The Errors of Calvinism

by Jerry Shugart

Limited Atonement

According to the ideas of the Calviniists, before the foundation of the world God only predestined some to salvation and those not predestined have no chance for salvation. This idea has become the Calvinist's "interpretive grid" for determining the meaning of all other verses relating to soteriology.

This grid is superimposed over the entire Bible and everything that does not fit the grid is either ignored or misinterpreted. Under this grid the reasoning is that since only some people are chosen for salvation then the death of the Lord Jesus cannot possibly have any application at all to anyone other than the chosen ones. Therefore according to this idea the Cross has no possible revelance to those not chosen so the "atonement" must be "limited" to only those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world.

Did Christ Die in the Place of All Men or on Behalf of All Men?

R.C. Sproul attempts to defend the Calvinist's teaching of a limited atonement by saying, "The atonement of Christ was clearly limited or unlimited. There is no alternative., no 'tertium quid.' If it is unlimited in an absolute sense, then an atonement has been made for every person's sins. Christ has then been made propitiation for all persons' sins and expiated them as well. It seems to follow from the idea of unlimited atonement that salvation is universal" (Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? 164-165).

In order to clear up this misunderstanding let us first look at this verse:

" But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for (hyper) every man" (Heb.2:9).

In this verse the Greek word hyper is translated "for" and one of the meanings of that word is "on behalf of." In Vine's we read the following definition of the Greek word hyper: " 'on behalf of,' is to be distinguished from 'anti,' 'instead of'" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of the New Testament).

That explains the following translation of Hebrews 2:9:

"Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, but we see him crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. Through God's kindness he died on behalf of everyone" (Heb.2:9; GOD'S WORD Translation).

In the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges we read " 'on behalf of' (hyper), not 'as a substitution for' (anti)" (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Commentary at Hebrews 2:9).

So we can understand that Christ tasted death on behalf of every man but not as a substitute for every man. Now let us look at this verse:

"Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for (anti) many" (Mt.20:28).

One of the meanings of the Greek word anti is "offical substitution, instead of" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon).

So we can see that Christ tasted death on behalf of every man but He only died instead of some but not all.

Baptized Into His Death

No one is identified with the Lord Jesus' death until they believe the gospel and are baptized into Christ (the Body of Christ; Gal.3:27-28):

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death" (Ro.6:3-4).

Therefore, we can understand that just because the Scriptures speak of Christ tasting death on behalf of every man that does not mean that a "universal" salvation is in view The Lord Jesus died on behalf of all men but only those who believe are baptized or identified with the Lord Jesus' death.

The Sins of the Whole World

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn.2:2; NIV).

In this verse the Greek word hilasmos is translated "atoning sacrifice" and one of the meanings of this Greek word is "the means of appeasing" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon).

According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature one of the meanings of the word hilasmos is "instrument for appeasing, sacrifice to atone, sin-offering" (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature; Third Edition. Revised and Edited by Fredrick William Danker)

In the Septuaigint (LXX), the Greek version of the Old Testament, hilasmos appears at Numbers 5:8 in the expression "ram of the atonement":

"But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement (hilasmos), whereby an atonement shall be made for him" (Num.5:8).

On the Day of Atonement the hilasmos was the one of the two goats which was sacrificed. The Greek word hilaskomai is the verb form of this word, and it means "to make propitiation for" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon) and hilasterion is "the mercy seat" where the blood of the atoning sacrifice was sprinkled. All these words have the same stem (hilas) and they all relate to the events of the Day of Atonement.

Now let us look at this verse again:

"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn.2:2; NIV).

Here the Apostle John is making reference to the goat described as being the "sin offering" on the day of atonement (Lev.16:9), and this goat was in regard to 'God's requirements." Ada R. Habershon writes:

"On the Day of Atonement there were 'two goats': the one, God's lot which was killed, the blood being taken inside the vail ; and the other, the scape-goat that bore away the iniquity of Israel to the land not inhabited--the first speaking to us of God's requirements, the second of man's need" [emphasis added] (Habershon, Study of the Types [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993], 22).

Henry W. Soltau states that one aspect was in regard to satisfy the Lord, or as Habershon says, "God's requirement":

"It is important here to remark that the two goats were 'one' sin offering, and the apparent object of having 'two' was, to present two aspects of the same offering for sin. An atonement accomplished for the Lord to satisfy Him ; and this atonement made manifest to the people in the scapegoat sent into the wilderness" [emphasis added] (Henry W. Soltau, The Tabernacle; The Priesthood and the Offerings, [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1998], 429).

Once the goat was sacrificed to fulfill God's requirement and to satisfy the Lord the sins of no one was atoned for until, by faith, the priest took the blood of that sacrifice and sprinkled it upon the mercy seat. That demonstrates that even though the Lord Jesus was crucified in the first century no one today receives any benefits of His death until they receive the gospel by faith.

Of course on the Day of Atonement the ceremony was strictly in regard to the nation of Israel. John, at 1 John 2:2, takes the imagery of the day of atonement and expands it to the whole world.

According to John the Lord Jesus is the sacrifice which is the means of satisfying the Lord in regard to the sins of the whole world. But as in the case of the day of atonement, no one received the benefits of the sacrifice until, by faith, the blood was sprinkled upon the mercy seat. The Lord Jesus' death upon the Cross is a sacrifice that is sufficent to satisfy God in regard to the sins of the whole world, but it is not until a sinner appropriates the blood of that sacrifice by faith that the demands of divine justice are satisfied. Therefore, we can understand that the Lord Jesus was sent to sinful men to be the Savior of the world:

"And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world" (1 Jn.4:14).

That is how it can be said that the "world" has been reconciled to God:

"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor.5:19).

In his commentary on John 3:16 John Calvin says that the whole world has been reconciled to God:

"He has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world which He formerly used [God so loved the world]; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet He shows Himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when He invites all men without exception [not merely 'without distinction'] to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life" (John Calvin, Commentary at John 3:16).

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