I am not an expert with Hermeneutics or methods of Exegesis, yet I am in the process of learning such things. This particular verse is easier to understand in terms of a basic tenet of Hermeneutics, namely: Context.

Yet, in a Reformed book called "What's so Great about the Doctrines of Grace", we have Richard D. Phillip's assertion as follows:

"First are those that seem to teach that God wills the salvation of all people. An example is 1 Timothy 2:3-4, where Paul says that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." But who are these "all"? Going back to the start of the chapter, we see that Paul means all kinds or classes of people. He asks his readers to pray "for all people," such as "kings and all who are in high positions" 1 Timothy 2:1-2)." Pg 59

Q: According to Reformed Theology, what is the exegetical basis for the claim that 1 Timothy 2:4 means "all kinds of people"? Did Richard D. Phillips make a tenable case?

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    I suggest that this question should either focus on hermeneutic exegesis (and migrate to SE-BH for examination) or should otherwise focus on Reformed Theology as such. At the moment it is trying to do both at once, which, in my own view, does not work.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 3:42
  • @NigelJ Can you help me move it to BHSE and I edit it there? I don’t know how to move it to BHSE.
    – Cork88
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 4:02
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    It was only my personal suggestion : let the community and the Moderators do as may be required.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 6, 2022 at 4:11
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    This is ontopic here as it's asking for how particular theological group read a passage in line with their doctrines.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


Lets look at Calvin’s commentary on the subject:

On 1 Timothy 2:1, he writes:

That, above all, prayers be made. First, he speaks of public prayers, which he enjoins to be offered, not only for believers, but for all mankind. Some might reason thus with themselves: "Why should we be anxious about the salvation of unbelievers, with whom we have no connection? Is it not enough, if we, who are brethren, pray mutually for our brethren, and recommend to God the whole of his Church? for we have nothing to do with strangers." This perverse view Paul meets, and enjoins the Ephesians to include in their prayers all men, and not to limit them to the body of the Church.

So, the context is Paul stressing the believer’s obligation to pray not only for other believers, but for the salvation of those outside the church body. That should include even those who are currently persecuting the church (“kings, and for all that are in authority”) because even they may be elect. The Roman emperor may not be regenerate, but God desires even some kings to be saved. Thus, we should pray for the emperor’s salvation. As Calvin writes of 1 Timothy 2:2:

For kings He expressly mentions kings and other magistrates because, more than all others, they might be hated by Christians. All the magistrates who existed at that time were so many sworn enemies of Christ; and therefore this thought might occur to them, that they ought not to pray for those who devoted all their power and all their wealth to fight against the kingdom of Christ, the extension of which is above all things desirable. The apostle meets this difficulty, and expressly enjoins Christians to pray for them also. And, indeed, the depravity of men is not a reason why God's ordinance should not be loved.

In that context, verse 4 is giving us the reason why we should pray for all people: because absolutely anyone (living) could be elect, even the pagan king. Anyone who is elect God will eventually bring to salvation. If God desires even some of the kings who are persecuting His church to be saved, He certainly desires that every kind of person imaginable be saved. His salvation is limited in scope, but not limited to any one class of people. We should pray as if we believe that.

Those who hold to a hypothetical universalism will stress the inclusive language in verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 or John 3:16 to argue for a universal atonement. However, those interpretations often overlook a simple reading of the text that doesn’t necessitate God extending salvation to all individuals or willing every individual to be saved. At least in confessional Reformed circles, you will find these passages interpreted such that they reconcile with the many others that imply a limited atonement, e.g. Matthew 22:14, Romans 8:30.

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    It is fitting that Paul, once a fervent persecutor of the Church, would enjoin prayer for all. Commented May 6, 2022 at 21:36

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