Many of us are acquainted with this passage from the pen of Paul, written by the Apostle as he was driven by the Holy Spirit, in which he enjoins Timothy to teach the church at Ephesus that prayers be made for all men. It seems to me, that, the reason and occasion for our being acquainted with this passage, is not that we were deeply and profoundly interested in the problem of prayer for all people; rather our interest centered in the question of refuting the errors of the Arminians and “Common Grace” enthusiasts, who appealed to this passage, each to sustain his respective errors!
The particular part of this entire passage to which the Arminians referred, as well as the Common Grace theorists, the Christian Reformed Churches, is found in verses 3 and 4, where we read: “This is good and acceptable before God, our Savior, who wills to save all men, and unto the knowledge of the truth to come.”
It was because we took and take exception to the erroneous interpretation of those who advocategeneral atonement, as well as of those who advocate a non-saving grace of God, that we took a second look at this passage from Scripture and took pains to demonstrate that the exegesis of the Arminian teachers, being weighed in the balances, was found wanting.
And, thus doing, we performed an admirable and necessary service to the church of God in the world.
Possibly it is not redundant to remind ourselves at this juncture, in the interpretation of the passage under consideration, that we should beware of two pit-falls. On the one hand we must not fall into the exegetical error of the Arminians and of all heretics to simply lift this passage out of its context, and place it in the preconceived framework of their Arminian view of a “double predestination”; a predestination unto faith and a predestination unto salvation, and say then explicitly or implicitly “agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins . . . .” Thus do the Arminians. They fail to interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture, and thus do violence to the word of God. That we must avoid. We must fearlessly let the Scriptures speak. Our dogmatics may not determine our exegesis. On the other hand, we must also beware of simply showing what the text doesnot teach. This latter is always true. We must do more than simply handle the sword; we must also employ the trowel. In this instance it means that we must not be content to show that the Arminians misinterpret Paul, as do also the Christian Reformed on this point, but we must listen to the positive instruction of Paul in this passage, to wit, that prayers be made for all men by the church!
This calls for a careful reading of the text, the context, the rest of this letter, and of the entire Scriptures which shed light upon this question.
The text itself reads in full as follows: “I exhort, therefore, that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is, good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between (of) God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all (a testimony) to be testified in due time, whereunto. I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (verses 1-7).
It is our settled conviction, that, as far as the objects of our prayer is concerned, we must settle what Paul has in mind when he writes here that prayers must be made for all men! That is the duty of exegesis. It is the science of determining the meaning of the Author, God in Paul. That is all-determinative.
Now if a word has a certain meaning in text and context it has that meaning throughout. We may not arbitrarily make words mean what we will them to mean; that is not interpretation but interpolation!
The question is: is there anything in the text and contest which gives us the key to the proper understanding of what Paul means with “all men”? A careless, superficial and painstakingless reading of the text might lead one to read into the text what Arminians and the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 (and subsequent Synods!!) think they read in the text, namely, the intention of God to either save all men, since Christ, so they say, “died for all and for every man,” or, what is principally no different, Christ’s death is the evidence of a “favorable attitude for all to whom the gospel is preached”! The former is the view of the Arminians and the latter of the Christian Reformed Churches.
It should, therefore, interest us what Paul himself means with the term “all men.”
In the first place we would observe, therefore, that the concept “all men” is by no means the same as the concept “every man.” Paul writes the former and not the latter. There is a difference and a fundamental distinction between these two. The former is collective, while the latter is distributive in nature; the former does not count noses, the latter does. When you say “every man” as do the Arminians in Point II of the Five Articles of the Remonstrants, you have allowed for no exceptions. Every is every! But in the case of the latter, namely, “all men,” there are exceptions to those who are saved and for whom Christ died.
A fine point, indeed!
Let us keep this in mind.
It ought to be closely observed, that Paul speaks more than once of “all men” and of “all” in the text. Thus in verse 1 we read: “. . . and giving of thanks, be made for all men.” Again in verse 4 we read: “. . . who will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” And in verse 6 we read: “. . . Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all“! Besides we should notice, that, in chapter 4:10 we read: “. . . because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior ofall men, specially of those who believe.”
To this may be added, moreover, what we read in Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men.”
I ask now in all candor: is it not imperative, in the light of such frequent usage of the term “all men” to pay rather close attention to the text and context in determining the meaning from this usage? We may safely speak of Paul’s current usage of the term. Especially if one bears in mind further what we read inI Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
What shall we say of this?
Shall we say with the Arminians, as the Remonstrants expressed their sentiments in Point II: “. . . Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins . . .”?
Lest we be accused of being unscientific in our exposition of the Scriptures, I wish to state here and now that I believe that it is a sound rule in the science of interpretation of any document that the less clear passages be interpreted in the light of the more clear passages, and not conversely. The latter is the method of those who would obscure the sense of the Scriptures, and thus pervert the Scriptures to their own destruction.
When the rule of exegesis is applied that we interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture, and less clear passages in the light of the more clear passages, it appears, that we shall not have any difficulty in understanding the meaning of the text, particularly, what Paul has in mind with “all men”!
Paying close attention to the text here in I Tim. 2:1-7 we notice that Paul in admonishing Timothy to instruct the church to pray for “all men” modifies this by adding “for kings and all who are in authority.” This last phrase, placed appositionally to “all men,” shows that Paul is not here thinking of “every man” in general as think the Arminians nor of “everyone to whom the Gospel is preached” as do the Christian Reformed Churches, but rather that he is referring here to every class of men amongst men. I believe that this is clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, in a kindred, passage in Titus 2:11quoted above. There too “fall men” refers to all kindsof men, from every walk of life, Jew and Gentiles, bond and free, male and female, adult and children. In a word: all men, without distinction of rank or social standing among men. This is evident from the various admonitions which Paul writes in Titus 2:1-11. He has a special admonition for “aged men” (grave, temperate, etc.), for the “aged women,” the “young women,” the “young men,” “servants” and “masters.” And the reason for this all is given in Titus 2:11: “for the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Obviously, one does not expect Paul to prove that his admonitions are for “every class of men” by appealing to “universal salvation” and “a general attitude of favor,” but rather that “all men” is simply a summing up of all the different classes who had been admonished by him in the foregoing verses: aged men, aged women, young women, young men, servants, masters. And even by implication “children.” Compare the classes Paul addresses in Ephesians 5:22 – Ephesians 6:9. Compare the Decalogue itself in Exodus 20!
We might point out that in the King James version the rendering of Titus 2:11 is not “the grace that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared” but rather “the grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men.” In the one case the reference is to the “preaching” which comes to “all men” inclusive of the admonitions to each class amongst men. The other speaks of the grace which “saves” every class of men as we read in Galatians 3:27-29: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Here too the term is “all,” that is, the entire distinction of Jew and Greek is gone. The middle wall of partition has been removed once and for all!
And thus it is in Titus 2:11!
No less, however, is this the case in I Tim. 2:1, 4, 6. Also here the term refers to “all men, for kings and for all that are in authority.”
However, we would caution here not to limit “all men” to kings and all in authority. It is for all men in the sense of every class of men, and, therefore, also for those in authority as a “class”! These must not be excluded for they are a part of the “all” for whom prayers must be made as one of the classes of men for whom Christ died.
We cannot in this installment enter in detail into the matter of the reason for Paul’s enjoining that “first of all” prayers, supplications, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all men. However, we would caution the reader to bear in mind that this exhortation is not limited for kings and all who are in authority. These prayers are for the entire church, every class of men!
More of this next time, D.V.