Limited Atonement


Without a doubt, one of the Reformed doctrines which evangelical and fundamentalist Christians find most scandalous is the doctrine of definite, personal or limited atonement.1 This rejection happens, in part, because the Reformed teaching is not always well understood. Sometimes the misunderstandings have been our fault for not explaining and presenting this teaching well.2

Reasons for Rejecting Definite Atonement

The doctrine of definite atonement is also rejected, however, by those who understand exactly what we are teaching. In this class of rejections, there are two kinds, first those who believe that it is unbiblical and narrow to think that Christ should only have died only for a certain number of sinners.

This view assumes that it would be unjust of God to redeem intentionally only a certain number of people. In other words, for God to be just, it must be that everyone who ever lived has an equal opportunity to be saved. As it has come to expression in our time, this assumption is largely driven by the Modernist, non-biblical belief in (some version of) the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.3

Others consider the doctrine of definite atonement narrow because they assume that we believe that only a few will be saved. This is it not so. The doctrine of definite atonement holds that Christ has saved a great multitude. This is the teaching of several places in Scripture (Heb 12:22–23; Jude 1:14; Rev 7:9–10). It is not that we expect only a few to be redeemed, but rather we simply reject the teaching that Jesus has either redeemed everyone who ever lived or that he has only made it possible for everyone to be saved. In fact, the doctrine of definite atonement is not narrow at all since we hold that Scripture teaches that every single person whom Jesus intended to redeem he has redeemed.

Second, others reject the doctrine of definite atonement because they reject its foundation, that Christ died for sinners, i.e., they reject the doctrine of a substitutionary atonement. In its place, these critics offer some version of the exemplarist doctrine of the atonement, e.g., the moral government theory of the atonement, whereby Christ is said to have died as an example, to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin.


We respond by rejecting the premises of these criticisms. Though it may be “narrow” by Modernist standards to hold that Christ died for a certain number of sinners, this criticism proves too much. If God did not intend to redeem any in particular, then it means that the atonement was indefinite. If it was indefinite, then Christ died for no one particularly. Is such a view consonant with Scripture? It would seem not, as will be demonstrated below.

It is very difficult to come to this question without certain assumptions. Many of us simply assume that God must love everyone in exactly the same way and that to suggest otherwise is bigoted. This assumption fuels another which is that God sent his Son out of this same universal love and to these two assumptions a third is added, that humans, in order to be morally responsible must have the ability to freely choose or reject the offer of salvation. From these premises many have read the Scriptures to teach precisely these doctrines. They cannot imagine that things could be otherwise.

Well, all of the assumptions listed in the previous paragraph are, in fact, unbiblical. This is not to say that there is not, in Scripture, a certain universal grace; certainly there is, but that grace is not saving grace. It has been described most frequently as “common grace.” Both Arminian and Reformed theologians have used this term. Arminians mean by it that God has willed (antecedently) to make salvation actually possible for all, if sinners will make use of this innate grace or power. Reformed theologians reject this definition of common grace and distinguish between special (saving) grace and common grace. 4 When Reformed theologians say “common grace” they mean that God reveals himself in Scripture to:

  1. Have a favorable attitude toward all mankind, and not toward the elect only;
  2. Have promised (to Noah) to restrain evil until the final judgment;
  3. Bless humanity with gifts (civic righteousness) which benefit all humans without distinction.

We make this distinction because we understand Scripture to teach that the “moving cause” (to use Louis Berkhof’s language) of the atonement was not first of all love, but his good pleasure. Jesus taught this in Matt 11:26. After denouncing the unbelief of the cities where he had performed miracles, he began to pray and in that prayer he declared that his message was hidden from the “wise” and revealed to “children” because this was his Father’s “good pleasure” (eudokia) or his sovereign will. Paul taught the same thing, using the same term in Eph 1:5, 9. There is no doubt that God acted in love, by sending his Son (John 3:16), but we understand Scripture to teach that his love is the instrument of his will.

We also reject the Modernist premise of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Though God is certainly benevolent to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:48) restraining evil and his final judgment (Gen 9:8–11; Matt 13:29–30) this benevolence is not the same as universal fatherhood and brotherhood. In fact, Scripture is clear that since the Fall the human race has divided into two great families, those who are the children of faithful Abel and those who are the children of Cain (Heb 11:4; Romans 9) and at the end of history there will two great races, those resurrected to life and those resurrected to “everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1–3).

We also reject the moral government theory of the atonement that Jesus died primarily as an example. To be sure Jesus did set an example (1 Pet 2:21) but Scripture makes clear that the work of Christ was much more than that. He was our substitute, as 1 Peter 3:18 says explicitly, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous”.

If our Lord Jesus died only or even primarily to set an example, a great number of things in Scripture go unexplained. Why did God institute a system of ritual sacrifices for 1500 years before Christ’s incarnation? What do we make of the Biblical doctrine of sin? Surely, we are to think that sin is much more than simply following Adam’s bad example.

In fact, our relations to Adam are much more intimate than that of prototype to type. Scripture teaches that “in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22) and “by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5:17) and ” just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (Rom 5:18). These passages do not suggest that Adam was primarily a bad example. Further, to make Adam primarily an example tends toward the heresy of Pelagianism, i.e., the denial of the catholic (universal) Christian doctrine of original sin. 5

A robust doctrine of sin is essential to understanding the doctrine of the atonement. To the degree one tends to downplay the nature or effects of sin (original or actual) then to that degree one also tends to downplay the need for a substitutionary Savior.

Personal or Impersonal; Finished or Unfinished?

It is of utmost importance that one ask the right question in this matter. The right question is, what does Scripture mean when it, in Romans 5:8, says that “Christ died for us”? What is the connection between his death and us? Was his death on the same order as Socrates death? Do we benefit from it by thinking about what a good man he was? No, Christ objectively accomplished redemption by his death and we benefit from Christ’s death by trusting and appropriating the benefits his death for ourselves. Hence Scripture says that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Thus when Scripture says Christ died “for us” it certainly teaches that he died for persons, individuals, not for abstractions. If he died for persons, then the only other question is whether he died for everyone who ever lived or not. When Paul said “us” did he mean everyone who ever lived? This seems highly unlikely. 6

Thus choice which the Christian faces then is not between a “limited” and “unlimited” atonement, but between a “definite” or “indefinite” or between a “person” or an “impersonal” atonement. It is the Reformed contention that God’s Word teaches that Christ died for persons, his sheep, those whom he loved, from all eternity.7 It is our view that Jesus did not die to make salvation available or merely possible, but that when he said “It is finished” (John 19:30) he was declaring that, as the once for all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27), he had completed the work which his Father gave him to do (John 6:57; 10:17–18).

The History of the Doctrine of the Atonement

The doctrine of definite atonement is not a Calvinist peculiarity. It is a mainstream doctrine which has been held by some of the greatest teachers in the Christian tradition, among them Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine, Gottschalk, Peter the Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Bradwardine, Gregory of Rimini as well as Calvin and the entire Reformed tradition. One should also remember that the nature of the controversy over the extent of the atonement has changed somewhat since the rise of Arminianism, the Remonstrants and the response by the Synod of Dort (1618–19). In the discussions before Dort, one often finds the elements of the doctrine of definite atonement, but because the question is not as sharply focused as it became in the early 17th century, the answers are not as detailed as they later were. This is the nature of the development of Christian doctrine, controversy often produces theological precision.

Augustine of Hippo, the greatest of all the church fathers, taught most of the elements of definite atonement and was the “first great defender of the efficacy and particularism of God’s grace.”8 In his controversy with Pelagius and later the semi-Pelagians Augustine, of course, rejected the doctrine of free will (liberum arbitrium) in favor of absolute predestination and with his doctrine of predestination he also taught that Jesus had not died for everyone who ever lived. 9

Augustine had a cadre of supporters, among them was a French theologian, who was living in Marseilles at the time of the outbreak of the semi-Pelagian controversy in 426. From 431–34 he wrote a number of books against the semi-Pelagians. Prosper was explicit that, in one sense, with respect to his incarnation and the fall of all humans, Christ can be said to have died for the entire world. Yet, it can also be said that Christ “was crucified only for those who were to profit by his death.”10

Some think that he softened somewhat in the years following 432, that he could not reconcile those passages in Scripture in which God reveals himself as desiring the salvation of all, with his earlier notions of double predestination.11 He did teach (450) that sinners have the power to reject divine grace, and they are the same who are passed over. Those who believe, however, are those who are elect. 12 Only those who are elect come to faith.13

It appears that they misunderstand his inchoate argument about what would later come to be called “The Free Offer of the Gospel.”14 God reveals himself as willing what we know he has not decreed, the salvation of all.15 Some he passes by and some he elects to faith. Proof that he was teaching a seminal version the free offer is that in several of the same passages where he affirms the universal divine will to save, he immediately moves to a discussion of preaching.16 Likewise, when he says that Christ died for all men, he made it clear that the all equals “sinners” so that he was not necessarily teaching universal atonement.17

In the midst of controversy over the nature of God’s sovereignty, Godescalc of Orbais defended Augustine vigorously and suffered for it. He taught that there are two “worlds,” that which Christ has purchased with his blood and that which he has not. Thus when Scripture says that Christ died for the “world” (e.g., John 3:16) it is extensive of all those Christ has actually redeemed, but it does not include everyone who has ever lived. 18 In the same way, those passages which seem to say that Christ died for all, in all times and places must but understood to refer to all the elect. Thus he saw 1 John 2:2 not as a problem passage, but a proof-text for definite atonement.19

The Lombard’s teaching on the atonement is most famous for his use of the distinction between the sufficiency of Christ’s death and its efficiency. Though they are not familiar to many of us today, from their publication in the late 12th century until the late 16th century, Peter’s Sentences were the most important theological text in the Latin-speaking world. Theological students even earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the Sentences.

In Book 3, distinction 20 he taught that Christ’s death was “sufficient” to redeem all (quantum ad pretii) but it is “efficient” only “for the elect” (pro electis).20 This distinction, though not followed by all Western theologians after Lombard, was adopted by most until the nominalist movement (e.g., William of Ockham, d. 1347) overturned the “Old School” (via antiqua).21

In his great work, Summa Theologiae, Thomas distinguished between God’s will considered as his antecedent will, by which he could be said to have willed the salvation of all; and his will considered as consequent, i.e., what he actually decreed to exist, i.e., that only the elect would be saved and that some will be reprobated (damned).22 Later, Protestant theologians would revise this distinction to refer to his revealed and hidden will. With respect to his revealed will, God is said to desire certain things (i.e., that none should perish). It is his revealed will that we should know the existence of a hidden decree (who will be saved and who will perish) but the content of that decree is part of his hidden will.

Thomas also made it very clear that he adopted Lombard’s sufficient/efficient distinction but also taught unambiguously that Christ died effectively only for the elect.23

It is not our claim that everyone everywhere has held this doctrine, but the doctrine of definite atonement has been widely held and taught by some of the most important Christian theologians in the history of the church. We do not think that this is conclusive, but this fact does help to put the discussion of the doctrine in context.

The Nature And Necessity of the Atonement

One of the reasons some have difficulty with the doctrine of a definite, personal atonement is because they fail to evaluate properly the gravity of the human condition after the fall.

I have written elsewhere in more detail about the Biblical doctrine of sin and its consequences,24 it must suffice here to say that Scripture teaches (Romans 5:12-21) that, as the old Puritans had it, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” The consequences of sin were death.

Since in Adam we have all sinned we must make satisfaction to that justice either by ourselves or by another. We, however, cannot make satisfaction by ourselves since we sin daily and thus daily increase our guilt.25

Consistently in Scripture sin results in death. It has been an all too frequent mistake in the history of Christian theology to confess original sin but to deny the extent of its damage or its consequences. The Bible nowhere allows us to think that sin produces anything but death. This was God’s warning to Adam, “The day you eat thereof, you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). For this reason Paul says that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) and that, outside of Christ, we are “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph 2:1).

Romans 5.12–21 also makes it clear that Adam’s sin is also our sin, that is it has been imputed (credited) to everyone who has ever lived.26 We are biologically connected to Adam, but Scripture is much more concerned about our legal union with him and its consequences, chiefly, death. This legal union (imputation) will become even more important when we consider how it is that sinners come to benefit from Christ’s work.

It is important that we see the foundation for that Biblical teaching in a prior teaching. In our age it is perhaps more difficult than in others to appreciate the notion of justice.

On one hand, we have become amazingly casual about right and wrong. We cannot read this sort of thinking back into Scripture. The great evangelical scholar Leon Morris remarks that for the men of the Old Testament,

…God is angry with the wicked every day’ (Ps 7:11). They had no doubt that sin inevitably arouses the strongest reaction from God. God is not to be accused of moral flabbiness. 27

On the other hand, it is not as if we are bereft of any notion of justice, rather seems that everyone has his own concept of justice and we are often told that each idea of justice is equally valid.

This is not the Biblical view. According to Scripture, God is just and justice (Dan 9:16; Ezr 9:15; Ps 7:11; Isa 5:16; 2 Tim 4:8; Rom 1:17; Rom 3:21; 4 [all]). His law is no mere convention or raw exercise of power. It is rather an expression of his justice and therefore it is the righteous standard by which we are judged.28

Ezra 9:15 captures the correct human posture before God’s justice:

O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.

Scripture consistently makes God the moral standard against which all moral acts and claims are measured. The law is an expression of God’s nature and so sin is an offense against God personally. God does not clear the guilty.

We were made, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) Q. 6, “in righteousness and true holiness.” In Adam’s sin we all died. Hence Paul says that, outside of Christ, we were all “dead in sins and transgressions” (Ephesians 2:1). According to Deut 27:26, “”Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Likewise, Gal 3:10 repeats this same teaching,

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

We are “cursed” of course, because we are Adam’s children and as such we are unable to do what is required of us. For this reason, the Apostle Paul (Rom 3:20) is explicit that it is impossible for anyone to be justified by law-keeping.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

It is in the light of these passages and many others that the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that God’s “justice requires sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God be punished with extreme that is eternal punishment of both body and soul. 29

Because the Modern world (since the early 18th century at least) has largely denied the fall, indeed it has assumed that we are basically, naturally good and that God must accept us, in our day we have some trouble with the notion that God is angry with sin. Yet it is the clear and persistent teaching of Scripture that God is angry with sin and sinners. The wrath of God is everywhere to be found in Scripture. In Nahum 1:2,3 in a warning to Israel, God’s Word announces a general principle which is universally true:

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his  enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the  guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.

According to Scripture it is an attribute of God that he is jealous for his honor that he does not take sin lying down, as it were. His justice is relentless and must be satisfied. Some think of God as if he were a genial grandfather, alternately strict and indulgent. This is not how he reveals himself in this passage and others. Yes, he is “slow to anger” but it is also true that “he will not leave the guilty unpunished.” In the nature of things, God being who and what he is and we being who and what we are (sinners), we are in a dire predicament.

Similarly, in Isaiah 13:13 God’s Word says,

I Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger.

Such passages could be easily multiplied. Nor should it be thought that, “well, that was the Old Testament, but God is different today.” This sort of thinking about God is very dangerous. There are not two gods in Scripture, a mean Old Testament deity and a friendly New Testament deity. Deuteronomy 6:4 teaches a fundamental truth: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The New Testament teaches exactly the same thing in 1 Tim 2:5 and James 2:19.

For example think of Jesus’ words in John 3:36:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

It is most significant that it was our Lord who taught this, since it should dispel the notion that Jesus held or taught a religion than different from Moses.

The Apostle Paul agrees with the Lord Jesus. In Rom 1:18 he said,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

Notice that he says that God’s wrath “is being revealed”. The is a present, ongoing condition of human life. In this regard, the temporal punishments which occur now are mere shadows of things to come:

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (Rev 6:16)

One might not expect this sort of language from the Apostle John, sometimes called “the Apostle of love.

That God is continually angry with sin makes salvation continually relevant because since God is not only angry with sin, but will punish unrepentant sinners eternally in hell.

The writer to the Hebrews makes this abundantly clear when he says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27). Of course the entire Revelation given to John contains the same doctrine. For example, here is an extended quotation from Revelation 20:11–15:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Despite the symbolic language (or perhaps because of it) and regardless of one’s precise eschatology, the finality and force of this passage is evident.

Thus there must be a satisfaction for that sin. Since the earliest recorded moments of human history after the fall, man has known that there must be a substitute, a just representative to take the place of sinners. Righteous Abel (Gen 4:4; Matt 23:35) brought a living offering, a blood offering. Hebrews 12:4 teaches that Abel brought a better sacrifice than Cain. Why was Abel’s better? Is there something inherently better in a blood offering than in a grain offering? One would think not, but Hebrews goes on to say that “God spoke well of his offerings.” Abel’s offering was superior because it was a blood offering, because the blood testified our need of a Savior, of the principle of justice, “eye for eye” (Ex 21:24) hence Hebrews 12:24 teaches that Abel’s bloody sacrifice was a pointed picture, shadow or type of the better, perfect blood offering to come, that of the Lamb of God himself, Jesus.

The entire ceremonial system beginning with circumcision, the Passover (and all the feasts) and including animal sacrifices were nothing more than “types and shadows” pictures of Jesus, the final sacrifice for sinners (Heb 10:1–2; Col 2:16–17). They were never intended to be permanent. Their entire function was to teach us our sin and our need for a perfect substitute.

This was the basic principle in operation since the fall: sin offends the justice of God and the justice of God requires satisfaction, but the sacrifice must be holy and righteous.31 According to Hebrews 2:14–18, this was the reason for the incarnation (taking on of true human flesh) by God the Son, for his obedient life, his sufferings and death.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins  of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Notice that the writer to the Hebrews teaches that Jesus, the God-Man, came to be a “faithful high priest” in order to “make atonement” for the sins of “the people.” This language is rooted deeply in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the language of sacrifice. ItÂ’s and elaboration of the declaration of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). The “Lamb” is also the “priest” and this Lamb-Priest has made “atonement.” According to Hebrews, he has not simply made our salvation possible.

Christ’s Work: Expiation And Propitiation

One of the reasons that there is confusion about the extent of the atonement is that Christians do not always understand well what it is that Christ came to do. What follows is an explanation of the Biblical teaching regarding “atonement.” There are two parts to the doctrine of atonement, the first is expiation, the second is propitiation.

In general English usage, this term is sometimes used interchangeably for “atonement” or even for “propitiation.” Though closely related, “to expiate” really means to cover sins. There senses sometimes overlap as in Hebrews 2:17, where Jesus is said to be a merciful and faithful high priest, “in order that he might propitiate the sins of the people.” Here the same word (hilaskomai) which often means “to turn away God’s wrath” has “sins” as its object. The difference between the two senses is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. Christ’s death was, however, both an expiation and a propitiation.

This is a term which has been largely lost from contemporary English, in part because it has been omitted from many otherwise excellent Bible translations in favor of the broader term “atonement.” We contend that Christ’s death was propitiatory, the object of which was God’s justice and wrath against sin.

Our English word “propitiate” comes from a Latin word Propitio which means “to render someone favorable” or “to appease.” (Lewis and Short) This was Jerome’s rendering of two different words in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible.

Exodus 32 recounts the story of the Israelite idolatry committed at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses, having come down and upon seeing their sins says (v.29):

The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

Moses returns up the mountain to “propitiate” for the sin of Israel. The word which the is often translated “atonement” (NIV, NASB, KJV) is the Hebrew noun Kaphar here really means “to propitiate.” This word is used frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures and is often rightly translated “to atone.” You know this word from Yom Kippur “Day of Atonement.”

Indeed the word often means “to atone” generally, i.e., “to pay for” or “to ransom” in the sense of satisfying God’s justice. Sometimes, however, as in this passage the word takes on this very specific sense of turning away God’s wrath against sin.

Such usage should not surprise us, since, in Scripture uses it to describe human relations. For example, in Gen 32:16–20: Jacob is said to “propitiate” Esau. In the same way, in Prov 16.14: a wise man will “propitiate” an angry king! If humans can and must propitiate other humans, how much more must we propitiate God’s wrath.

This sense of turning away God’s wrath from his people becomes even clearer a verses later (14–16) when Moses prays and Yahweh “changes His purpose “his wrath is turned away, that is He is “appeased” and becomes “propitious” or favorable towards his people.

The word occurs here in the context of God’s wrath. The direct object implied in Moses’ “propitiation” is God, it is the sin of Israel with is the indirect object. If God did not need to be propitiated, then Moses would not need to make an atoning sacrifice. This is allowed by Hebrew grammar and demanded by the context.

Thus there is a close association between atonement and propitiation. Atonement is one of the results of propitiation being made.

In Number 16:46,47 we find a similar usage of Kaphar. In the episode of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and the grumbling of God’s people afterwards, the Lord comes to Moses and announces (v.45), “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” Clearly God’s people are in jeopardy.

Immediately, Moses sent Aaron to propitiate (Kaphar) God’s wrath. In the context of God’s wrath. With the very real possibility that God will consume them.

This teaching is reinforced in Leviticus 16. In this case, two of Aaron’s sons had died because they approached God improperly. Aaron was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle) only on certain conditions. Behind the curtain, within the Holy of Holies was the (vs.2) “propitiatory” or “propitiation place” (Kapporet), the place over the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat was the place where the priest makes “propitiation” on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Because he was a sinful human, God required Aaron (and all high priests) to “make propitiation” to God for his own sins before he can making propitiation for the sins of Israel.

This consistent OT teaching forms the background for much NT teaching about the work of Christ on behalf of his people.

The NT, of course, was written in Greek, and much of its vocabulary was drawn from the Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint, which is abbreviated, LXX.

The LXX translated Kaphar family of words with the Hilaskomai family of words. In the NT as in the OT it means “to propitiate.”

Some assume (somehow) that even though God is a holy and just God in the O.T., he is different in the N.T. and able and willing to tolerate sin. The following passages will make clear that this is not the case.

In the story of the publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14), the Pharisee congratulates himself for his righteousness. The tax-collector, however (v. 13) cries out to God saying, “God be propitious to me, I am a sinner.”

In 1 John 2:2 the Apostle John writes for the purpose of helping the Christians of Asia Minor not to sin, particularly that they should not deny that Jesus came in true humanity (1 John 4:2) and that they should love one another (1 John 4:11–12). These moral requirements are closely connected to the doctrine of the atonement.

The Apostle knows that the Christians of Asia Minor will sin and because that is so, they need a propitiatory sacrifice for that sin. Jesus is that propitiation. John says that Jesus is our hilasmos, i.e., he is our Kaphar. John purposely calls to mind the OT narratives concerning Aaron’s annual sacrifices for himself and God’s people. That Jesus accomplished this once-for-all sacrifice is, in fact, the basis of our confidence before God. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Why is God “faithful” and “just” when he forgives us? Because Jesus Christ the righteous has paid the penalty for his people, he has turned away God’s wrath for his people and therefore they may enter boldly into the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:19). We are not able to stand before God because he averts his eyes or overlooks our sins, but rather, because Jesus Christ has paid the debt in full and satisfied God’s righteousness.

The Apostle Paul teaches precisely the same thing in Romans 3:25,26:

God presented Him (Jesus) as the place of propitiation, through faith in His blood, for of a demonstration of His Righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins committed beforehand in the forbearance of God, for a demonstration of His righteousness now in this season in order that He might be just—righteous, and the one–declaring righteous—the one (having) faith in Jesus (my translation).

In this passage, Paul is explaining how we are declared righteous by God. (vss. 21, 22). In the past, he reminds the Roman Christians, God can be said to have “overlooked” the sins of the Israelites, not because he is morally sloppy, but in view of the promised (Gen 3:14–16) coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As part of this argument he says that, now, in Christ’s death, God’s justice is demonstrated and satisfied by Christ’s work in becoming our place of propitiation (hilasterion). This is the same word used in the LXX and in Hebrews 9:5 for the place of propitiation (Kapporet)–the “mercy seat.” In his death, as our sin-bearer (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus has become our propitiation and the place and means of propitiation, that we might become “the righteousness of God.”

Underlying much of our discussion thus far has been the assumption that Jesus came intentionally to redeem his people. That is, it was never his intention to propitiate the wrath of God for everyone who ever lived. Rather it was his intention to redeem all of his people completely.

It must be remembered the life and death of our Savior is presented in the NT against the background of God’s covenant promise to Abraham to his make him the father of many nations, to be the God and the God of his children (Gen 15:5; 17:1–10). Thus Biblical religion has always been both universal and particular. It is particular in that God promises to administer his promise through Abraham and thus Abraham’s people are distinguished increasingly from “the nations.”(31) The question becomes, particularly in the NT, who are Abraham’s children?

The Lord Jesus answers by teaching that everyone who believes in him is Abraham’s son (John 8:39, 56) The Apostle Paul answers by saying that Abraham is the father of those who believe, whether circumcised or not (Romans 4:9–12; 9:7–8), for Jesus Christ is “the seed” promised to Abraham in Gen 15 and 17 (Galatians 3:16) and all who are united to him by grace alone, through faith alone are his children. Therefore, in Christ, the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been destroyed, he has made the two one (Eph 2:14–15). This does not mean, however, that he atoned for the sins of everyone who ever lived, but rather for the sins of all those are Abraham’s children.

The work of Christ must also be interpreted against the background of more than 2000 years of sacrifices pointing to his advent, life and death. These sacrifices were offered by Israelites for themselves and their families. They were offered by the high priests for all Israel. They were not offered for everyone who ever lived, certainly not to make salvation available. Indeed, the Israelite commission was to conduct a holy war against the surrounding nations (Deut 7 [all]). Thus there is no trajectory of Biblical thought leading to the NT which would cause Christians to think that Jesus came as the Lamb of God to satisfy God’s wrath for everyone who ever lived.

This Biblical particularism is perhaps no where so powerfully evident as in the Servant Song in Isa 52:13–53:12. Beginning in 52:13 God presents his “servant” (Ebed). His work benefit “many nations (52:15).” As the prophecy is progressively disclosed, the servant is “despised” and “we esteemed him not.” The relations are now considered between “us” and the servant. Thus in 53:4 he took up “our” infirmities” and in v.5 he was “pierced for our transgressions.” Thus the expression “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” has a definite context. The “all” here refers to those for whom the servant will suffer and die, but this is not everyone who ever lived. This is clear in v. 11 where the Servant is said to “justify many.” Again in v. 12 the Servant “bore the sin of many.” We know of course from the Gospels and from Acts 8:26–35 that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 8 is none other than Jesus Christ. Thus the Servant Jesus is said to have suffered and died the “many”, i.e., his people, not for everyone who ever lived.

The NT makes clearer the fact that Jesus was given a people by the Father. In John 6:37–39 Jesus gives us some insight into His eternal relationship with His Father.

Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one coming to me, I will not cast out…this is the will of the One who sent me, that I shall lose none of everyone whom he has given me, but (instead), I will raise him up on the last day.

The Father has given a people to Jesus to save and resurrect. These people are a gift from the Father to the Son. A gift does not give itself! The Son has come (v.38) to do the Father’s will. The Father’s will is that none should be lost. Verse 65 intensifies the particularist theme.

…For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would  betray Him…This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has  enabled him. 32

Jesus knew those who would apostatize and betray him. Only those given to him by the Father come. The Lord is repeating what he has already said in vs.44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

People are the objects of the Father’s drawing work. The people drawn are those whom God has chosen before the foundations of the world. Those whom God has drawn to Christ come to faith. They believe in Jesus. According to vs.65, it is only when we are drawn by God, led by the hand as it were, that we come to faith. It is the work of the Spirit of God to lead blinded sinners to sight and faith, as Jesus made the blind man to see.33

This closely knit chain of God’s grace is absolutely necessary to our salvation. Jesus came to accomplish the Father’s will, to seek and save the lost, to save those whom the Father has drawn. Should Jesus fail to accomplish the Father’s will, we are all lost! Every believer affirms that Jesus did not fail. Jesus said, “It is finished!” (34).

In John 10 Jesus begins a long discourse explaining his relations with his people for whom he was to give his life. Jesus, the good shepherd, has a people, a flock as it were. They “listen to his voice” and he “calls his own sheep by name” (vv.3, 4). He becomes ever clearer. The good shepherd lays down his life for “the sheep” (v.11). This is particularist language. Shepherd’s care for particular flocks, not all flocks everywhere. Jesus has a flock, for whom he will die, whom he will save. Again, in v.16, there are “other sheep” who will also listen to the shepherd’s voice (v.16). This is the same sort of particularism and universalism which we saw in Romans 4, but there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The clear implication is that there are some who are not in the flock (vv.25–26) therefore they do not listen.

Again (v.27), Jesus’ sheep listen to his voice and follow him. In Reformed theology we describe this as the efficacious call or irresistible sovereign grace. Jesus not only calls his people, but he gives them eternal life (v.28) and “they shall never perish and

no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

According to Jesus, eternal life is neither earned nor deserved. It is a gift from the shepherd to the sheep, just as the sheep are a gift from the Father to the Son. Our salvation is as certain and safe as the Father’s hand is secure. Jesus’ promise is certain because he is one in his divinity with the Father.

In His High Priestly prayer, in John 17:2, Jesus again says that he has been granted all authority so that he can give eternal life.35 He does not say that he has been granted all authority with a view to waiting around to see who is clever enough to believe. Instead it is the Father who has given him believers, and to these same believers Jesus will give eternal life.36

This is a most important teaching. One of the great weaknesses with the Arminian version of universalism (i.e., that Jesus makes salvation available for those who will chose it) is that those who chose it, can also lose it. This is a recipe for uncertainty, doubt and fear. These are hardly fruit of the gospel.

The theme of the certain salvation of Jesus’ people theme runs through John’s writings in the NT. It culminates in the Revelation where Christ gives this promise to believers,

They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is  Lord of lords and King of kings–and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers (Revelation 17:14).

Notice well that it is Jesus the conquering Lamb and that he has with him those for whom he died, “his called, chosen and .”

By this Scripture teaches the perfection of Christ’s work. This is why Rom 8:1 declares that there “is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because Christ made salvation available and I was wise enough to cooperate with God’s grace? No, rather because “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Rom 8:3). In the death of Christ, God has actually saved his people. Hence Heb 1:3 says, “After he had provided purification for sins…”. Scripture throughout considers Jesus’ work on the cross to be finished, accomplished such that it wants no additions by us. Christ came not to make salvation possible, but to achieve it and this he did.

“World“ In Johannine Usage

The Gospel of John opens with a certain universality. John 1:9 says that Jesus is the “true light” who “gives light to every man.” Should we understand John to be saying that every human being who has ever lived has been enlightened by Jesus? Of course not. In v.10 Scripture says that the light (Jesus) was “in the world (kosmos)” but the “world did not know him.”

John the Baptist’s declaration, that Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the kosmos” (John 1:29) can hardly mean “everyone who ever lived,” since that would mean that he actually redeemed everyone. If so, it would not accord well with John’s usage of kosmos before and after this passage.

As one can see, a problem arises in the interpretation of “world” in John’s writings. What if neither Jesus, the speaker, John the writer nor the Holy Spirit who caused John to write meant to communicate “everyone who ever lived” but, something else? In fact, he did mean to communicate something else. Just as the opening clause is not about the quantity (if one can speak of such things) of God’s love, so kosmos does not speak of the quantity of those for whom Jesus died, but the quality. Even though he used it 78 times in his writings, the Apostle John used the word kosmos consistently in this qualitative sense.

In 3:16 the Lord Jesus said,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

First of all, read the passage slowly and carefully. Note the emphasis in the first clause, “For God so lovedÂ…”. Jesus was teaching Nicodemus, first of all, about the greatness of God’s love. How great was his love? So great “that he gave his only begotten Son.” The intention of this passage is not, therefore, primarily to teach about the extent of the atonement, but to teach about the quality of God’s love for sinners.

What was God’s intention (so that) in sending his only begotten Son? His intention was that “who ever believes” in Jesus should have eternal life. To all of this every Calvinist says “Amen.”

Whom did God love so much as to send his Son? The “world.” As you might know the term there is kosmos. It is translated fairly as “world.” Many assume that kosmos must mean “everyone who ever lived” and thus, when they read this passage they effectively substitute that interpretation for “world.”

The verse immediately following John 3:16 sheds more light on kosmos. It says that God sent his Son to the kosmos not to condemn it, but “to save” it through him. This use is better described as qualitative than quantitative. So also in v. 19. The light has come to the kosmos but “men” loved darkness rather than light. The parallelism between kosmos and “men” is instructive. Jesus came to redeem persons, not to make salvation available. By kosmos John is describing the kind or quality of people for whom Jesus died.

If there are some who are enlightened, then there are some who are not enlightened. If there are some who loved darkness rather than light, then they are “in the world.” Another way of saying the same thing every human has not been enlightened. If so, then “every man” in 1:9 or “world” in 1:29 or 3:16 cannot mean “everyone who ever lived.” If not, then universalism is not the most obvious way to read this sort of language in John’s writings.

There are places where kosmos has other senses, e.g., in John 4:42 and 6:33, 51 it seems to mean “needy creatures” (e.g., 17:5,6,9,11) Still the accent is on quality rather than quantity. Sometimes it simply means “humans” as in John 6:51, but the most consistent usage is that of John 7:7 (or John 15:18-19; 17:5, 13-14), “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” Here kosmos has a strongly ethical, qualitative sense. It is not that no one ever hates the disciples, but rather, Jesus is thinking of “sinners” and here, of a particularly violent opposition to the Lord and his Christ. This same sort of usage carries over into John 8:2 where Jesus is the “light of the kosmos.” He is not the light of everyone who ever lived, but he is the light of “sinners.” Sometimes, as in Jesus discourse about the “light” and “bread” or in 10:36 or in 12:31 the kosmos has the sense of “this world” or the earthy, fallen realm as opposed to heaven (e.g., 16:8, 33; 17:11).

Even those passages where kosmos means a great number of people, and thus has a quantitative sense, it does not mean “everyone who ever lived”, as in John 12:19, when the “whole world” is said to have gone after Jesus or in John 21:25 where kosmos has a geographic extent rather than a quantity.

Within the context of John’s Gospel, it makes much more sense of John 3:16 to substitute the word sinners in the place of kosmos rather than to substitute, “everyone who ever lived.”

1 John 2:2 is often taken to require a doctrine of universal, indefinite atonement. It says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” There is no evidence that the Apostle changed his doctrine between the time he wrote the Gospel and this Epistle. In fact, understanding “kosmos” as “everyone who ever lived” makes no sense here. If it has a universalist sense, then John is teaching that Jesus turned away the divine wrath for everyone, but even within 1 John itself, there is abundant evidence that not everyone has been delivered from divine wrath, e.g., the “antichrists” present then and now 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).

As in John 3:16, there are other strong exegetical reasons why kosmos in this passage should not be understood to mean “everyone who ever lived.” It is true that the qualitative sense is not in the forefront, but rather, this passage is an example of the sort of hyperbole which we saw in John 12:19 and 12:25. This verse must be taken in some relative sense. Indeed, very few NT scholars have been willing to take this in an absolutely universalistic sense. Further, if the sense is absolutely universalistic, then why the contrast between “our sins” and the sins of the “whole world” (NIV)? The contrast itself limits the force of kosmos here to something like “other sinners in other places.” Given what we know about the churches of Asia Minor to whom Paul, Peter and John wrote, such an interpretation seems quite probable.

It also helps if we compare this passage with 1 John 4.10 which says,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins (my translation).

Notice that it is God who first loved us, not that we loved Him. God’s love always comes first, since we are conceived and born in sin 37. John’s connection of kosmos with hilasmos, which we know means, “that which effectively turns away God’s wrath” also limits our exegetical options, unless one is willing to say that Jesus turned away God’s wrath from everyone who ever lived.

All Means “All”?

These passages are examples of Biblical universalism. Sometimes, because of the reasons given above, they are mistaken for absolute absolute universalism. The same thing happens with the word “all.” Years ago a pastor said, “all means all and thatÂ’s all that all means.” It is a memorable slogan, but is it true? There are many places where all means “wholly” or “completely” or “entirely” as in 2 Tim 3:16, “all Scripture” must be taken to refer to everything which is Scripture. Did, however, our Lord Jesus mean to say that he intended to die for everyone who ever lived, to make salvation available to those who would chose it? We think not.

In fact the word “all” is frequently used in a relative sense to describe a certain class or kind of person. In Titus 2:11, Paul says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Has saving grace actually appeared to everyone who ever lived? No. Therefore “all” (pas) here must be taken in some restricted sense. Paul simply means, “has become widely available.” We could multiply examples. Does “all” in Titus 1:15 mean that “everything possible” is “pure”? No, rather “all things” (panta) means “everything of certain already proscribed set of things.” In Matt 10:22 Jesus says that “all men shall hate you because of me.” Did he mean to say, “everyone who ever lived”? No, this is an example of the sort of hyperbole which Jesus used frequently to make a point.

What of Hebrews 2:9, which clearly says that Jesus “suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” How will the Calvinist/particularist wriggle out of this noose? By reading v.9 in the context of v.10! The text continues to say, “In bringing many sons to glory…” so that the “everyone” of v.9 refers to the “many” of v.10, for whom Jesus did not just make salvation possible, but whom he “bringing” to glory.

The best illustration of this is perhaps a passage which some have seen as proof positive that Jesus must have intended to die as the substitute for everyone who ever lived, is a passage which many have taken to contradict the doctrine of definite atonement,1 Timothy 4:10. Scripture says in part, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior (soter) of all men, and especially of those who believe.” At first blush it would seem that, if Hebrews 2:9 did not put and end to definite atonement, surely this passage must.

Recent research by Steve Baugh has shown, however, that, read in context, this passage is not concerned with the extent of the atonement. The key is Paul’s use of Soter 38. Firstly, he notes, what does it mean to juxtapose “Savior” (one who saves eternally) of believers but especially of believers? Of course believers are saved, but if “all men” means everyone who ever lived, then, they are all saved and we should become absolute universalists, in which case it is not just Calvinists who must change their views, but also Arminians who must abandon their half-way position and become absolute universalists.

The answer is that, in this passage, soter does not mean “one who saves eternally” but rather means “benefactor.” As Steve Baugh notes, in “Paul’s day, soter was a common title or description of men, emperors and deities.” In fact, there was a statue in Ephesus, where Paul ministered for a considerable period, dedicated to Julius Caesar, on which he was hailed as “the universal benefactor of human life.” Paul’s point, in the flow of his argument, is that, no, it is the ascended King Jesus, who rules at the right hand of the Father, who is the “benefactor of all men especially of those who believe.” Taken in the sense of common grace, this passage is not about the extent of the atonement, universal or otherwise.

One of the problems which some have seen with the doctrine of limited atonement is that it seems to limit God’s love and it might even tend to make Christians careless about the lost. They reason that if one believes that Christ died only for the elect, then why bother preaching Christ to all men, since all are not saved.

The logic of our critics, at this point, is flawed. The conclusion does not follow from the premise. The same God who has elected and redeemed has also instituted the means by which he will execute his will in history, chiefly the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore historic Calvinism has always had a deep concern for the lost. We have always held and taught the free-offer of the gospel, i.e., that God has commanded us to offer Christ to everyone so that “whosoever will may come” 39. It is our view that whoever comes, does so because God has known, loved and called him from all eternity. This is because, while we understand that God has, from all eternity decreed the election of many, for whom Christ willingly lived and died, it is also and equally important, that he has not told anyone who those people are.

We base this distinction in part, on Deut 29:29 which distinguishes between those secret things which belong to the Lord and the revealed things which belong to us, God’s people and to our children forever. We are not to inquire into God’s hidden (decretive) will, but we are obligated to obey his preceptive will.

He has thus, revealed his moral will to us, and that is that we should “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:19). The first part of “making disciples” is to “go” and to preach. As Paul says, “how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). This is what we call, the verbal, external call. This is the gospel call.

It is this sort of call of which Jesus speaks when he says, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14). The same idea is found in Acts 17:30 where Scripture says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now God commands men everywhere to repent.” Jesus issues such a call to faith in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” and in John 3:16, “…whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”.

This is also the way to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This refers to his external, vocal, verbal, call to repentance and faith. At the same time, it should be noted that those disciples whom he calls in this passage actually do come! The verbal, external gospel call is the instrument used by God to bring men to saving faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:1 says that it is “by this gospel you are saved” which gospel? The one he proclaimed to them. Whatever one thinks of the doctrine of definite atonement, no one should doubt the Reformed and Calvinist conviction that we are to preach the gospel, as the Canons of Dort (2.5) say, “promiscuously” because it is by this instrument that God accomplishes his purpose of glorifying himself by saving his people through the foolishness of the preaching of the cross (1 Cor 1:23).


If one accepts that Jesus died as a propitiatory substitute for all his people, there are really only two alternatives, definite atonement or absolute (total) universalism. Either he saved everyone who ever lived, or he saved all those whom he loved.

As R. B. Kuiper said, “From the viewpoint of Scripture it is difficult to take unqualified universalism seriously.”40 It seems clear from the Gospel accounts and Acts that Judas the Traitor is eternally condemned.(41) Our Lord Jesus himself taught that there are some in eternal punishment (Luke 16:9–31). This is the teaching of Revelation 20:15, that there will be some in hell. Can anyone doubt that Hitler or those like him are with Judas? One takes no pleasure in such things, but it is important to think clearly about this issue. If there are any in hell, then clearly not all are saved. If all are not saved, then either Jesus failed in his mission or he succeeded.

Indeed, Calvinism and Arminianism agree that Christ did not actually redeem everyone who ever lived, thus the question is not even whether there is a “limit” to the extent of the atonement, but rather, what is the nature of the limit? Is limited by God’s choice and design or by free human choices?

It is our contention that Scripture teaches that Jesus did not fail. Rather where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. As the Second Adam (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 44) Jesus actively obeyed God’s perfect Law perfectly, and suffered all the wrath which was due to us, his people, for whom he died (Phil 2:5–11).


    1. Canons Of Dort (21): The Atonement Is Not Universal But The Offer Of The Gospel Is
    2. Canons Of Dort (19): Unconditional Atonement
    3. Canons Of Dort (16): Scripture Teaches Both Definite Atonement And The Free Offer Of The Gospel

Is The Doctrine Of Penal Substitutionary Atonement A Late, Western Doctrine?

  1. Turretin: Amyraut’s Doctrine Of The Atonement Was Not Reformed
  2. For God So Loved The World: Atonement And Common Grace
  3. Ignatius On The Atonement
  4. Cyril Of Alexandria On Substitutionary Atonement
  5. Athanasius On Substitutionary Atonement
  6. “The Shack” and the Atonement
  7. Owen on the Atonement
  8. Ames on the Atonement
  9. The Revolt Against the Substitutionary Doctrine of the Atonement
  10. Redeemed From Every People, Tribe, Tongue, And Nation: A Commentary On The Canons Of Dort


1. My colleague Robert Strimple, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California has long urged that “definite” atonement is a superior way to describe our view. In itself, Christ’s death is not limited in its potential, rather it is definite in its intent and personal in its application.

2. R. B. Kuiper made this same point. See For Whom Did Christ Die: A Study of the Divine Design of the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), 6.

3. Kuiper noted that there are two types of universalism, 1) unrestricted, e.g., Unitarian Universalism; 2) Inconsistent Universalists, including Arminians, Lutherans and Barthians. See For Whom Did Christ Die, 5.

4. See C. Van Til, Common Grace (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1947); idem, Common Grace and the Gospel (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1977); idem, Particularism and Common Grace (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1951); H. Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace (Grand Rapids, 1928).

5. On this see this essay on Pelagianism

6. I am grateful to my good friend and colleague Steve Baugh for making this point in conversation.

7. See John 10:1-18; Romans 8:28-30.

8. W. R. Godfrey, “Tensions Within International Calvinism” (Ph.D. Diss. Stanford University, 1974), 72.

9. See W. R. Godfrey “Tensions,” 72–4; J. Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, 9-22.

10. Defense of St. Augustine, trans. P. DeLetter, in Ancient Christian Writers vol.32 (London, 1963), 16. See also Godfrey, “Tensions,” 75.

11. De vocatione, 2.1–2.

12. De vocatione, 1.24

13. De voc, 2.12

14. De voc, 1.20; 2.3–4.

15. De voc, 2.25.

16. De voc, 2.2–4

17. De voc, 2.16.

18. See Rainbow, The Will of God, 26.

19. Rainbow, ibid, 27.

20. Peter Lombard, Sententiae in iv libris distinctae, 3 vols. (Rome: Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, 1971–81), 2.128; Peter Lombard, The Sentences, trans. Giulio Silano, 4 vols. (Rome: Institute of Pontifical Studies), 2007–10), 3.86;  Godfrey, “Tensions,” 76.

21. Though I have not listed him, Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033–1109), whom all the Reformers followed in their substitutionary doctrine ofatonement, seems to imply a definite atonement throughout his work, Why the God-Man? (Cur Deus Homo). See Cur Deus Homo, 2.19.

22. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a.19.6.

23. Thomas Aquinas, ST 3a.48.1,2,6; 3a.49.1. See also Rainbow, Will, 34-46 where he shows that Wycliffe and Hus also taught definite atonement.

24. See How Did We Come to Faith?

25. Heidelberg Catechism QQ.12-13; See Matt.6:12; Job 9.2,3.

26. See John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1959), 7–21, 64–95.

27. New Bible Dictionary, s.v., propitiation

28. See Exodus 34:6-7; Nu. 14.18.

29. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 11.

30. Lev 17:11

31. Acts 3:14

32.John 6:64–65.

33. e.g., Ex 15:4.

34. John 6:65.

35. John 9 [all].

36. John 19.30.

37. Ps 51:5; Eph 2:1–4; Rom 1-3.

38. Baugh, S.M. “Savior of All People: 1 Timothy 4:10 in Context,” Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992): 331-40.

39. Resources On The Free Or Well Meant Offer Of The Gospel

40. Kuiper, For Whom, 15.

41. John 18:5; Acts 1:16-18. Luke is careful to note that Judas received his just reward for his treachery. There is no indication in Scripture that Judas repented and believed.


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Calvin, J. Sermons on the Saving Work of Christ, trans. L. Nixon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950, repr. 1980).

Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vol. trans. F. L. Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 1:464-534 (Book 2, chapters 12-17).

Godfrey, W.R. “Tensions within international Calvinism : The Debate on the Atonement at the Synod of Dort, 1618-1619” (Ph.D. Diss. Stanford University, 1974).

— “Reformed Thought on the Extent of the Atonement to 1618”. Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1975), 133-71.

Hodge, A.A., Evangelical Theology (Banner of Truth: Edinburgh, 1976).

— Outlines of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1928).

The Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker repr., 1974).

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Long, Gary D., Definite Atonement (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1977).

Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1955).

— “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel,” The Collected Writings of John Murray, 4 vol. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976-82), 1:59-85.

–“The Atonement,” Collected Writings 2:142-50.

The Atonement (Philipsburg, P&R Publishing, 1962).

The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 2 vol. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959-65.

Nicole, Roger R. “Moyse Amyraut (1596-1664) and the controversy on universal grace : first phase (1634-1637)” (Ph.D. Diss. Harvard University, 1966).

Nicole, R., “The Doctrine of Definite Atonement in the Heidelberg Catechism.” Gordon Review 3 (1964), 138-45.

—— “John CalvinÂ’s view of the Extent of the Atonement.” Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985), 197-225.

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The Works of John Owen vol. 10: A Display of Arminianism.

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Smeaton, George The Doctrine of the Atonement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1953).

Strimple, R. B. Anselm and the theology of atonement : a study of the man and his message (Th.M. Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1965).

–“St. AnselmÂ’s Cur Deus Homo and John CalvinÂ’s Doctrine of the Atonement.” Aoasta, Bec, and Canterbury. ed. D.E. Luscombe and G.R. Evans. Sheffield, 1996.

Thomas, G. M. The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675) (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1997).

Turretin, F. Institutes of Elenctic Theology 3 vol. (Phlipsburg, 1992-7), 2:417-82 (14.10-14).

Van Til, C. Common Grace (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1947).

Common Grace and the Gospel (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1977).

Particularism and Common Grace (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1951).

Warfield, B. B. “Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the Whole World,” Selected Shorter Writings, 2 vol. (Nutley: P&R Publishing, 1970-3), 1:167-77.

The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1942).

Person and Work of Christ (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1950).

The Saviour of the World (Nutley, NJ: Mack Publishing, 1972).

This essay first appeared online c. 2001.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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    • One who rejects particular atonement may be thoughtful but he is not a Calvinist!

      On one level I’m stunned that we’re having this debate, and yet I’m not surprised. Everything seems to be on the table as the post-boomers re-write the faith according to the subjectivities of the late modern period.

      As to Calvin and the atonement see J. Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, among many excellent treatments of the history of the doctrine of the atonement. On the Calvin v the Calvinists stuff start with Trueman and Clark eds, Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment.

      Do I really have to produce a bibliography on the atonement?

      I don’t know that I have the energy for another great debate. We just finished arguing about justification and covenant for 8 years and now we have to do the atonement? Don’t you people ever sleep? When I am I going to be allowed to do history? Honestly, if you people insist on becoming Socinians — fine. Just don’t try to take Calvin or the Reformed Churches with you.

  1. Scott, I didn’t imply that I wish to debate you. I haven’t tried to convince you that you are in error, or that a non-particular view of the atonement is correct. I simply pointed out that there are more reasons for rejecting particular atonement than the ones you listed—better reasons. It seems to me that, if you’re going to enumerate the reasons for which people reject particularism, you should certainly present the better ones as well as the worse ones.

    You profess an interest in history—well, then presumably you’re aware that many good theologians in the Reformed tradition have historically defended a non-particular view of the atonement. Calvinism does not select for the Owenic, pecuniary/transactional model which is needed to sustain the strictly particular view you support. Dabney and Shedd were straight-up Calvinists who rejected that model; and even Amyraut is widely regarded as falling within the Reformed tradition. To say of Dabney, for instance, that “he is not a Calvinist!”—well, that’s quite an extreme statement. An obviously comical statement by most lights. But then to continue along the lines of “you people insist on becoming Socinians”? Socinianism is characterized by a rejection of the Trinity (and thus the divinity of Christ), original sin, and predestination. What resemblance does it even begin to bear to a denial of particular atonement?


    • Bnonn,

      I teach history. I don’t claim to be expert in every epoch of church history. My field of specialization is 16th and 17th century Reformed theology. I’ve published on Luther, Calvin, Olevianus, Ursinus, Wollebius, and other related topics and persons. I’ve also written on the history of the atonement from the early medieval period through the Reformation.

      The piece to which you’re reacting is a popular conference lecture not an academic essay. It doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive.

      I’m still learning about Amyraut, but I’ve read Roger Nicole and I’ve read Armstrong and I’ve read Clifford, Kendall, and that whole lot. I’m quite familiar with Richard Muller’s argument re Amyraut and Amyraldianism. I’m still considering it. I’m not persuaded that most of the Reformed orthodox accepted Amyraut as orthodox. I’m quite sure many of them did not! I’m confident that the Westminster Divines did not. Turretin and Heidegger, among others, did not.

      No, there aren’t endless options on the atonement for Reformed folk. The Synod of Dort confessed a substitutionary, penal doctrine of the atonement. So did Westminster and so did the rest of the Reformed Churches in the 16th and 17th century.

      The late modern tendency to re-cast the atonement and the early modern Socinian revision of the atonement are and were foreign to the Reformed faith as confessed by the churches.

      As to Dabney, you’re telling me that he rejected the penal, substitionary doctrine of the atonement? I don’t work in 19th-century theology much. I’ll check it out. I would be less surprised about Shedd but shocked to find Dabney doing as you say. I’m quite dubious.

      If you’re telling the truth about Dabney, then, on the atonement he’s not a Calvinist and neither is Shedd. I’m deeply skeptical, however, about your claim.

  2. Hi Scott. I didn’t say Dabney and Shedd rejected penal substitution. I said that they rejected the pecuniary/transactional model of atonement which is necessary to sustain the strictly limited/particular view. Are you treating penal substitution and pecuniary transaction as the same thing? If so, that is certainly outside the bounds of classic Reformed doctrine. I’m not sure how you’d argue for that from history or from Scripture—especially given the solid arguments against the pecuniary view.

    On the other hand, if you acknowledge as I do that Calvinism certainly entails penal substitution, but doesn’t militate specifically in favor a pecuniary model of that substitution, then I’m not sure how you can sustain your disagreement with other Calvinists (let alone so far as to say they aren’t Calvinists) if they hold to a judicial view, and thus rightly, on that view, reject strict particularism.


    • D,

      I don’t know exactly what you mean by “pecuniary” but our theologians have historically used both commercial and legal metaphors to describe the atonement. Scripture does speak of us being “purchased” and “bought with a price.”

      What is essential to the Reformed doctrine of the atonement is to say that Christ died as the federal representative of the elect, the righteous for the unrighteous. He did for us what we could not and would not do.

      This is laid out clearly in the HC.

      11. Is then God not also merciful?

      God is indeed merciful,1 but He is likewise just;2 His justice therefore requires that sin which is committed against the most high Majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment both of body and soul.

      12. Since then by the righteous judgment of God we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how may we escape this punishment and be again received into favor?

      God wills that His justice be satisfied;1 therefore we must make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves or by another.2

      1 Exod 20:5. Exod 23:7. 2 Rom 8:3,4.

      13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction.

      By no means, on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.1 1 Job 9:2, 3. Job 15:15,16. Matt 6:12. * Matt 16:26.

      14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?

      None, for first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man committed;1 and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin2 and redeem others from it.

      1 Heb 2:14-18. 2 Ps 130:3.

      15. What kind of a mediator and redeemer then must we seek?

      One who is a true1 and righteous man, 2 and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, One who is also true God.3

      1 1 Cor 15:21, 22, 25, 26. 2 Jer 33:16. Isaiah 53:11. 2 Cor 5:21. Heb 7:15,16.

      3 Isaiah 7:14. Heb 7:26.

      6 SUNDAY

      16. Why must he be a true and righteous man?

      Because the justice of God requires1 that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin, but one who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.2

      1 Rom 5:15. 2 Isaiah 53:3-5.

      17. Why must he also be true God?

      That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath,1 and so obtain for2 and restore to us righteousness and life.3

      1 Isaiah 53:8. Acts 2:24. 2 John 3:16. Acts 20:28. 3 I John 1:2.

      18. But who now is that Mediator, who in one person is true God and also a true and righteous man?

      Our Lord Jesus Christ,1 who is freely given unto us for complete redemption and righteousness.2

      If “pecuniary” indicts all commercial metaphors then we shall have to indict the Heidelberg Catechism!

      34. Why do you call Him “our Lord”?

      Because, not with gold or silver, but with His precious blood, He has redeemed and purchased us, body and soul, from sin and from all the power of the devil, to be His own.1

      1 1 Pet 1:18,19. 1 Pet 2:9. 1 Cor 6:20. 1 Cor 7:23. * Acts 2:36. * Titus 2:14. * Col 1:14.

      and along with it, we shall have to indict the Holy Spirit and the Apostle Peter, among others, whom the HC quotes.

  3. Hey Scott,

    If you can, take a look at the following men:

    Martin Luther on John 1:29 (unedited and complete)
    Martin Luther (1483–1546) on the Death of Christ
    William Tyndale (1494–1536) on the Death of Christ
    Oecolampadius on the Death of Christ
    Zwingli on the Unlimited Expiation and Unlimited Redemption
    Bullinger on Unlimited Expiation and Unlimited Redemption
    Wolfgang Musculus on the Redemption of Mankind
    Calvin on Unlimited Expiation, Sin-Bearing, Redemption and Reconciliation
    Pierre Viret on the Death of Christ
    Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562): Unlimited Redemption and Expiation, Incarnation and Related Issues
    Vermigli on Hebrews 2:9 and 14
    Augustine Marlorate (1506-1562) on the Death of Christ
    Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) on Death of Christ
    Miles Coverdale (1488-1568) on the Death of Christ
    Rudolph Gualther (1519-1586) on the Death of Christ
    Some Classic Calvinist Comments on Hebrews 10:29
    Zanchius (1516–1590) on the Death of Christ
    Zachary Ursinus (1534–1583) on the Death of Christ
    Jacob Kimedoncius on the Death of Christ: Unlimited Expiation and Redemption
    David Paraeus (1548-1622) on the Death of Christ: Unlimited Expiation and Redemption
    Robert Rollock (1555-1599) on the Death of Christ and Related Issues
    William Bucanus on Unlimited and Limited Redemption
    Batholomaeus Keckermann on the Death of Christ
    Second Reformation Era:
    John Davenant (1572–1641) on the Death of Christ
    Twisse, the Forgotton Hypothetical Universalist
    Thomas Adams (1583-1652) on the Death of Christ
    James Usser (1581-1656) on the Extent and Intent of the Death of Christ
    Scudder: Westminster Divine on the Death of Christ
    Richard Vines on the Death of Christ
    Jean Daille (1594–1670) on the Death of Christ
    Nathanael Hardy (1618-1670) on the Death of Christ
    Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) on the Death of Christ
    John Howe on the Redemption of Christ
    Bunyan on the Death of Christ: Unlimited Expiation

    All these men argued for a form of hypothetical universalism. Richard Muller has publically confirmed some of the names on this list in his public statements, Ursinus, Zanchi, Kimedoncius, Bullinger, Musculus, and others.

    As to Dabney and Shedd, both argued for an unlimited expiation, but limited redemption. You can read their material at my blog site too.

    None of them were obviously not Socinian. They all held to penal substitution. If you take a look at the documentation at my site, you will see that there has existed in the Reformed tradition another version of penal satisfaction.

    Sincerely, Scott, I invite you to spend some time reading the files I have posted.


    • David,

      So the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Assembly were just idiosyncratic gatherings representing, what? Some idiosyncratic pov or you’re reading of the entire Reformed tradition (and of Muller’s analysis of it) is cracked.

      I’m reasonably well read in most all of the authors you’re citing. You must read texts the way R T Kendall and Alan Clifford read texts. If so, “get out.”

      The Calvin v Calvinist debate is over.

      • Well Hey Scott,

        I thought either my posts were caught in the spam filter or you had deleted them.

        If you don’t mind and if you have the patience, I will reply to your reply. If at any time you don’t want me to comment here, that’s fine.

        You say:
        So the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Assembly were just idiosyncratic gatherings representing, what? Some idiosyncratic pov or you’re reading of the entire Reformed tradition (and of Muller’s analysis of it) is cracked.

        David: To be honest, I am not sure what you are saying here. I will comment on what I think you are implying. If I got it wrong I am sorry. And you know I am sure about the English and Bremen delegates and Alsted at Dort?

        Muller says Amyraldianism is within the bounds of Dort. Ive spoken to him about this. I agree with him.

        Muller also says that men like Zanchi, Twisse, Ursinus, Kimedoncius, Bullinger, Musculus, and others, did hold to a form of non-Amyraldian hypothetical universalism. That is, a form of hypothetical universalism which did not buy into a form of ordered decrees, etc. We do disagree on the specifics of Calvin, but agree with the others as far as I know. I could be wrong and Richard can speak for himself on this.

        You can read a review by Muller here: <a href=”″>Richard Muller on Non-Amyraldian Precedents to Hypothetical Universalism</a>

        You should listen to his Mid-American Seminary lectures on Varieties of Hypothetical Universalism.

        As to the Calvin vs the Calvinist debate. The whole debate was carried on in a lop-sided manner, looking for controlling systems (eg Barth, Kendall, Armstrong etc). It was framed in the context of a Reformation departing from Calvin: as if Calvin was the baseline and the whole Reformation went apostate or something. And then, as you know, it was at times contrasted as if later Calvinists sought to soften speculative Calvinism (Heppe’s thesis; Armstrong vis a vie Amyraut).

        I am not trading on any of those assumptions, nor is Muller. The better way to look at this is in terms of trajectories which ebbed and flowed over the generations. By the 17thC men like Edward Leigh could be very eclectic.

        You say: I’m reasonably well read in most all of the authors you’re citing. You must read texts the way R T Kendall and Alan Clifford read texts. If so, “get out.”

        David: What does “get out” mean? go away? I read the texts almost to a man the way Muller is reading them. I am reading texts Clifford and Kendall never even knew existed I am sure. 

        Just read Gualther, Musculus or Bullinger, Scott.

        Anyway, I don’t want to get into a tussle or anything: my point is the denial of “limited atonement” does not entail  Governmentalism or Socinianism.

        Take care,

        • David,

          Your posts went to the spam folder. I found and approved them.

          You write as if I’ve never read these texts. I do this for a living. I’m well aware of Richard’s arguments. I’m not sure I accept them. I’m in the early stages of my study of Amyraut and the whole question. My early research focused on the late 16th century and now my work is taking me more to the 17th century but it’s been interrupted with all the Calvin stuff for ’09 and other projects. I’m not a novice at all this, however, and I’m deeply skeptical about your claims.

          Yes, many of these writers used the sufficient/efficient distinction but as to hypothetical universalism of any sort, I doubt it. I have deep respect for Richard’s research and methods. I’ve been deeply influenced by them and have studied his work diligently since 1993 but I’ve also disagreed from time to time.

          I understand better what you’re and DBnon are saying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first. He didn’t explain or give any context. It looked like some emerging/-ent reaction to orthodox Calvinism. I don’t have much time for that nonsense. That IS Socinian. That’s why I used that adjective.

          Then it looked like some Clifford/Kendall clone.

          Okay, so now I have a better picture of what’s going on.

          Look, the Reformed churches teach a substitionary atonement. They taught and we confess that Jesus came to fulfill the Pactum Salutis, that Jesus intended to die for the elect. I don’t read most of the tradition teaching that Jesus came to make salvation possible for those who do their part. That’s exactly what Dort intended to oppose.

          They don’t doubt that the death of Jesus was sufficient for all, but they do reject the notion that it was intended for all.

          I know this view is offensive in the modern period. It was offensive then. I understand that. I also understand that Richard has criticized the reading of the so-called proto-Amyraldians (contra Armstrong) but I don’t see the Reformed being as tolerant as Richard seems to be arguing. I’ve not heard the lectures yet. I won’t be able to listen until Summer break but I’ll give them a listen then, but he’s been suggesting something like this for a long time.

          When I say “get out” I mean “get out of here.” It’s a figure of speech. It’s not literal.

          Bullinger? Gualther? Isn’t that an anachronism? There was confusion over how to react to Amyraut and it took time to work out a response, but there did develop a pretty coherent response by the late 17th century. What does Bullinger or Zurich have to do with the late 17th century?

          I can’t really discuss this in depth until I do more reading. I still struggle with Amyraut. It isn’t something to which I’ve given a lot of time. As I said, I spent most of the last 8 years working on covenant and justification.

          I reacted because I literally don’t have time for another stupid, long argument with people who want to be considered Reformed but who don’t actually believe the Reformed faith. I don’t know if hypothetical universalism is on the same order as the Shepherd/FV problem but I’m certain that Jesus didn’t die for a hypothesis. He died for his sheep and in so doing secured their redemption and the Holy Spirit efficaciously applies by operating through the preaching of the Gospel. You claim Ursinus. Well, Ursinus was a long time befor Amyraut and he and Olevianus were pretty clear on this stuff.

          Have you read Protestant Scholasticism: Essays…? Have you read the Olevian book (oh yeah, I was working that too for quite a while; and Recovering and and and and and…..Now a new project. Great. Just what I needed.

  4. Hi Scott—the term “pecuniary” refers to a view of the atonement which casts the payment of sin in literal, monetary terms, rather than simply in judicial terms. The first couple of articles in the series I linked above should suffice to illuminate how this view doesn’t fit what we know of penal substition and federal headship.

    As I understand it, the pecuniary view was popularized in Reformed Theology by John Owen. However, it is by no means the only view. Calvinism does not teach that penal substitution is necessarily pecuniary—as if penal substitution is particular atonement. has a lot of excellent material covering the “moderate” Calvinist view of the atonement in historical theology.


  5. I found the arguments against particular atonement over at the site that DBT linked most unconvincing.I once attempted to address some of these very questionsover there by making reference to the efforts of Nicole,Rainbow and Godfrey and got a blustering response insinuating that their views were not to be taken all that serious! In fact that site is devoted to trying to debunk any and all forms of particular redemrtion. As you can tell from DBT’s tack, this centers on John Owen ,as if Owen were the sole defender of the doctrine. That is not the case and the chief Reformed confessions, as Scott has pointed out, are as emphatic about the matter as was the great Owen

  6. Hey Scott

    You say: Your posts went to the spam folder. I found and approved them.

    David: that’s what I figured, one or the other.

    You say: You write as if I’ve never read these texts.

    David: I am sorry but I don’t see where I suggested this. If you got that impression, I apologize.

    You say: I do this for a living. I’m well aware of Richard’s arguments. I’m not sure I accept them. I’m in the early stages of my study of Amyraut and the whole question. My early research focused on the late 16th century and now my work is taking me more to the 17th century but it’s been interrupted with all the Calvin stuff for ‘09 and other projects. I’m not a novice at all this, however, and I’m deeply skeptical about your claims.

    David: Sure, I don’t expect others to have read as much as I have on this limited topic.

    You say: Yes, many of these writers used the sufficient/efficient distinction but as to hypothetical universalism of any sort, I doubt it. I have deep respect for Richard’s research and methods. I’ve been deeply influenced by them and have studied his work diligently since 1993 but I’ve also disagreed from time to time.

    David: ‘Non-Amyraldian Hypothetical Universalism’ is Richard’s term of choice right now. He says a basic form of what he at the moment terms non-Amyraldian hypothetical universalism predated Amyraut, and held by such men as Ursinus, Kimedoncius, Bullinger, Musculus and others.

    I prefer the older terms of universal redemption and unlimited expiation. That is, Unlimited expiation: Christ bore the sin(s) of all men, suffered for all, and thereby making an expiatory offering for all. Universal Redemption, I define as Musculus, Kimedoncius et al define it, as Christ’s having redeemed all men, as to the sufficiency of the expiation. This is not the later “bare” or “internal sufficiency of some later men, not hypothetical, but actual.

    Now, to verify this, one need not buy into Kendall, Clifford, Barth, Heppe, or Armstrong. Nor does one have to buy into Nicole, Helm or Rainbow. The primary source material is self-evidencing.

    In his review of Moore’s book, Muller said this:

    Clear statements of nonspeculative hypothetical universalism can be found (as Davenant recognized) in Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades and commentary on the Apocalypse, in Wolfgang Musculus’ Loci communes, in Ursinus’ catechetical lectures, and in Zanchi’s Tractatus de praedestinatione sanctorum, among other places. In addition, the Canons of Dort, in affirming the standard distinction of a sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the elect, actually refrain from canonizing either the early form of hypothetical universalism or the assumption that Christ’s sufficiency serves only to leave the nonelect without excuse.

    You say: I understand better what you’re and DBnon are saying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first. He didn’t explain or give any context. It looked like some emerging/-ent reaction to orthodox Calvinism. I don’t have much time for that nonsense. That IS Socinian. That’s why I used that adjective.

    David: I can assure you, nothing Dominic said, or what I have said has any connection with that.

    You say: Then it looked like some Clifford/Kendall clone.

    David: I think there is too much of this 🙁

    You say: Okay, so now I have a better picture of what’s going on.

    Look, the Reformed churches teach a substitionary atonement. They taught and we confess that Jesus came to fulfill the Pactum Salutis, that Jesus intended to die for the elect. I don’t read most of the tradition teaching that Jesus came to make salvation possible for those who do their part. That’s exactly what Dort intended to oppose.

    David: The early Reformed also said Christ died for all men, tho not all are saved (Bullinger) and that while Christ died for all men, he does not pray for all men (Musculus) to name a few. The Reformed doctrine of Substitutionary atonement is broader than what we now call limited atonement.

    You say: They don’t doubt that the death of Jesus was sufficient for all, but they do reject the notion that it was intended for all.

    David: G Michael Thomas, Pieter Rouwendal, and Muller recognize that there was a later redefinition of the sufficiency-efficiency formula, and how the later version is a hypothetical sufficiency for all men. For the Swiss and others, the sufficiency is actual because the expiation, itself, was made for all men.

    You say: I know this view is offensive in the modern period. It was offensive then. I understand that. I also understand that Richard has criticized the reading of the so-called proto-Amyraldians (contra Armstrong) but I don’t see the Reformed being as tolerant as Richard seems to be arguing. I’ve not heard the lectures yet. I won’t be able to listen until Summer break but I’ll give them a listen then, but he’s been suggesting something like this for a long time.

    You can read his review of Jonathan Moore’s book at the link above. What he says may surprise you.

    You say: Bullinger? Gualther? Isn’t that an anachronism? There was confusion over how to react to Amyraut and it took time to work out a response, but there did develop a pretty coherent response by the late 17th century. What does Bullinger or Zurich have to do with the late 17th century?

    David: Bullinger, Gualther, Musculus, Zwingli et al, all taught that Christ died for all men: bearing the sin of all men, redeeming all men. Conceptually, this is the background or backdrop from which Amyraut, Daille, and Testard operated. What was new is the special arrangement of the decrees, and then all set in a Federalist context (in my opinion). However, the doctrines that Christ died for all, with all that that entailed can be dated back to the Reformers.

    Now this is not to say that these men taught that Christ died for all men with a single intention to merely make men savable. Not even Amyraut taught that.

    You say: I can’t really discuss this in depth until I do more reading. I still struggle with Amyraut. It isn’t something to which I’ve given a lot of time. As I said, I spent most of the last 8 years working on covenant and justification.

    David: I have been working for these last years compiling files on these men so one can read the relevant material.

    You said: I reacted because I literally don’t have time for another stupid, long argument with people who want to be considered Reformed but who don’t actually believe the Reformed faith.

    David: And who said talking to me would involve another stupid discussion? 🙂 <–smilie

    You say: I don’t know if hypothetical universalism is on the same order as the Shepherd/FV problem but I’m certain that Jesus didn’t die for a hypothesis.

    David: Actually no one said he died for a hypothesis. The term “hypothetical universalism” was not meant to suggest that if a man believes, then Christ will have died for him, or something like that. Christ died for all men, so that the offer of the benefit of that death could be made to all men.

    When Twisse said ‘Christ died for all in case they believe’ he had a complex nuanced argument in mind.

    You say: He died for his sheep and in so doing secured their redemption and the Holy Spirit efficaciously applies by operating through the preaching of the Gospel. You claim Ursinus. Well, Ursinus was a long time before Amyraut and he and Olevianus were pretty clear on this stuff.

    David: For Kimedoncius, Ursinus, Paraeus, Zanchi, etc, Christ died for all with on intention, for the elect with an especial effectual intention and with the view of securing the salvation of the elect. Indeed, this is what Amyraut himself taught.

    You say: Have you read Protestant Scholasticism: Essays…? Have you read the Olevian book (oh yeah, I was working that too for quite a while; and Recovering and and and and and…..Now a new project. Great. Just what I needed.

    David: I recall looking at it. Do you have an essay in mind?

    All you have to do is click and take a look at Musculus, or Bullinger, or Gualther or any of the early guys listed in my index. The Swiss Reformers were exceptionally clear on this. I also think that Paraeus, Kimedoncius and Ursinus are crystal clear as well.

    Bye for now,
    Calvin and Calvinism

  7. Scott,

    It may be that my latest reply got stuck in the spam filter again. That should be my last unless you wish to continue the conversation at some point.

    Thanks for the time and patience,

Comments are closed.