Antecedents, Don’t Forget Your Antecedents (2 Peter 3:1–10)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).”

Many try to deny the first chapter of Peter’s first letter by appealing to the last chapter of his second letter, but I find the arguments for election in 1 Peter 1 to be pretty thick and the arguments against it from 2 Peter 3 to be pretty thin.

Peter addressed his first letter to “elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:1–2). “Knowledge” here refers to God’s covenant love as I’ve argued here. Of those God chose, Peter goes on to say, “He caused them to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus’ atonement doesn’t simply make all men potentially savable, it accomplishes the salvation of God’s elect.

Rather than try to deny this plain text by another shouldn’t we attempt to harmonize them? I find the Arminian counter with 2 Peter 3:9 to be a weak punch for two reasons:

First, let’s take the passage at its basic meaning without reading any extraneous theology into it. It simply says that God in some way desires that all men repent. No Calvinist would say otherwise. God commands all men to repent. It is the duty they owe to God.

Theologians have long spoken of there being two wills in God. Sometimes these are referred to as his secret and revealed will, or they might be called his decretive and preceptive will. God’s secret will, or His sovereign, is what is. He wills, it is done. He says let there be light and there is light. He decrees the end from the beginning, and so it will be (Isaiah 46:9–10). But we also see in the Scriptures God’s will of command. God says “You shall not murder” and yet murders abound, but only in such a way as to accomplish God’s sovereign plan. It was sin for man to crucify Christ, that is, it was a violation of God’s revealed will; and yet, that great sin did nothing more than achieve God’s secret and eternal purposes. God’s preceptive will is that all men repent. His decretive will is that the elect repent.

Second, I don’t think this interpretation, which is true in itself, is true of the text. What is the antecedent of “all?” If I announce to Meridian Church next Sunday, “All are invited to my house” none would take this to mean I am inviting the whole world. When Paul says in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved” no orthodox Christian understands him to say that all ethnic Israelites will be saved. The context makes clear that he is speaking of true Israel—meaning those he has chosen, as Romans 9–10 makes clear.

Peter here is not talking about God’s patience towards all humanity but towards His people. He is patience towards you, not wishing that any of you should perish but that all of you should reach repentance. This is further confirmed when in 3:15 he tells them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Again, it is the church that is to count God’s patience in not returning immediately as their salvation.

There are then two ways we could take this text. Peter may be saying that God is patient towards all His people, the elect, delaying His return until the full number is gathered in. The other option is that God is patient giving those who may be following the false teachers he warns of time to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says nothing contrary to 1 Peter 1; rather, it is addressing the very same audience, God’s elect.

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