Thursday, January 10, 2008

Response to Atonement Challenge from Non-Calvinist

One Non-Calvinist challenged me with a number of verses that he claimed prove that Christ died for each and every human being (except, presumably, for Christ himself) (This is a repost of several "classic" posts from a while back. The original pages will perish in due time, but here are the links for now 1 2 3 4)

He provided this list, which I republish below:

  • Mathew 13:44

  • Luke 22:20

  • John 1:7-9

  • John 1:29

  • John 3:14-17

  • John 4:42

  • John 6:33

  • John 6:51

  • John 8:12

  • John 9:5

  • John 11:9

  • John 12:32

  • John 12:46-47

  • John 16:8-11

  • John 17:21

  • John 17:23

  • Romans 5:18

  • 1 Corinthians 15:22

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

  • 2 Corinthians 5:19

  • Colossians 1:20

  • 1 Timothy 2:4-6

  • 1 Timothy 4:10

  • Titus 2:11

  • Hebrews 2:9

  • Hebrews 6:4-6

  • Hebrews 10:26

  • 2Peter 2:1

  • 1 John 2:1-2

  • 1 John 4:14

As you can see, the list is heavy on John, and light on Paul. I’ll just jump in, and go through the verses in order.

1) Matthew 13:44
Matthew 13:44 is a parable. It describes the kingdom of heaven as a treasure hid in a field, when someone finds it, they sell everything they have to buy the field.

I think that my non-Calvinist friend mistakes the meaning of the verse. The verse is about the value of salvation, and the effect that it has on the saved person, namely that it is the most important thing. There is nothing there about Christ's death being for each and every person, not even remotely. The only way I can think to justify it that way, is that anyone could find the treasure and buy the field. But that's just a subset of the general theme that anyone who turns to Christ will be saved.

From this I deduce my first ecumenical principle:

Anyone who turns to Christ, believes on him, repents of their sins, and loves God will be saved.

2) Luke 22:20
Luke 22:20, my non-Calvinist friend asserts, calls the cup in the Lord's Supper, Christ's blood spilled for you, but then the next verse points out that Judas was among the "you." This, I presume, is intended to establish that Christ's blood was spilled for Judas. I think its not clear that such is intended. The mention that Judas is to betray him comes as an exception. The verse starts with "but."

Perhaps it should be understood from the context that Judas was excepted.

3) John 1:7-9
7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Quite simply, this passage says nothing about Christ's death. That every man is lighted by the true Light speaks to the scope of illumination of the truth.

4) John 1:29
John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

This passage does not explicitly mention HOW Christ takes away the sin of the world. Nevertheless, if we are to understand this passage universally, then Christ takes away the sin of all, and we are left with Universalism. Instead, we should just understand this "the world" to mean both Jews and Greeks.

5) John 3:14-17
John 3:14-17
14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

This passage is interesting because it compares Christ to the serpent in the Old Testament. That serpent was raised up generally. It cannot really be said though that it was raised up for every particular person. That idea is nonsense. Moreover, the comment that "the world" be saved by Christ again requires either Universalism or a general understanding, i.e. "Jews and Greeks" as above.

6) John 4:42
John 4:42 And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Again, no particular mention of death, and "the world" here means "Jews and non-Jews" - in this case Samaritans.

7) John 6:33
John 6:33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

As with the above - again no mention of death, and "giveth life unto the world" must either imply Universalism or be understood as "Jews and non-Jews."

8) John 6:51
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Same as above.

9) John 8:12
John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Same as above.

10) John 9:5
John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Same as above, and an odd view could result from understanding being the light = atonement when combined with the "as long as I am in the world ..."

11) John 11:9
John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

This is clearly a parable. The light of this world is contrasted with divine illumination. No mention of the death of Christ.

12) John 12:32
John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

This verse speaks of "all men" generally, not exhaustive. This difference can be determined contextually and analytically. Contextually, Jesus' comment is in response to the arrival of the Greeks in verse 20. Analytically, there is no sense in which Jesus draws all men universally in any theological system - except, perhaps, Universalism. In any event, "drawing" and dieing are different, although connected.

13) John 12:46-47
John 12:46-47
46I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. 47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

This is an odd selection, because verse 46 clarifies that Jesus came to save believers - yet there seems to be an attempt to understand "world" in verse 47 exhaustively. In point of fact, this is just another general statement in the same context as verse 20 and 32 (discussed above), and the context is that Greek showed up, and Jesus is explaining that his work will not be limited to Jews.

14) John 16:8-11
John 16:8-11
8And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

It's unclear why this verse was chosen. The atonement is not mentioned, and there is no direct discussion of salvation, or even of the work of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one discussed in this passage.

15) John 17:21-23
John 17:21-23
21That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

This is an odd choice. The world here is a reference to unbelievers. We know this from context:

John 17:14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

And it is also an odd choice, because John 17 is so incredibly Reformed:

John 17:1-26 (the whole chapter)
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: 2As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. 6I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. 7Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. 8For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. 10And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

The chapter is a powerful message of Christ's love of the elect.

It's also a great example of Biblical foreknowledge explained.

As Christ says in verses 23-24, God the Father particularly loved "them" as He loved Christ: before the foundation of the world.

16) Romans 5:18
Romans 5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

This verse says that the righteousness of one justifies all, even as the sin of one condemns all.

The "all" is those for whom Christ stands. Identifying this as a Universal Atonement verse (a) begs the question of those for whom Christ stands, and (b) suggests that all mankind is justified, which we know to be wrong. So we can see that this is simply a verse that supports the Reformed position that Christ died for the elect.

17) 1 Corinthians 15:22
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Again, this does not support Universal Atonement, unless one adopts Universalism, because it say "in Christ" which identifies the "all." So also does the next verse:

1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

So, we can easily say that this is just another verse that show's Christ work is for his elect.

18) 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19
2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19
14For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. ... 19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

It says Christ died for all, and that Christ was reconciling the world to himself. However, the astute reader will ask himself - what has been omitted, and - as it turns out - what has been omitted will answer the question regarding what "all" and "the world" was referring to:

2 Corinthians 5:17-18
17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 18And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

It is, as noted above, those "in Christ" and "us" as Paul says - referring to the believers to whom Paul was writing.

20) Colossians 1:20
Colossians 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

This verse actually does address atonement (surprisingly after so many that do not). It says that he has made peace through the blood of his cross. It does not say that he has made peace possible, but that he has actually made peace. And he says that the purpose of this making peace is to reconcile "all things" to himself. Therefore, the question is what those "all things" refer to.

As usual, we look to the context and find the answer:

Colossians 1:18-19, 21-22
18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; ... [verse 20 shown above] ... 21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

Paul identifies Christ work as being upon "the church" and "you" (the believers to whom Paul was writing). Moreover, Paul indicates that the purpose was specifically directed toward those people "to present you holy ...." Thus the intent of Christ's death was specific and - we see again - that the object of Christ's death was the salvation of the elect.

21) 1 Timothy 2:4-6
1 Timothy 2:4-6
4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Although this relates to redemption (ransom), not atonement, it does use the word "all" twice. But look at the context: the "all" are to be testified in due time. Furthermore, from the previous three verses, we can see that "all men" is being used in the sense of "all kinds of men":

22) I Timothy 2:1-3
I Timothy 2:1-3
1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

Does the universal atonement advocate think that this "all men" in context means that we must prepare for each and every human being? Surely not. It means all kinds - even politicians.

23) 1 Timothy 4:10
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

It is unclear what the Universal Atonement advocate would like us to do with this verse. Such a person does not believe that all men are saved from their sins. How then is the living God the Saviour of all men?

Ephesians 5:23 provides the needed insight, there the husband is called the "saviour" (same Greek word) of the wife's body:

Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Does it mean that he saves the woman's body from sin? Of course not. It means that he preserves it. It is in that sense that God is the Saviour of all men (by his powerful Divine Providence) but he is more particularly the saviour of those who believe in that he saves them from their sins.

24) 2 Timothy 4:18
2 Timothy 4:18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 17:33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

So then, God is the Saviour of all men by his preservation of them, and the Saviour of believers by his rescue of them.

Jude 1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

25) Titus 2:11
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

This verse just says that the grace of God is visible to everyone (in general - not exhaustively).

26) Hebrews 2:9
Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

At first glance, this appears to be the missing support for universal atonement. But does the context explain who "every man" refers to? It sure does:

Hebrews 2:10-18
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Indeed, the "every man" is a reference to the elect:

  • "many sons"

  • "they who are sanctified"

  • "brethren"

  • "the church"

  • "the children which God hath given me"

  • "the seed of Abraham"

  • "the people [of Israel]"

Each of whom is simply the elect.

27) Hebrews 6:4-6
Hebrews 6:4-6
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Quite simply, this does not say who it is that Christ died for, and does not really address the Atonement at all. It is a verse more often misapplied against the perseverance of the elect.

28) Hebrews 10:26
Hebrews 10:26
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

This is just like the previous verse.

29) 2Peter 2:1
2Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

The typical claim of the Universal Atonement advocate is that this verse shows that Christ died for at least some unsaved people. First, the verse refers to purchase, which is more closely related to redemption. However, if they were purchased, in a saving sense, with the blood of Christ, then he would be their master. But the context explains that they are not his servant:

2 Peter 2:19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

And indeed, the better way to understand this text is that they merely claimed that the Lord bought them. For - after all - they are described as "false" teachers and it is said that they are stupid and deceivers:

2 Peter 2:12-13
12But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; 13And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;

30) 1 John 2:1-2
1 John 2:1-2
1My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The question is whether this "whole world" means everyone in the world, or just the whole world in general. John contrasts it with "us"- which suggests the general sense is what he has in mind. There is not, however, any ready and immediate way to resolve the issue from context. The major theme of I John is for us to do righteousness, love the brethren, and believe on the Son.

31) 1 John 4:14
1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

Again, the issue is whether "world" is to mean every single person or just a general designation.

Here the context provides the clarification (and presumably this applies as well to the verse above from earlier in I John):

1 John 4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

The love of God is toward US and the reason for his doing so is that WE might live.

Well, that ends the list of verses presented in the challenge. So far, the for the last year, the challenger has not come forward with any additional verses, and neither has the reading public of this humble blog. Nevertheless, if further verses come to mind, I'd gladly add an exegesis of them to the list.

3 comments:

Saint and Sinner said...

"John 12:32"

It is worthy to note that just a few verses later (vv.37-40), the text says that Jesus hardened the hearts of certain Jews so that they would NOT believe.

So, obviously Christ is not saying that he'll draw all men in the sense that he'll draw every single human being.

GeneMBridges said...

A few comments in addition to and not contrary to your own.

John 1:7-9 Not only is the atonement not in view:

1. This passage refers to the Incarnation itself.
2. It is a prooftext from Arminians for universal prevenient grace, not unlimited atonement. One wishes non-Calvinists would make up their minds what they wish to use this verse to teach.

John 1:29

The emphasis here is on identity of the Lamb not the scope of the atonement. The non-Calvinist has missed the point of the text. It is to point out that Christ is the one and only real sacrifice for sin that has ever been and ever will be offered. It says nothing about a theory of general atonement.

John 3:14 - 17

a. Confusion here could be alleviated if people would read Numbers 21. In Numbers 21, how many of those bitten by serpents died after the serpent was made and lifted up? None

b. Since none of those for whom it was made died, the connection is that God loves the world and saves the world through all the ones believing in the way that He saved and preserved the nation of Israel as a whole through the healing of those for whom the serpent was made.

John 12:32
Not only is John's emphasis ethnic, there is a sense in which all men without exception to Christ. He is the only Judge of all mankind on the last day. All men are therefore drawn, either as their Lord or their Judge, and this drawing is, as it happens effectual, because it is inescapable. So, I have no problem here saying "Yes, all men w/o exception are drawn," but they are not drawn in the sense to which John 6:44 refers, because 6:45 is epexegetical to 44, leaving us with universalism if all men without exception are in view.

natamllc said...

It's probably a foolish thing to do but I will blame it on Gene doing it anyway! :)

Joh 1:22 So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"


I like this verse. Hmmmmmmm, I pause and ponder, then I ask, why do I need to go back to the Ones who sent me to give Them an answer They already know?

What do you say about yourself?

Ah, my answer/question: "I am elected" to proclaim this Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world, you? Oh, by the way, once you are having these sorts of questions and issues come up in your life, you can bet you too are the Elected. The world simply is sinning against God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Him His Way.

Joh 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Just another thought about it, "the sin of the world". Ah, what is the sin of the world other than those "doing it" the god of this world's way? Jesus now makes it possible for me to do His Way in Him in this present world. That does not mean that the world will stop sinning and do it His Way, it just means He takes away from me, His Elect One too, the sin of the world, their way of doing it. Now I follow the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Way.

It's kind of like the "especially"/"namely" sort of argument, that is, "yes", He especially died for all believers, that is "namely" "all" believers. The devil and the reprobates do not receive Salvation. They reject Christ. He did not die to save them that reject Him. He does not cast His pearls before swine. Now that I am one of His Elect Ones, why should I, seeing He has now for me at least, taken way the sin of the world, not do likewise? They will turn and rend me too!