A Limited Atonement Argument

Updated on March 22, 2018

When Jesus gave himself up on the cross, He gave His life and paid the price for all the sins of all the world for all people for all time. Inspired scripture records many emphatic statements and instances where this point is definitive. The apostle John recorded John the Baptist stating upon seeing Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and the author of 1 Timothy stated “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” (1 Timothy 4:10) “Free Will” or “Universal Atonement” gives the best picture of God’s heart for all mankind.[i] The author of Genesis wrote that God’s creation of man was more solemn than any other creature[ii] (Genesis 1:26) and that His love for His creation shows through His desire for all people to accept the free gift of his salvation. (1 Timothy 2:4) God’s desire is that no one perish but spend eternity in Heaven with Him; however, God does not drag anybody to Heaven kicking and screaming.[iii] He allows the individual to accept or reject His free gift of eternal life.

If one addresses the theory of Limited Atonement, that person is required to face certain uncomfortable realities. While Dr. James White argued in a debate on RevelationTV that Christ’s death was a new covenant that has a specific audience and it is only for those whom are elect,[iv] one must question how to get elected if one does not voluntarily participate in the election. Dr. Michael L. Brown stated in his response to Dr. White that the New Testament repeatedly says Christians are justified by faith, and not by Christ’s death only, so there is human participation.”[v] The point that Christ died for all is also further evidenced in John’s epistle (John 3:16) where the term, "the world," is clearly defined in John's Gospel and it cannot mean the elect. Another argument for Universal Atonement is evidenced by Jesus’ death. Because both sides of this argument agree that Jesus death was of infinite value and sufficient to cover the sins of all people,[vi] an unfortunate reality arises for a defender of Limited Atonement. If both sides hold to the sufficiency of Christ’s death no matter the number of the elect, then God allowed Jesus’ crucifixion to be more cruel than was needed. If Jesus’ suffering was only needed to cover the sins of a few, but God allowed the suffering to cover the sins of all for all time, then the actual crucifixion was exponentially more torturous than needed.

A Limited Atonement argument might also include that “even disbelief is a sin that has been paid for, therefore, no one should go to Hell.”[vii] However, because scripture certainly agrees on eternal punishment and a real Hell for people who do not accept Christ’s salvation, Universal Atonement, per this counter argument, is untenable. This view is somewhat distorted because it is improperly turning the discussion from one of atonement to one of ”Universal Salvation” which is not in the purview of the discussion nor a claim held by either viewpoint. Salvation is a free gift to all and is given to any who ask. It is not, however, bestowed upon the entirety of mankind without their individual acceptance.

In a ministerial setting, this topic is breached frequently. It is imperative that a Christian understand their own theological stance, but also know from where those views originate. A Christian must be able to defend and clearly enumerate their reasons for holding that Christ died for all. While a clear defense is important, of equal importance is for the Christian to understand that when fellow Christians approach this issue, they must first remember that both participants in the conversation are Christian. Whether someone leans towards Limited Atonement or towards Universal Atonement, it has no bearing on their standing with Christ, and it is imperative that in debate or interrogation, that be understood by all parties. Unfortunately, all too often heated conflict and personal attacks are levied due to differing viewpoints on this issue. It is important for the Christian to realize this and to begin and end the conversation with clarity, agreeing to each other’s salvation and love for each other in Christ, while viewing the discussion as an academic exercise and endeavoring to understand God’s word to as deep an understanding as possible.

[i] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 440.

[ii] George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter's Bible: The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951-57), 482.

[iii] The Reason for God, by TIMOTHY KELLER (Zondervan, 2010), DVD 10/10).

[iv] ANUGRAH KUMAR, “Did Jesus Die for All or for Only the Elect? Two Theologians Debate.,” The Christian Post, January 25, 2014, 1, accessed June 1, 2016,http://www.christianpost.com/news/did-jesus-die-for-all-or-for-only-the-elect-two-theologians-debate-113382/.

[v] Ibid.

[vi][vi] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 754.

[vii] Ibid., “Did Jesus Die for Everyone? My Calvinist Friends Say No.,”


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