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. Richard Chelvan

    “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.”



  2. Setiady

    IF doctrine UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION calvinist is right ,That mean more then 4000 th before 1 tim 2:1-6 writen,the bible tell us that God’ s Decree is GOD determine some to be saved and some to be perish.And the blble said this decree is good pleasure of God’s will,and in ephesians 1:11 told us GOD works all things according to good pleasure of his will(the counsel of his will) .If God’ s good pleasure just want few people to be saved dan He works for that , How can He said that He want us to pray for all men because He want all men tobe saved?it is contradiction, ok and not just like that HE say again that the reason why He want all to be saved is because there is ONE GOD AND THAT ONLY ONE MEDIATOR ,WHO gave himself as ransom for all ?,this contradiction show us that UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION is a WRONG DOCTRINE.

    All doctrines that are contrary to the word of God was definitely 100% wrong and Calvinists understand it because it is always looking for an excuse when the doctrine is contrary to the word of God . Paradox, antinomy is a word that is used when the doctrine calvinist contradiction to the word of God,by replacing contradictions with paradox and antinomy ,Calvinists were deceiving themselves and cheat all children of God that was not too understanding the Bible.

    Calvinist thing Rom 9, 8:29-30 ; Eph 1:4-5,11 :Act 13:48 ; 2 Tes 2:12-13; Yoh 15:16; Yak 2:5; 1 Tes 5:9 is supporting UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION but ACTUALLY NOT. What is the reason?the reason is because that verse written not to tell or not to teach us GOD’S elect or predestinate some to be save and some to be perish. and another thing that we must know is that verse NOT EXPLICITLY tell us God elect or predestinate some to be save and some to be perish, and WRITER OF THAT VERSE DOESN’T WRITE THAT TO TELL OR TEACH US THAT God elect or predestinate some to be save and some to be perish too ,AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS that verse has another meaning , and that another meaning is more harmony with context ,it mean, that meaning is the true meaning of that verse.Calvinist missunderstand that verse because they give meaning to that verse according to his worldview . IF you want to know the right meaning please give meaning as writer and context meaning

    Actually have many reason show us that ” UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION” is wrong doctrin:

    1) This doctrine contradicts with many verses, example 1 tim 2:1-6.

    2) GOD attribute or nature which are being expressed through this doctrine contradicts with glorious attribute/nature of GOD that were stated in the Bible.

    3)contrary to conscience of born again saint.BUT IF THEY FINALLY received it as well as RC Sproul ,that is because they think that it’s the teachings of the bible.

    4) contrary to the conscience of unbeliever people and this also means the moral standards of this doctrine is not sufficient .PLEASE THINK DEEPLY : HOW CAN ATTRIBUTE OF GOD BELOW THE MORALYTY OF MAN.

    5)The Writer of All verses that use by John Calvin and Calvinist to support the doctrine of unconditional election , actually not written in order to declare GOD elect or predestinate some people to be saved and determinate/ predestinate others to be perish. Even though that we can give the meaning to that all verses to support the doctrine of unconditional election, but that’s not the true meaning of that all verses .In other words we can say that all verses has another meaning which is the true meaning of that all verses .And we already see the meaning that given by John Calvin and Calvinist opposed/contradict to the 4 point above but the real/actual meaning of that all verses not only does not contradict the whole verses in the Bible, even in tune with the whole truth in the Bible.

    Rechard chelvan if you calvinist ,please rethingking unconditional election…..because that doctrin is satanic.


  3. Setiady

    “In some way God will the salvation of only His elect and in some way He wills the salvation of all men”

    John Piper same as another calvinist in the whole world, Actually they don’t understand what paul’ s talking about in rom 9-11, they always think rom 9 talk about unconditional election, that God will saved of only His elect because of that they see 2 contradict will in God,And they tried in various ways to align so not impressed contradictory but ANTINOMY.

    ACTUALY To see that UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION WERE WRONG is very VERY easy ,this doctrin is contradict with many verses ,and in this post we already see contradict with 1tim 2:1-6.


  4. Jared

    So, in order to be a Christian and hold that God is good, one must hold that there are no intrinsic moral qualities to things like murder and child rape, since God merely commands (but does not desire) that these things not be done.

    For God to desire that evil occur, while disingenuously commanding that it be restrained, makes God both responsible for evil and also deceitfully indifferent to it.

    If you think an educated world of humans who have evolved to be empathetic will, or should go towards believing that the thing that makes an act ethical is not whether it hurt someone but whether God willed it, you are rooting for a hellish outcome.


  5. markmcculley

    Barth–the bible is inerrant, but also the bible has errors.

    Scott Clark—God commands the non-elect to believe the gospel, therefore God desires the non-elect to be saved and also has not elected them to be saved.

    Scott Clark–It is being suggested in other places that God is immutable in himself but he is not immutable with respect to us. This “two-track” approach to the doctrine of God seems to want to affirm orthodoxy and modify it simultaneously. The second impulse seems to be driven by biblicism and perhaps, in some cases, rationalism . As a matter of theological method it is quite like that of the Federal Visionists, who assert that there are two kinds of election: the real, unconditional type and a second, parallel, conditional type of election. http://heidelblog.net/2016/02/god-is-immutable/

    Scott Clark—Given the necessary chasm between God and the creature, as taught by Calvin and defended so ably and so long by Cornelius van Til, God must accommodate himself to his creatures. This accommodated revelation of God’s mind and will is ectyptal theology (theologia ectypa). It is based upon God’s self-understanding, but not identical with it. Ectypal theology is accommodated to human creature. All revelation is necessarily an accommodation. It is not as if, sometimes we have direct, unmediated access to God and at other times we do not. ” Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46). Unaccommodated revelation would necessarily be fatal to its objects, since no human may see the unmediated face of God and live (Exodus 33:20). …John Murray understands rightly that this sovereign God is also free to reveal himself as desiring certain things which he also reveals that he has not willed decretively. This means that there is a distinction to be made in OUR UNDERSTANDING of his will.


  6. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | Shane Scott, “Calvinism and the Two ‘Wills’ of God”

  7. markmcculley

    Gonzalez and company continue to assume “the offer” and from there they go to “two wills and we know that nobody can understand” https://cbtseminary.org/a-critical-review-of-he-died-for-me-limited-atonement-the-universal-gospel-part-7-of-7/

    “I can tell anyone and everyone that God sincerely desires that they repent of their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the eternal welfare of their souls. We should not shrink back for a moment from the statement that God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But neither should we shrink back from the truth that God has by His decree determined that most will not do so. Perhaps in eternity God will give us some insight as to how these two truths coincide.”


  8. markmcculley

    Philip Comer—I know I took some serious shots at you Baptists here (and there) and I hope it hasn’t come off as unloving or uncharitable. I do think it needs to be said, for I believe the gap between Reformed theology and Baptist theology is as wide as Objective vs Subjective, and only one can be right. I also think that righteousness as Extra Nos must be defended at all points without apology. .


    Becoming Reformed and taking sides against Jones and Piper does not keep folks from locating the gospel in Christ’s incarnation instead of Christ’s death for the sins of the elect.


    Since Sinclair Ferguson and John Murray have enforced “the Marrow” as the standard for being “Reformed” and it says that we can’t deny God’s universal love for all sinners without denying the duty of all sinners to believe. It’s very common now to reject a federal atonement for the sake of an universal atonement which then gets distributed by the Holy Spirit to only some for whom Christ became incarnate. Instead of election in Christ giving us Christ’s death, the new paradigm insists that the incarnation is for every sinner and then the Holy Spirit “mystically unites” us to Christ’s incarnate person (and then the Holy Spirit gives some of us what Christ did for all of us)

    Scott Clark —The reason the well-meant offer has not been more persuasive is that its critics have not understood or sympathized with the fundamental assumption on which the doctrine…was premised— the distinction between theology as God knows it (theologia archetypa) and theology as it is revealed to and done by us (theologia ectypa).


  9. Rishu Angel 1689

    Sixteenth Question

    May the will be properly distinguished into antecedent and consequent, efficacious and inefficacious, conditional and absolute? We deny

    IV. But our men constantly reject it in the sense of the Scholastics and Neopelagians who understand by antecedent will the purpose of God concerning the saving of all men universally, but by consequent will the decree concerning the salvation of believers and the damnation of unbelievers. The former is so called because it precedes the act (whether good or bad) of the human will; the latter is so called because it is posterior to the human will and depends upon its good or bad acts. 

    V. Thus the Arminians wish that to be the antecedent will by which God wills something to the rational creature before every or any act of that creature, but the consequent that by which he wills something to the rational creature after some act (or after many acts of the creature). So by the antecedent will God willed to establish the kingdom of Saul and by the consequent will he willed to hurl him from his kingdom; by the former he willed to gather the Jews together as a hen gathers her brood, but by the latter he willed to disperse them through all nations. The former can be resisted, but the latter can be resisted by no means (so Arminius, “Examination of a Treatise Concerning … Predestination … by William Perkins,” The Writings of James Arminius [1956], 3:281; Corvinus, Petri Molinaei novi anatomici [1622]). 

    VI. This distinction is in many ways injurious to God: (1) because it attributes to him contrary wills (viz., that God wills the salvation of all and wills the salvation only of some); that from eternity he seriously willed the salvation of Judas and yet, at the same time and in the same moment, knew that Judas never would believe; and that he did not will to give faith to Judas by which he might infallibly have been converted; yea, would permit him to remain in his unbelief and to perish. Who would dare to attribute such wills to a man of sound mind, as to say that he willed seriously and ardently what he knew never would happen, and indeed would not happen because he nilled to effect it, on whom alone the effect depends?…

    VII. Second, this distinction cannot have place in God without ascribing to him not only folly and impotence (by making him intend seriously and desire with natural affection that which is not performed and cannot be performed through man because he himself does not will it); but also mutability because there can be no place for the consequent will until the antecedent is first rescinded. For how could God at the same time, by the same act of will, will to save all men and to damn the greater part of them?

    VIII. Third, the antecedent will is not so much a will as a velleity, an empty and void desire incapable of accomplishment which cannot apply to God (the most wise and powerful). For how can he be called the most perfect and happy who cannot carry out the design and object truly intended, on account of the intervention and obstacle of the creature determining itself otherwise independently.

    Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol 1. Third Topic: The One and Triune God, Question XVI (16)

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