I John 2:2 Versus The Limited Atonement Theory

A very humble friend of mine who is also a Calvinist replied to a recent “Doctrine Matters” message which used Luke 19:10 to prove the Limited Atonement theory false. Here is what he wrote:

You also have a limited view of the atonement. Everybody except Universalists limit the atonement. You limit it’s accomplishment. You believe the death of Christ on the cross made it possible for all to be saved but actually saved none.

I think my friend is confusing “atonement” with “salvation.” The Bible teaches salvation is “limited” to those who believe and obey (II Thessalonians 1:8, Mark 16:16), but the Bible teaches the “atonement” is general, or unlimited. There are many verses that prove this, but for now let’s look at I John 2:2, which reads:

And he [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The word “propitiation” is a theological term that may be confusing to us. According to Thesaurus.com, it is a synonym of the word “atonement” which we are discussing in this article. To confirm this, the word translated “propitiation” in I John 2:2 is the same Greek word that is translated “atonement” in the Septuagint version of Leviticus 25:9. I John 2:2 then makes it clear Jesus died not just for “our sins” (the sins of Christians), but for the sins of the “whole world.” Is there anything confusing about this term “whole world”? I think everybody without an ax to grind understands the phrase to mean every person without limit. It would have to include the non-saved, because it is set in contrast to Jesus being the atoner of the saved as mentioned earlier in the verse.

So the truth is “the death of Christ on the cross made it possible for all to be saved,” and actually saved all who are going to be saved. Nobody will be saved unless Jesus’ death does the saving. To illustrate suppose a Major League Baseball player pays $1000 for 100 tickets at $10 each so that all 100 orphans in an orphan’s home can go to watch one of his games. If 20 of those orphans decide not to go to the game and those 20 tickets go unused, that doesn’t mean the MLB player didn’t pay for their entrance. No, he paid for their entrance, but they didn’t take advantage of it. His generosity made it possible for all 100 orphans to go, and the 80 who did go were actually paid for by the baseball player. See the parallel?

One other point. Our last message mentioned how that many Calvinists have a new theory that Jesus did die for all “generally,” but not in such a way that their sins were paid for. Remember, I called this 4 point Calvinism with a powerless atonement. This theory is contradicted by I John 2:2 which makes it clear that in whatever sense Jesus died for the saved, he also died for the “whole world” (i.e., the saved and unsaved). That is the force of the expression “not for ours only, but also for … the whole world” – Jesus died for the lost in the same way (in the same sense) he died for the saved.

I John 2:2 clearly says Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Therefore his is not some “general” death that doesn’t pay for sin. So why would any Bible believer want to fight the obvious point of I John 2:2? – what do they have to gain?

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3 Responses to “I John 2:2 Versus The Limited Atonement Theory”

  1. Bryan Benjamin Whetstone Says:

    I understand your point, but your illustration is flawed. we are not orphans, rather we are criminals who deserve justice. by rejecting Christ we dont miss out on the ball game, we die under the wrath of God. I have taken the liberty to revamp the illustration…

    suppose 100 men sit on death row waiting for the electric chair. a man goes to the judge and makes an offer to die in their place. the judge agrees and promptly puts the man to death for the crimes that the 100 men have committed. these men are now free to go, their debt to society has been paid in full. If 20 of those men decide not to go free and are executed by the judge (because they did not accept the gift). who then paid for their crimes? if the man did, why then were they executed for crimes that were paid for?

    • Patrick Donahue Says:

      Just like a ticket can be paid for someone to go to a ballgame, but they not take advantage of the ticket and go, Jesus paid for the sins of all (Heb 2:9), but not all take advantage by meeting his conditions (Mark 16:16). Does that make sense Bryan?

  2. Bryan Benjamin Whetstone Says:

    i take it you hold the the Satisfaction theory of atonement? “the satisfaction theory teaches that Christ suffered as a substitute on behalf of humankind satisfying the demands of God’s honor by his infinite merit.”

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