Bible - General Questions

In What Sense Is God 'The Savior of All Men'?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
First Timothy 4:10 does not teach universal salvation. In what sense, then, is God "the Savior of all men"?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

First Timothy 4:10 does not teach universal salvation. In what sense, then, is God "the Savior of all men"? The answer is to be found in the language and context of the passage.

In our last article we discussed a new form of the heresy called "Christian universalism" or "universal reconciliation" that is called the "Concordant Scripture" movement. This new mutation of universalist heresy mingles Hyperdispensationalism and the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. This incredible but growing heresy teaches that those who do not receive Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit during this life will be brought to "saving faith" by coercive torment after death.

One of the key verses cited by promoters of this heresy is First Timothy 4:10:

For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

What is the true meaning of this verse? We must begin with this: Scripture is clear that there are no contradictions, no paradoxes, with God. He does not teach the narrow way in one place but in another say that all men will be saved. It was Jesus himself who warned,

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult [Greek tethlimmene, confined] is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last. (Luke 13:24-30)

In what the sense, then, is God "is the Savior of all men"? The answer is to be found in the language and context of the passage.

Reclaiming A Misappropriated Title

The word translated "Savior" in First Timothy 4:10 is soter. It is the same word that is used everywhere else in the New Testament, in passages that teach salvation from eternal death through Christ alone. However, the phrase "Savior of all men" is unique to 1 Timothy 4:10. Paul by divine inspiration uses it for a very specific reason.

In his epistles, the Apostle Paul often used terms and titles that had been hijacked by the pagans of the Roman Empire, in order to drive home the message of Christian truth to readers who had once been pagans. We find this, for example, in Colossians, where Paul reclaims terms such as gnosis (knowledge) that had been given counterfeit meanings by pagan philosophers.

The title "Savior" (soter) was also such a term. It had been misappropriated by the Caesars of Rome. Caesar was called, in words identical to those used under inspiration by Paul, "savior of all men" -- in Latin, salvator omnium hominum, and in Greek (as in this verse), soter panton anthropon. The cult of the Caesars said that all the peoples of the Empire lived by the emperor's beneficent, sustaining hand. Thus also it was said that "Caesar is lord" and Christians were commanded to make this confession on pain of death, denying that Jesus is Lord. By the early days of the New Testament church, the cult of the worship of the Caesars as gods had become part of the religion of the Empire.

An expanded translation of First Timothy 4:10 would read, "...we have our hope permanently in the sphere of the living God, Who is and keeps on being the Preserver of all manner of men without regard for their spiritual condition -- especially, and so much the more, those who believe."

The title "Savior [Preserver] of all men," though misappropriated by the Caesars, is one that God reserves to Himself alone:

Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O Lord, You preserve man and beast. (Psalm 36:6)

...He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

...A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. (John 3:27)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:17)

Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high... (Hebrews 1:3)

The Supremacy of Christ

Recognition of the position of the God of Heaven alone as the Preserver and Sustainer of all men, both believer and unbeliever, is in keeping with the context of Paul's message to Timothy in his first epistle. His emphasis is on the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ over all men and all things. For example, Paul quotes an early hymn of the church in chapter three:

...I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:15-16)

And earlier, in chapter two, Paul enjoins prayer for Caesar as a ruler put on his throne by God:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior... (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

Clearly, the actual meaning of First Timothy 4:10 in its context demolishes any notion of universal salvation. Paul is speaking of something vastly different -- the fact that God, not government, is the Preserver of all men. What must we as Christians learn from this? We will answer that question in the final article of this series.

Next: God or Government?


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