I’m continuing a study of the third letter in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. and the doctrine of Limited Atonement. In Part 1 I gave a defense of Limited Atonement from a more aerial or an overall theological view. In Part 2 I gave a theological defense of Limited Atonement that is grounded in history and logic. In Part 3 I looked at specific texts that provide evidence for a limited atonement. In Part 4 I looked at five so-called “Problem Passages” for Calvinism. In this fifth look at limited atonement I want to look at five more so-called “Problem Passages for Calvinism.
#1- Hebrews 2:9, “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.”
The question levied from this passage by unlimited atonement advocates, is if limited atonement is true why does it say Christ tasted death for everyone? I would say you’re starting at the wrong place. The right question would be who is the “everyone” that the writer of Hebrews is referring to in this verse? To answer this let me keep this verse in it’s context. Because lets be honest whenever we use the words “all”, “every” or “everyone” we don’t always mean every single person in the world. And how do people understand the difference in our meaning of the word we’re using? Context. The writer of Hebrews does exactly that as he answers who the “everyone” is in the verses to follow.
Hebrews, 2:10-11, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing MANY SONS to glory, should make the founder of THEIR SALVATION perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call THEM BROTHERS. saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and THE CHILDREN GOD HAS GIVEN ME.‘”
Who is “everyone” mentioned in verse 9? The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that it is the elect, it is those who are believers.
#2- 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.”
Usually when someone brings up John 3:16, they think it’s the death nail in Calvinism and they’ve won. I could at this point detail many issues with this, but I’ve already addressed one of the biggest objections to Calvinism previously when discussing John 4:42 & 1 John 2:2. I will remind you yet again, the same author who wrote John 4:42 & 1 John 2:2 wrote John 3:16. His use of the word world remains consistent here. I firmly believe that “the world” mentioned here is speaking of the elect from all people groups. There’s an excellent 3 part youtube series that deals with this in more detail than I have time for here. So I’ll link to them here… Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.
Even if you reject that the term world is specifically referring to the elect. You have to recognize that even if the assertion that it refers to all people everywhere without exception, the rest of the verse still qualifies the universal term, “world.” It actually points to the fact that Jesus died for those who believe in him. One aspect of this discussion that many try to glance over is the fact that God does not love everyone, He loves His people, He loves His elect. So this helps us conclude further who the world refers to…the elect from all people groups.
To explain further, there are many nations that God declares his wrath on, where he does not love them; the Amalekites (Ex. 17:14); the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites (Deut. 20:16-18), The Ammonites & Moabites (Deut. 23:3). Beyond nations, God through the scriptures also shows he does not love certain individuals; All evildoers are said to be hated by God (Ps. 5:5), He does not love vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Rom 9:22), and Pharaoh’s heart was specifically hardened by God (Rom. 9:17), and Esau was hated by God (Rom. 9:13). This is one of those things that the atheist and many Christians raised in an Arminian view of salvation have a terrible time reconciling. Now there is common grace that God bestows on all of his creation, which is this common favor where all men, even reprobates, enjoy the blessings of God’s creation until the final judgment. It’s also truth that all men receive common grace as a benefit of the atonement, through the rise of Christian culture that greatly influence the western world. These are mere benefits, they are not the love of God. God blesses his creation with common grace, but the atonement is an actual, definite atonement where God truly pours out His love toward His elect, that provides them with true efficacious grace. These are hard truths to embrace, but ultimately if one is a believer in Christ, we must believe the scriptures rather than the philosophy of man.
#3- 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
The objection here is, “See! God doesn’t wish any should perish! He wants all to come to repentance!” While in a general sense this is true. From a theological standpoint God absolutely does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). The problem however is the inference by opponents of Limited Atonement, is not the face that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked and would rather have them turn from their ways and live. That’s not what they’re truly seeking to prove. Both the Arminian and Calvinist agree on this truth. What they’re trying to prove is the extent of the atonement being. Since God’s not wishing that any should perish and all should come to repentance then obviously Jesus died for all people who ever lived.
Not so fast my friend! I’m going to remind you again of the most important thing when reading scripture…context. You can’t simply read the end of the verse, without the beginning of the verse. And you can’t read verse without understanding it’s place within the paragraph and chapter it’s in and ultimately you’ve got to understand it’s context within the book of the bible it’s found in.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…” Well what is this promise? and Who is the “you” that he’s being patient towards? The promise in the context of the chapter is clear that this promise is the Second Coming of Christ. There were believers who worried about why Christ had not returned. They were facing terrible persecution and scoffers. Peter’s reminding the readers of this letter that although some feel like His promise is being fulfilled to slowly, there’s a reason for it. Peter says the reason is because God’s being patient toward you. Well who is the “you”? The “you” refers to the people to whom Peter wrote the letter. 2 Peter 1:1 says, “I am writing to you, who share the same precious faith we have” (NLT). So we find out that Peter’s referring to Christians in 2 Peter 3:9 and we find from his first letter to them (1 Peter), he actually refers to them as elect exiles.
So now that we know who the “you” is it should help us understand the verse more. Permit me to change the wording based on other passages. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise [to come again for His Church] as some count slowness, but is patient toward [the elect], not wishing that any [of the elect] should perish, but that all [the elect] should reach repentance. Peter’s telling them the very reason that the Second Coming is taking so long in their minds is for the express reason that God will not allow any of His elect to perish and not come to repentance. God loves His redeemed, He loves those for whom He died so much He will not allow even one of them to be lost. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with how God feels about those whom are not His sheep.
#4- 1 Timothy 2:3-6, “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.
As has been our modus operandi in the “problem passages” part of our look at limited atonement, we must again consider the context. Paul begins the thought of verses 3-6 in the previous two verses. He writes, “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.”
The most important part of understanding this passage is again realizing the usage of the word “all.” There’s no possible way that Paul means that “all” means every single person ever existed in the past, in the present, or in the future, like many want to take this to mean. Are we supposed to pray for millions of people who are dead and burning in hell? Of course not. Are we supposed to pray for millions of Christians who are in heaven? Of course not, unless you hold to the unbiblical, Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory.
Also remember the Apostle John tells us not to pray for those who have committed the sin leading to death (1 John 5:16). Jesus in John 17:9 says that he prays for those who will repent and believe and not for those who reject Him. Paul elsewhere actually says to give thanksgiving for all men. Does that mean you’re to give thanks for murderous tyrants or child molesters? Of course not. As believers we ought to pray for all types, or all kinds of people in every station of life.
Paul is speaking of all kinds of men, throughout this passage. What I also find striking is that the salvation mentioned here is not a mere possibility, or just an offer of salvation, or even an arrangement set up by God where men can save themselves. Paul is speaking of a real, definite and actual salvation provided through Jesus.
So let us revisit the text with the proper context. What does God desire?
This is good, and xit is pleasing in the sight of yGod our Savior, 4 who desires zall people to be saved and ato come to bthe knowledge of the truth. 5 For cthere is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man1 Christ Jesus, 6 dwho gave himself as a ransom for all, which is ethe testimony given fat the proper time.
#5- Romans 10:13, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
Those who deny limited atonement or even election will often turn to this verse to proclaim, “See! Jesus died for everyone! Every person who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The problem with this, is that it is only half true. It is absolutely true that everyone who calls on the name of Lord will be saved. The Calvinist and advocate of limited atonement would say amen to this. However, this verse does not teach that the atonement is for every person who’s ever lived, or both believer and unbeliever. If anything this verse teaches the opposite. As we have seen already in this series of posts, that only those who are saved, are the ones for whom Christ died. So according to Romans 10:13, Jesus has died for “everyone who calls upon His name,” and in turn has not died for those who have not called upon His name. Those for whom Jesus has shed His blood are only those who call upon Him for salvation. It is those that place their faith in Jesus and His work of redemption that He actually accomplished for the redeemed.