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Why Atonement is Unlimited

A Bible Perspective

The atonement is the keystone of how God reconciles humans to himself. This he does by substituting Christ, His son, for each of us, for purpose of punishment of sin. This Christ did "once for all" (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) by dying in our place (sin is punishable by death). There are some purporting to be Christians, and no doubt some are indeed saved, who state that the atonement of God is not sufficient for all people, but is limited to a certain select class. This is not true and is a lie. The proposition states that God is someone limited in his power to save people, and that the Bible is in error by indicating Christ came to save the whole world – both are not true. The limitation of the extent of salvation offered by God is caused by humans, not God. To be saved one needs to accept salvation, through faith – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). This is no different from a life-saver extending an arm of salvation to a drowning victim, who rejects it (compare with Revelation 3:20). The victim drowns, but the life-saver is not at fault.

The greatest mistake by those who hold to limited atonement is the failure to read Scripture as each author intended, and more than that, as the Holy Spirit requires. This is underpinned by the failure to read each word in the context in which it was placed. The foremost and most important rule in reading the Bible is discerning the context of each and every word. This is no place to go into the simple science of reading the Bible but suffice to point out that this rule is the basis of most, if not all, languages. Humans everywhere automatically discern the context of each word in a message in order to interpret the message. English readers should know this better than most since a single word in English can have multiple, in deed, in some cases 10's of meanings, especially in the spoken word, from which only the context can be used discern the correct meaning. For example, take the word "run" in this meaningless sentence. A person who runs a bus company takes her dog for a run each morning, while leaving her computer running, before deciding upon the most profitable bus run.

The same goes for the word "world" in the Bible. It can mean the whole planet and all that is in it, or it can mean all the people we know about. Deniers of Christ's unlimited atonement turn to John 12:19 and state the verse indicates the world means a subset of the world's population, because, the entire world did not go after Jesus, therefore, in every other place, the meaning is a subset of the world. They miss the context, in particular the tone of the remark. The Pharisees were very annoyed that Jesus had raised Lazarus who was telling everyone about what Jesus had done. By Lazarus telling people about his ordeal, many were following Jesus and not the Pharisees, and their egos were being somewhat squashed. In much annoyance, and probably in anger, they use hyperbole:[1] and stated; "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world [my emphasis] has gone after Him!" (John 12:19). We all do this – we use hyperbole to get a point across, and like in this case the meaning is clear – we are not lying, just using words to emphasise a point – the context is clear and we are deluding no one.  (Taking this lunacy to the full extent means that God only created a bit of the universe, not all of it – but then again the apostate Christian does not even believe God created the world! The earth is the LORD's, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. Psalms 24:1).

Other portions of the Bible use the word 'world' to mean every person. One such verse we all should know:

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

The word "world" (kosmos in Greek) is used four times in these two verses. The context indicates only one legitimate meaning; the verse refers to the whole world and its entire population. Nowhere here and elsewhere when speaking of the salvation of Christ is Christ's salvation limited to only some people. There no scientific reason at all to suppose the writer, quoting Jesus, wants to confer the notion that God loved only part of the world, for whom Jesus was sent to save, and that Jesus came only to save part of the world, and only not condemn part of the world, and that only part of the word would be saved. Such a meaning is utter nonsense. In the science of understanding the meaning of a message, both theology and secular, this error is called 'illegitimate totality transfer'[2], which simply means the words have been taken out of context, and out of context means no context, thus voiding any meaning of the words.

Why do we know that the extent of Atonement is unlimited? The following Bible verses help humans understand the power of God's grace.

John in his first letter clearly states that not only is the propitiation of Christ for our sins, but also for the whole world. Thus he states we need to ponder not our own individual self, but the fact that God's efficacy is great enough for everyone in the world. The trouble is most reject the gospel and many have not heard the gospel.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  1 John 2:2

καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστι περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, οὐπερὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον, ἀλλὰκαὶ περὶ ὅλου του ͂κόσμου

Christ is the savour of all men; those that believe avail themselves of this salvation, others will, on death find it too late. That is, there are groups of people, (1)  all people and these all are savable and (2) are those that are saved.

For to this end we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10

Since all men are savable, and thus salvation is open to every single person, evangelists need to preach to everyone the truth that God commands every person to repent.

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent Acts 17:30

The writer to the Hebrews ensures the reader understands that Christ, who is superior to man, and in particular Aaron, died for everyone, not a certain class or group.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9

Peter clearly points out that salvation is for everyone, but those that deny Christ will be destroyed,

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1

John writes a gospel to demonstrate, and prove, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 20:31). He writes that the greatest prophet that ever lived (Luke 7:28), John the Baptist, when he saw Jesus Christ, announced to the that this person, Jesus, was the Messiah, the Lamb of God who was here to take away the sin of the world – all of it, not part of it.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29

John 3:16 is known to all Christians –as remarked above, there is not one valid reason to limit the verse to some subclass of people – God loved the whole world.

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

Even in the early days of Jesus' ministry, the people came to know that Christ was the Saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jews. In John 4:42, Jesus is speaking to unsaved and aliens of Israel, the Samaritans, who learn that Jesus as much more than just a prophet of Israel.

Then they [Samaritans] said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." John 4:42

The world cannot provide the substance to keep us alive – for we all die, yet the bread of heaven, which is Jesus, can sustain us for ever. For it is in the atoning blood of Jesus we find eternal life, for he was to give his life – here emphasising physical death, which he did and which he did by the offering up of his body, making himself an offering, that is a propitiatory sacrifice for sin.

I [Jesus Christ] am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."  John 6:51

Jesus, discussing his impending death and its significance states that the purpose of his atoning death is to draw all peoples to himself, not some subset or only some elected class.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." John 12:32

Since God wants to draw all peoples to himself, he tells us the method of acquiring that salvation – it is through faith, as it always had been. Anyone – not just some subset – who hears the gospel, will be saved.

And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. John 12:47

Christ's death on the cross was to deal with sin that alienated mankind from himself. Christ's dying was for the purpose of reconciling the world to Himself – not just some elected class.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19

Timothy, a pastor of a gentile church in Ephesus is reminded on more than one occasion that the gospel is for all people. Paul reminds Timothy that God desires all men to be saved – this refutes the lie that God created some men for the sole purpose of destruction. All humans have a choice – obey God or disobey God. It is apostasy, and indeed blasphemy, to state that God on one hand desires all people to be saved, but on the other hand, he only offers salvation to some people – for this would make God a liar, which cannot be (Titus 1:2).

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time 1 Timothy 2:4-6

Likewise, Titus was in charge of a gentile church, and Paul reminds Titus that salvation is placed in front of all men (anthropos, meaning all humans), not some subset.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men Titus 2:11

In summary, atonement, which means substitution (see Isaiah 53:3-6), is the basis of the gospel. The atonement death of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood on the cross of Calvary, is available to all people. For this reason we must preach to all people (Luke 24:46, 47) in order that they may come to the saving knowledge of Christ.

[1] Hyperbole is simply the use of over-exaggeration for the purpose of creating a strong emphasis or impression, or an unforgettable remark; it is not intended to be taken literally. Hyperbole often appears in secular literature and the Bible. For example: "the bag weighed a tonne". The Hebrews were very good at it: Also the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones 2 Chronicles 1:15b

[2] Illegitimate totality transfer assumes that all the uses that occur at a given time apply in any given instance. This fallacy is derived from the idea that the meaning of a word in a particular context is much broader than the context itself allows and may entail the entire range of a word's meaning. Put another way, this fallacy "assumes that a word carries all of its senses in any one passage" (Darrell Bock, in Introducing NT Interpretation, p. 110).

David L Simon 21 February 2016
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