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Limited or General Atonement?

Again, the main books I used in creating this page (other than the Bible) are:

'Foundations of Pentecostal Theology' by Duffield and Van Cleave.
'An Exposition of The Westminster Confession of Faith' by Robert Shaw.
I also read the chapter 'The Perseverance of The Saints' in the book 'The Five Points of Calvinism' by Herman Hanko, Homer Hoeksema and Gise J. Van Baren.
For this page I also used the many commentaries at 'World Wide Study Bible' run by the 'Christian Classics Ethereal Library' at Calvin College. That site has a number of commentaries (some which are on each side of this issue) which I used.

Aminianism holds that Christ died for the church (the believers) and for the whole world. His death was not only for those who would believe in Him, but also for those who would not believe and perish. Through His death it is possible for everyone to be saved, but it does not secure our salvation. His death enabled God to forgive us sinners; Jesus died for all, but not everyone will be saved. For us to receive the benefits of His death, we must have a believeing faith. His death is not applied to the unregenerate until they believe.

Calvinism on the other hand asserts that Christ died only for the elect - those chosen by God through His mercy apart from anything in them or anything they've done. They maintain that the purchase and application of our redemption are exactly of the same extent/measure. Christ both effectually applies and communicates redemption to the elect. Those for whom Jesus purchased redemption He made an atonement for, His sacrifice has infinite value and is sufficient to atone for the sins of everyone, but God chose to limit those who will obtain salvation to a set number. For God to receive a sufficient ransom paid by Christ for those who don't believe, yet not free that sinner and accept him into heaven is unjust - He is punishing two people for one person's crime.


Christ entered the "greater and perfect tabernacle" as High Priest "not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.... For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." (Heb 9:11,12,15 NASB) "...Jesus... looked toward heaven and prayed: 'Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.'" (John 17:1-2 NIV)

Mankind is hostile towards God and will not believe and have faith until they are renewed by the Holy Spirit. "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so." God "has mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires" and in showing mercy to some He places His Spirit into them, renewing and freeing them, enabling them to freely choose Him and that which is spiritually good (Phil 2:13; Rom 6:18,22). (Quotes are from respectively: 1Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7, 9:18 NASB)

Before God places His Spirit into us whom He has chosen we were dead, unable to produce the faith required:
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved." (Eph 2:1-5 NIV)

So the elect are those chosen by God in His Mercy only by the council of His Will and not by anything in them. He gives the elect His Spirit and faith through the Spirit (Eph 2:8 and 1Cor 12:9, Phil 2:12-13). The Holy Spirit He gives us renews us, freeing us so we can choose God. The Spirit then draws us to Christ in a way agreeable to our individual souls so that our decision to turn to Christ is a free and un-forced one.

Jesus talked about the process of sanctification, saying He must willingly lay down His life for the elect and that the elect will come to Him because He draws them:
" 'I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.' " (John 10:14-18 NASB)
" 'All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.' " (John 6:37-39 NASB)
"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.' " (Matthew 20:25-28)

Further Scripture

But what of the passages which Arminians use to back up them saying that Christ died for the whole world? I'll go over the ones used in 'Foundations of Pentecostal Theology' P191-192. Click here to see some other passages. One of the rules for interpretting the Bible must be stated here as it is very important, especially for this controversial subject. It is that when interpretting a verse or passage, you must interpret it in the context of all of Scripture around it - This is the verses before and after it in the chapter it's in, the book it's in, and the whole of Scripture.

Robert Shaw wrote:
"Universal terms are sometimes used in scripture in reference to the death of Christ; but reason and common sense demand that general phrases be explained and defined by those that are special, and which can only admit of one interpretation. The meaning in each case may usually be ascertained from the context; and one obvious reason for the use of indefinite and universal terms in relation to the death of Christ is, to intimate that the saving effects of his death extend to some of all nations - to Gentiles as well as Jews - to all classes and descriptions of man." (An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, ch.8 sect.8, P155)

The Arminian interpretations become obvious with only a quick glance over these passages. Below each passage I've put interpretations which are correct in light of the rest of Scripture:

Isaiah 53:6 "All we have turned like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all"
- The 'all' here is referring to 'all of the elect'.

John 1:29 "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world"
- If Christ took away the sins of everyone then all would be 'washed white as the snow' with their sins taken away. But there are some destined for damnation (Rom 9; 2Tim 2:20) who die in their sin - their sins are not taken away. Jesus is called 'The Lamb of God', He is the antitype of the sacrificial lambs (ie they point to Jesus) in the Old Testament. These lambs were offered only for the Jews in the OT, but Jesus, being The Lamb, is offered for both Jews and Gentiles. So John is saying here that redemption is impartial - it is for all groups of people (see, for example, Rev. 7:9), ie the elect include all nationalities.

1Timothy 2:6 "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
- In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says "...the Son of Man did not come to be served, and to give His life as ransom for many." The relevent word there means either many, a multitude, or part of a multitude. Here in 1Timothy Paul is saying that Jesus died for the sins of all kinds or groups of men, like in John 1:29 above.

2Peter 2:1 "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there are false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction."
John Wesley wrote in his 'Notes on The Second Epistle General of St. Peter' for this verse:
"The Lord bought them - With his own blood. Yet these men perish everlastingly. Therefore Christ bought even them that perish."
- But 'bought' here regards the temporal mercies and deliverance which they received from God. In His providence God took care of them, He followed them with goodness and mercy all the days of their lives. The Apostle Peter is not talking about Jesus buying our redemption here. See Deuteronomy 32:6. It is said that 'denying the Lord that bought them' is the false prophets rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the atoning power of His blood, and that they were professing Christians.

Romans 14:15 "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died."(NASB)
- The the effect of this weaker brother seeing you do something which he regards as a sin may be enough to destroy him. It will be the destruction of this man's peace and comfort - he will suffer through grieving, stumbling and become weaker. The interpretation that it will destroy his faith eternal salvation completely makes little sense in light of passages such as Ephesians 2:8 with Romans 11:29 etc.

1Corinthians 8:11 "And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?"
- This passage is written something like an interrogation, and these words are written not to prove eternal destruction, but (at most) to imply the danger and possibility thereof through the offences given if they weren't preserved by God's Grace, power and through Jesus' death for them. 'Perishing' here is to be understood like in Romans 14:15 above - the perishing of the weak brother's peace and comfort. A reading of the whole passage explains this:
v8: The 'defiling' of his conscience.
v12: 'Wounding' his conscience.
v13: This wounding causing him to offend.
Verse 8 suggests that Paul though eating food offered to idols could not bring about damnation.

Hebrews 2:9 "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower that the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he might by the grace of God should taste death for every man."
- To get the correct meaning the context of this passage must be known, read the next verses 9-16:
"For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham."
- In the original Greek there is no word 'man' so there are a few possible interpretations of this verse in its context, the last two seem most likely:

  1. It could be translated as "taste of every death". This fits the context of the passage.
  2. It could be translated as "taste death for the whole." Meaning the whole body, The Church, the people for whom Jesus gave Himself - the elect. Again this fits the context of the passage - to be explained in point 3.
  3. If translated as "for every man" the context shows that it is not teaching Universal Atonement:
    2:10 shows that 'for every man' means 'for everyone of the sons God brings into glory', ie 'everyone of the elect' as God brings the elect into glory.
    2:11-12 show that 'for every man' is 'everyone of the bretheren'/'everyone of the members of the Church'. Ie 'everyone of the elect' who are members of the Body of Christ - Which is the Church.
    2:13-14 show that Jesus tasted death for everyone of the 'children' whom God has given to Him, those for whose sake He partook of flesh and blood - the elect.
    2:16 shows He died for the 'seed of Abraham' in the spiritual sense, ie the elect.

So Hebrews 2:9 is not teaching Universal Redemption - that all men are bought - but that all of the elect are bought, which include men of all nationalities and walks of life.

1Timothy 4:9-10 "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. 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."
- Arminians correctly state that Jesus' death is sufficient for all and efficient for those who believe. But it is more correct to say it is sufficient for all, and efficient for the elect. Arminians say that this shows that Jesus is the Saviour of all men potentially and only those who believe effectually. But this passage is to be understood in a temporal/providential way; God giving men "being and breath, upholding them in their beings, preserving their lives, and indulging them with the blessings and mercies of life." (John Gill's Exposition of the New Testament, 1Tim 4:9-10)
"..specially of those that believe" - Although true that these receive eternal salvation, this is to be understood in the temporal sense. As there is a general providence which is for all of mankind, there is a special one for the elect. For these are saved and preserved (the general providence) before their conversion for the special reason that they have been set apart to be called to Glory. After conversion they receive special care, they are protected from temptations and afflictions, and are the "darlings of providance, being to God as the apple of His eye." (Ibid.) For if God is the 'Saviour of all men' then how much more will He watch over those who are of greater worth to Him than the whole world! If He has saved us with the greater, eternal, Salvation, how much more will He save us with the lesser Salvation.
God is the common Saviour of all men, but the Saviour both ways for the elect. This is a great reassurance for us the saints! It shows how God is trust worthy and watches over us throughout our lives!

To read the correct way to interpret other passages that are used to defend Universal Temptation visit 'John Gill on some Universal Atonement Passages'.

Summary of Scriptural reasons for Limited Atonement:
(Derived from Robert Shaw's 'An Exposition of The Westminster Confession of Faith' P154-155

  1. The recipients of the redeeming death of Christ are frequently described in restrictive terms. These passages describe Christ’s death being for many men, not all men.
    "He gave His life a ransom for many." (Matt 20:28)
    "He bare the sin of many." (Is 53:12)
  2. These recipients are distinguished from the rest of the human race by the use of discriminating terms (in bold), eg:
    "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:15)
    "And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." (John 11:51-52)
    "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth?" (Romans 8:33)
    "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it." (Ephesians 5:25)
  3. Scripture says that those redeemed by Christ’s blood are 'redeemed from among men' (Rev 5:9). If Christ had redeemed all men then this would have no meaning and be inconsistent. It is also written that they are 'redeemed out of every kindred' (Rev 5:9), plus many other passages. These clearly imply that only some of mankind are redeemed.
  4. The redemption is restricted to those who were 'chosen in Christ':
    "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love... In whom we have the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." (Ephesians 1:3-4,7)
    "...Jesus... looked toward heaven and prayed: 'Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.'" (John 17:1-2 NIV)
  5. "Christ died in the character of surety, and therefore he laid down his life only for those for whom he represented, or for his spiritual seed (Isaiah 53:10"
  6. Christ died with the intention not only to give those for whom He died the possibility of salvation, but actually to save them. He died to bring them to complete possession and enjoyment of eternal salvation.
    "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;" (1Peter 3:18 NASB)
    Christ "died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him." (1Thess. 5:10 NASB)
    See also Ephesians 5:25-26, Titus 2:14 etc..
    Seeing as those for whom Christ died He did to bring them to complete possession of eternal salvation, then Christ only died for the elect - Those who shall be saved in Him.
  7. The intercessions of Christ proceed upon the ground of His atoning sacrifice so must be of the same extent/measure. Christ does not pray for the world, but for those who were given Him out of the world. Therefore His sacrifice must be restricted to only those people.
    "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;" (John 17:9 NASB)
    "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (1John 2:1-2; 'the whole world' does not contradict John 17:9 - see 1Tim 2:6 above)
  8. "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:32 NIV)
    The apostle Paul here is infering that from the greatness of God's love in delivering up Jesus, His own Son, to death for sinners He will not withhold any of the blessings of Salvation - which includes eternal life. So it must be concluded that Jesus did not die for all mankind.
    The 'us all' are 'those whom God has chosen' (v33).
  9. "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Rom 5:10 NIV)
    Paul here infers the certainty of our salvation by the life of Christ from our reconciliation to God by His death. Since not all are saved by Christ's death it must be concluded that not all were reconciled to God.
  10. Christ purchased not only salvation but all the means leading to the enjoyment of it by His death. Therefore His intention in dying must be limited to those who repent and believe and not extending it to everyone.
  11. There are many absurd consequences of the doctrine that Christ died for everyone:
    - Since all are not saved, Christ shed His blood in vain for many people.
    - Since our Salvation iscompletely reliant on our initiative Jesus died in complete uncertainty whether anyone would be saved.
    - Jesus died for many who, at the very moment of His death, were consigned to eternal punishment in Hell.
    - Jesus died for those who He does not interced for.
    - Jesus died for those to whom He never sent the means of Salvation, even those which He forbade His disciples to preach to (Matt 10:5) and those to whom He has never sent anyone to preach to (Rom 10:14).
    - God acts unjustly to the many who doe not believe. He is inflicting upon them punishment for their sins which He has already received full satisfaction by Jesus' death.
    It is blasphemous to affirm any of these points so doctrines which involve these consequence must be unscriptural.


Copyright Steven Shaw 2001

Browse through in a logical order:

Election by Foreknowledge Effacious Grace

Browse through the order I made them:

The Fall and Human Will Perseverance of The Saints