3. Limited Atonement – Calvinism

Calvinists take their theory to the next logical plateau, by claiming the blood atonement of Christ was limited to the elect only. Christ died only for the sins of the elect. If one is not elect, Christ did not die for his sins. Support for this idea is derived from passages that speak of Jesus’ dying for our (believer’s) sins. However, that some passages specifically apply the atonement to believers does not exclude the non-elect any more than my saying “Jesus died for me” necessarily means He did not die for anyone else! It does not follow logically that such passages rule out the atonement being open to all. Other Scriptures flatly contradict the Calvinist position here. 

1 Timothy 2:1-6

1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

The reason I included verses 1-5, rather than just verse 6, is because Calvinists claim Paul was speaking of “all the elect” in verse 6, not all mankind. But, the context proves he was speaking of mankind in general. “All men” in verse 1 includes (but is not limited to) “kings and all in authority.” Obviously, this is not referring specifically to the “elect.” In verse 4 Paul wrote it is God’s will for “all men” to be saved. He was still speaking of the general population for whom we are to pray, not just the “elect.” The same holds true for verse 6, where Paul said Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all.” The context is still all of mankind.

1 John 2:2

2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (KJV) 

John stated that Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice was for the whole world. Some Calvinists argue that this verse means Christ died not only for the Jewish “elect” but also for the Gentile “elect” out of every nation. The words “whole world” mean a remnant of “elect” from every nation according to Calvinists. But a careful examination of John’s words rules out this understanding. John’s epistles were written after the other Apostles were dead and he had the care of the churches of Asia Minor. As the aged apostle and elder of these churches, his epistles were written primarily to Gentile believers. Therefore, when he wrote, “He is the propitiation for our sins,” he included his readers who were predominantly Gentiles, representing a variety of nations, in the first person plural personal pronoun, “our.”

Therefore, Gentile believers from all nations must be included in the first group, and their sins are represented by the words, “our sins” (John’s and his Gentile readers’). Then he wrote, “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” He was speaking of a second group in addition to his mostly Gentile audience. Had John meant the Jewish remnant when he said “our sins,” he would have said “and not ours only, but also yours.” By his writing, “the sins of the whole world,” John was speaking of the unsaved who will never experience the effect of Christ’s atonement because of their unbelief. But that atonement is available to all as the following verses prove. 

Isaiah 53:5,6

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (KJV) 

If all of humanity is included in the “all” and “everyone” who have gone astray, then Christ bore the sins of the very same “all.” That is, the sins of all humanity. But, even if we say that Isaiah limited his comments to Israel, the problem remains for Calvinists, because the same “all” that referred to the whole nation of Israel must also mean the very same “all” for whom Christ died. Unless every Jew will be saved, Calvinism cannot stand in light of Isaiah’s prophecy.

1 Timothy 4:9,10

9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. 
10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

Here a clear distinction was drawn by Paul between those who believe, and those who do not believe. Yet, Christ is the Saviour of “all men.” That is, His atonement is for all. (See also: Romans 5:6,8,18, 2 Corinthians 5:14,15, Galatians 3:22, 1 John 2:2). It is not that His atonement is effective for all, because most do not accept His atonement. But, it is available for all. 

We also have clear Scripture indicating Jesus provided redemption for even the false prophets who are destined for destruction! 

2 Peter 2:1

1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

The context of this passage is plain that the Gnostic “false teachers” will be damned. Yet, Peter stated plainly that the Lord “bought” (redeemed) them. One might argue that they were not actually “saved.” If so, then being “bought” (redeemed) must refer to Christ’s atonement for the sins of the lost. Whether being “bought” (redeemed) refers to actual salvation or only potential salvation, either way it refutes “limited atonement.”

Copyright © Tim Warner – 10/2003

Next 4. Irresistible Grace

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