Was Paul Wrong When He Said God Desires ALL Men to Be Saved?


I recently read the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible guide to Paul’s Letters to Timothy and this passage leapt out to me:

1First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

**4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. **

5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

8Therefore** I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension**.

Tomster’s reference to this passage as being the “clearest anti-Calvinist text in the NT” I think is right on.

How does one reconcile this with the notion of the Elect? Was Paul mistaken?

Following Calvinist logic (which I do not adhere to), if God truly wanted all men to be saved, wouldn’t they be?


God desiring it and God making it happen aren’t the same thing. He gave men free will to reject him or love him. If he hadn’t, any soul going to hell would not be just. And God is as just as he is merciful.



I happen to agree with you, I’m wondering how Calvinists and fellow travelers, with their peculiar notion of free will, square this circle.

  1. God is omniscient and eternal.
  2. God is the judge of all.
  3. Therefore, God knows who will and will not be saved.
  4. The saved persevere on the path to Heaven.
  5. Christ’s sacrifice opened the path to Heaven.
  6. Therefore, Christ died for the saved, not for the damned.
  7. Christ and God are one.
  8. God is omnipotent.
  9. God can save or damn anyone He desires to.
  10. The saved are those whom God desires be saved.
  11. The damned are those whom God desires be damned.
  12. Paul says that God desires all men be saved.

In my formulation, the leap between 9 and 10 is the problem. Catholics, believing in free will, recognize that God may call all, but some will not answer. I believe the Calvinist position is that God calls only those who will answer (for why call those which will not—God after all knows the difference).

In any case, I’d like to see how they address this Pauline passage.


Not only the leap between 9 and 10 are problematic, but also the progression from 4 through 6. Jesus didn’t die just for the saved. He died to redeem all men. Salvation is not the same thing as redemption. Everyone has been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, but only those who respond to God’s call will be saved. That doesn’t answer the 9 and 10 problem, but it does answer the misconception of 4 through 6. I’ll let the Calvinists wrestle with their own assumptions on 9 and 10 as you requested.


Absolutely—I’m trying to distill what Calvinists think (always problematic when you don’t think that way); I believe Christ died for all men, and I agree with this passage.

So how do folks who don’t think Christ died for all see it?


This is perfectly compatible with Calvinism - not with Hyper-Calvinism; but with the Evangelical Calvinism that is more typical of USA Protestantism. “God-Centred Evangelism” by R. B. Kuiper is very clear that God sincerely desires the salvation of all. FWIW, we too have to “account” (!) in some way for the fact that damnation is possible within a Providence ruled by an Almighty & Merciful Saviour-God Who does not compel men to love Him. AFAICS,there are emphases in Calvinism’s exploration of these deep matters which can be of great help to us* as Catholics* :slight_smile:

St. Paul was not wrong - anything but. Election is a doctrine which is very solidly based in Scripture; & certainly not something to be afraid of. It’s immensely re-assuring, because it underlines the great truth that all things in creation, without exception, are under the control of God.

Why are all not saved ? God knows - that ISTM is the only answer. We can explore the theology of it, but the basic answer is that. This is something that belongs to the Wisdom & Liberty of God, Whose ways are called “a great deep”, & “unsearchable”, & much more of the same; so mere creatures - especially damaged ones like us humans - cannot hope to understand them fully. ISTM this not-knowing is actually a very great mercy, because it is a reminder that we are limited, needy, weak, frail, always dependent on God for the least good :slight_smile:

What we do know is that God is Holy, Righteous, Merciful, not willing that any should perish, & so very much more. Jesus Christ shows Him to us; He shows His Love, & its extent: most of all by dying & rising for our salvation. There are so many inducements for us to believe in Him, that our lack of knowledge should not be a reason not to believe. Besides, we may not be able to affect other people’s response to Him - but we can affect how we respond to Him. ISTM that a lot of the difficulties we have with these matters come from the darkness in us sinners, not from God.

There is no determinism or compulsion here; people, if damned, damn themselves. Man is responsible to God in all respects, & the activity of God changes this not in the slightest. We cannot save others - but we are commanded to pray for them: God uses the created activity of His creatures to fulfil His Will. Our obedience to His Will is a means whereby He works out His purpose in the world: which is why it is wrong to use the doctrine of election as a reason for laziness: we are commanded to work, not to be idle or unproductive.

As for Calvinism - the Calvinist position on Election etc., is far more detailed, nuanced, Biblical & intelligent than it’s often given credit for being. It can’t be blown away by a text or two, any more than the elaborations of Catholic theology can. It may be wrong on certain points, but it’s not stupid, & it deserves not to be caricatured; we aren’t going to understand what & why they believe, if we do that :eek: :slight_smile:


The answer is simple: The “all” are the Christians.
Please try to be open-minded. And I will show you the “all” in at least three important verses that deal with salvation means the Christians.
If your interested?
2 Cor. 5:14, 1 Cor. 15:22, and then Rom. 5:18 where the word “all” is used in a way that can only mean the elect.

2 Cor. 5:14, 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.

1 Cor. 15:22, 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Rom. 5:18
18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.



The Calvinist Answer----

Did God really desire people to follow the Old Testament Law when he knew that no one could but Christ?

God knew that the letter kills but of course he desired his law to be followed. He also desires his gospel to be followed.

Yet, Desire=/=ability=/=it actually happens

Calvinists hold that God is gracious to the world. Its called common grace. God outstretches his arms to an ungreatful people all day long. It is just the people will not have it unless God goes further and changes their hearts. Calvinists believe that common grace (which includes life itself) and the offer of the gospel differs from Saving/christian grace which is particular and comes from election. Much like marriage differs from friendship. Hypercalvinists don’t hold that God desires such for all.



Here’s why:

The Christians at the outset of the Church were a Jewish sect.

Very clearly, the Apostles saw the need to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians stems from their wanting to impose Jewish requirements upon Gentile Christians.

I think you’re torturing Scripture there.

After all, Christ did tell them to baptize all nations, thereby making all Christians.

So no, I don’t see from the passages you’ve cited when compared with Paul that Paul was merely engaging in tautology.


Gottle & Newchasm-

Thanks for your illuminating responses, but I’m still a bit fuzzy on this.

Could you please lay out the Calvinist & Hypercalvinist takes on the Pauline passage in the OP?

I don’t have a copy of the “Institutes”, but commentary of that sort might be helpful.


The usual “Calvinist take” on this passage (which I subscribe to) is that Paul means that God desires some of all kinds of men to be saved, not every single man who’s ever lived. That is, God’s mercy is not limited to a single race, social class, nationality, or any other sort of human division. For a defense of this position, see here.



Sorry about the last lack of a post, I was using my daughters lap top and inavertently hit the wrong button. :o



Thank you for the link, TS.

The argument referenced is EXTREMELY weak, however.

Essentially, the author lists other uses of “all” in Scripture to state that it is used more in a metaphorical sense, such as Jesus walking through “all Galilee”.

Of course, this is a silly argument.

Paul’s ministry was to the Gentiles; every one of which at Christ’s birth was considered unclean and unholy.

Paul clearly interpreted his own statement differently; otherwise, why would he go forth among the Gentiles at all?


A side-note :slight_smile: - the “distributive” interpretation was St. Augustine’s, before ever Calvin adopted it.

I think a good deal depends on whether one takes the passage to have as its starting-point God’s Will or man’s will. The Gospel message emphasises both, & does not try to synthesise these emphases in a single formula: they are held together in tension - a bit as the NT insists that Jesus is a man, yet is also the God of the Torah & the Prophets.

As for Hyper-Calvinism: the links on this Calvinist page should help to explain things: monergism.com/directory/link_category/Bad-Theology/HyperCalvinism/

As for Hyper-Calvinism, this page should show what they don’t like: outsidethecamp.org/noswrb.htm
*]“SWRB promotes Iain Murray’s Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, quoting Murray: “‘But does the denial of Arminianism mean that God has no love for all? … Hyper-Calvinism answers ‘Yes’ to these questions and in so doing it constitutes a serious hindrance to the progress of the evangel.’ This book, citing from such ‘masters in Israel’ as John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and John Brown (of Wamphray), answers the Hyper-Calvinistic challenge.” In this book, Murray calls God’s love toward and desire to save the non-elect “perhaps the most serious difference of all between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism.” The book includes Spurgeon’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (what Murray calls a “Crucial Text”) that God wishes that all men without exception would be saved. It also includes the following quote from Spurgeon: “A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe in the doctrine of perseverence. We hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any wilful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.”” [/LIST]Many of the men attacked on it - such as Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Boston, George Whitefield & Charles Spurgeon - are highly respected & central figures in British & US Calvinism; Still Waters Revival Books is a much-respected source of Reformed literature. Hyper-Calvinism is very close to the stereotype of Calvinism as necessarily anti-missionary; IMO, Murray is spot on.


Not many Pauline calvinist answering this difficult question.


There really must be a more reasonable explanation than “all men” doesn’t mean what it says.

That’s pretty thin soup argument-wise.


The interpretation does have some weaknesses, but I think it is still the best one. In fairness, I could point out that Paul is clearly instructing Timothy to pray for those who are not yet saved, and hence Timothy would almost certainly be praying for reprobates as well. Also, I am not aware of any Calvinist who has cited “all men” being used clearly in this way. Though “all men” is often used to emphasize this sense of “all kinds,” that does not exclude “all without exception.” I do not have any major objections to the two-wills theory in any case.

However, what I can’t accept is any interpretation that relies on man’s “free will” to explain why all are not saved. I believe free will is a myth on purely logical grounds, and appealing to free will to solve a difficult passage is about as plausible to me as appealing to square circles.


That’s what I think makes this a difficult passage for Calvinist interpretation. Since no examples were provided where “all men” in Scripture did not refer to “all men”, the argument seems to be extremely weak. Moreover, in context, as you note, Timothy is essentially being called to charity toward all.

What’s interesting is that Calvinists don’t simply say, “Paul was mistaken”.

However, what I can’t accept is any interpretation that relies on man’s “free will” to explain why all are not saved. I believe free will is a myth on purely logical grounds, and appealing to free will to solve a difficult passage is about as plausible to me as appealing to square circles.

Not believing in free will of course puts you afoul of Paul elsewhere in Scripture, but that’s OT.

What’s interesting to me is you preface a discussion on why you don’t accept arguments from free will by saying “However, what I can’t accept”…


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