Piper’s Two (Three) Wills of God and 1 Timothy 2:4

I certainly don’t mean to focus more than necessary on Piper, but he tends to be involved at significant levels in a number of different issues. I was recently talking with people on facebook about double predestination. Someone linked to Piper’s Are There Two Wills in God?, a very, very commonly linked article. I said that Piper was wrong, and when asked why, gave the following explanation (along with this link to an AOMin response to Piper’s article http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2008/12/10/1-timothy-24-an-exegesis/):

Marc, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Please see the link I provided as it interacts with Piper’s article.

It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.

This is true. But Piper does not understand these two wills in the same way that typical Reformed theologians do. Thus he is creating confusion and is unjustified in the way he attempts to find support for his view in Reformed history. (If someone can point me towards Jonathan Edwards’ interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 I would appreciate it)

The distinction simply stems from the fact that the word “will” can refer to more than one thing. In the Bible, it refers to God’s decree and it also refers to God’s commands (or law, as Piper quotes Edwards). But note that those are two very different things. It is not a contradiction or even a paradox to say that God commands men to do something, and then decrees that they do not do it.

“we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”

It is important how one understands that phrase. By “what God would like to see happen” do you simply mean what God commands? Or do you mean God longs for and desires for something that He does not actually accomplish? If the latter, then you have a problem with Is. 46:10; Ps 115:3. If God does not decree something, it is because He does not desire it.

What Piper is actually arguing for is 3 wills in God: a decretive will, a preceptive (command) will, and a will of unfulfilled desire or simply, a wish. Piper creates confusion by claiming his third view is just God’s preceptive will. It is not.

Piper’s error can be seen in his attempt to apply an understanding of God’s preceptive (command/precepts) will to John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4.

1 Timothy 2:4, for example, is not talking about God’s command to repent and believe. It is referring to God’s redemptive *work* of salvation. It is referring to something God does, not to something man must do. Therefore it refers to God’s decretive will. That being the case, it simply does not make sense to say it refers to some kind of lower desire in God that is superseded by a greater desire (“God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace”). If God’s will to save all is restrained by His commitment not to save all, then we shouldn’t pray and ask Him to save all. (Let me give you an example. If I have a desire to go on vacation with my wife, but I have a greater desire to pay rent, why would I tell my wife to continually ask me to go on vacation?) It just doesn’t make any sense of 1 Timothy 2:4. Either the Arminian interpretation is correct (or the Universalist’s), or John Calvin’s interpretation is correct. Piper’s is not exegetically viable.

Let me know what you think. Aside from all the other issues, of particular interest to me is that Piper’s interpretation just doesn’t seem to make any sense of 1 Timothy 2:4.


R.C. Sproul is a good enough communicator to recognize that what John Piper is arguing for is really 3 wills in God, not 2. In his Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, he says

“When we speak about God’s will we do so in at least three different ways… The three meanings of the will of God: (a) Sovereign decretive will is the will by which God brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens. (b) Preceptive will is God’s revealed law or commandments, which we have the power but not the right to break. (c) Will of disposition describes God’s attitude or disposition. It reveals what is pleasing to Him [Sproul places Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11 in this category].”

Whether one agrees with Sproul’s reading of the Ezekial passages or not, he is much more helpful in that he does not muddy the waters of God’s preceptive will, as Piper and others do.

Also, I came across a critique of Piper’s essay written by an Arminian. It is worth taking note of:

The fact that God wants all men to be saved, set in juxtaposition with the fact that not all men end up saved, suggests that there is not only one will in the universe, but at least two. Arminians say that there is the will of God and the will of man – two wills at odds in the universe. Calvinists say the two wills that are at odds are both in God. That is, in one sense, God wishes all men would be saved; in another sense, He really wants millions of people to burn in hell for all eternity. Piper opens his essay with this ambitious statement of purpose:

“My aim in this chapter is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for ‘all persons to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion.”

I have been surprised to see how many readers seem to think that he accomplished this goal. He does make about as good a case as can be made for such a doomed postulate, but he does so by tricking the mind of the inattentive reader (I don’t suggest that John Piper intends to “trick” anybody. I am sure that he is very convinced of the validity of the case he makes, but Calvinists have in many ways allowed themselves to be “tricked” by a faulty logic which they would never accept if used by their theological opponents. It manifests the phenomenon of how intense desire to believe a thing to be true will lead a man to accept uncritically the flimsiest case in its defense).


Piper attempts to explain “multidimensional” competing desires within the divine will by calling upon the distinction between God’s preceptive will and His decretive will. The problem is that he mis-applies this historic distinction. The distinction has been used historically to demonstrate that there is no contradiction between what God commands and what God wills:
“There is but one will of God; however, there is a distinction in the objects to which His will relates. Therefore in recognizing this distinction we differentiate between the will of His decree and the willof His command… The will of God‟s command is also referred to as His preceptive will or His revealed will. This will has reference to the regulative principle of life as well as to the laws which God has made known and prescribed to man in order that his walk might be regulated accordingly… it is primarily descriptive of man‟s duty… In making a distinction in the will of God, we are not suggesting that God has two wills. In God the act of the will is singular. The difference rather relates to the objects towards whom His will is exercised. Much less do we suggest that God has two wills which are incompatible, as if God with His revealed will would desire something and His secret will would be opposed. When we consider the will of God as being either secret or revealed, this distinction pertains to decidedly different matters [commands vs volition].”
-Wilhelmus à Brakel A Christians Reasonable Service, vol. 1, 114-115
So the distinction accomplishes its task of avoiding contradiction in God by distinguishing between (1) commands concerning man and (2) God’s will.

“The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do… Therefore Godcan (without a contradiction) will as to precept what he does not will as to decree inasmuch as he wills to prescribe something to man, but does not will to effect it (as he willed Pharaoh to release the people, but yet nilled their actual release).” -Francis Turretin,  Institutes, 3rd Topic, 15th Question

“The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded *ought* to be done by man… So it is quite  inappropriate to say that God wills something to  be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will  never pertains to the futurition of actions, only to the obligation of them.” -Matthew Winzer, review of Murray’s “The Free Offer of the Gospel”

If these two uses of the word “will” are conflated, then contradiction results. The problem is that Piper has conflated these two wills. He has taken what he thinks “God wills to do” and put it in the category of “what He wills that we should do.” Thus he has destroyed the original distinction that alleviated contradiction. You cannot place God’s “yearning” for the salvation of the reprobate in the category of command. John Murray recognized as much when he admitted “in the free offer there is expressed not simply the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God.” Some have claimed that John 3:16 can safely be placed in the category of God’s preceptive will. Yet this is clearly a departure from what is meant by preceptive will. For John 3:16 is a statement of “that which God wills to do” by acting in history.
When Berkhof wrote in defense of the well-meant offer he said: “It need not be denied that there is a real difficulty at this point, but this is the difficulty with which we are always confronted, when we seek to harmonize the decretive and preceptive will of God, a difficulty which even the objectors cannot solve and often simply ignore.” Raymond Blacketer wrote an excellent essay in the April 2000 issue of the Calvin Theological Journal in which he revisits the debate between the CRC and the PRCA. I commend the essay to all for while Blacketer does not agree with the PRCA in all their points, he is balanced enough to recognize the faults of the CRC when it comes to the well-meant offer. In response to Berkhof’s quote, he notes: “The point of the precept-decree distinction, however, is to clarify how God can command one thing and will the actual occurrence of the opposite! The “difficulty” only arises when one confuses the two, as is the case with the doctrine of the well-meant offer. The objectors have no difficulty to solve; nor are they ignorant of this basic distinction that is operative in the Canons and in major theologians of the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.” http://www.prca.org/articles/ctjblack.html

33 thoughts on “Piper’s Two (Three) Wills of God and 1 Timothy 2:4

  1. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance.

    Piper’s two-will theory is a new contrivance since it is used to justify saying that God both desires and does not desire the same thing at the same time and in the same sense; i.e., the salvation of those He has decreed not to save – the reprobate.

    Rather than solving the problem they’ve created through their errant and Arminian exegesis of critical passages, Piper simply equivocates on the word “will.”

    Frankly, if the preceptive and decretive senses actaully addressed the problem they claim it does, then there would be no tension, no apparent contradiction, between God’s two wills. But, evidently their appeal to the two wills of God fools a lot of folks. It’s similar to those who appeal to the archetype/ectype distinction to justify any number of so-called “paradoxes of Scripture.”

    Calvin speaking of the two wills makes it clear that God’s will is really one, but when we think of God’s will in two different senses (preceptive and decretive) the sense of one cannot contradict the sense in the other. Yet, for Piper, God really does have two wills that are diametrically opposed to one another. Piper’s god is double minded.

    Further, they make the same error as does the Arminian when he argues for free will in that they try and infer something in the indicative mood (i.e., God is desirous for what He has not decreed) from something written in the imperative (i.e., the command that all must repent and believe).

    Anyway, good post. Keep up the fight. The odds against you are astronomical.


  2. And, just to clarify and head off any possible objections. I wrote:

    “Piper’s two-will theory is a new contrivance since it is used to justify saying that God both desires and does not desire the same thing at the same time and in the same sense….”

    Some will say, “Well, God desires the salvation of the reprobate in the *perceptive* sense, not in the *decretive* sense, therefore we are not saying God desires and does not desire the same thing in the same sense.”

    The dishonesty here is there is no perceptive sense in which God can be said to desire anything at all. A precept only tells us what we “ought” to do. More importantly commands or precepts are neither true nor false. Consequently, you can’t infer anything like a universal desire for the salvation of all, or a free will, or anything else from a precept.

    To put it another way, if something written in the imperative mood can can be used to justify a universal desire for the salvation of all, then it can be used to justify a free will too.

    Strictly speaking men like Piper are not Calvinists at all since they are basically Arminians in their soteriology. Of course, Arminians can account for their universalism because they attribute salvation to the will of man and where God is a helpless observer. Reformed have no such option, which is why Piper’s doctrine is nothing but irrationalism (which is why they’ll attack those who oppose them as “rationalists”). Ironically, they agree their doctrine is irrational, although they don’t like the word. In their vernacular the prefer “mystery.” It keeps the illusion going that they’re not insane. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hugh McCann

    For Calvin on 1 Tim 2:4, see the short, fun booklet, “Calvin vs. the Hyper-Spurgeonism” ~ a reply to Iain Murray’s misguided shot. (@ GospelMissionBooks.com)

    Also see TRINITY REVIEWS for Mar-Apr & May-June ’97.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Setiady

      1Ti 2:1    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
      1Ti 2:2    for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

      for kings and all who are in high positions in verse 2 is not explanation of all in verse 1 because of that its so stupid to thing that all is all type of people ,” all type of people ” are arguments made by Calvinists that 1 tim 2:4 does not conflict with their doctrine.


  4. Of course God has two wills (tho’ not as the Piper pipes).

    [1] God wills the salvation of his elect, and

    [2] God wills the damnation of the reprobate.

    There, see? Two wills; one solution; no problem! 😉


  5. Setiady

    -if it is true that more then 4000years before apostel PAUL,the Lord had set only some to be save and the determination of his will is referred to as good pleasure of GOD WILL and why AFTER 4000th Paul declares “Who will have all men to be saved”.

    -Sovereign decretive will is already become good pleasure of HIS WILL, and after 4000th year paul said : HIS DESIRE IS DIFFERENT WITH HIS GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL.?is so stupid conclusion ?ok


  6. Setiady

    FIRST STATEMENT from The Westminster Confession of Faith:

    Of God’s Eternal Decree

    3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.


    1Ti 2:4    Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
    1Ti 2:5    For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

    The FIRST STATEMENT and the SECOND STATEMENT contradict each other, hence Calvinist by various ways of interpretation want to changed the simple meaning of the second statement in order not to contradict with the first statement.


  7. Setiady

    The writing presented by AOmin at (https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/pipers-two-three-wills-of-god-and-1-timothy-24/) is not an exegesis of 1 Tim 2: 1 -6 but his own interpretation (eisegesis) to make 1 Tim 2:4 match their understanding.The real Exegesis expressed the intended meaning of the author (Paul and the LORD HIMSELF).let’s see together 1 Tim. 2:1-6

    1 Tim. 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
    Verse 1:
    -ALL of what? BRANDON ADAM , apostle PAUL had told us clearly That is MEN ,all of men or all men,not all kind of men but ALL MEN, MEN in this verse IS ANTHROPOS OR HUMAN BEING. Men or human being is a kind of living creature and human being is only one kind ,all men is all human being.if you ask Paul,can we pray for who persecuted us like kings,Jews and others ? He will answer you : yes you can ,I had exhorted you that you can pray for all men.

    1 Tim. 2:2 For kings, and for all that are in authority ; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
    Verse 2:
    a) the word “for” used in “For kings, and for all that are in authority” is not an explanation of the phrase “all men”
    b) if God want all men to be saved then GOD would also require pagan kings and rulers who persecuted the Christians to be saved too.but in this verse is so clear that Paul exhorted us to pray “For kings, and for all that are in authority” not for them to be saved but for “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
    c) 2 kinds of prayer:
    -one in verse 1, for all man ,automatically included king and all that are in authority too ,you can interpret this is a prayer for their salvation (Rom 10:1; Acts 26:29
    – one in verse 2: is pray for the conditions and circumstances conducive to the preaching of the gospel and spiritual growth

    1 Tim 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
    Verse 3:
    this verse has been proven at this time because of the exhortation of Paul in verse 1 and 2 are listed as a word of God. The important thing is Why God want us to pray like that? the answer is in verse 4 ,that is because GOD wants all men to be saved and know the truth

    1 Tim 2:4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
    Verse 4::
    a) why Paul exhort us to pray for all men and pray “For kings, and for all that are in authority” the answer is ,because God want all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
    b) ALL of what? ALL MEN or all human being( anthropos)

    1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

    Verse 5:
    a) word “for” show us that the reason God want all men to be saved because God is one God, one God tell us only one God for all men and there is no other god for every men (Rom 3:30,10:12; (Rom 3:22, Gal 3:28)), on this point is clear,that the concept of Paul is different from the concept of Calvinist. For Calvinist there is one GOD, Who determine some men to be saved and determine others different and even opposite because they are determined to perish, GOD is GOD who wants some men to be saved and others perish, but for apostle Paul there is one God , Who want All men to be saved because there is no different .BRANDON may have God of the Calvinist’s that is DIFFERENT from the God of the APOSTLE PAUL?

    1 Tim 2:6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
    Verse 6:
    AOMIn said:”It would be absurd to state that Christ gave Himself as a ransom for every single person on this planet, for if He did, every individual would be saved, “…my answer : if Christ gave Himself as a ransom for the selected ones ,the selected ones still need to believe and receive JESUS CHRIST as their SAVIOR because salvation is conditional salvation. In the same principle Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all and all people not saved automatically but need to repent and believe the gospel…….(don’t think that this is the same when the author use ALL, ALL MEN or EVERY SINGLE PERSON …..BRANDON ,THE MEANING OR DEFINITION OF A WORD OR PHRASE IN THE SENTENCE of the writer or the speaker must be interpreted and defined according to the purpose of the writer or the speaker too……(please reconsider that the Calvinist always interprets according to his worldview or gives another meaning that is not contradict to his view, such as on 1 Tim. 2:4)


  8. Richard Chelvan

    Back in 1999 I worked for a while in the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis and got to visit Bethlehem Baptist church where I was actually able to hear John Piper preach. I enjoyed the bookstore and speaking with various people like Justin Taylor and others. After one such Sunday sermon, I walked up to him and asked him why he said that there were two wills in God given is dissertation and published book on Romans 9. His answer was an incoherent insistence that “In some way God will the salvation of only His elect and in some way He wills the salvation of all men.” My response to him was that that statement contradicted his able exegesis of Romans 9 and showed contradiction in the word of God. He had no answer for me. I have found his work on Romans 9 and the two books he penned on Justification and his response to N.T. Wright to be his best work exegetically. However, his real weakness is his apparent ignorance of the work of men like Richard Muller and others on the Post-Reformation Protestant codification of Protestant Orthodoxy which I think would help him in seeing that his stance here is contradictory and smacks of what some have identified as Cornelius van Til’s concept of “antimony.” Either that or Piper is schizophrenic and not Holy Scripture!


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