Follow up to Unlimited Limited Atonement

For some reason 4 point Calvinism keeps rearing it’s ugly head in my circle of friends, and though most have accepted my exegesis of 1 John 2:2, (See my post called the Ramifications of 4 Point Calvinism from months back) the new pet passage seems to be 1 Timothy 2. 1 Timothy 2 States:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

The most obvious issue with this passage is that this passage is in no way a prescription for salvation. Many try to read this passage as though it is God’s decree to save all men and though most would not take this conclusion to the fullest, which would be universalism, they still see the words of Timothy “Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” as a perception for the atonement. In order to blend the concept of Jesus being in control of whom he chooses for salvation (the elect) with the concept of Jesus dieing for “all men” one must take the position of unlimited, limited atonement. In other words, Jesus died for everyone’s sins, but his death was only sufficient for the elect. The problem with this rendering is that if the atonement means that mankind becomes sinless in God eyes, because Jesus is the intercessor for sin, then God looks at all men as being sinless. So by what standard is God left with in judging His creation? Certainly it would no longer be their actions as we all remain equal in the eyes of God. The position remaining is double predestination where God becomes a cosmic bully and sends some to hell (even though He sees them as sinless) and sends other to heaven.

If one renders this passage as a description of the power of the cross and not as a prescription of what happened on the cross, then the passage makes perfect sense. The power of the cross is the only thing necessary to save all men. Nothing other then the cross can have this power and though Jesus only atoned for the elect and thus everyone else is judged based on their individual sin, it doesn’t take away from the power of the cross to defeat sin, no matter how many people actually benefit from it.

Looking at 1 Timothy 1, we see a glance into why Paul might have uttered these words especially when we blend them with his closing statements in 1 Timothy 4. In 1 Timothy 1 Paul states:

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

In 1 Timothy 1 we see that Timothy was having to deal with some individuals who were preaching something “other than the faith”. Is it possible that these men were teaching some sort of ulterior method salvation? Were they teaching some exclusive method of looking good in the eyes of God? Perhaps they were teaching Gnosticism’s concept of secret knowledge. This is all speculation, but when we consider the worlds of Paul in 1 Timothy 4, we see that my speculations are not without merit. In 1 Timothy 4 where Paul states:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters,you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly

It becomes apparent that Paul is addressing specifics in his letter to Timothy and among these specifics were people teaching that salvation is for certain kinds of people. Those who eat certain kinds of food and have certain kind of marital (or lack there of) relationships and follow certain kinds of wives tales.

In conclusion, there are two clues as to what Paul intends in his writing to Timothy. First he is demonstrating the power of the cross and the only method by which one becomes saved. There are no other methods by which anyone in the entire world can become saved. Second, Paul is addressing people, perhaps church leaders (hence the desire for Paul to describe what good church leaders look like) who are teaching that salvation is exclusive based on works, and adherence to wives tales and spiritual laws. Rendering this passage by any other means creates a theological mess and a completely unnecessary system called unlimited, limited atonement.

School of Fish is an apologetics ministry of Missio Dei Church in Fort Collins, Colorado

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