Archive for the 'Atonement' Category

Cynicism about Jesus as an Easter ‘treat’

Monday, April 9th, 2018

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was published in On Line Opinion, ‘Cynicism about Jesus as an Easter “treat’, 4 April 2018.

Please note in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of the article the number of posters who don’t deal with the content of the article. Instead, they pour out their vitriol against Christianity with a string of logical fallacies.

I responded as OzSpen. However, when people are engaged in the use of erroneous reasoning, it’s impossible to have a logical conversation with them.

What are logical fallacies?

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others (Purdue Online Writing Lab: Logical Fallacies, 1996-2018).


Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 April 2018.


Who can be reconciled to God?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016


(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This has been a perennial question throughout church history, but it has become especially debated in the Arminian-Calvinistic controversy: Is it possible for all people to be reconciled to God? Or, is that only for a select, elect group? Is it only a charade for Jesus to say, ‘For God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the propitiation ‘for the whole world’?

This relates to a person’s doctrines of predestination/election and atonement. With predestination, has God predestined only the Christian elect to salvation or is his mercy so wide that the Gospel is offered to all and their election is determined by their response? As for the atonement, is it limited to the elect for whom Christ died (limited atonement) or did Christ die for all people (unlimited atonement)?

Let’s check out some evidence.

1. Some examples from church history

We will now examine some leading Christian theologians or leaders from early church history to the present, to check their views.

1.1 Athanasius (ca. 295-373)[1]

This distinguished early church father was a promoter of the orthodox, Trinitarian Christian view at the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

At the council this young man, slightly over thirty, insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality. He insisted on these things because he believed that if Christ were less than he had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of men…. He held that Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial with the Father; and for these views he suffered exile five times (Cairns 1981:134).


(copy of icon of Athanasius, courtesy Wikipedia)

In his writing ‘On the Incarnation of the Word(§9), Athanasius spoke of the Son, the Word, ‘To this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all’ (emphasis added). In this same paragraph, Athanasius wrote, ‘For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death’ (emphasis added).

1.2 Augustine (354-430)

clip_image004(image of Augustine, courtesy Wikipedia)

St Augustine is a mixed bag. There are examples in his writings of his support for limited atonement, but on other occasions he was unambiguous in support of unlimited atonement.

Here is his support for unlimited atonement in his exposition of 1 John 2:2:

For he that has said, We have Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins: having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, Lo, here is Christ, lo, there; [Matthew 24:23] and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he immediately goes on to say, Not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world. What is this, brethren? Certainly we have found it in the fields of the woods, we have found the Church in all nations. Behold, Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world. Behold, you have the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be in that mountain which has filled the whole earth: because Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world, which He has bought with His blood. (Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John, 1:1-2:11, emphasis added).

It is not inconsequential in this paragraph on 1 John 1 & 2, Augustine affirms three times that Christ propitiated for the ‘sins of the whole world’. This is not indicating a limited atonement but an unlimited atonement. Another example is:

For men were held captive under the devil, and served devils; but they were redeemed from captivity. They could sell, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave a price; He poured forth His Blood, and bought the whole world. You ask what He bought? You see what He has given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations? (Expositions on the Psalms, Chapter 96.5, emphasis added).

In Tractate 92 on John’s Gospel, Augustine wrote, ‘The blood of Christ was shed for the remission of all sins’ (Tractate 92.1, emphasis added).

In later writings, Augustine clarified or redefined his understanding of the ‘whole world’ with his explanation of 1 Tim 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved’:

It is said, Who will have all men to be saved; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that He was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, He said, would have repented if He had worked them?), but that we are to understand by all men, the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances—kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them; for the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever He may will? (Augustine, The Enchiridrion,[2] ch 103, emphasis added).

So here ‘all men’ for Augustine means from all groups of people and not for everyone in the world in its totality. This theology has been adopted by John Calvin himself in his interpretation of Titus 2:11, where he stated of this phrase:

Bringing salvation to all men,[3] That it is common to all is expressly testified by him on account of the slaves of whom he had spoken. Yet he does not mean individual men, but rather describes individual classes, or various ranks of life. And this is not a little emphatic, that the grace of God hath let itself down even to the race of slaves; for, since God does not despise men of the lowest and most degraded condition, it would be highly unreasonable that we should be negligent and slothful to embrace his goodness.[4]

John 3:17 states, ‘For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved’. Augustine’s comment, in rather obtuse[5] reasoning, is:

So far, then, as it lies in the physician, He has come to heal the sick. He that will not observe the orders of the physician destroys himself. He has come a Saviour to the world: why is he called the Saviour of the world, but that He has come to save the world, not to judge the world? You will not be saved by Him; you shall be judged of yourself. And why do I say, shall be judged? See what He says: He that believes in Him is not judged, but he that believes not. What do you expect He is going to say, but is judged? Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place. For the Lord knows them that are His: He knows who are persevering for the crown, and who for the flame; knows the wheat on His threshing-floor, and knows the chaff; knows the good grain, and knows the tares. He that believes not is already judged. Why judged? Because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God (Augustine, Tractate 12 (John 3:6-21), §12).

I find this exposition to be difficult to understand because Augustine does not come out and clearly state it like this: ‘Jesus is the Saviour of the world but unbelievers are judged already, thus making salvation only for the elect believers’. That seems to be his intent but it is stated in a round-about fashion with language such as, ‘Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place’. If the judgment of all has already taken place, then God has judged the damned to be in that condemned state already. ‘There is some agreement that tractates 1-16 were preached by Augustine in the winter of 406-407’ (Augnet, On the Gospel of John, 2010). Eminent church historian, Philip Schaff, was not of that view, concluding that Augustine ‘delivered them to his flock at Hippo about A.D. 416 or later’ (CCEL, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Preface).

1.3 John Calvin (1509-1564)

clip_image006(painting, John Calvin by Hans Holbein,, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

What did Calvin say of John 3:16 in regard to those for whom Christ died? He wrote:

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (John Calvin, Commentary on John 3:13-18, vol 1, emphasis added).

Calvin could not be clearer that ‘whoever’ believes makes the offer of salvation available ‘indiscriminately’ to all ‘unbelievers’ and the term ‘world’ in John 3:16 refers to ‘the whole world … all men without exception’. ‘Men’ here is generic for all people.

1.4 The Remonstrance

The five Arminian articles of the Remonstrance (to remonstrant meant to oppose) were composed by the followers of Arminius in 1610 after his death in 1609. These five points stated their main opposition to Dutch Reformed theology and were presented to the State in the Netherlands as Remonstrance.

The Arminian Remonstrance believed, according to Article 2, that ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer’ (The Remonstrance, The Five Arminian Articles, A.D. 1610, Philip Schaff, emphasis added).The verses they gave in support were John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

So who have the possibility of being reconciled to God? Jesus, the Saviour, died for all people according to the Remonstrance, meaning every human being, but those who believe receive this forgiveness.

1.5 The Synod of Dort[6]

There were five main points (headings) regarding a dispute in the Netherlands, known as the Canons of Dort, that were a response to the Remonstrance, promoted by Arminius (University of Leiden) and his followers. Dort considered Arminianism was a departure from the Reformed faith in a number of important matters. It met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, 1618-1619, with 2 Dutch delegates and 27 foreign delegates representing 8 countries (The Canons of Dort, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary).

In its explanation of the death of Christ and the redemption of human beings, the Synod of Dort, concluded:

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever (Head 2, Art 8, emphasis added).

Thus, redemption only extends to the elect who receive the gift of justifying faith while the remainder of humanity who ‘perish in unbelief’ are in that situation because it is wholly imputed to them by God (Head 2, Art 6). This is a confirmation of double predestination to salvation for the believer and to damnation for the unbeliever.

1.6 John Wesley (1703-1791)[7]

clip_image008(John Wesley image courtesy

John Wesley (1703-1791) was a Church of England (Anglican) minister,[8] so his view of the atonement would have been shaped by the Anglican Articles of Religion, commonly known as the Thirty-nine Articles. The first portion of Article 17 states,

Predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he has consistently decreed by his counsel which is hidden from us to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ out of mankind and to bring them through Christ to eternal salvation as vessels made for honour. Hence those granted such an excellent benefit by God are called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working at the appropriate time. By grace they obey the calling; they are freely justified, and made sons of God by adoption, are made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk faithfully in good works and at the last by God’s mercy attain eternal happiness (Thirty-nine Articles, Article 17, emphasis added).

What was Wesley’s view? Darren Wood maintained that ‘even though John Wesley claimed that the atonement was crucial to his theology, he never articulated a systematic theory of the atonement’ (Wood 2007:2.55). Harald Lindstrom concluded in a similar way, ‘Wesley never took up the Atonement for special consideration in any of his treatises or tracts. Nor is it the main theme in any of his sermons’ (Lindstrom n d).

Wesley in writing to his opponent, the Anglican Rev William Law, stated that Jesus Christ ‘is our propitiation through faith in His blood’ (Wesley, letter from London, May 20, 1738, The Letters of John Wesley 1738). As to causation of our salvation, the Wesleys were clear: ‘The sole cause of our acceptance with God (or, that for the sake of which, on the account of which, we are accepted) is the righteousness and the death of Christ, who fulfilled God’s law, and died in our stead’ (Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Preface).

In this edition of ‘The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Vol VI’, it stated: ‘It is true, repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself, nor any of our Reformers, made any scruple of calling them so’ (p. 98).

Wesley maintained that Jesus’ atonement ‘is the propitiation – The atoning sacrifice by which the wrath of God is appeased. For our sins – Who believe. And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world – Just as wide as sin extends, the propitiation extends also’ (John Wesley, Notes on the First Epistle of John, 1 John 2:2, emphasis added).

Thus, John Wesley believed in universal atonement, propitiation that extends as far as sin goes – to all human beings.

1.7 C H Spurgeon (1834-1892)[9]

clip_image010(C H Spurgeon painting courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Spurgeon is adamant about his view of the atonement:

We hold—we are not afraid to say that we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving “a multitude which no man can number;” and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father’s throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men’s account, died to save them (emphasis added).[10]

In another sermon on the death of Christ, he preached, ‘Understand, then, the sense in which Christ was made a sacrifice for sin. But here lies the glory of this matter. It was as a substitute for sin that he did actually and literally suffer punishment for the sin of all his elect’ (emphasis added).[11]

So, the eminent British Baptist preacher and revivalist of the nineteenth century, C H Spurgeon, was an inflexible promoter of limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world. There is no effectual atonement, i.e. atonement through Christ’s shed blood that is effective for those damned forever. I’m using effectual atonement as meaning effective atonement.[12]


1.8 Roger E. Olson (b. 1952)[13]

clip_image011(photo Roger E Olson, courtesy InterVarsity Press)[14]

Professor Roger E Olson teaches at a Southern Baptist Seminary,[15] is a promoter of classical Arminianism, and his view of the atonement is that salvation is only for those

who are predestined by God to eternal salvation. They are elect. Who is included in the elect? All who God foresees will accept his offer of salvation through Christ by not resisting the grace that extends to them through the cross and the gospel. Thus, predestination is conditional rather than unconditional: God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect (Olson 2006:35, emphasis added).

Olson (2006:63) cites Arminian theologian H Orton Wiley in support of unlimited atonement. Wiley wrote that ‘the atonement is universal’, which does not mean that all human beings will be unconditionally saved ‘but that the sacrificial offering of Christ so far satisfied the claims of the divine law as to make salvation a possibility for all’. Thus, redemption is ‘universal or general’ in a potential sense in its application to the individual person, i.e. it must be applied by the person to be received (Wiley 1952:295).

1.9 R C Sproul (b. 1939)[16]

clip_image013(photo R C Sproul, courtesy Wikipedia)

An ardent Calvinistic advocate, Sproul addressed this topic of who can be reconciled to God in terms of his understanding of predestination and election, writing that ‘the Reformed doctrine of predestination teaches that all the elect are indeed brought to faith. God insures that the conditions necessary for salvation are met’. Election is unconditional because God’s original decree to choose some for salvation ‘is not dependent upon some future condition in us that God foresees. There is nothing in us that God could foresee that would induce him to choose us…. God chooses us simply according to the good pleasure of his will’ (Sproul 1986:155-156).

Does Sproul support double-predestination, i.e. to salvation and damnation? He wrote, ‘If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination’ (Sproul 1986:141). Yes, he does believe in double-predestination but he goes further with God’s sovereignty in stating that ‘God is sovereign because we know that God is God’ and that ‘God foreordained sin’. This means that ‘God’s decision to allow sin to enter the world was a good decision. This is not to say that our sin is really a good thing, but merely that God’s allowing us to do sin, which is evil, is a good thing. God’s allowing evil is good, but the evil he allows is still evil’ (Sproul 1986:31-32).

Elsewhere Sproul did articulate his theology of limited atonement:

I prefer the term definite atonement to the term limited atonement (though it turns tulip into tudip). The doctrine of definite atonement focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross….

Anyone who is not a universalist is willing to agree that the effect of Christ’s work on the cross is limited to those who believe. That is, Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers. Not everyone is saved through His death. Everyone also agrees that the merit of Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for the sins of all human beings. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some.

This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement. Those who deny definite atonement insist that Christ’s work of atonement was designed by God to atone for the sins of everyone in the world. It made possible the salvation of everyone, but made certain the salvation of no one. Its design is therefore both unlimited and indefinite.

The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect. The Atonement was an actual, not merely potential, work of redemption. In this view there is no possibility that God’s design and intent for the Atonement could be frustrated. God’s purpose in salvation is sure (Sproul 1992:175-176, emphasis added).

In simple language, Sproul believes that in allowing evil to enter the world, that was God’s good decision. I ask: How can it be other than that since God’s actions are always perfect, right and just? ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen 18:25 ESV) As for the atonement, it was only designed for the elect, so Jesus died only for these people, in the view of Sproul.

2. What did the early church fathers teach?

clip_image015Church Fathers, 11th century Kievan minature (image courtesy Wikipedia)


Let’s check out the primary sources online to see if some of the early church fathers (the ones mentioned by Ron Rhodes, n d) supported unlimited atonement!

clip_image016Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-211/215):[17] ‘He bestows salvation on all humanity abundantly’ (Paedagogus 1.11). ‘For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit. For that faith is the one universal salvation of humanity’ (Paedagogus 1.6). Elsewhere it has been stated by Ron Rhodes that Clement of Alexandria taught, ‘Christ freely brings… salvation to the whole human race’.[18] However, I’ve been unable to find these exact quotes in the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

clip_image016[1]Eusebius of Caesarea (260-341):[19] ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and of His human body…. This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 1, Introduction, ch. 10). ‘His Strong One forsook Him then, because He wished Him to go unto death, even “the death of the cross,” and to be set forth as the ransom and sacrifice for the whole world…. to ransom the whole human race, buying them with His precious Blood from their former slavery to their invisible tyrants, the unclean daemons, and the rulers and spirits of evil’ (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 10, ch 8).

clip_image016[2]Athanasius (ca 296-373),[20] in The Incarnation of the Word, wrote: None could renew but He Who had created. He alone could (1) recreate all, (2) suffer for all, (3) represent all to the Father’ (7, heading). ‘all creation was confessing that He that was made manifest and suffered in the body was not man merely, but the Son of God and Saviour of all’ (19.3); ‘or who among those recorded in Scripture was pierced in the hands and feet, or hung at all upon a tree, and was sacrificed on a cross for the salvation of all?’ (37.1)

It has been quoted frequently across the Internet that Athanasius stated, ‘Christ the Son of God, having assumed a body like ours, because we were all exposed to death [which takes in more than the elect], gave Himself up to death for us all as a sacrifice to His Father’.[21] However, I have been unable to find this exact quote in Athanasius’s works online.

Athanasius wrote that Christ ‘offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to show Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, section 20)

clip_image016[3]Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 315-386):[22] ‘And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf’ (Catacheses – or Catehetical Lectures 13.2).

clip_image016[4]Cyril of Alexandria (ca 375-444)[23] taught that we confess that he is the Son, begotten of God the Father, and Only-begotten God; and although according to his own nature he was not subject to suffering, yet he suffered for us in the flesh according to the Scriptures, and although impassible, yet in his Crucified Body he made his own the sufferings of his own flesh; and by the grace of God he tasted death for all…. he tasted death for every man, and after three days rose again, having despoiled hell.’ (Third epistle to Nestorius). ‘Giving His own Blood a ransom for the life of all’ (That Christ is one).

On the Internet, I have seen many examples of this quote, “The death of one flesh is sufficient for the ransom of the whole human race, for it belonged to the Logos, begotten of God the Father.” (Oratorio de Recta Fide, no. 2, sec. 7). I have not yet been able to locate it in Internet primary sources for Cyril of Alexandria’s works.

clip_image016[5]Gregory of Nazianzen (ca 330-389):[24] ‘He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.  As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also’ (Oration XXIX, The third theological oration on the Son, XX).

I was unable to locate the quote, ‘the sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world’, allegedly from Oratoria 2 in Pasch., i.e., Passover.

clip_image016[6]Basil of Caesarea, Basil the Great (329-379):[25] “But one thing was found that was equivalent to all men….the holy and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He poured out for us all” (On Ps. 49:7, 8, sec. 4 or Psalm 48, n.4). I have been unable to track down this quote on the Internet.[26]

clip_image016[7]Ambrose of Milan (339-397):[27] ‘Christ suffered for all, rose again for all.

clip_image018 But if anyone does not believe in Christ, he deprives himself of that general benefit.” He also wrote, “Christ came for the salvation of all, and undertook the redemption of all, inasmuch as He brought a remedy by which all might escape, although there are many who…are unwilling to be healed’ (Ps. 118, Sermon 8, in Douty 1978:137).[28] I have not yet located the primary source online.

(Mosaic of Ambrose, courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image016[8]St Augustine of Hippo (354-430).[29] See his evidence above in this article.

clip_image016[9]Prosper of Aquitaine (a friend and disciple of Augustine, ca. AD 390-463):[30] “As far as relates to the magnitude and virtue of the price, and to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the redemption of the whole world: but those who pass through this life without the faith of Christ, and the sacrament of regeneration, do not partake of the redemption” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 1, part of this quote is available at, Classical Christianity). Unfortunately, I have not been able to source this online from a site for Prosper of Aquitaine.

He also wrote: ‘Wherefore, the whole of mankind, whether circumcised or not, was under the sway of sin, in fetters because of the very same guilt. No one of the ungodly, who differed only in their degree of unbelief, could be saved without Christ’s Redemption. This Redemption spread throughout the world to become the good news for all men without any distinction’ (Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations, p. 119).

The following are citations from secondary sources for Prosper of Aquitaine, but I have been unable to locate primary sources on the www: He also said, “The Savior is most rightly said to have been crucified for the redemption of the whole world.” He then said, “Although the blood of Christ be the ransom of the whole world, yet they are excluded from its benefit, who, being delighted with their captivity, are unwilling to be redeemed by it.”

For an assessment of the biblical material, see my article, ‘Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement?

3. What’s the biblical evidence?

I have addressed the biblical material in support of limited atonement in my articles,

clip_image020Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

clip_image020[1]Unlimited atonement by Jesus

clip_image020[2]Limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness

clip_image020[3]Did John Calvin believe in limited atonement?

clip_image020[4]Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

clip_image020[5]If Jesus’ atonement is for all, should all be saved?

clip_image020[6]Can world not mean world?

Ron Rhodes (n d), a supporter of unlimited atonement, in his article, ‘The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement’ (Rhodes n d) provides further evidence from the early church fathers until today of leading Christians who supported or now support unlimited atonement.

Theologian Walter Elwell,[31] has concluded concerning unlimited atonement (or, general redemption) that it has been

the historic view of the church, being held by the vast majority of theologians, reformers, evangelists, and fathers from the beginning of the church until the present day, including virtually all the writers before the Reformation, with the possible exception of Augustine. Among the Reformers the doctrine is found in Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Latimer, Cranmer, Coverdale, and even Calvin in some of his commentaries. For example Calvin says regarding Col. 1:14, “This redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death, all the sins of the world have been expiated…. Is it likely that the overwhelming majority of Christians could have so misread the leading of the Holy Spirit on such an important point? (Elwell 1984:99)

4. Salvation offered to all

A person on a Christian forum listed these Scriptures to support the view that salvation is offered to everyone:[32]

Jhn 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

1Pe 3:18 (RSV) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,

Rom 6:10 (NKJV) For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all;

2Co 5:14-15 (NKJV) For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1Ti 2:5-6a (NKJV) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all,

Heb 7:26-27 (NKJV) For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Heb 9:11-12 (NKJV) But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

A response from the Calvinistic poster was that ‘not one of those scriptures says that God offers salvation to all mankind’.[33] I could not let him get away with this one, so I replied:[34]

Titus 2:11 (NIV) does: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’. The ESV translates as, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).
So the grace of God has appeared (in Christ) to offer salvation or bring salvation to ALL people. It does not say ‘all of the elect’.
There’s no room to run and hide now.

How do you think he would react?

Thats (sic) a poor translation. The word offer is not in the text. The word is bringeth salvation, not offer! The emphasis is on the grace of God bringing a application of salvation.
Besides that, you still have Rom 5:10 to deal with which states clearly that believers were reconciled to God by the death of Christ while they were enemies. Thats not the case with all men without exception since many as enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation Jn 3:18, 36![35]

My comeback was:[36]

That’s an excellent translation. The Greek of Titus 2:11 (SBLGreek NT), reads:

??????? ???  ?   ?????   ??? ????  ???????? ????? ?????????
epephane gar he charis tou theou soterios   pasin anthropois (transliteration), with this literal translation:
‘appeared for the grace of the God salvation for all men’.

Now take that literal, word-for-word translation and make sense for the English reader.

  • The NIV has done that with an excellent dynamic equivalence translation (meaning for meaning), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 NIV);
  • The ESV in formal equivalence translation (approx. word for word), ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 ESV), which is a superb translation, although interpretive because of the lack of ‘has appeared’ in the text;
  • The NASB formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (Tit 2:11 NASB) – an excellent translation, but with the added word, ‘bringing’.
  • The KJV formal equivalence translation: ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’ (Tit 2:11 KJV). Excellent translation but with old fashioned language and the added word, ‘bringeth’.
  • The ISV (International Standard Version) dynamic equivalence is: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 ISV) – again, an excellent translation, with ‘has appeared’ added to make sense of the sentence.
  • The HCSB, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 HCSB) – a great translation with ‘has appeared’ added for interpretive sense.
  • The NRSV, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (Tit 2:11 NRSV) is another excellent translation, again adding ‘has appeared’ for clarification of the meaning.

Anyone who has had to translate large chunks of the Greek NT into English – as I have done through many years of formal study and theological teaching – knows that a literal word-for-word translation is impossible in many examples. This is one case in point.

So that I can become better informed, I asked this fellow to please provide a more accurate translation of the Greek text of Titus 2:11 (Greek) than those from the Bible translation examples I provided.

What would the response be? He wrote:

Yes it’s a poor translation. There’s no scripture that says God offers salvation. Titus 2:11 says that the Grace of God brings Salvation to all men, not offers. You misquote scripture.[37]

This is typical of what poster’s do when they don’t have an answer to the challenge. He did not provide a better translation and he also inserted a word, ‘brings’, that is not in the Greek text, so I answered: [38]

I asked for a more accurate translation to be provided, but I see that it is missing. How come?

Please note that ‘brings’ also is not in the Greek text. So ‘brings salvation’ is a poor translation as it inserts a word. Why would you be adding ‘brings’? I’m waiting for a better translation and the reasons for it being a superior translation.

No translation has been forthcoming from this fellow to challenge the translations of the major Bible versions quoted above.

5. Who are under God’s wrath?

It was stated on this Christian forum: ‘Unbelievers and enemies are both the same. Those unbelievers in Jn 3:18, 36 are under Gods (sic) Wrath and condemnation. Do you deny that?’[39]

My response was[40] that of course I believe that unbelievers are under God’s wrath, but what I know is that Jesus’ death appeased the wrath of God for all, as 1 John 2:2 (ESV) affirms, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

Also, regarding what is necessary to receive salvation:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Rom 10:8-10 NIV).

Rebel sinners who are under God’s wrath and have that wrath appeased by Jesus are free to receive Jesus by faith, to believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. They are then justified by faith in professing their faith to be saved.
That’s Bible!

The come back was:

Those under Gods (sic) Wrath and Condemnation, Jesus death did not appease Gods (sic) Wrath for them. If it did they could not be under Gods (sic) Wrath. So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture.[41]

This is far from what the Bible says so I answered:[42]

That is not what 1 John 2:1-2 (ESV) teaches:

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. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

So Jesus is the propitiation (appeasing the wrath of God) for ‘our’ sins. Who are the people referred to as ‘our’? Verse 1 tells us they are ‘little children’ for whom there is ‘an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’. So, John is referring to believers for whom Jesus propitiated the wrath of God.

But John goes further than propitiation for believers. He adds, ‘but also for the sins of the whole world’. Ah, everybody in the world is included. Yes, ‘the whole world’. This is not referring to the world of elect believers. He has already mentioned these. They are the ones covered by the language of ‘our sins’. But he goes further to include everyone in the big, wide, wonderful world – sinners all.

The problem seems to be the inability to grasp how Jesus could be the propitiation for all people and that all people are not saved (universalism). That’s because of a failure to grasp what Jesus taught according to John 5:40 (ESV), ‘yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’.

People are freed to come or refuse to come to Jesus for eternal life. That’s consistent with biblical teaching and does not match the accuser’s taunt, ‘So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture’. Who has made the false statement? The accuser of me and my theology!

6. Logical fallacy in action

The fellow online who began this thread continues with his push:

None of you can explain the proposition. The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10, but all enemies and unbelievers are not reconciled to God by Christ death but are under Gods condemnation and wrath John 3:18, 36. So it is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception.[43]

However, what is his slogan that appears as the byword in the footer of every one of his posts, ‘SAVED BY SOVEREIGN GRACE’.[44]

Therefore, it was pointed and appropriate for me to respond: ‘The begging the question fallacy, i.e. circular reasoning, continues’.[45] With a begging the question fallacy, this person commences with the premise, ‘Saved by sovereign grace’. How does he conclude? ‘The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God…. It is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception’. So he begins with Calvinistic sovereign grace of limited atonement and concludes with the same doctrine.

That’s circular reasoning and gets us nowhere in discussion because it doesn’t deal with the issues at stake, but it sounds to be on track with issues that relate. In fact it is a deliberate strategy to avoid dealing with opposition to the theology.

7. Conclusion

From the early church fathers up to Augustine of Hippo there was a consensus of support for unlimited atonement. However, since the time of Augustine there has been evidence from theologians and other church writers who promote both limited and unlimited atonement. There has been no agreement since the time of Calvin and Arminius.

My own understanding of Scripture is that it supports unlimited atonement, as I have articulated in my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ? I don’t expect there will be agreement on this topic until it is fully revealed at Jesus’ second coming.


(image courtesy

8. Works consulted

Douty, N F 1978. Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? A Treatise on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Elwell, W A 1984. Atonement, Extent of, in W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Lindstrom, H n d. Wesley and sanctification. On Craig L Adams website. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Miethe, T L 1989. The universal power of the atonement, in C Pinnock (gen ed). The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, 71-96. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Olson, R E 2006, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Rhodes, R n d. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (online). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Wood, D C 2007. John Wesley’s use of the atonement. The Asbury Journal 62(2), 55-70. Available at: (Accessed 28 April 2016).


[1] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:134).

[2] Enchiridrion means handbook and its full title was The Enchiridrion on Faith, Hope and Love, New Advent. Available at: (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[3] Calvin’s footnote at this point was:

‘“We now see why Paul speaks of all men, and thus we may judge of the folly of some who pretend to expound the Holy Scriptures, and do not understand their style, when they say, ‘And God wishes that every person should be saved; the grace of God hath appeared for the salvation of every person; it follows, then, that there is free-will, that there is no election, that none have been predestinated to salvation.’ If those men spoke it ought to be with a little more caution. Paul did not mean in this passage, or in 1Ti 2:6 anything else than that the great are called by God, though they are unworthy of it; that men of low condition, though they are despised, are nevertheless adopted by God, who stretches out his hand to receive them. At that time, because kings and magistrates were mortal enemies of the gospel, it might be thought that God had rejected them, and that they cannot obtain salvation. But Paul says that the door must not be shut against them, and that, eventually, God may choose some of this company, though their case appear to be desperate. Thus, in this passage, after speaking of the poor slaves who were not reckoned to belong to the rank of men, he says that God did not fail, on that account, to show himself compassionate towards them, and that he wishes that the gospel should be preached to those to whom men do not deign to utter a word. Here is a poor man, who shall be rejected by us, we shall hardly say, God bless him! and God addresses him in an especial manner, and declares that he is his Father, and does not merely say a passing word, but stops him to say, ‘Thou art of my flock, let my word be thy pasture, let it be the spiritual food of thy soul.’ Thus we see that this word is highly significant, when it is said that the grace of God hath appeared fully to all men.” — Fr. Ser.

[4] From Calvin’s commentary, Titus chapter 2. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[5] I used ‘obtuse’ as meaning ‘difficult to understand’ (Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v obtuse).

[6] Dort is the English spelling of Dordt, which is an abbreviation of Dordrecht.

[7] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:382).

[8] See CCEL, John Wesley, available at: (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[9] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:400).

[10] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, ‘Particular Redemption’. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[11] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, The Death of Christ, Sermon No 173. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[12] This is based on a synonym for ‘effectual’ as ‘effective’ in Oxford Dictionaries online (2016. s v effectual).

[13] Birth date from Curriculum Vitae, Baylor University. Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[14] InterVarsity Press is the publisher of Olson (2006).

[15] He is professor of theology at George W Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (back flap, Olson 2006).

[16] Birth date from ‘Introducing Dr. R. C. Sproul’, Ligonier Ministries 2016. Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[17] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[18] Ron Rhodes 1996. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement (Part 2), available at: (Accessed 28 August 2012). Rhodes gives the reference as Paedagogus, ch. 11. However, there is no such reference as there are three books (online) each with a ch. 11, but the quote is not to be found in any of these chapters.

[19] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v Eusebius of Caesarea). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[20] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St.. Athanasius). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[21] See Ron Rhodes (n d).

[22] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[23] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[24] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Gregory of Nazianzen). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[25] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Basil the Great). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[26] It is cited in Rhodes (n d) but without any primary source.

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Ambrose). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[28] However, this is Psalm 119 in the English Bible.

[29] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[30] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Prosper of Aquitaine). Available at: (Accessed 20 April 2016).

[31] Terry Miethe stated that Elwell was a Presbyterian (Miethe 1989:79).

[32] Christian, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, Jim Parker#78. Available at: (Accessed 22 April 2016).

[33] Ibid., beloved57#80.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[35] Ibid., beloved57#103.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[37] Ibid., beloved57#115.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#117.

[39] Ibid., beloved57#105.

[40] Ibid., OzSpen#109.

[41] Ibid., beloved57#114.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[43] Ibid., beloved57#113.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#119.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 May 2016.

Who is Jesus and why did he die?

Thursday, November 26th, 2015



(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on an Internet blog site and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you. Here are some [of my] reasons:”  His questions are located HERE [4] and I’ve used his questions below in bold and marked as Q.1, Q.2, etc.

As a prerequesite to understanding my evangelical Christian worldview, I ask you to read my three part series, Can you trust the Bible?  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

For a continuation of my responses to these excellent questions from an unbeliever, go to:

Problems with Jesus (this article),

Problems with the Trinity,

Facts about hell,

Why the need for apologetics?

Religion and beliefs

A.  Who is Jesus and why did He die?

1.  See “the Evidence for Jesus by Dr. William Lane Craig.

2. What’s the evidence for Jesus outside of the Bible?

In Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus (ca. A.D. 55-120), The Annals, he wrote:

Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed (ch. 15).

Another Roman historian, Suetonius, lived ca. A.D. 120 wrote: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition” (The Twelve Caesars: The Life of Nero, ch. 16).

Suetonius also wrote in The Twelve Caesars: Life of Claudius: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome” (ch. 25).

Pliny, the Younger, writing to the emperor telling of his achievements as the governor of Bithynia, wrote (ca. A. D. 112):

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food‹but food of an ordinary and innocent kind (Epistles, book 10, letter 96, To the Emperor Trajan).

There are other quotes from the Greek satirist, Lucian, in the second century.  Samaritan-born historian, Thallus (ca. A.D. 52, quoted in Julius Africanus ca. A.D. 221) has something to say about the darkness at the time of the crucifixion.

There is a letter of Mara Bar-Serapion, written after A.D. 73, which is in the British Museum, which is a father writing to his son in prison.  He compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus.

The death of Jesus Christ

On the physical death of Jesus, see, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” (Journal of the American Medical Association).

The following are my answers to some of the questions (Questions are in bold) from this thoughtful, but doubting, person who engaged me in discussion on lots of issues about Christianity. [1]

B.  Problems with Jesus

1.         Jesus being God

Q. 1     The Jewish people, who started all of this, NEVER expected that the Messiah, when he came, to be the Almighty God.

This is an untrue statement.  Let’s take a look at the OT evidence:

  • Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”  Jesus confirmed that this referred to him in Matt. 22:41-46.

In Ps. 110:1, two different words are used for “Lord.”  The first is Yahweh (Jehovah) and the second is Adhoni.  The latter could mean “lord” (as in Gen. 23:6; 1 Sam. 22:12; 2 Sam. 12:32) when it is a “respectful form of address between man and man, or a word that may refer to the Lord in the highest sense of the term. . .  In what sense it is to be understood must be determined from the connection” (Leupold 1959:775).

In what sense is it in Ps. 110?  “Sit at my right hand” indicates Adhoni ranks as an equal with the Lord and is thus regarded as divine.  Adhoni’s sceptre will be extended “from Zion” and he “will rule in the midst of [his] enemies” (v. 2).  “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”  If the Jews did not see this as a reference to Messiah’s deity, they were blind and devoid of spiritual wisdom.

  • Hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, Isaiah declared that the Messiah would be uniquely the Son of God (deity): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

“That the divine character of the “child” is here asserted appears also from the fact that Isaiah uses the same title unequivocally for God in 10:21. . .  The Hebrew literally, ‘God’s hero,’ using a title for God (‘el) that signifies “the Strong-one” (Leupold 1971:186).

  • Isa. 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”   This verse is a more controversial example because Immanuel, even though it means, “God with us,” does not necessarily mean that the child is divine.

This name could merely stress that in the prevailing emergency God would not forsake his people.  Yet the other possibility must be cheerfully conceded, namely this, that in his own person this child could embody this truth [of divinity].  He himself would be God among his people.  It is impossible to say with any certainty in which direction the word points.  No explanation of v. 14 will ever be entirely satisfactory (Leupold 1971:158).

However, Matt. 1:22-23 confirms that Immanuel refers to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

2.  Christianity invented Jesus as god

Q. 2     Most Christians have made a god out of Jesus and in so doing realise that they have forfeited the unique monotheism of the OT . . .

Jesus proclaimed himself as God

Jesus Himself jettisons the idea that his deity is a fabrication of Christians.  Listen to the words from Jesus’ mouth:

  • “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30);
  • “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9);
  • “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10);
  • “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11);
  • “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19);
  • “He who hates me hates my Father as well” (John 15:23);
  • “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23).
  • “Whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37);
  • “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58);
  • Jesus took on himself the title of “Son of man” (Mark 14:62), which was an accepted Messianic title from one of Daniel’s visions.
  • He accepted the description of  “Son of God” when challenged by the high priest (Mark 14:61);

Others confessed Christ as God.

  • When Simon Peter confessed his faith in Jesus, he said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29);
  • After Christ’s resurrection, Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28);
  • John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:14 confirms that this Word was Jesus because he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
  • John 5:18 records how the Jews were trying all the harder to kill him, “Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
  • Note that in John 8:58, the identical terms are used by Christ as are used by Jehovah in God’s discourse with Moses (Ex. 3:14, “I am who I am.”).  Cf. John 8:24 where Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
  • The Jews stated clearly what they understood Jesus was saying about himself: “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God'” (John 10:33).
  • Heb. 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Heb. 1:2: “Through the Son he made the universe.”
  • Paul to the Colossians said, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9);
  • Phil. 2:10-11, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It is, therefore, an invention to say that “most Christians have made a god out of Jesus.”  Jesus clearly declared himself to be God.  Others, including his enemies, understood he was stating his divinity.  The OT Jews expected the Messiah to be God.

There have been plenty of detractors who have tried to reconstruct the above evidence, but it will not wash.  The evidence is in.

C.S. Lewis got to the guts of the challenge for a logically thinking person:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him for a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to (Lewis 1952:55-56).

3.  Jesus as the Messiah/Second Coming

Q.3      Jesus could not have been the Messiah, for the OT clearly states that the Messiah would usher in world peace etc.   The opposite happened.

Yes, the OT does state that the Messiah is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).  But what does that mean and how will it be fulfilled?  We tend to think of peace as tranquility, an absence of hostility.  The basic idea of the biblical word, “peace’ (OT Hebrew shalom; NT Greek, eirene) is

completeness, soundness, wholeness…  Peace has reference to health, prosperity, well-being, security, as well as quiet from war (Eccles. 3:8; Isa. 45:7). . .  Peace is a condition of freedom from strife whether internal or external. . .  In the NT the word has reference to the peace which is the gift of Christ (John 14:27; 16:33; Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:7.  The word is used many times to express the truths of the mission, character, and gospel of Christ.  The purpose of Christ’s [first] coming into the world was to bring spiritual peace with God (Luke 1:79; 2:14; 24:36; Mark 5:34; 9:50).  There is a sense in which he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).  This has reference to the struggle with every form of sin.  Christ’s life depicted in the gospels is one of majestic calm and serenity (Matt. 11:28; John 14:27).  The essence of the gospel may be expressed in the term ‘peace’ (Acts 10:36; Eph. 6:15), including the peace of reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:1) and the peace of fellowship with God (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:7) [Feinberg 1984:833].

The gospel is one of peace (Eph. 6:15).  Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14-15).  God the Father is the God of peace (I Thess. 5:23).  It’s the tremendous privilege of every Christian to experience the peace of God ((Phil. 4:9).  This is because Christ’s death on the cross left a legacy of peace (John 14:27; 16:33).

The benefits of this kind of peace are experienced by the believer NOW as well as in the eternal glory to come (see Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15).

This led Greek lexicon (dictionary) compiler, Joseph Thayer, to say that peace in the Greek accusative case is “a conception distinctly peculiar to Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatever sort that is” (Thayer 1885/1962:182). See Rom. 8:6.

The unbeliever fails to see that the Messiah’s coming means peace in two stages.  His first coming and death on the cross provided peace with God for the believer.(Rom. 5:1).  In fact, one can have peace with God and still experience  a sword (Matt. 10:34) and persecution (John 15:20).

With Christ’s first coming into the world, there is a sense in which he brought division and strife between one person and another, one race and another, one church and another, even between family members.  This is because faith in Christ causes people to support or denigrate Christ and Christians.  This can divide one from another.  The life of the believer is often filled with storm and stress and for some it ends in martyrdom, as for missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons, Philip, aged 10, and Timothy, aged 6, in the east Indian state of Orissa in January 1999 (The Courier Mail 1999:1).

In this [20th] century, an average of 300,000 Christians has been martyred each year, according to David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia. . .  Martyrdom, Barrett wants to show, is not an “outrageous exception, but a part of a surprisingly regular 2,000-year pattern where persecution and suffering are the normal lot of the body of Christ” (Christianity Today 1990:12).

Ultimate peace will only happen at Christ’s second coming when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9).  At that time, “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. . .” (Isa. 11:6).  This will be fulfilled in the millennium (Rev. 20) to be followed by “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21).

At that time, when Christ shall reign on the earth, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:4-5).

There are two stages of peace that the Messiah will bring,   At his first coming, it was peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection.  At his second coming, there will be peace over all the earth forever.

Jesus Christ Clip Art - ClipArt Best(image courtesy

Q. 4     But Christians thought they had saved the day with their doctrine of the “second coming.”  Without it, Christianity would have died long ago. The parousia teaching is simply that we are to be patient, all the things that Jesus never fulfilled will be taken care of when he comes again.  And there is clear evidence that Jesus and his followers thought that he would return in the lifetime of his followers.  2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!!

I consider that this is fanciful thinking.  Christianity would have died in the water without the death and resurrection of Christ.  The Bible is crystal clear:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. . .  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . .  If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (I Cor. 15:13-15, 17, 19).

Christians are encouraged by the message of the second coming of Christ because it will be the consummation of their salvation: “So we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thess. 4:17), but ultimate hope for the believer comes through Christ’s resurrection which guarantees their own resurrection.

So that we will not be “ignorant” about life-after-death issues, God inspired the apostle Paul to write about what happens at death for believers (I Thess. 4:13 ff).  The second coming of Christ is based on the surety that “Jesus died and rose again” (I Thess. 4:14).  For the Christian the future is glorious with the promise of Christ’s second coming, but the crux is the death and resurrection of Christ.  There could be no “second coming” hope without this foundation.

There could have been an anticipation of Christ’s imminent second coming by early Christians, but Peter corrected this.  In fact, it was the scoffers who were taunting the believers, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (2 Peter 3:4).  So, it was the message of the scoffers in the first century and the scoffers today who are sceptical about Christ’s second coming.  The taunts are as contemporary as ever.

There’s a definite reason for the delay in Christ’s coming: “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” (2 Peter 3:9).

It is the Lord’s patience, not the believers’ patience, that delays his second coming!

The line from questioners today, “2000 years have just about passed and they’re still expecting it!!!” is similar to the message of scoffers of the first century.  They need to get serious with the real reason for the delay – Christ’s patience in reaching scoffing rebels.

The historical evidence is that the early church lived in expectation of Christ’s return, as I do today.  Clement of Rome, an early church father after the close of the NT, wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians (dated about A.D. 96):You perceive how in a little time the fruit of a tree comes to maturity. Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, “Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;” and, “The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom you look (Clement I.23).

However, according to the NT, the early church did not live in anticipation of an any-moment coming of Christ.

The expectation of the coming of Christ included the events which would attend and precede His coming.  The early fathers who emphasized an attitude of expectancy believed that this entire complex of events – Antichrist, tribulation, return of Christ, would soon occur.  This is not the same as an any-moment coming of Christ (Ladd 1956:20, emphasis in original).

George Eldon Ladd examined the writings of the church fathers up to the third century.  He reached this conclusion:

In this survey of the early centuries we have found that the Church interpreted the book of Revelation along futurist lines; i.e., they understood the book to predict the eschatological events which would attend the end of the world.  The Antichrist was understood to be an evil ruler of the end-times who would persecute the Church, afflicting her with great tribulation.  Every church father who deals with the subject expects the Church to suffer at the hands of Antichrist.  God would purify the Church through suffering, and Christ would save her by His return at the end of the Tribulation when He would destroy Antichrist, deliver His Church, and bring the world to an end and inaugurate His millennial kingdom.  The prevailing view is a postribulation premillennialism.  We can find no trace of pretribulationism in the early church; and no modern pretribulationist has successfully proved that this particular doctrine was held by any of the church fathers or students of the Word before the nineteenth century (Ladd 1956:31).

Dave MacPherson documents how the pretribulation rapture position that is taught by some evangelical and fundamentalist churches today does not originate with the Scriptures, but with a Scottish lassie, Margaret Macdonald, who had a “revelation” in 1830 of a two-stage rapture.  She influenced the founder of the Christian Brethren, John N. Darby, who became an ardent promoter of the pretribulation rapture (MacPherson 1983:64ff).  However, this view has not been the historic view of the church.

A misunderstanding often occurs over Christ’s call for “watchfulness” in light of his second coming.  Christ’s own words were:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. . .  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. . .  Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants of his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” (Matt. 24:36-37, 42, 45-47).

The context of this passage makes it clear that Christ is not asking believers to be ready for an any-moment coming.

The true meaning of the command to watch is not to watch for Christ’s return.  Scripture does not use this language. Nowhere are we told to watch for the coming of Christ.  We are exhorted, rather, in view of the uncertainty of the time of the end, to watch.  ‘Watching’ does not mean ‘looking for’ the event; it means spiritual and moral ‘wakefulness.’  We do not know when the end will come.  Therefore, whenever it happens, we must be spiritually awake and must not sleep.  If we are awake and Christ comes today, we are ready.  If we are awake and Christ does not come until tomorrow, we will still be ready.  Whenever it happens, we must be ready (Ladd 1956:115, emphasis in original).

thumbnail(image courtesy ChristArt)

4.  Jesus’ Death

Q. 5     Why did Jesus have to die?  God’s creation turned out bad, we are told.  So what to do!  In order to make things right, someone had to be murdered!!  If we believe the Trinity doctrine, we are left to believe that God arranged to have himself murdered in order to placate himself!  Patently absurd!!

The idea of substitution of one person taking the place of another to bear pain and save life is known even today.  In the 20th century, we heard of the heroism of such an action with Polish Franciscan, Father Maximilian Kolbe, in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

A number of prisoners had been chosen to be executed when one of them shouted that he was a married man with children.  Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the condemned man’s place.  The offer was accepted by the authorities, he was placed in an underground cell and was left there to die of starvation (in Stott 1986:136).

Here’s the problem: we are guilty and need forgiveness.  We know it internally from our conscience which convicts us.  But how is that possible when we understand the gravity of sin and the majestic holiness of God?  We are faced with the realities of who we are and who God is.  How can the holy love of God come to grips with the unholy lovelessness of human beings?

Because God cannot contradict himself, he must be himself and “satisfy” his just requirements – all in absolute consistency with his perfect character.  The problem is not outside of God, but within his own being.

James Denney got to the point:  “It is the recognition of this divine necessity, or the failure to recognise it, which ultimately divides interpreters of Christianity into evangelical and non-evangelical, those who are true to the New Testament and those who cannot digest it” (Denney 1903:82, in Stott 1986:133).

God in his mercy willed to forgive human beings; he wanted to forgive them but had to do it righteously so that it was obvious he wasn’t condoning sin.  How did he do this?  Instead of aiming the full weight of his righteous wrath against sinful human beings, in his sovereign will it was God’s purpose to direct this wrath against himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.  This is strange language to human beings who don’t fully understand God’s righteous nature and the abhorrence of sin.

How are we to understand this substitute?

The New Testament

The NT is unambiguous: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).  In other places there are allusions such as, “gave himself” (Gal. 1:4), “offered himself” (Heb. 9:14).

The background is the OT sacrificial system.  He died “to be a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3, NIV) or “for sins” (1 Peter 3:18, NIV).  The Book of Hebrews in the NT shows Jesus’ sacrifice to have perfectly fulfilled the OT “shadows.”

What did the OT sacrifices signify? [2]  Two basic notions stand out: first, the sense that human beings have of a right to belong to God; second, the sense of alienation we also have because of our sin and guilt.

To deal with the first, God instituted the “peace” and “fellowship” offerings (see Lev. 7:12; Ex. 23:14-17).  To deal with the second, the sin offering and guilt offering were provided, thus demonstrating the need for atonement.

The clearest statement of how the blood sacrifices of the OT had a substitutionary significance is in God’s explanation of why the eating of blood was prohibited: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11).

Three things stand out about blood:

  • It is the symbol of life.  This goes back at least to Noah (see Gen. 9:4) and was repeated in, “the blood is the life” (Deut. 12:23);
  • Blood makes atonement.  Only because “the life of a creature is in the blood” is it possible that the blood “makes atonement for one’s life.”  Life was given for life.  The life of the innocent victim was given for the life of the sinful person..
  • It was God who gave the blood for this atoning purpose.  God said, “I have given it to you.”  Why?  “To make atonement for yourselves.”

Q. 6     The doctrine of the atonement is nothing but a replay of pervious PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars.

Atonement from pagans??

The Christian’s insistence that the gospel of Christ’s cross is the only basis for forgiveness of sins perplexes people.  Why should forgiveness depend on Christ’s death?  Before we forgive each other on the personal level, no death is needed.  Why the big deal about forgiveness coming through his Son’s “sacrifice for sin.”  It sounds very primitive and doesn’t seem reasonable for rational modern people.  It is not surprising, therefore, to see an unbeliever link the OT (and NT) sacrificial system to “pagan religions.”

Nowhere does the Bible tell us how sacrifices originated.  We simply find Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) already offering sacrifices and God favouring Abel’s sacrifice (Gen. 4:4, confirmed by Heb. 11:4).  Thus it is confirmation that sacrificial practices go back to the dawn of civilisation.  Some of the controversy has developed because

certain schools of Biblical criticism have asserted that the ritual system embodied in the Pentateuch cannot be earlier than the postexilic period.  However, archaeological discoveries pertaining to the sacrificial systems of Mesopotamia and the Levant in the 3rd and 2nd millenia B.C. have shown that very complex rituals were practiced all across the Fertile Crescent long before the entry of the Israelites into Canaan.  Since the Biblical claim is quite explicit to the effect that the patriarchal culture esp. in the sphere of religion, sprang from the great centers of civilization, Mesopotamia and Egypt (cf. Joshua’s unequivocal statement, Josh 24:2, 14), there is no reason to doubt that even the Israelites could have known and also practiced a sophisticated order of ritual (Rainey 1976:195).

Let’s briefly look at a few examples:

  • The parallel between the biblical account of the sacrifice after Noah’s flood and the Babylonian account is striking, but the differences are even more noticeable.  Noah built an altar and sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma . . .” (Gen. 8:21, NIV).  It is bold indeed to speak of the “pleasing aroma” since “the Babylonian version crudely made the hunger of the gods, ravenous without man’s gifts, a reason for their ending the flood” (Kidner 1967:93).

This led Kidner to conclude that

the specific similarities between the Genesis story and most others are utterly outweighed by the differences, and it is only the Babylonian legend that shows any close resemblance to the story of Noah…  By common consent this [Babylonian] version of events is altogether put to shame by Genesis.  Even the incidentals, the dice-shaped ark and the sequence of the birds, suffer in the comparison, while the theology flounders from one ineptitude to the next (Kidner 1967:96-97).

  • The parallel between the Mesopotamian ritual of the “scapegoat” and the OT can only be made in general.  It breaks down when one gets to the details.  “There was no act of confession for sin; instead, the expulsion of demons was the goal of this rite, as is clearly seen in the incantation that follows it” (Rainey 1976:196).
  • Hittite rituals have suggestive parallels with OT passages.  One ritual involved the

sacrifice of a dog that was cut into pieces and placed on either side of a kind-of gate, through which the participants were required to pass.  Whether there is any connection between this sacrifice and that of Abraham (Gen. 15:10-11, 17) or the leaders of Judah (Jer. 34:18-20) ”is impossible to say (cf. Ezek 16:3, 45) (Rainey 1976:198).

  • In Mesopotamia, “the sacrifices were necessary to the gods as essential food (cf. Deut 32:37, 38), the God of Israel is only said to enjoy the ‘pleasant odor’ of certain specific kinds of offering” [see Num. 28:2; Ezek. 44:7] (Rainey 1976:200).

Many nations besides Israel practised sacrifices (see Judges 16:23).  In Ugarit (ca. 1400 BC), there was a developed ritual system with names similar to the OT.  Some scholars want to conclude that the Jewish sacrificial system owes its “origin to Babylonian, Canaanite or ancient nomadic rituals and fellowship meals.  However, throughout its history, Israelite practice had many distinctive features of its own” (Williams 1989:485).

The prophets reacted against abuses and pagan elements brought into Israel (see Isa. 1:11 ff; Amos 4:4 ff).  This is a crucial point.  The Jewish prophets, especially with Israel, condemned these foreign elements in a forthright manner.  See Amos 4:4-5; Hos. 2:13-15; 4:11-13; 13:2.  This was also the case for Judah (see Jer. 7:17-18; Ezek 8; etc.)

There are parallels between Israel’s sacrifices and offerings and the contemporary cultures of the ancient Near East, but this does NOT confirm that OT sacrifices are an imitation of the neighbouring pagan cultures.  “It is the ideology expressed in the ritual complex as a whole that makes the Israelite religion unique” (Rainey 1976:194).

#(image courtesy prapanj)

5.  Atonement FROM God

The sacrificial, substitutionary atonement, as detailed above, does not originate with people trying to appease pagan gods and transferring this ritual across to Judaism.  Its origin is with Jehovah God.

The OT helps to give background for an understanding of Heb. 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” and Heb. 10:4, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  OT blood sacrifices were the “shadows.”  Christ was the substance.

The OT Passover [3] demonstrated the concept of “sin-bearing.”   The NT identifies Christ’s death as the fulfillment of the Passover.  John the Baptist promoted Jesus as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36).

In the original Passover story, Yahweh (God) revealed himself as:

  • the Judge;
  • the Redeemer;
  • Israel’s covenant God.

Since Jesus clearly fulfilled the Passover in his sacrifice, we know that:

  • The Judge and the Saviour are the same person;
  • Salvation is by substitution;
  • God had to “see the blood” before there could be divine provision;
  • Each family rescued by God is purchased for God.

There is a second major illustration of sin-bearing demonstrating the principle of substitution.  1 Peter 2:24 points to it: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”  This refers back to the annual Day of  Atonement  (see Lev. 16:5 ff) when two male goats were taken as a sin offering to atone for the sins of the Israelite community.  One goat was killed and its blood sprinkled in the usual way, while the high priest would “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head” (Lev. 16: 21).  The priest then drove the goat into the desert to “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place ” (v. 22).  Thus reconciliation was possible only through substitutionary sin-bearing.

The NT letter to the Hebrews makes clear that Jesus was both “a merciful and faithful high priest . . . (to) make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17).  Christ did not enter the Holy of Holies “by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). For the Jews, the scapegoat who carried away the people’s sins had to be offered over and over again.  While this is a “type” of Jesus’ sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice took place “once” to take away sins  (Heb. 9:28).

The non-Christian may ask, “Why did Jesus have to die?”  He “died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  The “one (Christ) died for all” (2 Cor. 5:14).  What happened to Christ on the cross?  The most outspoken statements are that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) and Christ has “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).

The sinless One bore the penalty of our sin instead of us.

John Stott summarised it:

When we are united with Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . .  What was transferred to Christ was not moral qualities but legal consequences: he voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.  That is what the expressions ‘made sin’ and ‘made a curse’ mean.  Similarly, the ‘righteousness of God’ which we become when we are ‘in Christ’ is not here righteousness of character and conduct (although that grows within us by the working of the Holy Spirit), but rather a righteous standing before God (Stott 1986:148-149).

When we pull all of this OT material together, we can clearly conclude that the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of “sin-bearing”, the scapegoat, and Isaiah  53 (which I haven’t discussed here) are applied in the NT to the death of Christ.

The biblical material clearly draws the conclusion that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice.  Christ died for us; he died instead of us.  The sacrificial imagery has the clear purpose of stating that the sinless Jesus died in substitution for our sins (Stott 1986:149).  This view offends many.  But the Bible expected this by speaking of the “offence of the cross” (Gal. 5:11).

As for the substitutionary atonement being “a replay of pervious PAGAN religions with their angry gods, need for sacrifices and bloody altars,” that is not based on biblical evidence.  As stated above, God is very clear: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11).

The one thing God could not do in the face of human rebellion was do nothing!  The substitutionary atonement is “God’s demand on God, God’s meeting his own demand” (Forsyth in Stott 1986:152).  God had two options: he could either inflict punishment on human beings (which we deserve) or he could take the punishment himself.  He chose the latter to honour his own law but save the guilty.  God himself took his own judgment for those who want to receive it.

Who died?  Did God die?  That’s not what the Bible teaches.  Suffice to say that our substitute, the one who took our place and died our death on the cross was neither Christ alone nor God alone.  But it was God in Christ, who was truly and fully both God and man, and was uniquely qualified to represent both God and human beings and to mediate between them.

In order to save us in such a way as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us.  Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.  The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy (Stott 1986:159).

Q. 7    The Christian religion should really be called PAULIANITY, because Paul was the one who tied in the untimely murder of Jesus with the temple sacrifices of the Hebrews.

Yes, Paul strongly associated Jesus’ death with the Hebrew sacrificial system (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor.5:14, 21; Gal. 3:13 ).  So did Peter (1 Pt. 2:24), the writer to the Hebrews (2:17; 9:22, 28; 10:4), and John the Baptist (John 1:29, 36).  But there was nothing “untimely” about the killing of Jesus.  It was right on schedule, according to God’s plan, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).  “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:4).

“When the time had fully come”, or, “in the fulness of the time” (NRSV, NASB, KJV), refers to

the moment in which the previously determined time-limit was reached…  The picture is that of a vessel that is being poured full and at a given moment is brimful.  The pleroma [fulness] is not merely that last bit that fills the vessel but the whole brimful content of the container. . .  This carries with it the implication that the moment of the pleroma was the most suitable for what was now about to happen. . .  Nor can we prove on convincing grounds why this time was the most suitable for the coming of Christ (Ridderbos 1953:154-155).

William Hendriksen agrees with this conclusion.  While this was a time when the Greek language spread throughout the civilised world, when there was a network of Roman roads, and Roman peace was enforced, thus making it a more ideal environment for the spread of the gospel, “it is God alone who fully knows why, in his inscrutable decree, he had decided that the long period of time (chronos) is which all the preparatory events were to occur would run out at that specific moment” (Hendriksen 1968:158, emphasis in original).

Paul was used by the Lord to pen a large portion of the New Testament, but there would be no “Paulianity” if it were not for the life and death of Jesus Christ.  It must always be remembered that this Paul (formerly Saul) was “giving approval to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1) and “began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).  He had a reputation for vicious persecution of the Christian believers (see Acts 9:1, 13, 21; 22:4, 19; 26:10-11).

Paul himself admitted his previous malicious history of persecution against the church and his attempts to destroy it (I Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil 3:6).  His explanation was: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 1:13-14).

It started when this violent sinner against God, Christ and the church, was confronted supernaturally on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9).  When Jesus confronted him with, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Saul knew who it was who was calling him.  His response was, “Who are you, Lord?” (9:5).  The Lord’s response was: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:5-6).

It should not be surprising that this remarkable conversion and calling of Paul should see him embark on a special ministry.  “Paulianity” is Christianity.

Every unbeliever should be confronted with this question from this very perceptive inquirer:

6.  What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?

D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe addressed this critical issue in their book by that name (Kennedy & Newcombe 1994). Chapter titles include:

·Christ and Civilisation: A Quick Overview of Christ’s Impact on World History:

  • Human beings made in the image of God: Christianity’s Impact on the Value of Human Life;
  • Passion and Mercy: Christianity’s Contribution to Helping the Poor;
  • Education for Everyone: Christianity’s Contribution to Education;
  • Government of the People, for the People, by the People: Christianity’s Impact on the Founding of America;
  • Freedom for All: Christianity’s Contribution to Civil Liberties;
  • Thinking God’s Thoughts after Him: Christianity’s Impact on Science;
  • Free Enterprise and the Work Ethic: Christianity’s Impact on Economics;
  • The Beauty of Sexuality: Christianity’s Impact on Sex and the Family;
  • Healing the Sick: Christianity’s Impact on Health and Medicine;
  • The Civilising of the Uncivilised: Christianity’s Impact on Morality;
  • Inspiring the World’s Greatest Art: Christianity’s Impact on the Arts and Music;
  • Amazing Grace: Lives Changed by Jesus Christ;
  • The Sins of the Church: Negative Aspects of Christianity in History;
  • A Cruel World: What Happens When Christian Restraints Are Removed?
  • Where Do We Go From Here?  Fulfilling Our Purpose.

James Russell Lowell, the literary man who was Minister of State for the United States to England, was at a banquet where the Christian religion, particularly the mission enterprise, was being attacked by scoffers (this was over a century ago).  He spoke up with these words:

I challenge any sceptic to find a ten-square-mile spot on this planet where they can live their lives in peace and safety and decency, where womanhood is honoured, where infancy and old age are revered, where they can educate their children, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not gone first to prepare the way.  If they find such a place, then I would encourage them to emigrate thither and there proclaim their unbelief (Schenck 1910:85, cited in Kennedy & Newcombe 1994:299).

Works consulted:

Boice, J. M. 1986, Foundations of the Christian Faith, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

ChristianityToday 1990, “Dying for Jesus,” March 19, 1990.

Clement of Rome 2004, First Letter to the Corinthians (ie I Clement) [Online], excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers (vol. 9), ed. A. Menzies, American Edition 1896 and 1897, Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight, available from New Advent at: [Accessed: 6 April 2005].

The Courier-Mail 1999, ‘Lives of charity meet a fiery end’ (January 25, 1999).

Denney, J. 1903, The Atonement and the Modern Mind, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

Feinberg, C. L. 1984, ‘Peace’, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. W. A. Elwell, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hendriksen, W. 1968, Galatians (New Testament Commentary), The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh.

The Holy Bible: New International Version 1978, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Online edition available from at:

Kennedy, D. J. & Newcombe, J. 1994, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? Word Publishing, Milton Keynes, England.

Kidner, D. 1967, Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), The Tyndale Press, London.

Ladd, G. E. 1956, The Blessed Hope, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Leupold, H. C. 1959, Exposition of Psalms, Evangelical Press, London.

Leupold, H. C. 1971, Exposition of Isaiah (One-Volume edition, Vol. 1), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Lewis, C. S. 1952, Mere Christianity, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York.

MacPherson D. 1983, TheGreat Rapture Hoax, New Puritan Library, Fletcher, N.C.

Martin, W. 1980, Essential Christianity, Regal Books, Ventura, California.

Rainey, A. F. 1976, ‘Sacrifice and Offerings’, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 5), 194-211, gen. ed. M. C. Tenney, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ridderbos, H. N. 1953, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Schenck, F. S. 1910, Christian Evidences and Ethics, Young Men’s Christian Association Press, New York.

Sproul, R.C. 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois.

Stott, J. R. W. 1986, The Cross of Christ, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.

Thayer, J. H. 1885, 1962, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  (Note: The first Zondervan printing of this edition was in 1962, but Thayer’s preface in the lexicon was written in 1885.)

Williams D. (ed.) 1989, New Concise Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England.


[1] Here, NT = New Testament; OT = Old Testament.  Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (1978).

[2] For a more complete description of “sacrifice in the Old Testament,” see Stott (1986:134 ff).

[3] See the original Passover story in Exodus chs. 11-13.

[4] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written on the website. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.


Copyright © 2005 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 November 2016.



Jesus’ work not finished, says Roman Catholic

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

(courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

Was Jesus’ work on the cross to accomplish salvation completed then or not? Or does it have do be done over and over in some sort of way?

A person wrote on a Christian forum, ‘I believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished.” He was referring to his work of paying the penalty for our sins. That means, everything has been paid. It’s up to us to accept the free gift of salvation by faith’.[1]

A Roman Catholic responds

This response confirmed that a Roman Catholic has a very different view of the finished work of Christ on the cross than a Protestant. His response to the above was:

And you would be wrong, sir.

What happened at the exact instant that Jesus expired? The veil of the Temple was torn in two, exposing the Holiest of All. That was the place that the Old Covenant was renewed every year by the presentation of the Yom Kippur sacrifice by the high priest (Lev. 16).

When the veil of the Temple was ripped apart, it exposed the Holiest of All, making it unfit to ever use again for Yom Kippur. “It is finished” has to do with the Old Covenant. THAT is what Jesus was talking about, not your personal sins.

Yes, as the Lamb of God, Jesus is the Sacrifice for our sins. But the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him. He has not paid for all your sins in advance of you committing them, and certainly they are not paid for if you refuse to repent and find sin so attractive that you stay in it.[2]

Three evangelical exegetes disagree with the Roman Catholic

My response[3] was that three leading evangelical commentators disagree with him.

John 19:30 states, ‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ ESV).

This is how three evangelical scholars respond to the meaning of ‘It is finished’ in their commentaries:
cubed-redmatteLeon Morris stated:

‘In the Greek this is one word, ?????????? [tetelestai], which is another of John’s ambiguous terms. It could mean that Jesus’ life was finished. This is part of the meaning, but it is highly improbable that it is the whole meaning. More important is the truth that Jesus’ work was finished. He came to do God’s work, and this meant dying on the cross for the world’s salvation. This mighty work of redemption has now reached its consummation. It is finished’ (Morris 1971:815, n. 73).

cubed-redmatte D. A. Carson‘s understanding was:

In the Greek text, the cry itself is one word, tetelestai (cf. notes on v. 28). As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion. Jesus’ work was done. But this is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death… The verb teleo from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiosas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos‘—not only ‘to the end’ but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished! (Carson 1991:621, emphasis in original).

cubed-redmatte R. C. H. Lenski wrote:

‘It is finished!’  tetelestai, exactly as in v. 28, the perfect [tense] of a completed state, denotes an action brought to its termination, it is like a line that ends in a point ———————• Jesus speaks this word to his Father. He makes his report to the father who sent him. Uttered with a loud voice, it is also intended for all men to hear. Recorded now in Scripture, it still rings out to  all the world. Since the whole passion and death of Jesus were intended for us, why set up the contention that this conclusion is intended only for him and not also for us? The verb has no subject. What is it that is here brought to an end? Some think that Jesus has in mind his suffering, which, of course, in a way is true and quite obvious. But this cry cannot mean that Jesus is thinking only of himself and is glad that his pain now ceases. Some think of the ancient prophecies and their fulfillment, which, of course, in a way is also true (v. 28). This is better than the previous view, yet it still is indefinite, and other prophecies are still unfulfilled, namely the resurrection and the exaltation. Many are satisfied to say that the work or task of Jesus is concluded, or even that no further duty holds Jesus to life; this is equally indefinite. A word so important cannot be explained by so general an interpretation. The death of Jesus finishes His redemptive work, the work of reconciliation and atonement. This specific work is now brought to a close. The Lamb of God has made His great sacrifice for the world. It is this that is now done. Our great Substitute has paid the great price of ransom, paid it to the uttermost farthing. ‘It is finished’ indeed! Others will yet preach and teach, and Jesus will work through them; as the Kong on David’s throne his regal work will continue forever; but the redemptive shedding of His blood, done once for all, is finished and stands as finished forever. Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; Rom. 6:10 (Lenski 1943:1309).

Jesus’ death as ‘once for all’ a heresy

As indicated above, the Roman Catholic stated that ‘the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him’.[4]

Let’s check out a couple of Scriptures to see if the RC is on target or is simply perpetrating his own human-made theology. Two verses come to mind:

Hebrews 9:26-28,

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (ESV).

This is extremely clear:

  • Christ appeared in the presence of God himself;
  • Jesus did not offer himself repeatedly as the high priest did when he entered the high places every year with blood other than his own;
  • Jesus did not suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world;
  • Jesus’ sacrifice at the end of the ages was to put away sin by His own sacrifice;
  • Christ has been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many;
  • When Jesus appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin.

But there is more in 1 Peter 3:18, ‘For Christ also suffered[5] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’ (ESV).


So the idea that Jesus paid for sin, ‘once and forever’, is not heresy, but it is orthodox, biblical Christianity. Scripture affirms it.

Bible New Testament Christ Carrying the Cross El Greco

(courtesy public domain)

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned by Augsburg Fortress).

Morris, L 1971. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


[1] biblestudyresources#51, 23 July 2014, Christian Forums, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: (Accessed 23 July 2014).

[2] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[4] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[5] Some manuscripts have ‘died’.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Jesus died for those who will be damned

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Reformation Wall in Geneva; from left to right:

William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

This is a typical Calvinistic line against Arminians: ‘Why did God send Christ to die for those He foreknew would not believe?’[1] On of the key differences between Arminians and Calvinists is their understanding of free will. Roger Olson explains:

The nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism.) When an agent (a human or God) acts freely in the libertarian sense, nothing outside the self (including physical realities within the body) is causing it; the intellect or character alone rules over the will and turns it one way or another. Deliberation and then choice are the only determining factors, although factors such as nature and nurture, and divine influence come into play. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self.

Calvinists, on the other hand, believe in compatibilist free will (insofar as they talk about free will at all). Free will, they believe, is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will (Olson 2006:75).[2]

Courtesy IVP Academic

Olson’s comment was that ‘it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created’ (Olson 2006:75).

My immediate response to the post on Christian Forums was: You are giving me your Calvinistic presuppositions with that kind of question.
I could ask you: Why did God send Christ to die only for the elect who he coerced into the kingdom by irresistible grace and damned the rest? Why did he bother to create them when he knew they would be damned eternally?[3]

I added: ‘To give them the opportunity, through unlimited atonement, prevenient grace and free will, to say yea or nay to the Gospel offer. Isn’t that simple enough to understand?’[4]

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

John Sanders.2009

Dr John E Sanders, open theist, (photo courtesy Hendrix College, AR, USA)


The comeback was:

“”’Why can’t you just answer the question? Consistent Arminians are Open Theists. Open Theists deny that God is omniscient. Therefore, they escape the question.
But you cannot escape the question because you believe that God foreknows all things. So, if God foreknows who will not believe, then the only reason for Christ’s dying for them would be to provide a basis for their judgment, not to provide an opportunity for salvation’.[5]

My reply was:[6]

Consistent Arminians are Reformed/Classical Arminians who maintain the integrity of Scripture and that includes the omniscience of God, unlimited atonement, prevenient grace and free will in relation to salvation.

You have misjudged the ‘only reason for Christ’s dying’. He died for them to provide the opportunity for salvation through prevenient grace and free will. God in his wisdom and omniscience knows that salvation should be offered to all and that ALL have the opportunity to say yea or nay to salvation.
That’s what the Scriptures teach and that’s why I maintain such a position. We have debated this over and over on Christian Forums and I don’t plan to go through the verses again.
I refer you to my articles:

The Calvinistic reply was:

First, the scripture no where says that Christ died to give men the “opportunity” to be saved. It consistently says that He died “TO SAVE” men.
Second, your position is totally illogical. If God foreknows who will not believe, then there can be no “opportunity” for them to be saved. Christ’s dath [sic] is nothing more than the basis of their judgment.[7]

My Arminian response was:

Mine is the logical position for these reasons:

  1. God loved the world (Jn 3:16) and not your view of only loving the elect;
  2. God gave all human beings free will as they are part of the ‘whoever believes’ (Jn 3:16). To be ‘whoever believes’, they must have the ability to say, ‘No to the offer’. The corollary this is that this is the ‘opportunity’ to be saved that is offered to ALL people.
  3. Jesus died for the whole world (1 Jn 2:2).
  4. To have the opportunity to receive Christ, people must hear the Gospel (Rom 10:17);
  5. The omniscient God has determined that only those who choose to believe receive eternal life (Jn 3:16).
  6. Those who choose to reject this offer are damned/they perish (Jn 3:16).
  7. The final destiny of all human beings is based on how logically God has provided such salvation as here explained.

You promote an illogical Calvinistic position where

  1. God’s injustice is exposed. He does not love the whole world (contrary to John 3:16) and does not offer ALL people the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.
  2. Instead, people are coerced into the kingdom by unconditional election and irresistible grace. And for some Calvinists, the rest are actively damned by an act of God (hardly the actions of the God of love for the whole world).

I don’t fall for the line that mine is the illogical position and yours is the paragon of logic.

Calvinists: God caused kidnap, rape and murder

Roger E Olson, an Arminian, wrote:

As I read Mark Talbot’s chapter on God and suffering in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor) a thought occurred to me:

Since most Calvinists are harshly critical of the novel The Shack (which takes a similar approach to theodicy as Greg Boyd in Is God to Blame?) because of its alleged undermining of God’s glory and sovereignty, why don’t they (or one of them) write a similar novel in which God explains to Mack (or someone like him) why his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered–and avoid language about God permitting or allowing it (which is really Arminian language)? I challenge a consistent “high Calvinist” such as Piper or Talbot to produce such a novel. I would like to see what the popular Christian reaction would be to what God would have to say about such atrocities in such a novel. Talbot pulls no punches; he says that God foreordains such events and is their ultimate cause; they are willed by God and not merely allowed or permitted by God (although even he occasionally uses such language–as do all Calvinists in my experience). At crucial points he pulls back a little and uses language such as God “governs” such events, but the context makes clear he means God renders them certain because they fit into his plan and purpose and are necessary for the full accomplishment of his will.

I look forward to the publication of such a novel; I think it would go far toward turning people away from Calvinism (Olson 2013).

Works consulted

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths & realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

Olson, R E 2013. A challenge from Roger Olson for Calvinists, Society of Evangelical Arminians (online), March 2. Available at: (Accessed 27 April 2014).

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.



[1] The Boxer#381, Christian Forums, ‘Soteriology DEBATE’, available at: (Accessed 27 April 2014).

[2] At this point Olson footnoted Peterson & Williams (1992:136-161).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#383.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#386.

[5] Ibid., The Boxer#384.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#387.

[7] Ibid., The Boxer#389.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

How could the holy Jesus deal with the wicked sins of humanity?

Thursday, May 15th, 2014


(courtesy ChristArt)

 By Spencer D Gear

A Christian woman whom I have known for 25 years contacted me recently[1] as she has problems understanding some biblical teachings after listening to a prominent evangelical preacher, John MacArthur, on YouTube. Please understand that these are her understandings from what she heard online.

Her difficulties were:

  • ‘Jesus lay aside some of His eternal rights/attributes and became totally dependent of the Father’;
  • MacArthur talks about how Jesus lay aside ‘somehow’ His holiness and became sin;
  • He talked about our struggle is the opposite we struggle to lay aside ‘sin’ to attain holiness.
  • ‘Jesus would stop being God if He were not eternally Holy. How then can he become sin?   So I find the concept hard to reconcile in my mind’.
  • ‘I thought He was punished for our sin, not that sin and evil clothed Him. So Jesus temptation was to NOT let sin cover Him but remain as He was absolutely Holy’.
  • ‘But then as I write this I “know” that He is and always has been absolutely holy’.
  • ‘Or does He allow sin/evil to cover Him, not change Him, but to draw so near it (sin) it was on Him’.
  • ‘Thus the Father turns away and He is punished as if He has committed the sin Himself. I always thought Jesus was untouched by filth and evil but took the punishment for our actions in His complete purity. Is it as though the Father “bathed Him in our filth” or He allowed that filth to touch Him and then was punished as though He was our filth. Hard concept for me to understand’.

This Christian has been doing some deep thinking about the Christian faith and what Jesus did for her and she’s struggling to understand how Jesus became sin for Christians through his death on the cross.

How should I reply?[2]

The doctrine of imputation

How can Jesus become sin for us? This is the doctrine of imputation – how our sins were imputed to Christ when he died for us on the cross. What does that mean? I recommend that you take a read of this excellent explanation with some good illustrations: ‘Our sins are imputed to Christ‘ by Ernest L Martin.
‘Impute’ is forensic language – the language of the courts. It means to charge to, to reckon to. The biblical examples of the need for this are in passages such as:


1. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa 53:6);

2. ‘He bore the sin of many’ (Isa 53:11);

3. Remember John the Baptist’s words: ‘The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29);

4. God made Christ ‘to be sin, who knew no sin’ (2 Cor 5:21);

5. Christ became ‘a curse for us’ (Gal 3:13);

6. Christ was ‘offered once to bear the sins of many’ (Heb 9:28);

7. ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Pt 2:24).

If we pick up the verses from Isaiah and 2 Cor 5:21, we see that by a legal/forensic act, God the Father has put the believers’ sins on Jesus. They have been reckoned to Jesus’ account. Wayne Grudem put is this way:

It was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. How could that be? In the same way in which Adam’s sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, he thought of them as belonging to Christ, and, since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ. This does not mean that God thought that Christ had himself committed the sins, or that Christ himself actually had a sinful nature, but rather that the guilt of our sins (that is, the liability to punishment) was thought of by God as belonging to Christ rather than to us (Grudem 1999:253).

In simple language, when God imputed human beings’ sins to Jesus, God thought of them as belonging to Jesus Christ. That’s the meaning of the Greek word, logizomai,  which is essentially “to consider” or “to reckon something to be so.” So God decided as a legal act from his throne that the sins of human beings who trust in Christ belong to Jesus. This is the marvellous action of the designer of the universe that he should do this for us. Imputation deals with our legal position before God regarding sin and death. By our sins legally belonging to Jesus, we can have the marvellous gift of fellowship with and be in a right relationship with God.

The righteousness of Christ is imputed

But this happens because there is another dimension to imputation. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. In basic language, it means that the merits of Jesus are put into the account of another – Christians. We get this message from 2 Cor 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin [or, a sin offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (ESV).

This is not God’s attribute of righteousness because our faith in Christ doesn’t have to do with that. But this relates to the righteousness that God has provided for anyone who has faith in Jesus alone for salvation. God restores us to favour with Himself by imputing to us Christ’s righteousness.

We must not forget that this is a legal arrangement between God and us that is made possible because our sins are imputed to Christ and we receive a righteous provision to be able to enter God’s presence.

Grudem summarises this for us:

When Adam sinned, his guilt was imputed to us.  In other words, God the Father viewed it as belonging to us, and therefore it did.  In the same way Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us.  It is not our own righteousness that we have earned in some way, but Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to us.

  • Paul says that God made Christ to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Paul speaks of a righteousness that is not his own, but instead is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9)
  • All who believe in Christ have been made righteous before God (Romans 3:21-22)

This idea that God declares us to be just or righteous not on the basis of our actual condition, but rather on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness was the heart of the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism at the Reformation.  Grudem covers the error of the Catholic Church teaching derived from the Council of Trent. The consequence of this view of justification held by many Catholics is that our eternal life with God is not based on God’s grace alone, but partially on our merit as well or as Catholic Theologian Ludwig Ott stated “For the justified eternal life is both a gift of grace promised by God and a reward for his own good works and merits…. Salutary works are, at the same time, gifts of God and meritorious acts of man.”  This is not supported Biblically.  Justification is all God, and not by any merit in us (Source, a longer version is in Grudem 1999:318-320).

So when people are justified by Christ through faith in Jesus alone, they have had their sins pardoned. The penalty of their sins has been remitted (given to Jesus’ account)  and they have been restored to proper relationship with God. Why? It happens because our sins have been imputed to Christ (he has become sin for us) and the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us.

I hope that this gives a starter in understanding this wonderful doctrine of the imputation of our sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1999. Ed by J Purswell. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.


[1] Her email was received by me on 13 May 2014.

[2] My email reply was sent on 15 May 2014.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

If Jesus’ atonement is for all, should all be saved?

Monday, January 27th, 2014


By Spencer D Gear

If you visit some Christian forums on the Internet, you are likely to encounter some Calvinists who support limited atonement and oppose unlimited atonement (that is promoted by Arminians)? Why? Because the limited atonement folks think that if Jesus died for all, then all would be saved.

I encountered this a few times when I was interacting.[1] You might like to read some of the interaction in, ‘The effects of limited atonement’.

Take a read of these Scriptures that support Jesus’ dying for the world and providing the righteousness of God to those who believe:

blue-arrow 1 John 2:2: ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (ESV).

blue-arrow 2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (ESV).

blue-arrow Romans 5:15-19:

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (ESV).

Norm Geisler comments about these verses:

The salvation of everyone was not immediately applied; it was simply purchased. All persons were made salvable, but not all persons were automatically saved. The gift was made possible by the Savior, but it must be received by the sinner (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. John 1:12). In short, the salvation of all sinners from God’s eternal wrath is possible, but only those who accept Christ’s payment for their sins will actually be saved from it.

To put it another way, this objection presupposes universalism (that all will be saved), for which there is no sound biblical, theological, or historical basis (Geisler 2003:405).

This is one of the finest, brief statements I’ve read that provides a summary of Jesus’ death providing atonement for all, but salvation only for those who receive the gift of salvation by faith.

Works consulted

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.


[1] I am OzSpen on Christian Forums, Soteriology directory.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

What’s the meaning of ‘propitiation’ in 1 John 2:2?

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Through the cross

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

There has been controversy for centuries in Christian circles over whether Christ died for the sins of the whole world or only for the sins of those elected to salvation – the believers. One Bible helps to clarify this. Or, does it?

First John 2:1-2 (ESV) states:

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.

In this verse, the Greek noun used that the ESV translates as ‘propitiation’ is hilasmos, while the NIV translates as ‘atoning sacrifice’. There has been much debate among Greek scholars as to the meaning of the noun form which is found in one other place in the NT and that’s in 1 John 4:10. The verbal form is in a few other verses.

In the early stages of this article, I’m relying heavily on I Howard Marshall’s commentary and its summary of the controversy (Marshall 1978:117-120).

Here are some of the issues with this word:

1.  When it is used outside of the Bible, it conveys the meaning of ‘an offering made by a man in order to placate the wrath of a god whom he has offended. It was a means of turning the god from wrath to favorable attitude’ (Marshall 1978:117).

2.  However, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) – the LXX – the meaning has been debated. Westcott and Dodd argued that in the OT, ‘the scriptural conception … is not that of appeasing one who is angry, with a personal feeling, against the offender; but of altering the character of that which from without occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship’ (in Marshall 1978:117). Therefore, they concluded that

3.  In secular sources, the word means ‘propitiation’ (placating an offended person), but in the Bible it means ‘expiation’ (a means of neutralising and cancelling sin (Marshall 1978:117). However, neither of these words is in common use in the English language so modern translations offer a paraphrase. The NIV and NRSV use, ‘atoning sacrifice’, which tries to combine two ideas: an atonement for sin and an offering to God (a sacrifice). The TEV used ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven’ while the NEB used ‘the remedy for the defilement of our sins’, the latter seeming to be closer to the meaning of expiation (Marshall 1978:117-118). The ESV, NKJV and NASB retain ‘propitiation’.

4.  L Morris and D Hill objected to the Westcott and Dodd interpretation and showed that in the OT ‘the idea of placating the wrath of God or some other injured party is often present when the word-group in question is used…. The meaning in the present passage would then be that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sins [the Greek preposition peri]. There can be no real doubt that this is the meaning’ (Marshall 1978:118).

5.  In 1 John 2:1, the thought of Jesus as our advocate [NIV: ‘One who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’] is of one who is pleading the cause of the guilty sinners before a judge in order to obtain pardon for ‘acknowledged guilt’. ‘In order that forgiveness may be granted, there is an action in respect of the sins which has the effect of rendering God favorable to the sinner. We may, if we wish, say that the sins are cancelled out by the action in question. This means that the one action has the double effect of expiating the sin and thereby propitiating God. These two aspects of the action belong together, and a good translation will attempt to convey them both’ (Marshall 1978:118).

6.  How does one find an English word that combines expiation and propitiation? ‘Atoning sacrifice’ is an attempt but I find that it de-emphasises the propitiation too much. I can’t see a way around this except for a preacher to make sure he/she explains 1 John 2:1-2 together and that needs to include both the advocate and the propitiation. A ‘propitiatory advocate’ could be a way around that, but the English language is too clumsy to put it that way as many people don’t understand the meaning of ‘propitiatory’ because it is not used in contemporary English in my part of the world.

Some other views on the meaning of propitiation

Leon Morris (courtesy Wikipedia)

1. Leon Morris refers to hilasmos related words in Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17 and 1 John 2:2; 4:10. His exegesis of the word indicates that it means,

the turning away of wrath by an offering…. Outside the Bible the word group to which the Greek words belong unquestionably has the significance of averting wrath…. Neither [C H] Dodd nor others who argue for “expiation” seem to give sufficient attention to the biblical teaching….

The words of the hilaskomai group do not denote simple forgiveness or cancellation of sin which includes the turning away of God’s wrath (e.g. Lam. 3:42-43)….

The whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and condemnation of God. When Paul turns to salvation, he thinks of Christ’s death as hilasterion (Rom 3:25), a means of removing the divine wrath. The paradox of the OT is repeated in the NT that God himself provides the means of removing his own wrath. The love of the Father is shown in that he “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)….

The consistent Bible view is that the sin of man has incurred the wrath of God. That wrath is averted only by Christ’s atoning offering. From this standpoint his saving work is properly called propitiation (Morris 1984:888).

(Henry C Thiessen, photo courtesy

2. Henry Thiessen wrote that

the New Testament represents Christ’s death as appeasing God’s wrath. Paul says, God set Him forth as a “propitiatory” (sacrifice) (Rom. 3:25); and Hebrews represents the mercy seat in the tabernacle and temple of the “propitiatory (place) (9:5). John declared that Christ is the “propitiation” for our sins (1 John 2:2:4:10); and Hebrews declares that Christ “propitiates” the sins of the people (2:17) (Thiessen 1949:326)

Thiessen quotes W G T Shedd in support of this view – based on the Old Testament:

The connection of ideas in the Greek translation appears therefore to be this: By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation the punishment due to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is ‘forgiveness’ in the biblical representation (Shedd II:391, in Thiessen 1949:326).

Wayne Grudem 2011.jpgWayne Grudem (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

3. Wayne Grudem’s assessment was:

Romans 3:23 tells us that God put forward Christ as a “propitiation” (NASB) a word that means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath to favor.” Paul tells us that “That this was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). God had not simply forgiven sin and forgotten about the punishment in generations past. He had forgiven sins and stored up his righteous anger against those sins. But at the cross the fury of all that stored-up wrath against sin was unleashed against God’s own Son.

Many theologians outside the evangelical world have strongly objected to the idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.[1] Their basic assumption is that since God is a God of love, it would be inconsistent with his character to show wrath against the human beings he has created and for whom he is a loving Father. But evangelical scholars have convincingly argued that the idea of the wrath of God is solidly rooted in both the Old and New Testaments: “the whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and the condemnation of God.”

Three other crucial passages in the New Testament refer to Jesus’ death as a “propitiation”: Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10. The Greek terms (the verb hilaskomai, “to make propitiation” and the noun hilasmos, “a sacrifice of propitiation”) used in these passages have the sense of “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God – and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us.” This is the consistent meaning of these words outside of the Bible where they were well understood in reference to pagan Greek religions. These verses simply mean that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.

It is important to insist on this fact, because it is the heart of the doctrine of the atonement. It means that there is an eternal, unchangeable requirement in the holiness and justice of God that sin be paid for. Furthermore, before the atonement ever could have an effect on our subjective consciousness, it first had an effect on God and his relation to the sinners he planned to redeem. Apart from this central truth, the death of Christ really cannot be adequately understood (Grudem 1994:575).

4. There was no reference to ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiation’ in Paul Tillich’s Systematic theology (Tillich 1968).

Rudolf Bultmann Portrait.jpgRudolph Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

5. What of Rudolph Bultmann’s view of propitiation? Ben C Blackwell of Dunelm Road’s summary of Bultmann’s view was in,Bultmann on Paul’. He states:

For those under faith Bultmann (following in his methodology of doing word studies) begins by discussing “righteousness” as the Jewish eschatological pronouncement of right relationship at the judgment.  However, with the advent of Christ, righteousness is now a present reality experienced by believers, and it is in Romans 5-8 that Paul shows the Jews how an eschatological righteousness can be seen as present.

Bultmann then moves on to the concept of grace and the salvation-occurrence of Christ.  Just as God’s wrath is active and eschatological, so his grace must also be and it is found in the death-and-resurrection of Christ and our experience of it.  He lays out metaphors/explanations of this salvation-event in Paul’s understanding:

  • Propitiatory sacrifice – juristic (but meaning of resurrection is not highlighted pg. 300)
  • Vicarious sacrifice – instead of us, in place of us – very similar to propitiatoryl
  • Redemption – redeemed, ransomed – freedom from punishment/guilt of sin but also powers of the Age;
  • Participation into death of divinity through sacraments – like Mystery Religions;
  • Participation into incarnation-death-resurrection/exaltation – like Gnostics

It is this last category that Bultmann focuses after this point.  Since the incarnation and resurrection didn’t historically happen, believers are joining in the cosmic relationship with the cosmic Gnostic Redeemer by faith, which is a self-surrender, an utter reversal of one’s previous self-understanding.  This process is appropriated to the individual through the proclamation of the word.  Bultmann explains: “The union of believers in one soma with Christ now has its basis not in their sharing the same supernatural substance, but in the fact that the in the word of proclamation of Christ’s death-and-resurrection becomes a possibility of existence in regard to which a decision must be made, in the fact that faith seizes this possibility and appropriates it as the power that determines the existence of the man of faith” (302).  By entering into this cosmic union, the eschatological event is replayed in individual lives–it it the eschatological Now found in the proclamation of the word and sacraments.

I hope this helps to clarify the fact that both Old and New Testaments affirm the necessity of a blood sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. Jesus’ death was that propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). However, that propitiation is only potential until a person chooses to believe in Jesus to receive God’s propitiation.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Marshall, I H 1978. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1984. Propitiation. In W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical dictionary of theology, 88. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (3 vols combined). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.


[1] Grudem’s footnote was: ‘See the detailed linguistic argument of C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1935), pp. 82-95. Dodd argues that the idea of propitiation was common in pagan religions but foreign to the thought of Old Testament and New Testament writers (Grudem 1994:575, n. 11).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 April 2016.

Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013


(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’m speaking of 1 Corinthians 15:3: ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (ESV)

I find some Calvinists not to be upfront about their meaning when they make statements about Christ dying for sinners. A person asked online, ‘When Paul initially preached to them [the Corinthians] there would have been non-believers present. What would you say to such a crowd regarding “Christ”, “died” and “sins”?’[1]

A Calvinist who believes in limited atonement responded,

Christ died for sinners. You are a sinner. To receive forgiveness for your sins you must repent of your sins believe on The Lord Jesus Christ.

Later I could say that I preached that Christ died for our sins. And it would be true.[2]

Therefore, I asked, ‘In your first sentence, ‘Christ died for sinners’, are you affirming that Christ died for ALL sinners?[3] He did not want to affirm his belief in limited atonement at this point, so he said, ‘Read it again’.[4] My response was, ‘That’s like a non-answer’ He has affirmed his belief in TULIP Calvinism constantly in his posts to Christian Forums, but he didn’t want to go down that route at this stage of the discussion.

A.  The meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:3: Limited atonement or not?

That only believers are mentioned in 1 Cor 15:3, ‘Christ died for our sins’, is because of the grammar and semantics of writing a letter to anyone. When the Bible uses ‘our’, ‘us’, and ‘we’ regarding the atonement, it does this because this is the group of people that a writer (in this case, Paul) is addressing.

Such a verse as 1 Cor 15:3 is not addressing all of those for whom there has been provision of atonement; it is speaking to those for whom there has been an appropriation/application of the atonement in Corinth. Here in 1 Cor 15:3, Paul is addressing a few to whom the atonement has been applied, so he uses the language of ‘our sins’.

B.  Provision and appropriation

This language of ‘provision’ and ‘appropriation or application’ is used by some theologians to differentiate between the number of people who are provided with opportunity for salvation (all of the people in the world) and those who accept Christ’s offer (appropriation or application of salvation). Geisler, who links his view to that of a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (Geisler 1999:52-54), uses it also (see below). He wrote that ‘while salvation was provided for all, it is applied only to those who believe’ and ‘since God also wanted everyone to believe, he also intended that Christ would die to provide salvation for all people’ (2004:187, emphasis in original). Geisler also uses ‘everyone is potentially justifiable, not actually justified’ (2004:352, emphasis in original). He also uses parallel language when he stated that ‘God’s grace is not merely sufficient for all; it is efficient for the elect. In order for God’s grace to be effective, there must be cooperation by the recipient on whom God has moved’ (Geisler 2004:144).

Thiessen, an Arminian in his views, uses the language of ‘appropriation’:

‘There is a necessary order in a man’s salvation; he must first believe that Christ died for him, before he can appropriate the benefits of His death to himself. Although Christ died for all in the sense of reconciling God to the world, not all are saved, because their actual salvation is conditioned on their being reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20)’ (Thiessen 1949:330, emphasis in original).

Therefore, Thiessen offered this summary of how Christ can be the Saviour of the world and not offer salvation only to the elect:

His death secured for all men a delay in the execution of the sentence against sin, space for repentance, and the common blessings of life which have been forfeited by transgression; it removed from the mind of God every obstacle to the pardon of the penitent and restoration of the sinner, except his wilful opposition to God and rejection of him; it procured for the unbeliever the powerful incentives to repentance presented in the Cross, by means of the preaching of God’s servants, and through the work of the Holy Spirit; it provided salvation for those who die in infancy, and assured its application to them; and it makes possible the final restoration of creation itself (Thiessen  1949:330).

Others such as David Allen use the language of ‘the extent of the atonement’ and ‘the application of the atonement’ (Allen 2010:65, emphasis in original). Allen argues ‘the case for unlimited atonement (an unlimited imputation of sin to Christ)’ (Allen 2010:66). He concluded his exposition with this statement:

I have attempted to demonstrate the following: (1) Historically, neither Calvin nor the first generation of reformers held the doctrine of limited atonement. From the inception of the Reformation until the present, numerous Calvinists have rejected it, and furthermore, it represents a departure from the historic Christian consensus that Jesus suffered for the sins of all humanity. (2) Biblically, the doctrine of limited atonement simply does not reflect the teaching of Scripture. (3) Theologically and logically, limited atonement is flawed and indefensible. (4) Practically, limited atonement creates serious problems for God’s universal saving will; it provides an insufficient ground for evangelism by undercutting the well-meant gospel offer; it undermines the bold proclamation of the gospel in preaching; and it contributes to a rejection of valid methods of evangelism such as the use of evangelistic altar calls.

I cannot help but remember the words of the venerable retired distinguished professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Jack McGorman, in his inimitable style and accent: ‘The doctrine of limited atonement truncates the gospel by sawing off the arms of the cross too close to the stake.’[5] Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward ‘five-point’ Calvinism? Such a move would be, in my opinion, not a helpful one[6] (Allen 2010:107).

In 1 Cor 15:3, the language of ‘Christ died for our sins’ is using simple etiquette. When I’m writing to my friends and use ‘our’, I’m referring to them and me exclusively, so ‘our’ is appropriate. That is what Paul is doing here in 1 Cor 15:3. Paul is not making a statement about ‘our sins’ meaning limited atonement.

We know this because elsewhere in the NT, we have confirmation that God loves all people, Christ died for the sins of all people, and that God is not willing that any people should perish (Jn 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Tit 2:11; 2 Pt 2:1; 3:9).



C.  Norman Geisler responds to this verse

In his ‘answering objections to the origin of salvation’, Geisler responds to an objection ‘based on God’s unique love for the elect’. This is the objection:

Strong Calvinists claim that God does not salvifically love all people, insisting that Christ died only for the elect. If this is true, then God is not omnibenevolent. For instance: ‘He chose us’ (not ‘all’ – Eph. 1:4); ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15;3); ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:15); ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Eph 5:25) [Geisler 2004:194, emphasis in original].

What is his rejoinder to this objection?

The fact that only believers are mentioned in some passages as the object of Christ’s death does not prove that the Atonement is limited, for several reasons.

First, Paul also said that Jesus ‘gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20), het no proponent of limited atonement takes this to exclude the fact that Christ died for others as well.

Second, when Paul uses terms like we, our, or us of the Atonement, it speaks only of those to whom it has been applied, not for all those for whom it was provided. In doing so, Scripture does not thereby limit the Atonement.

Third, and finally, the fact that Jesus loves His bride and died for her (Eph. 5;25) does not mean that God the Father and Jesus the Son do not love the whole world and desire them to be part of His bride, the church. John 3:16 explicitly says otherwise (Geisler 2004:195).

See also, S. Michael Houdmann, ‘Main arguments against limited atonement(please understand that Houdmann in this link is a 4-point Calvinist who does not believe in limited atonement).

red blood cells

(courtesy wpclipart)

Works consulted

Allen, D L 2010. The atonement: Limited or universal? In D L Allen & S W Lemke (eds), Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism, 61-107. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] janxharris#11, 17 November 2013, Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘What did Paul preach to the Corinthians?’, available at: (Accessed 17 November 2013).

[2] Hammster#12, ibid.

[3] OzSpen#14, ibid.

[4] Hammster#16, ibid.

[5] At this point the footnote was, ‘Spoken to the author in a personal conversation’ (Allen 2010:107, n. 133).

[6] Here the footnote was: ‘We should heed the words of Thomas Lamb, seventeenth-century Baptist and Calvinist, who said: “… yet I deny not, but grand with him [John Goodwin], that the denial of Christs [sic] Death for the sins of all, doth detract from God’s Philanthropy, and deny him to be a lover of men, and doth in very deed destroy the very foundation and ground-work of Christian faith” (Thomas Lamb, Absolute Freedom from Sin by Christs Death for the World [London: Printed by H. H. for the authour, and are to be sold by him, 1656], 248)’ (Allen 2010:107, n. 134).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 October 2016.

Unlimited atonement by Jesus

Saturday, December 21st, 2013


(image courtesy ChristArt )

By Spencer D Gear

TULIP Calvinists promote belief in Limited Atonement. Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world or did he die only for the sins of the elect – the church? To ask the question another way: ‘When Christ died on the cross, did he pay for the sins of the entire human race or only for the sins of those who he knew would ultimately be saved?’ (Grudem 1994:594).

Anglican Reformed theologian, J I Packer, gave this definition:

Definite redemption, sometimes called “particular redemption,” “effective atonement,” and “limited atonement,” is an historic Reformed doctrine about the intention of the triune God in the death of Jesus Christ. Without doubting the infinite worth of Christ’s sacrifice or the genuineness of God’s “whoever will” invitation to all who hear the gospel (Rev. 22:17), the doctrine states that the death of Christ actually put away the sins of all God’s elect and ensured that they would be brought to faith through regeneration and kept in faith for glory, and that this is what it was intended to achieve. From this definiteness and effectiveness follows its limitedness: Christ did not die in this efficacious sense for everyone. The proof of that, as Scripture and experience unite to teach us, is that not all are saved (Packer 1993:137; also available HERE)

Baptist Reformed theologian, Wayne Grudem, stated that

those whom God planned to save are the same people for whom Christ also came to die, and to those same people the Holy Spirit will certainly apply the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, even awakening their faith (John 1:12; Phil. 1:29; cf. Eph. 2:2) and calling them to trust in him….

The term that is usually preferred is particular redemption, since this view holds  that Christ died for particular people (especially, those who would be saved and whom he came to redeem), that he foreknew each one of them individually (cf. Eph. 1:3-5) and had them individually in mind in his atoning work(Grudem 1994;595, 596).

Is limited atonement or particular redemption taught in Scripture? For a defence of that position, see J I Packer,Definite Redemption’; Packer 1994:137-139).

However, what do the Scriptures teach? We will find that unlimited atonement (Jesus died for the whole world) is taught by biblical Christianity. The following are representative passages in support of unlimited atonement:

Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (NIV)

John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'”

John 3:16: “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.”

John Calvin’s commentary on John 3:16 states:

16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (John Calvin, Commentary on John, vol 1, John 3:13-18, CCEL, emphasis added).

John 4:42: “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.'”

Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time.”

1 Timothy 4:10: “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”

Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor 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 is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (Please note the contrast of ‘ours’ and ‘the whole world’.)

1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

I was helped with the listing of these Scriptures by Ron Rhodes’ excellent article in support of unlimited atonement.The Extent of the Atonement:Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement(Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries). Another article in support of unlimited atonement is Robert P Lightner,The Death Christ Died: A Case for Unlimited Atonement’.

So the teaching on unlimited atonement is very biblical. Also, the founder of Calvinism, John Calvin, believed in it.

See my article: Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.