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The "L" in the TULIP acronym of Reformed Theology stands for Limited Atonement, which the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines as:

Sometimes called 'particular redemption,' the view that Jesus' death secured salvation for only a limited number of persons (the elect), in contrast to the idea that the work of the cross is intended for all humankind (as in “unlimited atonement”). This view resulted from the post-Reformation development of the doctrine of election in Calvinist circles. Proponents claim that because not everyone is saved, God could not have intended that Christ die for everyone.

We already have a question asking for the Biblical basis for Limited Atonement, so my question is what is the Biblical argument against Limited Atonement?

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Limited atonement brings with it the implication that not anyone can be saved by Christ - only those for whom he atoned. The language used in the Bible to describe salvation is inclusive. It is described as being presented to whosoever wills. In 1 Timothy, Paul claims that God desires all people to be saved.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 (ESV)
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

This would make little sense in light of limited atonement, and in fact, the presence of the phrase "ransom for all" seems to directly contradict it. If God desires all people to be saved, then why would salvation not be even theoretically available to some? If God desires all people to be saved, then wouldn't he offer it to the entire world? John tells us that this is exactly what he did:

John 3:16 (ESV)
16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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What is the Biblical argument against Limited Atonement? Proponents claim that because not everyone is saved, God could not have intended that Christ die for everyone.

There is an assumption in this logic regarding God's intentions.

We get an insight into God's intentions from the these verses;

1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (propitiation = atoning sacrifice)

1 Timothy 2:3-4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

John 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:

We may be able to conclude that if the potential exists for all to be saved, that potential rests on a propitiation having been made for all.

We may also conclude that if the Son has been given the authority to judge all, that the basis for this is the Son having made payment for all. (similar to purchasing the debts of another)

Atonement can be seen in two ways, what is offered and what is accepted. Atonement is offered universally. Atonement is accepted in a limited fashion. Unaccepted atonement results in judgment.

There is a mystery in how we come to have faith. We need to make allowance for that we do not know. However, the Bible is pretty clear that the willing sacrifice of Jesus was for everyone regardless if it was accepted or not.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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I remember the words of an anointed man of God form the past who said; "If Jesus didn't die for all men" than those in hell will legitimately be able to say, "His offer of salvation was never genuine".

More important than this kind of logical reasoning is the violation of good, genuine exegesis. If one denies universal atonement, there are simply too many verses which would need to be squeezed to say something they do not actually say; including 1 Tim 2:4, 6, John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 11:9, 2 Cor 5:19...etc.

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer here. It would be much improved if you quoted some or all of the passages you reference, and explain how you understand them to oppose limited atonement. For some tips on writing good answers here, see: What makes a good supported answer? – Lee Woofenden Aug 31 '17 at 16:41
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Christ is not only the propitiation for the sins of Christians:

1 John 2:1-2 (ESV) My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.1

Even apostates and unbelievers were paid for:

2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought2 them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

Hebrews 10:19-31 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,3 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Clearly, we can do worse than disobeying an inferior Covenant, by disobeying the more magnificent New. Even if we were sanctified by the blood of that Covenant.

The exact same goes for the following:

2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

The reason those who were washed by the blood of Jesus being lost disproves limited atonement is for the simple reason that if He hadn't atoned for them, no alternative redemption was available for them from the defilement of the world.

See also Heb 10:36-38b. God's righteous one (only possible if redeemed by Christ) can shrink back from his calling and have no part with God. cf. Rev 2:5.

But the simplest of all: God wants all to be saved, so our opting into salvation isi what stands in the way of going to heaven, not what Christ has done for us:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

cf. Ezekiel 33:11.


Footnotes

1 i.e. the antithesis of 'Limited Atonement'

2 cf. 1 Cor 6:20

3 This person was baptized into Christ, and has "put on Christ." Gal 3:27.Rom 6:4; Col 2:12. Eph 5:25-27; 1 Pet 3:21 (is "[saved]"); Ezek 36:24-25 etc.

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When I face this issue I think sometimes it’s just about semantics. For example, of course only those who are saved, Christ died for, because as He knew all men from eternity. He knew who He was dying for, in terms of actually providing real forgiveness to. However, with the hyper Calvinistic view (which I think you are referring to for Calvin did believe it) I think Calvin was overreacting to the opposite view, Pelagianism. Calvin does not seem to know how to reconcile man’s free choice and God’s desire to save all mankind, with the doctrine of election. This view actually gets itself into theological knots and even some of my favorite theologians have been sucked into it. In the extreme case it is actually proposed that Christ is not even truly offered to all and that He actually does not really love all in the same way that he loved the elect. From this extreme view, God only chooses some and does not choose others. This extreme form of Calvinism is not shared by all Calvinists. I do not think Luther thought this way at all. A window into Luther’s attitude about it all can be found here.

The way out of this quagmire is simple for me. I accept the doctrine of predestination and consider myself a Calvinist. However, where Calvin does not follow the more mature Luther on this subject, I lean to Luther. I do not speculate so much about God’s election of those who will ultimately inherit eternal life, like Luther. Plus, I take the commandment to love our enemies as meaning God must love them also. Luther often seems to be filled with this faith; Luther never clarifies when offering Christ to sinners that ‘Oh by the way this might not be for you.’ Its simple, if God commands us to love His enemies, then He must love them and offer that love through the death of Christ for them. It makes no sense for God to command us to love His enemies if He does not love them. God commands us to love them because He wants us to be like Him. Love must include desiring what is eternally best for them, or else love if hate and hate is love and the Devil could be God and God could be the Devil. The whole thing is nonsense when taken to the extreme through vain speculation. Besides, those who go to hell will go there primary for rejecting His love in Christ. If that love was not offered, then it is no sin to reject it.

The only sure thing we know is:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV John 3:16)

Even if you get into the original Greek and somehow argue that this verse is not applied to all but only the elect (which is what these people actually do) - it makes no difference. God must love the world or He would not ask us to and He does mean the whole world in the verse.

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Unlimited atonement or universal atonement is usually based on the following Bible texts (among others):

  • John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave …”
  • John 12:32, “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”
  • Acts 17:30, “God … commands all people everywhere to repent.”
  • Rom 3:23, 24, “… for all have sinned … and all are freely forgiven...”
  • Rom 5:8, 10, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”
  • Rom 5:15, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to the many.” [Note the same word, “many” applies to all people.]
  • Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all people, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all people, resulting in justification of life.”
  • Rom 11:32, “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
  • 2 Cor 5:14, “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
  • 2 Cor 5:18, 19, “…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ …”
  • 1 Tim 2:3, 4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all people.”
  • Heb 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours [Christians to whom John writes] only but also for the whole world.”
  • Isa 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The Bible frequently makes this same point of wanting to save all people by emphasising that God does not show favouritism but treats all people impartially (Duet 10:17-19, 2 Chron 19:7, Ezek 18:25, Mk 12:14, Acts 10:34 Rom 2:10-11; Eph 6:9, 1 Pet 1:17).

Thus, God saved (“elected”) all people by extending His Grace to everyone, even before they sinned! Further, God did this without any input from us, nor request from us, nor consultation with sinners (Eph 2:5). Unfortunately, many will reject this wonderful, free offer.

  • You're confusing election with universal atonement. God elects to save only some, not all, whilst at the same time atoning for the sins of everyone. This might appear contradictory but Scripture teaches both predestination to heaven & hell and that Christ died for all. – Eddie Jan 19 at 17:07
  • I do not subscribe to this unbiblical view. I believe in universal election and universal grace. God works with all people to save them (2 Peter 3:9) but some will reject it. – user43409 Jan 19 at 22:44
  • 2 Peter 3:9 says only that God desires to save all not that He elects or chooses to save all. God has more than one will. Although He desires to save all through Christ, nevertheless He doesn't will from eternity to do so (Romans 9). – Eddie Jan 20 at 12:13

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