Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Theoretical Sufficiency?

Theoretical Sufficiency?
"Enough for as many worlds of men as there are men in the world."

Some Reformed Christians hold to a view that is essentially that Christ's blood was theoretically sufficient for all of humanity. This view lacks Biblical support.

I came across this view recently in reading commentaries on 1 Peter 2:1. Compare Gill's thoughtful commentary, with Henry's off-handed remarks on the same verse:

not the Lord Jesus Christ, but God the Father; for the word κυριος is not here used, which always is where Christ is spoken of as the Lord, but δεσποτης; and which is expressive of the power which masters have over their servants (i), and which God has over all mankind; and wherever this word is elsewhere used, it is spoken of God the Father, whenever applied to a divine person, as in Luke 2:29 and especially this appears to be the sense, from the parallel text in Jude 1:4 where the Lord God denied by those men is manifestly distinguished from our Lord Jesus Christ, and by whom these persons are said to be bought: the meaning is not that they were redeemed by the blood of Christ, for Christ is not intended; and besides, whenever redemption by Christ is spoken of, the price is usually mentioned, or some circumstance or another which fully determines the sense; see Acts 20:28 whereas here is not the least hint of anything of this kind: add to this, that such who are redeemed by Christ are the elect of God only, the people of Christ, his sheep and friends, and church, and who are never left to deny him so as to perish eternally; for could such be lost, or deceive, or be deceived finally and totally by damnable heresies, and bring on themselves swift destruction, Christ's purchase would be in vain, and the ransom price be paid for nought; but the word "bought" regards temporal mercies and deliverance, which these men enjoyed, and is used as an aggravation of their sin in denying the Lord; both by words, delivering out such tenets as are derogatory to the glory of the divine perfections, and which deny one or other of them, and of his purposes, providence, promises, and truths; and by works, turning the doctrine of the grace of God into lasciviousness, being disobedient and reprobate to every good work; that they should act this part against the Lord who had made them, and upheld them in their beings and took care of them in his providence, and had followed them with goodness and mercy all the days of their lives; just as Moses aggravates the ingratitude of the Jews in Deuteronomy 32:6 from whence this phrase is borrowed, and to which it manifestly refers: "do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise! is not he thy Father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?" nor is this the only place the apostle refers to in this chapter, see 2 Peter 2:12 compared with Deuteronomy 32:5 and it is to be observed, that the persons he writes to were Jews, who were called the people the Lord had redeemed and purchased, Exodus 15:13 and so were the first false teachers that rose up among them; and therefore this phrase is very applicable to them:

The above is Gill's commentary on the verse. Compare Matthew Henry's short excursis on the verse:

They reject and refuse to hear and learn of the great teacher sent from God, though he is the only Saviour and Redeemer of men, who paid a price sufficient to redeem as many worlds of sinners as there are sinners in the world.
The statement that Christ "paid a price sufficient to redeem as many worlds of sinners as there are sinners in the world" makes for a catchy phrase from the pulpit, but does not find support in Scripture. Instead, in Scripture we see much more precision in the counting of payment (Cf. Matthew 5:26 and Luke 12:59) and even so when the payment is a sacrifice (Cf. Exodus 23:18, Exodus 29:34, and Leviticus 19:6).

Consider also the Lord's disgust with "vain oblations" (Isaiah 1:13).

So then, shall we imagine that even one drop of Christ's blood was spilled in vain, or that Christ suffered any more than precisely the amount necessary to save His people?

After all, if God can ordain the army of Babylon so that every arrow counts:

Jeremiah 50:9 For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken: their arrows shall be as of a mighty expert man; none shall return in vain.

Even so must the sacrifice of Christ be of even more well-targeted efficacy.

It is only with that understanding that we can truly affirm what Paul preaches, namely:

Galatians 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Christ's death had no measure of vanity, and there is no reason to suppose from Scripture that it was anything other than the perfect sacrifice.

He is the fulfilment of this sacrifice:

Leviticus 19:5-8
5And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will. 6It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire. 7And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted. 8Therefore every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the hallowed thing of the LORD: and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

And likewise, he is the Manna from heaven, which was precisely sufficient for the needs of the people (see Exodus 16).

And we need not rely only on external texts, the text itself does not hint at mere hypothetical sufficiency: the word for bought used here is αγορασαντα. It's an aorist active participle. It does not say that a sufficient price was paid to purchase them, it say they were bought. Whether Gill's explanation above is correct, or whether Peter is relating their claim, there is nothing hypothetical about the word that is used here.

And I think that if Matthew Henry had studied the verse in more depth he would no doubt have come to the same conclusion.



TheoJunkie said...


Have you considered the subtle difference between the "sacrifice" and the "atonement"?

The sacrifice of course is the living being (in this case, Christ) that suffers and dies... but the atonement is the procedure by which the priest (also in this case, Christ) presents the sacrifice to the Father, requesting forgiveness for a particular thing or people (in this case, the sheep-- those for whom the sacrifice was intended).

Note in the OT that regardless of the size of the nation of Israel, the sacrifice itself remained the same (e.g., a bull, etc).

Further, in consideration of Christ's perfect perfection (redundancy for emphasis and contrast with the human idea of the word and in contrast with "unblemished bulls"), it would seem that Christ indeed WAS a "sufficient sacrifice" to cover the sins of "worlds of sinners" as Henry says.

This does not necessitate imprecision in the atonement.

Note from Hebrews:
When Christ entered into the Holy of Holies and sat down at the right hand of the Father, having "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins", he "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

Thus, I find that "sufficient for all" is biblically compatible with "intended and effective only for the elect".

I would welcome your response.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

Before I quibble on a few minor points:

The issue is not whether unlimited theoretical sufficiency (or even only univeral theoretical sufficiency) is biblically compatible with "intended and effective only for the elect." By themselves, those two ideas could be reconciled.

As to nomenclature, I'd have to disagree. Sacrifice is the ceremony. In the ceremony, the victim is offered (in many cases by being killed and presented) on behalf of a beneficiary.

There were some sacrifices in the O.T. that were single sacrifices for the single nation (regardless of its population). However, there were many other sacrifices that were for each person. Thus, the temple was built to accomodate a greater population than the tabernacle.

Nevertheless, Christ fulfilled all the sacrifices of the O.T. in his one offering of Himself as the perfect victim.

Thus, I find no Biblical basis for asserting that the death of Christ was "theoretically sufficient" for either an unlimited number of people or the exact sum-total of humanity.

But, if you merely mean that he was such a victim as would have been accepted by the Father no matter how many beneficiaries there were, I certainly agree. Perhaps he would have had to undergo more humiliation, more stripes, more thorns, or a more painful death, but as a victim He was acceptable.

I just see no reason to posit hypothetical sufficiency from Scripture, and certainly not from the passage at hand.


TheoJunkie said...


I suppose I am still confused as to what the issue is then-- no need to re-explain, I will review your original post.

I have always (in my reformed career at least) considered the statement "sufficient for all" to refer to the perfection of his life and qualifications as The Lamb (or the "acceptability of him as a victim" in your words).

I agree that some OT sacrifices were "for individuals" or "for the whole nation". I think that is my point... in some cases at least, the same "victim" was used for either... it was the priest's perogative to declare who it was "for". (Thus, the same species would be "effective for an individual"-- as per the priest's declaration-- yet "sufficient for all" (for the priest COULD have used this "victim" for a different purpose).

Anyway... I perhaps we are saying the same thing, according to your second-to-last paragraph in your reply to me.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

I've certainly heard Reformed people (and Henry is undoubtedly Reformed) use such expressions.

I just don't see it coming from Scripture.

In any event, from the limited point of view that one death was sufficient for the entire, sand-like number of the elect, one death would still have been sufficient if the Lamb's Book of Life were in two volumes rather than one.

Nevertheless, I don't think Jesus got a season pass to the amusement park of salvation, but that he paid for each and every sin of each and every one of the elect, in full.

So, I am inclined to maintain my position, at least for now. What would really interest me is if you found a notable Reformed writer who (at some other verse) arrived at the same conclusion as Henry did on this verse.


TheoJunkie said...


Here is an article by Jim Ellis that mentions some other Reformed theologians and discusses the matter further:

After reviewing your post and the comments, I apologize for not "getting it" the first time through.

I agree with your post that the atonement is intended for and effective for only the elect.

Further, I do not agree that we can conclude from 2 Peter 1 (or the balance of the chapter-- including any other discussions of apostasy (such as in Hebrews), that Christ died "for" everyone.

I have never personally understood the phrase "sufficient for all" to suggest what those Ellis quotes and apparently Henry find it to mean. Rather, I have always viewed "sufficient for all" to refer to the inherent value of Christ's life (as Jim Ellis accepts at the beginning of the article).

As I tried to convey in my earlier comments, I would indeed make the logical jump that because Christ's life is inherently "valuable enough" to cover any number of individuals that God so chose to elect.. that "had God chosen" to elect all humans, Christ's single death on the Cross would have been sufficient for all of them.

I have never considered that this language "spilled over" into the issue of efficacy or intent to save.

However, you and Ellis (though I disagree with some of his motivational reasons for using the language) have given me food for thought, and I do see how the term is sloppy.

In my erstwhile debates with freewillers, I have used the phrase-- and I admit I have used it to "smooth their feathers". However, I did so not in order to adjust the doctrine of limited atonement, but to try to show them that LA does not "prevent" people from coming to faith (as they are wont to complain).

Anyway... Don't change your position. I would maintain that there is a distinction between the sacrifice itself and the atonement (the presenting of the of the sacrifice for a specific purpose). However, it appears that this is a second subject, not related to 2 Pet 2:1 or other discussions of apostasy.