Friday, July 20, 2007
For Whom Did Christ Die? IIIC-E Considering Objections (1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 2:1)
"For Whom Did Christ Die?" We must turn to Scripture for our answer. After introducing the controversial question, we examined the atonement's purpose, nature, and result. Next, we also contrasted our biblical conclusions with the opposing view. Then we began considering objections against the doctrine of limited atonement. This week, we will finish analyzing objections.

C. 1 Timothy 4:10

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Terry L. Miethe says, “Now certainly those who do not believe are not saved. The Scripture is completely clear on this. Thus, quite obviously, this verse is saying that although Christ died for all men—i.e., the free gift was extended to all—it is finally effective only for those who accept it.”[1] However, Miethe provides no exegetical support for his assertion.

I. Howard Marshall, himself a proponent of unlimited atonement, shows that the usual translation of this verse is misleading. He notes, “The possibility exists that we can translate malista, not by ‘especially,’ but by ‘namely.’ The Pastor makes a statement of the character of God as the Savior of all men, and then he makes a necessary qualification: ‘I mean, of those [among them] who believe.’ Since this translation gives an excellent sense here, it should be adopted.”[2] If this interpretation is adopted, then Paul qualifies his own statement about Christ dying for “all people.” He means that Christ died for believers. This is the doctrine of limited atonement.

D. 1 John 2:2

The Apostle John wrote the following about Jesus’ atonement: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Of this passage, Norman Geisler observes, “[O]ne need only consult the generic (general, unlimited) usage of kosmos in John’s writings to confirm that he speaks of the fallen, sinful world. . . . It goes far beyond the strain of one’s credulity to somehow conclude that kosmos in 1 John 2 refers only to the elect.”[3] Unfortunately, Geisler is being overly simplistic in his analysis. John uses kosmos or “world” in various ways. Determining its meaning depends on establishing the context surrounding its use.

Should “world” be taken as all of humanity in 1 John 2:2? Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen respond, “Notice first off that Jesus ‘is’ the propitiation for our sins (not that he merely makes propitiation possible). Did Christ accomplish propitiation for everyone who ever lived? . . . Hence, this little word ‘is’ alone refutes the general redemption theory.”[4] Moreover, interpreters should recognize the parallel between this verse and John 11:51-52. In this passage, John wrote, “He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” Comparing the two texts reveals a striking resemblance.

John 11:51-52
1 John 2:2
would die
is the propitiation
for the nation,
for our sins,
and not for the nation only,
and not for ours only
but also
but also
to gather into one
the children of God who are scattered abroad.
the sins of the whole world.

Since the Apostle Paul refers to John as an apostle to the Jews (Gal 2:9), it makes sense that in writing to a Jewish audience he would emphasize the universal scope of salvation as extending to all peoples and nations in the world. First John 2:2 in no way contradicts limited atonement.

E. 2 Peter 2:1

In his second letter, the Apostle Peter warns, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” Geisler says, “Here Peter speaks of Christ purchasing the redemption even of those who are apostate. Since all Calvinists agree that those who have truly been saved will never lose their salvation—and since this passage speaks clearly of lost persons—when Peter affirms that Christ ‘bought’ these lost souls, he means the Atonement is not limited to the elect.”[5]

While 2 Peter 2:1 could be interpreted in this way, it makes more sense to remain consistent with the truths already established elsewhere in Scripture. Thomas Schreiner provides an alternative explanation for Peter’s use of the phrase “the Master who bought them.”

I would suggest that Peter used phenomenological language. In other words, he described the false teachers as believers because they made a profession of faith and gave every appearance initially of being genuine believers. . . . Their denial of Jesus Christ reveals that they did not truly belong to God, even though they professed faith. Peter said that they were bought by Jesus Christ, in the sense that they gave every indication initially of genuine faith.[6]

Phenomenological language is speech as appearance. Peter said that false teachers are “even denying the Master who bought them” because they appeared to be Christians. Nevertheless, their destructive heresies demonstrate the falseness of their faith. Jesus Christ never actually bought them by his death; he only appeared to do so by their false profession. Again, Christ secured the salvation of all those for whom he died. None will be lost. None will face swift destruction.

[1]Terry L. Miethe, “The Universal Power of the Atonement”, in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), 80.
[2]I. Howard Marshall, “Universal Grace and Atonement in the Pastoral Epistles”, in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), 55.
[3]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 3:359.
[4]Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen, Beyond Five Points (Cape Coral, FL: Founders, 2002), 119-120.
[5]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 3:356.
[6]Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2, Peter, Jude, in vol. 37 of The New American Commentary, ed. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2003), 331.


posted at 10:30 AM  
Comments (2)

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin says...

John, I support Limited Atonement, and thank you for this special series.

I just wanted to point out a common objection that I see against Particular Redemption, and was hoping for your own rebuttal (I wrote my own today).

The argument is based on Galatians 2:20, where Paul writes, "He died for me." The argument goes, "Just because Jesus died for Paul particularily, doesn't mean He died for Paul exclusively. Likewise, just because He died for His sheep particularily, He didn't die for them exclusively."

What do you think?

At 11:47 AM, Blogger John Divito said...


Your question points to the reason that I structured my series the way I did. Those advocating limited atonement cannot simply counter the proof-texts those holding unlimited atonement use. We begin by understanding the purpose, nature, and result of the atoning work of Christ. Once we see the atonement biblically, we can seek to understand its extent.

I really don't see Galatians 2:20 as providing a very strong case at all. Yes, we know that just because Jesus died for Paul particularly doesn't mean He died for Paul exclusively. However, Christ's death secured Paul's salvation as well as the salvation of all those for whom Christ died.

To make his case, the one maintaining unlimited atonement would have to show that Christ died for those whom will not be saved. In other words, they would have to say that just because Christ died to secure salvation for His sheep particularly, this does not mean that he didn't also die for others non-salvifically.

But this claim can nowhere be found in Scripture. Even the so-called "universal passages" employ salvific terms to Christ's atonement. Again, the defenders of unlimited atonement cannot support their view from the Word of God.


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