Not Willing That Any Should Perish – 4 Views

Let’s examine verses like 2 Peter 3:9 where we read that “God is not willing that any should perish”.

It seems to me that there are 2 grammatically legitimate ways to read this verse, and 4 potential conclusions that can be drawn from these 2 different readings.

“God is not willing that any [man, woman or child anywhere] should perish”

Because God always gets what He wants, God will get what He wants.
Proponents of this view conclude that no man, woman or child anywhere in the history of humanity will perish and all [of them] will go to heaven. Those who do end up in hell will come to their senses, immediately repent and enter heaven. All verses that sound like people will be in hell forever are hyperbolic, inaccurate or misinterpreted.
In summary, God gets exactly what He wanted.
This view is held by Universalists like Rob Bell (note that most Universalists do not believe the Bible to be Inspired, Inerrant and Infallible).

“God is not willing that any [man, woman or child anywhere] should perish”

Because God made man free, God is powerless to change man’s will.
Proponents of this view conclude that God is heartbroken that people freely choose to reject Him and go to hell, and despite trying His best, there is nothing He can do about it except weep. All verses that sound like God intends for people to go to hell or that God’s people cheer to see the wicked destroyed or that God can shape man’s heart/mind/will are hyperbolic, inaccurate or misinterpreted.
In summary, God does not get exactly what He wanted.
This view is held by some (not all) Arminians and Provisionists such as Leighton Flowers (he’s occasionally inconsistent on his points, so he’s hard to pin down), Roger Olsen, Jerry Walls, etc.

“God is not willing that any [man, woman or child anywhere] should perish”

God made man free, but God CAN change man’s will when He is so inclined. For reasons of genuine love (and other mysteries), God chooses to not change people’s will.
Proponents of this view conclude that God is heartbroken that people freely choose to go to hell, even though He could do something about it, He chooses not to. All verses that sound like God intends for people to go to hell or that God’s people cheer to see the wicked destroyed are hyperbolic, inaccurate or misinterpreted. The verses that suggest God can change people’s heart/mind/will are literal. It is a mystery to humans why He does not do so for all men everywhere.
In summary, God does not get what He wanted.
This view is held by some (not all) Arminians and Provisionists such as Michael Brown, Mike Winger.

“God is not willing that any [of the dearly beloved elect of verse 1] should perish”

God made man with a free will to follow his desires, but it is God alone who gives and shapes every man’s desire (Prov 21:1). According to His will and His good pleasure (Eph 1:11; Lam 3:37), He elects some for salvation (Eph 1:3-6) but passes over others.
Proponents of this view conclude that God can both intend for a person’s destruction and yet at the same time mourn over that person’s destruction (Lam 3; Matt 23:30-39). God gives mercy to whom He wills and hardens whom He wills (Rom 9:18), all for His glory (Rom 9:22-24). All verses that sound like God intends for people to go to hell or that God’s people cheer to see the wicked destroyed are to be taken at face value (2 Thess 1, Rev 19, Is 33, etc)
In summary, God does all that He wants in heaven and on earth (Ps 135:6) and gets exactly what He wanted.
This view is held by Augustinians, Conservative Lutherans, Calvinists, early Plymouth Brethren, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Owens, John Piper, RC Sproul.

Summary thoughts:

Note that only in the first and last does God get what He wanted. The other views depict a God who does not get what He wants, despite the copious verses that say God is powerful to save and does get what He wants.

7 comments to Not Willing That Any Should Perish – 4 Views

  • Jones

    I feel as though there may be more to it than the above 4 options described above.
    What about the option: G’d doesn’t always get what He wants BUT He always gets what is best for His ultimate work inspite of the choices people make for themselves.

    My point here is that it seems to limit G’d’s power (assuming, as I do, it is limitless) to say he can only have his cake but not eat it too. To me it seams we can refuse salvation if we want. G’d won’t stop us, though He feels really bad about it. Equally we can accept the free gift of salvation. The real question is WHEN did we (our will we) choose?
    If from before the foundations of the world were laid, my name was already written, or not written, it seems as though I had no choice. But if look at it from G’d’s perspective (who is the creator of time and not bound by it) then I might well have made that decision myself.

    G’d can still make his plan work no matter if I have free will or not.

    Is 2:30 in the morning here in China so I hope that made at least a little sense… 🙂

    • admin

      Greetings! Hope the Covid19 stuff isn’t wrecking your world over there. (I’d be interested in getting your take on things there. I never quite know what to trust in our media)

      [+]Yahweh does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the depths. (Ps 135:6)

      Verses like that make me reject the idea of God (truly!) wanting something He can’t have. He has a dozen ways to stop such things from taking place before and during the lifetime of the guilty person who would do such things. So I’m quite content to say that in some way/shape/form anything that happens is actually what God wants to happen. The Reformers called this “divine Decree”, and yes, His decrees can actually contradict His commands:
      [+]The LORD instructed Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, make sure you do all the wonders before Pharaoh that I have put within your power. But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go. Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. I told you: Let My son go so that he may worship Me, but you refused to let him go. Now I will kill your firstborn son! ” (Exod 4:21-23)
      In this instance (and there are many, many others), God is working behind the scenes to see to it that Pharaoh does not do what He explicitly commands Pharaoh to do. And as a consequence, Pharaoh suffers a specific fate.

      So yes, our free will is no match for His sovereignty. Nebby phrased it this way:
      [+]But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing, and He does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand or say to Him, “What have You done? ” (Dan 4:34-35)

      I’m good with that.


  • Jones

    Also, I’d just like to say that I have been reading the articles in this blog for at least 5 hours so far tonight. Although I don’t agree with all of the points or ideas presented in this sight, I do very much appreciate the the obvious effort made here to carefully examine the word of G’d! I enjoy the attention to detail and the numerous references provided for every discussion topic.
    In other words, I like the way you think!
    May G’d bless you and yours and may this work bear much fruit for Him.

  • Why are you even looking at versus in isolation, let alone tossing them up for discussion as isolated statements? The bible was not inspired or recorded with chapter/verse division. Adding numbers beside translated sentences (aka “verse references”) has been both a blessing and a curse. Pulling random sentences or partial sentences out of a text, while totally ignoring their context, then still trying to make sense out of that sentence has led to so many gross misinterpretations and heresy of the scriptures that it’s bewildering just to think about it again. This is no different than zeroing in on partial statements the make God seem like a monster who hates everyone, or cherry picking quick hitters that make the inspired word seem like a scatter brained book of endless contradictions and inconsistencies. The meaning of that statement is actually quite clear when interpreted within the context of the entire passage, and knowing that the epistles were all specifically written to the saints, i.e. God’s own.

    • admin

      Each of the proponents of these 4 views think their position is “actually quite clear” and “interpreted within the context of the entire passage”.

      Did you want to share which view (of the 4, or any other) is the ‘correct’ view and why?


  • admin,

    Sure, here goes…A.W. Pink makes it very clear IMHO. So, I’ll simply paste his thoughts below (mine align with his) as I can’t state the interpretation any clearer than this:

    Opposers to ‘The Doctrines of Grace’ very often quote II Pet 3:9, “not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance”, and say, “Does not this verse prove that God desires the salvation of the whole human race?” In fact MacArthur quotes this verse myriads of times to try and prove that God sincerely desires the salvation of all men. [Listen to his sermon on ‘Evangelistic Praying’ [Tape GC 54 –11]

    The first thing to be said upon the above passage is that, like all other scripture, it must be understood and interpreted in the light of its context. What we have quoted in the preceding paragraph is only part of the verse, and the last part of it at that! Surely it must be allowed by all that the first half of the verse needs to be taken into consideration. In order to establish what these words are supposed by many to mean, viz., that the words “any” and “all” are to be received without any qualification, it MUST be shown that the CONTEXT is referring to THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE! If this cannot be shown, if there is no PREMISE to justify this, then the CONCLUSION also must be unwarranted. Let us then ponder the first part of the verse.

    “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise”. Note “promise” in the singular number, NOT “promises.” What promise is in view? The promise of SALVATION? WHERE, IN ALL SCRIPTURE, HAS GOD EVER PROMISED TO SAVE THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE!! WHERE INDEED? NO, THE “PROMISE” HERE REFERRED TO IS NOT ABOUT SALVATION. What then is it? The context tells us.

    “Knowing this, first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” [vv.3,4]. The context then refers to God’s promise to SEND BACK HIS BELOVED SON. But many long centuries have passed, and this promise has not yet been fulfilled. True, but long as the delay may seem to US, the interval is short in the reckoning of GOD. As the proof of this we are reminded, “But beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” [v.8]. In God’s reckoning of time, less than two days have yet passed since He promised to send back Christ.

    But more, the delay in the Father sending back His beloved Son is not only due to no “slackness” on His part, but it is also occasioned by His “longsuffering”. His longsuffering to WHOM? The verse we are now considering tells us: “but is longsuffering to US-WARD”. And who are the “us-ward”? – the human race, or God’s own people? In the light of the context this is NOT an open question upon which each of us is free to form an opinion. The Holy Spirit has defined it. The opening verse of the chapter says, “This second Epistle, BELOVED I now write unto you”. And, again, the verse immediately preceding declares, “But, BELOVED, be not ignorant of this very one thing etc.,” [v.8].

    The “us-ward” then are the “beloved” of God. They to whom this Epistle is addressed are “them that have OBTAINED [not “exercised”, but obtained as God’s Sovereign GIFT”] like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” [II Pet. 1:11]. Therefore we say there is no room for a doubt, a quibble or an argument – the “us-ward” are the elect of God.

    Let us now quote the verse as a whole: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Could anything be clearer? The “ANY” that God is not willing should perish, are the “US-WARD” to whom God is “longsuffering”, the “BELOVED” of the previous verses. 2Pet. 3:9 means, then, that God will not send back His Son until “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” [Rom.11:25]. God will not send back Christ till that “people” whom He is now “taking out of Gentiles” [Acts 15:14] are gathered in. God will not send back His Son till the Body of Christ is complete, and that will not be till the ones whom He has elected to be saved in this dispensation shall have been brought to Him.

    Thank God for His “longsuffering to us-ward”. His decreed purpose is that ALL His elect will come to repentance, and repent they SHALL. The present interval of grace will not end until the last of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are safely brought in,—THEN will Christ return.

    • admin

      Thanks. Sounds like you’re endorsing #4. READING 2, CONCLUSION 4.
      That’s the view I hold.

      Some would say that only Calvinists hold this view, but I think that’s incorrect. I was was once involved in a Bible study many years ago, and when they hit this verse, this was the interpretation they used. And they were most definitely NOT Calvinistis. They just pointed at the grammar, drew the conclusion, and moved on.

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