I received the following question:
How would you explain the Universalism proof-text of 1Tim 4:10? “…Who is the Savior of all people – especially of believers” 1Tim 4:10b [TransLine]
I would be happy to offer my interpretation of this verse. The reason Universalists get mixed up about this verse, and the reason others have difficulty answering them, is because first of all we have an insufficient understanding of the word “save.” It is pretty much universally accepted that when God “saves” us, He delivers us from sin and death and gives us eternal life. Thus, we tend to define the word “save” as meaning that any time it occurs in the Bible. Yet this is totally ignoring what the word actually means, and how we use it otherwise in everyday conversation. For example, I save my money in the bank. Yet my money never sinned, was never in jeopardy of death, and certainly has not had eternal life granted to it by me. Nevertheless, it is accurate and correct to say that my money has been “saved.” If you look at the way “save” is actually used in English, it means either to deliver (as from danger,) or to preserve (as when one saves a seat for someone else.) The Biblical use of the word is in line with what “saved” actually means, not with our “Christian lingo” meaning of the word. In Biblical use, it can also mean to “restore,” although that is not a common use in English. When God saves, He can deliver, or He can preserve, or He can restore. Moreover, He can deliver from many dangers besides those brought about by sin and death, and He can preserve to many things besides eternal life.
Thus, when God is spoken of as the Savior, this does not have to have anything to do with saving from sin and death. It is certain that Jesus Christ, for example, will be the Savior of the nation of Israel. He will deliver that nation out of all the dangers they have faced for so many centuries, and will restore to them all the glory He has promised to give them, and will preserve them as His people throughout His coming Kingdom. Delivering from sin and death might have something to do with this, but not everything, certainly.
So, God is the Savior of all men, or people, as your Transline suggests. It is quite possible (I think likely) that “all men” here has the sense of “all mankind.” That is, that God is the Savior of the human race. Throughout the last century especially, there have been those who have constantly been warning us that we face as a very real danger the possibility that we might, through our weapons of war and destruction, bring about the extermination of our own human race from the earth. This event they warn of has so far not come to pass, but there are many who believe it might. Yet I believe that I Timothy 4:10 assures us that this will never happen. Our Lord is the Savior of all humankind. He will never allow anything to destroy us.
An excellent example is in the book of Genesis in Old Testament times, when the lifespan of men was getting shorter and shorter. For a while after the Flood, it seemed as if every generation the lifespan was getting 200 years shorter! This could not have gone on forever, or men would have died too young to even have children, and the race of men upon the earth would have come to an end. Yet at some point God stepped in, and set the lifespan of men at seventy years, as Psalm 90:10 states: “The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Figures still today tell us that the average lifespan of human beings is right around seventy years. God stopped the decline at this point, and our lifespan has remained steady at seventy years ever since. Thus, the Lord was the Savior of all mankind in this instance. And He will ever remain the Savior of men, for He is always preserving us and seeing to it that nothing will come upon us that could ever bring the sons of Adam to extinction. That is how He is the Savior of “all people.”
Now, He is especially the preserver of those who believe, or “believers.” Though at times, like in the Dark Ages, it seemed as if true understanding of the Lord and true faith in His Word would come to an end for all time, the Lord never allowed that to happen. No matter how few they are, and no matter how mixed up they might be in their theology otherwise, God has always preserved a number of people who do truly believe in Him. He is the preserver of this people as well. Never will any other religion, like Islam for example, take over the whole earth and bring faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to an end. The Lord does not just preserve all men. He especially preserves those men who believe. True faith in Christ will never pass from the earth. That is the promise of I Timothy 4:10.