Background assumptions to 1 Tim. 2:4

A dispute with a colleague over whether the crusader’s cry was Deus Vult or Deus Lo Vult led to a Wiki page that claims it is an appropriation of 1 Tim. 2:5 deus vult omnes homines salvari or “God wills all men to be saved” which is apparently is woven into the Pope’s pallium and is featured on the crests or seals of many bishops.

I never solved the “lo” problem but it led to an impressive example of the force of the background assumptions that we bring to interpretations. 1 Tim. 2:4 is nowadays seen as the paradigm Universalist text. In the Crusader’s reading, 1 Tim. is a call to battle: God wills all men to be saved, all are saved by hearing the gospel and being delivered from the oppression of the infidel, therefore etc. QED. We hear the same text and think something like “God wills all men to be saved, God is all powerful and will always get his way, therefore all men will be saved no matter what we do.”

What’s fascinating in these background assumptions is the understanding of power. The Crusader understands divine power as diffusive: when God wills something then others need to get moving. For the Universalist power is seen as concentrated: one has power to do things by himself without the aid of others. Power for the crusader was measured by the extent to which others took part in your power; power for the Universalist is vested in one to the exclusion of others. The dispute between the common good and the proper good is unmistakable. Many of you have already thought of subsidiarity, though it can now be coordinated with the primacy of the common good and a critique of Universalism.

The argument from evil can also make the appearance, since it seems to share with Universalism the belief that power is something that allows one to act by themselves to the exclusion of others. In the Crusader’s mentality evil related to omnipotence in that the latter was maximally capable of getting others involved, and so presupposed that those others could bungle their tasks or abuse their authority. Oddly enough, he might be prone to thinking that omnipotence and goodness would lead us to expect evil. If you get everyone in the universe involved, you’d expect someone to drop the ball somewhere. For us, power is measured by the job performance of an individual, and the more power you have the more you can do without the wills of anyone else needing to matter.





  1. Will Farris said,

    April 29, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Another way to look at “power” is sovereignty. Humans do not have libertarian freedom in that God’s will always supervenes, especially in terms of whom the Holy Spirit calls into the Kingdom. Nonetheless, far more in support of the universalist is 1 Cor. 15:22: all (pantos) are in sin through Adam, likewise all (pantos) are saved (made alive) through Christ. Either we have a serious defect in Paul’s use of analogy, or universalism is ultimately true in some sense.

    • David said,

      April 29, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      In Evangelical circles, this is a key verse for arguing against Calvinism’s limited atonement. If we agree that humans have free will, it seems clear that in some sense God’s prescribed will or desired will can be different from his permitting or actualizing will. We can categorize this in different ways, even using scripture’s own anthropomorphic language of God. Either way you slice it, for this verse to support universalism requires having zero nuance in understanding the sense of “God’s will.”

      • David said,

        April 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm

        I’m sorry this should have been a reply to the article, not to the comment.

    • April 30, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Either we have a serious defect in Paul’s use of analogy, or universalism is ultimately true in some sense.

      I found this a very interesting claim. I post on it above.

  2. May 13, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    […] I’d like to see more “pro-west” Christians recognize the missionary impetus of the creed. Paul’s statement that “God wills all men to be saved” is not just a statement about who God is, but also about what we are called to do (Background assumptions to 1 Tim. 2:4). […]

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