July 14, 2013

Thomas Schreiner on 2 Peter 3:9

3:9 The first part of v. 9 draws an implication from v. 8. If God does not reckon or indeed experience time as we do, then it follows that he is not slow about keeping his promise (cf. Hab. 2:3). The promise (epangelia), of course, hearkens back to v. 4 and refers to the promise of the Lord's coming. God, that is, the Father, is not dilatory in fulfilling the promise uttered about his Son's coming again. The Son will come as promised, but the apparent slowness should not be misunderstood. The phrase "as some understand slowness" could possibly refer to those in the churches wavering under the influence of the false teachers.50 More likely the reference is to the false teachers themselves, referring to them negatively as "some" who lack an understanding of God's ways.51 The verse may be highly ironic. The false teachers use God's patience as an argument against God, when it should lead them to repentance.52

Peter explained why the coming is delayed. God is patient with his people. Notice that the verse says "patient with you (eis hymas). The reason for his patience is then explicated. He does not want "anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." The idea that God is patient so that people will repent is common in the Scriptures (Joel 2:12-13; Rom. 2:4). That he is "slow to anger" is a refrain repeated often (Exod 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:10; 4:2; Nah 1:3), but he will not delay forever (see esp. Sir 35:18). We should note at the outset that perishing (apolesthai) refers to eternal judgment, as is typical with the term. Repentance (metanoia), correspondingly, involves the repentance that is necessary for eternal life. Peter did not merely discuss rewards that some would receive if they lived faithfully. He directed his attention to whether people would be saved from God's wrath. We must also ask who was in view when he spoke of "anyone" (tinas) perishing and "all" (pantas) coming to repentance. One option is that he considered every person without exception. Some understand 1 Tim 2:4 similarly, "God . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."53 We do not have space to comment on the text is 1 Timothy here, but we should note that debate exists over the meaning of "all men" in 1 Tim 2:4 as well. Or we can think of Ezek 18:32: "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" (cf. also 18:23) In this latter instance God's regret over the perishing of anyone is clear. Nevertheless, we have to ask whether the verse in 2 Peter has the same meaning as the texts in Ezekiel. If it does, how does this fit with the teaching that God has ordained and decreed that only some will be saved? Many scholars, of course, doubt that the Scripture teaches that God ordains that only some will be saved, but in my estimation the Scriptures teach that God ordains that only some will be saved, but in my estimation the Scriptures do clearly teach such an idea (cf. John 6:37, 44-45, 65; 10:16, 26; Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29-30; 9:1-23; Eph 1:4-5, 11, etc.).54 Space does not permit a full answer to this question, but an answer that has a long pedigree in church history suffices. We must distinguish between two different senses in God's will. There is a decretive will of God and a desired will of God. God desires the salvation of all in one sense, but he does not ultimately ordain that all will be saved. Many think this approach is double-talk and outright nonsense.55 Again, space forbids us from answering this question in detail, but this view has been recently and convincingly argued by J. Piper.56 He demonstrates that such distinctions in God's will are not the result of philosophical sleight of hand but careful biblical exegesis.

Having said all this, 2 Pet 3:9 may not relate to this issue directly anyway. The "anyone" and "all" in the verse may be an expansion of "you" (hymas) earlier in the verse.57 Peter did not reflect, according to this view, on the fate of all people in the world without exception. He considered those in the church who wavered under the influence of the false teachers. God desires every one of them to repent. But even if this solution is correct, it does not solve the issue theologically, for Peter probably reflected on God's desired will instead of decreed will in this instance. That is, he was not teaching that all of those in the church whom God desires to repent will actually repent. Even if the verse is restricted to those influenced by the false teachers, Peter referred to what God desires, not to what he ordains. At the end of the day, restricting "anyone" to church members is not the most satisfying solution in this text. By extension we should understand 2 Pet 3:9 in the same way as Ezek 18:32. It refers to God's desire that everyone without exception be saved. It follows, then, that Peter spoke of the desired rather than the decreed will of God. God has not ordained that all will be saved since many will perish forever.58 Still, God genuinely desires in one sense that all will be saved, even if he had not ultimately decreed that all will be saved. Many object that a desire that is not decreed is nonsense and theological double-talk. I would reply that such a view is rooted in biblical exegesis, that the Scriptures themselves, if accepted as a harmonious whole, compel us to make such distinctions. Such complexity is not all that surprising since God is an infinite and complex being, one who exceeds our understanding. In other words, such exegesis is not a rationalistic expedient but an acknowledgement of the mystery and depth of God's revelation. Neither dimension of the biblical text should be denied. God really and truly desires that every person repent and turn to him. We should not retreat to God's decreed will to nullify and negate what the text says. Nor should we use this verse to cancel out God's ordained will. Better to live with the tension and mystery of the text than to swallow it up in a philosophical system that pretends to understand all of God's ways. God's patience and his love are not illusions, but neither do they remove his sovereignty.
50. Kelly, Peter and Jude, 362.
51. Bigg, Peter and Jude, 296; Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 187.
52. I owe this insight to my research assistant, Jason Meyer.
53. Vögtle remarks that this verse rules out Calvinist theology (Judasbrief, 2 Petrusbrief, 231-32). Cf. also the comments of Fuchs and Reymond, 2 Pierre, Jude, 116.
54. For a defense of this view see T. R. Schreiner and B. A. Ware, eds., Still Sovereign (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
55. This view is suggested already by J. Calvin (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948], 419-20).
56. J. Piper, "Are There Two Wills in God?" in Still Sovereign, 107-31.
57. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 313; Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 188; Horrell, The Epistles of Peter and Jude, 180 (though he thinks all people can be included by extension). Fornberg argues, on the other hand, that the adversaries are included in God's desire for all to repent (An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society, 71).
58. We cannot adduce the evidence here, but not universalism is ruled out by many biblical texts.
Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (The New American Commentary, vol. 37; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 380–383.

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