John 3:16 and limited atonement

Yesterday I wrote about Bible Verses that Simply Can’t Mean What They Say, in response to Elder Eric’s satirical post on the same subject at Tominthebox News Network. I tried to keep what I wrote then in the same humorous vein. But the comment thread on Eric’s post has moved into a serious discussion of the issues I raised, and now I want to take this matter further.

In a comment on his own post Eric wrote concerning John 3:16:

it does not say anywhere in that verse that God loves every individual in this world. In the New Testament in particular, the word “world” often refers to God’s sphere of influence, not to every individual person in the world. … If Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be going to heaven.

It was of course with these words in mind that in a following comment I wrote:

Calvin would have had no truck with arbitrary redefinitions of “world” as “God’s sphere of influence” or the non sequitur pseudo-logic of statements like “If Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be going to heaven.”

Eric took me to task for this, and rightly so at least if a comment thread on a satirical blog is to be understood as a place for proper theological debate. He wrote:

It seems that your argument has degenerated into a sort of name calling. You use the terms “arbitrary” and “non sequitur pseudo-logic.” However, you don’t present any biblical evidence to make your point, and you also haven’t presented anything that would threaten the basic message of this post. If I have misinterpreted the straightforward meaning of these 72 verses, please show me how. If I am incorrect in biblical interpretation, I honestly do want to know why. Thank you.

Well, I don’t see any name calling in what I wrote. But I accept that I did not properly justify my accusations of “arbitrary redefinitions” and “non sequitur pseudo-logic”. I now want to put that omission right, although I will not attempt to give my understanding of the 72 verses.

Firstly, I accused Eric of

arbitrary redefinitions of “world” as “God’s sphere of influence”.

I justify this by looking at the usual definitions of the Greek word used here, kosmos. Now this word has a notoriously broad range of meanings in the New Testament, which can even include “adornment”, as in 1 Peter 3:3. Here is how the word is defined by Barclay Newman:

κόσμος, ουworld, world order, universe; world inhabitants, mankind (especially of men hostile to God); world, realm of existence, way of life (especially as opposed to the purpose of God); adornment (1PE.3:3)

Here are the definitions of Louw and Nida, reorganised into a continuous list, with the specific verse citations and notes omitted:

(a) 1.1 Geographical Objects and Features (1)
Universe, Creation
the universe as an ordered structure – ‘cosmos, universe.’
(b) 1.39 Geographical Objects and Features (1)
The Earth’s Surface
the surface of the earth as the dwelling place of mankind, in contrast with the heavens above and the world below – ‘earth, world.’
(c) 41.38 Behavior and Related States (41)
Particular Patterns of Behavior (41.29-41.43)
the system of practices and standards associated with secular society (that is, without reference to any demands or requirements of God) – ‘world system, worlds standards, world.’
(d) 9.23 People (9)
Human Beings (9.1-9.23)
(a figurative extension of meaning of κόσμος[a] cosmos, universe, 1.1) people associated with a world system and estranged from God – ‘people of the world.’
(e) 79.12 Features of Objects (79)
Beautiful, Ugly (79.9-79.17)
to cause something to be beautiful by decorating – ‘to beautify, to adorn, to decorate, adornment, adorning.’
(f) 6.188 Artifacts (6)
Adornments (6.188-6.196)
an object which serves to adorn or beautify – ‘adornment.’
(g) 59.55 Quantity (59)
Abundance, Excess, Sparing (59.48-59.61)
(a figurative extension of meaning of κόσμος[a] world, universe, 1.1) a great sum of something, implying an almost incredible totality – ‘a world of, a tremendous amount of.’

Where in any of these definitions is there anything about “God’s sphere of influence”? Many of the definitions are suggesting the exact opposite, defining the world with terms like “without reference to any demands or requirements of God” and “estranged from God”. And in case you want to allege that these definitions come from liberal scholars, here is an extract from the article “WORLD” in the New Bible Dictionary (IVP UK 1962), written by R.V.G. Tasker:

It is, however, an axiom of the Bible that this world of human beings … is now in rebellion against Him. … And so, very frequently in the New Testament, and particularly in the Johannine writings, the word kosmos has a sinister significance. It is not the world as God intended it to be, but ‘this world’ set over against God …

I cannot look at all the occurrences of kosmos in the New Testament, so I will just look at the ones in John’s gospel. Actually this is a high proportion of the total, 78 out of 186. Many of the verses where the word occurs, sometimes several times in a verse, link the world with Jesus’ mission to bring salvation: 1:9,29, 3:16,17,19, 4:42, 6:14,33,51, 8:12, 9:5,39, 10:36, 11:9,27, 12:46,47, 16:28, 17:18,21,23, 18:37, so I will leave these verses aside for the moment. But in most of the other verses “the world” is contrasted with Jesus or his disciples or associated with his enemies, 1:10, 7:4,7, 8:23,26, 12:25, 13:1, 14:19,22,27,31, 15:18,19, 16:8,20,33, 17:6,9,11,13,14,15,16,25, 18:20,36, or is explicitly opposed to God, 14:17, or used in the phrase “the prince of this world”, 12:31, 14:30, 16:11. There are a few neutral references like 12:19, 16:21, 17:5,24, 21:25, but none at all which clearly suggest a positive sense for the word. This includes the verses related to salvation, in which the only positive things that can be said about the world are that God loves it and Jesus came to it. I really don’t see how anyone, unless they are coming to the text with a predetermined theological agenda, can possibly hold that anywhere in John’s gospel kosmos refers to “God’s sphere of influence”.

As for what I called “non sequitur pseudo-logic”, that referred to Eric’s statement

If Christ died for everyone, then everyone would be going to heaven.

I’m sorry, Eric, but there is an elementary logical fallacy here. I understand the first half of the sentence to be equivalent to “If Christ died with the intention that everyone would go to heaven …”, which was more or less my meaning, although I agree with Bishop NT Wright that “go to heaven” is a very inadequate and misleading summary of the Christian hope. So let us recast the statement as follows:

If Christ died with the intention that everyone would go to heaven, then everyone would be going to heaven.

The non sequitur should now be clear, for the hidden assumption here has been uncovered, that everything which Christ intended to happen does in fact happen.

Now perhaps this assumption is so much a part of Eric’s philosophical presuppositions that he fails to recognise that it is not self-evidently true. Of course it would not be shared by non-Christians. More importantly, it is an assumption which many Christians, including myself, do not share with Eric. And we do not share it for a very good reason, that the biblical authors did not share it. This is clear from a number of verses, ones which I would have included in a fuller list of the verses of which the mythical Tominthebox Reformed Calvinist Theological Seminary would have to declare that they Simply Can’t Mean What They Say, for example:

This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 (TNIV)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (TNIV)

Here we have things which God desires and wants but which do not happen. God desires everyone to repent and be saved. But he knows that in fact not everyone does repent, and so not everyone is saved. If there is such a thing as human free will, which I believe and Calvinists also claim to believe, it must include the possibility that some people will choose not to repent. This by no means implies that God in Christ did not make it possible for them to do so.

Some might argue that Jesus’ work must have been imperfect or incomplete if not all the people he died for were in fact saved. But that is by no means true. It is not Jesus’ fault that some people are not saved, but the fault of those people – and perhaps the fault of the Christians who have failed to bring the gospel message to them.

The situation is well illustrated by the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24. The master prepared the banquet and sent out the invitations, and there is no suggestion that there is anything lacking in the way that he did so. Indeed he provided more than enough for his invited guests. It was not because of any failure or inadequacy on his part that the first lot of guests did not come to the banquet, but because of their own selfish decisions to stay away. Similarly, many people in the world today are not saved, not because of any inadequacy or limitation in the atoning work of Jesus Christ (indeed it seems almost blasphemous to suggest that there was any limitation in it), but because of their own sinful refusal to accept the invitation of the gospel.

Calvin himself did not hold the doctrine of limited atonement. It is time for those who claim to be his followers to abandon this perversion of biblical teaching and accept the glorious truth that God loves the whole world, including every human being, and sent his Son to die an unlimited atoning death for it all, that the whole universe might be reconciled to him, Romans 8:21.

0 thoughts on “John 3:16 and limited atonement

  1. Calvin did hold to the doctrine of limited atonement, as does D.A. Carson, who would agree with everything in this post until the claim that Calvin would have denied limited atonement. The mistake is in taking limited atonement to imply that there’s no sense in which God’s love is for the world and that there’s no sense in which the offer is made to all. Calvin, Piper, Carson, and plenty of other Calvinists accept limited atonement while affirming all of the positive things you outline in this post.

  2. Well, Jeremy, if Calvin and the others would have agreed with everything in this post except “the claim that Calvin would have denied limited atonement”, that implies that they deny limited atonement. For I deny limited atonement. I utterly deny that there is any sense in which the atoning work of Christ was limited to any extent. It was sufficient and more than sufficient to atone for the whole created universe. To deny this is to limit God and make him smaller than his creation.

    If all that Calvin and the others mean by “limited atonement” is that not everyone believes and is saved, then of course I agree. But in that case why is this an extra TULIP petal separate from the doctrine of election? Perhaps the problem is more with the name than the teaching. I understand that some Calvinists prefer to speak of “particular redemption”, and that is better because it implies that only certain people are redeemed, not all, without implying any limitation on the atoning work of Christ.

    But even if this is all that Calvin and some others mean, it is not all that Elder Eric means. For he has effectively denied the statement that “Christ died for everyone”. That is a limitation on the scope of the atonement, not just on who receives its benefit.

    I suspect the real problem is that we have a whole range of people, from John Hobbins to you to Elder Eric to the hyper-Calvinists, all claiming to be five point Calvinists, but all redefining the five points to fit their very varied theological systems.

  3. I believe those who formulated limited atonement were responding to a particular view, which claimed that the sins of all are atoned for, even though not all are saved. So there’s a separation between atonement and salvation, where you can be atoned for without being forgiven or restored to God. I don’t think that’s what most people who deny limited atonement really mean, though, which is why I think most Wesleyans and Arminians actually do believe in limited atonement without realizing it. It’s only when you combine it with unconditional election the way a Calvinist means it that you get something a non-Calvinist would disagree with (but that’s no surprise, since non-Calvinists don’t accept unconditional election the way Calvinists mean it).

  4. Peter:

    Great post. It’s my understanding though that the vast majority of Calvinists would “explain away” the last two verses that you quote as being “taken out of context.” I’ve found that to be the norm with Calvinists when dealing with Scripture that supports Arminian theology.

  5. Great post man. Why can’t Calvinists call a spade a spade? A “read-in” is just that, no matter what theological argument it attempts to justify. I happily admit my propensity to “read-in” to some passages – why can’t they?

  6. Well, Jeremy, I am not claiming that the sins of the lost have actually been cancelled out by the atonement. Those who commit them remain guilty of them until and unless they accept the atonement and forgiveness offered in Christ. So if you define limited atonement to mean that not every sin ever committed has been cancelled out as a consequence of the atonement, I suppose I can accept this teaching.

    But I cannot accept this label for this teaching. It is an inaccurate label. It is blasphemously misleading by suggesting imperfection and inadequacy in the work of Christ. It is confusing because manifestly others mean something very different by the label. If you want to put forward this doctrine, then find another name for it, like “Rejected atonement”.

    Indeed, Rhea and Sam. But what would the Calvinists think if I used that “out of context” argument on some of their 72 proof texts?

  7. Peter, please remember that all Christians in some shape or way limit the atonement. It’s either in it’s extent (those whom it is applied to) or its effect (does it save, or only make salvation possible?). The difference with Reformed theology is that we deny the latter form of limitation.

    Please remember the TULIP came as a result of the Arminian error. The wording of the Remonstrants was opposed to what they saw was a limited atonement taught by the Dutch church of the day. The Remonstrants called it unlimited atonement, because there was no limitation on whom it was applied to, though it came at the cost of limiting the effect of the cross’ application. Hence, the term “limited atonement” actually refers to those whom the cross is applied to.

    Just a general note is that when you read about God’s love acting (1 John 4:19, Titus 3:4-7, and a few others) it saves those whom it is set on.

    As to what Calvin believed, I read the 1536 edition a while back , and I remember thinking that there were a few interesting aspects to it, but that it essentially was the same doctrine. I’ll have to pick it up again and check.

  8. Jordan, I accept that the atonement is limited in the sense that its benefits are not universally enjoyed. That is the position of anyone who is not a universalist. But in your version of Reformed theology (although not apparently in Jeremy’s version) the limitation is in the will and intention of God, and that is what I cannot accept. According to my understanding of the atonement, there is no divine will or intention of any limitation of the enjoyment of the atonement. What there is is the divine self-limitation explained in Psalm 32:8-9, that God does not force humans to come to him but asks them to come willingly. But this idea of human free will to choose whether or not to come to God is what is missed by so many Calvinists, even though Jeremy might claim that this is not true Calvinism but hyper-Calvinism.

    There are plenty of verses I could quote about God loving people who were not in fact saved. Let’s start, again, with John 3:16, which, unless you are a universalist or accept Eric’s redefinition of “world”, implies that God loves those who are lost as well as those who are saved. Jesus loved the rich young man, Mark 10:21, but he went away sad. God loves the Jews, Romans 11:28. He teaches us to love our enemies; are you saying he doesn’t do so himself?

  9. Note: While I’m not defending Jeremy, he does make a valid point. If I’m understanding him correctly, he’s stating that those who make the atonement theoretical (meaning that the atonement covers a person’s sins without reconciliation to God) don’t really mean that. I didn’t see any accusation on his part of you believing that.

    While I disagree strongly with my inconsistent Arminian brethren, I still regard them as brethren. So please construe this as a brother concerned for the growth of his brethren. Having read the original articles, I do believe that Jeremy is accurate in presenting the Remonstrant position. Don’t like it, don’t claim their position as your own (if you are).

    Note also that I do not limit the efficacy of the cross of Christ. I believe, as do many “Calvinists” that the cross is sufficient to save every fallen man and woman that ever lived, and ever will live for the next million years, should it be applied to them.

    In John 3:16, I limit the term world to the context given, aka “all who believe.” What you have to prove is that the world here refers to every single individual, and that it doesn’t refer to only those who believe, considering that the next four verses deal with the implications of God’s love. Namely, those who do evil hate the light, where their deeds would be exposed.

    As to the self-limitation of the atonement: who are the willing? I would answer that John gives us the answer in John 6, that those who come are those whom God draws.

    (I’m assuming your phrase “enjoyment of the cross” refers to a numerical sense., If that is a misunderstanding, please forgive me.)

    I would argue that the enjoyment of the cross means adoption into the family of Christ, especially as 1 John 2:2 says that He was a propitiation for our sins. Propitiation, if I’m not mistaken, carries the denotation of a removal of wrath. If you then assert that there is no numerical limit, you have universalism. There are only two ultimate options in relation to God: either you are His child, or you are His enemy. There is no middle ground of “neutrality.”

    If you assert the theoretical nature of the cross, then you cannot assert that anyone is saved, because salvation is only possible, not accomplished.

    As to man’s will: we agree that man has a will. I think that it is in bondage to sin. Genesis 9 says that the thoughts of man were constantly evil before God. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart of man is deceitful above all things. Jesus said in John 8, I believe, that all who sin are a slave to sin. I think the burden lies on you to prove that man is free from sin, as to make a true choice for Christ.

    As to God’s hate: There are Psalms that clearly teach that God hates (Psalm 5, Psalm 11), where the context denies that these are imprecatory Psalms, imo. What the nature of that hate is (whether a withholding of His salvific love, or an active hatred), I’ll be quick to say that I don’t know. I think that the latter seems better supported by scripture, especially considering that 1 John 4:9 says that God is love. But I differentiate in how God shows that love. To those who remain unregenerate, God shows His amazing long-suffering nature, showing His willingness to forgive. To those who were saved, He loved them, and brought them to love Him (1 John 4:19).

    You may have addressed these things earlier on your blog, but I am new here.

    May God bless.

  10. Well, Jordan, I am not really claiming anyone’s position as my own. I am suggesting some similarities between my position and theirs. But if they are not really similar, that is not important to me.

    What you have to prove is that the world here refers to every single individual, and that it doesn’t refer to only those who believe.

    I consider that I have more than adequately proved that the word kosmos in John’s gospel does not refer only to believers, in fact rather the opposite although in this case it obviously includes those who come to belief. I don’t see how anyone can persist in the position you take unless they have already presupposed that position and are not prepared to allow it to be challenged by the biblical text.

    When I wrote

    there is no divine will or intention of any limitation of the enjoyment of the atonement

    I was indeed referring primarily to a limitation in the number of people who would enjoy the benefits of the atonement, not in the extent to which any one person would enjoy it. In fact of course there is no divine will or intention of either kind of limitation. Indeed I take this enjoyment as equivalent to “adoption into the family of Christ”.

    1 John 2:2 is interesting because it states clearly that Jesus is the “propitiation” not only “for our sins”, i.e. the sins of Christians, but “also for the sins of the whole world”. And in 1 John the evil connotations of “world” are even stronger than in John’s gospel, see 2:15-17. So I suppose we must hold that because of the work of Christ God is no longer wrathful towards anyone in the world. Nevertheless not everyone is saved; they are condemned not because of God’s wrath but because of his justice, a different matter. Here I am rather thinking off the top of my head as I am unsure what “wrath” means in this context, surely not God losing his temper, but I think I have found a spanner to throw into the Calvinist works.

    As for God hating anyone, the very few references are all in the Old Testament, before the atoning work of Christ. I agree that these references cannot be swept aside. But they are greatly outnumbered by the references to God loving, which is the consistent message in the New Testament.

    I hope this helps, and makes you think!

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  12. You do make me think, mainly because of the twists that you put on the standard (of seemingly) Arminian arguments. (I remember asking many of the same questions a few years ago, when my atheist teacher started getting aggressive. Needless to say, I found my starting position to have any type of satisfaction spiritually. But I digress.)

    You essentially drove John 3:16 outside of it’s context, where the very next verse identifies who the world is. John 3:17 essentially identifies the world as those who believe. To quote in it’s entirety (3:16-17), Jesus said “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Those who believed are saved, the very intention of God when He sent His Son here.

    In John 6:35-45, Jesus said that only those who come to Him are those the Father has given to Him. Will anyone other than those given enjoy the work of the cross?

    Would you agree with Dave Hunt when he says that being adopted into the family of God doesn’t mean we’re saved? God forgives those in His family and chastises them as children.

    As to 1 John 2:2, God’s wrath and justice are both brought against sin. If sin is atoned for by Christ, then there is nothing for which to bring wrath or justice against. If you say unbelief isn’t covered until a person comes to the cross, you make the cross imperfect in its work. Btw, most people defines God’s wrath as His meting out justice against the wicked.

    Romans 9:13 is not in your NT? I thought it said (quoting the OT) “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.” Again, I assert that I do not believe that it is an active hatred, but an absence of salvific love, in part because 1 John asserts that God is love.

  13. Yes, Jordan, of course the divine intention was for the world to be saved, that is for everyone to be saved, as is made even more clear in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9. But in your interpretation of John 3:16-17 you repeat Elder Eric’s fallacy of assuming that everything that God intends actually happens – although you don’t interpret 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9 in that way I assume. But the plain meaning of the word “world” demands that in fact God’s intention in John 3:16-17 is not fully realised.

    I would say that all who are adopted into God’s family are saved, unless they specifically choose to leave the family. See my follow-up post on apostasy.

    Yes, I forgot Romans 9:13, but this is about the nation Edom, not about an individual.

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  15. I’m sorry if I come off as rude, but I’m gonna be blunt here.

    In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter uses pronouns to separate those whom God intends to save from the outsiders. Also note the argument that Peter is making: God has delayed the return of Christ so that all of us (Christians) will be saved. If that refers to every single person in the world, then Christ will never return. However, it makes perfect sense if Peter has a particular group of people in mind.

    Can you give an example of God intending something that never happened? Note that if you assert that God’s will is thwarted, you have contradicted the scriptures which say that God’s will will be accomplished (Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 43:13, 46:9-11; Romans 9:9-24, to name a few). If you are saying that God wills something, and yet His will about a certain situation is not given, then that is presumption on your part, a very dangerous place to be.

    1 Timothy 2 refers to whom we should pray for, and then Paul gives a list of the kinds of people that we should pray for. There we could safely assume that all refers to all kinds of people.

    Again your western tradition makes you place an individualistic reading in these texts. You have to prove that the mindset of the authors was a western one, not an eastern one, where the generalization is of type, not individual. I think that’s where we differ, as the predominate mindset I see in the Bible is one closer to an eastern type, rather than an individualistic one.

  16. Can you give an example of God intending something that never happened?

    Matthew 23:37. And plenty of cases in the Old Testament of God longing for his people to return to him, but they didn’t. But, Jordan, I’m sure that if you can pervert John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 into messages of damnation, then you can do the same with this verse. And if you are claiming that God intended all the evil which happens in the world, then the God you worship is not the God of love that I know and love, but sounds more like his enemy Satan. Sorry to be blunt in return. But I find it hard to accept someone teaching a message like yours as a fellow Christian.

  17. Kirk said: “And if you are claiming that God intended all the evil which happens in the world, …”

    John 1:3 – All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    Isaiah 45:7 – I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    We accept that God knows all things and has known all things from eternity past. That means God knew what the fallout would be from what He created, including evil. Yet He created it anyway.

    We accept that God’s nature does not change. He is the same now as He was in the New Testament as He was in the Old Testament. We accept that all things were by Him made. That has to include the potential for evil, if not evil itself. God gave Satan permission to go after Job. God did not go after Job, Satan did. But God made Satan. God made Eve for Adam, even though He knew that she would be the death of him.

    If you haven’t much studied the issue of God and Evil, search Wikipedia on Evil. That article and its related links is a good place to start.

    There is a great deal more to God than love.

  18. Yes, Richard, God knew what the fallout would be from evil. That does not imply that he intended it. Your translation of Isaiah 45:7 is tendentious. because the word translated “evil” can also mean “disaster”, i.e. God brings disasters as part of his judgment, as we know, but this verse does not say that he creates moral evil. I accept that God created the potential for evil, but not that he created evil.

    I agree especially with these parts of your Tominthebox comments:

    Christ died for all of the sins of all men[, women and children], but only those who repent and accept this gift (the shedding of blood for the remission of sins) will be saved. … The shedding of Christ’s blood was a sufficient sacrifice for all.

    It is interesting that you point out that if “Christ died, not to save people, but to assuage an angry God”, then limited atonement becomes meaningless. Indeed this doctrine depends on a highly individualistic understanding of the atonement. While I believe that I can say that “Christ died for me as an individual”, that is only because I am one of the large group which benefited from this. He was not actually thinking of me as an individual when he considered whether to die. It seems to me a ridiculous idea that Christ on the cross was thinking about which of the billions to be born in centuries to come (and in the past) he was dying for and which he was not. No, in intention he died for everyone, en masse rather than thinking of individuals, even though not everyone actually benefits.

    Yes, there is more to God than love, but there is nothing in God which contradicts love.

  19. Sorry for taking so long, but life’s responsibilities keep me busy.

    Matthew 23:37 is a passage of judgement on the Pharisees (specifically) for disobeying God. The very next sentence says the house of Jerusalem will be left desolate to them, because of that disobedience.

    It’s interesting you cite an example of the prescrtiptive will of God being disobeyed, when Isaiah 14:24-27 specifically states that God’s will stands firm and shall be accomplished. Is there a contradiction in scripture? No. God gave His prescriptive will to the Jews and they disobeyed it, but God has a purpose in that. But I should have been more specific. Can you give an example of something decreed of God in prophecy that x will happen, but y happened instead (note that I exclude things that haven’t happened yet, as it is clear that some things have yet to occur). I’m specifically referring to things like God decreeing that Jerusalem will fall, and then Jeruslam fell in ~586 (among other examples).

    You claim I pervert the scriptures. Yet you ignore the passages in scripture that say that God’s will is accomplished. Very interesting claim is it not? I’ll say that you need to read things in the context and mindset of the original audience, not as you would read it in a 21st century individualistic mindset, which you seem unwilling to do.

    You also ignore texts such as 2 Timothy 1:8-11, which says:
    [8Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. ]

    Verse 9 is particularly interesting, as it says that God has saved us according to His purpose and grace granted to us in (or possibly better, through) Christ FROM ALL ETERNITY. Or look at John 6:35- 45 which says:

    [ 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36″But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37″All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38″For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39″This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40″For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” 41Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44″No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45″It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. ]

    Can anyone who is drawn by the Father not come? Or is man’s free-will able to resist what has been decreed for all eternity by the Almighty? I think not.

    You say that a God who intends the evil in the world is not a God of love. O would agree, if God’s purposes in the world were not holy. Genesis 50:20 (Jacob talking to his brothers) says that what the brothers meant for evil (selling Jacob into slavery) God meant for GOOD. God has a purpose for every evil act that occurs. To claim to have a god who is impotent to stop evil from happening if he intends to not let it happen is an idol that should be abandoned as such, because he is unable to be sovereign over his creation.

    It’s also interesting to note Romans 9:14-24 :

    [ 14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
    24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. ]

    Romans 9 is about the salvation of men, and how God is sovereign in the hardening and salvation of men (specifically against the charge that the gospel has failed among the Jews).

    I noticed the comments during my absence, and I have a question for you: Why is it absurd to think that Christ has a particular people in mind at the Cross? In John 10, Jesus represents Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep, and even explains the unbelief of the Jews as not being a part of His flock.

  20. Thank you for your response Peter. I’m not interested in getting into a heavy discussion on the origin of evil. I’ve just always been intrigued by the verse I quoted:

    John 1:3 – All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    Can anything exist and not be traceable back to God as its ultimate author/creator? If the answer is “yes”, that would imply that some other power was able to create things independent of God – which seems to contradict the scripture “… without him was not anything made that was made.”

    That is just a thought in passing. I’m not trying to start or fuel a debate.

  21. Here is part of what I posted at the following link. This will not be discussed there so I am wondering if anyone has a comment here.

    The shedding of Christ’s blood was a sufficient sacrifice for all [Christ’s free gift]. But not all will take advantage of that gift through repenting and asking forgiveness for their sins.

    A legitimate question is, how does one who is dead in sin take advantage of Christ’s free gift? The Bible makes it quite clear that no man comes to God except the Holy Spirit draws him and convicts him of his sin and leads him to repentance. A question of interest is does the Holy Spirit draw everyone? And a related question would be, how could anyone who is drawn by the Holy Spirit resist Him?

    Adam and Eve sinned before they fell, while they were still good – they did not aquire a sin nature after the fall and then sin only as a result of that sin nature. Adam and Eve sinned while they were still walking and talking with God Himself, personally – supposedly before the sin nature stuff took hold, before the ‘dead in their trespasses and sin’ part took hold.

    The Calvinist viewpoint seems to be that God’s call is irresistable, even tho God’s call comes from a distance and through a glass darkly. But we see that Adam and Eve talked with God in person and still managed to resist His call! So – did God’s sovereignty start after the fall?

    I’m not being cheeky here. If man truely cannot resist God’s call (if no one can resist the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance), I’m left wondering what happened in the case of Adam and Eve. On the other hand, it appears to me that the case of Adam and Eve is proof positive that man can and doesresist God’s call.

    I agree that the Bible states that the natural mind is hostile to the things of God and that no man comes to Jesus without being drawn by the Holy Spirit. But I stumble over the claim that no one can resist the call of the Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve did. Where does the Bible say that we are different from them?

  22. Because I won’t be by here again for several weeks, I am going to go ahead and submit this for consideration also. It is a further comment on my post of 2-25-08 above and Peter’s response to it – regarding the concept of limited atonement.

    “Christ died so that sinners might be saved” says something completely different from “Christ died to save sinners” (Calvinists seem to say the latter).

    Jesus did not die to save sinners. Jesus died as the sacrifice God required because of the sins of his creation. Jesus died only to satisfy God’s requirement that, without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin. Only a sinner can save himself – by repenting of his sins and asking for God’s forgiveness, and pointing to Jesus’ death as the shedding of blood that God requires for his sins. If the sinner does not repent and ask for forgiveness, Christs death is meaningless for that person – even tho Christ’s death is sufficient for that person if only he would ask for forgiveness. Note that we are not discussing what draws a person to repentance here. We are discussing only that it is not Christ’s death that saves a person, it is his repentance and requesting forgiveness that saves him.

    I take slight disagreement with Peter’s contention that Christ died for him. That puts us dangerously into the territory of for whom did Christ die? instead of <for what did Christ die?. I believe that Christ died as a sacrifice in order that I might be saved. But I don’t believe that Christ died to save me. His death is meaningless to me and for me – until I repent and ask for forgiveness and point to Christs death as the shedding of blood that God requires before He can forgive me (that’s the ‘believe on Jesus’ part – I believe His shed blood is sufficient for me). If I don’t do that part (repent and ask for forgiveness) there is nothing that Christ can do to save me – no badly how much He might want to.

  23. Last line reads: me – no badly how much He might want to.

    Should read: me – no matter how much He might want to.

  24. Peter, I haven’t been able to keep up with this discussion, but I did want to point out that a lot of Calvinists don’t like the term Limited Atonement. They prefer Particular Atonement. So perhaps they agree with you that the term is misleading. Nevertheless, there is a history to the term, and the view I’ve expressed is, I think, exactly what the Calvinists meant by Limited Atonement. The atonement is limited in its extent, even though it could have covered others and has the efficacy within it to cover anyone who repents.

  25. Jordan, I can’t answer you in detail. Isaiah 14:24-27 is about the specific prophecy in verse 25. For a specific prophetic word that was not fulfilled, see Jonah 3:4. Humans clearly have free will to disobey God by sinning, which is clearly not God’s will for their lives. Yes, there is some kind of distinction here between different kinds of will, but the line between them is not as clear as you make out.

    You misread the comments that you noticed during your absence. I did not say that it is “absurd to think that Christ has a particular people in mind at the Cross”. Drop the “a” and you may get my meaning, then replace “people” by “individuals”. The human mind of Jesus was not able to think specifically of billions of individuals.

  26. Richard, I would not suggest that anything can be made apart from God. But evil is not a thing.

    As for your question at Tominthebox, “dead in sin” clearly does not mean incapable of making any decisions, as unregenerate humans make decisions every day. Rather it means that they are dying and destined for death. Also regenerate people are still capable of choosing to sin, as I know from my own personal experience. Thus any sin, not just the sin of Adam and Eve, is proof that humans can resist God’s will, in those matters in which God chooses not to enforce his will.

    But I cannot agree with your

    Jesus did not die to save sinners. … Jesus died only to satisfy God’s requirement …Only a sinner can save himself …

    No, Jesus does the saving, and the human part is simply to consent to being saved. Of course you are right that

    If the sinner does not repent and ask for forgiveness, Christs death is meaningless for that person …

    But if you think it is dangerous to ask “for whom did Christ die?”, what do you do with Romans 5:6,8 “Christ died for the ungodly … Christ died for us”? See also Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11 where individuals are described as “for whom Christ died”, also 2 Corinthians 5:14,15, 1 Thessalonians 5:10. Then there is John 11:50-52, where it is prophesied that Jesus will die for the Jewish people and for “the scattered children of God”. So it is a clear teaching at least in Paul’s and John’s theology that Christ died for human beings, as well as for sins (1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Peter 3:18). I’m not sure what you are getting at by denying this, but it is you who are going in a dangerous direction.

  27. Jeremy, thanks for the clarification. I am reasonably happy with a definition of this doctrine which does not deny that “The atonement … has the efficacy within it to cover anyone who repents.”

  28. I would argue that Jonah is a conditional prophecy, but that’s a distinction that I really don’t have time to make.

    Ok, I can kinda see what you’re saying (referring to my misreading you). We would that the human nature of Jesus could not, but His divine nature could do so easily.

    Honestly, I have too much going on right now to continue discussing this (I have 7 college level classes and a chess tourney to prepare for) so I’ll cut it off at this: may God bless.

  29. Jesus’ death on the cross makes my salvation possible – it does not secure that salvation.

    Jesus died that I might be saved. His death did not save me.

    Only I can save myself (but only because Jesus died) – by repenting and asking forgiveness and believing that Jesus’ shed blood is sufficient to pay the blood sacrifice I cannot pay.

    Am I saved because Jesus died on the cross even tho I do not repent and ask for forgiveness? If the answer is “no” – then it must be true that Jesus did not die to save me. He died only to make my salvation possible. Or, as others have put it, Jesus died to prepare a way of salvation that is acceptable to God. That way is of no merit to me unless I choose to follow in it. That way is the only way that I can come to God and be accepted by Him. There is no other way. Yet it is not efficacious for me unless I follow in it.

    In all of the verses you quoted, Peter, Jesus’ death does not make the thing happen that is mentioned there (Jesus’ death does not save the Jews or the scattered children of God, or others.). It simply prepares the way for this salvation to happen. And this salvation will not happen unless the Jews and the scattered children of God and others repent and take advantage of the way of salvation that Jesus opened up for them.

    That is all I meant. To think otherwise, to think that Jesus saved me personally by dying on the cross, takes away my responsiblity to repent and ask for forgivness. I don’t think that position is at odds with your position. But it seems to be at odds with what some of those in the Reformed faith say.

    Thanks for the feedback and clarification.

  30. Clarification:

    “For whom did Christ die” has a meaning to the Reformed folks that is different from it’s meaning to you and me. They believe Christ died only for the Elect. Therefore, they argue about “for whom did Christ die” (answer: the Elect). I am arguing that Christ died as a sacrifice (a “what”, not a “whom”) to pay for the sins of God’s creation. This creates a ransom for everybody, but not everybody will take advantage of it. My argument, then, is that Christ died to be that ransom for everybody (a “what”), He did not die to save only the 30-odd million elect and nobody else as the Reformed folks seem to believe.

    I need to spend some time thinking this through so that I can come up with a more precise way of saying it. Distinguishing between “for whom did Christ die” (the Elect) and “for what did Christ die” (as a ransom for all) may seem like splitting hairs, but it really isn’t.

  31. Richard, I think we are not far apart, closer to one another than to the Reformed tradition. But I am concerned by some of your terminology. I would put it this way. Jesus died “for” every person in the sense that he made possible the salvation of every person, but only if they choose to accept that salvation. He died with the intention of saving every person, but he did not succeed in saving every person, not because his death was weak or limited, but because God chose to make it possible for people to decline salvation. But Jesus does save those who accept his offer of salvation.

  32. Jeremy, thanks for the clarification. I am reasonably happy with a definition of this doctrine which does not deny that “The atonement … has the efficacy within it to cover anyone who repents.”

    Then you don’t have a problem with the standard view. This how Wayne Grudem puts it in his Systematic Theology. This is how Don Carson puts it in his The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It’s how John Piper expresses it in The Pleasures of God and “Are There Two Wills in God?” It’s how R.C. Sproul defines it in Chosen By God. I’ve seen it in John Calvin’s writings. I’m pretty sure J.I. Packer and John Stott have put it this way too, but I don’t remember offhand where. There are people who deny this, but they stand at odds with all the people I’ve just listed, which I think is pretty good evidence that they’re not in the mainstream of Calvinism.

  33. I have read most of the posts above and found them to be circular, the majority of comments agree with each other, but are worded slightly differently, therefore being interpreted as different.
    I unfortunately am not a scholar and the references from various writers and denominations mean nothing to me, but I would offer a simple statement as I believe, regardless of faction.

    God created all men therefore Christ died for everyone, God gave us free will to chose whether or not we wish to accept Christs sacifice and he will do everything he can within the boundaries of free will do bring everyone to salvation.
    Without getting into an argument of who said what and what one branch of Christianity believe compared to another, as I will lose, I cant see how this can be misinterpreted, regardless of the translation from Greek. Maybe we should spend more time listening to God and less time discussing the meaning of his words, if Christ is in our hearts, surely that alone will lead us to true understanding, we must be as children and switch of our intellect and pride, open our hearts and listen.

    I offer my apologies if the above post doesnt fit into the intellectual debate, but I came across all your comments by accident and felt obligated to speak, please feel free to tear my comments apart, maybe it will help me see clearer.

    thank you

  34. Simon, thanks for your comment. I am a little concerned about

    if Christ is in our hearts, surely that alone will lead us to true understanding

    – because a lot of people have used that kind of argument to justify all kinds of unbiblical and clearly sinful behaviour. But I agree with your main conclusion.

  35. Hi Peter

    Thanks, I agree with you point regarding

    “if Christ is in our hearts, surely that alone will lead us to true understanding”

    I suppose that leads us back to the debate of scripture and blows my point of view partly out of the water. At the end of the day scripture and the holy spirit are both needed.

    At times I read debates regarding peoples interpretation of scriptue and I’m amazed at how many different meanings there are, as with the church, everytime someone comes up with a new perspective, a new church seems to be born. As one of the earlier writers wrote, we should think as a man who was alive at the time of the scriptures being written and not as a person in the 21st century, as sometimes we are too clever for our our good and I fear we (all of us) can become the Pharisees. One word out of context can lead us or another from the true path.
    I was interested, but didnt understand the references to Calvinists, please excuse my ignorance and I dont want to take advantage of your knowledge and turn this into a lesson, but what is a calvinist?

  36. At the end of the day scripture and the holy spirit are both needed.

    Indeed! With the Spirit but not the word we blow up, or go well astray. With the word but not the Spirit we dry up, or divide incessantly. With the word and the Spirit we grow up in Christ. That is based on an old saying which I have added to.

    For a quick lesson on Calvinism, see this Wikipedia article. Then see what I have had to say on this blog about Calvinism. I don’t have time to write more now.

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