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Non-Christians & Christ’s Death

A request I received: “Also, a conversation on 1 Timothy 4:10 would be great in regard to Christ's death benefitting the non-elect.”

1Timothy 4:10. "(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”

Simply, this is another case of how we and all people throughout world history often use the terms “all” and “every” and “whole” not to mean each and every person, but to mean all or every or the whole of a particular category at a particular time. When we say, “He ate all the food in our house,” we naturally understand (since we regularly use these words not to mean “all persons/things/animals/plants on the earth,” but to mean “lots”) this to mean “he ate a lot, but not all crumbs of everything that could be defined as food.” Another example: “Who was at the party?” Answer: “Everyone was there!” The responder means "basically all who are the friends of the host and that you, too, know,” and not: “The six billion plus people on the planet.”

Many times in the New Testament, especially, when all, every, and whole are used, it has specific context (either in the text or in the original setting of the author as he writes to his original audience) that defines who the “all,” “every,” or “whole” group is. These words, in fact, infrequently mean “each and every that a person could possibly think of.”

John 3:16’s “God so loved the world” is of this realm. In the text, “the world” is immediately defined in the rest of the verse, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus goes on to emphasize that God’s eternal-life love does not extend to those who do not believe, whom, He says in the next two verses, “Have been condemned already” (3:18).

In terms of John’s writing audience, and Jesus’ message spoken with these words in the Promised Land to a Jewish man, Nicodemus, they communicate that eternal life is coming to non-Jews, too. So, it meant this for Nicodemus when Jesus said it, but John brings it forward to his mixed Jewish-Gentile readership in A.D. 90 to let them (both the Gentiles who have been let into the covenant people of God, the Church, but also to the Jews, who might have questioned the legitimacy of such) know that it was Jesus’ intent in His coming, to give eternal life to Jews and Gentiles. In other words, John says to his readers, “Jewish Christians, treat Gentile Christians as co-heirs with you, and evangelize unbelieving Gentiles, too. And Gentile Christians, know that you were not an afterthought, post-ascension, of Jesus, but that He came to save you. This fits with the wider context of John 1:11-12: “11 He came to that which was His own [Jews!], but His own [the Jews] did not receive [but crucified] Him. 12 Yet to all who received Him [whether Jewish or Gentile], to those who believed in His name [this qualifies the “all”], He gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent [by being Jewish], nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

That is, God loves, Nicodemus, not just Jewish people, but others from “the world” who will come to “believe in My name."

It is in this vein that Paul, a Jew of Jews who in 1 Timothy is writing to the half-Jewish (and brought up in the Jewish faith) Timothy, writes.

In other words, “the Savior of all people” in 1 Timothy 4:10 means there is no savior but Jesus, and that a person can be from anywhere in the world and of any race and any religious background, and be saved by Jesus. If a person (of any race, nationality, and religion) has a savior, it is Jesus, for no one else saves, as Peter said in Acts 4:12: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

So, Paul doesn’t seem to be getting at an idea that the death of Jesus benefits the nonelect. The writer of Hebrews, in his book dealing with the physical priests and physical sacrifices in Jerusalem in A.D. 66, and Paul, in dealing in Galatians with Jewish Christians going back to elements of the ceremonial law (prominently circumcision), teach the opposite, saying that if anyone does go back to those things, the death and blood of Christ has no value for them, as here:

Galatians 5:2. "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

Hebrews 4:2. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.”

Thus, the unbelieving do not benefit from the death of Christ. The message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” “Christ will be no value to [them] at all.”

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