The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement (Part One) -- By: Ron Rhodes

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 02:2 (Fall 1996)
Article: The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement (Part One)
Author: Ron Rhodes

The Extent of the Atonement:
Limited Atonement
Versus Unlimited Atonement
(Part One)

Ron Rhodes, Th.D.*

Chafer Theological Seminary

[*Editor's note: Ron Rhodes received his Th.M. and Th.D. degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Rhodes is the executive director of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries—a discipleship ministry that helps Christians become biblically literate. A free bimonthly newsletter is available. We invite you to write: P.O. Box 80087, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688.]

Among the more controversial issues related to the doctrine of the atonement is the question, For whom did Christ die?

There are two theological camps regarding issue. One camp argues that Jesus’ death was intended to secure salvation for a limited number of people. This view is typically called “limited atonement” because God is said to have limited the effect of Christ’s death to a specific number of elect persons. This view is also called “particular redemption” because advocates of this view believe redemption was provided only for a particular group of people (i.e., the elect). The second camp (my view) holds to what is called “unlimited atonement” or “general redemption.” This camp argues that God did not limit Christ’s redemptive death to the elect, but allowed it to be for humankind in general.1 In this view, Christ’s death made the provision of salvation for all humanity, but salvation becomes effective only for those who exercise faith in Christ. Salvation becomes effective only for God’s elect.

In this article, we will first survey the evidence for both views. We will then set forth detailed argumentation in favor of unlimited atonement, which the author believes to be the biblical position.

The Case for Limited Atonement

Limited atonement is “the view that Christ’s atoning death was only for the elect.”2 Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof explains it this way: “The Reformed position is that Christ died for the purpose of actually and certainly saving the elect, and the elect only. This is equivalent to saying that He died for the purpose of saving only those to whom He actually applies the benefits of His redemptive work.”3

Verses Offered in
Support of Limited Atonement

Following are some of the key verses Berkhof and others cite in favor of limited atonement. I’ve italicized the relevant portions of each verse:

  • Matthew 1:21
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