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Thomas Duke on 2 Peter 3:9

July 16, 2009

Introductory note:

There is a popular claim regarding 2 Peter 3:9 which often surfaces here and there on the internet. Gordon Clark echoed this assertion:

Peter is telling us that Christ’s return awaits the repentance of certain people. Now, if Christ’s return awaited the repentance of every individual without exception, Christ would never return.

Gordon H. Clark. I & II Peter (New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), 2:71.

The argument thus asserts that if the will of God in view respects all mankind, then accordingly, Jesus will never return. Thus a neat little reductio is set up: Ergo, the will under consideration cannot respect all mankind, but the elect exclusively.

Against this, Duke’s following comments well apply:

3:9(b): “Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

If His longsuffering is the reason for the delay, His will or desire in regard to all men is the motivation behind the reason. There are, it seems, two related but separable aspects to God’s “willing,” one negative and one positive: He is “not willing that any should perish”; He is willing, however, “that all should come to repentance.” The word “willing” translates a present participial form of the Greek verb boulomai, which bears a close resemblance in meaning and usage to another Greek verb, thelo. Generally speaking, present participles denote action taking place at the same time as the action of the main verb, in this case “longsuffering.” Since this verb (makrothumia) appears in its present, active, indicative form, the implication is that God’s “willing” continues for as long as His “longsuffering” continues. Therefore, Peter may be conveying that when God’s longsuffering has been exhausted, so too will His willing in this matter likewise end.

…Nevertheless, this much is clear: Peter’s primary intent in verse 9 is to refute the scoffers’ argument that the delay in Christ’s Parousia renders it either highly suspect or simply untrue. This he accomplishes by offering both the reason for His delay (His longsuffering) and the motivation underlying the reason (His “willing”). Verse 9 contributes this insight to Peter’s four-pronged attack: God’s love for all men, rather than His incompetence, indifference, or inability (as the scoffers would have it) explains the delay in His return. Peter’s reply thus grounds the delay in the loving, gracious, and merciful character of God. At the same time, it appears that Peter ties the length of the delay to the Lord’s longsuffering, not to His willing, so that the delay in his Second Coming depends upon the duration of His longsuffering, not upon the coming to repentance of every person. Other verses in the epistle decisively reinforce the exclusion of a “universal conversion” interpretation. For example, verse 7 of chapter 3 speaks of the heavens and the earth being reserved “for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (emphasis supplied). Notwithstanding God’s patience in waiting for and wanting everyone to come to repentance, not all will repent and be saved in the end…

Thomas H. Duke, “An Exegetical Analysis of 2 Peter 3:9,” Faith & Mission 16 (1999) : 8 and 10.

[For those interested, email me for a pdf copy of the complete article.]

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