Monday, December 22, 2008

Answering Roger Nicole on 1Timothy 2:5 (part 1)

I want to revisit an argument that Roger Nicole made in his rebuttal to the first argument of the non-continuity (I would like to call them the “historic Calvinists” -- the fellows and gals who say that Calvin did not teach limited atonement) guys.

All doesn’t mean all

Nicole argues that there is a way of understanding Calvin’s use of universalistic language (“all” and such like) that doesn’t compromise his particularistic views: when Calvin says “all,” he doesn’t necessarily mean “all.” According to Nicole, Calvin can mean “all classes” when he says “all.” And what Nicole means by “all classes” is some of all classes. Some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and so on. For Nicole, Calvin’s universalism is some from all kinds of men. Here’s Calvin’s language from his commentary to 1Timothy 2:5:

The universal term ‘all’ must always be referred to classes [genera] of men but never to individuals [persona]. It is as if he had said, ‘Not only Jews, but also Greeks, not only people of humble rank, but also princes have been redeemed by the death of Christ.’ Since therefore he intends the benefit of His death to be common to all, those who hold a view that would exclude any from the hope of salvation do Him an injury.

~Calvin, Comm. 1Timothy 2:5, quoted by Nicole, at 212.

"Pretense" of universalism

So look at the last sentence of the quotation from Calvin above: “Since therefore he intends the benefit of His death to be common to all....” It seems straightforward. But if we take this sentence in isolation from the paragraph, Nicole argues, we have done Calvin a disservice.

It is not fair to Calvin to separate the last sentence from the remainder of the paragraph and to pretend on that basis that he advocates a universal atonement.

Nicole, at 213.

The problem is that we might read Calvin’s sentence ... legitimately, it would seem ... in this way: since therefore he intends the benefit of His death to be common to all sorts of persons....

But there are strong arguments for not seeing Calvin’s talk of classes to mean some of all classes; rather we might read Calvin as speaking of all of all classes.

The preaching of the gospel to all

Everyone except the hyper-Calvinists agree that the gospel ought to be preached to all. And Nicole agrees that Calvin ought to be read as saying exactly that:

To this we reply in acknowledging readily that Calvin does indeed assert the propriety of, yea, the divine mandate for an indiscriminate call to salvation addressed to any and all human beings that may be reached by language.

Nicole, at 213.

Consider this juxtaposition of statements from Calvin:

Who wishes that all men may be saved. Here follows a confirmation of the second argument; and what is more reasonable than that all our prayers should be in conformity with this decree of God?

And may come to the acknowledgment of the truth. Lastly, he demonstrates that God has at heart the salvation of all, because he invites all to the acknowledgment of his truth. This belongs to that kind of argument in which the cause is proved from the effect; for, if “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth,” (Romans 1:16,) it is certain that all those to whom the gospel is addressed are invited to the hope of eternal life.

~Calvin, Comm. 1Timothy 2:4

It looks like Calvin is saying that the gospel ought to be preached to every creature. But consider that the two paragraphs following those just quoted contain this language:

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men.... * * *

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations.

~Calvin, ibid.

Would it be pretense, then to assert that on the basis of this passage from Calvin, he holds that the gospel ought to be preached to every man? I know of none of the pro-continuity scholars who would say that we ought to take Calvin’s comment in 1Timothy 2:4 to mean that the gospel ought to be preached to all kinds of men rather than all individuals. If any of my readers has quotations on this point from Helm, Rainbow, or others, I would love to hear of them. Feel free to post quotations or references in the comment box.

Is it pretense to say that Calvin holds to a universal (without qualification) preaching of the gospel based on his comment to 1Timothy 2:4? I hardly think we could call it pretense. Yet Nicole has alleged that it would be pretense to draw a similar conclusion in light of Calvin’s remarks on 1Timothy 2:5! What difference in language would justify such a difference in conclusion? I am reminded of a friend’s call for publicly justifiable hermeneutical rules. You can’t just make up ad hoc rules of interpretation from whole cloth. There ought to be some discipline and accountability in interpreting ... even if it is scholarly writing that we’re interpreting.

Is it legitimate to read Calvin as saying here that the gospel ought to go out to all men? I think it is. But if that is the case, then we have to have another look at Nicole’s idea of some from all classes. Because we have established that it is possible for Calvin to mean all from all classes when he speaks of classes and not individuals. Nicole’s argument from 1Timothy 2:5 no longer looks so compelling.

I have three more brief arguments on this question, which I will post later this week (d.v.)

No comments: