Not willing that any should perish" /> Not willing that any should perish" /> Not willing that any should perish" />

Limited/Unlimited Atonement


For whom did Christ die?  For all men, or only the elect?  We affirm: for all men, and in this blog will discuss one verse (there are many) that is a battleground with regard to limited/unlimited atonement, (limited- means that Christ died for the elect only, unlimited-that He died for everyone; that all can and that all who do believe may be saved.)


2 Peter 3:8-9  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.


In this passage the question is, who are the us/any/all? Most of us, in looking at the context, see that as everyone. There are some who limit this to a subset of humanity, those whom God has chosen for salvation and to whom He gives faith.


Reformed Theologians say it is the "elect"

Most Dispensational Theologians say it is all "mankind"


To begin the analysis let us look two key words in this text.  1. willing, and 2. any.



God's will is spoken of in several ways in scripture:

  1. The will of God that decrees things to come to pass, whatever God chooses to do. God willed to create the universe, He decreed it-it happened, period. Now in our passage, this cannot be the meaning because that would lead to Unitarianism and Universalism - a position which other scriptures clearly forbid. That would mean everyone is saved because God decrees it and since what God decrees comes to pass, if "any" here means God decrees none will perish, then none would perish.
  2. The will of God that makes laws or precepts. This aspect of the will of God doesn't always come to pass because men disobey - the ten commandments are obvious examples.  If this were the meaning of the 2 Peter text, it would mean God does not give permission to men to perish or that it isn't His law that men perish. This is an awkward fit for our passage when looking at its context.
  3. The will of God that speaks of His disposition, speaking of that which pleases God and exhibits His character and desire. An example of this is Ezek. 33:11 where it says "God does not delight in the death of the wicked" but in justice must sometimes do so. He is disposed toward the life of even the wicked.

The context of our passage would determine which of these is in view.  The immediate background is false teachers, and also the scoffing of scoffers who say that even in these last days that things have "continued as they were since the beginning of creation."  


Because of the passage of time where judgment seems to not happen, they make light of, and willfully ignore any possibility of a coming reckoning day.  In this context, Peter reminds us that God is not willing that any should perish, and that He is longsuffering. This would tell us that the disposition of God's will is in view in 2 Peter 3:9. His disposition is that men should not perish. 


The question then becomes, which group of men is God not willing they should perish. Peter doesn't directly supply the identity of the 2nd word we must look at, which is "any." 



The immediate antecedent of the word "any" is the word "us".  God is not willing that any of US should perish. Who is the "us"?  Defining the "us" helps us determine who the "any" is.  Peter could be speaking to those to whom he is writing, who are believers. That would be saying that God is not willing that the elect should perish but that he is longsuffering that they should come to repentance.


There is a problem with this view if the use of "us" here means the elect to whom Peter writes.  Here's why, verse 1 of chapter 1 says he is writing  "To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ". It is clear that they already have a like precious faith, as has Peter!. Therefore God is not being longsuffering toward them in waiting for them to come to repentance, they have already done so. Therefore to identify the "us" as the recipients of his epistle makes no sense.


Obviously, a more general use of "us" is in view than the people to whom Peter writes, and one must study the entire epistle for context to get the answer. Is it the overall elect of God (Reformed position) or is it humanity in general? Context again will help.


Way back in 1:19 we read  "we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place..." The trustworthy prophetic word looks forward to the blessings of the redeemed and the judgment of the wicked. Its authors (the prophets) were to be trusted despite the presence of false teachers and scoffers in this dark place. Help and encouragement is given to the saints in 2:9 that "the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment."


In 2:20 mention is made of men who for a time escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of Jesus Christ (it doesn't say they were converted). They then became re-entangled in those sins and their end is said to be worse than their beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of truth than to return to unrighteousness... "a dog returns to its vomit."


Here then the context builds and we see WHO is in view. It is mankind in general, those who did believe, those who will yet believe (towards whom God is being longsuffering), false professors, and those caught up in the world system and its unrighteousness.


God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  Who is the US?  It is humanity in general.


God is not willing, it is not His disposition, that any of humanity should perish but that all should come to repentance. If we refuse to repent and believe, we perish - God is justified in doing so. God is holy and God is love - both.


If this passage only spoke of God being longsuffering toward the elect, not willing that the elect should perish, that is utterly contrary to Reformed Theology itself!  Why would God have to be longsuffering to those whom HE has elected, they would never perish (see the P in the Reformed TULIP). It He waiting for them to be converted, wringing His hands in anticipation of the elect finally believing, and thereby needing to be longsuffering towards those He already chose? The whole suggestion that the any/us of the passage is strictly referring to an elect subset of humanity misses the context of the epistle, and also is inconsistent with Reformed Theology itself.


In summary, God is not willing that any of humanity should perish, but that all should come to repentance. It is His dispositional will. What an encouragement to the recipients of the epistle! The prophetic word is sure, even in the presence of false teachers and discouragements to believers,..they can press forward and be found in peace, without spot and blameless.




postscript 1:  A few other scriptures that affirm unlimited atonement and that show this disposition of God towards all of mankind include:

  • John 3:16  God so loved the world (not merely the elect), that He gave His only begotten Son, that the ones believing in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
  • 2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
  • Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.
  • Romans 5:6: just the right time, when we were still without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.
  • 1 Timothy 4:10: We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and specifically/especially of those who believe.
  • Hebrews 2:9: But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
  • 1 John 2:2: He is the propitiation/satisfaction for our sins, and not only for ours but also for whole world.

God loved the entire world, He bought even false teachers, He came to seek the lost, Christ died for the ungodly, He is the Savior of all men (there is no other), He tasted death for everyone, and He is the propitiation for the whole world.




postscript 2: the above topic in view of Evangelism:


As we see the errors concerning election that we find in Reformed/Calvinist theology, it would be helpful for those of us not in their camp to understand some of the non scripture-specific reasons that the Calvinist can be vehement in his position. One such reason is what is often called the "low Arminian" problem (in contrast to the high-Calvinist).  It has to do with the view of God we portray in our "everyone may come to Christ" evangelism. At times we portray a God that is apprehensive, non sovereign, and quite benign, rather than the Holy God He is.


We affirm the gospel is salvation offered to all men, but at times the methods and terms used tend to a low view of God, for example:

  • ask Jesus into your heart
  • choose God, the choice is yours
  • God is waiting for you to be saved, and He does not want to live without you
  • God needs you, Jesus needs you
  • Jesus wants to come into your heart
  • choose Jesus

So many of these things have a grain of truth in them, but let us step back and see that we often portray God in a low manner, as someone wringing His hands hoping people will "choose Jesus". The Calvinist sees our view of God (because of this loose evangelism) as one where man seems sovereign and God seems dependent upon us. If we would return to scriptural language about sin, judgement, and tell of Christ's death & resurrection, calling upon men to repent and believe the gospel, we might find that our view of God is elevated. And it just might improve our evangelism.  The goal isn't to cease offending Calvinists, but it should include doing one thing they do better than us, which is to maintain a high view of God, as God. It can be done if we stay close to scriptural language.



WBC some of the material was actually gleaned from an online video of RC Sproul who is actually on the wrong side of this topic.