I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day. Someone I follow tweeted II Peter 3:9. That was quickly followed by another tweet saying “That’s a hard truth for many to accept but ALL have been offered the chance to repent.”
I couldn’t help myself so I replied to this person: “All people who have ever lived in the entire history of the world?”
They gave the standard response of “all means all” so I attempted to take it a step further, hopefully pushing them to think a bit:
“A native American living in what is now Montana in the year 1300?” I replied.
That’s when things got interesting. At first the person claimed they would not respond to “semantics.” However, I assured them this was not semantics but a specific application of their stated belief. After all, if what we believe does not work in application, perhaps we should rethink what we believe.
They next claimed that we don’t know how God works it all out but since we do know “all means all” there must be a way.
But, the truth is we DO know how God works it out. Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes by hearing the words of Christ. People who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel cannot be saved. Now that’s a really hard truth.
So back to our native American in Montana in 1300. If the “all” of II Peter 3:9 includes him or her, then one of two things must be true:
- There was a gospel witness in North America several hundred years before our current knowledge of history tells us there was.
- There is a way other than hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ by which men may be saved.
Not being in possession of exhaustive historical knowledge, I cannot rule out the first option completely but I will say it is highly unlikely, especially as far west as Montana. And the further back we move this date toward the date of the resurrection, the more certain we can be no such witness had yet come to these shores.
That leaves the second option, which is where logically consistent Arminianism must go – God has made some provision other than the one revealed in the New Testament for people to be saved.
As with history, even less do I have an exhaustive knowledge of God. But, I can know what He’s chosen to reveal. And one of the thing’s He’s revealed is that general revelation is not sufficient for salvation (Romans 1). No gospel witness (special revelation), no salvation.
But, some may say, couldn’t God give such people a gospel witness directly, not coming through human beings or the scriptures? A better question is, does the New Testament allow for such a belief? When speaking of God, it’s never a matter of ability. It’s not what can God do but what does God do. Can God fill my living room with Snickers bars? Yes. Is there any biblical evidence to suggest He will do so? No.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts we encounter a man named Cornelius:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” (Acts 10:1-3)
So what did this angel say next? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” No, the angel instructed him to send for Simon Peter. Despite his reputation as a devout man, Cornelius needed salvation. So God’s messenger instructed Cornelius to send for a man who would share the gospel with him. Could the angel have shared the gospel with Cornelius? Yes. Did God choose to work that way? No.
In fact there is not one example in the entire New Testament of anyone receiving the gospel apart from the preached or taught word. The only possible exception would be the apostle Paul. But, like the other apostles, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ that not only saved him but set him apart for special service as an apostle – an office that no longer exists.
So does “all” then not mean “all?” Actually yes, it does – in context. When not speaking hyperbolically (I tell you that ALL the time) “all” means the complete number of people or things in view. If I say, at the start of a church business meeting, “are we all here?” I do not have in view a farmer in Uzbekistan or a banker in London. I mean, of the group of people we expect to be at this meeting, are any of them still missing?
Any time we see the word “all” in scripture, or elsewhere in literature, we need to ask “who is in view?” and in II Peter, that “who” is the elect.
The simple but hard truth is that everyone does not get a “chance.” There were thousands of people who perished in areas of the world where the gospel was unknown for generations. There are thousands of people today who perish apart from a gospel witness. This is why the Great Commission is so important. In fact, it’s why the Great Commission exists at all. If the going and the telling are not necessary for the salvation of the lost, then it’s merely a Good Option, not a Great Commission.