Luther, Calvin, Arminius and I: Universality and Particularity of Atonement

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Mini

The shed blood of Christ Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” wrote the author the first epistle of John (1 John 2:2 NIV). This article presents a universality and particularity of atonement and showed that Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius held a similar understanding of the nature and extent of atonement.

I have studied and reflected 1 John 2:2 for the last 5 months. I have come to a conclusion that Christ shed his blood for all, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, without exception. This is the universality of the atoning work of Christ Jesus. The story, nonetheless, does not end here. The shed blood of Christ is, however, not extended to all without exception but to all without distinction. This is the particularity of the atoning work of Christ Jesus.

The shed blood of Christ extends or is applied particularly to believers, the elected or the called, whom in God’s proper time are also given the gift of regeneration that spring forth faith to receive it (Acts 13:48). Through the shedding of His blood, Christ’s righteousness is thus given to all without distinction.  Christ’s righteousness is given to whomever believe (Rom. 3:22) in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Paul expounded:

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25 NIV)

Christ’s finished work is given to all but applied to those who the Father has given His Son (John 6:32). They are the one  who looks at His Son and believes in Him (John 6:40). They are the one whom the Father draws to His Son (John 6:44). They are the one the Father has enabled them to come to His Son (John 6:65). They are the one blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear because the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to (Lk 8:10, Mt. 13:11, Mk 4:12, 1 Cor. 2:10, Co. 1:27). The cross is to “those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor. 24)

The saga of those who the Father freely and sovereignly lavished with His unfailing love and mercy ends with their future glorification. His Son will raise them up at the last day and give them eternal life (John 6:44)

It is not all without exception will have eternal life. There are those who are perishing. Those who are not being saved. To them, the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). They are those whom the Kingdom of God is not given too, thus everything is in parable so that they may not understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 13:1-13).

They are not blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear. For they will be ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving. No amount of signs and wonders done before them will make them believe in Christ Jesus because God has not bless them with eyes to see. John took it further and conclude that “they could not believe” because “He [God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I [the Suffering Servant] would heal them.”(John 12:36-40 NIV)

For Luther, Christ Jesus died for all but not for all unequivocally. He wrote,

In the first place, He [Christ Jesus] did not make a testament for all, because “He disinherits some,” as He says in John 17:9: “I am praying for them, not for the world.” Likewise in John 17:20: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in Me through their word.” Likewise because He did not say “for all” but “which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24; Matt. 26:28). And here (Heb. 9:15) we read: “So that those who are called may receive the promised eternal salvation.” But this touches on the subject of predestination, which is either too difficult or too harsh for our feeble intellect to be able to grasp. Therefore, to speak rather humbly, He left the legacy only to those who fear His name and believe in Him.(LW 29:214.)

Dealing with 1 Timothy 4:10, Luther distinguished “all men” and “those who believe”. He then concluded that the latter is saved eternally but not so with the former. Luther, thus, calls us to conclude that the general salvation of this passage is teaching us that “God saves all the faithful, but He does not save the faithless in the same way”(LW 28:261). More clearly he states: “For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because He says: ‘This is My blood which is poured out for you’ and ‘for many’—He does not say: for all—‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 14:24, Matt. 26:28).”(LW 25:376)

Calvin took a similar position. In his comment on 1 John 2:2, he wrote: “He[John] added this [“and not for ours only”] for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.” (CC 1 John 2:2) He explored more on his Romans 5:18 commentary: “He [Christ Jesus] makes this favour common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.”(CR Rom. 5:18)

Arminius also held Luther’s and Calvin’s Reformed traditional understanding on this view. He wrote: “Of this latter sentiment [viz., Christ’s death is “the redemption, which was obtained by means of that price, is applied and communicated to all men and to every one”] I entirely disapprove, because God has by a peremptory decree resolved, that believers alone should be made partakers of this redemption.” (WA 1:316)

From the testimonies of Scripture and Luther, Calvin and Arminius I concluded Christ Jesus atoning work was for all people, post-Christ’s death and resurrection, without exception but is extended particularly to God’s chosen, those who He called. I may be wrong. But here I stand. I stand ready to be corrected.

Question: What about John 12:32, 2 Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 33:11?

Next: Luther, Calvin and Arminius On Nature and Extend of Atonement

AW: Arminius, The Works of Arminius. Auburn; Buffalo: Derby, Miller and Orton

CC: Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

CR: Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

LW: Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition

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16 thoughts on “Luther, Calvin, Arminius and I: Universality and Particularity of Atonement

  1. Pingback: Atonement And Fellowship 8/8 | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  2. As a FIGURE OF SPEECH, “the shed blood of Christ Jesus” represents more of his eternal life than his incarnate and organic blood. If so, there are infinite ramifications which we have not yet begun to understand and discuss.
    The LITERAL EXPRESSION, on the other hand, borders on the disgusting pagan practice which is necessarily ruled out by the paradigm shift in “the Lamb of God”, as declared and executed, notwithstanding man’s understanding.

    (Matt. 16: 21-28; 27: 50-56)

  3. Brother,

    Greetings in the Lord. To whom was John ascribing the pronoun “our” and “ours” to? This exegesis seems to indicate that the pronoun is referring to “Christians” and the “world” is referring to the unbeliever. However, contextually the “our” pronoun is referring to Jewish *believers* and the *world* is referring to the Gentiles.

    If we follow this hermeneutic and apply this to 2 Corinthians 5:15 we must conclude that universalism is true. I would ask you to reconsider this in light of the audience to which the above passage is written. While it is true that Jesus died for all the world, construing this text to mean head-for-head atonement creates some insoluble paradoxes.

    Grace,

    BBG

  4. Prayson, what in your reasoning would god want to achieve through punishment?
    If Jesus, granting he was, was an atonement for our sins, why should the rider that we must believe be necessary while a god would know we can’t just choose how or what to believe? That our beliefs are based on our convictions, what we are told and what we learn by ourselves?
    I take it you are a Calvinist. Does it bother you that Calvin was party to the killing of Severus?

  5. Hello Prayson, I appreciate this post. 1 John 2:2 came up briefly in a hallway discussion I had with a brother at Church this past Sunday. This post is helpful. A resisted this understanding of soteriology for many years but I eventually come to the place where I stopped arguing with scripture on this matter. Yet, I agree with Luther when he says “But this touches on the subject of predestination, which is either too difficult or too harsh for our feeble intellect to be able to grasp. Therefore, to speak rather humbly, He left the legacy only to those who fear His name and believe in Him”.

    • Not quite. God(divine being in three distinct persons Father, Son and Spirit) are purely holy and righteous that all who have sin must pay the penalty of their acts. Though all have sin, God showed mercy to some as God placed their sins on Christ Jesus (the humanity of the Son) and thus Jesus, as a fully human, stood in their place. The divine nature of the Son of God cannot die thus cannot be sacrificed.

      Christian theology, John, is richly complex. Simplifying it as you did will leave you in nothing but self created absurdity 🙂

      • Sorry, that doesn’t fly.

        Line 1: Acts 8:32 “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

        “The reason Jesus had to die for our sins was so that we could be forgiven and go to be with the Lord. Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1 ,14; Col. 2:9). [Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry]

        Line 2: John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

        Line 3: Who’s going to dish out the punishment? Jesus/God, right?

        Therefore:

        God sacrificed himself,
        to himself,
        to save humanity from himself.

        Regarding theology, I think Thomas Paine’s summed it up in his deeply accurate 1794 observation:
        “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.” 😉

          • Are you disagreeing with CARM’s president, Matt Slick? He makes quite a powerful case against what you’re saying, and he’s a professional theologian.

            “That is why Jesus is God in flesh. He is both divine and human. He was made under the Law (Gal. 4:4), and He fulfilled it perfectly. Therefore, His sacrifice to God the Father on our behalf is of infinite value and is sufficient to cleanse all people from their sins and undo the offense to God.”

            God says that the person who sins must die (be punished). The wages of sin is death.

            A. Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”
            B. Rom. 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

            The sinner needs to escape the righteous judgment of God, or he will face damnation.

            A. Rom. 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
            B. Matt. 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

            Jesus is God in flesh.

            A. John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
            B. Col. 2:9, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”

            Jesus became sin for us and bore our sins in His body on the cross–thus fulfilling the Law.

            A. 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
            B. 1 Peter 2:24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
            C. Rom. 8:3-4, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

            As such, I fail to see how you’ve countered my observation:

            God sacrificed,
            to himself,
            to save humanity from himself

          • John, I do not disagree with Matt Slick. I do not think you understand his position. Slick, like all orthodox Christians hold that Jesus is God(divine being in the person of the Son). Jesus is not divine being in all three persons(Father, Son and Spirit).

            God sacrificed to himself, to save humanity from himself is oversimplification that leads to self-created absurdity. The plurality in God counters your argument.

          • It is absurd, yes, and yet that is precisely the central message of Christianity.

            God sacrificed himself,
            to himself,
            to save humanity from himself.

            It’s utterly ludicrous, insane even, but there it is! That is, of course, unless you:

            1) deny Jesus was god, and was just an ordinary man,
            2) can name a higher being than Jesus/God to whom Jesus/God could sacrifice himself, and
            3) name a higher being than Jesus/God who’ll ultimately deliver the punishment which god guarantees.

            Rom. 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

            Rom. 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

            Matt. 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

          • Here, another way of looking at it:

            Knock, knock…

            -Who’s there?

            It’s Jesus, let me in…

            -Why?

            I have to save you

            -From what?

            From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in!

        • I agree Prayson, Christ gave His life for all humanity. “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) The next few versus state, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

          Now, wicked things encompasses a long list, from murder and assault to discontentment and complaining, and everything in-between. And we see clearly that although this gift is for the whole world not everyone will accept it.

          @ John Zande

          Your “self-created absurdity” is really over the top this time. I hope you haven’t posted this all over the web yet, makes you look kind of crazy.

          God accepted His Sons sacrifice,
          to save humanity from its self-inflicted separation.

          Your little saying is untruthful in several ways. The greatest is the idea Jesus is literally God in the flesh. If He is God, why did Jesus pray?

          The whole Chapter of John 17 is a prayer by Jesus to the Father. “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” John 17:1-2

          Jesus taught that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), meaning that He and His Father are of the same substance and the same essence.

          During many times in His life, Jesus withdrew from His disciples and the crowds, to be alone to pray. He often went up on a mountainside or went to solitary or lonely places to pray to the Father. Sometimes He even went to pray very early in the morning, while it was still dark (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, 6:46, Luke 5:16).

          The doctrine of the Trinity — that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are each equally and eternally the one true God — is admittedly difficult to comprehend, and yet is the very foundation of Christian truth. The New Testament doctrine of the Trinity is evident in such a verse as John 15:26, where the Lord Jesus said, “But when the Comforter is come whom I will send unto you from the Father, He shall testify of me.” Then there is the baptismal formula, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).

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