A Defense of Unlimited Atonement


Some Common Objections Answered

"If Christ bore the iniquity of everyone then universal salvation would be the result."

Boettner says it this way: "Universal redemption means universal salvation" (cited by Lightner, p. 96). The extreme Calvinist argues that Christ saves everyone that He dies for.

"If Christ died for everyone, then everyone will be saved." Let’s think about the logic of this statement. This would be like saying, "If medicine is available for everyone, then everyone must be healed." This is obviously false. The medicine, though available, will not do any good unless it is taken. "There is more than enough cool, refreshing water for every thirsty person in the village." Does this mean that every person in the village will have his thirst quenched? Only if every person drinks! We need to make a difference between redemption accomplished and redemption applied.

"The Bible says that Christ died for MANY, not ALL."

The Bible clearly states that Christ died for ALL in 1 Timothy 2:6, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and Isaiah 53:6. See also Hebrews 2:9 where we learn that He died for every man (each individual). It is true, however, that there are passages which teach that Christ died for MANY:

"He bore the sin of MANY" (Isaiah 53:12).

"For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom FOR MANY" (Mark 10:45).

"For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed FOR MANY for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

The term "MANY" is most often used, not as a contrast to the word "all," but as a contrast to the word "few." The opposite of the word MANY is the word FEW, not the word ALL. This can be seen in Matthew 7:13-14 where MANY are on the broad road to destruction and FEW are on the narrow road to life. See also Matthew 20:16 – "for MANY are called, but FEW chosen." In this verse the MANY includes more than the elect (the chosen ones). A contrast is made between the MANY who are called the the FEW that are chosen.

If MANY is the opposite of FEW, then instead of referring to a small number (few) it refers to a large number (many). There are some cases where this large number is equivalent to ALL. A fifth grader could give out birthday party invitations to all 35 students in his class at school. ALL the students in this class were invited. But only 7 actually show up at the party. MANY (all) were invited but only FEW actually came. A very clear example from the Bible where MANY is equivalent to ALL is found in Romans 5:12--"For as by one man’s disobedience MANY were made sinners." Compare this with Romans 5:12 and it is evident that the MANY of verse 19 is the same as the ALL MEN of verse 12.

It is possible for the word MANY to refer to God’s elect. Such is the case in Acts 18:10 where the Lord assured Paul by saying, "I have MUCH (MANY) people in this city." Paul was thus encouraged that his labors were not in vain because MANY, not just a few, would come to know Christ in the city of Corinth.

What does the word MANY mean when it is used in connection with the cross-work of Christ? In Isaiah 53 the "many" of verse 12 is defined in the context as referring to ALL OF US:

"He bore the sin of many" (v.12)
"The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all [the iniquity of all of us]" (v.6)

He died, therefore, as a Substitute, not for just a FEW, but for MANY, yea, for all of us!

We find the same to be true when we compare Mark 10:45 with 1 Timothy 2:6:

"to give his life a RANSOM FOR MANY" (Mark 10:45)
"Who gave himself a RANSOM FOR ALL" (1 Tim. 2:6 and see the "all men" of verse 4).

We conclude, therefore, that when the Bible says Christ died for MANY, the meaning is this: He did not die for just a few, He died for many, yea, for all men. Or as John states it, "And 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). We fully agree with Calvin’s comment on Mark 14:24: that when Jesus said that His blood was poured out for many, He meant "not part of the world only, but the whole human race."

Calvin understood "many" to mean "all" in certain contexts. See his fascinating commentary under Romans 5:15.

For a very significant and helpful discussion about how the word MANY [Greek-polloi] is used in relationship to the atonement of Christ, see the article on polloi by J. Jeremias in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittle), Volume VI, pages 536-545. The author argues that the term "many" in Isaiah 53, Mark 10:45; Matthew 26:28 etc. is to be understood inclusively, following Semitic usage, the meaning being that Christ died on behalf of all.

"If Christ has died for you, you can never be lost" (Charles Spurgeon, cited by Lightner, p.93).

People are not lost because Christ did not die for them. They are lost because they have rejected the Christ who died for them. It is better to re-write Spurgeon’s quote as follows: "If you persist in rejecting the Christ who died for you, you can never be saved." Also, Spurgeon should have realized that even the elect are LOST before they come to Christ by faith, though Christ died for them.

Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. If any Israelite perished, it was not because there was no remedy. It was because he refused to look and live.

A.W. Pink said something similar to Spurgeon’s quote above: "Not one for whom He [Christ] died can possibly miss heaven" (cited favorably by Dr. John MacArthur in his Tape GC 80-123 on Hebrews 10:5-18). If this were true then everyone would be saved, because Christ tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9)! No one will ever stand before God and be able to say, "I will miss heaven because the Saviour did not die for me." On the contrary, every mouth will be stopped because God’s great salvation was both provided at the cross and offered to every sinner. It almost seems blasphemous to blame the doom of sinners on the supposed fact that Christ did not die for them.

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