Ch.3 The Atonement (II)

Making Sense of CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT by Wayne Grudem

c. Further Understanding of the Death of Christ:
(1) The Penalty Was Inflicted by God the Father: If we ask, “Who required Christ
to pay the penalty for our sins?” the answer given by Scripture is that the penalty was
inflicted by God the Father as he represented the interests of the Trinity in redemption.
It was God’s justice that required that sin be paid for, and, among the members of the
Trinity, it was God the Father whose role was to require that payment. God the Son voluntarily
took upon himself the role of bearing the penalty for sin. Referring to God the
Father, Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin [that is, Christ],
so that in him we might become the righ teousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Isaiah said,
“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). He goes on to describe the
sufferings of Christ: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to
grief” (Isa. 53:10).
Herein we see something of the amazing love of both God the Father and God the Son
in redemption. Not only did Jesus know that he would bear the incredible pain of the
cross, but God the Father also knew that he would have to inflict this pain on his own
deeply loved Son. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died
for us” (Rom. 5:8).
(2) Not Eternal Suffering but Complete Payment: If we had to pay the penalty for our
own sins, we would have to suffer eternally in separation from God. However, Jesus did
not suffer eternally. There are two reasons for this difference: (a) If we suffered for our
own sins, we would never be able to make ourselves right with God again. There would
be no hope because there would be no way to live again and earn perfect righ teousness
before God, and there would be no way to undo our sinful nature and make it right
before God. Moreover, we would continue to exist as sinners who would not suffer with
pure hearts of righ teousness before God, but would suffer with resentment and bitterness
against God, thus continually compounding our sin. (b) Jesus was able to bear all
the wrath of God against our sin and to bear it to the end. No mere man could ever have
done this, but by virtue of the union of divine and human natures in himself, Jesus was
able to bear all the wrath of God against sin and bear it to the end. Isaiah predicted that
God “shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). When Jesus
knew that he had paid the full penalty for our sin, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
If Christ had not paid the full penalty, there would still be condemnation left for us. But
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Chapter 3 • The Atonement
since he has paid the full penalty that is due to us, “There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
It should help us at this point to realize that nothing in the eternal character of God
and nothing in the laws God had given for mankind required that there be eternal suffering
to pay for man’s sins. In fact, if there is eternal suffering, it simply shows that
the penalty has never been fully paid, and that the evildoer continues to be a sinner by
nature. But when Christ’s sufferings at last came to an end on the cross, it showed that
he had borne the full measure of God’s wrath against sin and there was no penalty left
to pay. It also showed that he was himself righ teous before God. In this way the fact that
Christ suffered for a limited time rather than eternally shows that his suffering was a
sufficient payment for sins. The author of Hebrews repeats this theme again and again,
emphasizing the completion and the finality of Christ’s redemptive work:
Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place
yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly
since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for
all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. . . . 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. (Heb.
9:25 – 28)
This New Testament emphasis on the completion and finality of Christ’s sacrificial
death stands in contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching that in the mass there is a repetition
of the sacrifice of Christ.12 Because of this official teaching of the Roman Catholic
Church, many Protestants since the Reformation, and still today, are convinced that they
cannot in good conscience actually participate in the Roman Catholic mass, because
it would seem to be an endorsement of the Catholic view that the sacrifice of Christ is
repeated every time the mass is offered.
The New Testament emphasis on the completion and finality of Christ’s sacrifice of
himself for us has much practical application, because it assures us that there is no more
penalty for sin left for us to pay. The penalty has entirely been paid by Christ, and we
should have no remaining fear of condemnation or punishment.
(3) The Meaning of the Blood of Christ: The New Testament frequently connects the
blood of Christ with our redemption. For example, Peter says, “You know that you were
ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things
such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without
blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18 – 19).
The blood of Christ is the clear outward evidence that his life blood was poured
out when he died a sacrificial death to pay for our redemption — “the blood of Christ”
12Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. Patrick
Lynch (Rockford, Ill.: TAN, 1960), p. 408, says, “In the
Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrifice of the Cross the Sacrificial
Gift and the Primary Sacrificing Priest are identical; only
the nature and the mode of the offering are different. . . . according
to the Thomistic view, in every Mass Christ also performs
an actual immediate sacrificial activity, which, however, must
not be conceived as a totality of many successive acts but as one
single uninterrupted sacrificial act of the Transfigured Christ.
The purpose of the Sacrifice is the same in the Sacrifice of the
Mass as in the Sacrifice of the Cross; primarily the glorification
of God, secondarily atonement, thanksgiving and appeal.”
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
means his death in its saving aspects.13 Although we may think that Christ’s blood (as
evidence that his life had been given) would have exclusive reference to the removal of
our judicial guilt before God — for this is its primary reference — the New Testament
authors also attribute to it several other effects. By the blood of Christ our consciences
are cleansed (Heb. 9:14), we gain bold access to God in worship and prayer (Heb. 10:19),
we are progressively cleansed from remaining sin (1 John 1:7; cf. Rev. 1:5b), we are able
to conquer the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10 – 11), and we are rescued out of a sinful
way of life (1 Peter 1:18 – 19).14
Scripture speaks so much about the blood of Christ because its shedding was very clear
evidence that his life was being given in judicial execution (that is, he was condemned to
death and died paying a penalty imposed both by an earthly human judge and by God
himself in heaven). Scripture’s emphasis on the blood of Christ also shows the clear connection
between Christ’s death and the many sacrifices in the Old Testament that involved
the pouring out of the life blood of the sacrificial animal. These sacrifices all pointed
forward to and prefigured the death of Christ.
(4) Christ’s Death as “Penal Substitution”: The view of Christ’s death presented here has
frequently been called the theory of “penal substitution.” Christ’s death was “penal” in that
he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a “substitution” in that he was a substitute
for us when he died. This has been the orthodox understanding of the atonement held
by evangelical theologians, in contrast to other views that attempt to explain the atonement
apart from the idea of the wrath of God or payment of the penalty for sin (see below).
This view of the atonement is sometimes called the theory of vicarious atonement. A
“vicar” is someone who stands in the place of another or who represents another. Christ’s
death was therefore “vicarious” because he stood in our place and represented us. As our
representative, he took the penalty that we deserve.
d. New Testament Terms Describing Different Aspects of the Atonement: The atoning
work of Christ is a complex event that has several effects on us. It can therefore be viewed
from several different aspects. The New Testament uses different words to describe these;
we shall examine four of the more important terms.
The four terms show how Christ’s death met the four needs that we have as sinners:
1. We deserve to die as the penalty for sin.
2. We deserve to bear God’s wrath against sin.
3. We are separated from God by our sins.
4. We are in bondage to sin and to the kingdom of Satan.
These four needs are met by Christ’s death in the following ways:
(1) Sacrifice: To pay the penalty of death that we deserved because of our sins, Christ
died as a sacrifice for us. “He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away
sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).
13So Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross,
pp. 112 – 26.
14This paragraph has been taken from Grudem, 1 Peter,
p. 84.
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Chapter 3 • The Atonement
(2) Propitiation: To remove us from the wrath of God that we deserved, Christ died as a
propitiation for our sins. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and
sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NASB).
(3) Reconciliation: To overcome our separation from God, we needed someone to provide
reconciliation and thereby bring us back into fellowship with God. Paul says that
God “through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:18 – 19).
(4) Redemption: Because we as sinners are in bondage to sin and to Satan, we need
someone to provide redemption and thereby “redeem” us out of that bondage. When we
speak of redemption, the idea of a “ransom” comes into view. A ransom is the price paid
to redeem someone from bondage or captivity. Jesus said of himself, “For the Son of man
also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark
10:45). If we ask to whom the ransom was paid, we realize that the human analogy of a
ransom payment does not fit the atonement of Christ in every detail. Though we were
in bondage to sin and to Satan, there was no “ransom” paid either to “sin” or to Satan
himself, for they did not have power to demand such payment, nor was Satan the one
whose holiness was offended by sin and who required a penalty to be paid for sin. As we
saw earlier, the penalty for sin was paid by Christ and received and accepted by God the
Father. But we hesitate to speak of paying a “ransom” to God the Father, because it was
not he who held us in bondage but Satan and our own sins. Therefore at this point the
idea of a ransom payment cannot be pressed in every detail. It is sufficient to note that
a price was paid (the death of Christ) and the result was that we were “redeemed” from
bondage.
We were redeemed from bondage to Satan because “the whole world is in the power
of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), and when Christ came he died to “deliver all those who
through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb. 2:15). In fact, God the
Father “has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the
kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
As for deliverance from bondage to sin, Paul says, “So you also must consider yourselves
dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. . . . For sin will have no dominion
over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:11, 14). We have been
delivered from bondage to the guilt of sin and from bondage to its ruling power in our
lives.
e. Other Views of the Atonement: In contrast to the penal substitution view of the atonement
presented in this chapter, several other views have been advocated in the history
of the church.
(1) The Ransom to Satan Theory: This view was held by Origen (c. A.D. 185 – c. 254), a
theologian from Alexandria and later Caesarea, and after him by some others in the early
history of the church. According to this view, the ransom Christ paid to redeem us was
paid to Satan, in whose kingdom all people were by virtue of sin.
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
This theory finds no direct confirmation in Scripture and has few supporters in the
history of the church. It falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required
that a payment be made for sin and thus completely neglects the demands of God’s justice
with respect to sin. It views Satan as having much more power than he actually does,
namely, power to demand whatever he wants from God, rather than as one who has been
cast down from heaven and has no right to demand anything of God. Nowhere does
Scripture say that we as sinners owe anything to Satan, but it repeatedly says that God
requires of us a payment for our sins. This view also fails to deal with the texts that speak
of Christ’s death as a propitiation offered to God the Father for our sins, or with the fact
that God the Father represented the Trinity in accepting the payment for sins from Christ
(see discussion above).
(2) The Moral Influence Theory: First advocated by Peter Abelard (1079 – 1142), a French
theologian, the moral influence theory of the atonement holds that God did not require
the payment of a penalty for sin, but that Christ’s death was simply a way in which God
showed how much he loved human beings by identifying with their sufferings, even to
the point of death. Christ’s death therefore becomes a great teaching example that shows
God’s love to us and draws from us a grateful response, so that in loving him we are
forgiven.
The great difficulty with this viewpoint is that it is contrary to so many passages of
Scripture that speak of Christ dying for sin, bearing our sin, or dying as a propitiation.
Moreover, it robs the atonement of its objective character, because it holds that the atonement
had no effect on God himself. Finally, it has no way of dealing with our guilt — if
Christ did not die to pay for our sins, we have no right to trust in him for forgiveness
of sins.
(3) The Example Theory: The example theory of the atonement was taught by the Socinians,
the followers of Faustus Socinus (1539 – 1604), an Italian theologian who settled
in Poland in 1578 and attracted a wide following.15 The example theory, like the moral
influence theory, also denies that God’s justice requires payment for sin; it says that
Christ’s death simply provides us with an example of how we should trust and obey God
perfectly, even if that trust and obedience leads to a horrible death. Whereas the moral
influence theory says that Christ’s death teaches us how much God loves us, the example
theory says that Christ’s death teaches us how we should live. Support for this view could
be found in 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered
for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
While it is true that Christ is an example for us even in his death, the question is
whether this fact is the complete explanation of the atonement. The example theory fails
to account for the many Scriptures that focus on Christ’s death as a payment for sin, the
fact that Christ bore our sins, and the fact that he was the propitiation for our sins. These
considerations alone mean that the theory must be rejected. Moreover, this view really
15The Socinians were anti-trinitarian since they denied the
deity of Christ; their thought led to modern Unitarianism.
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Chapter 3 • The Atonement
ends up arguing that man can save himself by following Christ’s example and by trusting
and obeying God just as Christ did. Thus it fails to show how the guilt of our sin can be
removed, because it does not hold that Christ actually paid the penalty for our sins or
made provision for our guilt when he died.
(4) The Governmental Theory: The governmental theory of the atonement was first
taught by a Dutch theologian and jurist, Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645). This theory holds
that God did not actually have to require payment for sin, but, since he was omnipotent
God, he could have set aside that requirement and simply forgiven sins without the payment
of a penalty. Then what was the purpose of Christ’s death? It was God’s demonstration
of the fact that his laws had been broken, that he is the moral lawgiver and governor
of the universe, and that some kind of penalty would be required whenever his laws were
broken. Thus Christ did not exactly pay the penalty for the actual sins of any people, but
simply suffered to show that when God’s laws are broken there must be some penalty paid.
The problem with this view again is that it fails to account adequately for all the
Scriptures that speak of Christ bearing our sins on the cross, of God laying on Christ the
iniquity of us all, of Christ dying specifically for our sins, and of Christ being the propitiation
for our sins. Moreover, it takes away the objective character of the atonement by
making its purpose not the satisfaction of God’s justice but simply that of influencing
us to realize that God has laws that must be kept. This view also implies that we cannot
rightly trust in Christ’s completed work for forgiveness of sin, because he has not actually
made payment for those sins. Moreover, it makes the actual earning of forgiveness
for us something that happened in God’s own mind apart from the death of Christ on
the cross — he had already decided to forgive us without requiring any penalty from us
and then punished Christ only to demonstrate that he was still the moral governor of the
universe. But this means that Christ (in this view) did not actually earn forgiveness or
salvation for us, and thus the value of his redemptive work is greatly minimized. Finally,
this theory fails to take adequate account of the unchangeableness of God and the infinite
purity of his justice. To say that God can forgive sins without requiring any penalty (in
spite of the fact that throughout Scripture sin always requires the payment of a penalty)
is seriously to underestimate the absolute character of the justice of God.
f. Did Christ Descend into Hell?16 It is sometimes argued that Christ descended into
hell after he died. The phrase “he descended into hell” does not occur in the Bible. But
the widely used Apostles’ Creed reads, “was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended
into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead.” Does this mean that Christ endured
further suffering after his death on the cross? As we shall see below, an examination of the
biblical evidence indicates that he did not. But before looking at the relevant biblical texts,
it is appropriate to examine the phrase “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed.
(1) The Origin of the Phrase, “He Descended into Hell”: A murky background lies
behind much of the history of the phrase itself. Its origins, where they can be found, are
16The following section is taken from Wayne Grudem, “He
Did Not Descend Into Hell: A Plea for Following Scripture
Instead of the Apostles’ Creed,” JETS vol. 34, no. 1 (March,
1991), pp. 103 – 13.
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
THE GRADUAL FORMATION OF THE APOSTLES’ CREED
CREDO (I believe)
Art. III
Ultimate Text of the
Western Creed
Qui Conceptus est De Spirita Sancto Natus Ex Maria Virgine
Pirminius, A.D. 750 Who was
conceived
By the Holy
Ghost
Born Of the Virgin
Mary
I.
St. Irenaeus,
A.D. 200
to ©n sarkwqe
nv ta upJ er©
th ßç hmJ eterv aß
swthriav ß
(a [nqrwpoß
e jge vneto)
(Generationum) thn© ekj parqe -v
nou ge vnnhsin
(ex Virgine)
II.
Tertullian,
A.D. 220
(missum a Petre
in Virginem)
(EX SPIRITU
Patris Dei et
virtute)
NATUM (carnem
factum et ex ea
natum)
EX VIRGINE
MARIA
III.
St. Cyprian,
A.D. 250
IV.
Novatian,
A.D. 260
V.
Marcellus,
A.D. 341
ekj pneumv atoß
agJ iov u
gennhqe nv ta kai © Mariav ß
th çß parqe vnou
VI.
Rufinus,
A.D. 390
Aquileja
QUI de Spiritu
SANCTO
natus est ex Maria Virgine
VII.
Rufinus,
Rome, A.D. 390
qui de Spiritu Sancto natus est ex Maria Virgine
VIII.
St. Augustine,
A.D. 400
qui de Spiritu Santo
also [per Sp.
Sanct.]
natus est ex Maria Virgine
also [et]
IX.
St. Nicetas,
A.D. 450
qui ex Spiritu Sancto natus est et Virgine Maria
X.
Eusebius Gallus,
A.D. 550 (?)
qui de Spiritu Sancto natus est ex Maria Virgine
XI.
Sacramentarium
Gallicanum.
A.D. 650
qui conceptus
est
de Spiritu Sancto natus est ex Maria Virgine
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Chapter 3 • The Atonement
THE GRADUAL FORMATION OF THE APOSTLES’ CREED
Art. III
Passus Sub Pontio Pilato Crucifixus Mortuus Et Sepultus
Suffered Under Pontius
Pilate
Was crucified Dead And buried
kai © to © pa vqoß (SUB PONTIO
PILATO)
CRUCIFIXUM
(passum)
sub Pontio Pilato (MORTUUM) (ET SEPULTUM
secundum
Scripturas)
ton© epj i © pontiov u
pilatv ou
staurwqe vnta kai © tafe vnta
sub Pontio Pilate crucifixus et sepultus
sub Pontio Pilate crucifixus et sepultus
passus sub Pontio Pilate crucifixus et sepultus
passus sub Pontio Pilate
mortuus et sepultus
passus sub Pontio Pilate crucifixus mortuus et sepultus
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
THE GRADUAL FORMATION OF THE APOSTLES’ CREED
Art. V Art. VI
Descendit ad
Inferna
Tertia die Resurrexit a mortuis Ascendit ad
coelos
Sedet ad dexteram
He descended
into hell
The third day He rose again From the dead He ascended
into heaven
And sitteth
at the right
hand
kai © th ©n
e [gersin (et
resurgens)
ekj nekrw çn eißj touß©
ourj anouß©
a jna vlhmyin
(et in claritate
receptus)
TERTIA DIE resuscitatum
(a Patre)
(resurrexisse)
E MORTUIS receptum in
coelis (in coelos
resumptum)
(in coelos
ereptum)
SEDENTEM
nunc AD
DEXTERAM
kai © th ç /
tritv h / hmJ erv a
a nj astanv ta ekj tw çn
nekrw çn
a jnaba vnta
eißj touß©
ourj anoußv
kai © kaqhme
vnon e jn
dexiav
DESCENDIT in
INFERNA
tertia die RESURREXIT A mortuis ASCENDIT in
COELOS
SEDET ad
dexteram
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis ascendit in
coelos
SEDET ad
dexteram
tertio die resurrexit a mortuis ascendit in
coelos
sedet ad
dexteram
tertio die resurrexit vivus a mortuis
ascendit in
coelos
sedet ad
dexteram
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis ascendit AD
coelos
sedet ad
dexteram
Descendit AD
Inferna
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis ascendit ad
coelos
sedet ad
dexteram
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Chapter 3 • The Atonement
far from praiseworthy. The great church historian Philip Schaff has summarized the
development of the Apostles’ Creed in an extensive chart, part of which is reproduced in
part on pages 86 – 88.17
This chart shows that, unlike the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition, the
Apostles’ Creed was not written or approved by a single church council at one specific
time. Rather, it gradually took shape from about A.D. 200 to 750.
It is surprising to find that the phrase “he descended into hell” was not found in any
of the early versions of the Creed (in the versions used in Rome, in the rest of Italy, and
in Africa) until it appeared in one of two versions from Rufinus in A.D. 390. Then it
was not included again in any version of the Creed until A.D. 650. Moreover, Rufinus,
the only person who included it before A.D. 650, did not think that it meant that Christ
descended into hell, but understood the phrase simply to mean that Christ was “buried.”
18 In other words, he took it to mean that Christ “descended into the grave.” (The
Greek form has hadesm , which can mean just “grave,” not geenna, “hell, place of punishment.”).
We should also note that the phrase only appears in one of the two versions of
the Creed that we have from Rufinus: it was not in the Roman form of the Creed that
he preserved.
This means, therefore, that until A.D. 650 no version of the Creed included this phrase
with the intention of saying that Christ “descended into hell” — the only version to
include the phrase before A.D. 650 gives it a different meaning. At this point one wonders
if the term apostolic can in any sense be applied to this phrase, or if it really has a rightful
place in a creed whose title claims for itself descent from the earliest apostles of Christ.
This survey of the historical development of the phrase also raises the possibility
that when the phrase first began to be more commonly used, it may have been in other
versions (now lost to us) that did not have the expression “and buried.” If so, it probably
would have meant to others just what it meant to Rufinus: “descended into the grave.”
But later when the phrase was incorporated into different versions of the Creed that
already had the phrase “and buried,” some other explanation had to be given to it. This
mistaken insertion of the phrase after the words “and buried” — apparently done by
someone around A.D. 650 — led to all sorts of attempts to explain “he descended into
hell” in some way that did not contradict the rest of Scripture.
Some have taken it to mean that Christ suffered the pains of hell while on the cross.
Calvin, for example, says that “Christ’s descent into hell” refers to the fact that he not
only died a bodily death but that “it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo
the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment.”19
17This chart is taken from The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols.
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 reprint of 1931 edition), 2:52 – 55.
18See Schaff, Creeds, 1.21, n. 6; see also 46, n. 2. Schaff
notes that the phrase was found somewhat earlier (around
A.D. 360), but then it was not in any orthodox creeds or any
versions of the Apostles’ Creed but in some creeds of the Arians
— people who denied the full deity of Christ, holding that
the Son was created by the Father (see Schaff, Creeds, 2.46, n.
2). (Schaff does not give documentation for this reference to
Arian creeds.)
It should be noted that Schaff throughout his Creeds of
Christendom has several editorial comments defending an
actual descent of Christ into hell after his death on the cross.
Thus, for example, he says that “Rufinus himself, however,
misunderstood it by making it to mean the same as buried”
(1.21, n. 6) — thus Schaff assumes that to understand the
phrase to mean “he descended into the grave” is to misunderstand
it (see also 2.46, n. 2; 3.321, n. 1).
19John Calvin, Institutes of the Chris tian Religion, 1.515
(2.16.10).
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Similarly, the Heidelberg Catechism, Question 44, asks,
Why is it added: He descended into Hades?
Answer: That in my greatest temptations I may be assured that Christ, my
Lord, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, and terrors which he suffered in his
soul on the cross and before, has redeemed me from the anguish and torment
of hell.20
But is this a satisfactory explanation of the phrase, “he descended into hell”? While it
is true that Christ suffered the outpouring of God’s wrath on the cross, this explanation
does not really fit the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed — “descended” hardly represents this
idea, and the placement of the phrase after “was crucified, dead, and buried” makes this
an artificial and unconvincing interpretation.
Others have understood it to mean that Christ continued in the “state of death” until
his resurrection. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 50, says,
Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing
in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day;
which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.
Though it is true that Christ continued in the state of death until the third day, once
again it is a strained and unpersuasive explanation of “he descended into hell,” for the
placement of the phrase would then give the awkward sense, “he was crucified, dead,
and buried; he descended to being dead.” This interpretation does not explain what the
words first meant in this sequence but is rather an unconvincing attempt to salvage some
theologically acceptable sense out of them.
Moreover, the English word “hell” has no such sense as simply “being dead” (though
the Greek word hadesm can mean this), so this becomes a doubly artificial explanation for
English-speaking people.
Finally, some have argued that the phrase means just what it appears to mean on first
reading: that Christ actually did descend into hell after his death on the cross. It is easy
to understand the Apostles’ Creed to mean just this (indeed, that is certainly the natural
sense), but then another question arises: Can this idea be supported from Scripture?
(2) Possible Biblical Support for a Descent into Hell: Support for the idea that Christ
descended into hell has been found primarily in five passages: Acts 2:27; Romans 10:6 – 7;
Ephesians 4:8 – 9; 1 Peter 3:18 – 20; and 1 Peter 4:6. (A few other passages have been
appealed to, but less convincingly.)21 On closer inspection, do any of those passages
clearly establish this teaching?
(a) Acts 2:27. This is part of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, where he is quoting
Psalm 16:10. In the King James Version the verse reads: “because thou wilt not leave
my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
20Schaff, Creeds, 3.321.
21For example, Matt. 12:40, which says that Christ will be
three days and nights “in the heart of the earth,” simply refers
to the fact that he was in the grave between his death and
resurrection (cf., in the LXX, Ps. 45[46]:2 with Jonah 2:3).
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Does this mean that Christ entered hell after he died? Not necessarily, because
another sense is certainly possible for these verses. The word “hell” here represents a
New Testament Greek term (hadesm ) and an Old Testament Hebrew term (seh ’ôl, popularly
translated as sheol) that can mean simply “the grave” or “death” (the state of being
dead). Thus, the NIV translates: “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will
you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:27). This sense is preferable because the context
emphasizes that Christ’s body rose from the grave, unlike David’s, which remained in
the grave. The reasoning is: “My body also will live in hope” (v. 26), “because you will
not abandon me to the grave” (v. 27). Peter is using David’s psalm to show that Christ’s
body did not decay — he is therefore unlike David, who “died and was buried, and his
tomb is here to this day” (v. 29 NIV). Therefore this passage about Christ’s resurrection
from the grave does not convincingly support the idea that Christ descended into hell.
(b) Romans 10:6 – 7. These verses contain two rhetorical questions, again Old Testament
quotations (from Deut. 30:13): “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into
heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to
bring Christ up from the dead).” But this passage hardly teaches that Christ descended
into hell. The point of the passage is that Paul is telling people not to ask these questions,
because Christ is not far away — he is near — and faith in him is as near as confessing
with our mouth and believing in our heart (v. 9). These prohibited questions are questions
of unbelief, not assertions of what Scripture teaches. However, some may object
that Paul would not have anticipated that his readers would ask such questions unless it
was widely known that Christ did in fact descend “into the abyss.” However, even if this
were true, Scripture would not be saying or implying that Christ went into “hell” (in the
sense of a place of punishment for the dead, ordinarily expressed by Gk. geenna), but
rather that he went into “the abyss” (Gk. abyssos, a term which often in the LXX is used
of the depths of the ocean [Gen. 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 8:7; Ps. 106(107):26], but it can also
apparently refer just to the realm of the dead [Ps. 70(71):20]).22
Paul here uses the word “deep” (abyssos) as a contrast to “heaven” in order to give
the sense of a place that is unreachable, inaccessible to human beings. The contrast is
not, “Who shall go to find Christ in a place of great blessing (heaven) or a place of great
punishment (hell)?” but rather, “Who shall go to find Christ in a place that is inaccessibly
high (heaven) or in a place that is inaccessibly low (the deep, or the realm of death)?” No
clear affirmation or denial of a “descent into hell” can be found in this passage.
(c) Ephesians 4:8 – 9. Here Paul writes, “In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean
but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?”
Does this mean that Christ “descended” to hell? It is at first unclear what is meant by “the
lower parts of the earth,” but another translation seems to give the best sense: “What does
‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” (NIV). Here
221 Clem. 28:3 uses abyssos instead of the Septuagint’s hadesm
to translate Ps. 139:8, “If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!”
In the New Testament, the term is used only in Luke 8:31; Rom.
10:7; and seven times in Revelation (there it refers to the “bottomless
pit”). Therefore, although the term can refer to the
abode of condemned demons (as in Revelation), this is not its
common sense in the LXX or a necessary sense in its New Testament
usage. The primary force of the term is a place that is deep,
unfathomable to human beings, ordinarily unable to be reached
by them. (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,
1975), 2.525, notes that abyssos is the ordinary LXX translation
for Hebrew tehomm , and that tehomm is used in the Mishnah [Pesahim
7:7; Nazir 9:2] to refer to a grave that had been unknown.)
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the NIV takes “descended” to refer to Christ’s coming to earth as a baby (the Incarnation).
The last four words are an acceptable understanding of the Greek text, taking the phrase “the
lower regions of the earth” to mean “lower regions which are the earth” (the grammatical
form in Greek would then be called a genitive of apposition). We do the same thing in English
— for example, in the phrase “the city of Chicago,” we mean “the city which is Chicago.”
The NIV rendering is preferable in this context because Paul is saying that the Christ
who went up to heaven (in his ascension) is the same one who earlier came down from
heaven (v. 10). That “descent” from heaven occurred, of course, when Christ came to be
born as a man. So the verse speaks of the incarnation, not of a descent into hell.23
(d) 1 Peter 3:18 – 20. For many people this is the most puzzling passage on this entire
subject. Peter tells us that Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the
spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey,
when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (RSV).
Does this refer to Christ preaching in hell?
Some have taken “he went and preached to the spirits in prison” to mean that Christ
went into hell and preached to the spirits who were there — either proclaiming the gospel
and offering a second chance to repent, or just proclaiming that he had triumphed over
them and that they were eternally condemned.
But these interpretations fail to explain adequately either the passage itself or its setting
in this context. Peter does not say that Christ preached to spirits generally, but only
to those “who formerly did not obey . . . during the building of the ark.” Such a limited
audience — those who disobeyed during the building of the ark — would be a strange
group for Christ to travel to hell and preach to. If Christ proclaimed his triumph, why
only to these sinners and not to all? And if he offered a second chance for salvation, why
only to these sinners and not to all? Even more difficult for this view is the fact that
Scripture elsewhere indicates that there is no opportunity for repentance after death
(Luke 16:26; Heb. 10:26 – 27).
Moreover, the context of 1 Peter 3 makes “preaching in hell” unlikely. Peter is encouraging
his readers to witness boldly to hostile unbelievers around them. He just told them
to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
This evangelistic motif would lose its urgency if Peter were teaching a second chance for
salvation after death. And it would not fit at all with a “preaching” of condemnation.
Does it refer to Christ preaching to fallen angels?
To give a better explanation for these difficulties, several commentators have proposed
taking “spirits in prison” to mean demonic spirits, the spirits of fallen angels, and
have said that Christ proclaimed condemnation to these demons. This (it is claimed)
would comfort Peter’s readers by showing them that the demonic forces oppressing them
would also be defeated by Christ.
However, Peter’s readers would have to go through an incredibly complicated reasoning
process to draw this conclusion when Peter does not explicitly teach it. They would
have to reason from (1) some demons who sinned long ago were condemned, to (2) other
23Referring to Eph. 4:9, H. Bietenhard says, “In modern
exposition the reference of this passage to the descensus ad
inferos (“he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed) is
almost without exception rejected” (NIDNTT, 2:210).
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demons are now inciting your human persecutors, to (3) those demons will likewise be
condemned someday, to (4) therefore your persecutors will finally be judged as well.
Finally Peter’s readers would get to Peter’s point: (5) Therefore don’t fear your persecutors.
Those who hold this “preaching to fallen angels” view must assume that Peter’s readers
would “read between the lines” and conclude all this (points 2 – 5) from the simple statement
that Christ “preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey” (1 Peter
3:19 – 20). But does it not seem too farfetched to say that Peter knew his readers would
read all this into the text?
Moreover, Peter emphasizes hostile persons, not demons, in the context (1 Peter 3:14,
16). And where would Peter’s readers get the idea that angels sinned “during the building
of the ark”? There is nothing of that in the Genesis story about the building of the ark.
And (in spite of what some have claimed), if we look at all the traditions of Jewish interpretation
of the flood story, we find no mention of angels sinning specifically “during the
building of the ark.”24 Therefore the view that Peter is speaking of Christ’s proclamation
of judgment to fallen angels is really not persuasive either.
Does it refer to Christ’s proclaiming release to Old Testament saints?
Another explanation is that Christ, after his death, went and proclaimed release to
Old Testament believers who had been unable to enter heaven until the completion of
Christ’s redemptive work.
But again we may question whether this view adequately accounts for what the text
actually says. It does not say that Christ preached to those who were believers or faithful
to God, but to those “who formerly did not obey” — the emphasis is on their disobedience.
Moreover, Peter does not specify Old Testament believers generally, but only those who
were disobedient “in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (1 Peter 3:20).
Finally, Scripture gives us no clear evidence to make us think that full access to the
blessings of being in God’s presence in heaven were withheld from Old Testament believers
when they died — indeed, several passages suggest that believers who died before
Christ’s death did enter into the presence of God at once because their sins were forgiven
by trusting in the Messiah who was to come (Gen. 5:24; 2 Sam. 12:23; Pss. 16:11; 17:15;
23:6; Eccl. 12:7; Matt. 22:31 – 32; Luke 16:22; Rom. 4:1 – 8; Heb. 11:5).
A more satisfying explanation.
The most satisfactory explanation of 1 Peter 3:19 – 20 seems rather to be one proposed
(but not really defended) long ago by Augustine: the passage refers not to something
Christ did between his death and resurrection, but to what he did “in the spiritual realm of
existence” (or “through the Spirit”) at the time of Noah. When Noah was building the ark,
Christ “in spirit” was preaching through Noah to the hostile unbelievers around him.25
This view gains support from two other statements of Peter. In 1 Peter 1:11, he says
that the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking in the Old Testament prophets. This suggests that
Peter could readily have thought that the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through Noah
24For an extensive discussion of Jewish interpretations of
the sin of the “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2, 4, and of the identity
of those who sinned while the ark was being built, see “Christ
Preaching Through Noah: 1 Peter 3:19 – 20 in the Light of
Dominant Themes in Jewish Literature,” in Grudem, 1 Peter,
pp. 203 – 39. (This appendix has a lengthy discussion of 1 Peter
3:19 – 20, which I have only briefly summarized here.)
25This section is a brief summary of a more extensive discussion
of this passage in Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of
Peter, pp. 157 – 62 and 203 – 39.
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as well. Then in 2 Peter 2:5, he calls Noah a “preacher of righ teousness” (NIV), using
the noun (kerm yx) that comes from the same root as the verb “preached” (ekerm yxen) in 1
Peter 3:19. So it seems likely that when Christ “preached to the spirits in prison” he did
so through Noah in the days before the flood.
The people to whom Christ preached through Noah were unbelievers on the earth
at the time of Noah, but Peter calls them “spirits in prison” because they are now in the
prison of hell — even though they were not just “spirits” but persons on earth when the
preaching was done. (The NASB says Christ preached “to the spirits now in prison.”)
We can speak the same way in English: “I knew President Clinton when he was a college
student” is an appropriate statement, even though he was not president when he was in
college. The sentence means, “I knew the man who is now President Clinton when he
was still a student in college.” So “Christ preached to the spirits in prison” means “Christ
preached to people who are now spirits in prison when they were still persons on earth.”26
This interpretation is very appropriate to the larger context of 1 Peter 3:13 – 22. The
parallel between the situation of Noah and the situation of Peter’s readers is clear at
several points:
Noah Peter’s readers
Righteous minority Righteous minority
Surrounded by hostile Surrounded by hostile
unbelievers unbelievers
God’s judgment was near God’s judgment may come soon
(1 Peter 4:5, 7; 2 Peter 3:10)
Noah witnessed boldly They should witness boldly
(by Christ’s power) by Christ’s power
(1 Peter 3:14, 16 – 17; 3:15; 4:11)
Noah was finally saved They will finally be saved
(1 Peter 3:13 – 14; 4:13; 5:10)
Such an understanding of the text seems to be by far the most likely solution to a puzzling
passage. Yet this means that our fourth possible support for a descent of Christ into
hell also turns up negative — the text speaks rather of something Christ did on earth at
the time of Noah.
(e) 1 Peter 4:6. This fifth and final passage says, “For this is why the gospel was
preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in
the spirit like God.”
Does this verse mean that Christ went to hell and preached the gospel to those who had
died? If so, it would be the only passage in the Bible that taught a “second chance” for salvation
after death and would contradict passages such as Luke 16:19 – 31 and Hebrews 9:27,
26My student Tet-Lim Yee has called my attention to another
very similar expression elsewhere in Scripture: Naomi speaks of
how kindly Ruth and Orpah “have dealt with the dead” (Ruth
1:8), referring to their treatment of their husbands while the
husbands were still alive.
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which clearly seem to deny this possibility. Moreover, the passage does not explicitly say
that Christ preached to people after they had died, and could rather mean that the gospel
in general was preached (this verse does not even say that Christ preached) to people who
are now dead, but that it was preached to them while they were still alive on earth.
This is a common explanation, and it seems to fit this verse much better. It finds
support in the second word of the verse, “this,” which refers back to the final judgment
mentioned at the end of verse 5. Peter is saying that it was because of the final judgment
that the gospel was preached to the dead.
This would comfort the readers concerning their Chris tian friends who had already
died. They may have wondered, “Did the gospel benefit them, since it didn’t save them
from death?” Peter answers that the reason the gospel was preached to those who had
died was not to save them from physical death (they were “judged in the flesh like men”)
but to save them from final judgment (they will “live in the spirit like God”). Therefore,
the fact that they had died did not indicate that the gospel had failed in its purpose — for
they would surely live forever in the spiritual realm.
Thus, “the dead” are people who have died and are now dead, even though they were
alive and on earth when the gospel was preached to them. (The NIV translates, “For
this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead,” and NASB
has “those who are dead.”) This avoids the doctrinal problem of a “second chance” of
salvation after death and fits both the wording and the context of the verse.
We conclude, therefore, that this last passage, when viewed in its context, turns out to
provide no convincing support for the doctrine of a descent of Christ into hell.
At this point, people on all sides of the question of whether Christ actually descended
into hell should be able to agree at least that the idea of Christ’s “descent into hell” is not
taught clearly or explicitly in any passage of Scripture. And many people (including the
present author) will conclude that this idea is not taught in Scripture at all. But beyond
the question of whether any passage positively teaches this idea, we must ask whether it
is contrary to any passages of Scripture.
(3) Biblical Opposition to a “Descent into Hell”: In addition to the fact that there is little
if any biblical support for a descent of Christ into hell, there are some New Testament
texts that argue against the possibility of Christ’s going to hell after his death.
Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke
23:43), imply that after Jesus died his soul (or spirit) went immediately to the presence of
the Father in heaven, even though his body remained on earth and was buried. Some people
deny this by arguing that “Paradise” is a place distinct from heaven, but in both of the other
New Testament uses the word clearly means “heaven”: in 2 Co rin thi ans 12:4 it is the place
to which Paul was caught up in his revelation of heaven, and in Revelation 2:7 it is the place
where we find the tree of life — which is clearly heaven in Revelation 22:2 and 14.27
27Further support for this idea is found in the fact that
though the word paradeisos, “paradise,” could simply mean
“pleasant garden” (esp. used in the LXX of the Garden of
Eden), it also frequently meant “heaven” or “a place of blessedness
in the presence of God”: see Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 28:13; 31:8 – 9;
T. Levi 18:10; 1 Enoch 20:7; 32:3; Sib. Or. 3:48. This was increasingly
the sense of the term in intertestamental Jewish literature
(for several more references see Joachim Jeremias, paradeisos,
TDNT 5 [1967], pp. 765 – 73, esp. 767, nn. 16 – 23).
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In addition, the cry of Jesus, “It is finished” (John 19:30) strongly suggests that Christ’s
suffering was finished at that moment and so was his alienation from the Father because
of bearing our sin. This implies that he would not descend into hell, but would go at once
into the Father’s presence.
Finally, the cry, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), also suggests
that Christ expected (correctly) the immediate end of his suffering and estrangement
and the welcoming of his spirit into heaven by God the Father (note Stephen’s
similar cry in Acts 7:59).
These texts indicate, then, that Christ in his death experienced the same things believers
in this present age experience when they die: his dead body remained on earth and
was buried (as ours will be), but his spirit (or soul) passed immediately into the presence
of God in heaven (just as ours will). Then on the first Easter morning, Christ’s spirit was
reunited with his body and he was raised from the dead — just as Chris tians who have
died will (when Christ returns) be reunited to their bodies and raised in their perfect
resurrection bodies to new life.28
This fact has pastoral encouragement for us: we need not fear death, not only because
eternal life lies on the other side, but also because we know that our Savior himself has
gone through exactly the same experience we will go through — he has prepared, even
sanctified the way, and we follow him with confidence each step of that way. This is
much greater comfort regarding death than could ever be given by any view of a descent
into hell.
(4) Conclusion Regarding the Apostles’ Creed and the Question of Christ’s Possible
Descent into Hell: Does the phrase “he descended into hell” deserve to be retained in
the Apostles’ Creed alongside the great doctrines of the faith on which all can agree? The
single argument in its favor seems to be the fact that it has been around so long. But an
old mistake is still a mistake — and as long as it has been around there has been confusion
and disagreement over its meaning.
On the other side, there are several compelling reasons against keeping the phrase.
It has no clear warrant from Scripture and indeed seems to be contradicted by some
passages in Scripture. It has no claim to being “apostolic” and no support (in the sense
of a “descent into hell”) from the first six centuries of the church. It was not in the earliest
versions of the Creed and was only included in it later because of an apparent misunderstanding
about its meaning. Unlike every other phrase in the Creed, it represents
not some major doctrine on which all Chris tians agree, but rather a statement about
which most Chris tians seem to disagree.29 It is at best confusing and in most cases mis-
28John 20:17 (“Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended
to the Father”) is best understood to mean that Jesus in his new
resurrected state, with a resurrection body, had not yet ascended
back to heaven; therefore, Mary should not try to hold on to
Jesus’ body. The perfect tense of anabebekm a, “ascended,” gives
the sense, “I have not yet ascended and remained in the place
where I ascended” or “I am not yet in the ascended state” (the
latter phrase is from D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John
[Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1991], p. 644).
29Randall E. Otto adopts a similar recommendation: “To
include such a mysterious article in the creed, which is supposed
to be a summary of the basic and vital tenets of the
faith, seems very unwise” (“Descendit in Inferna: A Reformed
Review of a Doctrinal Conundrum,” WTJ 52 [1990], p. 150).
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leading for modern Chris tians. My own judgment is that there would be all gain and no
loss if it were dropped from the Creed once for all.
Concerning the doctrinal question of whether Christ did descend into hell after he
died, the answer from several passages of Scripture seems clearly to be no.
D. The Extent of the Atonement
One of the differences between Reformed theologians and other Catholic and Protestant
theologians has been the question of the extent of the atonement. The question
may be put this way: when Christ died on the cross, did he pay for the sins of the entire
human race or only for the sins of those who he knew would ultimately be saved?
Non-Reformed people argue that the gospel offer in Scripture is repeatedly made to
all people, and for this offer to be genuine, the payment for sins must have already been
made and must be actually available for all people. They also say that if the people whose
sins Christ paid for are limited, then the free offer of the gospel also is limited, and the
offer of the gospel cannot be made to all mankind without exception.
On the other hand, Reformed people argue that if Christ’s death actually paid for the
sins of every person who ever lived, then there is no penalty left for anyone to pay, and it
necessarily follows that all people will be saved, without exception. For God could not
condemn to eternal punishment anyone whose sins are already paid for: that would be
demanding double payment, and it would therefore be unjust. In answer to the objection
that this compromises the free offer of the gospel to every person, Reformed people
answer that we do not know who they are who will come to trust in Christ, for only
God knows that. As far as we are concerned, the free offer of the gospel is to be made
to everybody without exception. We also know that everyone who repents and believes
in Christ will be saved, so all are called to repentance (cf. Acts 17:30). The fact that
God foreknew who would be saved, and that he accepted Christ’s death as payment for
their sins only, does not inhibit the free offer of the gospel, for who will respond to it is
hidden in the secret counsels of God. That we do not know who will respond no more
constitutes a reason for not offering the gospel to all than not knowing the extent of the
harvest prevents the farmer from sowing seed in his fields.
Finally, Reformed people argue that God’s purposes in redemption are agreed upon
within the Trinity and they are certainly accomplished. Those whom God planned to
save are the same people for whom Christ also came to die, and to those same people
the Holy Spirit will certainly apply the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, even awakening
their faith (John 1:12; Phil. 1:29; cf. Eph. 2:2) and calling them to trust in him.
What God the Father purposed, God the Son and the Holy Spirit agreed to and surely
carried out.
1. Scripture Passages Used to Support the Reformed View. Several Scripture passages
speak of the fact that Christ died for his people. “The good shepherd lays down his life
for the sheep” (John 10:11). “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Paul speaks of
“the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). He
also says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also
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give us all things with him?” (Rom. 8:32). This passage indicates a connection between
God’s purpose in giving up his Son “for us all” and giving us “all things” that pertain to
salvation as well. In the next sentence Paul clearly limits the application of this to those
who will be saved because he says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”
(Rom. 8:33) and in the next verse mentions Christ’s death as a reason why no one shall
bring a charge against the elect (8:34). In another passage, Paul says, “Husbands, love
your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).
Moreover, Christ during his earthly ministry is aware of a group of people whom the
Father has given to him. “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who
comes to me I will not cast out . . . this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose
nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day” (John 6:37 – 39). He
also says, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for
they are yours” (John 17:9). He then goes on from this specific reference to the disciples
to say, “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their
word” (John 17:20).
Finally, some passages speak of a definite transaction between the Father and the
Son when Christ died, a transaction that had specific reference to those who would
believe. For example, Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet
sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He adds, “For if while we were enemies we were
reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall
we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). This reconciliation to God occurred with respect
to the specific people who would be saved, and it occurred “while we were enemies.”
Similarly, Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him
we might become the righ teousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:7). And
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
Further support for the Reformed view is found in the consideration that all the
blessings of salvation, including faith, repentance, and all of the works of the Holy Spirit
in applying redemption, were also secured by Christ’s redemptive work specifically for
his people. Those for whom he earned forgiveness also have had those other benefits
earned for them (cf. Eph. 1:3 – 4; 2:8; Phil. 1:29).30
What I have called “the Reformed view” in this section is commonly referred to as
“limited atonement.”31 However, most theologians who hold this position today do not
30I am not aware of any Arminians who hold what I have
called the “Reformed view,” the view that is commonly called
“particular redemption” or “limited atonement.” But it does
not seem logically impossible for someone to hold a traditional
Arminian position (that God foreknew who would believe and
predestined them on the basis of that foreknowledge) coupled
with the belief that Christ’s death actually paid the penalty for
the sins of those who God knew would believe and not for any
others. This is just to say that, while “limited atonement” is
necessarily part of a Reformed viewpoint because it logically
follows from the overall sovereignty of God in the entire work
of redemption, one could (in theory at least) hold to “limited
atonement” and not adopt a Reformed position on other points
concerning God’s sovereignty in life generally or in salvation
in particular.
31Thus, it is the “L” in the acronym “TULIP,” which represents
the so-called “five points of Calvinism,” five doctrinal
positions that distinguish Calvinists or Reformed theologians
from many other Protestants. The five points represented by
the word are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited
atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.
(Whenever this book advocates these five doctrinal points, it
attempts to point out the arguments in favor of an opposing
position and provide an appropriate bibliography representing
both views.)
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prefer the term “limited atonement” because it is so easily subject to misunderstanding,
as if this view somehow held that Christ’s atoning work was deficient in some way. The
term that is usually preferred is particular redemption, since this view holds that Christ
died for particular people (specifically, those who would be saved and whom he came to
redeem), that he foreknew each one of them individually (cf. Eph. 1:3 – 5) and had them
individually in mind in his atoning work.32
The opposite position, that Christ’s death actually paid for the sins of all people who
ever lived, is called “general redemption” or “unlimited atonement.”
2. Scripture Passages Used to Support the Non-Reformed View (General Redemption
or Unlimited Atonement). A number of Scripture passages indicate that in some sense
Christ died for the whole world. John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who
takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved
the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but
have eternal life.” Jesus said, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my
flesh” (John 6:51). Paul says that in Christ “God was reconciling the world to himself”
(2 Cor. 5:19). We read of Christ that “he is the expiation [lit. ‘propitiation’] for our sins,
and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Paul writes
that Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). And the author of
Hebrews says that Jesus was for a little while made lower than the angels “so that by the
grace of God he might taste death for every one” (Heb. 2:9).
Other passages appear to speak of Christ dying for those who will not be saved. Paul
says, “Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15).
In a similar context he tells the Corinthians not to eat publicly at an idol’s temple because
they might encourage those who are weak in their faith to violate their consciences and eat
food offered to idols. He then says, “And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died” (1 Cor. 8:11). Peter writes about false teachers as follows:
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among
you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought
them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1; cf. Heb. 10:29).
3. Some Points of Agreement and Some Conclusions about Disputed Texts. It would be
helpful first to list the points on which both sides agree:
1. Not all will be saved.
2. A free offer of the gospel can rightly be made to every person ever born. It is completely
true that “whoever will” may come to Christ for salvation, and no one who comes
to him will be turned away. This free offer of the gospel is extended in good faith to every
person.
3. All agree that Christ’s death in itself, because he is the infinite Son of God, has infinite
merit and is in itself sufficient to pay the penalty of the sins of as many or as few as
32Reformed people argue that it is the other view that really
limits the power of the atonement because on that view the
atonement does not actually guarantee salvation for God’s
people but only makes salvation possible for all people. In other
words, if the atonement is not limited with respect to the number
of people to which it applies, then it must be limited with
respect to what it actually accomplishes.
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the Father and the Son decreed. The question is not about the intrinsic merits of Christ’s
sufferings and death, but about the number of people for whom the Father and the Son
thought Christ’s death to be sufficient payment at the time Christ died.
Beyond these points of agreement, however, a difference remains concerning the following
question: “When Christ died, did he actually pay the penalty only for the sins of
those who would believe in him, or for the sins of every person who ever lived?” On this
question it seems that those who hold to particular redemption have stronger arguments
on their side. First, an important point that is not generally answered by advocates of the
general redemption view is that people who are eternally condemned to hell suffer the
penalty for all of their own sins, and therefore their penalty could not have been fully
taken by Christ. Those who hold the general redemption view sometimes answer that
people suffer in hell because of the sin of rejecting Christ, even though their other sins
were paid for. But this is hardly a satisfactory position, for (1) some have never rejected
Christ because they have never heard of him, and (2) the emphasis of Scripture when it
speaks of eternal punishment is not on the fact that the people suffer because they have
rejected Christ, but on the fact that they suffer because of their own sins in this life (see
Rom. 5:6 – 8, 13 – 16, et al.). This significant point seems to tip the argument decisively
in favor of the particular redemption position.
Another significant point in favor of particular redemption is the fact that Christ
completely earned our salvation, paying the penalty for all our sins. He did not just
redeem us potentially, but actually redeemed us as individuals whom he loved. A third
weighty point in favor of particular redemption is that there is eternal unity in the counsels
and plans of God and in the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in accomplishing
their plans (see Rom. 8:28 – 30).
With regard to Scripture passages used to support general redemption, the following
may be said: Several passages that speak about “the world” simply mean that sinners
generally will be saved, without implying that every single individual in the world will
be saved. So the fact that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
(John 1:29) does not mean (on anybody’s interpretation) that Christ actually removes
the sins of every single person in the world, for both sides agree that not all are saved.
Similarly, the fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19)
does not mean that every single person in the world was reconciled to God, but that sinners
generally were reconciled to God. Another way of putting these two passages would
be to say that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of sinners, or that God
was in Christ reconciling sinners to himself. This does not mean that all sinners will
be saved or were reconciled, but simply that these groups in general, but not necessarily
every single person in them, were the objects of God’s redeeming work: it essentially
means that “God so loved sinners that he gave his only Son . . .” without implying that
every sinner in the whole world will be saved.
The passages that speak about Christ dying “for” the whole world are best understood
to refer to the free offer of the gospel that is made to all people. When Jesus says,
“The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my f lesh” (John 6:51), it is in
the context of speaking of himself as the Bread that came down from heaven, which is
offered to people and which they may, if they are willing, receive for themselves. Earlier
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in the same discussion Jesus said that “the bread of God is that which comes down from
heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). This may be understood in the sense of
bringing redeeming life into the world but not meaning that every single person in the
world will have that redeeming life. Jesus then speaks of himself as inviting others to
come and take up this living bread: “He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who
believes in me shall never thirst. . . . This is the bread which comes down from heaven,
that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from
heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give
for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:35, 50 – 51). Jesus gives his flesh to bring life
into the world and to offer life to the world, but to say that Jesus came to offer eternal
life to the world (a point on which both sides agree) is not to say that he actually paid
the penalty for the sins of everyone who would ever live, for that is a separate question.
When John says that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but
also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, author’s translation), he may simply be
understood to mean that Christ is the atoning sacrifice that the gospel now makes available
for the sins of everyone in the world. The preposition “for” (Gk. peri plus genitive) is
ambiguous with respect to the specific sense in which Christ is the propitiation “for” the
sins of the world. Peri simply means “concerning” or “with respect to” but is not specific
enough to define the exact way in which Christ is the sacrifice with respect to the sins
of the world. It would be entirely consistent with the language of the verse to think that
John is simply saying that Christ is the atoning sacrifice who is available to pay for the
sins of anyone in the world.33 Likewise, when Paul says that Christ “gave himself as a
ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6), we are to understand this to mean a ransom available for
all people, without exception.34
When the author of Hebrews says that Christ was made lower than the angels “so that
by the grace of God he might taste death for every one” (Heb. 2:9), the passage is best
understood to refer to every one of Christ’s people, every one who is redeemed. It does not
say everyone “in the whole world” or any such expression, and in the immediate context
the author is certainly speaking of those who are redeemed (see “bringing many sons to
glory” [v. 10]; “those who are sanctified” [v. 11]; and “the children God has given me” [v.
13]). The Greek word pas, here translated “every one,” is also used in a similar sense to
mean “all of God’s people” in Hebrews 8:11, “for all shall know me,” and in Hebrews 12:8,
“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate
children and not sons.” In both cases the “all” is not explicitly restricted by a specific
33Compare a similar sense for the phrase “for sins” (Gk. peri
harmartionm ) in Heb. 10:26 where the author says that if someone
continues on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge
of the truth “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” This
does not mean that Christ’s sacrifice no longer exists, but it is
no longer available for that person who has willfully spurned it
and put himself beyond the realm of willing repentance. Here
“sacrifice for sins” means “a sacrifice available to be claimed for
the payment of sins.” In the same way 1 John 2:2 can mean “the
propitiation available for the sins of the whole world [esp. with
reference to Gentiles as well as Jews].”
34When Paul says that God “is the Savior of all men, especially
of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10), he is referring to
God the Father, not to Christ, and probably uses the word
“Savior” in the sense of “one who preserves people’s lives and
rescues them from danger” rather than the sense of “one who
forgives their sins,” for surely Paul does not mean that every
single person will be saved. However, another possible meaning
is that God “is the Savior of all sorts of people — that is,
of people who believe” (for a defense of this view see George
W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC [Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1992], pp. 203 – 4).
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phrase such as “all of God’s people,” but this is clearly the sense in the overall context. Of
course, in other contexts, the same word “all” can mean “all people without exception,”
but this must be determined from the individual context in each case.
When Paul speaks in Romans 14:15 and 1 Co rin thi ans 8:11 about the possibility of
destroying one for whom Christ died, it seems best here as well to think of the word “for”
in the sense that Christ died “to make salvation available for” these people or “to bring
the free offer of the gospel to” these people who are associated with the fellowship of the
church. He does not seem to have in mind the specific question of the inter-trinitarian
decision regarding whose sins the Father counted Christ’s death as a payment for. Rather,
he is speaking of those to whom the gospel has been offered. In another passage, when
Paul calls the weak man a “brother for whom Christ died” in 1 Co rin thi ans 8:11, he is
not necessarily pronouncing on the inward spiritual condition of a person’s heart, but
is probably just speaking according to what is often called the “judgment of charity” by
which people who are participating in the fellowship of the church can rightly be referred
to as brothers and sisters.35
When Peter speaks of false teachers who bring in destructive heresies, “even denying
the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1), it is unclear whether the word “Master” (Gk.
despotesm) refers to Christ (as in Jude 4) or to God the Father (as in Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev.
6:10). In either case, the Old Testament allusion is probably to Deuteronomy 32:6, where
Moses says to the rebellious people who have turned away from God, “Is not he your Father
who has bought you?” (author’s translation).36 Peter is drawing an analogy between the
past false prophets who arose among the Jews and those who will be false teachers within
the churches to which he writes: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as
there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even
denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). In line with this clear reference to
false prophets in the Old Testament, Peter also alludes to the fact that the rebellious Jews
turned away from God who “bought” them out of Egypt in the exodus. From the time of
the exodus onward, any Jewish person would have considered himself or herself one who
was “bought” by God in the exodus and therefore a person of God’s own possession. In
this sense, the false teachers arising among the people were denying God their Father, to
whom they rightfully belonged.37 So the text means not that Christ had redeemed these
35Another possible interpretation of these two passages is
that “destroy” means ruin the ministry or Chris tian growth
of someone who will nonetheless remain a believer but whose
principles will be compromised. That sense would certainly fit
the context well in both cases, but one argument against it is
that the Greek word apollymi, “destroy,” which is used in both
cases, seems a stronger word than would be appropriate if that
were Paul’s intention. The same word is used often of eternal
destruction (see John 3:16; Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:18; 2 Cor.
2:15; 4:3; 2 Peter 3:9). However, the context of 1 Cor. 8:11 may
indicate a different sense than these other passages, for this verse
does not talk about God “destroying” someone but about other
human beings doing something to “destroy” another — which
suggests a weaker sense for the term here.
36Though the Septuagint does not use Peter’s term agorazo
m but rather kataomai, the words are synonymous in many
cases, and both can mean “buy, purchase”; the Hebrew term in
Deut. 32:6 is qanm ahm , which frequently means “purchase, buy”
in the Old Testament.
37This is the view taken by John Gill, The Cause of God and
Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980; repr. of 1855 ed.; first published
1735), p. 61. Gill discusses other possible interpretations
of the passage, but this seems most persuasive. We should realize
that in both of his epistles, Peter very frequently portrays the
churches to which he is writing in terms of the rich imagery of
the people of God in the Old Testament: see W. Grudem, The
First Epistle of Peter, p. 113.
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false prophets, but simply that they were rebellious Jewish people (or church attenders in
the same position as the rebellious Jews) who were rightly owned by God because they had
been brought out of the land of Egypt (or their forefathers had), but they were ungrateful
to him. Christ’s specific redemptive work on the cross is not in view in this verse.38
With regard to the verses that talk of Christ’s dying for his sheep, his church, or his
people, non-Reformed people may answer that these passages do not deny that he died
to pay the penalty for others as well. In response, while it is true that they do not explicitly
deny that Christ died for others as well, their frequent reference to his death for his
people would at least strongly suggest that this is a correct inference. Even if they do not
absolutely imply such a particularizing of redemption, these verses do at least seem to be
most naturally interpreted in this way.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the Reformed position of “particular redemption”
is most consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture. But once that has been said,
several points of caution need to be raised.
4. Points of Clarification and Caution Regarding This Doctrine. It is important to state
some points of clarification and also some areas in which we can rightly object to the way
in which some advocates of particular redemption have expressed their arguments. It is
also important to ask what the pastoral implications are for this teaching.
1. It seems to be a mistake to state the question as Berkhof does39 and focus on the purpose
of the Father and the Son, rather than on what actually happened in the atonement.
If we confine the discussion to the purpose of the atonement, then this is just another form
of the larger dispute between Calvinists and Arminians over whether God’s purpose is (a)
to save all people, a purpose that is frustrated by man’s will to rebel — the Arminian position
— or whether God’s purpose is (b) to save those whom he has chosen — the Calvinist
position. This question will not be decided at the narrow point of the question of the extent
of the atonement, for the specific scriptural texts on that point are too few and can hardly
be said to be conclusive on either side. One’s decisions on these passages will tend to be
determined by one’s view of the larger question as to what Scripture as a whole teaches
about the nature of the atonement and about the broader issues of God’s providence, sovereignty,
and the doctrine of election. Whatever decisions are made on those larger topics
will apply specifically to this point, and people will come to their conclusions accordingly.
Rather than focusing on the purpose of the atonement, therefore, the question is
rightfully asked about the atonement itself: Did Christ pay for the sins of all unbelievers
who will be eternally condemned, and did he pay for their sins fully and completely on
the cross? It seems that we have to answer no to that question.
2. The statements “Christ died for his people only” and “Christ died for all people” are
both true in some senses, and too often the argument over this issue has been confused
because of various senses that can be given to the word “for” in these two statements.
38The Greek word despotesm , “Master,” is elsewhere used of
God in contexts that emphasize his role as Creator and Ruler of
the world (Acts 4:24; Rev. 6:10).
39Berkhof says, “The question does relate to the design
of the atonement. Did the Father in sending Christ, and did
Christ in coming into the world, to make atonement for sin,
do this with the design or for the purpose of saving only the
elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question”
(Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939,
1941], p. 394).
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The statement “Christ died for his people only” can be understood to mean that
“Christ died to actually pay the penalty for all the sins of his people only.” In that sense
it is true. But when non-Reformed people hear the sentence “Christ died for his people
only,” they often hear in it, “Christ died so that he could make the gospel available only
to a chosen few,” and they are troubled over what they see as a real threat to the free
offer of the gospel to every person. Reformed people who hold to particular redemption
should recognize the potential for misunderstanding that arises with the sentence
“Christ died for his people only,” and, out of concern for the truth and out of pastoral
concern to affirm the free offer of the gospel and to avoid misunderstanding in the body
of Christ, they should be more precise in saying exactly what they mean. The simple
sentence, “Christ died for his people only,” while true in the sense explained above, is
seldom understood in that way when people unfamiliar with Reformed doctrine hear it,
and it therefore is better not to use such an ambiguous sentence at all.
On the other hand, the sentence, “Christ died for all people,” is true if it means,
“Christ died to make salvation available to all people” or if it means, “Christ died to
bring the free offer of the gospel to all people.” In fact, this is the kind of language Scripture
itself uses in passages like John 6:51; 1 Tim othy 2:6; and 1 John 2:2.40 It really seems
to be only nit-picking that creates controversies and useless disputes when Reformed
people insist on being such purists in their speech that they object any time someone
says that “Christ died for all people.” There are certainly acceptable ways of understanding
that sentence that are consistent with the speech of the scriptural authors themselves.
Similarly, I do not think we should rush to criticize an evangelist who tells an audience
of unbelievers, “Christ died for your sins,” if it is made clear in the context that it is
necessary to trust in Christ before one can receive the benefits of the gospel offer. In that
sense the sentence is simply understood to mean “Christ died to offer you forgiveness for
your sins” or “Christ died to make available forgiveness for your sins.” The important
point here is that sinners realize that salvation is available for everyone and that payment
of sins is available for everyone.
At this point some Reformed theologians will object and will warn us that if we say
to unbelievers, “Christ died for your sins,” the unbelievers will draw the conclusion,
“Therefore I am saved no matter what I do.” But this does not seem to be a problem in
actual fact, for whenever evangelicals (Reformed or non-Reformed) speak about the
gospel to unbelievers, they are always very clear on the fact that the death of Christ has
no benefit for a person unless that person believes in Christ. Therefore, the problem
seems to be more something that Reformed people think unbelievers should believe (if
they were consistent in reasoning back into the secret counsels of God and the relationship
between the Father and Son in the counsels of the Trinity at the point of Christ’s
propitiatory sacrifice on the cross). But unbelievers simply do not reason that way: they
know that they must exercise faith in Christ before they will experience any benefits
from his saving work. Moreover, it is far more likely that people will understand the
sentence “Christ died for your sins” in the doctrinally correct sense that “Christ died
40Berkhof says that 1 Tim. 2:1 refers to “the revealed will of
God that both Jews and Gentiles should be saved” (ibid., p. 396).
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in order to offer you forgiveness for your sins” rather than in the doctrinally incorrect
sense, “Christ died and completely paid the penalty already for all your sins.”41
3. In terms of the practical, pastoral effects of our words, both those who hold to
particular redemption and those who hold to general redemption agree at several key
points:
a. Both sincerely want to avoid implying that people will be saved whether they
believe in Christ or not. Non-Reformed people sometimes accuse Reformed people of
saying that the elect will be saved irrespective of responding to the gospel, but this is
clearly a misrepresentation of the Reformed position. On the other hand, Reformed
people think that those who hold to general redemption are in danger of implying that
everybody will be saved whether they believe in Christ or not. But this is not a position
that non-Reformed people actually hold, and it is always precarious to criticize people
for a position that they do not say they hold, just because you think that they should hold
that position if they were consistent with their other views.
b. Both sides want to avoid implying that there might be some people who come to
Christ for salvation but are turned away because Christ did not die for them. No one wants
to say or imply to an unbeliever, “Christ might have died for your sins (and then again
he might not have!).” Both sides want to clearly affirm that all who come to Christ for
salvation will in fact be saved. “Him who comes to me I will not cast out” (John 6:37).
c. Both sides want to avoid implying that God is hypocritical or insincere when he
makes the free offer of the gospel. It is a genuine offer, and it is always true that all who
wish to come to Christ for salvation and who do actually come to him will be saved.
d. Finally, we may ask why this matter is so important after all. Although Reformed
people have sometimes made belief in particular redemption a test of doctrinal orthodoxy,
it would be healthy to realize that Scripture itself never singles this out as a doctrine
of major importance, nor does it once make it the subject of any explicit theological
discussion. Our knowledge of the issue comes only from incidental references to it in
passages whose concern is with other doctrinal or practical matters. In fact, this is really
a question that probes into the inner counsels of the Trinity and does so in an area in
which there is very little direct scriptural testimony — a fact that should cause us to be
cautious. A balanced pastoral perspective would seem to be to say that this teaching
of particular redemption seems to us to be true, that it gives logical consistency to our
theological system, and that it can be helpful in assuring people of Christ’s love for them
individually and of the completeness of his redemptive work for them; but that it also is
a subject that almost inevitably leads to some confusion, some misunderstanding, and
often some wrongful argumentativeness and divisiveness among God’s people — all of
which are negative pastoral considerations. Perhaps that is why the apostles such as John
and Peter and Paul, in their wisdom, placed almost no emphasis on this question at all.
And perhaps we would do well to ponder their example.
41I am not here arguing that we should be careless in our
language; I am arguing that we should not rush to criticize
when other Chris tians unreflectively use ambiguous language
without intending to contradict any teaching of Scripture.
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QUESTIONS FOR PERSONAL APPLICATION
1. In what ways has this chapter enabled you to appreciate Christ’s death more than
you did before? Has it given you more or less confidence in the fact that your sins
have actually been paid for by Christ?
2. If the ultimate cause of the atonement is found in the love and justice of God, then
was there anything in you that required God to love you or to take steps to save
you (when he looked forward and thought of you as a sinner in rebellion against
him)? Does your answer to this question help you to appreciate the character of
God’s love for you as a person who did not at all deserve that love? How does that
realization make you feel in your relationship to God?
3. Do you think that Christ’s sufferings were enough to pay for your sins? Are you
willing to rely on his work to pay for all your sins? Do you think he is a sufficient
Savior, worthy of your trust? When he invites you, “Come to me . . . and I will give
you rest” (Matt. 11:28), do you now trust him? Will you now and always rely on
him with your whole heart for complete salvation?
4. If Christ bore all the guilt for our sins, all the wrath of God against sin, and all the
penalty of the death that we deserved, then will God ever turn his wrath against
you as a believer (see Rom. 8:31 – 39)? Can any of the hardships or sufferings that
you experience in life be due to the wrath of God against you? If not, then why do
we as Chris tians experience difficulties and sufferings in this life (see Rom. 8:28;
Heb. 12:3 – 11)?
5. Do you think Christ’s life was good enough to deserve God’s approval? Are you
willing to rely on it for your eternal destiny? Is Jesus Christ a reliable enough and
good enough Savior for you to trust him? Which would you rather trust in for your
eternal standing before God: your own life or Christ’s?
6. If Christ has indeed redeemed you from bondage to sin and to the kingdom of
Satan, are there areas of your life in which you could more fully realize this to be
true? Could this realization give you more encouragement in your Chris tian life?
7. Do you think it was fair for Christ to be your substitute and to pay your penalty?
When you think about him acting as your substitute and dying for you, what
attitude and emotion is called forth in your heart?
SPECIAL TERMS
active obedience particular redemption
atonement passive obedience
blood of Christ penal substitution
consequent absolute necessity propitiation
example theory ransom to Satan theory
general redemption reconciliation
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governmental theory redemption
impute sacrifice
limited atonement unlimited atonement
moral influence theory vicarious atonement
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bauckham, Richard J. “Descent into Hell.” In NDT, pp. 194 – 95.
Berkouwer, G. C. The Work of Christ. Trans. by Cornelius Lambregtse. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1965.
Brown, John. The Sufferings and Glories of the Messiah. Evanston, Ind.: Sovereign Grace
Publishers, 1959 (reprint of 1852 edition).
Campbell, John McLeod. The Nature of the Atonement. 6th ed. London and New York:
Macmillan, 1886 (first published in 1856).
Elwell, Walter. “Atonement, Extent of the.” In EDT, pp. 98 – 100.
Green, Michael. The Empty Cross of Jesus. The Jesus Library, ed. by Michael Green.
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984.
Grensted, L. W. A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement. Manchester: University
Press, and London: Longmans, 1962.
Hodge, Archibald A. The Atonement. London: T. Nelson, 1868.
McDonald, H. D. The Atonement of the Death of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.
McGrath, Alister E. Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.
_____. The Mystery of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.
_____. What Was God Doing on the Cross? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
Martin, Hugh. The Atonement: In Its Relations to the Covenant, the Priesthood, the Intercession
of Our Lord. Philadelphia: Smith and English, 1871.
Morey, Robert A. Studies in the Atonement. Southbridge, Mass.: Crowne, 1989.
Morris, Leon. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. 3d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.
_____. “Atonement.” In EDT, p. 97.
_____. The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance. Leicester and Downers Grove, Ill:
InterVarsity Press, 1983.
_____. “Atonement, Theories of the.” In EDT, pp. 100 – 102.
_____. The Cross in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.
_____. The Cross of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Exeter: Paternoster, 1988.
Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955,
pp. 9 – 78.
Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth,
1959 (includes excellent introductory essay by J. I. Packer).
Smeaton, George. The Doctrine of the Atonement as Taught by Christ Himself. Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1953 (reprint of 1871 edition).
Smeaton, George. The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. Leicester and Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity
Press, 1986.
Turretin, Francis. The Atonement of Christ. Trans. by James R. Willson. Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1978 (reprint of 1859 edition; first published in Latin in 1674).
Wallace, Ronald S. The Atoning Death of Christ. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1981.
SCRIPTURE MEMORY PASSAGE
Romans 3:23 – 26: Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified
by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put
forward as an expiation [lit. ‘propitiation’] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to
show God’s righ teousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;
it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righ teous and that he justifies him who
has faith in Jesus.
HYMN
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spread o’er his body on the tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
AUTHOR: ISAAC WATTS, 1707