A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:5-6. c). Christ’s death concerns all people.
The apostle moves on from *one God*, who desires all people to be saved, to the *one mediator* between God and human beings, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This additional reference to the one mediator is indispensable to Paul’s argument; it would not have been watertight otherwise. It is as if he anticipates our possible response to what he has written about monotheism. We might say: ‘I grant that there is only one God. I am no idolatrous polytheist. But this does not prove the propriety, let alone the necessity, of the Christian mission. After all, Jews and Muslims are also fiercely monotheistic. Even some traditional religionists (or “animists”, as they were previously called) look beyond the spirits to a Supreme Being. The unity of God is not really in dispute. Instead, the question may be put thus: why should not the one God, who wants all people to be saved, save them in different ways, some through Hinduism or Buddhism, others through Judaism or Islam, and yet others through New Age and other contemporary cults? Why should he insist that all people be saved in the same way and *come to a knowledge of the (same) truth?*’
Paul’s answer is that there is not only one Saviour God, but also one mediator between him and us, and therefore only one way of salvation.
This question is being hotly debated in our day. The status of other religions, and the relationship of Jesus Christ to them, is a living issue. Three main positions are held.
First, the traditional view, held until recently by the great majority of Christians, is that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and that salvation is by explicit faith in him. This is commonly called ‘exclusivism’, although it is an unfortunate term because it sounds negative and elitist, and because it says nothing about the inclusivism implicit in the universal offer of the gospel. The leading exponent of this view in this century has been Hendrik Kraemer in *The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World* (1938).
The second view is usually named ‘inclusivism’. It also affirms that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, but adds that he saves different people in different ways, especially through their own religion. The best-known exponent of this position is probably Karl Rahner in his *Theological Investigation*, vol. v (1957).
The third view, which is gaining ground in our post-modern world of skepticism about truth, is called ‘pluralism’. It not only tolerates the different religions, but actively affirms their independent saving validity, and therefore denies uniqueness and finality to Jesus. The best known contemporary representative of this position is John Hick, especially in *The Myth of Christian Uniqueness* (1987). A simple quotation expresses his view. It is acknowledged by pluralists, he writes, ‘that Jews are being saved within and through the Jewish stream of religious life, Muslims within and through the Islamic stream, Hindus within and through the Hindu stream…’ etc.
We may affirm, however, without fear of contradiction, that in this classification Paul would have declared himself an ‘exclusivist’. In his day there was an abundance of religions and ways of salvation, ‘many “gods” and many “lords”’ (1 Cor. 8:5). For example there were the popular mystery religions from the East. Also the Gnostics postulated a whole succession of angelic emanations spanning the gulf between God and the world, of which Jesus was the greatest but not the only one. Paul insisted, however, that there is only one mediator. We need to be clear, therefore, that Christians do not claim uniqueness for ‘Christianity’ as a system in any of its varied formulations, or for the church as an institution in any of its cultural expressions, but only for Christ himself as a historical person and uniquely qualified mediator.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2:5-6. c). Christ’s death concerns all people (continued).
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|