Limited Atonement - Definition, Scripture, and Defense

What is Limited Atonement? Learn what the Bible teaches about limited atonement, as well as Bible verses that support the doctrine of limited atonement.
Calvinism
Limited Atonement
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Table of Contents

  1. Limited Atonement - Definition
  2. Everyone limits the atonement
  3. Why we should love limited atonement
  4. Bible verses that teach limited atonement

^ 1. Limited Atonement - Definition

The doctrine of limited atonement teaches that Jesus did not come to die for every single person in the world, but rather, only for God's elect, or for "his people." Limited atonement is sometimes also referred to as particular atonement or effectual atonement.

^ 2. Everyone limits the atonement

The term "limited" atonement is misleading because it implies that only this position limits the atonement, whereas the other position is "unlimited" atonement.

However, the truth is that both positions limit the atonement in some way:

  1. Calvinists limit the atonement in terms of who the atonement is for. The atonement is unlimited in that it covers every sin of the elect.
  2. Arminians limit the atonement in terms of what the atonement covers. The atonement does not cover the sin of unbelief—humans must freely produce their own belief to be saved. The atonement is unlimited in that it pays for the sins of every person, but only in such a way that every person has the option of being saved by freely choosing to believe.

^ 3. Why we should love limited atonement

As alluded to above, we should love the doctrine of limited atonement because it teaches that Jesus came to fully save His people, God's elect. He did not come to do most of the work, and leave a crucial part, faith, in the hands of our fickle free will.

Instead of being fearful that at any moment, our free will could lead us to make the terrible decision of turning away from Jesus, we can have confidence that if we exhibit the signs of salvation—faith and repentance—our salvation is unchangeably in God's hands, rather than in our own hands.

The doctrine of limited atonement gives us a feeling of security, knowing that God has saved us, and that salvation is not dependent upon anything in us. We are weak, and God is strong. It is a joy to know that our salvation fully rests upon God's power.

^ 4. Bible verses that teach limited atonement

Some argue that the doctrine of limited atonement is purely a logical result of the system of Calvinism and that it is nowhere taught in the Bible. However, this is simply not true. Below is a list of Scripture passages that clearly teach the doctrine of limited atonement.

Matthew 1:21

will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This verse teaches that Jesus came to specifically save "his people."

Matthew 20:28

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This verse teaches that Jesus came to die "for many."

John 10:11, 15

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

This passage teaches that Jesus came to die specifically "for the sheep," which are His people, or God's elect.

John 17:9

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Here, Jesus prays specifically for those whom the Father has given Him.

John 11:51-52

51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

This passage teaches that Jesus came to die specifically for "the children of God" who are scattered across the world.

Acts 20:28

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

This verse teaches that Jesus died specifically for "the church of God," or for believers.

Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

This verse teaches that Jesus died specifically for "the church," or for believers.

Hebrews 9:28

so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This verse teaches that Jesus came to die for "the sins of many."

Revelation 5:9

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

This verse teaches that Jesus came to die for people from every tribe and language and people and nation, not for all people.

Isaiah 53:8, 11-12

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

This passages teaches that Jesus came to die for "many."

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