by John Samson
This is a verse which is often raised as an objection to God’s Sovereignty in election.
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
It has had many interpretations. Here are a few of them:
(1) UNIVERSALISM – Universalists interpret the phrase that God is “the Savior of all people” to mean that all will be saved. This is contrary to all sound doctrine and, in fact, has always been viewed as heresy by the Church. The proponents of this idea emphasize the love of God as God’s chief and most important attribute, to the exclusion of all others, such as His holiness and His justice. This heresy is very easily refuted because the Bible makes it very clear that some people will end up in hell, forever. (Rev 14: 9-11; 20:15; Matt 5: 21-22, 27-30; 23: 15, 33; 25: 41, 46)
If the phrase “the Savior of all people” was seeking to teach universalism, the rest of the verse would have no meaning when it says “especially of those who believe.”
(2) ARMINIANISM – Arminians would normally interpret the verse to say that God wants to save everyone but His desire is many times thwarted by the obstinate free will of man. Note though that the passage does not say He wants to save, but that He actually saves: He is actually the Savior (in some sense at least) of all people, not merely a potential Savior.
Also, according to Isaiah 46:10, God’s will is never frustrated. He accomplishes all He sets out to do.
(3) A VARIATION OF ARMINIANISM - God is able to save all people, but though all can be saved, only believers actually are. Again, this is not what the text says.
(4) THE REFORMED VIEW – God is the Savior of all people (in one sense) and especially of those who believe (in another sense). Why would this be considered the correct interpretation?
Well, as we study the terms “salvation” and “Savior” in the Bible we find many nuances – many different ways God saves. The most important aspect of salvation is to be “saved” from the wrath of God (Romans 5:6-9), but salvation also includes the idea of rescue from enemy attack (Psalm 18:3); preservation (Matt 8:25); physical healing (Matt 9:22; James 5:15) etc. God “saved” not only Paul but everyone else on board ship with him in Acts 27:22, 31, 44. There are numerous ways that “salvation” takes place, but that’s a complete Bible study all in itself.
When we study the word Savior (Greek: soter) in the LXX version (Greek translation of the Old Testament) we see the word used in a way that is far less grandiose than that which we generally think of the word. One example is Judge Othniel is called a Soter (Savior) or deliverer because he delivered the children of Israel from the hands of the king of Mesopotamia (Jud 3:9). 2 Kings 13:5 talks of God giving Israel a “Savior” so that they were delivered from the hands of the Syrians. The judges of Israel were “saviors” as Nehemiah 9:27 states, “… in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.” (see also Psalm 36:6)
A great deal more could be said to substantiate this idea of a savior, but I think the above makes the point. God provides food (Psalm 104:27, 28) sunlight and rainfall (Matt. 5:45), as well as life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25), for “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
God preserves, delivers and supplies the needs of all who live in this world, and it is in this sense that He extends grace to them, saving them from destruction every day they live. God is also gracious in allowing many to hear the proclamation of the Gospel.
All of these mercies are referred to as “common grace.” As I pointed out in the chapter “The Place to Start: Amazed by Common Grace” it is common only in the sense that every living person gets it. This grace should actually shock and amaze us because God is under no obligation whatsoever to give it to anyone. God sustains the lives of His sworn enemies, often for many decades! However, as wonderful as it is, it is only a temporal grace because all unregenerate people eventually die and will face the judgment. (Heb 9:27)
I believe then that 1 Timothy 4:10 teaches that God is the Savior (soter – preserver, sustainer and deliverer) of all people (showing mercy to all, each and every day they live), especially of those who believe (who receive full salvation from His wrath and everlasting life).
Chapter 12 from Twelve What Abouts: Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election by John Samson