2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing (ESV, NASB; willing, KJV; wanting, NIV, Holman; ) that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The verse above is one of the most debated verses in the Bible. Arminians argue that since God does not wish that anyone should perish, then Christ died for all mankind. Calvinists differ. Others, including a few who have posted comments here, argue that this verse contradicts the doctrine of predestination.
Christ died for all, including those already in or bound for hell?
Reformed and Calvinists like me point out the use of the italicized pronouns above in context:
- Since Peter was writing to “you,” referring to those “who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours” (2 Pet 1:1), his use of “anyone” and “all” could be modified to mean “anyone of you” and “all of you,” and not “anyone in the world” or “all mankind.” See also “The Death of Christ and the Eternal Covenant.”
- Note as well that in this passage, verses 1-13, Peter calls his fellow believers “you” and scoffers as “they” or “them.”
Three wills in One
The other point of contention is the word “wish,” ( or “want” or “will”). What does Peter mean when he says that “God… is not wishing…”? In the New Testament there are two different Greek words often translated “will,” but sometimes “counsel,” “plan,” “purpose,” “desire”: boule and thelema.
Boule is most often used with respect to God’s ordained and unchanging counsel or providential plan (Acts 2:23; 4:28). On the other hand, thelema has the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution and command, depending on the context of its use.
We know that God has one will, but there are different aspects of his will.
In eternity past, when God predestined Christ to die for sinners, he would surely complete his mission (Acts 2:23). At creation, when God said, “Let there be light,” the light cannot resist appearing. This is God’s fixed decretive will. He has decreed everything, “declaring the end from the beginning,” and it is a fixed, unchanging declaration, ” My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa 46:10). Love it or hate it, God accomplishesÂ his decretive will in ordaining everything that will happen in the universe.
But don’t we violate God’s will all the time? Yes, all of us hate, covet, lust, lie and much more. Yet, it is God’s will that we love God and neighbor (Matt 22:37-39) and obey all of his revealed laws in Scripture. But it does not happen. We call this aspect of God’s will as his preceptive will.
Does God desire then that we all obey his will? Of course. And what is God’s reaction when we do not obey? He is displeased and grieved. This then is God’s dispositional will, the aspect of his will that refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to him.
Does God gloat over those whom he sends to hell?
If we apply these nuances of God’s will to 2 Peter 3:9, which says that God is “not wishing that any should perish,” we can come up with only one possible meaning.
Decretive will: “God decreed in eternity past that no one should perish.” Unthinkable. If you believe this is so, you are a universalist.
Preceptive will: “God is not wishing that any should perish by allowing the person to disobey him.” Absurd.
Dispositional will: “God is not wishing that any should perish because he is not pleased or delighted by people perishing in hell.” This is the most obvious sense of the verse. Ezekiel 33:11 says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and calls the wicked to “turn from his way and live” (cf Acts 17:30). Like a human judge, God does not delight in sentencing the wicked to eternal punishment, but because he is holy, he is at the same time pleased that his righteousness is satisfied.
“The Meaning of God’s Will” by R. C. Sproul Sr.