2007February28, Wednesday

Calvin v. (Some) Calvinists on the Interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9

Posted in Theology at 12:47 by Trey Austin

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/TO5XCbupnHA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Take a look at the video (right at 9 minutes long). You might be surprised at what it really says. Try to listen dispassionately as an objective observer and see how the arguments “sound.” Basically, what you’re going to find is a rather standard-fare exlanation from a conservative Calvinist point of view on why what the Holy Apostle Peter says in his second epistle doesn’t mean what it really sounds like it means. 

What this group is doing, really, is to present an interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 that keeps Arminians from being able to use this verse as a prop for their views. (FYI, conservative Calvinism typically has two enemies they oppose: the twin evils of Arminianism and Romanism; if they accuse you of being either one, you’re on their hit-list!) The problems is that the presentation here makes use of very flawed hermeneutics in order to do what it accomplishes. In fact, to be very honest, the Arminian has a more honest approach (with more respect for the text itself) than the Calvinist does at this point.

Now, i agree that 2 Peter 3:9 should be interpreted in a way that keep Arminians from being able to use it to prop up their own “elect because selected” kind of interpretation. However, there is another way to come at this text that is both thoroughly Calvinistic (though, not in keeping with the Owenist interpretation of it), and that takes seriously what our Father Peter was saying.

Listen to what Calvin says about this text:

Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his 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. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

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 (Calvin’s Commentaries, 2 Peter).

Now, tell me that some rough and rowdy Calvinist out there (who learnt Reformed Theology from some online discussion or email group) wouldn’t say of Calvin’s words there (“he would have them all [from mankind] to be saved”), “That sounds Arminian!” But really, it is Calvin himself who says that God reveals in 2 peter 3:9 that he would have all men, all mankind, even without distinction between elect and reprobate, to be saved, and he is, of himself, prepared to bestow it upon the lost. That is to say, he has mercy on sinners as sinners, not just on sinners as elected. He actually and effectually saves only those who approach him repentantly, in humble faith. And the elect are the only ones, who by God’s grace, will do that. Yet that fact being what it is, it doesn’t mean that Peter is saying that God only desires the salvation of the elect in that verse. Even Calvin sees how ridiculous such an interpretation would be.

Is it even possible that Calvin would be guilty of Arminianism? Leaving aside the question of whether Calvin is right, can it be properly said that the view that Calvin himself held is out of bounds in a Reformed and Calvinistic context? Can those of us who say that God truly and properly desires the salvation of all men be said to be Arminian when Calvin himself says that very thing?

Bottom line, the verse in question speaks only of God’s revealed will in the Gospel, and according to the revealed will of the Gospel, he desires all men to repent (else he would not have commanded all to repent, Act. 17:30–what kind of God would we be talking about who commands something that he does not desire in any sense to see come to pass?). Calvin himself shows that election and reprobation are not seen in this text; so to import it (as the resource above does) is to practice eisegesis rather than exegesis.

I sympathize with the purpose of these videos, but the means by which they try to accomplish their end is to defer automatically to the decree of God in order to explain something that plainly has to do with the revealed will or precepts of God. The plain meaning of the text shouldn’t be abandoned for a contorted and contrived one just because it is perceived that to affirm it would be to give ground to the Arminians. That’s a wrong-headed attitude when it comes to Scripture interpretation. It is to get the cart before the horse–or, more to the point, the system before Scripture

More comments to follow, and some specifics about what the problem is with this interpretation.



  1. Just thought I’d drop in and say I hope God richly blesses your efforts here.

  2. Thanks for that, David. What a blessing!

  3. al said,

    Hey Trey,
    Welcome to the blog-o-sphere…

    I was actually going to drop you a line and tell you to start this. I hope that God works through you to bring glory to His Name and many to faith.

    al sends

  4. Andy P said,

    I’ve greatly apprecitated and benefited from many of your comments over on Doug Wilson’s blog, so I thought I would stop by and check out your new blog.

  5. Austin Storm said,

    Thanks for this post, it was very good.

  6. Seth McBee said,

    I saw this video after I wrote the post below but I would definitely agree with the video more than the desire to seek or speak about God’s “secret will.” Sometimes what we take as “plain meaning” needs to be studied…just as John 3:16


  7. Trey Austin said,

    Mr. McBee,

    I sympathize with your former difficulty in 2 Peter 3:9, but the point is that there is nothing in 2 Peter 3:9 that contradicts election at all, since it is not speaking about God’s decree. It is speaking about God’s revelation of his love and the terms upon which he offers fellowship and life. In other words, it’s talking about the Gospel as it is revealed, not God’s intention to apply Christ’s benefits to certain people.

    You have to twist 2 Peter 3:9 from what it actually says in context in order to make it about election and God’s intention to save “certain ones” as opposed to others. I’m not saying that concept is not true (that God is going to save some and not others, and that he fully intends to save them and not others). All i’m saying is that Calvin is right on this text when so many so-called Calvinists have strayed from what the text actually says because they are afraid that an Arminian will use the text the wrong way.

    The simple fact is that Arminians will be much more likely to hear what we have to say if we don’t have to do mental and hermeneutical gymnastics in order to justify our reading. If they perceive we’re being honest with what the text actually says, they might actually listen instead of dismissing us out of hand the way they often do.

    Other than this article, have you ever read a Calvinist interpret 2 Peter 3:9 in a way that Dick Belcher (and John Owen before him) didn’t? (BTW, are you a Reformed Baptist?)

  8. Seth McBee said,

    Trey…sorry I forgot where I left this comment and never came back to answer your questions posed.

    I have read some interpret it as “God’s secret will” if that is what you are getting at, but I don’t agree. I also don’t think that I am doing hermeneutical gymnastics either…

    by the way…I am also not a Reformed Baptist…

    If you want to know me better, check out my blog…and I also blog with David Ponter at theology online…

    I would be interested in reading Owen’s take on the interpretation though…

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