1 Timothy 4:9-10 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.

This is an interesting assertion that Paul makes to Timothy.  At face value, it seems that he is establishing a doctrine of ‘universalism’ (as Karl Barth did, and too many modern theologians would agree).  ‘Universalism’ is the belief that because Jesus took the punishment for mankind’s sin on the cross, everyone will be saved and there is no one destined for hell.

Such a view, however, is not consistent with Jesus’ teaching about Hell, such as in the parables of the ‘Rich Man and Lazarus’ (Luke 16:19-31), and the three parables about the wise and foolish virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:1-13, 14-30, 31-46, where the Saviour uses language like “the door was shut” … “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”, “throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”)

So, what did Paul mean when he said, “the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.”?  The New Testament uses the word “all” in two different senses: sometimes it means “all without distinction”, and sometimes it means “all without exception”.  In other words, Jesus came to be the Saviour, not just for the Jews, but for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, skin colour, or cultural background, i.e. all without distinction.  We see the two senses of ‘all’ contrasted most clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:22 – “For as in Adam all [without exception] die, so in Christ all [without distinction] will be made alive.”  This contrast is borne out in Romans 3:23, 25-26 – “for all [without exception] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” … … , God presented [Jesus Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood … he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus [all without distinction, but not all without exception – only those from among all the peoples of the world who put their trust in Jesus as their Saviour]”.

Paul adds in his word to Timothy: “and especially of those who believe” because there is a sense in which all people, including those who are lost, benefit, in this life, from the coming of Jesus because of God’s common grace, as opposed to his saving grace.  As Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). That is his common grace as rain and sunshine do not prove anyone’s salvation.

– Bruce Christian