By Spencer D Gear
This verse states, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (ESV).
A. How one contemporary Calvinist interprets this verse
John Calvin (image courtesy Wikipedia)
First, I’m assuming by now you’ve been confronted with the correct understanding of 2 Pet. 3:9 several times since you’ve got ~4700 posts. I guess I’ll do it again!
1. Who is Peter writing to?
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder… (2 Peter 3:1 ESV)
Ok so he’s writing to Christians.
2. What is the context of chapter 3 and verse 9? What is the topic Peter is addressing?
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:4-7 ESV)
Peter is addressing the fact that scoffers will come along and question the 2nd coming of Christ. But Peter reassures them, the Christians he’s writing to, that the Lord isn’t slow to fulfill his promise:
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 ESV)
Ok so Peter is telling the beloved, Christians, that God is patient toward them by saying “The Lord… is patient toward YOU… who? God’s elect. Peter told them this is the 2nd letter he’s writing to them. In the first letter to them, he says:
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)
So God is patient toward you/beloved/Christians/God’s elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The whole point is, God is patient towards his elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all of his elect should reach repentance. God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ until all of his elect reach repentance.
But somehow, you want us to believe Peter is saying that God is not wishing that any person at all perish and that every single human being should reach repentance? How does that convince the Christians he’s writing to that God is patient toward them? Let’s see how that works:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any person on the face of the earth perish, but that every single human being should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ASV)
How does that show patience toward the Christians he’s writing to? It doesn’t. Furthermore, if God truly isn’t wishing that any perish, He better wait until the last human being he creates dies to maximize the amount of people who will be in heaven. Then, when there are no people left, he can send Christ! Yeah, your interpretation doesn’t make any sense in context. It makes much more sense to say God is patient toward His elect, not wishing any OF THEM perish, but that they all reach repentance. That is much more encouraging to think about… that God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ because of his patience toward His elect. When I think about that, it’s encouraging. God isn’t wishing that any of His elect perish. God wants to bring them all to repentance before sending Christ. If I interpret this to be every single human being, it’s really not encouraging. It’s like, ok so God is going to delay the 2nd coming of Christ for how long? He’s not willing that any person on the face of the earth perish, so how does that show God’s patience toward me? It doesn’t follow. Much more encouraging to know that God has his people here, and he’s waiting for them to repent. God knows what he’s doing. He’s not just sitting by waiting to see what his creation is going to do. That’s not encouraging.
B. What are the fundamental errors of this view?
These are examples of an incorrect understanding of 2 Peter 3:9, based on the above post.
1. An incorrect understanding of the meaning of ‘you’.
Griff’s emphasis was that this ‘you’ in ‘patient towards you’ refers to the Christians who are the elect of God. The Greek for ‘you’ is humas, accusative plural. Because 2 Peter is addressed to ‘you’ Christians – the elect – does that mean that the ‘you’ only applies to Christians?
Griff, the Calvinist, is simply following another Reformed writer, R. C. Sproul, and his interpretation of this verse where Sproul stated:
What is the antecedent of any? It is clearly us. Does us refer to all of us humans? Or does it refer to us Christians, the people of God? Peter is fond of speaking of the elect as a special group of people. I think what he is saying here is that God does not will that any of us (the elect) perish. If that is his meaning, then the text would demand the first definition [of God’s will] and would be one more strong passage in favor of predestination (Sproul 1986:197; emphasis in original).
R. C. Sproul (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Yes, it is true that this book of 2 Peter is addressed ‘to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Pt 1:1). But does that mean that all of Second Peter only applies to elect Christians? Here are a few examples of how this God-breathed book addresses issues that apply to people who are not Christians:
- ‘False prophets also arose among the people….’ (2:1);
- ‘Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed’ (2:2);
- ‘In their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep’ (2:3);
- ‘To keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones’ (2:9-10);
- 2:12-19 describes blasphemous, sensuous, deceptive human beings for whom’ the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved’ (2:17).
- ‘Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires’ (3:3); these scoffers will question the promise of Christ’s second coming;
- ‘Count the patience of our Lord as salvation’ (3;15);
- ‘Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability’ (3:17).
While these verses are directed to the Christians who have faith, it deals with people who are godless, lawless and unregenerate. Therefore, writing to Christians does not prohibit instruction to and about the ungodly. Therefore, it is consistent biblical interpretation to conclude that 2 Peter 3:8 is appealing to the unbelievers when it states that the Lord is ‘not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’. The ‘any’ refers to unbelievers who are perishing and the ‘all’ indicates all unbelievers who should repent.
2. He makes ‘perish’ and ‘repentance’ apply to Christians.
Griff stated that ‘God is patient toward you/beloved/Christians/God’s elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The whole point is, God is patient towards his elect, not wishing any should perish, but that all of his elect should reach repentance’.
(a) Who will perish?
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Who will ‘perish’ according to the biblical mandate? Here are a few biblical examples:
‘The way of the wicked will perish’ (Psalm 1:6);
- Jesus spoke of Galilean sinners, telling his audience, ‘I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3);
- In John 3:16, Jesus made it clear who would not perish: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’;
The sinners and unbelievers are the ones who will perish according to the OT and Jesus.
(b) Who needs to repent?
(image courtesy ChristArt)
What about ‘repentance’? Who are the ones who need to repent? Note griff’s language, ‘God is delaying the 2nd coming of Christ until all of his elect reach repentance…. Your interpretation doesn’t make any sense in context. It makes much more sense to say God is patient toward His elect, not wishing any OF THEM perish, but that they all reach repentance’.
The facts are that there is not a word in context of 2 Peter 3:9 that states that God is delaying the second coming of Christ until all of his elect have repented and are in the kingdom. That is the eisegesis that this Calvinist uses. He is following the classic double-predestination view of R C Sproul who stated:
In contrast with the foreknowledge view of predestination, the Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice. To be sure, a human choice is made, a free human choice, but the choice is made because God first chooses to influence the elect to make the right choice. The basis for God’s choice does not rest in man but solely in the good pleasure of the divine will….
The Reformed view believes that all whom God has thus foreknown he has also predestined to be inwardly called, to be justified, and to be glorified. God sovereignly brings to pass the salvation of his elect and only of his elect (Sproul 1986:136-138).
If this is the way God does it, then griff’s statement makes sense that the second coming of Christ is delayed until all of the elect come in. However, this view suffers from major problems (not discussed here) in that it completely redefines the meaning of ‘a free human choice’, which Sproul wants to mean a sovereign choice by God in eternity past for which ‘the ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice’. This is manipulating the English language to make ‘free human choice’ the equivalent of God’s deterministic, mandating of human beings without the human beings agreement. ‘Free human choice’ thus becomes a euphemism for God’s sovereign demanding. It is deterministic forcing by God and no squirming out of it by referring to deferring to God’s ‘love and justice’ will alter the fact that God’s love and righteousness amount to God’s bullying people into the kingdom. It is as Norm Geisler put it, ‘The extreme Calvinists’ God is not really all-loving’ (Geisler 1999:85).
We know this view is false because of the numerous times in Scripture that statements are made about human beings, as an act of free will, choosing to believe in Christ. These verses include:
- John 1:11-12, ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. It should be obvious that ‘to receive’ Jesus involved an act of the human free will.
- John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’. Faith in Jesus is for ‘whoever believes in him’. Thus whoever – anyone – can believe in Jesus when the Gospel is proclaimed. However, we must never forget that all salvation requires God’s assisting grace. We know this from …
- Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast’.
These two verses have been subjected to some terrible interpretations by some Calvinists. R C Sproul is but one example when he stated,
This passage should seal the matter forever. The faith by which we are saved is a gift of God. When the apostle says it is not of ourselves, he does not mean that it is not our faith. Again, God does not do the believing for us. It is our own faith but it does not originate with us. It is given to us. The gift is not earned or deserved it is a gift of sheer grace (Sproul 1986:119).
So do these two verses really teach that faith is a gift of God? The Greek language clarifies Eph. 2:8-9 for us. In the phrase, ‘this is not of your own doing’, to what does ‘this’ refer? ‘It is a neuter Greek demonstrative pronoun, touto, and cannot refer to its antecedent of ‘grace’ (charis) or ‘faith’ (pistis), which are both feminine nouns. The Greek grammar rule is that demonstrative pronouns agree with their antecedents in gender, number and case. So ‘grace’ or ‘faith’ cannot be identified as ‘the gift of God. So what is the antecedent? It is salvation by grace through faith (v. 9). The greatest Greek grammarian of the 20th century, A. T. Robertson, explained the grammar this way,
“Grace” is God’s part, “faith” is ours. And that (kai touto). Neuter, not feminine taut?, and so refers not to pistis (feminine) or to charis (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part (Robertson 1931:525).
While this Greek explanation is rather technical, the simple understanding is that the Greek grammar will not allow ‘this’ to refer to either grace or faith as a gift of God. Therefore, Sproul’s statement about Eph. 2:8-9, ‘This passage should seal the matter forever. The faith by which we are saved is a gift of God’, is clearly wrong, based on the Greek grammar.
There are other verses that support a person’s free will in choosing to believe in Christ. However, we must never forget the emphasis in John that ‘when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world [all human beings] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment’ (John 16:8). See also John 3:16-18 and 1 John 2:15-17. Contrary to the Calvinistic view of unconditional election and irresistible grace, God does not force one human being to believe in him. We know this from Matt. 23:37 when Jesus said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!’
These verses that support the ability of human beings to believe in Jesus after hearing the Gospel include:
- Acts 16:30-31, ‘Then he brought them [Paul and Silas] out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And he said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’. ‘Believe’ is a command in the Greek language which is required of this Philippian jailer to implement. Geisler stated the case accurately, ‘The uniform presentation of Scripture is that faith is something unbelievers are to exercise to receive salvation (e.g. John 3:16, 18, 36; Acts 16:31), and not something they must wait upon God to give’ (Geisler1999:184).
- Romans 10:17, ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’. Hearing the word of Christ (the Gospel message) comes prior to faith. But this verse does not state that faith is a gift of God. According to Romans 10:14-15 this is the order of salvation:
- Luke 13:3, ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’.
- John 3:18, ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’.
- John 6:29, ‘Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”’.
- John 11:40, ‘Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”’.
- John 12:36, ‘While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light’.
- Acts 17:30, ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (emphasis added).
- Acts 20:21, ‘testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’.
To make ‘perish’ and ‘repentance’ apply to the elect does not make sense. If Peter is addressing Christians, they have already repented and will not perish. However, this Calvinistic view comes with the understanding that God knows the elect from the foundation of the world and he is waiting until all of the predestined/elected ones come in. That kind of emphasis is nowhere stated in the text of 2 Peter 3:9.
In fact, it is a Calvinistic imposition on the text, which means it is eisegesis. ‘Eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158). The correct method of interpreting any document, whether the Scriptures, a journal or the local newspaper, is exegesis. Exegesis means that when an interpreter ‘examines a document that comes from past time … he must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer, and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time’ (Mickelsen 1963:55; emphasis in original).
I have found a disconcerting tendency among some Calvinists such as griff to impose on the text his Calvinistic presuppositional understanding of election, predestination, limited atonement and other Calvinistic doctrines. This is a tendency that can apply to all Christians, including me.
3. What’s the meaning of ‘any’?
Note that 2 Peter 3:9 states that the Lord is ‘not wishing that any should perish’. If ‘any’ refers to ‘any of the elect’ or ‘any Christians’, the word ‘any’ has lost its meaning. The God-breathed Scripture is capable of stating ‘some’, ‘a few’, ‘any Christians’ or ‘any of the elect’. But this verse does not state that. We know from Acts 17:30 that God ‘now commands all people everywhere to repent’ (ESV). It would be bizarre to state that ‘all people everywhere’ really means ‘all the predestined elect everywhere’ or ‘some people everywhere’.
The message of 2 Peter 3:9 is that God is not wanting any human beings in the whole world to perish and his desire is for everyone to come to faith and repentance. This supported by 1 Tim. 2:4 where we are told that ‘God our Savior’ (2:3) ‘desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV). This has an OT reverberation in Ezekiel 18:32 which states, ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God, so turn, and live’ (ESV).
C. Two Calvinistic commentators on 2 Peter 3:9
As to your interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9, two Calvinistic commentators, including John Calvin himself, disagree with your attempt to explain away the meaning of this text.
So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost (The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419, emphasis added).
In this passage Calvin does give his particular view of predestination,
But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.
Nonetheless, the father of Calvinism states that 2 Peter 3:9 means that God’s love for all human beings is such that ‘he would have them all to be saved’. That’s Calvin’s understanding of the context.
Calvinistic commentator, Simon J. Kistemaker (1986:334), wrote of 2 Peter 3:9,
”Not wanting anyone to perish.” Peter is not teaching universalism in this sentence. In his epistle, he clearly states that the false teachers and scoffers are condemned and face destruction (see 2:3; 3:7; Rom. 9:22). Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.
“[God wants] everyone to come to repentance.” God provides time for man to repent, but repentance is an act that man must perform.
Simon Kistemaker (photo courtesy Reformed Theological Seminary)
Examination of griff’s Calvinistic perspective on 2 Peter 3:9 is found to be severely wanting. This is because he,
(1) requires the meaning of ‘you’ in the verse to apply only to the elect, all Christians. It is shown here that ‘you’ refers to all human beings.
(2) He makes ‘perish’ and ‘repent’ apply to the predestined who have not yet responded to Christ when these words apply to all unbelievers.
(3) ‘Not wishing that any should perish’ is wrongly attributed to the elect when God is perfectly capable of qualifying ‘any’ with language like, ‘any of the elect’, if that is what he intended. ‘Any’ thus refers to any human being and not the Christian elect.
(4) Two Calvinistic commentators, John Calvin and Simon Kistemaker, do not agree with griff’s Calvinistic interpretation.
The meaning of 2 Peter 3:9 is that God is not wishing any human being in the whole world to perish to eternal damnation. God commands all people everywhere to repent but he has given all the ability to say, ‘yes’, or ‘no’, to Jesus. The wonderful gift of free will means that many will perish because they do not choose Jesus after hearing the Gospel.
See my article, ‘The content of the Gospel’, for a challenge to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour and to follow Jesus as a committed disciple.
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.
Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.
Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.
 This Calvinist is participating in an online discussion at Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Good News, Really?’, griff #273, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7711171-28/#post62087962 (Accessed 1 January 2013; emphases in original).
 The first definition of the will of God is ‘what we call God’s sovereign efficacious will. The sovereign will of God is that will by which God brings things to pass with absolute certainty. Nothing can resist the will of God in this sense’ (Sproul 1986:195).
 Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Good News, Really?’, OzSpen #276, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7711171-28/#post62087962 (Accessed 1 January 2013).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.