In Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Baker books, in the literal translation section of 1 Timothy 2:4 is "who all [sorts] of men desires to be saved". I think that pantas here is being seen as similar as panton in v1. In v1 the meaning of "all" is "all types" in as much as we are given examples of those types, kings and others in high positions.

The ordinary people then, are being encouraged to pray for other sorts of people because God desires to save people in every stratum of society. How confident should I be in this reasoning? So many Christians quote this verse, it appears to me, to prove that God wants to save absolutely every member of the human race, but their understanding that not all are saved plus their understanding of this verse justifies their belief system concerning free will, God's will not being done etc: I have been an active Christian for over sixty years and I would vote this verse and 2 Peter 3:9 as the two most significantly misquoted verses in the Bible.

  • 1
    I was baptised just over fifty years ago and I agree that this text is oft misquoted for the reason you suggest. Question up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 16:25
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    @ C. Stroud I think this says it all in short. NWT Acts 10:34, 35 "At this Peter began to speak, and he said: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, 35 but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."
    – user26950
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 9:06

5 Answers 5


The Bare Adjective

The Greek adjective πας means "all, the whole, every kind of," depending purely on context. Its different grammatical forms do not change the meaning, and are purely morphological.

The Difficulty of Being Dogmatic

But sometimes determining the intended sense is tricky—you can't come down on either side and dig your heels in, due to the sheer ambiguity inherent in the word, as well as the multiple possible ways of looking at the context as a whole.

For example:

Romans 3:23 (DRB) But now without the law the justice of God is made manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. 22 Even the justice of God, by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe in him: for there is no distinction: 23 For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God.

Here, in one sense, the "all" answers to "no distinction between kinds of people" (such as Jews and Gentile: Romans 10:13), not 'all men in history.'

In one sense this passage has nothing to do with whether all human beings are sinners, even. Read it about two times if that's not clear. But implied by it is the fact that something underlies the human creature in his present and historical condition which is common to all, namely, a certain 'natural state' (Ephesians 2:3).

Here, a passage commonly cited to prove absolutely all human beings in history have sinned doesn't actually have this in view in this passage: it says "for all have sinned" in answer to "there is no distinction."

So here, there is a fuzzy line between the two senses of the word.

One might argue that Jesus being one obvious exception to "absolutely all men" necessitates we understand this to mean 'all kinds of men without exception are in need of redemption.' (I've also seen this verse used to disprove Mary's being concieved without sin, for example.)

So what about our passage?

1 Timothy 2:1-4 (DRB) I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: 2 For kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

There are a few valid ways to take this. Of them, the view that "kings, etc." are included so as make sure these are not exceptions to the universality meant.

Or the view which takes these to be particularly important, practical or relevant examples for a particular persecuted group of people (the Christian community under Roman rule, for instance).

Then there is the view which says "all" in at least the last instance means "all kinds of." This view takes "kings etc." as examples of kinds of people in the group of "all kinds of men," and "For... God desires all" to mean "For God desires all kinds of men, including even these, to be saved."

All are viable understandings. But as demonstrated with the example from Romans 3, it's not easy even when deciding on one to exclude the others. The word "all" is often ambiguous or even multivalent in meaning, which in turn further complicates things by yielding different ways of interpreting 'fors' and 'sinces.'


Something must be acknowledged by both sides of the argument: man's freedom, and the 'openness to all' in these passages, however liberal, cannot be interpreted in a sense which means people could be potentially saved whom God knows in His atemporal knowledge of all things, are not saved and do not receive eternal life.

So even according to the view with the most freedom in man does not necessitate that the "all" ever meant "potentially even those who are not of the elect." And as such, no breach of God's sovereign knowledge of His elect, whom He has chosen, as if they could hop in unnoticed—He knew before the world was created, and His knowledge cannot change.

This cannot be true, since Jesus said:

Matthew 22:14 (DRB) For many are called [to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb], but few are chosen [eklektoi].

  • I have voted for you as I find your answer helpful. It does still feel to me that v4 ought to be simpler, which it would be if we had better understanding.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 19:49

At face value, it simply means “God wants everyone to be saved,” without exception.

As for the verbs “want” and “will” as translations of the Greek verb θέλει, they are synonymous when used in this context. According to Oxford English Dictionary:

“will” OED, will, 2.

“want” OED, want, III, 10., a.

Therefore, the verse can be translated as,

Informal speech:

Who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Less informal speech:

Who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Archaic speech:

Who wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Indeed, a survey of 10 major English Bible versions2 reveals that the majority translate θέλει as “wants” (30%) or “desires” (40%).

Survey of the English Translation of θέλει in 1 Timothy 2:4 in 10 Major English Bible Versions

I believe some controversy was created because the King James Version translated θέλει as “will have.” Rather than a conjugation of “to will” (in the sense of desire, wish; see above), this is a conjugation of the verb “to have” combined with an auxiliary of the future tense.

“will” OED, will, 11.

“have” OED, have, 8., a.

Altogether, then, “will have”—with God, who is omnipotent, as the subject of the verb—suggests that everyone’s salvation is absolutely guaranteed. It is no wonder then that some are perplexed by this verse.

To resolve the supposed conundrum, Thomas Aquinas commented on 1 Tim. 2:4,2

To understand this we must consider that everything, in so far as it is good, is willed by God. A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely considered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary. Thus that a man should live is good; and that a man should be killed is evil, absolutely considered. But if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer or dangerous to society, to kill him is a good; that he live is an evil. Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts.

Ad cuius intellectum, considerandum est quod unumquodque, secundum quod bonum est, sic est volitum a Deo. Aliquid autem potest esse in prima sui consideratione, secundum quod absolute consideratur, bonum vel malum, quod tamen, prout cum aliquo adiuncto consideratur, quae est consequens consideratio eius, e contrario se habet. Sicut hominem vivere est bonum, et hominem occidi est malum, secundum absolutam considerationem, sed si addatur circa aliquem hominem, quod sit homicida, vel vivens in periculum multitudinis, sic bonum est eum occidi, et malum est eum vivere. Unde potest dici quod iudex iustus antecedenter vult omnem hominem vivere; sed consequenter vult homicidam suspendi. Similiter Deus antecedenter vult omnem hominem salvari; sed consequenter vult quosdam damnari, secundum exigentiam suae iustitiae.


1 English Bible translations surveyed: KJV, 1769; NKJV, 1982; NLT, 2007; NIV, 2011; ESV, 2016; NASB, 1995; ASV, 1901; NET, 2006; RSV, 1971; NABRE, 2010
2 Aquinas, ST I, Q19, A6, ad. 1. (p. 269–270)


Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Vol. 1. New York: Benziger, 1911–1912.

OED Online. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018.

  • I'm not sure I understand "will" and "want" in the same way that Aquinas does (but it was a useful answer +1). But he seems to be saying that God "wills" to not kill the sinner but does so because it is right. I think Aquinas says that God has two wills but like all of us I think he has just one. Everything else is a variable, not a will. At least we can scripturally say, "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways".
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 22:14
  • 2
    @Ruminator Aquinas did not understand "will" or "want" at all. He did not speak English. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 23:39
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    The scriptures never refer to "multiple wills" within a single person. Personhood is defined by having a single will. We only have one head. "No one can serve two masters". At least that's the way that I see it but I'm open if you can find any verses that support Aquinas' contention. But the more I think about it the sillier it seems to have two wills. If one of my wills chooses to kill and the other of my wills chooses to not kill am I guilty or innocent?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 23:48
  • @Ruminator—Aquinas addresses your concern (same page): “This distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself, in which there is nothing antecedent nor consequent, but to the things willed.” Perhaps you should just take some time to read what he wrote (it is linked) and contemplate. Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 0:27
  • This isn't the first time I've considered these matters. Sorry to dump on you but where else am I going to consider/discuss Aquinas' philosophy? :)
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 0:29

In 1 Tim 2:1, if "all people" were disconnected from the following phrase, it would simply mean "all people".

HOWEVER, 1 Tim 2:1 cannot and should not be disconnected from the following phrase. As is well-known (BDAG, Analytical Lexicon by Fribeg, et al, etc), "pas" when modifying a noun refers to all things in that class. Paul is quite specific about the class he is discussing because of the construction he uses - my literal translation of 1 Tim 2:1b and 2a follows (set out to show the hint of Hebrew parallelism):

v1b: on behalf of all people

v2a: on behalf of kings and all those in authority

That is, Paul is NOT discussing all people (the entire population), but only those who rule/govern. Therefore, I do not see any justification for "all [sorts] of people" because this would be misleading - only (in this case) for all rulers/governors, ie, kings and those in authority are to be the subject of our prayers for these people. (This is not to suggest that we should not pray for others as well, but that this is all Paul is discussing here.)

NOW By contrast - "all People" in v4 in not qualified. In fact, Paul's previous argument suggests that many in authority will not be saved but we should pray for them anyway. He then annunciates a general principle that God wants all people saved (but we know that not all will be saved). This same idea is repeated by Paul in other places (Rom 5:18, 2 Cor 5:14, 18, 19) and confirmed by v6.

  • Doesn't verse 6 (who gave himself to be a ransom for all) support "all men"?
    – alb
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 21:44
  • Sorry - I had not finished when your comment, quite correct, came in. Now complete.
    – user25930
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 21:54
  • Thanks but still fuzzy on verse 1. Verse 1 starts out with "therefore" which I assume refers to Hymenaeus and Alexander (chpt 1 v20) who departed the faith. Since they were not rulers but normal folk, I would then take chapter 2 verse 1 to support prayers for all men as well as those in leadership as a focus group. This makes logical sense to me since the phrase "all men" might mean to some folks all "regular" people and those same folks may forget to pray for leadership.
    – alb
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 0:22
  • @ Dr. Peter: any insights?
    – alb
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 21:44
  • Normally I would agree but there are several things about this construction that make it different. I agree that v1 is tied to the previous but Paul's instruction begins in 1:18 about Timothy is to use his spiritual gift. Paul's instruction is: do not do as Hymenaeus and Alexander did (1:19, 20) but rather make prayers for leaders (v2:1-7) and propriety in church affairs (2:9-15). That is, do not do this, therefore, do this.
    – user25930
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 10:28

Ok! Let me share one of the most basis facts in the Bible. Jesus paid the price for our sins. This fact is acknowledged by most professing Christians. Even the 5 point Calvinists believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins even if He didn't for the rest of humanity. What is the price for sin? Bible fact: "For the wages (price/payment) of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". (Romans 6:23) Here is another Bible fact and truth: If eternal damnation in an eternal literal blazing hellish lake of fire is the price or payment for our sins then, obviously, Jesus Christ never really paid that/the price. Or, as some believe, the price or payment for our sins is eternal annihilation. This cannot be either, because Jesus Christ didn't pay that/the price either. Here is the truthful Bible fact. Jesus is the Living Word and the Living Truth. His Life is the Living displayed expression of God's written word and all Biblical and doctrinal Truth. Since Jesus did not express, by His Living displayed expression of God's written word, the doctrine of eternal damnation in an eternal literal blazing hellish lake of fire or the doctrine of eternal annihilation, obviously both of those doctrinal positions must be in error/false. Another Bible fact and truth: Jesus Christ died! He arose from the realm of death (the grave/tomb). Therefore He paid the price (wages/payment) for our sins. He is not now suffering the torments of an eternal hellish lake of fire to pay the price (wages/payment)for our sins. He is not now in a state of eternal annihilation to pay the price (wages/payment) for our sins. Therefore, the Bible fact and truth is this: Neither an eternal damnation in an eternal literal blazing hellish lake of fire nor eternal annihilation can possibly be the price, wages or payment that any person will pay for their sins. Bible fact and truth: Jesus Christ did not pay either of these two prices, wages or payments. But He did die, which is the wages (price/payment) of/for sin. Bible fact and truth: Therefore, "God will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth". (1 Timothy 2:4)

I have not given my opinion regarding any of these Bible facts. I only stated the Bible fact and truth concerning the Bible definition for the payment of sin. (Romans 6:23) You may accuse me of conjecture and being opinionated all you wish. Bible facts are not opinions! Another Bible fact and truth: Jesus Christ is the full Living displayed expression of all Biblical and doctrinal truth. We will never find any Godly, spiritual or Biblical truth/word outside of Jesus Christ. Another Bible fact and truth: If we believe doctrines that cannot be found in and displayed/expressed by the living truth/word of the Life of Jesus Christ then we should quickly discard our doctrine and embrace the Lord, the living truth/word. Here is another Bible fact and truth: In the last days professing Christians will turn away from the truth (the Living truth/Jesus Christ) in favor of fabled doctrines that do not glorify the Lord nor fulfill His eternal purpose which He has purposed in Himself. (2 Timothy 4:4)

"In whom (Jesus Christ) also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him (God) Who (God again) worketh all things after the counsel of His own will". (Ephesians 1:11) His "will" is to save all of humanity.

Another Bible fact and truth: "Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world". (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14) "God/Jesus Christ "is the saviour of all men". "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who (the Living God/Jesus Christ) is the saviour of all men, specially (not exclusively) of those that believe". (1 Timothy 4:10) Verse 11 says this: "these things command and teach". What things is he talking about? Obviously that "God/Jesus Christ is the saviour of all men". So, it is these things that I command and teach. I do not give them as a mere speculative doctrinal opinion or conjectured thoughts or ideas. You may think that they are but they are not. I loudly proclaim that "God/Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world and of all men". He is not just a potential Saviour as is taught by the apostate professing church of our current day and times. 1 Timothy 2:4 is going to eventually become a Godly reality. Bible fact and truth: "And that every tongue should (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father". (Philippians 2:11) This will not be a forced or coerced confession through the clenched teeth of someone who still has a spirit and nature that is full of rebellion and resistance. Certainly, everyone knows that such a resisted and rebellious confession as described above would not bring even a smidgen of "glory to God the father".

I am required to give my research. Well, my research and authority are the Holy Scriptures and the Living Word of the Life of Lord, Jesus Christ. I have not given you one opinion or speculative thought. Only Godly and Scriptural input based upon the Life of Jesus Christ, The living word and living doctrine and living truth of God.

May God Bless You as you pray and meditate upon these things!

Daniel Bovee, an unworthy believer in Jesus Christ, The Saviour of the world and of all men.

    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 22:28
  • Are you sure I am shouting? I am not shouting. I AM EMPHASIZING BIBLE TRUTH! Using capital letters does not necessarily mean that someone is shouting at you. Using CAPS while writing has been a method used to declare and promote points of emphasis for many centuries. I thought that this was widely known by almost all people who were engaged in communication using the process of writing. Apparently the rules of written grammar have changed to the point where people no longer know what the old usage of CAPS really means. I am sorry that such is now the case. Thank you for enlightening me. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 22:38
  • Please edit this to use italics or bold for emphasis. All caps has actually been seen as shouting for a long time. But perhaps the bigger issue is also that it's harder to read.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 0:32
  • All unnecessary CAPS have been removed from my post. I will not be posting anything again. I believe that some of you are way too sensitive and far too controlling. Here is just a little Godly advice: Allow your posters to be the people that the good Lord has, thus far, called them to be! You just might learn something of Godly and Biblical truth and of great spiritual value. But, then again, maybe not. May God's Blessing be upon all of you! Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 22:52
  • You're here to help people aren't you? Well let us help you too.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 22:56

The word "will" in verse 4, of 1st Timothy, chapter 2, is a major key to understanding the meaning of this verse. Most professing Christians believe that IT IS GOD'S WILL to save every person of the human race. Many Calvinists do not believe this. I am not a Calvinists so I do not fall into the category of those who believe that God created about 95% of all mankind just so He could show His glory through His wrath by having 95% of all humanity predestined to the eternal literal burning flames of a Godless and purposeless hell.

The Greek word for "will" in verse 4 of this verse is "thelei". The transliteration is "thelo". This word carries a number of potential meanings. In this particular verse the word is shown to be, most likely, in the transitive verb form with a continuous future tense. Many Bible translations loosely (and my opinion, carelessly) render the word as "desires", "wants" and "wishes". These words are not necessarily bad or wrong translations but they deliberately leave the reader with the thought that the Greek word "thelei" cannot mean any other thing but a mere "wish" or "desire" on God's part. This is not good scholarship and I find it to be boarder line deceptive scholarship. To only present a partial truth regarding this word is very deceptive indeed.

The most literal translations of the Bible render this word as "will", "wills", "willing", "constantly willing (continuously willing and purposing)", "doth will", "willeth", "intends", "purposes" and "whose will it is".

Almost all Bible translators translate according to their doctrinal beliefs and personal biases. It is sad but true! The translation of the Greek word "thelei", in this verse, should always carry the thought of a continuous action on the part of God. Desires, wishes and wants are passive feelings of the inner person. Feelings are not actions or the actual and forceful or motivated outward actions of the ONE (God) Who has these feelings within Him. The words "desires", "wants" and wishes only convey the inner feelings of the ONE (God) who has them.

The Greek word "thelei", in verse 4, is a verb that is shown to be, most likely, in the transitive sense or form and in a continuous action and with a future tense. The word contains much more in definition that what most translators are willing to let the average reader know. The reason for this is simple. They do not want the reader to get the idea that God is actually going to accomplish His will and save all of mankind and fulfill His desires, wants and wishes regarding all of humanity. They want the reader to believe that God is in subjection to the supposed "free will" of humanity. What an evil and ungodly disgrace this type of thinking is.

How is it that our glorious and wonderful Sovereign and Omnipotent God is, SOMEHOW, hindered from accomplishing His "WILL" by the supposed "free will" of sinful and fallen humanity? "JESUS CAME TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT HIM". Will He succeed or fail? I don't believe that it is possible for the Lord to fail at anything. Do you? I hope and pray not!!! The Bible says that Jesus Christ "IS THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD". Is He just a POTENTIAL SAVIOR? Or IS HE ACTUALLY THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD?

Thank you for your time!

Dan Bovee, an unworthy believer in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior of the world!!!

  • Welcome to BiblicalHermaneutics.SE. Unlike other sites (e.g. Quora), StackExchange answers are meant to be factual and authoritative, something one might hope to find in a secular encyclopedia. Your answer contains a lot of conjecture and opinion, and references to yourself and your own opinions and beliefs. As such, it isn't appropriate here. Please take the time to take the tour and read about how this site is different from others. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 13:18

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