At the beginning of the 20th Century, philosophers Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell began working on a project that would eventually be published as Prinicipia Mathematica, a three-volume examination of the foundations of mathematics. At one point in this brain-melting project, they took on the surprisingly difficult task of proving that 1 + 1 = 2. I say “surprisingly difficult”, because for some reason it took them well over 300 pages of explanations and formulas to prove what to most of us is a pretty simple truth. What could possibly possess someone to devote so much time and energy and synapse-power to proving such an obvious fact? It’s possible that the reason had to with with Russell being a humanist and an atheist in agnostic’s clothing, so there wasn’t anything beyond the natural to take up his big-picture-thinking time. More likely it was related to him being divorced three times, so I’m thinking he was probably looking for excuses to get himself out of the house.
Whitehead and Russell were suffering from a condition called “simplexity”. Simplexity is that ability to take the most simple of ideas and make it complex. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Thus, despite Russell’s erudite reputation and his skill for using big words and cool-looking mathematical symbols, it seems that Einstein would agree with my long-held opinion that good ol’ Bertie was actually quite far from being a genius.
That being said, I believe that it is very possible that on Sunday morning I, too, proved myself to be far from having achieved genius-status. The only excuse I can give is that theologian-wise, I’m in good company. In a minor part of my sermon, I discussed 1 Timothy 4:10 – “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.” In the analysis of that verse, I laid out four interpretations to try to deal with the idea of God being the Savior of all people, especially of us believers.
The Universalist interpretation that says that God has actually saved all people was rejected because it doesn’t mesh with the rest of Scripture (the Hermeneutic of Harmony). The Arminian interpretation that says that God is the Savior of all who choose Him was rejected because the only way to make it fit is to change “who is the Savior” to “who wants to be the Savior” – an alteration that doesn’t fit the words or grammar. The Reformed interpretation that says when Paul uses the word “Savior” he doesn’t actually mean “Savior” was rejected, because you have to finagle the meaning of the word “Savior”. Good hermeneutics says if something can make sense without finagling then don’t finagle (the Obvious and Plain Meaning Hermeneutic).
The fourth interpretation is the one that I held to – the Sufficient vs. Efficacious interpretation. This one says that God is the Savior of all in that Jesus’ death was sufficient for all sins of all people for all time. However, the power of the cross is only efficacious (put into effect) for those who believe. This, to me, fit the wording and context best. Now for the rub – if you’ll notice in the first sentence of this paragraph, I used the word “held” and not “hold”. As certain as I was about my interpretation on Sunday, now I’m not so sure. I’m still one hundred percent with the doctrinal truth of the fourth interpretation. However, I think there may be a fifth option that in the end makes the other four seem kind of silly.
Dennis Robbins and I had a talk afore the second service (his wording). Every now and again (also his wording) something I say in a sermon will be deemed by him as either comment-worthy or needing a little adjustment. I always welcome these conversations, because he’s got one of the best theological minds in the church. He often will present to me perspectives and angles that I’ve never considered. I’ve got a theory that, similar to Samson, his great wisdom is all stored in his long red beard. If he ever shaved that thing off, he’d be dumb as a box of rocks.
So, Dennis and I went back and forth over this passage – him making good points, me making better points; sometimes very close in our opinions, sometimes far away again. Then, right about the point where he, as usually happens, finally realized how right I am and how wrong he is, I had an epiphany. I realized that it’s quite possible that this entire debate about what Paul meant by this verse is based on a bad case of simplexity.
If we back up and just look at the words and the context, I believe it’s likely that “God, the Savior of all people” is a title as much as a descriptor. What other Savior is out there? None – only God. If I were to ask you, “Who is the Savior of this world?”, you would say, “God” or “Jesus”. You would definitely not say, “Well, Steve, let’s analyze what you mean by Savior of all people. Do you mean actual Savior or potential Savior? Are you talking about Savior in the sense of eternal-life Savior or just as protector, preserver-of-life? Are you talking salvation in the Calvinist TULIP election sense or with an Arminian free will, free-for-all meaning?” I know for a fact that you wouldn’t say all that to me, because if you did start going down that road I would have walked away rolling my eyes before you were halfway through.
God is our Savior. He’s everybody’s Savior. There is no other Savior possible on this earth. So, how about we bestow upon Him the title He deserves – God, the Savior of all men. And as awesome as that is, He’s even more the Savior for those who get to experience the fullness of His saving power by being redeemed from the penalty of death and given new life. Simplicity, not simplexity.
I will readily admit that I could be wrong and Paul’s words here actually do go about sixteen layers deep. I’m also very content with the probability that Paul’s primary purpose here is simply to give God a worshipful thumbs-up. “Who is God? Why, He’s the Savior of all of us, but especially those of us who believe in Him. Remember, Timothy, that’s your message. Now go be a faithful servant and preach it.”