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November 24, 2007 / vivator

Limited Atonement vs. Unlimited Atonement

Catholics and some Protestants & “Bible only” Christians believe in the universal or unlimited atonement of Christ, i.e. that He died on the cross for all men, the Elect (those predestined to heaven) and the Reprobate (those predestined to hell).  The scriptural support that Christ died on the cross for everyone is overwhelming, among which: 

And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:15

And they sang a new song, saying:  “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

Revelation 5:9

Other verses like John 4:42 refers Christ as the Saviour of the world; 1 Timothy 4:10 calls God as the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe; Hebrews 2:9 says that Christ tasted death for every one and 1 John 2:2 states that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.   In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: ‘So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.’  He affirms that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 605

“Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men. “

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1019

Not all Christians believe that Christ died for every one.  Calvinists believe in Limited Atonement, i.e. that Christ died only for the Elect.  Limited Atonement is the “L” of the Five Point of Calvinism or TULIP.  Those who reject Limited Atonement but accept the other four points are sometimes referred as “four-point Calvinists” or Amyraldians, after French Reformed Theologian Moses Amyraut (1596 to 1664). To support their belief they usually quote verses that say Christ saves His People (Mathew 1:21), died for His friends (John 15:13), gave His life as ransom for many (Mark 10:45) and gave Himself for the Church (Ephesians. 5:25).  Catholics and those who believe in Unlimited Atonement reply that the terms: His people, His friends, His church and many are part or subset of “all men”.  While in Marks 10:45 Christ died as ransom for many; in1 Timothy 2:6 He died as ransom for all.  Because Christ died for all men then He died for His people, for His friends, for the Church and for many.  Note also that those verses do not have the word “only”; i.e. they do not say that Christ saves only His people, died only for His friends and gave Himself only for His Church.  As an analogy, a married man says that he loves his family and that he loves his wife.  He does not contradict himself because his wife is part of his family, neither does it mean he only loves his wife and hates his children.  The following verses also support Unlimited Atonement:

Then as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s [Christ’] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.

Romans 5:18

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:22

If “all” in the above verses means “all Elect”, then only the Elect are affected by Adam’s sin (Original Sin).  But if it refers to “all mankind”, which is certainly the case, then these verses indicate that God through Christ does intend to save all men.  Why not all will be saved is because they, in using their freedom, choose to reject God and His Grace. 

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One Comment

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  1. tiber jumper / Nov 25 2007 7:44 am

    thanks for that comparison and explanation of limited vs unlimited.
    It has always struck me as an odd concept that Christ didn’t die for all men when the preponderance of Scripture as well as the Fathers believed that.

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