2 Peter 3:9 & Unconditional Election
A friend of mine recently read a statement on Wikipedia regarding Calvinism, and I quote, “One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him.” He brought the statement to my attention and asserted that this was one major reason in his objection to Calvinism as a system, because – according to his interpretation of scripture – this is directly opposed to “clear bible teaching”.
I asked him to provide me an example of “clear Bible teaching” that opposes this view, and he pointed me towards 2 Peter 3:9 which reads – “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.”
While it would be outside of the scope of this article to presume to defend the statement from Wikipedia, I do intend to demonstrate that 2 Peter 3:9 does not require the student to come to a conclusion that this particular scripture “clearly opposes” the Wikipedia statement.
Before we delve into the text of 2 Peter, it seems profitable to propose an exercise. Let me suggest this simple scenario.
Suppose I have a team of men who report to me, and I have told them that I intend to throw a party. Enough time has passed since my statement to them that some are getting impatient and ask, “When will you throw the party?” So I write the following email to my team and send it to them.
As you know, a big party is coming. I am being patient with regards to actually throwing the party because I do not wish that any should miss it, rather that all should be in attendance!
– Rob Hines
How do you interpret the phrase “that any should miss it” and the phrase “that all should be in attendance”? It seems to me, given the context, that we are referring to those individuals on the team versus an interpretation wherein we come to the conclusion that it is meant to include all individuals currently in existence. I propose that to even suggest it means “all individuals currently in existence” would be a bizarre twisting of the words in their current context?
Finding the Context
As I’ve stated in the article How Do You Study the Bible, context is king – A text without context is a pretext for a proof-text! So then, we must return to this verse and determine its context, with as few pre-conceived notions as possible.
What Does it Say?
Peter likely wrote this letter from a Roman prison shortly before his death. The letter appears to be a general letter to all Christians, versus a letter to a specific church – as noted by his greeting “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours …” (there’s something to live up to!). His purpose – to “remind us of these qualities” (2:12), “to stir us up by way of reminder” (2:13), “stir up our sincere mind by way of reminder” (3:1) – so then, it is his plan to remind us Christians of the truth and thus “stir up our sincere minds”.
The book can be broken down by seeing that Chapter 1 centers around an admonishment that we “be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure” (1:10), then Chapter 2 delves into the issue of false prophets and teachers – providing very vivid terms of the twisted Christian truths that were popular then (and we see now). Finally, he ends with Chapter 3 by focusing on the fact that the Day of the Lord will indeed come.
So, going into Chapter 3 we can see clearly that Peter makes it a point to reiterate that:
This is the second letter.
He is writing to Christians, “beloved”.
He intends to stir up Christians minds by way of reminder.
In Chap 3 Peter restates the target audience as well as his purpose, and then begins talking about God’s “predestination and foreknowledge” by advising us to “remember the predictions of the holy prophets” (see v1:21) and the commandments of the Lord. How’s that for Sovereignty?
He points out that scoffers will come along, following their own sinful desires, and will attempt to cast doubt on God’s sovereignty by asking “Where is the promise of His coming? Our [scoffers] experience indicates that He hasn’t come and won’t come.” He goes on to note that these scoffers deliberately ignore the fact that God “destroyed” the world by water in Noah’s day and that God intends to “destroy” it again in the future by fire.
In verse 8, Peter points out that God does not view time in the same way we do – and notice how careful he is in the same verse to articulate “beloved” as if he is purposely pointing out his intended audience.
Finally, we hit verse 9. God is not slow as we see slow, see verse 8 – we just discussed that He views time much differently than we do. But he says God is “patient toward you”. He then goes on to say “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”.
Finally, he discusses some of what that final day will look like, enjoining the reader to order their life such that they will be prepared for it. It is interesting that he also equates his teaching of God’s patience with that of Paul’s before he closes.
What Does it Mean?
We are clear on the fact that the target audience is Christians:
1v1 – To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours
1v4 – having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire
1v10 – be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure
3v1 – I am writing to you, beloved
3v2 – through your apostles
3v8 – beloved
3v13 – we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells
3v14 – beloved
3v15 – our Lord
3v17 – you, beloved
3v18 – our Lord
We are clear on the fact that Peter’s intention in writing the letter (which we refer to as a Book of the Bible, Holy Scripture) is to stir the Christians up by reminding Christians of the Truth. It is important to note that we are specifically stirring up the Christian mind, and Charles Spurgeon puts it nicely in this quote:
“The purest minds need stirring up at times. It would be a great pity to stir up impure minds. That would only be to do mischief; but pure minds may be stirred as much as you please, and the more the better.”
With what implement do we stir? We stir with the Truth! – specifically the predictions (Old Testament) of the holy prophets and the commandments (New Testament) of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. Notice how this statement lends itself to upholding God’s Sovereignty in predestination and foreknowledge. Once we tie the statement “predictions of the holy prophets” back to chapter 1 verse 21 “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”. God says it is going to happen long before, and it has happened – Truth!
Scoffers are here now, following their own sinful desires. They strive to cast doubt on God’s Sovereignty by deliberately overlooking revealed truth. This is one particular reason that Christians need to be stirred up and reminded of the Truth. God is coming, the Day of Judgment will arrive, the ungodly will be destroyed, and the elect will enjoy the new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells! Simply because this has not yet happened, is not a valid argument for stating that it will not happen – in God’s time.
Because God is the creator of time, and is sovereign over it, He views time in an utterly different fashion than we who are subjected to living within it do. It is important for us to grasp that God, outside of time and space, isn’t subjected to the passing of time in the same way that we are and that it is presumptuous for us to impose our limited understanding of time on God.
“All things are equally near and present to his view; the distance of a thousand years before the occurrence of an event, is no more to him than would be the interval of a day. With God, indeed, there is neither past, present, nor future. He takes for his name the ‘I AM.’ . . . “He is the I AM; I AM in the present; I AM in the past and I AM in the future. Just as we say of God that he is everywhere, so we may say of him that he is always; he is everywhere in space; he is everywhere in time.” (Spurgeon)
Such that God is not slow to fulfill His promise, although from our personal experience we might consider it slow, rather He is always precisely on time. We find ourselves lacking in patience and desiring things to be done faster and to our own timelines with little or no regard for the greater picture and how it is impacted. Not God – He is patient toward us, doesn’t want any of us to perish, and would have us all reach repentance.
Who does Peter refer to in chapter 3, verse 9? Who is the ‘you’ in the phrase “but is patient toward you”? It must be the intended reader of the letter, and we have determined that the target audience is Christians. Interpreting the ‘you’ as non-Christians seems absurd to me, especially given Peter’s efforts in the this book to continually identify exactly who he is writing to, and when he does refer to non-Christians he uses the pronoun “they” to designate that “they” are of a different set than “us, we, our, you [collective, as a group]” . Also, note verse 15 – “count the patience of our Lord as Salvation”, Salvation can only be applied to Christians – you simply cannot effectively apply salvation to the non-Christian without getting a Christian!
Perhaps one would come along and suggest that you is universal, that it means anyone who is reading the letter – whether they be Christian or not. This just seems incongruous with the letter itself and utterly breaks the premise of the letter’s audience. Given a normal use of language and the form of letters we are required to assume that youis meant to refer to the target audience – and not to anyone outside the audience. If I write a letter to my daughters and within that letter state “your mother is being patient with you” – I doubt anyone would quibble over to whom the ‘you’ refers to.
Which then leads into the question of to whom any” and all refer to in the rest of verse 9. Yet again, a plain usage of language means understanding this as any of the target audience and all of the target audience. Peter is so careful to delineate his target audience from those who do not know the Lord that it is highly unlikely he just skipped over that here. The simplest reading of the text is the most elegant. In order to view this any and this allas universal, we have to inject something into the text that apparently isn’t already here.
I believe it is inappropriate to do that here and advise you not to do it either. Even if you feel that it is taught elsewhere in scripture, it doesn’t appear to be taught here. If you do import the understanding that any and all are universal, it appears to create more problems than it is worth!
If God really doesn’t wish that “any person ever living should perish, but that all people who have ever been, are, and ever will be should reach repentance” why can’t He seem to realize His wish?
It would seem that He is too weak to accomplish His will, that something is preventing that will – but what can prevent God?
Could He not simply supernaturally reveal Himself to every individual in such a way that they would repent and believe on Him? Why doesn’t He?
Is He not omniscient enough to be persuasive enough to convince every individual?
Scripture tells us simply that many will go to destruction and few will find life (Matthew 7:13-14) – how weak is God that more people will accomplish preventing His will than those who succumb to His will?
And why then is it important for us Christians to see that God is being patient with us? Answer me this, “How many of those who are Christians today are happy that Jesus didn’t return ten years, or five years, or one year, or even a week ago while they were still in their rebellion?” There is a compassionate purpose in God’s timing as He gathers in His sheep (see Rev 6:11 as well), thus, “count the patience of our Lord as Salvation” (v15). Yet come He will, and when He does, it will be a surprise!
Upon coming, all things are going to be dissolved and exposed – what sort of people ought Christians be? To this end Peter is stirring up the Christian – to be the sort of person that he ought to be!
Waiting for the Day (Patient)
Hastening the Day (Evangelizing – the day will not arrive until all the Sheep are gathered)
Diligent in Christian Practice
Growing in Grace
Growing in Knowledge
Finally, we are pointed towards Paul’s letters, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction. Some things in Paul’s letters, according to scripture, are hard to understand! I would submit that the person that read’s Paul and states “well that was easy to understand” might want to go back and re-read. Not all of the things Paul speaks of are hard to understand, but enough of it is that Peter is compelled to point it out.
Not only that it is hard to understand, but that it gets twisted as people twist other Scriptures. Peter ends the chapter, and the book, with the admonishment that we do not allow ourselves to be carried away with the error of lawless people (who twist Scriptures) and thus loose our own stability.
Is it at all incongruous for me to state 2 Peter 3:9 as follows?
Beloved Fellow Christians,
As you have been taught, the Day of the Lord is coming. God is being patient towards all Christians (past, present, and future), because He does not wish that any Christians (past, present, and future) should perish, rather that all Christians (past, present, and future) should reach repentance.
– Peter, a Servant and Apostle of Jesus Christ.
And if it is not incongruous to state it this way, by what grounds does 2 Peter 3:9 militate against the statement, “One person is saved while another is condemned, not because of a foreseen willingness, faith, or any other virtue in the first person, but because God sovereignly chose to have mercy on him.“?
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