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. – 2 Peter 3:9
This is one major text that’s been quoted against the biblical doctrine of Sovereign Election and to argue that God wants all to be saved. We need to understand this verse in its context. It matters not just what the verse says ripped out of context and quoted by itself, but where the verse is as well, who is it talking to, and the purpose for which it is written. Few people are even interested in checking it for themselves.
The subject of this passage is not salvation but the second coming of Christ. Peter continues to affirm the reality of the second coming in light of its seeming delay, encouraging believers that the Lord is indeed not slow in fulfilling His promises. What is this promise Peter is referring to? The promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 – “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God had promised to bless Abraham and his descendants. These blessings were both physical and spiritual in nature. Physically, Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation. The spiritual blessing to all people was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. And, He is a descendant of Abraham, through whom people of all nationalities may receive salvation.
Peter is telling that God remembers His promise to Abraham’s children, and God wants all of them to be saved. In order to enjoy the promise, you need to be a child of Abraham. So, who are the children of Abraham? John 8:39 says, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” What did Abraham do? He took God at His word – FAITH and obedience. We don’t become heirs of Abraham’s promises by working for God, but by being confident in what God did for us. Galatians 3:29, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”.
We know, God is absolutely sovereign. He absolutely tells us that what He ‘wills’ He will do. “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). God does all what He pleases (Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6). If God is sovereign and if it pleases God that all men be saved, why aren’t all men be saved? God specifically says, I do not desire anyone perish. But the problem is only some men will be saved and some men will be perished. There is seemingly a contradiction here. If God wants something, He gets it. Otherwise He isn’t sovereign, and if He is not sovereign, He is not God. Either His ‘will’ doesn’t come to pass, or there must be a different side to His ‘will’ that comes to pass.
The three most frequent uses of the will of God in the Bible are:
- His sovereign, decretive, efficacious will that will by which He brings to pass what so ever He decrees. God’s sovereign will is often hidden from us and, it is irresistible and must come to pass. E.g. When God wills the world come in to existence, His willing of it makes it so. He issued a divine imperative.
- His commands, His perceptive will – This relates to the revealed commandments of God’s published law. It does not comes to pass always. E.g. “You shall not have any other gods before Me; You shall not steel.” Even though, we have no authority to violate this will, we have the ability to thwart it. It is not as though the preceptive will has no effect or no consequences, but it is possible for us to refuse to obey His commands. But, His law remains intact whether we obey or disobey it.
- His will of disposition – It expresses something of the attitude of God towards his creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve him. E.g. God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. Even though He is committed to justice, even though He is committed to judgement, He is not getting His joy by subjecting people to punishment. Yet, God judge the wicked and send them to hell.
Let’s suppose this text uses the meaning of God’s sovereign will. What would it be the obvious conclusion if God sovereignly decrees that no one should perish? The implication would then be that nobody perishes. The second possible meaning of will in preceptive sense does not fit in this context. If the text uses the will in dispositional sense, the implication would be then that there is no assertion that everyone or anyone will be saved.
The key to understanding this text is in two specific words. There are two ambiguities in that text that need to be dealt with in understanding what this text is saying precisely. Those two words are ‘Willing’ and ‘Any’. We need to find out what sense of ‘will’ is in view here and what ‘class of people’ Peter is referring to in this text.
Any should perish
The text says that God is not willing that ‘any’ should perish. Any who? Any what? Here the tendency is to jump in to the conclusion that it refers to all human. In order to answer the ‘Any what’ we must look at the immediate context of that text. The verse 9(a) says – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us”. The context is about ‘us’; Peter is talking about ‘us’. So, the v9(b) reads like this, “…Not willing that any [of us] should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Well, now the next question you should ask is who is ‘us’? To understand who this ‘us’ is, let’s look at the previous verse (v8). There at the beginning of the passage, Peter addresses ‘beloved’. Who is this beloved that Peter is referring to? Now we go to the broader context, the beginning of the same Chapter. It says “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle” (2 Peter 3:1). To whom Peter is writing this 2nd epistle? The answer is, to the same group he addressed his 1st epistle. To whom the 1st epistle was addressed? The answer is clearly and precisely given in the greeting of the Peter’s first epistle. “To elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. There you go! The 2 Peter 3:9 is saying unmistakably “God is not willing that any [elect] should perish but that all should come to repentance.
God is not willing : theléma (θέλημα) Vs bouléma (βούλημα)
Here you find a specific reference to the will of God. Now we need to understand what sense of ‘will’ is in view here. Is it referring to God’s sovereign will that comes to pass, or another aspect of will that may not come to pass?
In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words theléma (Strong’s #2307 – θέλημα) and bouléma (Strong’s #1013- βούλημα), both translated in to English by the word ‘Will’. Theléma refers to a wish, a strong desire, and the willing of some event. Theléma is the Will, not to be conceived as a demand, but as an expression or inclination of pleasure towards that which is liked, that which pleases and creates joy. Bouléma refers to a plan based upon careful deliberate intention, which is predetermined and inflexible. Man is able to resist the will, the theléma of God, but God’s determinate will, bouléma is never prevented from fulfillment.
Now, the Greek word that is used in this text is bouléma (βούλημα). The ‘will’ in view in this text is God’s sovereign, efficacious will which will definitely comes to pass. So, this verse reads like this, “God is not “bouléma’ that any should perish.” In other words, God ‘sovereignly decree’ that ‘Elect’ shall not perish.
This can be the strongest Calvinistic passage affirms the Doctrine of Predestination in the Bible.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. John MacArthur, Mark Kielar
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