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2 Timothy 1:9-10 Does Not Necessarily Support Calvinism

Unconditional Election?

In is series on TULIP, John Piper speaks of 2 Timothy 1:9-10 as if the Calvinist interpretation is the only logical interpretation of the passage. It says “before the world began,” therefore Calvinism must be true! Well, I believe Calvinism is wrong.

In 2 Timothy 1:9-10, Paul writes to Timothy:

9 Who [God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:” (2 Timothy 1:9-10, KJV)

At first glance, it all sounds very Calvinistic, as if it is talking about unconditional election. Unconditional election is the idea that, before God created the world and humanity, God selected some individuals to receive salvation because He wanted them to be saved. Afterwards, only those humans whom God selected will receive salvation and, as a result of receiving salvation, also believe in Jesus Christ.

The rest of Christianity does not believe in unconditional election. The rest of Christianity holds that individuals decide whether to believe in Jesus; and, if they decide to believe in Jesus, God graciously grants them salvation. For the rest of Christianity, every individual has the opportunity to be saved. But, for those who believe in Calvinism, those who where not selected before the world began have no opportunity of salvation.

However, although 2 Timothy 1:9-10 sounds very Calvinistic at first glance, I believe that when we analyze it, we realize the passages does to teach unconditional election.

It Makes No Sense

God’s grace “was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” That statement is true; however, it is difficult to understand what it means because no human ever experienced God’s grace before the world began (the key word is experienced). God gave the grace before the world began, but no human experienced it then because no human existed then.

If humans had actually existed and experienced God’s grace before the world began, then we would need to conclude that, sometime after God gave them grace, God withdrew His grace from them because, before they became believers in Jesus Christ, they were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). For this reason, the Apostle Paul himself stated that, before converting to Christ, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an injurious person (1 Timothy 1:13, KJV).

So then, you could not have received grace before the world began, otherwise grace was also withdrawn from you by the time you were born. Therefore, before the world began, God gave grace, but no human received grace before the world began.

What, then, does it mean that God gave His grace in Christ Jesus before the world began? Since humans did not exist to receive grace then, it makes sense that God gave His grace in His mind: it was His purpose to give His grace. In other words, before the world bregan, God decided He would give His grace later on (maybe He even wrote it in a book somewhere so He would not forget). God had a plan.

For Us, The Gospel

Moreover, Paul does not write to Timothy that God gave me grace before the world began, nor does Paul write that God gave you grace before the world began. Paul writes that God gave us grace. By us, Paul must be talking about all who believe in Jesus (I think this makes sense for I do not think Paul is talking only about himself and Timothy).

It is conceivable, then, that God planned to give His grace to all who would believe in Jesus Christ (after all, He gave His grace in Christ Jesus). Whether God knew who would believe in Jesus Christ matters not here. The point is that God had a plan to give grace to a group of people, and that group of people could have been composed of all individuals who would choose to believe in Jesus Christ instead of only individuals God had unconditionally elected.

Moreover, 2 Timothy 1:10 explains that the grace was made manifest when Christ appeared (in human history) to abolish death (through his crucifixion). Also, Christ did not only appear to abolish death, but he also appeared to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Most likely, the gospel (the good news) is not an unrelated factor in God’s plan; but more logically, the gospel is the means through (the passages says through) which humans hear (find out) that they can have life and immortality because Christ has abolished death. If hearing the gospel were not necessary for one to believe, what would be the purpose of Paul ever being appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel to the gentiles? (cf. 2 Timothy 1:11, KJV)

Possible and Better

Perhaps one cannot say that, conclusively, the passage does not teach unconditional election. However, because an alternate interpretation of the passage is possible, it can be said that the passage does not conclusively teach unconditional election. Nevertheless, since the passage teaches that the preaching of the gospel is the means to enlighten humans about life and immortality, the more logical and natural assumption is that the passage does not teach unconditional election, but instead teaches that God had a plan to grant grace to humans who would believe the gospel.

In the end, that God us gave grace "in Christ Jesus before the world began" is only a colorful way of saying that God had a plan in His mind (and this idea is not unbiblical, because 1 Peter 1:20 and Revelation 13:8 clearly teach that Christ was foreordained by God to be sacrificed for us).

© 2023 Marcelo Carcach