Archive for the 'Atonement' Category

Calvin’s appalling interpretation of ‘all men’

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

(image public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God zap people with unconditional election and they are INTO the kingdom, NEVER to be excluded?[1] Is God’s grace extended to all people or are many excluded?

What happened with the Philippian jailer? According to Acts 16:30-31 (ESV), it is stated: ‘Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’. They did not say, ‘Just leave it to God/Jesus; he decides if you are ever going to be saved. He by a sovereign act pulls you into his kingdom – he sovereignly elects you and you have no say in the matter’.

No, these evangelists said, ‘(You) believe in the Lord Jesus’ to be saved. As I understand Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), there is no salvation without the human responsibility of believing. However, we always need to remember that

  •  Jesus said, according to John 6:65 (ESV), ‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’.
  • Matthew 11:27 affirms the same message: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’.
  • Paul’s message to the Ephesians was, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2:8-9 ESV).
  • Titus 1:1 (NLT) confirms that Christian believers are ‘those God has chosen’.


(image courtesy

A. God’s grace to all

I find a better biblical emphasis than unconditional election[2] to be that found in Titus 2:11 (ESV): ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. This does not promote universalism, BUT it proves how God’s saving grace is universal – is available to all – and that grace brings salvation. This is in contrast to Calvin’s limiting grace to only a select number of people, made available through Calvinistic limited atonement.[3]

Here is John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse from Calvin’s commentary on Titus 2:11. He stated of this phrase:

Bringing salvation to all men,[4] 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.

B. Calvin’s shocking eisegesis

What is eisegesis? Berkeley Mickelsen states that ‘eisegesis is the substitution of the authority of the interpreter for the authority of the original writer’ (Mickelsen 1963:158). Lewis & Demarest describe it as the method of people ‘reading their own ideas into the Bible’ (1987:30). The World Council of Churches understood that

there is always the danger of eisegesis, reading into the Bible the ideas which we have received from elsewhere and then receiving them each with the authority with which we have come to surround the book (World Council of Churches Symposium on Biblical Authority for Today, Oxford, 1949).[5]

I find Calvin’s interpretation of Titus 2:11 to be an awful piece of eisegesis. Calvin, a very accomplished commentator, has made ‘all men’ refer NOT to all individual men – meaning all human beings – but to individual classes of people and those in various ranks of life, including the race of slaves.

This is as bad a piece of exegesis that I’ve read in quite a while as he makes ‘all men’ = some slaves and some from other classes and ranks in life. This is what happens when a commentator allows his predisposed presupposition (God’s grace cannot be extended to all, but only to the elect) to intrude into his interpretation. Thus exegesis of this phrase in Titus 2:11 has become eisegesis in the hands of a Reformed Calvinist, the founder of the movement.

Meyer’s commentary states: ‘[pasin anthropois, all men and women] does not depend on [epephane, appeared], but on [sotegios, salvation]…. The emphasis laid on the universality of the salvation, as in 1 Timothy 2:4 and other passages of the Pastoral Epistles, is purely Pauline’ (Titus 2:11 commentaries, Bible Hub).

First Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV) reads, ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (emphasis added). This is in harmony with Paul’s statement in Titus 2:11 that God’s grace is made available to all people, thus making salvation available to all. These two passages ‘have specific reference to the redemption wrought by Christ, and all posit universality. They are supported by numerous correlative passages which assert God’s will that all men be saved’ (Shank 1970:83). These verses support unlimited atonement. Fairbairn’s assessment is accurate regarding Titus 2:11: The grace of God and its saving design is towards all people; it ‘presents and offers salvation to all, and in that sense brings it…. The salvation-bringing grace of God is without respect of persons; it is unfolded to men indiscriminately, or to sinners of every name’ (Fairbairn 2001:278).

William Hendriksen promotes an opposing view:

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception”…..

The context makes the meaning very clear. Male or female, old or young, rich or poor: all are guilty before God, and from them all God gathers his people. Aged men, aged women, young women, young(er) men, and even slaves (see verses 1-10) should live consecrated lives for the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to men of all these various groups or classes. “All men” here in verse 11 = “us” in verse 12 (The Pastorals, Hendriksen 1957:93, 371, emphasis in original).

So Hendriksen’s interpretation is essentially that of Calvin’s, as is Matthew Henry’s:

It hath appeared to all men; not to the Jews only, as the glory of God appeared at mount Sinai to that particular people, and out of the view of all others; but gospel grace is open to all, and all are invited to come and partake of the benefit of it, Gentiles as well as Jews…. The doctrine of grace and salvation by the gospel is for all ranks and conditions of men (slaves and servants, as well as masters) (Matthew Henry, Titus 2:11-14).

This cannot be accepted because of the various verses throughout Scripture that promote unlimited atonement (1 John 2:2) and God’s desire for all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).

The obvious question remains:

C. At what point is grace for salvation available to all?

Titus 2:11 makes it clear that God’s grace, his goodness to the ill-deserving, is made available (‘has appeared’ is the language) ‘to all people’. But when is that? Is it at the time of birth, at some time after birth, at the time of the Gospel being presented, or at some other time? Has the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to the drunk on the street, the Muslim in an anti-Christian country, the secular Aussie who doesn’t give a hoot about God, or at some other time?

Titus 2:11 seems to indicate that the grace of God has appeared to all people in some way that we could describe as prevenient grace, preparing the way for salvation when the Gospel is proclaimed to them. See my article, Is prevenient grace still amazing grace? Here I put the case that this means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in these exhortations:

  • to turn to God. (Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; and Acts 3:19);
  • to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30), and
  • to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 John 3:23).

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth.

Exegete, Gordon Fee, explains Titus 2:11:

An explanatory for opens the paragraph and thus closely ties verses 11-14 to 2-10. It proceeds to explain why God’s people should live as exhorted in 2-10 (so that the message from God will not be maligned [v. 5] but instead will be attractive [v. 10]): because the grace of God that brings salvation to all people has appeared.

In the Greek text all of verses 11-14 form a single sentence, of which the grace of God stands as the grammatical subject. But contrary to the NIV (and KJV), Paul does not say that this grace appeared to all men; rather, as almost all other translations have it, and as both Paul’s word order and the usage in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 demand it, what has appeared (see disc. on 1 Tim. 6:14; epiphaneia) is grace from God that offers salvation to all people.

Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace. Most likely he is thinking of the historical revelation effected in the saving event of Christ (v. 14; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9-10), but it could also refer existentially to the time in Crete when Paul and Titus preached the gospel and Cretans understood and accepted the message (cf. 1:3 and 3:3-4). That at least is when the educative dimension of grace, emphasized in verse 12, took place (Fee 1988:194, emphasis in original).

See my article for a further explanation: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people? It is important to note that God’s grace is made available to all but Fee’s insight that ‘Paul does not indicate here the reference point for this revelation of God’s grace’ is important. We do not know the how and when this happens. Fee thinks it could have happened historically when the saving event of Christ was effected (cf Titus 2:14 and 2 Tim 1:9-10). However, I put it to you that this could happen at the time when the Gospel is proclaimed in any contemporary situation. The grace of God is extended to all people in the sound of the proclamation. But that is only a suggestion. We are not told the chronology of when it happens. But we do know that God’s grace bringing salvation has appeared to all people – not just a handful of God’s elect.

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D. Objections to label of eisegesis

It is expected that Calvinists would object to any attempt to interpret 1 Tim 2:4 (pantas anthropous) and Titus 2:11 (pasin anthropois) as referring to all people. I expect that they would not like my labelling Calvin’s interpretation as eisegesis. I hope the following explanation demonstrates that I do not have a beef over Calvin’s interpretations for no good reason.

Some standard Bible translations of these two verses are:

1 Timothy 2:4,

  • ‘who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV);
  • ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (NIV);
  • ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NASB);
  • ‘who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NRSV);
  • ‘who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth’ (NLT).

Titus 2:11,

  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (ESV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (NIV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (NASB);
  • ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (NRSV);
  • ‘For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (NLT);

All of these translations take the two verses in which the Greek states ‘all men’ as referring to all people, all of mankind, or all of humanity. However, the NKJV still retains ‘all men’ in Titus 2:11, without explaining the meaning, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (NKJV). It takes the same approach with 1 Tim 2:4, ‘who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (NKJV).

Does ‘all people’ refer to all human beings or does it refer to something else?

Image result for photo William Hendriksen public domain

(William Hendriksen, photo public domain)

William Hendriksen is a Calvinist.[6] In his commentary on Titus 2:11, he stated that ‘all men’ referred back to 1 Tim 2:4 and the explanation of ‘all men’ (Hendriksen 1957:370-371), where Hendriksen wrote at length. Some of my objections to his comments on 1 Tim 2:1 (Hendriksen 1957:93-94) are noted in [square brackets]:

Several expositors feel certain that this means every member of the whole human race; every man, woman, and child, without any exception whatever. And it must be readily admitted that taken by itself the expression all men is capable of this interpretation. Nevertheless, every calm and unbiased interpreter also admits that in certain contexts this simply cannot be the meaning.[7]

Does Titus 2:11 really teach that the saving grace of God has appeared to every member of the human race without any exception? Of course not! It matters little whether one interprets “the appearance of the saving grace” as referring to the bestowal of salvation itself, or to the fact that the gospel of saving grace has been preached to every person on earth. In either case it is impossible to make “all men” mean “every individual on the globe without exception. [N.B. What causes Hendriksen to be so sure that he certainly knows that God’s grace (even prevenient grace that prepares the human race for salvation) is NOT available to all people? There’s an air of Calvinistic firmness (Hendriksen’s theological persuasion) coming through with this kind of comment].

Again, does Rom. 5:18 really teach that “every member of the human race” is “justified”? [N.B. What Hendriksen fails to mention in this context is that Rom 5:18 includes two examples of ‘all men’. The first is, ‘Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men….’ So does ‘all men’ who are condemned refer to all people? Of course, as the following parallel verses confirm: Romans 3:23; 5:12. Hendriksen refers to one view of ‘all men’ but avoids the other use of ‘all men’ in the very same verse. Seems like selective exegesis to me.]

Does I Cor. 15:22 really intend to tell us that “every member of the human race” is “made alive in Christ“? [N.B. I find this quite a unreasonable statement because 1 Cor 15:23 gives the context, ‘Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ’ (ESV). So in 1 Cor 15:22-23, Paul is addressing ALL ‘who belong to Christ’ (v. 23); He is not speaking of all people, non-believers and Christians alike. So Hendriksen’s use of 1 Cor. 15:22 does not prove his point. It demonstrates he has not taken into account the meaning as context determines.]

But if that be true, then it follows that Christ did not only die for every member of the human race, but that he also actually saved every one without any exception whatever. Most conservatives would hesitate to go that far.[8]

Moreover, if, wherever it occurs, the expression “all men” or its equivalent has this absolutely universalistic connotation, then would not the following be true:

(a) Every member of the human race regarded John the Baptist as a prophet (Mark 11:32). [N.B. Part of Mk 11:32 in the Greek is literally, ‘they feared the crowd [the people], for all held….’ Even if one translated ‘the crowd for all men’, the ‘all men’ in context has to refer to ‘the crowd’ (the people of the context), not all people in the world. I find it disingenuous of Hendriksen to want to make ‘all men’ refer to the human race when he, a scholar with excellent knowledge of Greek knew that ‘all’ referred to ‘the crowd’ in context. I find this to be an example of the commentator playing his misleading Calvinistic games. It is a begging the question logical fallacy. That is, if he starts with the Calvinistic premise that ‘all men’ does not mean all men and then ends with ‘all men’ cannot mean the ‘human race’, he has engaged in circular reasoning, a question begging fallacy. So his use of Mark 11:32 is invalid to support his case.]

(b) Every member of the human race wondered whether John was, perhaps, the Christ (Luke 3:15). [N.B. This verse in the ESV states, ‘As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ’. Which people? Verses 7 & 10 call them ‘the crowds’ while v. 12 states that ‘tax collectors also came’ and there were soldiers who asked John the Baptist (v. 14). These are the ‘people’ who came to John the Baptist according to Luke 3:15 (Interlinear). It is obvious that ‘the people’ were not all the people in the world. They were the people in his era who had heard and seen him and were ‘questioning in their hearts concerning John’. Again, I find this to be an unfair way for Hendriksen to push his Calvinistic agenda.]

(c) Every member of the human race marveled about the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:20). [N.B. Hendriksen is again stretching the text to fit his agenda. The verse states: ‘everyone was amazed’ (Interlinear) but the context makes it clear who all of these were. They were in the Decapolis’ (Interlinear). We use the same kind of language today, say, when we are attending a fruit and vegetable market. We say things like, ‘Look at all the people buying lady finger bananas on special’. No person in his or her right mind would think that ‘all the people’ meant all the people in the entire world. So when ‘everyone was amazed according to Mark 5:20, it was referring to the amazed people in Decapolis who had seen evidence of the demon-possessed person set free by Jesus’ exorcism. Again, Hendriksen is stretching the imagination to arrive at a conclusion that is unrealistic in the context.]

(d) Every member of the human race was searching for Jesus (Mark 1:37). [N.B. Mark 1:37 (Interlinear) has the statement, ‘Everyone is looking for you’. There is not enough information in the immediate context to determine who the ‘everyone’ refers to, but the context in the Gospel of Mark 1:32-34 (Interlinear) indicates that the people were bringing the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus for healing and deliverance. The language is, ‘The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases’ (NIV). Therefore, there is a strong possibility that ‘everyone’ who was looking for Jesus could have referred to the sick or demon possessed because of Jesus’ reputation for healing and exorcism. To make this refer to the entire human race in this context is quite a nonsensical intent. Context in Scripture snuffs out that idea. So it is possible for ‘everyone’ to refer to everyone in a group that is seeking Jesus. But to make Mark 1:37 apply to ‘all men’ regarding the offer of salvation, is stretching my theological logical thinking.]

(e) It was reported to the Baptist that all members of the human race were flocking to Jesus (John 3:26). [N.B. The Interlinear gives the translation, ‘Everyone is coming to him’. What does the context tell us about the ‘everyone’? People were coming to John the Baptist to be baptised (John 3:22-24) and then there was a discussion between some of John the Baptist’s disciples and a Jew about John the Baptist’s baptism and the ‘all’ who were now coming to Jesus to be baptised. It is obvious in context that the ‘all’ are those wanting to be baptised. It is a very local understanding of ‘all’. Context demonstrates that].

And so one could easily continue. Even today, how often do we not use the expression “all men” or “everybody” without referring to every member of the human race? When we say, “If everybody is ready, the meeting can begin,” we do not refer to everybody on earth!

Thus also in the present passage (I Tim. 2:1), it is the context that must decide. In this case the context is clear. Paul definitely mentions groups or classes of men: kings (verse 2). those in high position (verse 2), the Gentiles (verse 7). He is thinking of rulers and (by implication) subjects, of Gentiles and (again by implication) Jews. and he is urging Timothy to see to it that in public worship not a single group be omitted. In other words, the expression “all men” as here used means “all men without distinction of race, nationality, or social position,” not “all men individually, one by one.”

Besides, how would it even be possible, except in a very vague and global manner (the very opposite of Paul’s constant emphasis!), to remember in prayer every person on earth? (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1966:93-94).

What is Hendriksen trying to demonstrate? The verses he plucked from the New Testament are meant to try to prove his Calvinistic presupposition that when Scripture states God desires ‘all people to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), it does not mean all human beings but only some from all races, classes, tribes, etc., i.e. God does not really desire all people throughout the entire world through all ages to be saved. He also is trying to show that Titus 2:11 does not refer to God’s grace appearing and bringing/making salvation available to all people. I find his argumentation to contain some flaws that I’ve attempted to expose here. This is unfortunate because I have the Hendriksen-Kistemaker New Testament Commentary Series in my personal library and I find many helpful explanations in them.

However, it does demonstrate the need to be discerning when reading any material – commentary or other Christian literature (including all of my writings on this homepage) – according to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV).

E. Did Jesus die for all people?[9]

First John 2:2 would seem to be an excellent verse to establish Christ’s unlimited atonement – dying for the whole world of sinners: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice[10] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world, (NIV).

How does R C Sproul, a Calvinist, interpret this verse? He admits that ‘this text, more than any other, is cited as scriptural proof against definite atonement’. His view is that if this verse is taken in this sense, ‘it becomes a proof text for universalism’. His way of viewing the text is

to see the contrast in it between our sins and those of the whole world. Who are the people included in the word our?…. In this text, John may merely be saying that Christ is not only a propitiation for our sins (Jewish believers) but for the elect found also throughout the whole world…. The purpose of God in Christ’s death was determined at the foundation of the world. The design was not guesswork but according to a specific plan and purpose, which God is sovereignly bringing to pass. All for whom Christ died are redeemed by His sacrificial act….

The Atonement in a broad sense is offered to all; in a narrow sense, it is only offered to the elect. John’s teaching that Christ died for the sins of the whole world means that the elect are not limited to Israel but are found throughout the world” (Sproul 1992:176-177, emphasis in original).

Talk about confusion. There is not a word in context of 1 John to speak of the elect as limited to Israel. What does the Bible teach?

By contrast, Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski (1966:399-400), while preferring the term expiation to propitiation, states that the Righteous One (Jesus, from 1 John 2:1) ‘suffered for unrighteous ones’ and this is ‘effective … regarding the sins of the whole world’. He goes further:

John advances the thought from sins to the whole world of sinners. Christ made expiation for our sins and thereby for all sinners. We understand [kosmos] in the light of John 3:16 and think that it includes all men [meaning people], us among them, and not only all unsaved men [i.e. people]…. [As in 2 Pet 2:1]: the Lord bought even those who go to hell. “The whole world” includes all men who ever lived or will live (Lenski 1966:400).

Lenski appropriately states that ‘Christ’s saving righteousness and expiation are the basis for his action as our Advocate’ and that we Christians have him as one who is called to our side, our Advocate. ‘John does not say that the whole world has him in this capacity’ (Lenski 1966:400-401).

1. Calvin on the atonement

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continues:

Their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8).

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement in that it would be impossible for God to predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation and yet provide unlimited atonement that was available to them, with the possibility of salvation. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

Roger Nicole, another Calvinist, has written an article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”. This indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin.

Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students. He wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:

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….

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 (emphasis added).

Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in unlimited atonement.


(image courtesy ChristArt)

The following verses also affirm unlimited atonement:

clip_image003_thumb John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (NIV).

clip_image0031_thumb 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’” (NIV).

clip_image0032_thumb Acts 2:21: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV).

clip_image0033_thumb Romans 5:6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (NIV).

clip_image0034_thumb 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” (NIV).

clip_image0035_thumb 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” (NIV).

clip_image0036_thumb 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” (NIV).

clip_image0037_thumb 1 Timothy 4:10: “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (NIV)

clip_image0038_thumb Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (NIV).

clip_image0039_thumb Hebrews 2:9: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (NIV).

clip_image00310_thumb 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” (NIV).

clip_image00311_thumb 1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

clip_image00312_thumb 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.”

Arminian-leaning theologian, Henry C. Thiessen’s, summary of the sense in which Christ is the Saviour of the world is:

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).

Limited or definite atonement is clearly refuted by Scripture. See this external link, ‘A letter to a limited atonement brother’ (Timothy Ministry 2011).


Calvin’s shocking commentary on Titus 2:11 that makes ‘all people’ equal ‘all classes of people’ is an example of how a theologian’s Calvinistic presuppositions are imposed on a text to arrive at an interpretation consistent with his premises. This is an example of eisegesis – imposing Calvin’s predetermined view on the text. It also is a question begging logical fallacy.

An exegesis of the text discovers that God’s grace appears to all people with the view to salvation. We don’t know when that happens as it is not stated in the text. But we do know that all people who have ever lived have experienced this grace to make salvation available to them when the Gospel is preached.

We further uncovered the fact that Calvin engaged in eisegesis of the text of Titus 2:11 to impose his view on the text, rather than allowing the text to speak for itself in exegesis.

William Hendriksen also imposed his view which was challenged to demonstrate that ‘all people’ means exactly that – all of the human race and not all tribes or groups of people.

It was demonstrated from Scripture that Jesus died for all human beings and not only for the elect. This unlimited atonement is the view that Calvin also supported. A range of biblical verses was presented to demonstrate that unlimited atonement is clearly taught in Scripture.

In summary: The grace of God has appeared to all people everywhere and making salvation available to them. Jesus died for all people, not just the elect. We don’t know the time at which God’s grace and its availability for salvation comes to all people. The Scripture does not reveal the precise time of that grace being extended to all. This we know from Titus 2:11: That grace of God appears to all people without exception – unto salvation.

Second Corinthians 5:19 affirms that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation’ (ESV) and ‘the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people’ (Titus 2:11 NLT)

 Works consulted

Fairbairn, P 2001.[11] Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers.

Fee, G D 1988. I and 2 Timothy, Titus. W Ward Gasque, New Testament (ed). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hendriksen, W 1978. The Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Lewis, G R & Demarest, B A 1987. Integrative theology, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

Shank, R 1970. Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election. Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers.

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

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


[1] I included some of the following explanation as OzSpen#959 in Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The doctrine of OSAS’, available at: (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[2] For contrasting views, see: Arminianism: Roger Olson, ‘Election is for everyone‘; Calvinism: J I Packer, ‘Election: God chooses his own’.

[3] See R C Sproul’s Calvinistic explanation of limited atonement in ‘TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement’ (Accessed 18 September 2015).

[4] 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.

[5] Cited in Bob Utley’s 2010 article, ‘The contextual method of biblical interpretation’, available at: (Accessed 17 September 2015).

[6] Hendriksen’s Calvinistic emphases are explained in, The Covenant of Grace (Hendriksen 1978).

[7] This, in my view, is a reasonable point, but does that follow through with 1 Tim 2:4 and Titus 2:11?

[8] That is not what these passages teach. It is Hendriksen’s Calvinism that is intruding into his interpretation.

[9] This section is taken from my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

[10] A better translation for ‘atoning sacrifice’ would be ‘propitiation’, but many everyday readers do not understand the meaning of propitiation as appeasing the wrath of God. The ESV and NASB translate the word as ‘propitiation’ while the NRSV, ISV and NET follow the NIV with ‘atoning sacrifice’ and the RSV uses ‘expiation’.

[11] This was previously published in 1956 by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 October 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.

Did Jesus die for the elect or the whole world?

Monday, November 25th, 2013



By Spencer D Gear

If you’ve ever visited Christian forums on the Internet, you’ll see a regular stream of back and forth between Calvinists and Arminians on the extent of the atonement.

After my engagement in one of these (I’m a convinced Reformed/Classical Arminian), I wrote to a supporter of an Arminian view of the atonement[1] that no matter how many verses OT or NT we muster to show that atonement was unlimited, for the world, for everyone, there is a barrier that cannot be overcome. Those who have a presupposition that requires limited atonement, will constantly make world = part of the world. They will say that world does not mean everyone; everyone = some; all = many; you’re not taking the context into consideration, etc.

I cannot see any way through. When there is a presuppositional bias towards a certain theology, it is very difficult to move, even when evidence to the contrary is presented. This is what this person and I have found in this discussion with Calvinistic limited atonement (particular redemption) advocates.

I think we are wasting our keyboard skills and breath trying to convince limited atonement folks of unlimited atonement as I find that there is a solid rock theological barrier against Christ’s death being the propitiation “also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2) and Jesus was to “taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).

A Calvinist came back with the cynical and inaccurate reply:

Do you realize that if I replaced “limited atonement” with “universal atonement” and “Calvinists” with “Arminian” (and other references), it would make the same argument against you?

Just thought I’d point that out. I’m sure it’s some sort of logical fallacy, though.[2]

Then he took to my idea and made it into his Calvinistic perspective. He wrote:

I think you are wasting your keyboard skills and breath trying to convince unlimited atonement folks of limited atonement as I find that there is a solid rock theological barrier against “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:14, 15 NASB). Or “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44 NASB).[3]

You might be saying as you read this article: But surely you have the same problem? You could say: You also have a strong, biased view that is as stubborn as the other person’s. That might be true or false.

I can honestly confirm that if there was an absolutely certain scriptural mandate that Jesus only died for the elect, I would be enthusiastically promoting it. However, there are too many Scriptures to counter the Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. I have presented some of this evidence above.

I recommend Ron Rhodes outlined reasons for rejecting limited atonement. See his article,The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement’.

Logical fallacy committed


What is a logical fallacy? Dr. Michael C. Labossiere has provided this explanation:[4]

In order to understand what a fallacy is, one must understand what an argument is. Very briefly, an argument consists of one or more premises and one conclusion. A premise is a statement (a sentence that is either true or false) that is offered in support of the claim being made, which is the conclusion (which is also a sentence that is either true or false).

There are two main types of arguments: deductive and inductive. A deductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) complete support for the conclusion. An inductive argument is an argument such that the premises provide (or appear to provide) some degree of support (but less than complete support) for the conclusion. If the premises actually provide the required degree of support for the conclusion, then the argument is a good one. A good deductive argument is known as a valid argument and is such that if all its premises are true, then its conclusion must be true. If all the argument is valid and actually has all true premises, then it is known as a sound argument. If it is invalid or has one or more false premises, it will be unsound. A good inductive argument is known as a strong (or “cogent”) inductive argument. It is such that if the premises are true, the conclusion is likely to be true.

A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support. A deductive fallacy is a deductive argument that is invalid (it is such that it could have all true premises and still have a false conclusion). An inductive fallacy is less formal than a deductive fallacy. They are simply “arguments” which appear to be inductive arguments, but the premises do not provided enough support for the conclusion. In such cases, even if the premises were true, the conclusion would not be more likely to be true.

My response in the online example was:[5]

You have committed another logical fallacy[6] when you try to demonstrate that because Christ died for believers that he did not die for the ungodly (the reprobate, unbelievers, etc).

While the texts you have given demonstrate that Jesus laid down his life for the sheep, I found nothing in your two texts to confirm that Jesus died only and exclusively for those who are believers in the church.

We have examples of how this happens on a human level. I love my friend John whom I have known for 30 years. When I say that I love John, it does not say that I don’t love Monty whom I have known since 1978 and is a close friend.

We know that the NT teaches that God loved the world and gave his one and only Son for it (John 3:16), but the Scriptures also stated that Jesus is ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). God our Saviour wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9); and Jesus tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9). It also teaches that he gave his life for the church – the sheep (John 10:15).


Ron Rhodes (courtesyReasoning from the Scriptures’)

Ron Rhodes provides further examples:

There are certain Scripture passages that seem very difficult to fit within the framework of limited atonement. For example:

Romans 5:6 says: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” It doesn’t make much sense to read this as saying that Christ died for the ungodly of the elect.
Romans 5:18 says: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Regarding this verse, John Calvin says: “He makes this favor common to all, because it is propoundable to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all [i.e., in their experience]; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive Him.”
Regarding the two occurrences of the phrase “all men,” E. H. Gifford comments: “The words all men [in v. 18] must have the same extent in both clauses.”

1 John 2:2 says: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” A natural reading of this verse, without imposing theological presuppositions on it, seems to support unlimited atonement.
Isaiah 53:6 says: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

This verse doesn’t make sense unless it is read to say that the same “all” that went astray is the “all” for whom the Lord died.
“In the first of these statements, the general apostasy of men is declared; in the second, the particular deviation of each one; in the third, the atoning suffering of the Messiah, which is said to be on behalf of all. As the first ‘all’ is true of all men (and not just of the elect), we judge that the last ‘all’ relates to the same company.”

Theologian Millard Erickson comments: “This passage is especially powerful from a logical standpoint. It is clear that the extent of sin is universal; it is specified that every one of us has sinned. It should also be noticed that the extent of what will be laid on the suffering servant exactly parallels the extent of sin. It is difficult to read this passage and not conclude that just as everyone sins, everyone is also atoned for.”

1 Timothy 4:10 says: “…we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”

There is a clear distinction here between “all men” and “those who believe.” Erickson notes that “apparently the Savior has done something for all persons, though it is less in degree than what he has done for those who believe.”

In 2 Peter 2:1, it seems that Christ even paid the price of redemption for false teachers who deny Him: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Millard Erickson notes that “2 Peter 2:1 seems to point out most clearly that people for whom Christ died may be lost….there is a distinction between those for whom Christ died and those who are finally saved.”

So I don’t fall for the line that Jesus died for the church so he cannot have died for all of humanity. Why? Because what this person online was perpetrating was a misleading logical fallacy that is called a fallacy of ‘biased sample’ or afallacy of confirmation bias’. Jesus’ death for the church and for all of humanity are solid biblical teachings. His teaching on limited atonement denies one of these biblical emphases.

How do you think he would reply to the above about the fallacy of biased sample? His response was simple: ‘And….you still completely missed the point of my post. Hopefully it wasn’t deliberate’.[7]

My reply was:[8]

You have committed a red herring logical fallacy with your response. Your comment did not address the content of my post. In addition there was your committing a fallacy of biased sample in the previous post.

I directly dealt with the content of your post from John’s gospel, dealing with Jesus’ dying for his sheep AND for the whole world, and demonstrated how you committed another fallacy.

You can’t tolerate it when I call you for your use of a fallacy of biased sample. So what do you do? Give me another logical fallacy – a red herring. This is used to divert attention away from the content of my post about the fallacy of biased sample to a topic that he wanted to speak on. But it leaves the charge of his committing the fallacy of biased sample unanswered by this poster.

I asked him when he would quit his use of logical fallacies so that we can have a rational conversation. I am not hopeful that that will happen as he is too committed to his unbiblical doctrine of limited atonement. He is not ready to give that up in his TULIP theology.

Let’s look at some definitions of logical fallacies that this person used:

Fallacy of biased sample

What is the nature of a fallacy of biased sample? The Nizkor Project provided this definition:

Also Known as: Biased Statistics, Loaded Sample, Prejudiced Statistics, Prejudiced Sample, Loaded Statistics, Biased Induction, Biased Generalization

Description of Biased Sample

This fallacy is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner.[9]

The example I have been pursuing in this brief article,[10] was of a fellow who wanted to demonstrate that Jesus died only for God’s elect (his sheep, the church) but he excluded the verses that demonstrate that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. His bias is towards limited atonement, so he is determined to pull out verses that support such a view. His approach is one of jeopardy for his view because when it is examined against Scripture, we find two views presented:

(1) Jesus died for his sheep, the church, the elect of God, AND

(2) He died for the sins of the whole world – everyone.

When a fallacy of biased sample is used, it prevents the continuation of a logical discussion between two people.

What about the use of logical fallacies?

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (from Purdue University) made this comment about the use of 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.

I particularly watch for them in my own arguments but also keep an eye open for their use in the writing or conversation of others. I’ve noticed there are far too many of them used on Christian forums and I have called a number of posters for using them. Many do not like this tactic as it catches them out. It shows how they are avoiding engagement with rational arguments in discussions.

However, rational discussions are not possible when people engage in the use of logical fallacies.

There is another parallel fallacy that this person could be using, it is the….

Fallacy of confirmation bias

A related fallacy is:

confirmation bias (similar to observational selection): This refers to a form of selective thinking that focuses on evidence that supports what believers already believe while ignoring evidence that refutes their beliefs. Confirmation bias plays a stronger role when people base their beliefs upon faith, tradition and prejudice. For example, if someone believes in the power of prayer, the believer will notice the few “answered” prayers while ignoring the majority of unanswered prayers (which would indicate that prayer has no more value than random chance at worst or a placebo effect, when applied to health effects, at best).[11]

observational selection (similar to confirmation bias): pointing out favorable circumstances while ignoring the unfavorable. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas gambling casinos will see people winning at the tables and slots. The casino managers make sure to install bells and whistles to announce the victors, while the losers never get mentioned. This may lead one to conclude that the chances of winning appear good while in actually just the reverse holds true.[12]

Another has helpfully described conformation bias:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor evidence and information which already supports previously held ideas or beliefs. The human mind will trick itself into protecting currently held beliefs regardless of evidence….

Confirmation bias is comprised of two main behaviors. The first behavior is searching and the second is filtering or appraising.


When searching for information a person with confirmation bias will actively search for information that supports their currently held belief, think liberals hitting up CNN or conservative only watching Fox. This aspect to confirmation bias is all about  filling up your time with material that reinforces your world view.

Filtering or Appraisal

Alternatively, the mind may also filter out information which contradicts the currently held belief. When appraising multiple pieces of information a person might favor their current belief over contradictory data. In this case picture a liberal rejecting anything they hear from Glenn Beck or a conservative rejecting something they hear from CNN.[13]

So the fallacies of biased sample or confirmation bias are the ones used by this person who was promoting Calvinism’s limited atonement while ignoring the Scriptures that disagreed with this perspective.[14] He seems to have deliberately chosen biblical information to support/confirm his view, to the exclusion of other biblical information that confirms that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world of all people.

Conclusion: Observe how people use logical fallacies

You need to know your product – the name and nature of logical fallacies – to be able to notice them in conversation, particularly in discussion or debate. When you see this happening, I encourage you to calmly and gently draw this to a person’s attention.

Why is it not possible to have a rational conversation with people who use logical fallacies? Simply stated: A logical fallacy is an error in logic so accurate, logical discussion then is impossible.

Norm Geisler & Ron Brooks put this challenge to us:

Of making many fallacies there is no end. For every right way to think there is at least one wrong way. The real shocker is that the wrong ways often sound more persuasive! This is the power of sophism. So as not to be trapped in the persuasive pit of these fallacies, practice in recognizing them is necessary (Geisler & Brooks 1990:115).

I highly recommend the Geisler and Brooks publication (see works consulted) and The Nizkor Project’s online site on ‘Fallacies’.

Works consulted

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

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. Come let us reason: An introduction to logical thinking. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.



[1] Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘If faith is a gift from God…’m OzSpen#316, (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[2] Hammster#342,

[3] Hammster#408, available at: (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[4] The Nizkor Project, ‘Fallacies’, available at: (Accessed 25 November 2013).

[5] OzSpen#409, ibid.

[6] I received the essence of this idea from Norm Geisler (1999:75).

[7] Hammster#410,

[8] OzSpen#411,

[9] The Nizkor Project, ‘Fallacy: Biased Sample’, available at: (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[10] Hammster (see above).

[11] Jim Walker, ‘List of common fallacies’ (online), 2009, available at: (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Logic & Critical Thinking 2011, available at: (Accessed 21 October 2013).

[14] Hammster, as above.


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

Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

Green Salvation Button

What do I mean by double predestination? I mean predestination either to eternal salvation in Christ or eternal damnation for the remainder of humanity. If God predestines the elect, then the automatic inference is that he leaves the rest to damnation, so he predestines the damned to hell.

I’m jumping ahead of myself. What is meant by predestination? My understanding is that the teaching on foreknowledge, election and predestination are closely related. Henry Thiessen explained it:

God foreknew what men [human beings male and female] would do in response to His common grace; and He elected those whom He foresaw would respond positively. Election is followed by foreordination (also called predestination). This is the act of God whereby He pre-registers, as it were, those whom He has chosen. It implies that He has determined to save them: to give them life (Acts 13:48), place them into the position of sons (Eph. 1:5, 11), and conform them to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29, 30)….

[As applied to redemption], in election God has decided to save those who accept His Son and the proffered salvation, and in foreordination He has determined effectively to accomplish that purpose [Thiessen 1949:157, 345].

The biblical sequence is articulated in Romans 8:29-30 is, ‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…. Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (ESV).

Charles Hodge (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Calvinistic theologian, Charles Hodge, explained that there is one meaning of predestination where

it is used in theology generally to express the purpose of God in relation to the salvation of individual men. It includes the selection of one portion of the race to be saved, and leaving the rest to perish in sin. It is in this sense used by supralapsarians, who teach that God selected a certain number of individual men to be created in order to salvation, and a certain number to be created to be vessels of wrath. It is in this way they subordinate creation to predestination as a means to an end (Hodge 1979:321).

Norman Geisler calls himself a moderate Calvinist, although his views in Chosen but Free (Geisler 1999:129) indicate to me that he is closer to Arminianism in his understanding of predestination and free will. His view is that

all Calvinists must believe in some form of double-predestination – the logic of their position demands it. Augustine said of God, ‘As the Supreme Good, he made good use of evil deeds, for the damnation of those whom he had justly predestined to punishment and for the salvation of those whom he had mercifully predestined to grace’ [Augustine n d:100].[1] R. C. Sproul confirms, ‘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]….

Moderate Calvinists [such as Geisler] call the active predestination of both the elect and the reprobate ‘double-predestination’. Those who maintain it are called hyper-Calvinists (Geisler 2004:564, emphasis in original).

Was John Calvin a double predestination advocate?

John Calvin (image courtesy: Wikipedia)

At the level of the laity, this is sometimes stated this way: ‘Heck even Calvin did not believe in double predestination’.[2]

With this kind of statement, I went looking for John Calvin’s view on double predestination. Did he follow Hentenza’s view or not. This led to the following post by me:[3]

Why did this person misrepresent John Calvin’s teaching like this? This demonstrates that the person did not know what Calvin taught about predestination.

The facts are: Calvin most definitely did believe in double predestination. This is what he wrote and taught:

The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny….By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.21.5).

From where did this person get the idea that Calvin did not teach double predestination? Did he get it from another Calvinist?

This quote from the Institutes of the Christian Religion refutes this person’s statement about Calvin. He most definitely did believe in double predestination.

Black and white denial


(image courtesy openclipart)

I provided the exact quote from Calvin to demonstrate that this theologian did believe in double predestination. So what did this person do? He stated:

lol This is a typical Arminian quote mine. You need to keep reading. The term double predestination is actually a pejorative and use to fully twist Calvin’s views of the “election” of the reprobate. It has been used as a synonym for a “symmetrical” view of predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked out in an equally parallel mode of divine operation.

This twisting of double predestination suggests a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry, which results in a positive-positive view of predestination, i.e., God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation and in the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.

The classic position of Reformed theology views predestination as double in that it involves both election and reprobation but not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather predestination is viewed in terms of a positive-negative relationship based on God’s knowledge.[4]

This sounded too academically sophisticated for the kind of posts that this person has been making, so I searched online and found that it had been plagiarised. This was my reply:

Why have you engaged in plagiarism here – stealing somebody else’s ideas without giving him credit?

Some of your material here is from R C Sproul on ‘Double” predestination‘.

For the sake of integrity in your posts, I urge you to give credit to your sources when you use another person’s views.[5]

His response was: ‘The majority of my post came from an article given to me by one of my students of my bible class and is not copyrighted. I thought it was well written but did not realize that some of the material came from Sproul. My apologies’.[6] My reply was,

That confirms that you got the information from somebody else and did not give them credit. That also is plagiarism. I am not attacking you, the poster. That is the farthest thing from my mind.

When you misrepresent another person’s views, as you did with John Calvin on double predestination, I’ll draw that to your attention because it is the truth. When will you acknowledge that you were wrong when you stated that Calvin did not believe in double predestination – when he did?[7]

What is plagiarism?

Here is a USA definition from US Legal (accessed 19 October 2013):

Plagiarism Law & Legal Definition

Plagiarism is taking the writings or literary ideas of another and selling and/or publishing them as one’s own writing. Brief quotes or use of cited sources do not constitute plagiarism. The original author can bring a lawsuit for appropriation of his/her work against the plagiarist and recover the profits. Although not normally a crime, a person who plagiarizes is subject to being sued for fraud or copyright infringement if prior creation can be proved. Penalties vary depending on jurisdiction, the charges brought, and are determined on a case by case basis.

The Internet has made plagiarism easier than ever before. From elementary schools to the highest levels of academia, the ease of downloading and copying “untraceable” online information has led to an epidemic of digital plagiarism. Plagiarism detection software now exists and is used in schools to monitor student’s work. If you adopt someone else’s language, provide quotation marks and a reference to the source, either in the text or in a footnote, as prescribed by such publications as Format, The MLA Style Sheet, or another manual of style. Students who commit plagiarism may be subject to grade or disciplinary penalties, which vary by institution.

Intentional or unintentional use of another’s words or ideas without acknowledging this use constitutes plagiarism: There are four common forms of plagiarism:

  • The duplication of an author’s words without quotation marks and accurate references or footnotes.
  • The duplication of author’s words or phrases with footnotes or accurate references, but without quotation marks.
  • The use of an author’s ideas in paraphrase without accurate references or footnotes.
  • Submitting a paper in which exact words are merely rearranged even though footnoted.

Even though I provided information in black and white with a quote from Calvin’s Institutes, this person continued to deny Calvin taught and believed double predestination with responses like these:

6pointMetal-small ‘I am not misrepresenting Calvin’s views. That is for you to prove’.[8]

6pointMetal-small ‘The only thing that you have proved is your ignorance of Calvin’s theology but then again, quote mines only show ignorance anyway’.[9]

6pointMetal-small ‘You posted a quote mine that YOU interpret as meaning that Calvin believed in the pejorative double predestination. I have already addressed this’.[10]

This is what happens when a person’s pet doctrine is challenged with contrary evidence. He was immediately into denial of Calvin’s teaching of double predestination or blaming me for misrepresenting him. I did not misinterpret him. I quoted him exactly. He said Calvin didn’t believe in double predestination.

It doesn’t fit with his established and agreed view of Calvinism. The truth can be disturbing when it is provided and it confronts an accepted doctrine. It is not easy to admit, ‘I was wrong. Thanks for providing that correction. I’ll be able to affirm Calvin’s belief in double predestination when it is raised. Thanks for your research to correct me’. That kind of response was far from his mind.

Is double predestination an Arminian twist?

This person also wrote, ‘There is no Calvinistic view of double predestination. Tis (sic) is an Arminian twist. God does not positively act in the lies of the reprobate to keep them reprobate. God knows that they will not turn from their ways and merely passes them over’.[11]

I replied:[12]

Why do you refuse to believe what John Calvin said about his belief in the doctrine of double predestination? It is not an Arminian twist. It is Calvin’s own teaching. When will you get it?

The title page from the 1559 edition of John Calvin’s Institutio Christianae Religionis

(image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Here the quote is again. The facts are: Calvin most definitely did believe in double predestination. This is what he wrote and taught:

The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny….By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.21.5).

I wrote: You are the one who is misrepresenting John Calvin’s teaching when you refuse to accept his belief in and teaching about double predestination. In this one paragraph, he emphasised it twice:

  1. ‘The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death’;
  2. ‘each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death’

Why do you, a Calvinist, refuse to believe what Calvin believed by affirming that God predestines to life and God predestines to death. God predestines to the hope of life and adjudges (predestines) others to eternal death. To deny this is to deny what Calvin taught.

See:Double-Talk From a Double Predestinarian [John Piper’, by J C Thibodaux. The article begins:

Dr. John Piper recently responded to the question, “What did the death of Jesus on the cross accomplish for the non-elect? Anything?” His reply, oddly, raises more questions than it answers. Despite his views on unconditional election and reprobation, Piper frames his answer in terms of God giving those who aren’t chosen a “chance” at salvation. Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, was identified partially by his unusual, but correct use of an oft-misquoted proverb that’s very applicable here: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

To understand the issue, the reader should know that Piper is a 5-point Calvinist and a supralapsarian (Got Questions 2002-2016).

He believes that whether one is saved or not is strictly up to the choice of God, with no input from a human being  or conditions fulfilled by human beings. His view is that God unchangeably chose or rejected each individual before the world was ever made.

He also believes that Christ didn’t die for the ones that weren’t chosen in any sort of way by which they could be saved through free will (this is commonly called “limited atonement”). Whether one accepts the gospel or not is entirely dependent upon whether he or she has been “regenerated” by God beforehand (per Calvinism, one who is regenerated inevitably will believe the gospel, one who isn’t regenerated never can). With that said, let’s examine Piper’s response.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross”….

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns-which they do-they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?” In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity. But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment….

It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes. I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation-right now, just watching this-is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater….

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

J C Thibodaux concluded with this assessment:

Again, per 5-point Calvinism, if you’re not among those elected to salvation, tough beans. God hasn’t chosen you, Christ didn’t die for you, and the Holy Spirit most certainly won’t regenerate you. You are lost without remedy, condemned already beyond repair, there isn’t a single ray of hope, and you never had a prayer. The accessibility of salvation to you is absolute zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how can a person to whom salvation isn’t even remotely applicable have any sort of “opportunity” to be saved?

Put even more simply, if Christ didn’t die for the forgiveness of one’s sins in any sense, then there can never be an “opportunity to be saved” for him, because there is no way to be saved unless Christ died to forgive his sins.

Such doublespeak is strong cause to question Piper’s personal theology. If his determinist views are so repugnant that he has to “balance” them with concepts that flatly contradict his doctrine, then he’s essentially embraced cognitive dissonance. If you reject universalism, but believe that God still genuinely offers salvation to all men, then which is more consistent and less convoluted to believe?

1. Christ died provisionally for the sins of all, such that any who believe in Him will be forgiven.

2. Or Piper’s view, where if you’re not one of the elect, you’re given an “opportunity” that you can’t possibly take, to accept an “offer” of salvation from God that isn’t really His will that you accept, just so you’ll have a “chance” to obtain faith that isn’t even accessible to you, wrought by a Savior who didn’t die to forgive your sins, but whose death fortunately did provide “grace” that will inevitably backfire and condemn you even more.

Makes perfect sense. Where do I sign?

Works consulted

Augustine n d. Enchiridion – The handbook on faith, hope and love (online). The Fathers of the Church, New Advent. Available at: (Accessed 19 October 2013).

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

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

Hodge, C 1979 (reprint). Systematic theology, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

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


[1] The New Advent online edition provides this translation, ‘He used the very will of the creature which was working in opposition to the Creator’s will as an instrument for carrying out His will, the supremely Good thus turning to good account even what is evil, to the condemnation of those whom in His justice He has predestined to punishment, and to the salvation of those whom in His mercy He has predestined to grace’ (Augustine n d).

[2] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Calvinist Arminian dialog’ (online), Hentenza#152, available at: (Accessed 19 October 2013).

[3] OzSpen#158,

[4] Hentenza#167,

[5] OzSpen#172,

[6] Hentenza#173, ibid.

[7] OzSpen#175, ibid.

[8] Hentenza#177, ibid.

[9] Hentenza#181,

[10] Hentenza#184, ibid.

[11] Hentenza#201,

[12] OzSpen#211,


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 September 2016.