Is salvation available for all men?

I was recently asked on twitter about my view of salvation and how I viewed it in light of my recent postings on Molinism.

My simple, twitterish, response was: “I believe that the Holy Spirit moves on, prompts, and draws all men to Christ.

This prompted an email from one reader who wanted to probe deeper. Here’s my response.

Going deeper

The first place I would probably point for this verse is John 12:32 which is in reference to the golden snake from the Exodus which was fashioned for all the people of Israel, not all of whom chose to look upon the symbol for salvation.

Does all mean all?

The response from my new friend was along the lines many proponents of limited atonement use which is to claim that verses that contain unqualified references to mankind aren’t really talking about mankind but rather are talking about all ethnic groups, tribes, tongues, nations, etc.

Here’s my response to this objection.

The problem with interpreting “all” to be people groups as opposed to all people is that in Revelation 5:9 we are explicitly told that the author is referring to nations as opposed to people. This is ironic since it is the same author who chose to use the words “all”, “whosoever”, and other unqualified terms to refer to the wide availability of salvation that is offered through Christ.

I think we can both agree that not all will accept Jesus, the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place. In that respect I think that the entire third chapter of John should suffice to show us that God does indeed will that no man should perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that the decision to accept the grace freely offered has indeed been given by a sovereign God to his creatures in the interests of love.

I think we should back up to John 3:14 where, before the famous verse in John 3:16, Jesus mentions the snake being an archetype of the salvation he is about to offer. Was the snake only offered to those who were going to look at it anyway? Hardly, since many still perished even after the snake was fashioned as a means of grace offered to a rebellious people.

Skipping ahead to the verses you mentioned1, I fail to see how they present a general view of election wherein many are called and yet few are chosen with chosen being chosen in Christ based on repentance and free acceptance of a freely given gift.

Not that God doesn’t know whom will be saved. I think the verses you pointed out clearly present God as possessing the foreknowledge of who will and won’t accept or reject him.

I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.

I also don’t see how God’s foreknowledge necessitates the other reformed doctrine that the atonement is somehow limited because, based on my understanding of the reformed doctrine of limited atonement, if Jesus’s sacrifice were to have been made for the whole world, many of whom willfully reject Him, that his death and subsequent atonement would have somehow been wasted.

The above aren’t merely rhetorical questions. While I think they pose significant barriers to belief in reformed doctrine, I’d love to hear what you think. Whether you agree or not, leave a comment below!

  1. John 6:37, John 6:44, John 6:65 []
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25 responses to “Is salvation available for all men?

  1. Wes, there are a number of problems that I see with your position. I'll start with one.

    If "all means all," to wit, everyone without exception, are you suggesting that everyone without exception has been drawn to Jesus Christ when he was lifted up from the earth?

  2. I'm asking you to defend the proposition, "Jesus Christ draws everyone without exception to himself," without merely assuming the proposition in John 12.32.

    • My apologies, I think my post did a pretty good job of making that point. Was there something specifically you disagreed with? In other words; Is there a particular reason you think God is so unloving that while he could draw all men to himself and offer salvation he would choose not to?

      Again, I'm sorry but I feel no need to defend a view of God that doesn't turn him into a capricious monster and upholds the loving kindness and patience displayed throughout the OT to many nations and people. Was all of that just a sham? A show to somehow bring himself more glory by essentially taunting the unregenerate people he never intended on saving even if they had wanted to turn to him for repentance?

      • If you did a good job of making the point, there's a good chance I wouldn't be asking you to justify the point. I'm pretty fair, Wes.

        I disagree with your understanding of "all" and with your interpretation of John 12.32. How would justify your interpretation of John 12.32, to wit, Jesus draws everyone without exception to himself, apart from question-begging?

        • What question do you think I'm begging? Perhaps that will help us in our discourse if I knew what it was you think needs to be defended against.

          • You said, "The response from my new friend was along the lines many proponents of limited atonement use which is to claim that verses that contain unqualified references to mankind aren’t really talking about mankind but rather are talking about all ethnic groups, tribes, tongues, nations, etc."

            ***

            It is question-begging to assume that an unqualified reference to mankind means the reference is to everyone without exception.

            And I think that if you were to attempt to defend your understanding of John 12.32, you would have to question-beg on the meaning of "all."

          • How is maintaining that all means all question begging? I think you'd like to think it is question begging given your presuppositions that all can't possibly mean all given your apparently theological persuasion so why don't you outline and expound on the question you think is being begged.

            Come now, I've made my case, make yours or else stop with your incessant yelping about supposed questions that are being begged.

          • Wes says: "How is maintaining that all means all question begging?"

            Joel says: It is question-begging because you are assuming what you have not proven. If you were familiar with Greek, you would know that "all means all" is a fallacy. Even a cursory glance of BDAG (3rd edition) makes it quite clear that PAS has a semantic range of *meanings.*

            Wes says: "I think you'd like to think it is question begging given your presuppositions that all can't possibly mean all given your apparently theological persuasion so why don't you outline and expound on the question you think is being begged."

            Joel says: My theological position is irrelevant. The issue is not whether "all" can mean everyone without exception. The issue is whether it does in places like John 12.32. For you to repeat the mantra that "all means all" is question-begging and it's clear to anyone with at least an intermediate knowledge of Greek.

          • Your words certainly taste funny in my mouth. I never said that pas doesn't have a range of meanings. I'm well aware that it does. However based on the context of John 12:32 and john 3 (the whole chapter) along with the context of the OT story of the snake they reference I think it is only natural to assume that all persons are drawn to Christ.

            Not that everyone has equal evidence given to them, as Chorazin and Bethsaida are well aware of now, but the fact that everyone has the ability to choose Christ and is drawn by the Spirit to Christ is pretty plain.

            Frankly, I'm actually surprised anyone would argue against the fact that God loves the world by sending His son to die for all those in it in order that some might be saved through faith in the one who was sent.

          • At least you're admitting that you're making an assumption about the meaning of PAS in your most recent reply. 🙂

            I'm encouraged by your awareness of PAS's semantic range. It wasn't clear from your use of the "all means all" mantra. Nor was it clear from your insinuation that verses with unqualified references to mankind really refer to (all) mankind. I have to point out once again that an unqualified reference to mankind is not a smoking gun for an "everyone without exception" understanding of PAS. To think so is to question beg.

            Take F.F. Bruce's commentary on John for example. I'm not suggesting that he's correct, but he knows – as does anyone familiar with Greek – that the unqualified reference to mankind in John 12.32 is not, ipso facto, a reference to everyone without exception. In fact, he understands PAS in John 12.32 as a reference to everyone without distinction. Says Bruce, "And when he has thus been lifted up, exalted and glorified, he will (like a spiritual magnet), draw to himself Gentiles as well as Jews, all without distinction." (The Gospel of John, 1983, Eerdmans, p. 267)

            I'm more than happy to get into the contextual evidence for different understandings of "all" (as well as "draw"). But for now, I'll feel like we've made progress if you confirm that an unqualified reference to mankind does not, ipso facto, refer to everyone without exception. Do you agree?

          • William D Mounce has a great line in his introduction to Greek course about letters requiring specified arrangements to form words and words requiring specified arrangement to form sentences and sentences in specified arrangements to form ideas and that we communicate not on the letter or word or even sentence level, but on the level of whole units of thought.

            So while the meaning of pas is important, afterall John did choose pas as opposed to another Greek word such as μέρος (http://bit.ly/37FE67), we ought to be discussing whole units of thought expressed by the author (John) while assuming he wasn't schizophrenic (like claiming that the holy spirit draws all men to Christ in one part but explicitly denying it somewhere else).

            We should also look at what the author uses (references such as the one to the bronze snake made by Moses in Numbers 21:4-9 as an agent of salvation for the whole nation of Israel including those who didn't accept it made not once but twice by John) to help us understand what he really wanted to get across to his audience.

            So taking into account the fact that John makes his intentions of referring to tribes, nations, and ethnic groups explicitly known in Revelation 5:9, and the fact that his overarching theme is that Jesus is indeed the promised messiah sent to the whole world, why would we question the plaintext reading of all referring to all mankind unless we have a particular a-priori barrier to such an interpretation we've imported from another source?

            I think the fact that proponents of "all here really means all kinds of people, not really all people" have to do hermeneutical calisthenics in order to make their presupposed favoritism of God fit the text speaks far more about the weakness of their position than it does the validity of the simple interpretation that in these passages John really meant that all men were freely offered salvation and that it is up to us to accept it or not just like the Israelites in Moses's time.

          • There's no question that a word's meaning is determined by it's usage in a given context. But when you said, "The response from my new friend was along the lines many proponents of limited atonement use which is to claim that verses that contain unqualified references to mankind aren’t really talking about mankind but rather are talking about all ethnic groups, tribes, tongues, nations, etc.," you were insinuating that PAS meaning have but one meaning when in reference to "unqualified mankind," namely, everyone without exception. Will you confirm that this is an incorrect assumption on your part?

            Further, are you familiar with F.F. Bruce's commentary on John? Specifically, are you aware that he mounts a very good contextual argument – based on John's usage – for understanding PAS in John 12.32 as a reference to everyone without distinction?

            Finally, what does the verb "to draw" in John 12.32 mean to you and what lexical support will you offer for your understanding of the verb?

  3. Wes says: "So taking into account the fact that John makes his intentions of referring to tribes, nations, and ethnic groups explicitly known in Revelation 5:9, and the fact that his overarching theme is that Jesus is indeed the promised messiah sent to the whole world, why would we question the plaintext reading of all referring to all mankind unless we have a particular a-priori barrier to such an interpretation we've imported from another source?"

    Joel says: What can I say, Wes? You continue to beg the question. You say you recognize that PAS has a semantic range and yet you assume that if John is going to express the concept of everyone without distinction, then he'll do it a la Revelation 5.9, failing to acknowledge that PAS can also express the concept of everyone without distinction. You seem to think understanding PAS as everyone without exception is the "plaintext reading," again demonstrating your question-begging and your tendency not recognize PAS's semantic range.

  4. It looks like you've been challenged to a debate. The Challenge.

  5. I misspelled earlier. Grace, brother 🙂

  6. Pingback: Can all freely choose, or are we totally depraved? | Reason To Stand

  7. then If God only chooses some fore salvation and dooms others, I guess my following Him is in vain. The devil suggests that i am wrong about my salvation. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This what I am standing on

  8. U believe this and you believe that…..what difference does it make, as hilary clinton would say!!!! U believe in what u want to believe in and I ll believe in what I want to believe in. No one knows for absolute sure and its stupit to debate it!!!!!! Just love the lord with all ur heart and trust in him and stop doubting the his word in the bible. Jesus died for all and its plain to me to see that. Amen????

  9. U believe this and you believe that…..what difference does it make, as hilary clinton would say!!!! U believe in what u want to believe in and I ll believe in what I want to believe in. No one knows for absolute sure and its stupit to debate it!!!!!! Just love the lord with all ur heart and trust in him and stop doubting the his word in the bible. Jesus died for all and its plain to me to see that. Amen????

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