Russ on Limited Atonement

Those of you who have kept up with these posts know how this works?if you don?t like jokes, skip to The Beginning of the Article, though IMHO, you?ll be missing out on a really good one. In either case, I have once again gone way beyond the 1,000 word maximum and won?t even try to get it close. So, if you skim, it?ll be your loss :).

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. ?Well,? said the farmer, ?it was good. They did something different, though. They sang praise choruses instead of regular songs.? ?Praise choruses?? said his wife. ?What are those?? ?Oh, they?re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,? said the farmer. ?Well, what?s the difference?? asked his wife. The farmer said, ?Well, it?s like this ? if I were to say to you: ?Martha, the cows are in the corn? ? well that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

?Martha, Martha, Martha, oh Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN?

Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, then that would be a praise chorus.?

The next weekend, his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city came to visit and attended the local church. He went home and his mother asked him how it was.

?Well,? said the young man, ?it was good. They did something different, though. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.? ?Hymns?? said his mother. ?What are those?? ?Oh, they?re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,? said the young man. ?Well, what?s the difference?? asked his mother.

The young man said, ?Well, it?s like this ? if I were to say to you, ?Martha, the cows are in the corn? ? well, that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

?Oh Martha dear Martha, hear thou my cry Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain There in their heads is no shadow of sense Hearkenest they in God?s sun or His rain Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed Then goaded by minions of darkness and night They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

So look to the bright shining day by and by Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn Where no vicious animals make my soul cry And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.?

Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well, that would be a hymn.?

The Beginning of the Article

In my last two posts, we began the process of looking at each of the components of TULIPS in order to see how well this model of salvation aligns with Scripture. In looking at Total Depravity, we agreed with much of the traditional position though we found no Scriptural evidence for: regeneration prior to faith; an understanding that death means spiritual inability to act; and that the non-believer is unable to exercise faith. Thus, we stated that a person will never seek God in their sinfulness. However, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God seeks each individual making them aware of their standing before Him. It is at this point that a person does or does not exercise their faith in Jesus. Once they believe, they are given life which is the presence of God through the Holy Spirit living in them. All the benefits of salvation are immediately bestowed upon them (though final fulfillment awaits our resurrection).

In our overview of Unconditional Election, we found little in the Calvinist position that aligns with Scripture. There is only one individual in Scripture identified as elect ? Jesus (all other identifications are of a group of people associated with Him). Ephesians 1 tells us that we are elect in Him (i.e. our election is by association not by decree) and that God foreknew this in 1 Peter 1 and Romans 8.

In this article, we will look at the third component of TULIPS ? Limited Atonement. I will follow the same model as I did with the last posts by defining Limited Atonement from a Calvinist perspective, list some places where Biblical support is lacking, and make a suggestion for a position that better embraces Scripture.

Limited Atonement From a Calvinist Perspective We stated in our last post that from a Calvinist perspective, only the elect will receive God?s grace. However, this causes a problem. If Christ?s substitutionary death was for all sinners, then why isn?t everyone saved? Does it not seem as though God is demanding a double-payment for sin if Jesus died on the cross for the unregenerate but then sends them to eternal punishment? Thus, from a Calvinist position, the intent of Christ?s death was only for the elect and His death makes their salvation both possible and certain. Limited Atonement is not stating that the atonement is limited in value (its ability to save) but is limited in its scope (whom it will save). Primary Biblical support for Limited Atonement comes from John 10:14-15, Galatians 1:3-4, Ephesians 5:25, and Colossians 1:12-14 among many others.

Where I Think Calvinists Lack Scriptural Support Let me start by stating that there are no other branches of Christianity, other than 5-point Calvinists, that I am aware of, that hold to Limited Atonement. This does not necessarily make it either right or wrong ? however, it seems to be a significant difference from what the rest of Christianity sees Scripture saying.

There are a few points that need to made before we ask our questions. The first are the passages that Calvinists use to support Limited Atonement. Many of these verses explicitly state that Christ died for ?us?, ?the church?, ?many?, or ?for our sins.? The Calvinists suggest that these passages must limit the scope of the atonement. However, no such inference is logically necessary. Because of their view of election, Calvinists see all people as either elect or non-elect. Thus, if we were to visualize this (I think better in pictures than words believe it or not :) ), they would see all people as falling into one of two distinct circles that do not overlap ? one circle for the elect and one for the non-elect. However, as we saw in our overview of Unconditional Election, this model does not work since Jesus is the only one who is elect. Thus, a better picture would be to recognize that all those who are elect (because of their association with Christ) have come out of the world. Thus, if we were to draw our circles, we would draw one big one (the unregenerate) with a smaller one inside it (the regenerate).

Why are all these circles important? Because the verses that speak about ?us?, ?the church?, ?many? and ?for our sins? are accurate. Christ did die for our sins. But since we are a subset of all the other people who are in the world, these verses do not logically rule out that Christ did not die for the sins of the whole world. So the passages that seem to restrict the impact of His sacrifice are only talking about a subset of people.

This is what Scripture states. I will leave John 3:16 and the other verses that speak of the world aside for a moment. Instead, let us look at 1 Timothy 4:10 and 1 John 2:2. In the first passage, Paul quite explicitly states that Jesus is the Savior of all men and then qualifies it with the phrase ?especially believers.? Without the last phrase, Paul would seem to be bordering on universalism. But with the last phrase, we see that Paul agrees with what we are saying ? that Christ died so that all might be saved, although not all will be saved. Paul sees here that God really is the Savior of mankind and that there is no obstacle in God?s mind to pardon sinners, except their lack of repentant faith.

The passage in 1 John 2:2 is just as explicit. There, John states that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins and not only ours but also for the whole world. Often Calvinists will try to limit this to mean ?our sins? = the Christians John was writing to and ?the whole world? = rest of the elect. However, hermeneutics requires us to look within the immediate context to see if there is explanation to who these people are. John gives us such indications. In 5:13 he explicitly states that the letter is written to believers. In 5:19, he explicitly states what he means by the world ? all those who are under the power of the evil one. If these verses do not seem to be an ?immediate? enough context, only 13 verses after 2:2 John goes into a 3-verse contrast between God and the world! In fact, no where in the book of 1 John is kosmos used in a positive manner. What right do we have to retranslate what John has clearly defined in his letter?

The other means that Calvinists use to limit the atonement is to debate the meaning of kosmos or world, especially as it is used in the Gospel of John. John very consistently uses kosmos, especially in the mouth of Jesus, to describe those who are at enmity with God. For us to change that and state that kosmos only applies to the unregenerate elect (a description that is never used in Scripture) is to take the meaning of this word in John and change it for the sake of theology.

What the Calvinist needs is a verse that clearly states that Jesus did not die for the non-elect/unregenerate, or, to put it more positively, a Scriptural reference that states that Christ died only for the elect. None exists. Though they state that if we looked at Scripture from their perspective we would see the difference, it is the very perspective that is under scrutiny. Thus, without positive proof that Christ died only for the elect and several passages of positive proof that He died for all (see above), I must swing in favor of believing that Christ died for all mankind.

So How Do We Understand Limited Atonement Based on Scripture We don?t. Without going into a lot of in depth word studies (as noted in all my previous posts, C. Gordon Olson?s book Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism does an excellent job of looking at Biblical and extra-Biblical uses of atonement, substitutional sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, and reconciliation ? one can always do the word studies themselves online by going to this link), the terms used for redemption in Scripture (lutron, antilutron, agoradzein, lutroein, lutrosis, apolutrosis, lutrotes, exagoradzein) carry two distinctly different meanings. On the one hand, several of them (lutron, antilutron, agoradzein, lutroein, lutrosis) are used to describe an objective ransom-redemption that focuses on a ransom price paid. On the other hand, several of them (apolutrosis, lutrotes, exagoradzein, lutroein, lutrosis) are used in a liberation-redemption sense which focuses on the subjective liberation of the sinner from slavery. The ransom-redemption words can and sometimes do carry a universal intent. However, the liberation-redemption words are consistently limited in their application to believers. Thus, the ransom price has been paid for all. The individual liberation for each sinner is contingent on faith and thus all are not saved.

I must also address κοσμον (kosmos ? the Greek word for world). Calvinists will work hard to show that this word, for instance in John 3:16, does not mean those at enmity with God but instead can mean the elect. Standard hermeneutical principle requires us to look at immediate contexts first to see if there is an indicator of what is meant by a word. That is why I believe 1 John 2:2 is so detrimental to the argument of Limited Atonement ? out of 16 uses, 1 John never uses kosmos in a positive sense. The second level of hermeneutics, if the first was inconclusive, is to look at the other writings of the same author. The word κοσμον in the writings of John (Gospel of John, 1 John and 2 John) is used 77 times consistently to mean either ?those at enmity with God?, the created earth, or the human system (of thought, authority, or sphere ? thus, Jesus comes ?into the world? in this sense). There is no place in John?s writings where the kosmos is explicitly used in a positive sense. One could make the argument that the created earth uses and the human system uses are associated with the ?those at enmity with God? in John?s writings (for instance, John 16:33 seems to use two different uses of kosmos within the same context, thus giving them a similar sense). If this level of hermeneutic is inconclusive, then one uses the larger context of all of Scripture. But other than to make sure our conclusion is not contradictory to other Scripture, why look outside John?s writings for a meaning of kosmos. So, my question for Calvinsits is this: what is so confusing about John?s usage of κοσμον (kosmos)? If John never uses it in a positive sense (having a right relationship with God or explicitly stating any goodness about it), why would we not recognize the term world as, generally, that or those who are opposed to God?

One quick conundrum and we will be done and for this I must break my own rule and quote someone: ?God imposed His wrath due unto and Christ underwent pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men?If the first, why, then, are not all freed from punishment of all their sins? You will say, ?Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.? But this unbelief, it is a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it?? (John Owen, The Death of Christ, pp. 173-4). This is a typical argument against the position that I am taking, so I?ll address it now rather than waiting for the comments :). Since the third option is obviously erroneous and the first one seems to be logically denied, only option two stands which is the Calvinist position. However, does not God have the sovereign right to make unbelief the only sin which could not possibly be under the blood of Christ, if persisted in? Isn?t this exactly what John 3:18 tells us is the case? Because of God?s purpose to use faith as the means of obtaining our salvation, does it not follow that unbelief would be a unique sin that would not be forgiven? Thus, Owen?s conundrum is really not one at all.

Thus, since there is no evidence that Christ died only for the elect, we do not hold to Limited Atonement. By the same token, we do not hold to Unlimited Atonement either (in which all mankind will be saved). We believe there is a universal redemption that has been paid for all mankind (1 Timothy 2:6, 2 Peter 2:1). This redemption is applied to the unregenerate the moment that they place their faith in Jesus (Galatians 4:5).

-Pastor Russ- note from Rey: I added the Greek characters for κοσμον (kosmos) for the student’s sake.

  • T – Total Depravity
  • U – Unconditional Election
  • (F) – Faith
  • L – Limited Atonement
  • I – Irresistible Grace
  • P -Perseverance
  • S – Sovereignty
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