Dispensationalism and TULIP – Limited Atonement

This is the third article on the subject of whether a dispensationalist; one who advocates getting doctrines through exegesis using consistent plain-sense hermeneutics, can come to amicable terms with the 5 Points of Calvinism as they have been expounded in the Reformed Confessions and standard works on the subject.  I know that some well read and solid men who are dispensational premillennialists in their eschatology do say their belief in TULIP comes about via the same interpretive base as their eschatology.  These articles, while being open to correction, question that assumption.

I will add something else in here; and that is, I believe one reason for resistance to the full-scale development of a Dispensational Systematic Theology on its own terms is the belief that dispensationalism only impinges on ecclesiology and eschatology.  I have alluded to this problem of self-definition elsewhere.  

Confessions and Proof-Texts

If we truly understand “limited atonement” we also understand the next point of TULIP, “Irresistible Grace.”  Limited redemptionists argue that the NT strongly encourages us to conclude that Christ’s atonement really atoned for those, and only those, for whom it was made.  Thus, it was an efficacious atonement.  This is crucial to get because it dictates their approach.  The atonement effected salvation for the elect, it did not merely make them savable.  What this seems to logically entail is that there can be no separation of the accomplishment of atonement from its application.  If one makes a separation between them clearly the accomplishment does not actually effect redemption, its application does.

This plunges 5 point Calvinists into a spot of bother since we must avoid teaching that believers were justified before they believed.  I am not sure how that can be done without teaching that the application of the atonement, and not the atonement itself, is efficacious.  But this takes us away from our present concern.

Here is the 1689 Baptist Confession to start us off:

Christ certainly and effectually applies and communicates eternal redemption to all those for whom He has obtained it.  His work of intercession is on their behalf. – Chapter 8.8a.

This does not state that Christ’s death actually purchased the elect at the Cross (its accomplishment), but we shall see that this is the underlying assumption.  We could give other reasons why Chapter 8 of this Confession violates dispensational tenets.

The Confession gives some “proof-texts” for its statement.  Of the eleven passages given in support of this doctrine (Psa.110:1; Jn. 3:8; 6:37; 10:15, 16; 17:6, 9; Rom. 5:10; 8:9, 14; 1 Cor. 15:25-26; Eph. 1:8-9; 1 Jn. 5:20), the first three have nothing to do with the atonement, nevermind its extent.  The John 10 passages do not specify Christ’s death as being only for His sheep.  The John 17 texts work okay for election but do not speak of the atonement.  Romans 5:10 speaks to those who have been reconciled by faith and does not address the proposition one way or another.  Ditto the other Romans passages and those that remain from 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and 1 John!  Not an impressive showing!

Here is Dordt:

SECOND HEAD: 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.

This is a lot to prove!  Where does the Bible say that faith was purchased for the elect by Christ’s death?  We may think it is so, but to which passage/s are we to be pointed?  Answer: “It’s an inference.”  Okay, which text of Scripture says Christ’s crosswork itself had “quickening and saving efficacy”?  Everyone acknowledges it is upon the merits of Christ’s death that believers are quickened (regenerated) by the Holy Spirit and saved, but this transaction did not occur at Calvary (unless one wishes to teach that the majority of Christians were born-again and placed in Christ before they were born-first!).  So where are we told that the Cross itself had this efficacy (and not the later application of its merit by the Holy Spirit)?  Answer: “It’s an inference.”

Okay, so where in Scripture is it stated that Christ’s atoning death was on behalf of “all those, and those only, who were eternally chosen to salvation”?  It is a bold and precise proposition.  Where, apart from general statements that Arminians can believe in (Christ died for “us”, “the Church, “the sheep,” “for me”, etc.), is it taught that only the elect were atoned for when Jesus hung on the tree?  Answer: “It’s an inference.”  Is anyone seeing a pattern here?  What biblical ground is there here for a dispensationalist to stand on and use his consistent plain-sense hermeneutics?

Whatever our Reformed brethren want to do with their interpretations is, from the standpoint of these articles, their own business.  Their theology is far more deductive and their hermeneutics more theologically driven.  But the deductions of a Reformed theologian are not all open to a Dispensational theologian: definite atonement being an example of this.

Some Other Proof-Texts

When one studies the set of passages on this teaching provided at Monergism one notices something significant.  Their citation of Isa. 53:8-11 conveniently ignores verse 6.  We are to presume that “my people” (v.8) is a reference to the elect who will be saved.  Apart from this contradicting the OT meaning of the election of Israel as a nation of God-fearing and God-hating people, it should be apparent to any dispensationalist that this move is accomplished by reading the NT doctrine back into the OT: an option clearly at variance with the very soul of dispensationalism.  But further, any familiarity with the early chapters of Isaiah (or Jeremiah) will speedily put the kibosh on this notion that “my people” = “my elect for salvation.”  Plus, Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..”  This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the elect!

The two other quotations from the OT (Isa. 63:9 & Dan. 9:24!) will be seen through by any dispensationalist worth his or her mettle.  They are ripped out of context to fit a contrived NT formulation.

What about the NT passages then?  We know what’s coming: verses which speak of Christ giving His life as a ransom for “many” (Matt. 20:28; 26:28. Interpreted as “all” by Paul in 1 Tim. 2:6); Christ giving His life for “the sheep” (Jn. 10:11,15,26), or for “us” (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Tit. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:16 etc.).  Not to be left out (although inexplicably absent from the Monergism list) is the verse which says Christ gave Himself for “the Church” (Eph. 5:25).  No one disagrees with these verses as they stand.  It is only once particular redemption is read in to them that eyes start winking.

Some texts in the list actually do not make any statement regarding the atonement (viz. in Rom. 5:15 the “gift” is salvation not the atonement; Heb. 2:16 is about the incarnation).  An interesting reference is the quotation of John 11:51-52:

And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

Caiaphas’s involuntary prophecy includes two elements: first that Jesus should die for the Jewish nation (no restrictive clause limiting it to the elect), and second, that He would also gather together in one the elect scattered abroad.  One may want to say that the second clause qualifies who is meant by “nation” in the first, and that is legitimate.  But what has been garnered?  Has the proposition “Jesus only died for the elect” been substantiated?  “I trow not!”  In fact, not one of these texts makes any such claim!  No Arminian, for example, would have a problem with saying Christ died for “us” or for “believers” or for “the Church.”  To force these texts into a doctrine of particular redemption is to overplay ones hand.

More Proof-Texts

What then?  Are there other texts which help?  A good place to turn to would be Steele and Thomas’s The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented.

It might be argued that the proposition, “Christ died only for those who will be saved” could be supported as a C3 Formulation by texts combining to make it the best supported theological option (as I would argue is the case with the pre-trib rapture).  This is kind of what Steele & Thomas try to do in their book.

Unfortunately there are rather large logical gaps between the individual statements they make, the Scriptures they recruit to prop them up, and the final doctrine (limited atonement) they wish to prove.  Let me give an example of what I mean:

They make the claim that, “Christ secured the gift of the Spirit which includes regeneration and sanctification and all that is involved in them.” (42).

The “regeneration” they are referring to is, of course, the sort which precedes faith (of which more ahead).  We are to gather from this that the ensuing verses will leave us in no doubt about these important matters.  So what do we get?  Eph. 1:3-4 (we have every spiritual blessing in Christ); Phil. 1:29 (the best text [C3?] for proving faith is a gift.  But it says nothing about regeneration or sanctification); Acts 5:31 (repentance is a gift); Tit. 2:14 (our redemption was unto good works); Tit. 3:5,6 (we were saved through regeneration); Eph. 5:25-26 (Christ’s death resulted in the sanctification of the Church); 1 Cor. 1:30 (Our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption come from Christ. No mention of the new birth); Heb. 9:14 (Christ’s blood can cleanse the sinner’s conscience leading to acceptable service); Heb. 13:12 (Christ’s suffering and rejection was for the sanctification of “the people”); 1 Jn. 1:7 (Christ’s blood can keep the believer in the light of fellowship with God).

I know there is more to these verses than my mere summaries tell, but where in any of them are we told that “Christ secured the gift of the Spirit which includes regeneration…[prior to faith]”? The verses (or some of them) do prove (directly – C1) that Christ secured our sanctification.  But this scarcely amounts to a brick in the wall of limited atonement.

One has to wander through several pages of this type, with numerous passages vainly used to support minor tertiary propositions, which in turn set up secondary propositions, which are intended to lead us inexorably to the conclusion of the principal doctrine: particular redemption.  But it is not until we reach secondary proposition “C” that we start ‘getting down to brass tacks.’  Then the authors move into apologetic mode, admitting that “Some passages speak of Christ’s dying for “all” men and of His death as saving the “world.” (46).  But they qualify this by saying, “These expressions are intended to show that Christ died for all men without distinction…they are not intended to indicate that Christ died for all men without exception…” (emphasis theirs).

This dogmatic declaration of Authorial intent is open to serious question when one analyzes texts like John 3:16-17, 36; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 2:9; and 2 Pet. 2:1 in their contexts.  There is certainly no cause for 5 pointers to get all doctrinaire here!  And for a dispensationalist there is considerable reason to throttle back on such assertions.

The proposition “Christ died only for His elect” or, “Christ died only for those who will be saved,” is not supported by any C1, C2 or C3 passage (if anyone can show me otherwise I would appreciate it).  Recall, a C1 passage is a straightforward text which agrees with a proposition by directly stating it in so many words.  Nor, as we have just said, is this teaching upheld by any C2 passages (a combination of usually C1 texts on related matters which strongly (even inevitably) lead one to the conclusion summed up in the proposition).  Nor is the doctrine supported by any C3 texts (indirect passages which, when taken together, produce good though defeasible evidence for the proposition).  Or have I spoken too soon?

Jeffery, Ovey, & Sach, in their valuable book, Pierced For Our Transgressions, believe the combination of 2 Corinthians 5:14 with Romans 6:1-14,

“is problematic for those who deny particular redemption.  The former text teaches that all those for whom Christ died, died spiritually with him.  The latter teaches that all who died with him will share in his resurrection life, which in Romans is concerned with salvation.  Putting the two together, it is apparent that all for whom Christ died will enjoy salvation.  Universal redemption would then imply that all will be saved, which is unbiblical.” (272-273).

If their contention is right dispensationalists had better jump on board.  But let us take a closer look.  2 Cor. 5:14 says,

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus; that if Christ died for all then all died”

And we throw in the next verse:

“and He died for all, that those who live, should live no longer for themselves, but for  Him who died for them and rose again.”

The context (e.g. v.10, “the judgment seat of Christ”; v.13b “if we are of sound mind, it is for you.”), makes it clear that Paul is addressing Christians.  Verse 15 also makes it clear that Paul’s point here is that “those who live” (Christians to whom he is writing), “should live no longer for themselves.”  He is referring to the saints’ sanctification.  The text does not say that Christ only died for the saints.  The correspondence between the “all” who Christ died for, and the “all” who died in Him is symmetrical because the Apostle has sanctification in mind, not justification.  To paraphrase, it teaches that, “if Christ died for you [the saints at Corinth], then you died in Christ.  Therefore you should no longer live for yourselves but for Christ; in whom you have been made alive.”  Verses 17-18 bring this truth home even more.  Paul doesn’t have unsaved people, be they elect or no, in view here!

But even if all humanity is in view here, there is still no necessary connection with the elect only, as a reading of the commentaries will demonstrate (e.g. P. E. Hughes).  In a sense all humanity did die with Christ at Calvary, even though that death isn’t reckoned as substitutionary in judicial terms until the sinner believes.  The connection with Romans 6 applies to my interpretation above, but is in need of qualification on this other interpretation (along the lines provided by Paul in Romans 3:21-5:11).

Thus, For Jeffery, Ovey & Sach to assert, “all those for whom Christ died, died spiritually with him” as a doctrine of the extent of the atonement is to ignore the context and to misapply the passage in question.   Careful attention to the context removes this crucial plank of their argument, rendering it fallacious.  Calvin offers Romans 14:7-9 as a close parallel, not Romans 6.

Clear Counter-Texts

But it gets worse.  Not only must a dispensationalist abandon plain-sense hermeneutics and opt for a theologically deductive hermeneutics to get limited atonement, he must use these same foreign hermeneutics to explain clear passages which, in their plain-sense, contradict this Reformed teaching.  Take one example: 1 Timothy 4:10:

“For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe.”

It appears here that the Apostle is saying that Christ died for all men everywhere, but in a particular way for those who believe.  That would make Christ’s atonement universal though differentiated.  That would also agree with a plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:4 & 6.  What then can the 5 Pointer do?  He can say that since God and not Christ is being spoken of here that soter ought to be translated as “Preserver” not “Savior.” (Grudem).  That is to say, what is in Paul’s mind here is not what it appears at first blush: instead Paul is just saying God preserves people physically – especially believers!  Presumably that is also Paul’s meaning in the first verse of the letter, where he writes, “by the commandment of God our Savior”?

No, that will not do.  An agenda is showing!  And this agenda (to force universal atonement verses into bearing other, less apparent meanings) is so embarrassingly evident in the TULIP interpretations of John 3:16, Heb. 10:29; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:14 and a number of other straightforward verses (some of which are given above), which make perfect sense without any meddling by “interested parties”, that no dispensationalist should have anything to do with such “hermeneutics of special pleading.”

I just cannot see how a dispensationalist can hold to particular redemption and not batter down their hermeneutical citadel.

28 thoughts on “Dispensationalism and TULIP – Limited Atonement”

  1. Greetings. This is very helpful. Many thanks. Just one question. You referred to John 11:51-52 but I was unclear what you meant by the second clause qualifying who is meant by “nation.” Do you mean that it does indeed refer to believing Jews amongst the nation? Some limited redemption folk see a link betweeen 1 John 2:2 and John 11:51-52. They say John’s thought in one can be used to help interpret the other. They argue that since those who are gathered together according to Jn 11:52 are the children of God abroad (ie the elect and not everyone) then the nation also only refers to the elect Jews. And this is how 1 John is interpreted ie. ‘our’ refers to believing Israel and ‘whole world’ refers to Gentile believers. I realise that “world” given its usage elswhere in 1 John does not suggest believing Gentiles but in terms of the comparison between 1 John 2:2 and John 11 do you have any light to shed on this? Many thanks.

  2. Hi Justin,

    I guess I was a bit confusing. My point was if you take the reference to “nation” as a reference to the Jewish remnant (which I personally don’t but I think it could be construed that way), the passage does not say anything about the extent of the atonement.

    Hooking it up with 1 Jn. 2:2 in order to do away with the very real threat that text poses for LA is an instance of intruding the Analogy of Faith into the exegesis of a text which has not been allowed to say what it says first. It just needs to be pointed out that John 11 is not in 1 John and is to be interpreted in its own context, as is 1 Jn 2. When we do allow 1 Jn. 2:2 to say what it says we see that John employs the word “world” consistently in the context to refer to the rebellious world-system (cf. 2:15-17; 4:1, 3-5, 9, 14; 5:4-5, 19). In context then (not importing a totally different context), 1 Jn. 2:2 means exactly what it says. This is why the Analogy of Faith should not be used as part of ones exegesis, but as a check on it.

    Is that any clearer?

    God bless,


    1. Great, thanks for this response. Yes it makes perfect sense. Would you permit a follow up question? LR folk point to Isaiah 53:5 “by his stripes we are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 understand this to refer to spiritual healing. Thus they say 53:5 can only refer to the elect. They then point to the context “he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” They argue that the rest of v 5 refers to the sins of those who are healed (ie. the elect), so the atonement must be limited. Can you help me with this too? Again, many thanks.

  3. Justin,

    Yes, this is an extraordinary way to formulate doctrine. Notice that the Isaiah 53:5 passage teaches unlimited atonement (the “we” refers to all Israel – see v.3). Does Peter contradict this? No! He changes the “we” to a “you” (the elect) and applies the refrain to them. Although Peter narrows the application this says nothing at all about the extent of the atonement. For instance, what would have happened if Peter were writing to one individual or a local church? Could he not write “by His stripes YOU were healed”?

    When talking to an LA advocate you must do two things: 1. You must understand that he conflates the accomplishment of the atonement at the Cross with its application throughout history. In point of fact, noone is saved until the merit of the Cross is applied to them. We were not saved at the Cross! We were saved when we believed the message of the Cross. 2. You must be prepared to deal with them the way you would deal with a JW. That is, you must look at each proof-text in its original context and refuse to allow Scriptures from foreign contexts to DETERMINE the interpretation of the passage under consideration. Okay? 🙂

    1. Yes that response is very clear. And thanks for the advice. It is well taken. If we recognise then that Peter is simply applying the passage, can’t a LA person still insist that since only the elect are “healed,” Is. 53:5c can refer only to them and if the ‘we’ of 5c refers only to the elect, the plural pronouns elsewhere in v.5 must do so as well? This would then limit the atonement to the elect. How should we best respond to that? Again, thanks very much.

  4. A limited redemptionist can only pursue such an argument by assuming what he needs to prove: that Christ’s accomplishment of the atonement at the Cross ACTUALLY saved or “healed” the elect. If he can’t, his path is cut off.

    But also, this form of argumentation still requires that the NT be given interpretative priory over the OT passage in its context. This also is an assumption which must be challenged.

    Ask more questions if you are unclear on this.

    God bless you and yours,


    1. Thanks for the caution re the danger of assigning NT interpretative priory over the OT, especially if the OT context is compromised. I appreciate that the accomplishment of the atonement at the Cross did not save or “heal” the elect and that this has to be applied at the point of faith. If I’m understanding correctly then you are suggesting that the LR interpretation would indeed require that the “healing” took place at the cross thus removing any need for the application of that healing only when a person comes to faith. This would suggest that faith is unnecessary and that the elect are saved even before they believe, that faith is in principle unnecessary. Have I understood that implication correctly? And if I have, how on earth do LR folk respond to that criticism? God bless you too.

  5. Justin,

    This is one of the biggest problems I see in LR’s. They absolutely insist that the Cross did NOT make men “savable” but actually saved the elect.

    Now, what they don’t seem to see is, that can only be true IF the accomplishment and the application are basically one and the same – which results in the “then who needs faith?” problem you highlighted. This is why men like John Gill held to eternal justification. I have never seen this contradiction explained, by Murray or Owen or anyone else. The fact of the matter is, if noone is saved till they believe, then they are NOT actually atoned for at the Cross. It’s just that simple. I would love to read a biblical response (rather than a rationalistic one) from an LR to explain this matter.

    But of course, this is not the only way LR’s obviate the need for faith. E.g., John Owen taught that even unbelief in the elect was atoned for; hence, why then does someone need to believe? Also, regeneration before faith requires a logical decision of the Judge (God) to release a guilty man before he has been judicially declared innocent, since the sinner is joined to Christ before he exercises justifying faith.

    1. Yes I certainly agree with Ron (below). Many thanks indeed. I really must apologise for coming back to you with this but I think I’m getting stuck on two things:
      1)you write, “The fact of the matter is, if noone is saved till they believe, then they are NOT actually atoned for at the Cross.” This makes good sense but how then do we understand Isaiah 53? If I understand correctly it is a prophecy telling us that Messiah’s death will atone and thus “heal” but this only takes place at the moment a person believes. But given that the healing only occurs when one believes and that v.5c applies only to those who believe, can’t a case be made that the rest of the verse which refers to what Jesus did (eg. he was crushed for our iniquities, etc) applies only to that group of individuals which is healed, given the same plural pronouns appearing all the way through the verse?
      2)if we are saying that Jesus’ death was for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, etc), aren’t we saying that Jesus’ atonement was potential for the world but has to be applied individually? If so then because the application is limited to those who believe so also must what that application entails (eg. being crushed for our iniquities). In other words, if its benefits are limited to those who believe being applied when one has faith, then the atonement seems to be limited. This of course contradicts 1 John 2:2, etc.
      Clearly I’m horribly confused and am missing a crucial logical point.

      1. Justin,

        I’ll try to break down your questions and interweave my answers.

        1)you write, “The fact of the matter is, if noone is saved till they believe, then they are NOT actually atoned for at the Cross.”

        [PH] Clarification: By “saved” here I of course mean “actually redeemed by the merits of Christ’s atonement.”

        This makes good sense but how then do we understand Isaiah 53? If I understand correctly it is a prophecy telling us that Messiah’s death will atone and thus “heal” but this only takes place at the moment a person believes. But given that the healing only occurs when one believes and that v.5c applies only to those who believe…

        [PH] This “healing” refers to the Cross, not the application of its merits on the individual. Verse 6 requires a universal atonement since everyone is guilty of “going astray” and “turning to his own way.” Hence, 6c must be universal. If LA is read into these passages it must be understood that it comes from outside the context and is not found within it. And one is again left in the quandary of the elect of Israel (who i would argue Ch. 54 makes eschatological Israel) being actually and not potentially “healed” at Calvary. that would certainly seem to do away with the point of the Tribulation. It might be pointed out that this interpretation again requires the “we” of 53:5 & 6 to be at least elect future Israel, but this only reinforces a universal atonement made at the Cross but applied in the eschaton.

        …can’t a case be made that the rest of the verse which refers to what Jesus did (eg. he was crushed [don’t forget Gen.3:15] for our iniquities, etc) applies only to that group of individuals which is healed, given the same plural pronouns appearing all the way through the verse?

        [PH] I don’t think so because this is a prophecy – before the fact – and the “we” is either those of Isaiah’s time (Nah!) or those looking back on the event (see 53:7-12). In either way the “healing” should be seen as containing the power to save whoever looks back. So we are again left with a necessary separation of the atonement and its merits and no warrant for LA.

        2)if we are saying that Jesus’ death was for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, etc), aren’t we saying that Jesus’ atonement was potential for the world but has to be applied individually?

        [PH] We are

        If so then because the application is limited to those who believe…

        [PH] Correct

        …so also must what that application entails (eg. being crushed for our iniquities). In other words, if its benefits are limited to those who believe being applied when one has faith, then the atonement seems to be limited. This of course contradicts 1 John 2:2, etc.

        [PH] Only the application is limited, not the atonement at the Cross. If you posit a limited atonement at the Cross you do have a contradiction with 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:12; Jn. 3:16-17 etc. But this was my point. You cannot extract LA from Scripture you must put it in. A dispensationalist will then have to confront the universal texts (I used 1 Tim. 4:10) as foes which, if left to themselves, threaten his assumed theology. This a dispensational hermeneutics will not permit him to do.

        How’s that? 🙂

  6. The other thing that I hear LA folks say is that dead people(unbelievers) can’t do anything to believe, they are dead. So God has to make the first move. I know you covered this in the systematic theology course…trying to remember if in DG1 or 2?

  7. My apologies for not acknowledging your response earlier. Once again I’m very grateful for the help. Am I correct to understand you to mean the passage is a prophecy projected into the future (post-cross) but looking back at the cross’ effects (atonement of course being made for all; actual healing only for those to whom it is applied)? Also just to check: you suggested that even if ‘we’ in Is. 53:5, 6 referred to “at least elect future Israel…this only reinforces a universal atonement made at the Cross but applied in the eschaton.” I understand it being applied at the eschaton but why would it reinforce a universal atonement and not just apply to elect Gentiles? Thanks again (and please be patient – I’m getting there!)

  8. Justin,

    On your first question I answer Yes. Many prophecies are worded this way (i.e. as a retrospection on a significant event).

    On the second question, it couldn’t apply to elect Gentiles (principally, although Israel’s salvation produces through God witness to the nations) because the context in Isaiah (I referred to the next chapter) is speaking about future Israel. It reinforces a universal atonement because of the separation between event (accomplishment at Calvary) and effects (applications throughout history). Those saved in the eschaton are healed by the application of the merits of the Cross.

    What I am saying (in brief compass) is that there is no logical reason NOT to view the Cross as a universal atonement a la John 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:10 etc., once the efficacy of it is only known in its application in time. LA depends on the logic of Christ’s atonement actually bought the elect at the Cross. It did not render men savable, it really saved them. Ever heard that? Well, what I am saying is that the application happens only once the individual has exercised faith, and that did not occur at the Cross. Hence the Cross did NOT actually save anyone, it’s merits only save sinners in the application. and its merits are boundless!

    Keep asking if you need more.

    God bless,


    1. This is splendid. I’ve finally got it! I understand the logic. Thanks for persisting with me. Thank you too for the invitation to continue with questions if I need more help. I certainly won’t abuse that but I do have a follow up question – this time in relation to the phrase “whole world” in I John 2:2? We point to John’s use of “whole world” in 5:19 arguing that it can’t apply just to the elect there. But I have seen LA people respond that “whole world” in 5:19 cannot include believers (cf. 4:4). They conclude that “whole world” only includes all of a certain class of people ie. 5:19 refers to the class of the lost; 2:2 to the class of the elect. At least in terms of consistency (which the LA person abandons here), it seems to me that if 5:19 means only the class of the lost and not believers (since they are not part of the evil world), then 2:2 should mean the evil world too. But would you have any comment to make on that LA approach? Many, many thanks.

  9. Justin,

    The word “kosmos” (world) in the NT, when it is used in an ethical sense (which is usual) refers to the anti-God mindset of fallen humanity. Taken in such a sense, answers, I think, all the contextual issues associated with its use.

    LA advocates try to find a doctrine they have decided exists before they examine what the Bible actually says regarding the atonement. Their view is a deduction, not from Scripture, but from other doctrines, some of which have been burdened with definitions which themselves are deductions from doctrines. Please read this: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/diagnosing-the-dispensational-malaise-an-opinion-pt-4/

    and this: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/dispensationalism-and-tulip-total-depravity/

    I have since added a C5 Category for instances where the remove from the Bible is at least two steps away. I believe LA is a C4 or C5.

  10. Once again, thanks very much for the response. Very helpful and clear. I must thank you indeed for the advice and pointers you have given me over the last month. It’s helped me a lot. God bless you in your ministry.

  11. Hi Paul, Having read what you have written a couple of times I still cannot wrap my brain around this issue. I concur that sound doctrine is the product of sound exegesis. My issue is theo-logical. Based on the fact that the doctrine of election is clearly taught, I ask the simple question: Does the death of Christ secure the salvation of the elect? Am I asking the wrong question?

    1. Hi Paul,

      Nothing wrong with the question per se. The first thing to consider is whether the proposition “the death of Christ secures the salvation of the elect” is strongly supported by the biblical text. Taken to mean “the death of Christ secured salvation for the elect AT CALVARY” one would have to answer (on the basis of 1 Tim.4:10 for instance), “Yes, in the sense that it made the merits of Christ available to all sinners, elect and non-elect.”

      But if it is taken to mean “the death of Christ secured salvation for the elect ONLY” or “it actually SAVED the elect” then the answer must be “No, because the Scripture is clear that Christ died for the whole world of sinners, never qualifying the intent of the atonement by confining it to the elect. Neither does it say that a person is saved until they exercise faith individually.”

      What I am mainly concerned about in these posts is whether a person who claims to let the Bible say what it says without imposing a theological hermeneutics upon the text can come out with TULIP as defined by Reformed Confessions etc. I say a big “NO” to that.

      Sadly, I have not had anyone want to debate the point with me who is a dispensationalist! That sort of puts a damper on proceedings, but….

      God bless,


      1. Oh, one more thing…the doctrine of election must be derived from the text of Scripture the same way other doctrines are. Hence, it has to be found in “salvation texts”. It is certainly there! But we cannot begin speculating on things like the order of decrees or the order of salvation without stepping from text to text and not from inference to inference.

  12. Paul,
    Hi, I’m Ron and I believe that the correct answer to your question; “Does the death of Christ secure the salvation of the elect?”, is that the decree of God is what makes sure His election. Because God said it, it will happen. Isaish 55:11 It is “worked out” by us through faith in Christ. Mind you I am not saying that we are saved by works. Paul said in Philippians that we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

    I was looking through my notes from the class in Systmatic Theolgy, Doctrine of Christ and Salvation that Dr. H taught at Veritas and the Bible says that justification is based on faith, not faith based on the event of justification. (John 1:12)
    Rom. 3:24,26 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:… to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    Also see Romans 5:12-21

    Romans 4, Gal. 3:24 and 3:6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

    What it looks like the Bible says is that individuals can be saved by believing that Christ has taken our sin and imputed His righteousness on those who believe, legally freeing us from the wrath and required justice of God.

    This is unimpeachable Rom. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

    We are “secured” by the Spirit Eph. 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

    I too am scratching my head much and reading these posts over and over on “tulip”, so I definitely am working these things out myself, hopefully humbly in fear and trembling and certainly open to correction.
    Hope this helps?

    God Bless,

  13. Ron, I wanted to thank you for your quick response and helpful comments!


    While taking a three hour business trip to Phoenix today I was able to pray and think through the issue of the extent of the atonement a little more clearly. I realized that I have been thinking in universal OR particular categories, however, can Scripture be teaching both? Taking 1 Tim. 4:10 as a reference it appears that Christ’s death at Calvary was both universal “who is the Savior of all people”, and particular “especially those who believe”. Also, “By the One Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19) appears to state that because of his death, many (limited amount or particular individuals), WILL be in time made righteous, and that time would be when they are called by and believe in the gospel. Also we know that the “many” are the elect for no one else will be enabled to come (Jn. 6). By His death at Calvary being universal, it provides both a genuine opportunity to the world to respond and it also secures the condemnation of those who don’t believe (Jn. 3:16-18).

    This definitely needs find tuning and expansion by exegesis, but I wanted to put my thoughts together and submit them to you before the day is over. Do you think that I am on the right track?

  14. Paul,

    Absolutely you are on the right track. Can you see why one must distinguish the accomplishment of the atonement at Calvary (for all men) from the application of its merits to some (the elect who will believe)?

  15. I personally found The Death Christ Died : A Biblical Case for Unlimited Atomement Revised Edition by Dr. Robert P. Lightner as very helpful in the debate over the extent of the atonement. I also own and read The Death Of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen. I found John Owen to use alot of special pleading in that work and certain strawman arguments that are still used today. I did notice how the concepts of the Covenant of Grace and the Covenany of Redemption were used as the basis for the doctrine of limited atonement for it’s foundation. It also assumes a certain type of design of the atonement. And used this as a basis to argue againist the other points of views that are held. In relation to the sin of unbelief which John Owen made mention of I found most intresting and very telling of how they view the nature of faith. I personally hold that Jesus died for all sins including the sin of unbelief. But no one is forgiven of any of their sins including unbelief until they have faith in Jesus Christ. ( Col. 2:13; Acts 10:43 ) . While those who remain in unbelief are not forgiven of any sins including unbelief. It is the divine application of it by God to the elect when they are effectually called and have personal faith in Jesus shows the two-fold aspect of it . It shows a universal provision and an individual personal application of it. It is safe to say Jesus made provision for all sins of the lost on the cross and must be personally applied to a person in order to have eternal life when they have faith in Jesus. I see the biblical design of the work of Jesus as having died to make salvation possible for the lost and made it certain for those who have faith. Most five point Calvinist do not want to grant the existance of this position and attempt to argue againist it in the same manner of the view held by historical Arminians when they are two seperate and different views of it and hold to a different design of it. The strict five point Calvinist want to argue as if there is a choice between only their concept of limited atonement and the unlimited atonement view held by historical Arminians when both are in error. Dispenstionalist if they followed consistantly with it’s method of interpretation would be at odds with Historical Calvinism and historical Arminianism on the issue of the atonement. This is a point shows Robert Lightner shows when he listed the various views that are held where is listed our position as the Moderate Calvinist view. 🙂 I would love to see you contrast dispensationalism againist the Five Points of the Remonstrance next. That would make for an intresting discussion.

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