I noted in a recent post that there is no verse that straightforwardly confirms limited atonement, the belief that Jesus died only for the elect. On the flip side, there seems to be plenty of verses that flat out contradict it, which Calvinists have to deal with in order to preserve the L in TULIP. In this post, I want to focus on 1 Timothy 4:10, another problematic text for the Calvinist position.
Here’s the verse: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (NASB). It is the relative clause that gets the bulk of the attention here, and it is obvious why: On face value, it sounds like God is the Savior of everyone but is the Savior in a special way for believers. This would flow quite nicely with unlimited atonement: Through Christ’s atoning death for everyone, God is the Savior of all, but this atonement is only applied to those who believe.
Such a reading, however, would contradict limited atonement, so Calvinists have proposed several ways of reading this verse. I’ll summarize and evaluate the ones that I am familiar with, and it will be shown that these attempts fail to make a convincing exegetical case and often rely on dubious word studies, faulty reasoning, and de-contextualized readings in order to preserve a dogged allegiance to a system.