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1 Peter 4:16-18 (ESV) Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”1

A few things there should be no meaningful contention over:

  • "Judgement" refers to punishment here ('if judgement ... then how much more ... [evil people]')

  • He does not say that it is scarcely true that anyone is ever saved (for example), but, specifically, it is scarcely true that the righteous are saved.

  • "Scarcely" corresponds to the implied "definitely not" of "the ungodly," whence we know that "scarcely" means 'with great difficulty; unlikely.'

Question

How do Calvinists interpret this passage, which claims that the righteous will "scarcely" be saved, if God elects people unconditionally, and works (read: anything on the part of the man) cannot endanger a man's salvation who has been saved ("the righteous")? (After all, it cannot be that God can/would have difficulty saving someone.)

(The Catholic interpretation, e.g., would say one can be righteous, like Adam, and choose not-God at any time after being saved from their sin.)

(If you dispute any of these rather neutral observations, please ask for clarification in the comments, rather than answering, please!)

Thanks in advance.


1 St. Peter is alluding to/paraphrasing/adapting Proverbs 11:31 which concerns the retribution God gives for workers of evil, yet "all the more" to the wicked, who are defined by their sin. He then ties it in (γαρ "for") with "[salvation]."

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From Calvin's Commentary on the Bible:

https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-peter/4-18.html#cal

I have bolded relevant passages.

When the faithful see that it is well with the wicked, they are necessarily tempted to be envious; and this is a very dangerous trial; for present happiness is what all desire. Hence the Spirit of God carefully dwells on this, in many places, as well as in the thirty-seventh Psalm, lest the faithful should envy the prosperity of the ungodly. The same is what Peter speaks of, for he shews that afflictions ought to be calmly borne by the children of God, when they compare the lot of others with their own. But he takes it as granted that God is the judge of the world, and that, therefore, no one can escape his hand with impunity. He hence infers, that a dreadful vengeance will soon overtake those whose condition seems now favorable. The design of what he says, as I have already stated, is to shew that the children of God should not faint under the bitterness of present evils, but that they ought, on the contrary, calmly to bear their afflictions for a short time, as the issue will be salvation, while the ungodly will have to exchange a fading and fleeting prosperity for eternal perdition.

But the argument is from the less to the greater; for if God spares not his own children whom he loves and who obey him, how dreadful will be his severity against enemies and such as are rebellious! There is, then, nothing better than to obey the Gospel, so that God may kindly correct us by his paternal hand for our salvation.

18 And if the righteous It has been thought that this sentence is taken from Proverbs 11:31; for the Greek translators have thus rendered what Solomon says,

“Behold, the just shall on the earth be recompensed; how much more the ungodly and the sinner?”

Now, whether Peter intended to quote this passage, or repeated a common and a proverbial saying, (which seems to me more probable,) (51) the meaning is, that God’s judgment would be dreadful against the ungodly, since the way to salvation was so thorny and difficult to the elect. And this is said, lest we should securely indulge ourselves, but carefully proceed in our course, and lest we should also seek the smooth and easy road, the end of which is a terrible precipice.

But when he says, that a righteous man is scarcely saved, he refers to the difficulties of the present life, for our course in the world is like a dangerous sailing between many rocks, and exposed to many storms and tempests; and thus no one arrives at the port, except he who has escaped from [a] thousand deaths. It is in the meantime certain that we are guided by God’s hand, and that we are in no danger of shipwreck as long as we have him as our pilot.

Absurd, then, are those interpreters who think that we shall be hardly and with difficulty saved, when we shall come before God in judgment; for it is the present and not the future time that Peter refers to; nor does he speak of God’s strictness or rigour, but shews how many and what arduous difficulties must be surmounted by the Christian before he reaches the goal. Sinner here means a wicked man (52) and the righteous are not those who are altogether perfect in righteousness, but who strive to live righteously.

  • I'm noticing a lot of strawmen when it comes to Protestant descriptions of non-Protestant beliefs. For example, "Absurd, then, are those interpreters who think that we shall be hardly and with difficulty saved, when we shall come before God in judgment," which I don't believe exists as an interpretation by anyone. I don't think anyone beliefs God has difficulty saving anyone, but that people often do not will salvation, or waver in between doing so and falling away. Such is the mystery of the will, and creaturely agency. +1 for Calvin reference. – Sola Gratia Jun 22 at 23:34
  • I agree with you and would like to know who Calvin in particular was writing against. – Paul Chernoch Jun 22 at 23:39
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Calvinism is tied to fixed numbers. Many are called but few chosen is quantity as is 'that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him'. John 17v2. ..Quantity is fixed here as a certain number are given and also the "power over all flesh" to bring it about. For God there is no uncertainty. ..But there is uncertainty, difficulty and suffering around the church. ..Uncertainty because some go to church for years before they give up. ..Difficulty because the saved ask for forgiveness as they trip up over the world, the flesh and the Devil. ..Suffering [1 Peter 5v10] as they take up their cross. ..So for the righteous these three combine to give the journey the quality of being only "just possible". "Just" or "scarcely possible" is like being on a car journey where one has to claim on ones breakdown cover [grace] every fifty yards. God's perspective is fixed; ours stabilise as [1 Peter 5v10] "The God of all grace..restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you". God has to deal with uncertainty to give the church peace, but that peace is attacked so often that the Christian perspective is "we only just/scarcely made it".

  • Unfortunately the Greek in which the passage was written uses the word μολις (with great difficulty; with much effort; hardly so)—very likely related to the root μογος (toil; difficult work). This word does not have the 'quanity' sense, but the sense of 'difficulty.' – Sola Gratia Jun 21 at 22:21
  • @Sola Gratia In view of your comment I have changed my answer. – C. Stroud Jun 22 at 20:34
  • Have I understood your answer correctly? "The righteous are scarcely saved," according to Calvinism, means, "the righteous experience hardship during the salvation process?" Because it is the "being saved" that is ultimately brought about with much difficulty. On whose part? God's or the believer? Let me know if you'd like to discuss in chat to clarify; comments can oftentimes get out of control. – Sola Gratia Jun 22 at 21:38
  • @Sola Gratia I do not know how to get to chat. Above you say "people often do not will salvation". Desiring salvation comes from somewhere, God or man? John 1v13 not of the will of man...Since desiring salvation originates from spiritual birth the parent [God] is responsible for the size of His family.=limited atonement. – C. Stroud Jun 24 at 16:07
  • Hopefully this link works: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/95346/c-stroud-sola-gratia – Sola Gratia Jun 24 at 16:42

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