We are taking a look at 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. Today I want to take a look at five so-called “Problem Passages” for Calvinism.
There are passages that are thrown out or “thrown at” Calvinists by some as a sort of trump card or gotcha verse. They’re often plucked out of their context to prove a point rather than allowing the context to interpret the individual verse. Here’s a few of these passages. I’ll start with some of the verses that are a bit easier to deal with and work our way to the ones that are the so-called “trump cards” of those who deny the doctrines of grace.
#1- Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
This verse isn’t referring to who Christ died for, but the reason that Jesus came. And He came to seek and to save the lost. A Calvinist would also realize the the lost whom He came for was His sheep. That Christ came to seek and to save His sheep who need to be brought into His fold.
#2- John 4:42, “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”
You’ll find that my answer for this verse may be repeated, because as I said in the previous post, a common problem among those who deny Calvinism, is they fail to understand the overarching redemptive narrative of how God in the Old Testament chose Israel as His covenant people and the gentiles were excluded. But in the New Testament we find through Christ’s work of atonement He’s gathering His sheep not from just the household of Israel (John 10:16). So when New Testament writers use the term world, or κοσμος in the Greek, they are referring to the biblical truth that salvation is not for the Jews only but for the whole world. And the whole world, doesn’t mean every individual, but that Christ will create a people, that he will have representatives from every tribe, language, people and nation in the world included in His sheepfold.
This is exactly what we find in the context of John 4. This is the first time Jesus goes outside of the Jews to proclaim His kingdom. He goes to a Samaritan (or half-breed, Jew and Gentile) woman. This is signaling to those outside of the Old Covenant, that Christ is indeed going to be a Savior to all people groups. John clarifies this line of thinking a few chapters later in John 11:51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied 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.”
#3- 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.”
Note that 1 John is written by the same John who wrote the gospel account we just examined. So the usage will be the same. So the answer remains the same. Jesus didn’t just absorb the wrath of God for the sins of God’s chosen nation Israel, but for all nations.
I’ll make a quick side note. As we saw in Part 3, the atonement’s purpose was to secure redemption for those whom Christ died (Hebrews 9:12). So if you hold to any other view than that of Limited Atonement you must subsequently believe that redemption has been secured for every individual who’s ever lived. This would contradict much of the scriptures as we see there is an eternal punishment for those who reject Christ. Limited atonement allows for a true biblical continuity, while unlimited atonement necessitates a heretical view of universalism.
#4- 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
The use of “all” in this passage is fairly straightforward. It’s referring to two different groups of people. Those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. To understand who is in what group you only have to look to this text. All who are in Adam are those who die and all those who are in Christ are those who are “made alive.” We know from the scriptures that every human being in all of human history was born in Adam completely dead in their sin (Rom. 5:12-19; Eph. 2:1-3). But, we also know from the rest of the scriptures that not everyone will have eternal life the “all” in Christ does not and cannot refer to every human being in all of human history without exception. The word all in the second half of the verse must be restricted to believers.
#5- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
This is much the same as John 4:42 & 1 John 2:2. However there’s a few differences. The first difference is that it uses the term “all” instead of the term “world.” The question that has to be asked is who is the “all” referring to in the passage? Advocates of unlimited atonement would say it obviously means everyone who’s ever lived. The problem with jumping to a surface level conclusion is that it denies the analogy of the scriptures. If you’re unfamiliar with that term it means that scripture can’t contradict scripture. And as we’ve seen unlimited atonement creates a discontinuity within scripture that leads to universalistic heresy.
It also ignores the context. Paul is referring to Christians in the immediate context. He’s trying to encourage them to greater obedience all because the “love of Christ controls [them].” If Paul’s purpose is to encourage Christians to greater obedience why would bring up the extent of the atonement? It just doesn’t fit his argument. He’s telling Christians that it’s their union with Christ and all His death has accomplished on their behalf that they no longer for themselves but for Christ, “who for their sake died and was raised.” If anything this verse proves limited atonement! R.B. Kuiper writes of these verses, “Can it be said of all men, including those who reject the gospel or have never heard it, that they died when Christ died on the cross; can it be said of them that they no longer live unto themselves but unto Christ who died for them?” Of course not! And if everything credited through union with Christ in His death and resurrection can’t be credited to all men, then in no way possible can Paul be referring to all men, but only to the elect.
That ends our first five “problem passages” that many struggle with when it comes to Limited Atonement. Our next post will look at five more “problem passages.”