I recognize that concerning the mysteries of the faith that Lutherans do not typically like to answer "how does this doctrine work?" type of questions, but I'm hoping for an explanation.

Issues, Etc. has a post on Lutheranism vs. Calvinism. I'm more or less in total agreement with the pastor on the first two of the five Calvinistic points. However, he loses me when talking about limited atonement.

At 29:37 in the audio, he begins to tell a story about a friend from seminary who was a Calvinist, and this Calvinist's need for assurance of absolution following a grievous sin. The pastor goes on to explain from 31:40 - 32:46 that because Christ has taken the form of man, that he represents all men. Every sin has been paid for, for every man.

I understand and believe this. Christ was spoken of as the last Adam, a title which confers universality (in the same way that the first Adam did). How is it that if every sin has been paid for that we are still able to speak in terms of particular redemption, meaning that some set of men will still pay for their sins in eternal hell? What makes this work? How does this doctrine mesh with Paul's argument in 1 Corinth 15:22 that in Christ, all will be made alive?

2 Answers 2


I am not familiar with what modern Lutherans might believe, if any different from Luther, but I am very familiar with what Calvin and Luther thought. They thought the same in many ways but used different lenses. I do not see them at disagreement. They differed in emphasis and detail. Luther emphasized Christ dying for all (which Calvin also believed). Calvin emphasized election more than Luther (which Luther believed).

What makes them seem different is that Calvin speculated deeper on the subject where Luther does not really form an opinion. Calvin sees the death of sin as like physical debts. Son can’t be aid for twice, therefore sins are either paid for by Christ or by the sinner. In Calvin’s view Christ only died effectually for sin. In Luther’s Christ died provisionally for all sin and effectually only for those that receive it. In other words Christ paid the penalty and then the sinner pays, so the sin is paid for twice – under a Calvinist view of Luther.

Luther himself would not draw this Calvinistic distinction and was happier leaving something hidden behind a veil of the unknowable. The end result is the same.

As far as the recording you had linked to I do not find the Lutheran representing Luther’s view so well. Luther and Calvin both believed that our assurance comes from our belief that Christ died for sin in general, and not faith that we are ‘elect’. Both Luther and Calvin believed that if we have faith in Christ then we are ‘elect’.

The other things to remember is that Arminian thought was really not that developed while Luther was writing and even while Calvin was writing minute detailed responses to Arminian beliefs, such as that found in John Owen’s ‘Death of Death, in the Death of Christ’ treatise was not needed.

In both Luther and Calvin, they limited atonement in scope. Calvin limited more strictly in eternity but neither limited the atonement in its power by making it dependent on human effort.

But to answer the question specifically, 'How did Luther think it worked?' He didn't he did not see much value in thinking too much about things he thought were incomprehensible.

Because Luther did not think about predestination that much some of the more interesting things he said were recorded by his close friends:

No. 3655b: Speculations About Predestination Unhealthy December 25, 1537

He [Martin Luther] spoke at length about the idle people who occupy themselves with disputation about predestination beyond the limits of Scripture. It is flue most ungodly and dangerous business to abandon the certain and revealed will of God in order to search into the hidden mysteries of God.” (Luther's Works 54.249)

No. 514: Predestination Is an Impenetrable Mystery Spring, 1533

“Paul wasn’t discussing predestination322 with the Jews but was disputing only with those who opposed it and said, ‘We are the people of God, we have the fathers, the promises were given to us,’ etc. He didn’t touch upon predestination except to repudiate the righteousness of the law. Paul said that we should not preach as if we could become good by our works, our fathers, etc. These don’t help. The others, those who believe, have it just as good as those who have fathers, etc. God has decreed it so from eternity. Hence Paul attacks only this. “By grace alone are we saved. God doesn’t want to be obligated to anybody. Once we believe, he tells us (and this, too, is by grace), ‘Give, and it will be given to you [Luke 6:38]. You are bound to give in any ease, whether out of pity for the Turks or some other unfortunates, so you may just as well do it when I command it.’ We have no claim on him. So Esau and Jacob also testified to righteousness.323 “Otherwise one can’t settle the deep questions of theology, but Paul simply argues that it is by grace alone that we are saved. He meant to stick to this. Think what it means that you are not saved by the law, etc., but the Jews have works! Nobody but Christ can solve this. Hence he [Paul] said, ‘O the depth [of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,’ Rom. 11:33]!” (Luther's Works 54.90)

  • A good distinction between Calvin and Luther. Calvin did seem to explore the logic of theology quite a ways more than most would.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 17:45
  • Thanks. Could you cite Luther on this to back your point up? I'd like to see his thought process on this, even if it is just a defense of why one shouldn't think too hard beyond what the scriptures say. Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 0:22
  • @SanJacinto - sure added a couple citations from Luther. These don't seem like the kinds of things Calvin would say, do they.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 1:16
  • I've upvoted. I'm not inclined to accept this as an answer, as it is not from a Confessional Lutheran perspective. Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 13:03
  • @SanJacinto - fair enough. Good to wait for a modern day Lutheran. I am also curious to see if it is any different from what Luther's position seemed to be. Because of the scanty references I think there is actually debate on what Luther actually believed on this point.
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 14:21

@SanJacinto - you asked "How is it that if every sin has been paid for that we are still able to speak in terms of particular redemption, meaning that some set of men will still pay for their sins in eternal hell? What makes this work? "

It is because the Atonement is not the same as Justification, but note I am not coming from an American Confessional Lutheran perspective , since I am not American though Lutheran- American Lutheranism have so called Universal Objective Justification which is an internal debate within Lutheranism. I do not wish for you to be sucked and distracted by this at the moment.

We believe that Jesus' Atonement is for all people yet Justification is only for those who would believe it. That is why it is Sola Gratia and Sola Fide, Justification By Faith Alone - JBFA. The work of the HS is to bring the message of the Good News to all people, yet some will not believe this work of Christ and therefore they are not justified. Please refer to Luther's comment on the Epistle to Galatians. Luther says that FAITH ITSELF IS JUSTIFICATION. Also this is in our confession AC IV....1] Also they(the Lutherans) teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Scripture is Romans 3:21-26.

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