1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
— 1 Timothy 2:1–7 —
Universal Atonement is the theological doctrine that says Christ’s death on the cross was offered for every single person without exception. This view of the cross stands against a “limited” view of the atonement, better termed Definite Atonement. Advocates of Universal Atonement typically make their case from various proof texts in the Bible and from theological commitments like God’s universal love and the universal offer of the gospel.
Combining textual proof with theological commitment, few passages in the Bible appear to support Universal Atonement more than 1 Timothy 2:4–6 and 1 Timothy 4:10. The former speaks of God’s will that all people be saved and Jesus ransom for all; the latter of God being savior of all people. From a first reading, these verses seem like a slam dunk for Universal Atonement. What else could Paul mean, but that Christ died for all people without exception?
In context, however, there are multiple reasons—textual, covenantal, and theological—which argue against such a reading. Such a statement may evoke disinterest, even disgust. Few are the cultural winds that blow in the direction of particularity today. Rather, our modern world loves to speak of universal equality and tolerance without distinction. Theologically, few doctrines have been left unscathed from the effects of individualism and modernity’s penchant for ubiquitous choice.
Yet, as is often the case in the Bible, God’s ways are not man’s ways. And what we find in Paul’s letter to Timothy is a very clear account of salvation that establishes Christ’s death as the one way of salvation for all people. All people, however, is not an individualistic word in Paul’s letter; it is a word that speaks of all kinds of people—especially, the categories of Jew and Gentile.
Echoing his earlier words to the Ephesians (2:11–220, Paul is proclaiming a message of the cross that is good for all kinds of people (1 Timothy 2:7). And as we will see his words do not support a universal atonement for individuals; they speak of a definite atonement for God’s people, whatever their country of origin. That said, we need to see from the text, how Paul speaks of one ransom for all people and how God is the Savior of all, especially those who believe.
Today, we will look at 1 Timothy 2. Some day soon, we will consider 1 Timothy 4. In truth, these chapters should not be read separately. They inform one another and reveal a unified vision of salvation. Yet, for sake of time, with open Bibles, we will address one and then the other. Continue reading