Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Any of You": The Universality of the Atonement in 2 Peter 3:9

In the last few posts, I’ve been going through passage after passage of verses pertaining to what many believe to be the universality (and yet, exclusivity) of the atonement. The atonement has been seen as that which corresponds to the Doctrine of Singular Redemption: this doctrine states that, while the atonement is “sufficient” for every person, the atonement is only “efficient” for those who believe. In other words, while Christ purchased the redemption of every man, only those who believe receive the purchased redemption. Only those who believe are accurately called “the redeemed” (Exodus 15:13).

In this post, I will explore the passage of 2 Peter 3 to see what insight it can provide in regards to the Doctrine of the Atonement (the teaching that Christ died for the sins of the world).

Let’s read the passage together:

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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” (2 Peter 3:8-9, English Standard Version).

I once saw a video of James White on Youtube where he responded to a sermon by Ergun Caner, delivered at Liberty University, titled “Why I Am Not a Hyper-Calvinist.” Ergun Caner used 2 Peter 3:9 as a prooftext for universal atonement (that Jesus died for every person). James White responded to this prooftext by arguing that the “any” of the verse itself did not refer to any person, but rather, “any of you,” the recipients of Peter’s letter.

This is problematic, however. If Peter is writing to fellow believers, then why would he tell them that the Lord desires “that all should reach repentance”? Haven’t the believers of the letter ALREADY repented?

In 1 Peter 1:1, Peter calls the recipients of his letters “the elect exiles of the dispersion...” This tells us, then, that the Jewish exiles are “elect,” or “saved”. In the same chapter, Peter tells the believers, “he [Christ] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the an inheritance that is...kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4, ESV). The believers are “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed” (1 Peter 1:5). The recipients are referred to as “obedient children” (v.14) who “call on him as Father” (v.17). These Jews have “purified [their] souls by [their] obedience to the truth” (v.22) and “have been born again...of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God” (v.23). These Jews are “now God’s people” and “have received mercy” (2:10). In 2 Peter, the Jews in question are addressed as “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). They are told to “be all the more diligent to make [their] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10), which tells us that they are “called” and “elect”. In 2 Peter 3, Peter tells the Jews that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth” (3:13) and that they are to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (3:15).

All of the above language testifies to the Jews as being believers, Jewish Christians. So if these believers are genuine, which it seems they are (according to Peter), then why are they to “ensure their calling and election” and to “count the Lord’s delay as salvation”? If James White’s assessment of the “any of you” phrase is correct (not willing that any of you should perish, 2 Pet. 3:9), then James White has just betrayed his own Calvinist theology; for, how then, will Calvinists handle this verse? If even the elect have to ensure their election, doesn’t this tell us that there is no eternal security? If Peter must write, “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and LOSE YOUR OWN STABILITY” (2 Pet. 3:17), doesn’t this imply that, by “losing one’s stability,” one’s standing in Christ is not “eternally guaranteed”?

By trying to fight the Arminian view of the atonement, James White finds himself at a checkmate theologically: he has nowhere to go. If one’s election in Christ has to be “ensured” by the person, then doesn’t this imply that one’s salvation is “eternally” ensured by “eternally” persevering in the faith? Doesn’t this imply that the elect have to continue to “work out [their] soul salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12)?

Despite my disagreements with James White in regards to his Calvinist theology, I agree with James White on one thing: context must first determine the interpretation of a passage...once context has determined the interpretation of a passage, we can then see how that passage fits with other similar passages of Scripture. Because these hermeneutical principles stand firm, I can agree with White and say that the “any” within 2 Peter 3 refers to the Jews of the Diaspersion who have come to faith (Jewish believers); however, when placed within the canon of the entire Bible (and not just 1 Peter and 2 Peter), the “any” of 2 Peter 3:9 refers to the “every creature” of Mark 16:15 that must hear the gospel and believe in order to be saved.

Once again, the doctrine of singular redemption still holds: the Lord desires the salvation of every person (sufficient for all); however, a person who desires to be saved must come by faith, for “without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the condition for salvation (efficient for all who believe, Romans 1:16).

More on the Doctrine of Singular Redemption is to come. Stay tuned...


The Seeking Disciple said...

I have even seen a video on YouTube pretty well done by a Calvinist trying to show that 2 Peter 3:9 doesn't teach an unlimited atonement. The program, needless to say, does gymnastics with the text to try to avoid the clear implications of what it teaches.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


You're absolutely right. I want you to continue reading. I'm gonna get to some more atonement passages, but I am then gonna dive into a study of the book on the main page (Jonathan Moore's "English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology").

As I go through it, you will see the problems with attempts to argue Calvinist theology yet still cling to unlimited atonement and a genuine gospel call.