For the Record (John Hammett): Being Biblical More Than Logical or Why I am a Four-Point Calvinist

[Editor’s Note: John Hammett is Professor of Systematic Theology and Associate Dean of Theological Studies at Southeastern. He is a former missionary to Brazil and a specialist in eclessiology. He is a theologian in all the best senses of the word. For these reasons, we asked him to put his view of a controversial point of theology on the record.]

Like most Calvinists who hold four of the traditional five points, I have struggled with the L of limited atonement. On the one hand, limited atonement makes perfect logical sense and I like the idea that the cross actually accomplished salvation for me. Further, if the cross is efficacious for salvation, then it must be limited or it leads to universal salvation, which is unquestionably non-biblical. On the other hand, there are a number of verses that I have not been able to reconcile with limited atonement. Placing biblical arguments over logical or theological arguments has led me to affirm a general understanding of the atonement.

The three texts that seem to point most forcefully to the general view are I John 2:2, I Tim. 4:10, and II Pet. 2:1. First John 2:2 affirms Christ as the propitiation not just for “our sins” but also “for the sins of the whole world.” Those who support limited atonement argue that the “whole world” does not mean every individual but all types of people, or all races, classes, or times of people. Those are possible arguments, and if this was the only verse, it might be exegetically fair to infer such a reading. But there are other verses, and there is nothing in the context to indicate a limitation of the scope of “world.”

The second text, I Tim. 4:10, speaks of God as Savior “of all people, and especially of those who believe.” Admittedly, this verse does not speak of the cross specifically, but if the cross that accomplishes salvation, here that salvation seems to extend beyond those who believe. In some sense, God is the Savior of “all people” in a sense that extends beyond believers. In what sense could God be the Savior of those who do not believe? The most cogent way I have heard is to see it as affirming that God has made provision for their salvation through the death of Christ.

The third text approaches the topic from a different direction. According to limited atonement, all those for whom Christ died, the elect, are saved. But II Pet. 2:1 affirms that some of those “bought” by Christ have become false teachers, deny Christ and bring destruction upon themselves. This sounds very much as if they are lost individuals, and yet they had been bought by Christ. It again sounds as if those for whom Christ died extend beyond those who are saved.

I recognize there are several objections lodged against the general atonement view. To my mind, the most serious is that this view weakens the accomplishment of the cross. It sees the cross as making provision for my sin, but it does not become efficacious for my salvation until I receive that provision by faith. But that is in fact what Scripture seems to teach (see Rom. 5:17). I see my reception of that provision as itself the result of God’s effectual calling and election at work in me, both of which are limited, and so I am still a Calvinist, but the L belongs in calling and election, not the cross.

A second argument is that general atonement leads to universal salvation. But this is true only if the cross by itself is efficacious for salvation; that is, that sins are forgiven by the payment offered on the cross apart from any personal response. But the general atonement view argues that it is theologically permissible and biblically warranted to separate the provision of atonement and the application of atonement.

A third objection is that general atonement seems somehow wasteful and introduces disharmony within the Trinity. If God the Father has chosen a limited group, and the Holy Spirit only convicts and draws to faith a limited group, why would the Son die for a larger group, especially when many of that group will not be saved? But we can note that God often provides more than is accepted. Universal revelation is given to all, but Romans 1 is clear that, rather than utilizing that light, many suppress it (Rom. 1:18). At any rate, this too is a logical argument that I cannot place over a biblical argument.

Thus, I find myself in agreement with the classic if somewhat ambiguous formula: the atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect (or for those who believe, since they are the same group).

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  1. Derwin L. Gray   •  

    Thanks for the well written article.

    Seeing that God is a logical being, logical and biblical interpretation are two sides of the same coin.

    I’d like to see a blog on does regeneration precede faith or does faith precede regeneration or as I believe regeneration and faith are simultaneous?

    Keep up the super work.

  2. Joel   •  

    Thanks for this article! I’ve seen one calvinist theologian link 1 John 2:2 with John 11:50-52. Here Caiaphas prophesies “that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” The theologian uses this passage to argue that the death of Christ by design is a people-gathering (the elect who are scattered abroad) death and this is what John had in mind in 1 John 2:2 when he said “for the sins of the whole world.” In other words, “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 refers to the elect who are scattered abroad whose salvation was purchased by the death of Christ referred to in John 11:50-52. What would be your response to this?

  3. Josh Miller   •  

    I may be wrong, but I think that this is likely the most common form of Calvinism amongst the so-called New Calvinists. Sufficient for all, efficient only for the elect, in most of their minds would actually be consistent with 5 point Calvinism, but again, I could be misunderstanding the movement.

    Sproul’s ‘Chosen By God’ helped me to think through Limited Atonement. I enjoy his terminology, ‘Definite Atonement’ much better.

    Anyways, nice article.

  4. Doug Hilliard   •  

    Excellent and concise article; thanks Dr. Hammett!

  5. Jonathan Judy   •  

    I would differ with brother Derwin on one point, that God is a logical God. God is a God of order, yes, but I believe we go to far when we insist that human logic is equivalent to God’s logic. Is there even such a thing? Scripture says that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than man’s ways and thoughts (Is. 55:8-9) and this is especially true as it applies to salvation/grace. I believe the argument supporting Limited atonement is somewhat superfluous, or at least will be when all is said and done, and to build on your argument here, Dr. Hammet, we also must remember the truth claim in Acts 4:12, that there is no other name given under heaven whereby men must be saved – no other name that Jesus. When the bible states that Jesus is the savior of the whole world, does this not simply mean that Jesus is the only savior the world has, He is the only One who can save. We know at the end that every person will submit to His Kingship (Phil 2:10) whether they are saved or condemned. Jesus is the savior of the whole world, not in that every person has believed and been converted (regenerated) but in the sense that He is the Only savior, the only option, the only way for anyone to be saved.

    It is not logical, it does not square with human reasoning, that God’s sovereignty and “reception of the provision” are not mutually exclusive. But why can’t they be? Is this not what Paul teaches in Romans 9 that the thing molded cannot say “Why does He still find fault?” But God does still find fault – even with vessels of dishonor. Even in the reality of God’s sovereignty we are accountable/responsible for our own sin. The atonement, as described here, is bound up in His sovereign work on the cross, for the Jew first, and then the Greek, and at the same time, for the whole world.

  6. John Hammett   •  

    To respond to the question Joel raised regarding John 11:52 and I John 2:2, it seems a pretty big stretch. You have to link either nation or scattered children in John 11 to whole world in I John 2:2. Those seem pretty different concepts. Further, there is no contextual clue that links these two passages, so I don’t find the view persuasive.

    1. For all (1 Timothy 2:6; Isaiah 53:6).
    2. For every man (Heb. 2:9).
    3. For the world (John 3:16).
    4. For the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
    5. For the ungodly (Rom. 5:6).
    6. For many (Matthew 20:28).
    7. For the Church (Eph. 5:25).
    8. For “me” (Gal. 2:20).

    The sacrifice of Christ involved the sin of the world (John 1:29) and the work of redemption (1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Pet. 2:1), reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19) and propitiation (1 John 2:2) was for all men (1 Timothy 4:10), but the cross-work of Christ is efficient, effectual and applicable only for those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10; John 3:16).

    Christ’s death was SUFFICIENT FOR ALL but EFFICIENT only for those who believe. The cross-work of Christ is not limited but the application of that cross-work through the work of the Holy Spirit is limited to believers only.

  8. Michael Carter   •  

    Great article, Dr. Hammett. Thank you for your humility and devotion to the Scripture.

  9. Ted Bigelow   •  

    Hi John,

    You don’t know me, and I fear I’m a troll here, being brought over by clicking on Trevin Wax’s blog link this morning.

    I wrote my ThM thesis on those very texts (I John 2:2, I Tim. 4:10, and II Pet. 2:1) at a school that at the time was very much in the 4 point camp.

    Very briefly, here are a few things I believe 4 pointers have perhaps overlooked in their exegesis of these texts.

    1 John 2:2 – Four pointers want to read the preposition “for” as carrying substitutionary force, “in behalf of.” However, that would “require” the preposition “huper” (see 1 John 3:16). John’s choice in 2:2 is “peri” which does not mean “in behalf of” but “concerning.” This one point dramatically alters the sense of the verse and leaves the meaning of propitiation as a wrath appeasing sacrifice intact.

    1 Tim. 4:10 – For the most part four pointers want to render the word “especially” (malista) as referring to potentiality vs. actuality: “Jesus is potentially the savior of all men.” But malista is a superlative and always refers to “some out of the original set.” For instance, “if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, especially (malista) those of his own house” (1 Tim. 5:8). In 1 Tim 4:10 malista means “that all men must enjoy to some degree what believers enjoy in the highest degree” (Homer Kent).

    2 Peter 2:1 – Four pointers want to read the salvific benefits of Christ’s death into the verb, “bought” (agorazo). But this verse does not refer to Christ as the false teachers’ Savior but Sovereign Master as He is called not their “Lord” but their “Master”: “despotes.” This word refers to a slave owner (1 Peter 2:18) while agorazo is a word used for buying slaves (Rev. 18:11-13). More telling is Peter’s use of “bought” in Koine. Its use as a participle stresses its adjectival aspect, not its verbal aspect. The ancient reader would not have read it as we English readers: “the master who bought them” but instead as “the buying-them Master.” This places the weight of the phrase on “Master” not “bought” – Christ is the sovereign slave master who employs both profitable and wicked slaves in His vineyard (Mat. 25:26, Luke 12:42-48). These men are of the wicked sort.

    I hope this is helpful, brief and condensed as it is.

  10. Clay Smith   •  

    I think this is a HUGE issue. Theology is unavoidable and should be approached with caution for the simple fact that it is larger based on philosophical speculation (which isn’t necessarily evil). But I would say it extends beyond just Limited Atonement. Calvinism, or any other “system” of theology is larger based on logic, philosophy and should be used with caution.

    My view is that bibilical exegesis should always be the first stage of biblical thought and the words used in the Bible should be the words we use for doctrine, faith and practice.
    For example, why do Calvinists insist on calling sin “Depravity”. The Bible certainly uses depravity but it is as a condition (ie. degree) of sin, not for sin itself?

    Furthermore, why do people call themselves 3-point, 4-point, 2-point Calvinists? Why not just call yourself a “Christian”??

  11. Clay Smith   •  

    BTW – just read my post (sorry for all the “larger” instead of “largely”). Should have proofread.

  12. Barry Wallace   •  

    I think these excerpts from Richard Baxter’s “Universal Redemption of Mankind” are helpful:

    When God telleth us as plain as can be spoken, that Christ died for and tasted death for every man, men will deny it, and to that end subvert the plain sense of the words, merely because they cannot see how this can stand with Christ’s damning men, and with his special Love to his chosen. It is not hard to see the fair and harmonious consistency: But what if you cannot see how two plain Truths of the Gospel should agree? Will you therefore deny one of them when both are plain? Is not that in high pride to prefer your own understandings before the wisdom of the Spirit of God, who indicted the Scriptures? Should not a humble man rather say, doubtless both are true though I cannot reconcile them. So others will deny these plain truths, because they think that [All that Christ died for are certainly Justified and Saved: For whomsoever he died and satisfied Justice for, them he procured Faith to Believe in him: God cannot justly punish those whom Christ hath satisfied for, etc.] But doth the Scripture speak all these or any of these opinions of theirs, as plainly as it saith that Christ died for all and every man? Doth it say, as plainly any where that he died not for all? Doth it any where except any one man, and say Christ died not for him? Doth it say any where that he died only for his Sheep, or his Elect, and exclude the Non-Elect? There is no such word in all the Bible; Should not then the certain truths and the plain texts be the Standard to the uncertain points, and obscure texts? [Pages 282-283]

    …Now I would know of any man, would you believe that Christ died for all men if the Scripture plainly speak it? If you would, do but tell me, what words can you devise or would you wish more plain for it than are there used? Is it not enough that Christ is called the Saviour of the World? You’ll say, but is it of the whole World? Yes, it saith, He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole World. Will you say, but it is not for All men in the World? Yes it saith he died for All men, as well as for all the World. But will you say, it saith not for every man? Yes it doth say, he tasted death for every man. But you may say, It means all the Elect, if it said so of any Non-Elect I would believe. Yes, it speaks of those that denied the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And yet all this seems nothing to men prejudiced. [Pages 286-287. The verses alluded to in this quote are John 4:42; 1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 2:1.]

  13. John Hammett   •  


    I would be interested in seeing your thesis. To respond to your points,

    1. I think peri, as most Greek prepositions, has too large a semantic range to think that it is so different from huper as to drastically alter the sense of the verse. Also, the fact that every translation I know of translates it as for also supports its use by 4 pointers. I don’t think this involves a denial of propitiation at all.
    2. I think the comment by Kent that you cite supports my position.
    3. Agorazo does have a soteriological sense; it is often translated redeem and used in the sense of redemption from sin. Despotes is never used for Christ as the Master of non-believers.


    I agree with you that biblical exegesis should be the first stage in theology. If it is so, then it would be incorrect to see theology as based largely on philosophical speculation, wouldn’t it?

  14. Bradley Cochran   •  

    Personally, I was a four point Calvinist for some time for the same concerns. I did not want to hold to something just because it was logical, but wanted only to believe what was explicitly taught in Scripture. Therefore, it wasn’t until I was able to frame the disagreement more clearly that I suddenly realized that the limited case for the atonement could actually be more “biblical.” You can see my biblical reasons for holding to a limited view here:



  15. Ted Bigelow   •  

    John – shoot me an email at grace_2_you at I’ll send you my thesis.

    You are certainly correct – Koine prepositions, as English prepositions, have a range of meanings. These are fairly well established. Peri with the genitive does not overlap with huper as, say, “anti” does. See any lexical authority. Peri w/gen means “in connection with”, “in reference to”, “about” – but never once “in place of” as the unlimited argument of 1 John 2:2 goes. Think PERImeter.

    However, if I’m correct, the bigger issue in 1 John 2:2 is the disintegration of 1 John 2:1 if an unlimited view of 2:2 is maintained. According to John, Jesus is “the Advocate, the righteous One. The unlimited atonement perspective, to be consistent, must hold that Jesus is the Advocate of all people as much as he is the propitiation for all people.

    If so, we ask what benefit does His advocacy accomplish for those He is presently judging, giving them over into their sins (Romans 1:24, 26, 28)? Is He both advocating as the greatest defense attorney of all time, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” and simultaneously punishing the ones He is defending with His righteousness before the Father? Or is it the Father who is punishing the world’s sinners and thereby turning a deaf ear to His righteous Son who is always advocating for them in the Trinitarian counsels? Why, if Jesus is interceding for them, does God punish them and not save them? Are they too sinful, too hardhearted, to unbelieving, for Jesus to save them?

    If so the answer there is something defective in Jesus Christ. If so there is something lacking in Christ’s righteousness before the Father that the Father rejects. Jesus pleads for them as their advocate but the Father removes His grace further and further from them. Jesus’ prayers as advocate are not only ineffectual for the vast majority of mankind, they are rejected.

    The unlimited position takes an even deeper theological nosedive when we recall that the meaning of propitiation is that of a wrath appeasing sacrifice (1 John 2:2, Rom. 3:25). In the case of Jesus Christ the amount of wrath appeased must be commensurate with the efficacy of the sacrifice Jesus made. Since “He is the propitiation for our sins” no sin of ours was left unappeased, including our sin of unbelief. Jesus is our full propitiation before the Father. He is the full package. He is the full sacrifice in which all are called to trust.

    But the unlimited position tears at the very fabric of Christ’s gospel since it requires Jesus’ propitiation not to have appeased the Father’s wrath, but rather the sinner’s moment of saving faith. In this it greatly errs, imaging God being potentially appeased of all men and only actually appeased once any sinner exerts faith. If that sinner does not exert faith then the Father is not appeased and must suffer eternal wrath after the books are opened and all his sins are judged (not just the sin of unbelief). So you see, the real propitiation in the unlimited position is the sinner’s faith, not the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the righteous. His death is rendered non-propitiatory. The Father’s wrath was not appeased. No gospel.

    Each must put their faith in who really accomplished propitiation for themself – in Jesus Christ, or in his own moment of saving faith. Putting your faith in Jesus Christ will allow you to withstand the devil’s assaults and gain you a crown. The other honors your own moment of saving faith… which wasn’t due to you anyway, but was a gift of grace (Eph. 2:8).

  16. Samantha Luchtefeld   •  

    About 1Tim 4:10-

    The word for Savior according to my Strong’s concordance is sōtēr which is defined as savior, deliverer, preserver. Considering the context, could this passage mean: “Because of the liars and false teachings, Timothy, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ if you remind the brothers of the truth.” And for encouragement Paul adds, “This is a trustworthy saying- we have put our hope in the living God who is the Preserver of all men and especially of those who believe.” Meaning- Even though some will fall away and teach lies, we can trust that God (who preserves all men (Psalm 36:6)) will keep His children from being led away by false teaching.

    It seems so also because in verse 16 Paul says “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” i.e. – preserve them from being led away

    Did he die to make the salvation of all men possible and nothing more? Or did he die to actually and certainly save his elect people? Did he come to make the salvation of all men possible? That is an atonement that does not save anybody. That is really a limited atonement.
    About 2 Peter 2:1-
    Out of the passages in N.T. in which agorazo, which is translated “buy” here, only about five of them refer to a redemptive situation. The rest of them have to do with the buying of material things.So, there are five other references besides this reference in which the buying is a spiritual thing. Those references are 1 Cor. 6:20, “For you are bought with a price.”, 1 Cor. 7:23, the same thing, “You are bought with a price.”, Rev. 5:9, “with Your blood You purchased men”, Rev. 14: 3 and verse 4.
    Five times the word agorazo refers to a spiritual purchase. In every one of these cases in which the term agorazo is used, the purchase was a real purchase that was accomplished. In other words, the “bought” refers to an actual purchase of believers. Every time the buying is mentioned, it was a true redemption. If that is so, then the passage is saying that these false teachers were truly bought, truly redeemed. BUT- if these false teachers were truly redeemed, then they must have lost their salvation. So, to believe that this buying is a true buying (redemption) wouldn’t you have to believe that one may be saved and lost?

  17. Ron Johnson   •  

    I would have to agree with John that the range of meaning is broader than you are attributing meaning to. This is a danger that many Greek professors and authors have rightly pounded into us! In regards to this statement, “The other honors your own moment of saving faith… which wasn’t due to you anyway, but was a gift of grace (Eph. 2:8).” I often see this verse used to support that faith is a gift placed upon us. However, the Greek does not support this. We cannot use this verse to make this statement and must go elsewhere in scripture. Not only is faith in this verse in a subordinate clause and the pronoun “it” would most likely be pointing back to the main clause, but the Greek makes this clear as “faith” is a feminine noun and the pronoun “it” is a neuter. Eph 2:8 is saying that the work of salvation is the gift of God, and it is not saying anything one way or the other about faith being a gift. The key difficulty people often have with resolving the role of faith is that we mis-define faith as something we do. In fact, Pisteuo shows it is the absence of anything we do (not a work), but rather a response of trust. Our sin nature so taints our ability to believe and have faith that we cannot have it on our own and we need the Holy Spirit’s work to tear through our depravity.

  18. Ron Johnson   •  

    Just to followup on the range of meaning of peri. Item g specifically addresses peri when used with hamartia as meaning “to take away, to atone for”. The range of meaning with harmartia has primarily a “substitutionary force.” (See Gal 1:4, 1 Pet 3:18, and Heb 5:3 for similar uses.

  19. Ron Johnson   •  

    Oops, the reference got cut out as I was editing above. Item g in BDAG’s entry on peri.

  20. Ted Bigelow   •  

    Hi Ron,

    Thank you for pointing out BAGD g on “peri”. I stand corrected, and appreciate that.

    There are however, some problems with their citation we should note. First, it is “g.” It’s way down the list. Notice also all other citations (b through i) are slight modifications of a, (“concerning, about, in reference”). “g” stands way distanced from all others in meaning.

    Second, they claim the word “sin” (hamartia) changes the preposition’s meaning from “concerning” etc. to “to take away, to atone for”. I question that!

    Third, they claim the preposition becomes a verb when used with “sin,” and that meaning is “to take away, to atone for.” IOW, “peri” is no longer a preposition, it’s a verb and a key verb in NT theology. Highly, highly suspect.

    Fourth, they cite Gal. 1:4 to support their position, but Gal. 1:4 includes “huper,” not “peri” and supports what I’ve been saying. How did that get by them?

    Fifth, they flatten the language when they include 1 Pet. 3:18. This verse employs both “peri” and “huper” and “hamartia.” Peri here retains its meaning as “concerning, in reference to” as it is used with the impersonal substantive, “sin”, not the personal “sinners”. “Huper” is used with the personal (“the righteous huper” the unrighteous), not “the righteousness huper the unrighteousness.” Peter’s use of both peri and huper shows he believed them to have different meaning; otherwise why not use the same preposition twice if he intended to communicate the same meaning in both phrases?

    @ John Hammett:
    BTW, I agree with you. We should reject the assertion that the phrase “whole world” in 2:2 means “groups from the world.” It certainly doesn’t mean that in 1 John 5:19! But neither does it mean “each and every person in 2:2 anymore than it means “each and every person” in 5:19. In 5:19 believers are not included as those who lie in the lap of the wicked one.

    Every unlimited writer presumes the word “world” (kosmos) means each and every person who is living on earth. It’s a poor assumption and not worthy of a serious theologian who wishes to interact with those outside of his own tradition. Popular expository dictionaries like Vine’s show this well: of the 7 possible uses for “kosmos” none mean “each and every person.” For that there exists a different Koine word: “oikoumene” (Rev. 3:10, Rev. 12:9, Rev. 16:4). Had John wanted to communicate a meaning of “each and every person in 1 John 2:2 and 5:19 he would have used that word. The better sense of “kosmos” is “the realm of sinful humanity.” If you are inclined, go to serious resources like TDNT or NIDNTT to see this for yourself.

    @ Ron Johnson
    Thank you also for pointing out the neuter mismatch in Eph. 2:8. Of course, the neuter “this” can refer neither to “grace” nor “faith.” I defer to a theologian from a couple generations ago, that with regards to Ephesians 2:8 it seems better to accept that the nueter touto refers, “not only to the ‘grace’ and not only to the ‘faith’ but to the whole manner expressed in these words…showing that it is not merely grace, and not merely faith, but the entire concept of grace accepted by faith which must be regarded as the gift of God” (James Oliver Buswell, Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2:182).

  21. Andrew Lindsey   •  

    The idea that “L” is simply a logical, rather than a biblical, conclusion, is often asserted by “four-pointers,” but does not ring true. Quite the contrary: I could think of ways to support the “four-point” position that (at least) seem logical, but am convinced, instead, of particular redemption by the biblical text, which presents a necessary connection between the sacrifice made for the [new] covenant people and the benefits certainly enjoyed by the elect on the basis of that sacrifice (Rom 8:32; Heb 10:14).

    Even the verses used to argue against “L:” notice how many concepts from outside the verses must be then crammed into the verses in order for them to be used to deny particular redemption. And the actual words found in the verses– words such as “propitiation,” “Savior”– must be either either explained away or turned on their head, while words such as “all” and “world” must assume unusual meanings (in any given context, Scripture does not generally mean to indicate “every person who ever lived throughout history” by these terms).

  22. Max   •  

    Rev. Kev,

    Thank you for your post (#7) “FOR WHOM DID CHRIST DIE? HE DIED FOR …”

    So much truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in those Scriptures. Once you see, you can’t un-see!

  23. JD Longmire   •  

    My understanding of those verses is contextualized within the paradigms of “common” vs “saving” grace. That is, Jesus’ death bought *all* humanity in one sense and preserves us from the immediate consequences (God’s eternal wrath) of the Fall since the initiation of the Fall through the Judgment, thus in one sense He “saved” all people everywhere in a *limited* sense and provides for a general benefit to humanity (common grace). That is a secondary effect – His death *primarily* provides eternal redemption against the effects of the Fall for the elect (saving grace).

  24. dr. james willingham   •  

    Who says one has to be logical to come to limited atonement. Everyone, and I do mean everyone that has any view of the matter at all, holds to a limited atonement either stated or implied. Clearly, our professor has a doctrine of limited atonement. It is limited by the individual and his or her faith or lack of faith. Even the universalist who believes every one is going to be saved has a limited atonement: His atonement can’t get every one saved in this life. Hence, it is limited. Jesus evidently thought the doctrine of limited atonement (really particular or purposeful redemption) could be preached evangelistically. He told the disciples (and the woman of Canaan surely heard him as she responded to what He said), “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She was not a jew, and yet she responded with worship!!! I never came to any of my theology of Sovereign Grace by logic, though I like logic (have a minor in the field, taught one course in Philosophy in college for one semester at SC State Univ. My Master’s is in American Social and Intellectual History (which certainly involves a number of philosophical movements or schools)). I came to each one by the meaning and usage of the words in the NT, a very careful process of deduction and induction, from usage in the OT & NT. The beginning was in 1963 with the meaning of the word, “can” in Jn. 6:44, 65. In any case, to make a long story short, I was amazed to find that the doctrines of TULIP along with Predestination and Reprobation are all invitations to be saved. They come under the classification, I think, that would be identified in counseling as “therapeutic paradoxes.” Helpful in learning this was the statement by Dr. Eusden in his Introduction to his translation and publication of the first theology text book ever used at Harvard U, William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity. Dr. Eusden pointed out that predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage. Bright lights come on! I read that in ’72 or ’73 in a copy in the library of SEBTS. Later, my son would buy me a copy of the second edn. of Ames’ work pub. in Durham. From my 6 years of research in church history, I had known that the real theology which produced the First and Second Great Awakenings and helped launch the Great Century of Missions was the theology of Sovereign Grace, basically, the doctrines under consideration. That theology transformed Protestantism and Baptists, too, from a Gospel recovery effort, contentious, combative, conflicted into an outgoing, we will win you with persuasion movement. Quite a change in 80 years (1740-1820). Oh, and the reason for particular redemption is that THE POWER IS IN THE BLOOD, and the truth will win more souls, like a thousand generations and every soul on earth (hopefully beginning with this one)and spread to thousands and millions of planets over the next 100,000-1,000,000 years. The idea came to mind as I was reading the old fellow blamed for limited atonement (not so, of course), Dr. John Owen and His work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Just think of how the converts from so many generations and planets could help to make God’s bit of humor in Rev.7:9 a really great bit of healthy laughter to cheer the saints along.

  25. Brandon   •  

    Thoughtful post. Yet I struggle to think that Christ would die for everyone and not receive the reward for His sufferings; this is what one must believe if they reject the “L” in TULIP.

  26. Many texts simply affirm that Christ died for a limited group of people.[E.g. Mt 26:28; Jn 10:11, 15; 11:50-52; Acts 20:28; Rom 8:32-34; Eph 5:25-26; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:17; 9:15, 28; Rev 5:9.] The doctrine of unconditional election provides secondary affirmation so long as one understands that God (even if just by means of his foreknowledge of who will receive saving grace) has atonement in view as the means for saving the elect (Rom 8:29-32; 9:17-23; Eph 1:4-6; 1 Thess 5:9;1 Tim 1:9). If only a limited number of people are intended to be eternally saved—the elect—we should naturally expect that only the sins of a limited number people—the elect—should be eternally satisfied by Christ’s atonement.

    What About John 3:16 and Other Passages?

    Passages which seem to contradict a limited view of the atonement do not actually contradict it. Some of these passages do just the opposite. For example, consider the classic proof text for a general atonement: John 3:16. This passage teaches that God gave Christ to the world so that believers might be saved. All believers are elect and all the elect eventually believe. Therefore, even John 3:16 teaches a limited intention for sending Christ into the world—to save the elect (i.e. all who believe). One does not need to interpret “for God so loved the world,” to mean “for God so loved the elect,” for this to hold true. The purpose clause “so that” is limited to the elect regardless of how broad the scope of meaning for the term “world.”

    John Owen notes that the meaning and usage of those terms which are universal in form—such as “world” and “all”—must be weighed very carefully for this reason: “Upon these expressions hangs the whole weight of the opposite cause, the chief if not the only argument for the universality of redemption.”[John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1999), 190.] Once the full range of meaning for these words is closely examined, however, the biblical objections to limited atonement are less convincing. The word “world” (ho kosmos) in Scripture does not always refer to every person in the world without exception. There are many passages where kosmos simply cannot mean every individual human being (Jn 7:7; Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 4:9; 11:32). If one is to believe that Christ died for everyone without exception on the grounds that the Bible says he died for the sins of the kosmos, she unwittingly gives good reason to think that everyone alive in the first century was a follower of Jesus, since the Pharisees exclaimed, “Look, the world [ho kosmos] has gone after Him” (Jn 12:19).

    Even more important, kosmos often refers only to those who believe. For example, Paul taught that Israel’s sin of rejecting Christ means “riches for the world” (ploutos kosmou, Rom 11:12). Can we say then, that every person in the world without exception has received the ploutos Paul has in mind? It seems clear that Paul is using the word “world” to distinguish between Jew and Gentile, and that he would intend us to understand only those who believe in Christ as the recipients of the riches Paul has in mind in this context. Such an interpretation, however, leads us to conclude that kosmos actually refers to a minority group among the people in the world—the few that find the ploutos in Christ (i.e. the elect). When the apostle John admonishes his readers not to think of Christ’s death as for them only but for the “whole world” (1 Jn 2:2), the grammatical structure is strikingly similar to statements found in his gospel (Jn 11:51-52). On the basis of this parallel one might conclude that “whole world” in his epistle simply refers to God’s people, the elect, scattered throughout the whole world.[I owe this insight to John Piper. John Piper, Tulip: The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Desiring God Ministries), 31.]

    Although many passages describe the death of Christ as being for “all” (pas, Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:14-15; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Heb 2:9; 2 Pt 3:9), like the word “world,” the word “all” in Scripture does not always refer to everyone, but it must be determined by context. Sometimes the word “all” simply refers to all those within a certain group defined by the context. For example, Romans 5:18 teaches that just as one sins led to condemnation for “all,” so one act of righteousness results in justification for “all.” Here, even within the very same context, one must interpret the former reference to “all” as virtually universal, and the latter as limited only to believers. Without allowing for such fair distinctions based on context, the interpreter has no way to object to the conclusion that all people without exception are justified before God. Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:6 that Christ was given as a ransom for all can simply mean “all kinds,” (indiscriminately with respect to Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free). In fact, Paul’s usage of the word “all” is best understood this way based on the way he uses it in the context (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-2). “All” in Titus 2:11 can be taken in a similar way based on context (cf. Tit 2:2-4, 6, 9).

    The Philosophical Opposition Tends to Be Weak

    Finally, philosophical objections to Actual Atonement are sloppy mistakes in logic. Perhaps the most common is the objection that a limited view of the atonement makes the universal offer of the gospel insincere. First, we might say that if the Bible teaches on the one hand that God only intends to eternally redeem the elect, and on the other hand that we should offer salvation to all, we should conclude that God’s offer must be genuine even if our preconceived philosophical understanding makes the legitimacy of such an offer a genuine mystery. Second, this objection misunderstands the nature of the offer. The universal offer of salvation is always contingent. The offer is not intended to benefit everyone, only those who repent and believe. Thus, the nature of the offer itself astronomically limits the scope of its intended benefactors by virtue of its built-in conditionality. The offer, therefore, is just as genuine as the offer “Whosoever meets the requirements for enrollment to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the requirements for discounts on tuition, will be able to receive such benefits.” The offer is intended for, and voiced to, all seminary students indiscriminately, but the benefit is only intended for a select group. This contingency does not ruin the genuine nature of the offer.

    Many of the other objections leveled against an actual view of the atonement are really objections against Calvinism as a whole—that it contradicts the concept of a loving God, that it is unfair, that it prohibits people who sincerely desire to be saved from actually being saved. These objections impose philosophical definitions of love, justice, and grace that are foreign to the Bible. They also misunderstand the nature of responsible Calvinism.

    T h e o • p h i l o g u e

  27. John Hammett   •  

    You present some good arguments for strict, or limited, or actual atonement. The fullest and best presentation of your view is in a recent book edited by David and Jonathan Gibson, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her. In the two years since the above blog was posted, I have written a fuller presentation of my position in a 3 Views on the Extent of the Atonement book that will be out, hopefully, sometime next year. To summarize, I think the view that makes the best sense of all the texts is that there are multiple intentions in Christ’s death: he died to make provision for all; he died to make salvation actual for the elect; and he died in some sense for the reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20). I continue to think that standard 5 point Calvinist interpretations of the texts I cited above are forced and unnecessary. One can protect the actual achievement of the cross and avoid the idea that universal atonement leads to universal salvation by simply recognizing that salvation requires both Christ’s death on the cross in around 30 AD, and the faith response of persons today. I want to argue that Christ’s death in 30 AD makes provision for all people, and that God today uses the power of the cross to draw the elect to place their faith in Christ. I think you can have the emphasis on actual atonement that you want and the natural interpretation of the key texts that universal atonement advocates have. For more, wait till the book comes out.

  28. Sounds like you might be taking the same position as Norman Geisler. It will be interesting to see whether the book repeats the same disconnect that often occurs in debates or disagreements over this question. Unfortunately, general and limited views often speak past one another over the extent of the atonement on account of a failure to first agree on the nature of the atonement itself. Before I can make this claim, I should first clarify my understanding of the two most popular views. The general view holds to a dual intentionality in the atonement: “Christ’s sacrifice was intended both to provide salvation for all and to procure salvation for all who believe” (i.e. the elect) [Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume Three, Sin and Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 379.]

    The so-called limited view of the atonement (which I would rather call Actual Atonement) holds that “Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only [all those who believe] and actually secured salvation for them.”[David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963), 17.] One should notice that the latter view of the atonement does not contradict the former, but rather affirms the second intention contained in it: “to procure salvation for all who believe.” Therefore, the real question is whether the language of the atonement in Scripture includes both the idea of appeasing wrath as well as the idea of provision, or whether it has a narrower meaning that only includes the appeasing of wrath. In other words, does the atonement language include the notion of “providing salvation for all” or as Geisler puts it, the notion that “everyone is potentially justifiable, not actually justified” by the atonement?[Geisler, Systematic Theology, 352.] Since this is the real issue, the two views might be best understood as differences over the actual nature of the atonement itself—whether it includes possibility or whether it only includes actuality.

    Since the Scripture teaches that Christ’s atonement is an actual satisfying of God’s wrath (hilastērion, Rom 3:21-26), it is difficult to understand how the accomplishment of a theoretical possibility would be included in such a propitiatory sacrifice. For a summary of the controversy over the meaning of hilastērion, along with the conclusion that it employ’s propitiatory cultic terminology of blood sacrifices see Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1998), 191-195. Schreiner points out that expiation and propitiation are not mutually exclusive categories. I might add that the presence of expiation in the passage would seem to depend ultimately on the grounds of the concept of propitiation. Schreiner says “The death of Jesus removed sin and satisfied God’s holy anger.” It seems this is true only because the death of Jesus removed sin by satisfying God’s holy anger.

    What is more, one finds not a single verse that teaches that atonement was made possible, provided for, or made available, through the death of Christ. Instead, all passages which address the nature of the atonement itself either explicitly teach or take for granted an actual atonement that secures salvation and redemption.[Mt 1:21; 20:21; Rom 3:24-25; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:17; 9:12, 15, 26; 1 Jn 4:10; Rev 5:9, cf. Lk 19:10; Jn 19:30; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 1:30; 6:20; 2 Cor 5:18-21; Gal 1:3; 3:13; Eph 1:7, 14; 2:15-16; Col 1:13-14, 20-22; 1 Tim 1:15; 3:5-7; Heb 13:12; 1 Pt 2:24; 3:18).]

    In short, Christ came to actually save sinners (i.e. actually appease the wrath of God), not make this salvation possible, provide for atonement, or make atonement available. For this reason, Geisler’s assertion that “the issue is not whether everyone is actually saved but whether the sacrifice of Jesus made salvation available to all,” is unperceptive as a response to this contention.[7] The Dual Intention view (Geisler and others argue for) that understands God to be providing the possibility of atonement for the sins of all but only applying it to some must also have a dual definition of atonement. When Geisler says “the Atonement is both unlimited in its extent and limited in its application,” he commits the fallacy of equivocation by changing the meaning of the word “Atonement” mid-sentence. The first meaning is a theoretical atonement (atonement made possible) and the latter actual (atonement made actual).

    Therefore, those who hold to a dual intentionality must redefine the meaning of the atonement in unbiblical categories if it is to escape the equivocation fallacy. Atonement cannot mean the satisfaction of God’s wrath and yet not mean the satisfaction of God’s wrath at the same time and in the same sense. As John Murray put it, “The doctrine of the atonement must be radically revised if, as atonement, it applies to those who finally perish as well as to those who are the heirs of eternal life. In that event we should have to dilute the grand categories in terms of which the Scripture defines the atonement.”[John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), 63-64.] Since the biblical teaching is clearly that the death of Christ satisfied God’s wrath, and since there is not a single verse which speaks of a theoretical atonement which makes redemption “possible,” the Actual Atonement view is to be preferred to the General and/or Dual Intentionality view on the basis of having greater accord with the biblical teaching on the nature of the atonement.

    I wonder if you will be arguing for a dual intentionality by redefining the atonement in unbiblical terms, and whether you address this way of perceiving the crux of the disagreement as one concerning the true nature of atonement itself, which results in different conceptions of it’s extent.

    One last point: certain passages make a limited view of the atonement necessary. For example, Paul guarantees the future security of all those for whom Christ has died on the basis of Christ’s accomplished atonement (Rom 5:8-10). On Paul’s logic, if the atonement was made for all people without exception, Paul’s promise of eternal security necessarily applies also to all people without exception. A limited view of the atonement seems to be the only way to escape vindication of a universalist hermeneutic, unless one redefines it in unbiblical categories. In another passage, Paul guarantees eternal security and glorification (“all things”) for everyone for whom God did not spare his own Son (Rom 8:32-34). On Paul’s logic, if God gave his own Son up for everyone, then everyone is sure to receive “all things” (i.e. universalism). Perhaps those holding to the general view of the atonement could appeal that Paul has in mind only one of the two intentions in this passage (the intention of securing salvation for all those who believe), but this is precisely the point made in my reason for believing in an actual view of the atonement. Paul seems to have this effectual intention in mind as “the” meaning of Christ’s death.

    If you already actually address these arguments in your upcoming book, I will have to read it. If not, I may not be interested in re-reading the same arguments made by Geisler and others already, for they have been hashed out so many times with the same result.

    Any thoughts?

    T h e o • p h i l o g u e

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