Sunday, July 24, 2011

Abusing Texts: 2 Peter 3 (part 2)

In my last post, I talked about two misuses of 2 Peter 3:8-9; now, perhaps the most egregious misuse. I mean, of course, using it as "evidence" against particular redemption. First off, the theme of this passage is not individual salvation at all, but rather is a reassurance to believers regarding the end of the world and why God is delaying it. (This is why the Campingites actually have a better leg to stand on than most evangelicals; at least the passage is about judgment.) I mean, just read the passage. (The whole passage, not just verse 9.)

Verse 3 starts off as mentioning a specific group of people, the "scoffers." In fact, there are three groups involved here:
  • The addressees of the letter, who are believers. These are addressed directly in the second person ("you").
  • The scoffers, who are unbelievers, the "scoffers." They are addressed indirectly in the third person ("they").
  • The apostle, who might have addressed himself in the first person (as "I" or as part of "we" with "you")
As you read this passage, follow the pronouns. What is the apostle saying? He's saying that unbelievers will scoff at our belief in Christ, and that they do so, not because they cannot believe nor that their "felt needs" have not been addressed, but because their desires are evil. Belief in Christ has always interfered with our sinful desires: that's why people don't believe. "Where is this coming He promised?" You might as well be reading a modern atheist's blog.

The apostle goes on to give two reasons why we have not yet seen the second coming of Christ.
  • Because we do not understand God's time rightly. The apostle is speaking here of the Greek καιρός, not χρόνος. We want things to happen right now, on OUR appointed time scale. But just because a thing has not happened in the time frame when we think it should, doesn't mean that it hasn't happened in God's καιρός.
  • Because (flowing from the first) God has not seen fit to place all His elect into the time (χρόνος) we might think He should have. God's elect numbers more than the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5). We know that the end has not yet come because God has not yet gathered all His elect. It's sheer presumption to think that all of them should be gathered in by our particular lifetimes.
However, when the end does come, as verse 10 says, it will come quickly and without warning. When God has gathered in all His elect, it will come immediately; everybody will see.

Given that this is the flow of the passage, whence flows the maxim "God wants everybody to be saved?" The answer should be obvious: not from this passage at all. From where then? Clearly, from our traditions and emotions. It constantly amazes me that people who claim (like Dave Hunt) that they have no traditions are absolutely tradition-bound when "exegeting" passages like 2 Peter 3. They reach conclusions that have absolutely no basis in the text and simply state them; apparently, in their minds, the passage is so obvious that no exegesis is needed. Norm Geisler does a bit better, attempting to give a bit of exegesis on this passage to support his view that it disproves particular redemption. Unfortunately, his skimpy and rather apoplectic exegesis (found on page 249 of Chosen But Free, 3rd edition) demonstrates nothing more than his traditions overcoming his logic.

I have a few other thoughts about this passage, but I'll finish them up in a third installment.


Anonymous said...

I am probably one of those you would say "abuses" the passage. But, to just take your comment at face value and give you the benefit of the doubt, how do you resolve verse 17 in that chapter? If the "you" refers to the elect (as you indicate), then how would the elect "get carried away and fall from their secure position?" If they can lose their salvation, then how "secure" is it? And, if they could get "carried away" and lose it, then how can it be based upon God's election, and not their decisions? Moreover, if the "you" refers to the elect, how could they perish? Is it not an impossibility? So, how does God's waiting or patience matter? Not to be rude, but I don't think it unreasonable at all, in reconciling these verses, to say that God is patient, because He wants all to be saved, and that some may perish, because their salvation depends upon their receipt of the gospel. Similarly, some may fall from their secure position because their salvation depends on their continuing in the faith that they started from. While you may disagree, this interpretation is not an "egregious" misinterpretation of scripture, and I would venture that if you asked most people with no background tradition or even religious belief to read this, that would be the more obvious reading of these passages. But, that's just my $.02 worth. :-)

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Well, first Peter wrote "lose your own stability", not "lose your own salvation." But second, why do we assume that God only tells us the ends and not the means? In fact, God does not generally tell us the ends - the "secret things that belong to God" (Deuteronomy 29:29) - but rather the means. God tells us these things, I believe, so that believers will hear them and be encouraged to do right. We still keep our sinful nature, after all. I don't know about you, but my sinful nature tells me to do things sometimes that my spirit hates (Romans 7:19). I NEED that encouragement to do the right thing.

How does God's patience matter? Because the entire passage here is about why God is allowing the world to go on for so long. "Where is this coming He promised?" God's patience is the answer to that very question.

Finally, I agree with you that if you take that ONE VERSE out of context (2 Peter 3:9), and you ignore the little pronoun (ὑμᾶς or ἡμᾶς, toward you or us, depending on which manuscript you look at - not that I think the variant matters), then you can easily get the conclusion that many preachers thunder from the pulpit. The egregiousness comes in doing exactly what many pastors do.

Anonymous said...

Whether in the OT or the NT, the Bible always treats the elect thusly:
-When election is described from God's perspective, salvation is assured and guaranteed. Nothing can undo it (Rom 8 is an excellent example, but just one of many).
-When election is discussed from man's perspective, man is reminded that he needs to work to examine its foundation and his position in it (see 2 Peter 1:5-10).

Thus, Peter's stirring up his audience to remain firm is not at odds with the concept of election, and this description in v17 is consistent with the rest of the Bible.

But let's discuss the idea of God waiting for repentance. Consider the following question: of all the humans that have received the gift of life, what percentage of them will end up in heaven, would you say? If that number is less than 50%, then the longer God waits, the more people end up in hell. (Jesus was the one talking about wide vs narrow paths, right? So 50% is likely too high a number).

If He has a specific quota in mind (eg, Rev 6:10-11), then waiting makes sense.
But if He's just trying to get as many as possible into heaven, then reflecting on the numbers that end up in hell needs to be part of our consideration.

When I hold all these in tension, bearing in mind that God is omniscient, I find Dave Hunt's view of 2 Peter 3:9 to be not only untenable, but suspicious.

..and that's without reading Peter's tone of voice in chapter 2.