wrath to give people time to repent (Rom. 2:4 and 2 Pet. 3:9)."13 Peter is using the same thematic elements as is Paul with reference to God's patience, salvation, and wrath.

Though God does not want people to perish forever, many will perish forever, by rejecting the grace of God regarding faith in Jesus Christ. (Matt. 7:13, 14, 21, 22, 23; John 1:9, 11, 12, 13; 3:36; 15:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Titus 2:11; Heb. 10:29) What one is saved from is the wrath of God, which Christ endured on the Cross of Calvary, so that we would not have to taste the death-inducing wrath of Almighty God. (John 1:29; Heb. 2:9) God has made provision for the atonement and the salvation of every individual ever to exist; He has even made sufficient provision for each individual to receive Christ, by grace, through the inner working of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the preached gospel of Christ; and He remains ever-patient with everyone -- us all, or you all, 2 Peter 3:9 -- by the granting of time and grace.


1 Peter H. Davids, "2 Peter," in The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 1551. Dr. Davids notes that this letter was "disputed into the fourth century, mainly due to its significant differences in style and methodology from 1 Peter, and perhaps due to its very Greek way of expressing ideas. Both issues made it difficult for third- and fourth-century church leaders to believe that 2 Peter was actually written by Peter." Elsewhere he writes: "This uncertainty [of authorship] about the book [and its proper place in the canon] is not just the product of modern biblical criticism. The same uncertainty about the book existed in antiquity." See The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Grands Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 121.

2 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 2002), 491.

3 Ibid., 492.

4 Ibid., 492-93.

5 Ibid., 494-95.

6 AMG's Annotated Strong's Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, NASB, eds. Spiros Zodhiates, Warren Baker, and Joel Kletzing (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2008), 2182.

7 James R. White, The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 146-47.

8 "Again, this is an important assertion [regarding the word "world" with regard to its referent(s)]. The question is, Where does the burden of proof lie? Douty mentions the following works: Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Robinson's A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, Thayer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Souter's Pocket Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Berry's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Arndt-Gingrich's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Abbott-Smith's Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Tasker's New Bible Dictionary, Everett F. Harrison in Baker's Dictionary of Theology, and John D. Davis in his Dictionary of the Bible (both Harrison and Davis list John 3:16 as referring to mankind, though both are Presbyterians)." The conclusion is obvious from the perspective of the Greek language: the word "world" cannot refer to "the unconditionally elect." See Terry L. Miethe, "The Universal Power of the Atonement," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 73.

9 David F. Payne, "2 Peter," in The International Bible Commentary with the New International Version, ed. F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1569.

10 Davids, 1556.

11 I. Howard Marshall, "Universal Grace and Atonement in the Pastoral Epistles," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, 56.

12 Ibid., 56-57. Robert E. Picirilli agrees: "If boulomai is to be distinguished from theló . . ., the distinction usually made is that boulomai tends to be the stronger word, more likely to refer to God's eternal will and plan. But here is this word (like theló in 1 Tim. 2:4 . . .) used to express God's will that none be lost (in other words, that all be saved)." See Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 81.

13 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 137.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.