Thursday, August 6, 2009

...but what about 2 Peter 3:9? Pt 2

(If you have not read part 1, it would be a good idea to do so prior to reading this one.)

The greatest hope that an opponent of the doctrine of election can have regarding 2 Peter 3:9 is that no one has read the rest of the letter. The whole-book context in which we find this verse refuses to allow any interpretation that would deny God’s absolute sovereignty over the salvation of souls. The context is deadly to the synergist position. (Synergism is the idea that God and man work together to initiate regeneration and salvation.)

This post will deal with chapter 1. A later post will deal with chapter 2.

In Chapter 1, the apostle states that the divine power of Christ has granted to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” (vv3-4). God has granted salvation – “life” – and sanctification – “godliness.” Peter then exhorts the reader to “supplement your faith with virtue” and other various qualities that serve as evidence of salvation.

V10 is key: “Therefore, brothers be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” What does he mean? He intends for them to work hard to show evidence of their calling and election in the presence of these virtuous qualities in their lives. This tells us at least two things. First, their calling and election result in the virtuous qualities, for it is “His divine power” granted to them that empowers them not only to be saved, but also to exercise godliness. Without that divine power, there would be none of these virtuous qualities. V11 says that it is this exercise of godly virtue (which results from the divine power that saves and sanctifies) that secures their entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord.

So if we follow the chain backward, we see that an entrance into the eternal kingdom is the result of the way of life that is the result of their calling and election. Therefore, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.” Election results in eternal life.

Second, this kind of exhortation is always two-sided. (We find similar exhortations and warnings elsewhere in the New Testament –1 Cor 10:1-12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12, 4:1-11 – these are all exhortations that essentially say, “Make sure you’re saved!). On one side, it is an exhortation to the saved to work to show the fruit of salvation. Why? Because that evidence is comforting to the soul. It is a way that we can be assured of our salvation. On the other side, it serves as a way to show those who think they are saved that they really are not, and therefore should repent and believe. Both sides serve the elect – one by assuring the elect of their salvation, the other by drawing the yet-unsaved elect to salvation. In this exhortation is the implicit understanding that Peter is writing to a group in which there may be elect ones who have not yet been saved.

This point alone is enough to cast doubt upon the synergistic interpretation of 2 Pet 3:9. Since, Peter in 1:10 has already exhorted the readers to examine themselves to see if their lives show evidence of calling and election, it would make perfect sense that in 3:9 he would say, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 1:10 and 3:9 address the same issue – there are some elect who have not yet been converted.

So early in the letter, we have a clear reference to election, which does not fit with an Arminian understanding of 2 Pet 3:9. In order for the Arminian to win his case on 2 Pet 3:9, he must deal with this reference to election. However, the word “election” is a huge problem for those who oppose the doctrine of election. It’s a problem because it means “the state of being chosen”.

There are two ways that synergists try to deal with this. One is to explain away the word “elect,” taking it to refer to a corporate election. In other words, God chose the church to be saved. He chose the body, rather than the individuals, so that any individual who chooses to join the body may be considered elect by virtue of their membership with the church. The individual has the prerogative to join the body or not join the body. So where that word is found in Scripture, some synergists/Arminians read it as a corporate election.

I ask you, what kind of sense does that make in 2 Pet 1:10? Under this view of election, God does not elect individuals – election is corporate. Therefore, Peter would have to be saying here, “be all the more diligent to make the election of the church sure.” How does that fit with the exhortation that precedes it – the exhortation to show the fruit of salvation? How does evidence of individual salvation help to make the election of a corporate body sure? It doesn’t. It makes no sense.

The other way that synergists try to deal with the concept of election is to assert that election is based on God’s foreknowledge. In this view, God from the foundation of the world saw all those who would choose to be saved. He then did a “preemptive choosing.” Essentially, God chose to save those whom He foresaw would choose Him. Some synergists/Arminians read that understanding of election into each use of that word.

But it bears repeating that “election” means “the state of having been chosen.” It does not mean “the state of being recognized beforehand as one who will make a particular choice.” It also does not mean “the state of being chosen preemptively.” It also does not mean "the state of being foreknown." It simply means “chosen.” So the Arminian loses his case if he argues from semantics (what words mean).

But what about context? Cannot a context color the meaning of a word? Yes, but in order to get where the Arminian wants to go with this particular word, the burden is on him to find contextual markers that point to such a meaning. There must be something in the text indicating the basis on which the choice is made. There are no such markers in this text. There is nothing that would lead a completely objective reader to understand “election” to mean “election based on a foreknown choice.” So the Arminian loses his case if he argues from the context.

He is then left with theological arguments. Since he cannot argue based on semantics or context, the Arminian must build a theological case from biblical texts showing that the Bible teaches that God chooses the elect based on His foreknowledge of their choosing Him. There are a couple of prooftexts they might raise (which will be dealt with in this series), but no clear teaching. On the other hand there is clear teaching that God’s choice is based on absolutely nothing that man does – Rom 9:6-24. If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, the Arminian has no theological leg to stand on.

There is no way to take "election" in its truest sense out of 2 Peter 1. God chooses certain people to be saved. Therefore, I contend that the material in 2 Peter 1, especially the reference to election in 1:10, precludes any synergistic explanation of 2 Peter 3:9. Next time, we will look at chapter 2, which is far more devastating to the Arminian argument.

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