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Reasons to Believe in a Limited Atonement

It All Comes Back to Limited Atonement

There is a running joke between me and a friend of mine. When in the midst of deep theological conversations, we will say jokingly as a way of comic relief, “It all comes back to limited atonement!” It’s a way of poking fun at Calvinists who place too much importance on this doctrine as if it were at the heart of the gospel itself.

NEWS FLASH: Calvinism is not the gospel. The basic message of the gospel is not dependant on Calvinism. However, for some reason, the doctrines of Calvinism are always a hot topic no matter where you go (except where people have not been exposed to the different positions). Calvinists get passionate about it because their view is so often misunderstood. Arminians get passionate about it because they see Calvinism as a system which undermines the free love of God for everyone, and nowhere is this undermining clearer to them than in the “L” in TULIP–Limited Atonement.

Did Christ die for everyone or just the elect?

Of all the points of Calvinism, limited atonement is the hardest to demonstrate biblically. For this reason, four-point Calvinists are a common phenomenon. I was a NOEL (no “L”) Calvinist for about 3 or 6 months (back in like 02) while wrestling with the biblical issues involved. I was convinced that Limited Atonement was more of a philosophical or logical extension of the other four points of Calvinism than it was a biblical teaching. Therefore, I rejected it. I have since changed my mind.

Actual Atonement

I now hold to a view which I prefer to call Actual Atonement, although it is virtually the same as what has misleadingly come to be called the limited view of the atonement,[1] also known as effectual redemption and particular redemption. There are at least five good reasons to hold to an actual view of the atonement. First, it is more consistent with the biblical teaching on the nature of the atonement. Second, the logic (not merely the words) of certain biblical passages seems to make the effectual view of the atonement necessary. Third, many passages affirm a limited group of people as the intended benefactors of the atonement. Forth, most biblical objections to the limited view of the atonement are easily answered by a closer examination of the range of meanings for words like “all” and “world” along with a closer look at the context in which these words are found. Once one sees the alternative interpretation for these verses to be consistent with the meaning of words and the context of the passages, such texts fit quite comfortably with a doctrine of Actual Atonement. Finally, philosophical objections to limited atonement, such as the objection that it ruins the sincerity of a universal offer of salvation, are based on clumsy logic and are easily answered.

First, What Does “Atonement” Even Mean?

First, the Actual Atonement position is more consistent with the biblical teaching on the nature of the atonement than the general view of the atonement. 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”[2] (i.e. the elect). The so-called limited view of the atonement holds that “Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only [all those who believe] and actually secured salvation for them.”[3] 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?[4] 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,[5] Rom 3:21-26), it is difficult to understand how the accomplishment of a theoretical possibility would be included in such a propitiatory sacrifice. 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.[6] 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.”[8] 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.

Second, Certain Texts Force a Limited View on the Atonement

Second, 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. 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 first 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.

Third, Many Texts Seem To Affirm A Limited Atonement Outright

Third, many texts simply affirm that Christ died for a limited group of people.[9] The doctrine of unconditional election provides secondary affirmation so long as one understands that God 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.
Fourth, What About John 3:16 and Other Passages?

Fourth, 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.”[10] 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.[11]

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).

Finally, 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 pre-conceived 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 SBTS, 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.


[1] Limiting the atonement sounds negative. Most Calvinists do not limit the worth of the atonement as the language often suggests to some. Furthermore, everyone who is not a universalist limits the atonement in some way (whether its absolute efficacy or its extent), thus the designation does not strike at the heart of the differences in views of the atonement.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume Three, Sin and Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 379.

[3] David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963), 17.

[4] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 352.

[5] 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.

[6] 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).

[7] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 350.

[8] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), 63-64. [emphasis mine]

[9] 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.

[10] John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1999), 190.

[11] I owe this insight to John Piper. John Piper, Tulip: The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Desiring God Ministries), 31.



  1. Terry Delaney says:

    I am not trying to start an argument here. But, I think Spurgeon would disagree with your statement that “Calvinism is not the gospel.”

    Spurgeon said, “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”

    You can find the rest of his address here: http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm

    God bless brother.

  2. Bradley says:

    That’s OK. Spurgeon was a great preacher, but he was greatly mistaken at on this point.

    If Calvinism is the gospel, then only Calvinists are Christians, and there would be no such thing as an Arminian Christian. Some of the greatest Christians who ever lived have been non-Calvinists.

  3. Terry Delaney says:

    I kinda agree with you. I would say that even “arminians” preach a gospel that is calvinism–they just offer their hearers to make a choice! LOL

    Anyway, I think you are misunderstanding what Spurgeon is saying. He most certainly would not say that Arminians are not Christian.

    For me personally, the ULIP follow if the T is true. What I struggled with was why do missions. When I heard Paul Washer and Roy Hargrave speak on Romans 10:14-17, it all made sense. The “L” was the easiest part for me because not everyone goes to heaven; therefore, the atonement had to be limited.

    Anyway, I have gone on far too long. BTW, I do like that you are holding up five fingers in your pic!

    God bless.

  4. Terry Delaney says:

    One more thing: What does the Calvinist say when he falls down a flight of stairs?

    Answer: Glad that is over with!

    I don’t know why I thought to share that with you, but I did. Feel free to delete it!

  5. Bradley says:

    LOL! I do happen to be holding up five fingers!!! Interesting, but I’m actually a seven point Calvinist, so I would need my other hand to show all my points!!

    If Spurgeon would say that Arminians can still be Christian, then I mean something different by the word “Gospel” than he does. I mean something like: “The basic message without which no one can be saved: the incarnation, death, burial and ressurrection of Jesus Christ.”

    Calvinists all too often allow their Calvinism to get confused with that message so the point where they are just as affectionate about their Calvinism as they are about the gospel. This is a great tragedy.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Stephen Newell says:

    Bradley, you’ve all but convinced me. The “all” passages continue to be the only thing holding me back, but not for the reasons most Arminians and “Christmas Calvinists (like me)” would argue.

    When I look at many of the “all” passages, the context of the letter seems to limit the “all” or “us all” to the ones reading/hearing the letter, which obviously would refer to believers. There is no warrant to imply a universal principle here, so while we can’t infer a “universal” atonement, nor can we infer a “limited” atonement, since the author is not addressing a universal principle.

    I also end up disagreeing with your interpretation of Romans 5:18. The context does not lead to treating the first “all” universally and the second in a limited manner; indeed the entire context stretching back to verse 12 is speaking universally.

    In fact, if you branch out the context a little wider, it turns out 5:12-21 is a universal principle sandwiched in between particular passages. 5:1-11 talks about believers particularly, 12-21 seems to be explaining the “why” of 1-11, and then all of chapter 6 seems to expound on that principle as it applies (once again) to the believers Two slices of bread with some substantial meat in between, and a pint of the Spirit with an Election chaser afterwards!

    Really, the only problem with this post at all is many of the passages/arguments you use are actually, in their context, directed towards believers in particular and are not addressing a universal principle.

    I find it hard to believe, after two years of seriously investigating Calvinism, that I am the only one who seems to have noticed this flaw in interpretation. Surely someone has noticed it and said something? Or maybe I’ve missed something in my own look at these passages?

  7. Stephen Newell says:

    Or maybe what I’ve missed is that hot girls (see top of post) are the best reason to believe in limited atonement? 😉


  8. Bradley says:


    If the only thing holding you back is the “all” passages, consider the following.

    Romans 5:17-21 – “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law comes in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    I think the reason no one has ever “noticed” your insight before is because most people believe that Paul does not intend on teaching that “justification of life” has resulted universally (i.e. they wish to avoid universalism). “Justification of life” in this context means being “made righteous,” through grace that reigns through righteousness “to eternal life” through Christ.

    If you assume that labeling Romans 5:12-21 as “universal” (referring to all of humanity) entails interpreting each reference to “all men” as also universal in scope (hence your disagreement with my interpreting it in a limited way), then, as I say in the post, you give warrant to understanding Paul to be teaching that just as Adam corrupted all mankind, so Christ has “made righteous” all mankind.

    The spread of righteousness, according to your interpretation (if I understand you correctly) would come to “all people” just as automatically as sin nature and corruption spreads to “all people” (Rom 5:18). There would be no need for missions or evangelism any more than we would need to make sure everyone is corrupted. It comes automatic.

    How do you avoid this dilemma in your “universalist” understanding of the word “all”?

  9. Stephen Newell says:

    Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by “universal.” I did not mean to use “universal” in the context of “universal salvation,” but rather as a category of principles, as used in philosophy or logic.

    That’s why I said that it seems Paul — from chs. 5-6 — goes from a particular situation to a universal principle which explains the particular and then back to another particular which is built on the universal just mentioned.

    So, no one disagrees (except for most of the Arminians and NOELs I mentioned before) that redemption has particular categories; anyone honest enough realizes that only those who believe are atoned for. But the principle outlined by Paul here applies to “all” men (unavoidable in the context of v. 12-21), otherwise Christ is not “the only name under heaven by which we may be saved.” If Christ dies only for the elect, this is not true.

    Yes, I’m saying that I think Scripture here implies that if it were possible, the reprobate could be saved, since John 3:16 clearly says Christ was sent for love of the world. It makes no sense to substitute the harder readings of “all” and “world” in this and similar contexts.

    But John 3:16 is equally as clear that the effect of God’s showing his love to the world in Christ is that only those who believe are saved.

    A universal principle that has a particular result. Interesting.

    E-mail me though, dude; I wouldn’t mind tossing a few things around with you regarding this subject. A blog can’t really do it justice! 😉

  10. Bradley says:

    I don’t think you have really answered my question by clarifying that you believe Paul to be going from a particular to a universal principle.

    I was taking for granted that you don’t believe in “universal salvation.” This is actually what makes my question to you more interesting. The question was, and is, this: If you understand the context in terms of a “universal principle,” how do you understand the word “all” in it’s two usages in Romans 5:18?
    Note: The passages doesn’t speak about philosophical hypotheticals, but about “results.” Adam’s sin “resulted” in condemnation “to all men.” The parallel, then, about Christ’s one act of righteousness “resulting” in “justification of life to all men” is either to be taken to refer to all people in general (in which case the “all” is taken the same way in both uses), or it is to be taken some other way (in which case the interpreter switches his understanding of the word “all” mid-sentence based on context). The latter is my approach. How do you understand each use of the word “all” in this verse?

    Note: I have always taken for granted that Paul’s reference to sin and death creates a “universal” context for comparison with Christ. Proving there is a universal context doesn’t automatically rule out or make it exegetically insensitive to interpret the second use of the word “all” in Romans 5:18 more narrow than the first usage.

    I disagree with you that this interpretation forces me to believe that there are others ways to be saved than the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). I’m not sure about how your logic leads you to this idea. The following propositions are in no way contradictory: 1) Christ died to save only those who repent and believe. 2) The only way for anyone to be saved is through the name of Christ.

    This is a little unusual to hear, but I also believe that God is reconciling the world through reconciling the elect from every nation of the world as a remnant to renew the earth on the last day. Therefore, it’s not contradictory to say that God loves the world enough to send his Son so that those who will believe (and only those) will not perish, but have everlasting life on the new earth as the new humanity in the eternal kingdom to come. And this is exactly what John 3:16 says. The purpose clause “so that” is limited only to those who believe, no matter how broad we take the word “world” (kosmos).

    We can transition into e-mail now if you like, I just wanted to respond on here for the sake of any might-be eaves droppers.

  11. Bradley says:

    By the way, your e-mail is not accessable on your profile, so I couldn’t send this to your e-mail.

  12. Stephen Newell says:

    Thanks for that info — I’ll fix the profile. Email should have been there! You can find me here: SNewell77[at]gmail.com

    In Romans 5:18, Paul is making clear that Adam and Christ are two sides of a coin — one does this, and in the same way the other does that. The context actually does not lend itself to a differring interpretation. It’s very strange to read it as you assert in its context. You’re advocating a harder reading where there is none warranted.

    What I see the statement doing is not teaching a limited perspective, as you have asserted, but rather further building on the “without excuse” theme, the only redemption from which is Christ. All are without excuse (chs. 1-3:20), and the only way for all to be justified is through Christ (3:21-5:5, especially 3:22b-25); see, for us who believed it was like this (5:6-11) and it is that way because of what Christ did for all just as Adam damned all (5:12-21). So now we should focus our lives thusly (ch. 6 and onward).

    It is understood that though Christ is the only way for “all universal” (as attested in ch.3), the only way for “all universal” to receive what Christ has done is through faith (also attested in ch.3).

    However, this understanding does not necessitate that ch. 5 is teaching limited atonement, since the context of Romans to this point does not lend itself to that view. Instead, the context seems to be clear that access to the benefits Christ secured is what is limited; that is, given only to those who believe.

    It always amazes me how Calvinists look at this passage (and others like it) and do hermeneutical backflips over it. I used to joke that Nadia Comaneci would be jealous, but it only made someone mad one day in the cafe. 😉

  13. Bradley says:


    Thanks for engaging me with your thoughts about why you think my exegesis is evasive.

    In my exegesis, I have hit the key question (about the meaning of the word “all”) dead on by saying, in effect, “I believe the word ‘all’ in this context means X, and here is why.”

    In your explanation, on the other hand, you have told me how you read the basic flow of Romans. “All are without excuse (chs. 1-3:20)…” etc. But you still have managed to go on at length about your construction of the thought flow without actually answering my question:

    What does the word “all” mean in each use in Romans 5:18?

    The closest you come to answering my question is when you say “one does this, and in the same way, the other does that.” But you still don’t tell us what “this” and “that” are.

    Thusly, you seem to have completely evaded the key issue at hand a second time. Because of this, I think it’s kind of ironic that you would accuse me (as a Calvinist) of doing “hermeneutical backflips over” the passage. While I have hit the issue (the meaning of “all” in Romans 5:18) dead on, you seem to have talked “over” the key question. You have told us why you think the context is universal, but not what bearing that has on the precise meaning of the word “all” in Romans 5:18.

    You also say, “However, this understanding does not necessitate that ch. 5 is teaching limited atonement…” But My point was never to say that the passage teaches limited atonement (see post). The chief claim I’m making is that one niether is forced nor is wise to interpret the word “all” to mean “everyone” in both the first and second usages in Romans 5:18. The reason I make this point is to subordinate my claim that the word “all” (pas) doesn’t always mean “everyone without exception” the way people tend to read it. Thus, my reason for referencing the passage was to show how the semantic range of the word “all” (pas) isn’t restricted to “everybody without exception,” but must be determined by context. That’s different than going to Romans 5:18 to “prove” limited atonement. My goal in citing the text was more modest–to show that Romans 5:18 doesn’t necessarily teach unlimited atonement when it says:

    “…so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”

    I hope you will try once more to explain to me exactly what use of the Greek word pas (“all”) is being used in the text above (Romans 5:18)? It’s used twice in that verse, so my question, more like a challenge I guess, is concerning how you would understand the word each time its used in Romans 5:18.

    I hope you will yet again consider giving a shot at indulging me on this question. 🙂

  14. Stephen Newell says:

    Bradley, thanks for the email!

    I don’t think I have evaded the issue at all. I thought that I had made clear that I hold a “universal” reading for both instances of the word “all” in this verse, especially as I stated in my first comment that treating the first “all” universally and the second as limited did not fit the context, and in my last comment where I stated that you were advocating a “harder” reading than what was warranted by the text. As I look back, I can see how you would think I’ve been evasive and for that I apologize. That was not my intent.

    Ironically, there is still a “hermeneutical backflip” being done as you say “The chief claim I’m making is that one neither is forced nor is wise to interpret the word “all” to mean “everyone” in both the first and second usages in Romans 5:18. The reason I make this point is to subordinate my claim that the word “all” (pas) doesn’t always mean “everyone without exception” the way people tend to read it.”

    How so? For starters, doesn’t the first usage of the word directly determine the context of the second? Especially since, as I stated before, Adam and Christ are pictured almost as two sides of the same coin? Or to go a bit further, as performing the same type of work, a work that has a universal affect? What you are saying is no, this is not so; instead you advocate a reading that is not natural to the straightforward presentation of the text. You are forcing the text to contort itself to fit a harder reading.

    What the text seems to say in a straightforward manner is that just as Adam’s sin resulted in condemnation universally, Christ’s work results in justification universally. This is true whether we hold a “limited” or “unlimited” view of the atonement — if all “without distinction” were to believe, all “without distinction” would be saved. We can’t honestly say otherwise and still allow the text to speak for itself.

    However, this is a much different thing to say than to say Adam does one thing universally and Christ only reverses that on a limited basis. This actually goes against the straightforward reading. If, instead we were to say what I say in the above paragraph, and then to say as Scripture says that justification is conditioned on faith in Christ which is given by God alone, why is that not more true to what Scripture actually says about the issue?

    “Universally,” Christ does indeed result in justification for all men. He can do no other than this if he is indeed the only name under heaven by which men may be saved. But Scripture further qualifies that with the condition of faith, meaning (as it seems we agree) only those who believe are actually atoned for.

  15. Bradley says:


    Ahhh!!!! Now I see where your coming from. Thanks for being more clear this time!

    You say:

    “I hold a ‘universal’ reading for both instances of the word ‘all’ in this verse. … Christ does indeed result in justification for all men…However, this is a much different thing to say than to say Adam does one thing universally and Christ only reverses that on a limited basis … This actually goes against the straightforward reading. … Christ’s work results in justification universally…”

    I find it difficult to believe that Christ reverses things on the same level as Adam. First, Christ teaches that only “few” will find the narrow path, and second, history objectively rules this out (at least so far, and I’m not a postmillennialist).

    I already know how you might respond to my above response. After all, you qualify your statement by saying:

    “But Scripture further qualifies that with the condition of faith, meaning (as it seems we agree) only those who believe are actually atoned for.”

    It’s hard for me to understand this as just a “qualification.” Seems to me more like a “contradiction” that would render your interpretation virtually the same as mine. If “universal” doesn’t mean “everyone without exception,” but means “everyone without exception, with the exception of those who do not believe,” this seems to render your interpretation contradictory.

    I appreciate your desire to treat the text on its own terms and within the context, but it seems that even you are reaching outside the immediate context to qualify the meaning of Romans 5:18. The only difference seems to me that my understanding is more coherent.

    You also say:

    “For starters, doesn’t the first usage of the word directly determine the context of the second?”

    I understand your concern, but this seems like on oversimplification of hermeneutics and the dynamics of “context.” Paul says uses the word “Israel” three times in one passage, yet means something very different between his first and second usage:

    “…who are Israelites … But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” – Rom 9:6
    I like your stubborness to stay true to the text and its context, but it just seems that ultimately, even by your own interpretation, “all” doesn’t mean “everyone without exception.”

  16. Anonymous says:

    All means all and that’s all all means.

    I’m not a Calvinist; I’m a Baptist!

  17. Bradley says:

    Thanks Dr. Fink.

  18. msvoboda says:


    I have wrote my post on justification and why i believe it is an effect of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself…Sorry it took so long!

  19. Ricky says:

    Why doesn’t Dr. Caner just come out of the closet and quit trying to be anonymous?

    By the way how do we know if reality is even out there? I think more attention needs to be given to my brain in the vat argument! But I’m sure limited atonement is the answer.


  20. Terry Delaney says:

    Thank you Rene Descartes for jumping in on this conversation!

    ***Hey Ricky!***

  21. Bradley says:

    Well … Ricky, that’s why I argue for an “actual atonement.” I intend to distinguish my position from those of the vatological framework. 😉

  22. Ryan S. says:

    I don’t believe all Arminians are Christians, only elect Arminians, and it’s not because of their Arminianism, but because of the grace of God. =)

  23. Bradley says:

    Ryan—you didn’t know that agreement with the Arminian position is virtually synonymous with regeneration. Let your eyes be opened!!!

    I think there are more elect among the Arminian’s than the Calvinist!!! loL!! 😉

  24. Ryan S. says:

    Every Christian ‘limits’ or ‘qualifies’ the extent of the atonement for the only alternative would be universalism or unitarianism. A ‘good talking point’ when over coming objections.

    ‘Limited atonement’ like many other abstract cliches in the T-U-L-I-P is a misnomer, and might be bettered expressed as ‘Definite Atonement’ or ‘Particular Redemption.’ Though, calling it ‘Limited Atonement’ with qualification always sufficed for me.

  25. Dr. James Willingham says:

    One wants to laugh. Don’t you all know that Whitefield and Wesley fell out over predestination and then got back together due to Whitefield going out of his way. See Wesley’s letter in response in his journal. Then hear how Whitefield wanted Wesley to preach his funeral tho’ he didn’t expect to see Wesley in Heaven due to the fact that Wesley would be so close to the throne and he (Whitefield) so far from it that he wouldn’t be able to see him. And then Wesley preached Whitefield’s funeral and did not expect to Whitefield in heaven because Whitefield would be so close to the throne and he (Wesley) would be so far that he wouldn’t be able to see him. As to Caner or whoever, they need to see Jesus using election and limited atonement and total depravity and reprobation and predestination as invitations. See Lk 4:18ff and Mt. 15:21-28. Have fun and lighten up. After all, God is much better than we imagine, and didn’t any one ever hear of paradoxical interventions? How about choosing these teachings as being more inviting, more compelling, more irresistibly wonderful, more likely to win more souls saved than any other view? If done right, surely! One of the great soul winners was a supralapsarian, a hyper-calvinist, and Dr. R. G. Lee thought so much of him that he put it in his will for that man to preach his funeral. Now Dr. Lee had about 5 preachers for his funeral, but that one use to laugh and say,”But the only one who was legal was me.” Well! Have fun or, as the Bible puts it, rejoice!

  26. […] 3:16 Teaches Limited Atonement? ::: Calvinism Gone Wild 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 […]

  27. […] the Universal Offer Insincere? ::: Hardly All philosophical objections [that I’ve heard] to Actual Atonement (better known as Limited Atonement) are mistakes in logic. Perhaps the most common is the […]

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