Limited Atonement

by Al Maxey


According to the Canons of Dordt (2nd Head of Doctrine -- Article 8), "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."

Calvinism teaches a Limited Atonement --- i.e.: The blood of Christ was shed for a limited number of people (the "elect"). The blood of Christ was not shed for those whom God had preordained would suffer the fate of hell. Those passages in Scripture which clearly teach that Christ died for all men and for the whole world simply have been misunderstood, say the Calvinists. What they really mean is: "all elect men" and "the whole elect world."

"The Biblical or Calvinistic position is that Christ intended that His death should atone only for the elect and not for others. According to this position, man is totally depraved, and God, loving some with a great love, elected them, or in other words, determined that they should be saved. He sent Christ to die for them and them alone, thereby saving them. Thus, the atonement of Christ is limited to some and is not intended for all. Hence, the name 'limited atonement'" (Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 35).

"Historical or mainline Calvinism has consistently maintained that Christ's redeeming work .... was intended to render complete satisfaction for certain specified sinners and that it actually secured salvation for these individuals and for no one else. He came into the world to represent and save only those given to Him by the Father. Thus, Christ's saving work was limited in that it was designed to save some and not others, but it was not limited in value for it was of infinite worth and would have secured salvation for everyone if this had been God's intention" (Steele & Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 39).


Is Calvinism's doctrine of Limited Atonement a valid teaching in light of God's Word? Notice the following questions and their answers from Scripture:

Does the Bible teach a "limited atonement," or does it teach that the love of God extends to all men, and that His desire is to extend the offer of salvation to everyone?

  1. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 ..... "For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing."

  2. Psalm 145:9 ..... "The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works." "Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 45:22). "The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him" (Isaiah 53:6).

  3. Ezekiel 18:23 ..... "'Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?' says the Lord God. 'Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?'" "'For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,' declares the Lord God. 'Therefore, repent and live'" (Ezekiel 18:32). "'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die?'" (Ezekiel 33:11). "But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them" (Ezekiel 33:19).

  4. Matthew 5:44-45 ..... "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." "He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36).

  5. Luke 2:10 ..... "And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people."

  6. John 3:16-17 ..... "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him."

  7. I John 4:14-15 ..... "And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God."

  8. Titus 2:11 ..... "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men." "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires ALL men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for ANY to perish but for ALL to come to repentance."

When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, did He do this only for the "elect," or did He die for all men? Is the atonement offered in Christ a "limited" or "UNlimited" atonement?

  1. I Timothy 2:5-6 ..... "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all." "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe" (I Timothy 4:9-10). God is the Savior of all men in that this is His desire, and thus He extends this salvation to all men. However, it is only to those who believe that He actually bestows salvation.

  2. I John 2:2 ..... "He Himself (Jesus Christ) is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." This passage alone makes it abundantly clear that the blood of Christ was shed for more than just the "elect."

  3. Hebrews 2:9 ..... By the grace of God, Jesus "tasted death for everyone." "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men" (Romans 5:18).

  4. II 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."

Does the Bible teach that God's call is "limited" to those whom He has already selected, or does it teach that God's call to salvation is universal?

  1. Matthew 11:28 ..... "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."

  2. Revelation 22:17 ..... "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."

  3. Matthew 28:19 ..... "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). "Repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).

    • If Calvin's doctrine of "limited atonement" is true, then the Great Commission is a pointless waste of time! Why go to all nations and preach the gospel to all men if God has already determined who will and who will not be saved? There is also no reason for a Judgment Day since the eternal fate of all men is determined before they are even born. Preaching the gospel, righteous living, even Judgment are a waste of time, for the end result is predetermined for every man already.

If God loves all the world, and desires that none be lost, and if Jesus died for all men, does this mean that all men will be saved? Or, does God's Word teach that Jesus did indeed die for all men, but that some of those for whom He died would be lost?

  1. Matthew 7:13-14 ..... "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."

  2. Matthew 22:14 ..... "For many are called, but few are chosen."

  3. I Corinthians 8:11 ..... "For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died." "Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:15).

  4. II Peter 2:1 ..... "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves."

If God loves all men and Jesus died for all men, and yet only a few are saved, who are these few? What is it that causes some to be saved and others to be lost?

  1. Matthew 7:21 ..... "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." "He (Jesus) became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9). "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).

  2. Salvation is in Jesus Christ! It is extended to all men, but only those who accept it will experience it. "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever" (John 6:51). "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved" (John 10:9).

  3. Revelation 3:20 ..... "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me."

  4. Matthew 12:50 ..... "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14).

  5. John 11:25-26 ..... "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.'" "I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).

  6. Acts 2:21 ..... "And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

  7. Romans 10:12-13 ..... "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for 'whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.'"

  8. Matthew 7:24 ..... "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock." "Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32).

  9. Acts 10:43 ..... "Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (I John 5:1).

These are just a few of the Scriptures that could be cited, but they more than adequately demonstrate that the doctrine of the "Limited Atonement" is simply not consistent with the teachings of God's Word. Christ died for the sins of all men, and all men are called to come and accept this gift of salvation. Those who elect election are the elect! It is God's desire that all men be saved, but He will not violate our free will to accomplish that end. The atoning work of Christ is unlimited; it is extended to all. It becomes "limited" only in the sense that many choose not to receive its saving power.

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