Hello, welcome to Part 3 of my Series on TULIP! Today I will be talking about the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement, the ‘L’ in TULIP. I wrote a post a couple months ago on Limited Atonement vs. Unlimited Atonement so check it out if you haven’t read it yet. I have also researched the issue a bit more since then.
Limited Atonement is the least believed points of the Calvinistic TULIP. Those who believe only the other four points of Calvinism are often called ‘Four-Point Calvinists’ or ‘Amyraldists’. Here is an article on what that is from a Calvinistic perspective. Note that I do not agree with the article on several points, but that is all right.
The closest label to what I believe regarding atonement and Christ’s work on the cross can be summed up as Provisional Atonement. You can find an article here comparing the differences.
I see absolutely no biblical evidence for Limited Atonement. GotQuestions.org defines Limited Atonement this way:
Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God’s unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected and for whom Christ died will be saved (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32; Ephesians 5:25).
The article I got this from here.
First, let’s address the proof verses verse-by-verse. I once heard this quote: “A text without context is a pretext for a proof text”. Keeping this in mind let’s go through these proof texts in context.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (ESV)
Looking at different studies on Mathew (here), we see that Mathew was intended for a Jewish audience. This verse was a prophecy to Joseph that through Mary, Jesus will “save his people”. In the Old Testament who were “his people”?
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters.” Exodus 3:5 (ESV emphasis mine)
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:10 (ESV emphasis mine)
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:27 (ESV emphasis mine)
In the Old Testament, God had chosen for his people the sons of Israel, because Israel had honored God (Genesis 32:28). Yet, not all of the people in God’s chosen group chose to honor him.
“So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” Judges 2:20-22 (ESV)
“I was angry with my people;
I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” Isaiah 47:6 (ESV)
Just because they were included in the group of people whom God chose, does not mean they were truly following after him.
Now to move on to my point. “His people” whom Jesus had come to save from their sins, seems to be referring to Jews, not Gentiles. But didn’t Jesus come to save Gentiles too? Yes, but as Romans says:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
If “his people” is referring to Jesus’ people- the Jews -then the verse is talking about Jesus saving the Jews from their sins (not the ‘elect’). Does that mean that all the Jews will be saved? No. The verse says: “he will save his people from their sins”. Notice it does not say: “he will save all of his people(referring to Jews) from their sins”. Yet, in other places in the Bible, it says: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”(1 John 2:2 ESV)
Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world yet not all will be saved. Not all will accept his gift but all are offered the gift. I cannot see based on context that “his people” is talking about the ‘elect’ but rather I see it as talking about the Jews.
Their second proof text is this:
“ I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”– John 10:11
I think I will respond with a quote from Dr. Leighton Flowers that shows how Calvinists often rely on the negative inference fallacy. I found it here.
The 5-Pointer must invoke “the negative inference fallacy” in order to appeal to these last 6 passages as proof of their position. “The proof of a position does not prove its converse.” One cannot prove that Christ did not die for the whole by showing that he did die for a part of that whole. For instance, in Gal. 2:20 Paul says that Christ died for him, but no one would infer from that statement that Christ only died for Paul. Yes, some passages say Christ died for His own, His sheep, His church, but no passage says He died only for these. His atonement can be provided for all people while only those who believe are actually saved by His atonement. His death for His own, then, is part of the larger whole in which He died also for the world.
The next proof text is this:
“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.“ John 17:9
Once again they are relying on the negative inference fallacy. On the surface, it seems that this verse could be implying that Jesus was only praying for the elect. Yet in other places, Calvinists use the word “world” to mean the elect in the world. For instance John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Let’s look at who he is talking about by looking at the context:
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” -John 17:12
Who are ‘them’? It appears very clearly to me that ‘them’ is referring to the twelve. Now look at later in the chapter at John 17:20-21:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
And also John 17:15:
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Chapter 17 of John is not talking about Jesus praying for the elect, but about Jesus praying for his disciples and their future ministry. Only two chapters later, Jesus would be crucified and the disciples would need strength and faith. Another example of Jesus praying that his disciples’ faith would hold strong is found in Luke 22:31-34:
“‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.'”
The fourth proof text is Acts 20 verse 28:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Once again inclusive does not equal exclusive. Those who have obtained salvation and excepted God’s gift of salvation have been obtained by Christ’s blood. This does not mean those who have not yet or have not chosen to accept Christ’s salvation cannot be obtained by his blood.
I would say almost the same thing about the next supposed “proof text”:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
And “Us all”? How does that mean Limited Atonement? Simply because the letter was written to the Romans and it says “us all” does not mean those outside of the church in Rome were atoned for?
The final proof verse that GotQuestions.org offers is Ephesians 5:25:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
What or who is the church? The same site that gave the definition for Limited Atonement: GotQuestions.org, gives a definition for the universal church (as in not the local church but the entire church) here:
The universal church consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. The universal church of God is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Who is the church made up of? Those who believe. Those who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. Just because Christ loved and gave himself up for those (or anyone) who would accept his gift of salvation does not mean he died only for the “elect”.
Now that I have gone through GotQuestions.org’s proof texts, I would like to go through some of the verses that have particularly convinced me that the Calvinistic view of Limited Atonement cannot be biblical.
The one biggest verse that convinced me that yes, Christ did die for all and atonement is available for all, is 1 John 2:2
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
How clear is that! He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world! How do Calvinists miss the clear-cut message of this verse? They must read into the text and say the “the whole world” must mean “the elect that are in the whole world”. How can that be considered proper exegesis! I cannot see it as other than direct eisegesis.
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” – Timothy 2:5-6
It doesn’t need to be complicated; all simply means all. You can’t insert words in and make it mean “all of the elect”, “all sorts of people”, “all of every kindred and tongue”. Christ did indeed die for all.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;” –1 Corinthians 5:14
Calvinists often use the argument on this verse that “all” couldn’t really mean all here, because otherwise, it would also mean that all have died. Instead of concluding that a word couldn’t really mean what it clearly means or discrediting scripture, we need to ask questions like “All have died to or from what?”. Five-point Calvinists assume that saying that truly all have died would mean that all have died physically or all have died to sin, that is that all are saved. I think that the biblical answer is found in Romans 5 verse 12:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” -Romans 5:12
Did you see the part about “death..to all men”? That sounds familiar. All have died. Because of sin. And because all have died through sin, Christ died for all men so that through him all might live. This is a sound answer that is both biblical and logical.
Here are some more verses that talk about Christ bringing salvation to all people, and dying for all the world:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” -Titus 2:11
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”– John 12:32
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”– 1 Timothy 4:10
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”-John 3:16
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”-Hebrew 2:9
One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Isaiah 53. Verse 6 of Isaiah 53 says this:
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” -Isaiah 53:6
In the first half of this verse, “All we” and ” every one” are emphasized in the Bible. It seems as if God were trying to get across the point that:
“They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.” -Psalm 53
In the second half of the verse, it says “..And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Who is “us all”? I believe that the “all” in the second half of the verse is the same as the “all” and “every one” in the first half.
Thank you so much for reading this post! If you liked it please press the like button. Also check out my other posts on Calvinism: Part 1, Part 2, The Problems Calvinism Causes, and Limited Atonement vs. Unlimited Atonement. If you have more questions regarding the robust biblical alternative to Calvinism, I would suggest checking out Soteriology101.com or his Youtube channel here.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-6
All Scripture quotations are from the ESV translation.