"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, August 31, 2009

Does the Bible teach Limited Atonement?

It may, and has been, alleged that Scripture does not teach Limited Atonement, but that Limited Atonement is a product of Calvinist Scholasticism. That Limited Atonement is a product of cold rationalism.

Let us first define what we mean by “Limited Atonement.” Limited refers to the aim, scope or purpose for which the atonement was commissioned. Calvinists contend that the Atonement was commissioned for the purpose of redeeming the number of the elect, and that it was actual in accomplishing and redeeming those people. This is why Scripture speaks of Jesus the Messiah in this way:

Matthew 1:21 “ you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."”

What is lauded as great and glorious in the work of God is not potential or that Jesus “may or might” accomplish His aim, but that He did accomplish His aim. The effects of the atonement are then limited to that number of the elect that are His people and not for the unelect. The Father chose those whom He would save and the Son commenced His work to redeem and to actually save those lost persons. The reward of Christ's death is the number of those elect.

I have already made the case that the term “world” refers to the diversity of peoples in that number of the elect, and not “every single person” as many English or Latin glosses of the word suggest. But this may be said to make the case that these verses that speak of Jesus dying for the “world” or being “Savior of the world” are not proof texts for Unlimited or Universal Atonement, but does not make the case that the Scripture explicitly teaches a particular aim of the Atonement for the number of the elect rather than every single person. Fair enough.

I would like to make my case thusly: In the case of “Limited,” how does the Scripture talk about the particularity of Christ's work. Is it spoke of as excluding, or all encompassing? Secondly, does this also apply when speaking of the death of Christ?

[I make no claims on originality in basic argument, though the words and commentary are mine, some of this line of reasoning is found in The Death of Death by John Owen]


First, let us agree on the way that Christ's intercession is spokenof. In other words, can we say Christ intercedes for the elect and not for the unelect? This issue is important, for the link between the death of Christ and the intercession on behalf of those for whom Christ died is explicit from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Few Christians would object that Isaiah 53 speaks of the Messiah. The end of Isaiah 53 concludes that the work of the Suffering Servant is “he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. ” Here we see the work of Messiah can be said to be of two offices in redeeming the lost: First, the Messiah is to “bare sin.” We know this is the teaching of Isaiah 53 concerning the atoning death of Christ. The second office is making “intercession for the transgressors.” This refers to Christ, as John puts it, being an Advocate with the Father to stand in place of us for our sins (1 John 2:1). It is a matter of assurance for the believer that Christ makes intercession for them. This is not general, for then all persons would be saved. It is particular to the elect. We know this for Paul says such:

Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
Rom 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Therefore, unless we are Universalist (believing all persons obtain eternal life) we know that the way we are able to stand without charge is the intercession, the mediatorial work of Christ on our behalf. This is due to a particular work for the elect, that is not for the the unelect. How do we know Christ does not intercede for the unelect? First, Paul tells us the pardon for the elect is assured by Christ's intercession. Second, we would have to believe the Father is not accepting the work of Christ as sufficient to answer Christ's request (The Father would be denying the Son's worthiness to make such a request) and Finally, Jesus Himself tells us, in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father that He does not pray for the unelect world, but merely the world of the elect:

Joh 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Joh 17:19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be
sanctified in truth.


It is my contention that Christ intercedes only for the elect, for He died only for the elect. His work is not divided. The work of Christ is commissioned only for the elect, not part of it commissioned for every single person and part of it commissioned for only the elect. Jesus, even before His death, specified the particularity of His mission, and responded to the unelect telling them:

Joh 10:25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me,
Joh 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Joh 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
The work of Christ is here said to be for His flock. This is not a potential flock. This is an actual flock, a set number given to Christ from His Father. The suggestion that they come in and out of His possession at their own will is counted as insulting: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For to lose a sheep from the flock would be to impugn the goodness of the shepherd:

Joh 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Joh 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
Joh 10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
If Christ loses His sheep, we must say He is not a good enough or strong enough shepherd to keep them. But Christ knows His sheep (10:14), for they are the ones for which Christ “lays down his life” (10:11). No one for whom Christ lays down His life will be lost. If Christ died for every single person, and any person is lost, Christ is a liar.

Another way this is communicated by Biblical authors is by Paul's language of the particular love Christ has for His church. The love of Christ is analogous to this love in Ephesians 5:25:

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

What principle is able to be derived for Christians if Christ gave Himself up for those other than His Church? Are Husbands here told to love their wives as they would love any other random woman? Are our wives to be told that we love them the same amount, and give our love to them in the same way as we do to all women? As intimate as the love of a husband is for a wife, so is the particular love of Christ that compels Christ to give up His life in death for her, in a way that He does not do for those who are not His bride. It is a particular, not general or universal love that God speaks of with his bride, not of any inherent worth of His bride but:

Deu 7:7-8a It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you
God loves His people, Christ loves His bride, because: He loves her. God's love determines His people, God's love is not determined by people. It is to a particular people, not every single person that Scripture assures:

Act 20:28 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.

Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
Heb 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Heb 9:25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,
Heb 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.


Andrew said...

Good argument, again the source of our disagreement is deep, all the way back to the will of God, free will, perseverance, sola fide and the sacraments, etc. I will try to respond on my blog.

Peace of Christ be with you.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

good post. My post would've just been: "Yes" :-)