The Doctrine of Limited Atonement—is it Biblical?


The doctrine of Limited Atonement holds that Jesus’ death on the cross was a specific and intentional act of sacrifice that was designed to secure salvation for the elect alone rather than making it potentially available for all people.

This doctrine is based on several scriptural passages, including John 10:11, where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Here, Jesus’ death is described as being for a specific group of people, the “sheep.” Another relevant verse is Ephesians 5:25, where Paul writes, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This passage shows that Christ’s death was for a specific entity, the church, rather than for all people indiscriminately. In Matthew 1:21, the Angel Gabriel says to Mary, “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” That is, the angel implies that Jesus’ intention was not to save all people but only those who are His—the elect of God.

Imagine a wealthy benefactor who generously offers to pay off the debts of a select group of individuals. He determines whom he will extend his mercy and pays off their debts in full while leaving others to remain in debt. In the same way, Jesus’ death on the cross was a payment for the sins of a select group of individuals – His people – who would receive atonement for their sins. Namely, just as the benefactor’s generosity was extended only to those whom he had chosen to show mercy, so too the benefits of Christ’s atonement are applied only to those who receive the gift of salvation.

Limited Atonement was held by many prominent Protestant theologians, including John Calvin, who wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Christ suffered and died for us; but the benefit of his death is not common to all men.” Similarly, the Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote, “The design of Christ’s death was to satisfy divine justice and to redeem His people from their sins.” Limited Atonement is part of the five-part salvation doctrine of Calvinism. The acronym for this doctrine is T-U-L-I-P standing for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.

In conclusion, the doctrine of Limited Atonement is founded on scriptural passages that describe Jesus’ death as being specifically for the elect, the church, or the sheep.

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