In a round about way, this was the question that a certain famous apologist/debater asked on his famous radio program last Tuesday. He was prattling on about how “all” can and does mean different things depending on the context (by the way, I agree about that, that context dictates our translation). He was talking about a few specific verses, what he calls “the big three.” The three 2verses are 1 Timothy 2:4 (actually includes verses 1-6), Titus 2:11, and 2 Peter 3:9. A specific focus was on the 1 Timothy 2:1-6 passage.
(1Ti 2:1) I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men:
(1Ti 2:2) for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence.
(1Ti 2:3) For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;
(1Ti 2:4) who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.
(1Ti 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
(1Ti 2:6) who gave himself as a ransom for all; the testimony in its own times;
The famous apologist/debater asks, “Did Paul instruct Timothy to pray for all men, for everyone? Is that what Paul means by “all men?”
He goes on and says, “”Did Paul say, Timothy, when you gather in the church, remember to pray for the Amorite high priest that lived 1,000 years ago?” Well, pray for every single human being whether alive or dead. All men is defined in the next portion of that verse, “for kings and all those in authority.” All men? Those are kinds of men. The phrase “all men” must be used as all kinds of men. Even those who persecute you and who have authority over you, pray for them. All kinds of men are saved, that’s what it means. God even saves Californians. As a matter of fact, even those from San Francisco! The proof is that Jesus died a ransom for “all men,” same group. Are you really going to suggest that Paul, the apostle, Paul’s teaching was that Jesus is a mediator between God and every single human who ever lived?”
That’s enough of his diatribe to get the understanding that he believes that Jesus only died for a select few people and anyone who believes differently, well, they deserve condescension and ridicule. So, besides my obvious problems with his attitude, is his problem with the text itself and the analogy or example he gives. I don’t want to exegete the text today, but want to put into perspective what he is saying, and what many Reformed people believe.
This famous apologist/debater says it is absurd to think that Paul told Timothy to pray for every single person in all of history, past and present, even those God’s wrath has been given out to (as the debater says, the Amorite high priest who lived 1,000 years before Paul’s day!). This debater said that Paul told Timothy when he goes to church, he was supposed to pray for only those who persecute him (us) and those in authority over him (us). After all, the debater says, it is absurd to pray on a Sunday for billions of people ( all men), but its not absurd to pray for ALL those who are in authority over us.
So, who are those who are in authority over us? How about our local officials. Where I live, that is quite a few folks because I live in a major city. There are probably a thousand local officials that have authority over me. There are police. There are judges who rule on cases. There are security guards at stores. There are all the inspectors that enforce codes. There is the local school where the school board exercises authority over parents and children.
Then, how about county and state officials who have authority over me. There are many of them, maybe more thousands of authorities. Now, step into the federal government and we may get into the ten thousand range or more! From the President, to his cabinet and agencies that impact our lives because of their authority, to all the federal agencies that exercise surveillance and security for the country.
Wow! That’s a lot of people to pray for on Sunday night! Oh, but wait, I haven’t even listed those who persecute me or persecute other Christians. Man, now we are really getting into thousands and thousands of people. When you start thinking about all the people who hate Christians, including political progressives, liberals, fascists, communists, atheists, Muslims, many other religions in my own neighborhood or city, state, etc. Yikes! I dare say we might get into the hundreds of thousands of people to pray for every week, but at least its not “all men!” I don’t know how I would fight the discouragement if Paul ACTUALLY MEANT ALL MEN! Wow! I can handle hundreds of thousands of people to pray for every week, but boy, don’t expect me to pray for the whole world (according to the debater and Paul the Apostle: all men)!
I mean, I am only human for crying out loud! I admit, even on my best Sundays, or Wednesday night prayer meetings, I have only been able to pray by name for about 20-30 people and their specific situation. I am glad God doesn’t require me to pray for ALL MEN! Whew! That’s a big weight off my mind!
Do you sense a teensy-weensy bit of sarcasm? Let me finish by getting serious for just a moment. Why is it ridiculous to think that Paul meant for Timothy (and us) to pray for ALL MEN, meaning all people everywhere? There are so many texts in the New Testament alone that use universal language to show the expanse of our mission, the expanse of God’s power, the enormity of God’s grace and love, the depth of burden we should have for all people, etc. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to pray for all people? We are commanded to pray for our fellow believers. That’s a whole lot of folks! Did Paul mean to discount them? We are told to pray for those who persecute us. Does that mean only those who DIRECTLY persecute us, or does it include people all over the world who suppress God’s truth and His people? Should I not pray for the ones who are beheading Christians around the globe? I realize I would have to ADD those thoughts (only pray for those who directly persecute me, only pray for those believers who are physically around me, etc) to the text Paul wrote, but come on, really, ALL MEN? Also, if the debater can add into the text, “all kinds of people,” maybe I could add into the text, “No really,” says Paul, “I mean ALL MEN EVERYWHERE FROM ALL TIME!”
If the debater thinks it is ridiculous to think Paul meant to pray for ALL MEN who are living or have ever lived, I say it is just as ridiculous to think otherwise! When “theologians” like him have to reduce their arguments to the absurd, like he does, it shows how desperately many have to act to make their “theology” work. One question I ask is where does Paul restrict prayers to church settings, and then also, where does he state that he means “types or kinds” of men? The debater keeps having to substitute his own “theology by tradition” into texts of the New Testament to have his beliefs make sense. My God is huge and when His Word says He sent His Son to this world and his son was “ a great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), I believe Him. And, I believe that for Jesus to be a joy to all people means that God will eventually have to save all people for that to be true. How could Jesus be a joy to people condemned to an eternal conscious torment? He couldn’t and He won’t because God will restore all people, not execute retribution on the majority for all eternity! And, I am thankful that these things are biblically supported by many texts and by many witnesses throughout history. I am glad I see a purpose in all that God does and that purpose centers on Him loving His creation so much that He will restore it at the end of the ages! In my mind, if God does not restore us, especially to Himself, and overwhelm us with His love which will cause us to have a changed heart and a worshipful heart at that, then all of the suffering and evil in the world and all those who would go to an eternal conscious torment (if there was such a place) would be attributed to a horrific god who is not worthy of worship! I will be expanding on much of this in the future. But for now, I will let this stand alone and continue to work on my review to post by tomorrow.
What do you think Paul meant? How many will you pray for? Really, all men?