2007March1, Thursday

High Calvinist Interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9: Equivocation

Posted in Theology at 16:48 by Trey Austin

If you haven’t already, take a gander at the video i embedded below in the first post on this topic. If you do, you can see what i’m talking about when i discuss these things. Of course, if you’ve been in conservative Presbyterian or Reformed circles for very long, you’re probably all too familiar with this way of interpreting the Holy Apostle’s statement in 2 Peter 3:9.  

One of the most glaring problems i have with this interpretation (i can’t really call it the “traditional” interpretation, because it’s not; i guess i could call it the “Neo-Calvinist” interpretation) is that it takes a bunch of equivocation to get where they’re going.

The first equivocation we see is when the interpreter cites 2 Peter 3:1 to point out that the letter was written to the same people that 1 Peter (as stated in 1 Peter 1:1) was sent to: the elect, by which he means “individually elect unto eternal salvation.” Here it is very important that we’re getting our terms straight. If “elect” had only one meaning (i.e., those who have been eternally elected in God’s decree unto salvation), there would be no equivocation here, but that word “elect” also has, in addition to the one the narrator in the video uses, another very important meaning in the Scripture that is just as prevalent (if not moreso) as the meaning most Calvinists and Calvinistic symbols and confessions ascribe to the word; that other meaning is not individual election unto salvation, but corporate election (i.e., that God has elected, as a whole, Israel, the Church, his Covenant people; it is the individuals as viewed from the perspective of the whole body, which is just another way of saying members of the visible aspect of the Church Catholic). Here we must be plain: corporate election does not always result in salvation for those who are members of God’s Church and Covenant, since all folks electin this sense can be (and many will be) cut off and removed from the corporately elect people of God (i.e., the Church, the Covenant, Israel, &c.) through excommunication and/or divine judgment as Covenant-breakers.

But here’s the sticky thing when it comes to both of Peter’s epistles: where is the evidence that this instance of the word “elect” means individual election and not corporate election? One looks in vain for such evidence, because there is none; it is just assumed by the interpreter. However, there is at least some indication that this use of the word “elect” by Peter refers to corporate election. One clear indication is that Peter seems to have a specific group in mind. Just as Paul sends greetings from specific people to specific people, so Peter does the very same thing in 1 Peter 5. He’s sending greetings from specific people in “Babylon” (code, at the time, for Rome) to the people in the churches to which his letter would come. If this letter were sent only to those who were individually elected to salvation, those kinds of greetings would be hard to understand. How can someone send a letter to a mass of people, whose number and names are unknown and unknowable to anyone but God himself until they are revealed at the last day? It seems clear that Peter is writing, as has been traditionally understood from his epistles, a “catholic” epistle, a letter to the Church at large to be sent as a circular letter passed around from congregation to congregation. That means that it is more likely than not that his meaning in using the term “elect” is corporately, referring to the visible aspect of the Church, and not elect individually, speaking to invisible aspect of the Church.

The second equivocation we see also has to do with that of “elect,” but this time with how it functions. Let’s, just for the sake of argument, grant that we’re talking about an election unto individual salvation as the video assumes. Even here it is important that we have our distinctions properly in place. We know from Scripture and experience that not all the elect are the same at the present time. Some are alive and already regenerate and believers, some are alive and not yet regenerate or believers, and some are not yet alive at all (i.e., as yet uncreated, which, actually, is the state all we Christians were in when this epistle was originally written!).

So, to which of those distinctions among the individually elect does this “you” in Peter’s writing refer: to those elect who are alive and already believing; to those elect who are alive and not yet believing; or to those believers who are not yet alive at all? The narrator knows that Peter’s reference to “you” is obviously a reference back to those who are professing believers, which would imply their being the already-regenerate-and-believing elect, but he equivocates on that specific meaning of the word “you” to mean all the elect, regardless of what condition they are currently in. But, that’s so obviously not what Peter has in mind.

Again, assuming for the sake of argument that we’re speaking of individual election unto salvation, let’s take their way of interpreting the text just a little further and follow what else the “context” tells us that Peter is saying. Consider this my argumentum ad absurdum against this type of equivocal interpretation.

Answering the question, to whom does the “you” refer in 2 Peter 3:9, the answer would have to be that the “you” refers to only the elect who are already believers. Why? Well, context demands it! Look at 2 Peter 1:1. It says this: “To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” To those who have received faith? Well, that must mean that the “you” is speaking only of those who are regenerate, doesn’t it, since only those who are regenerate actually have faith? That’s what the context says, after all! Indeed, common sense would tell you that only those who are already professing believers and have some connection to the Church would even have access to this letter. Peter couldn’t be writing a letter to elect people alive at the time of his writing who are not yet regenerate, and thereby telling them about how God is longsuffering toward them, could he? How would they ever know it? Likely having no connection to the Church whatsoever, they would never read such a letter sent to the churches. But then, how would Peter know whom to address? Peter didn’t have access to the Lamb’s Book of Life, so that he could be sure to address his letter to all the people living in his day who were elect but not yet regenerate and believing. No, he didn’t have that kind of knowledge anymore than we do, so even common sense tells us that Peter’s letter must have been written to those who would have logically had access to it, namely only those elect who were already believing. How’s them apples?

But then, what would that kind of argument (if it were allowed to stand) do to our understanding and applying such a text to us today? It would necessarily mean that God is *NOT* longsuffering toward anyone else (or at least that Peter isn’t saying one way or another whether God is longsuffering to anyone else). But of course, the implication that the narrator and maker of the video clip clearly had in mind was that God isn’t “longsuffering” to anyone except the ones to whom the letter was sent (whom they have identified as the individually elect unto salvation). God is longsuffering to those “certain ones,” and not to others. If we were to apply that same kind of interpretive method and use it against them, we’d have to say that God is longsuffering toward only the elect who are already regenerate and believing in Peter’s day, according to 2 Peter 1:1.

Here again, this makes absolutely no sense in light of what Peter goes on to say in 2 Peter 3:15, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” The Lord’s patience–his longsuffering–it results in salvation? Wait a minute, i thought the “context” told us that he is longsuffering toward “us” who were already partakers of salvation (i.e., those elect who were already believers). This is just a concrete example of why such an interpretative method doesn’t work; it makes no sense in light of what else Peter says about God and his longsuffering.

What we have to be talking about is the expression of God’s mercy and grace made known through of the “good news” about Jesus Christ; specifically his tenders of mercy to all indiscriminately, not of his special decree to save only some particular people. The “you” may refer to those who are already believing (as context demands), but the desire that Peter expresses from God (not to see anyone perish but that all would come to repentance) that certainly can and does have a much broader meaning about God’s general love and proposals of mercy toward all men equally. This method of interpretation, though, with its equivocation on elect and election and you, obscures that wonderful meaning, all because they have a theological axe to grind against Semi-Pelagians and Arminians.


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