Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Did Jesus Die for Everyone? Part 2

1 Timothy 4:10

In 1 Timothy 4:10 Paul tells Timothy: 
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 
Paul tells us in this verse that God is the “Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

To begin with, we need to determine the identity of “all people” here:

First, when Paul says, “of all people, especially of those who believe,” he is obviously implying that “all people” includes all believers in Christ and others who don’t believe in Christ. So the “all people” must be a larger group than all believers in Christ.

Second, Paul surely doesn’t mean that “all people” is all the elect, including those who are never able to believe, because, for example, they die in infancy. Not only is this much too obscure, but it also fails to explain why God would especially be the Saviour of those in the elect who are able to believe. The “all people” must therefore include people who are not among the elect.

In view of these points, the only reasonable interpretation of “all people” is that it means all human beings. So Paul is saying that God is the Saviour of all human beings.

Next, we need to consider in what way God is the Saviour of all human beings.

There are two potential options.

(1) He has provided atonement for every human being.

(2) He hasn’t provided atonement for every human being. However, the cross of Christ has provided some benefits before death for every human being.

Under option (2), God would be described as the “Savior” of people whose sins are, and will forever be, unforgiven, and who are firmly on track for hell. It is extremely difficult to think that Paul would have said this.

By contrast, option (1) looks good. God is the Saviour of all people, in the sense that He has provided atonement for everyone. Yet He is especially the Saviour of those who believe, in the sense that only they receive the benefits of the atonement. This must be Paul’s meaning.

In conclusion, then, this verse is a huge piece of biblical evidence that the doctrine of Limited Atonement is an error.

Hebrews 2:9

In Hebrews 2:9 the author states: 
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” 
Note here how the author says that Jesus suffered death so that He might taste death for everyone. This certainly means that He died for everyone.

Supporters of Limited Atonement often claim that in this verse “everyone” refers not to all human beings but to all the elect.

This is a very problematic interpretation.

To begin with, without any indication in the context that “everyone” means all the elect, this term much more naturally suggests all human beings.

Furthermore, the book of Hebrews contains no teaching at all on election. So, even in the broader context of the book as a whole, nothing encourages us to take “everyone” as a reference to all the elect.

To put it another way, if the author wanted his readers to understand “everyone” in this verse as the elect, he has expressed himself very poorly.

However, we should say instead that he has done a fine job of expressing himself, and that he means that Jesus died for all human beings.

Given the message of Hebrews as a whole, the reference to dying for people in this verse must have Christ’s atoning work in view. And, because “everyone” means all human beings, the verse must be saying that He has provided atonement for all human beings.

Furthermore, the way that the author says that Jesus died “for everyone,” putting them all in one category, speaks volumes against the idea that Jesus died to provide atonement for some people but only in a weaker, non-atoning sense for other people.

The upshot of all this is that this verse is a powerful piece of biblical evidence that Limited Atonement is an error.

2 Peter 2:1-3

In 2 Peter 2:1-3 Peter writes: 
1 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 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 
Peter prophesies here that false teachers will arise among his readers. And in v. 3 he says that these teachers will experience “condemnation” and “destruction.” Verses 4-9 make it clear that the condemnation and destruction he refers to in v. 3 involves punishment in hell.

That is not to say that every single one of these false teachers would necessarily end up in hell. Some may turn from their sins and accept salvation in Christ. But nevertheless, generally speaking, we can say that the people Peter refers to in verses 1-3 will not receive eternal salvation.

Next, we must note in v. 1 how Peter says that these people “[deny] the Master who bought them.”

When Peter says “bought them,” this must be a reference to Jesus paying the price for their sins on the cross. It is the same metaphor that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:20, where he says about the Corinthians believers: 
“. . . for you were bought with a price.” 
There is no other conceivable kind of buying that Peter can have in mind. As far as I am aware, everyone, including supporters of Limited Atonement, agrees about this.

In this passage, then, Peter refers to people for whom Jesus paid a price on the cross, yet who will die unsaved. This seems clearly to contradict Limited Atonement.

From what I have seen, the way that supporters of Limited Atonement try to get round this conclusion is by saying that Peter didn’t really believe that Jesus paid the price for the sins of these people, but that he only speaks as if Jesus did this.

This interpretation, however, fails completely. There are two points to make here:

First, there is not the slightest hint in the text that Peter doesn’t in fact mean what he seems to mean. So we should certainly take his words at face value.

Second, when Peter says that these people deny the Master who bought them, he is specifically contrasting their bad treatment of Jesus with His good treatment of them. He bought them by paying the price for their sins, and what is their response? Is it gratitude? No. Is it just indifference? No. What, then? They deny Him! They respond to His wonderful treatment of them by doing a despicable thing to Him in return.

Peter is surely making this contrast. But the contrast only makes sense if Jesus really did buy them.

We should have no hesitation, then, in concluding that in this passage Peter is referring to people for whose sins Jesus paid the price on the cross, yet who will end up in hell. And this contradicts the doctrine of Limited Atonement.

1 John 2:2

In 1 John 2:2 John writes: 
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 
Supporters of Limited Atonement claim that in this verse John is referring to two groups of God’s elect. They say that “our” and “ours” refer to a Christian group that John is part of, and that “the whole world” refers to the rest of the elect throughout the world.

Some of those who interpret in this way claim that the first group is Jewish members of the elect and the second group is Gentile members of the elect. Others say that the first group is John’s Christian circle and the second group is all the elect who are not in John’s circle. But in each form of this interpretation, it is said that “the whole world” is a reference to a group of elect people.

However, firstly, if this is what John meant, we have to ask why he worded things the way he did. “The whole world” much more naturally seems to imply all human beings than just the elect throughout the world.

Secondly, we need to consider the use of the first person plural in this letter.

It is true that in 1 John 1:1-5 John uses the first plural to refer to Christians who had seen and heard Jesus in the flesh, i.e., to a select group of believers.

However, after 1:5, whenever the first plural is used to refer to genuine Christians, it always seems to be referring to all Christians (e.g., 1 John 1:7, 9; 2:3; 3:1, 2, 14, 16; 4:6, 9, 11, 17, 19; 5:2, 4, 11, 14, 19). So it would be very unexpected if “our” and “ours” in 2:2 referred to a select group.

Thirdly, there are various other passages in 1 John where “we/us” and “the world” are contrasted (1 John 3:1; 4:5-6; 5:4-5, 19). In none of these passages is the contrast between a group of the elect that includes John and other elect people elsewhere in the world. Rather, the contrast is between Christians and non-believers.

In view of these three points, it makes very good sense to think that “our sins” means the sins of all people who are already saved, and “the sins of the whole world” means the sins of all those who are not currently saved, including both those who will and will not be saved in the future.

So John is apparently saying that Jesus is the propitiation not only for the sins of those who are already saved, but also for the sins of every human being who is not currently saved. And this would clearly contradict Limited Atonement.

The upshot is that this verse is a significant piece of evidence that Limited Atonement is a false doctrine.

Summing up

The combined weight of the passages we have looked at should leave us in no doubt at all that Limited Atonement is a big mistake.

The Bible is clear that Jesus died on the cross to provide atonement for all human beings, even if most never accept the benefits of what He did.


In view of how the Bible so clearly contradicts the doctrine of Limited Atonement, why is it that five-point Calvinists insist on holding this view?

I am sure that the reason is a theological rather than an exegetical one. In other words, it isn’t that they find this doctrine on the pages of Scripture, but that they feel compelled to hold it because of what else they believe.

Five-point Calvinists, like all Calvinists, hold to the penal substitution theory of the atonement. This theory says that on the cross Jesus was punished for sins in the place of sinners, as their substitute.

So five-point Calvinists argue in this way:

On the cross, Jesus was punished for sins. However, some people will end up in hell, where they will be punished for their sins. So, if Jesus was punished for the sins of every human being, this would mean that the sins of those who go to hell would be punished twice, once on the cross and once in hell. But if God punished the same sins twice, that would be unjust, and God is not unjust. So Jesus cannot have been punished on the cross for the sins of those who will end up in hell.

I think this is the main reason why five-point Calvinists hold to the doctrine of Limited Atonement, whether they admit it or not.

So how do we respond to this line of argument?

There are three points to make, the third of which is by far the most important.

The penal substitution theory of the atonement

First, I should say immediately that I am a big fan of the penal substitution theory of the atonement. I think it fits well with Scripture, and I am sure that it is head and shoulders above all theories that rival it, such as the ransom theory, satisfaction of divine honour theory, moral influence theory and governmental theory. (Some other theories of the atonement aren’t really rivals of the pen. sub. theory, since they can complement it.)

The only thing I wonder, though, is whether the reality of the atonement might be more complicated than pen. sub. leads us to believe.

On the cross a profound mystery took place. The God-Man dealt with human sin. Yet God is infinite and timeless, while man is finite and time-bound. Mind-bogglingly, Jesus had all these qualities within one person!

The pen. sub. theory of the atonement is very simple to understand. I just wonder, in view of the profound mystery of the God-Man dying on the cross, if perhaps this theory might be a bit too simple.

Let me stress that I am not saying that any other well-known theory of the atonement that rivals pen. sub. might be correct. I’m sure that none of them is. Furthermore, if pen. sub. is not correct, then something very close to it must be correct, since this theory seems to fit so well with Scripture. There is surely a big penal element to the atonement and also a big substitutionary element. And it may well be the case that the pen. sub. theory is in fact completely correct.

But personally I don’t feel confident about saying for sure that this theory is perfectly correct, and that things are as simple as that. I think the mechanics of the atonement might perhaps be more complex than proponents of pen. sub. realise. It could even be beyond human ability to understand properly how the atonement works.

Avoiding simplistic conclusions

Second, we need to be careful not to draw simplistic conclusions about God’s justice.

Again, we must remember that the atonement is a profound mystery that involves the intersection of the divine and the human, and of eternity and time. Maybe in this context, in some way we can’t understand, it isn’t unjust for sins to be punished twice. So maybe the pen. sub. theory is precisely correct without there being any injustice.

I would suggest that many Western Christians are very overconfident about their ability to understand the things of God, including the atonement.

We do well to remember how the Lord says in Isaiah 55:9: 
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 
And we should also remember how Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12: 
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 
In the first century, mirrors were made of polished metal and gave an indistinct image. Paul is saying that Christians’ understanding of things is often partial and hazy.

I would therefore caution believers against drawing overly simplistic conclusions about God’s justice.

The Bible takes precedence

Third and most importantly, what the Bible says must be allowed to take precedence over reasoning.

It is true that when we are trying to understand biblical teaching, reasoning forms a valid part of the process. We not only read various passages to see what they have to say, but we also use reasoning to try to draw inferences from what we read. Both these things are legitimate.

However, the former is by far the more important. Because the Bible is from God, it infallibly teaches us what is true in all that is of importance for life and faith. By contrast, our ability to understand things is weak and inconsistent, and we should recognise that as a fact.

So when we find that the Bible teaches something, but we can’t understand how it can be true, we should side with Scripture over our own ability to understand.

There are many five-point Calvinists who have got things exactly the wrong way round in this area. They can’t understand how unlimited atonement fits with other things they believe. So what they should do is question those other things, or conclude that things fit together in a way that they can’t understand. But instead, they exalt their own ability to understand above biblical revelation, and they end up denying what the Bible teaches. What they need to do instead is lose confidence in their ability to understand, and allow Scripture to speak freely.

Basically, the Bible teaches that Christ died to provide atonement for all human beings, and somehow this must fit into the grand theological scheme of things, whether or not we can understand how.


Let’s end, where we began, with my church’s notice board. As I said, it tells any passer-by who chooses to read it that Jesus died for them.

This is an important truth. Those Christians who refuse to tell people who are not yet saved that Jesus died for them are making a serious mistake. Instead, we should have no hesitation or reserve in telling anyone who will listen that Jesus suffered on the cross to atone for their sins. What they have to do is accept that atonement by faith.

See also:

Did Jesus Die for Everyone? Part 1

On the notice board of the building belonging to my church, there is the following statement: 
“Jesus loves you, cares for you and died for you.” 
Among other things, this is telling any passer-by who chooses to read it that Jesus died for them.

A large majority of Christians today would agree with the above words. They believe, as I do firmly, that when the Lord died on the cross, He paid the price for the sins of all human beings. Atonement has been provided for everyone.

That is not to say, of course, that everyone receives atonement. People still need to appropriate it by faith. And sadly, most refuse to do this.

But nevertheless, Jesus died to provide atonement for the sins of every human being, to pay the price for their sins. And a large majority of Christians accept this.


There is one group of Christians, however, who deny that Jesus has provided atonement for everyone’s sins, five-point Calvinists.

The five traditional points of Calvinism are often referred to using the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irresistible Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

The point we are interested in here is the third one, “Limited Atonement,” also often referred to as “Particular Redemption.”

This is actually where four- and five-point Calvinists differ. Four-point Calvinists, like other Christians, reject a belief in Limited Atonement, although they accept the other four points of Calvinism. Five-point Calvinists are, to my knowledge, unique among Christians in accepting Limited Atonement.

Limited Atonement, as the name suggests, means that the atonement Christ provided on the cross is limited in its scope. Those Calvinists who accept this point believe that on the cross Jesus provided atonement only for the sins of the elect, i.e., those whom God chooses to receive salvation and causes to come to Christian faith. But they deny that Jesus atoned for the sins of the non-elect, i.e., those whom God has not chosen to receive salvation.

To be fair, five-point Calvinists usually claim that Christ’s death on the cross benefits the non-elect in some minor, temporary ways. But they are clear that He has not provided atonement for their sins.

As a result, five-point Calvinists usually avoid telling people in general that Jesus died for them. They will say this to Christians, but not to anyone who has not yet come to Christian faith, because, in their view, that person might be non-elect and therefore not someone for whom Christ provided atonement.


I am convinced that Limited Atonement is an error, and in this article I will try to demonstrate from Scripture that this is the case.


Before I turn to the Bible, however, I want to make two brief preliminary comments.

Calvin seems not to have believed in Limited Atonement

First, despite the above five points being known as the five points “of Calvinism,” there is strong evidence that John Calvin himself didn’t believe in Limited Atonement.

For example, in his commentary on Isaiah 53:12 Calvin writes: 
“I approve of the ordinary reading, that he alone bore the punishment of many, because the guilt of the whole world was laid on him.” 
And in his commentary on Colossians 1:14 he writes: 
“He says that this redemption was procured by the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated.” 
Many more similar quotes could also be given.

It seems, then, that Calvin actually rejected a key point of the theology that has come to bear his name.

When belief in Limited Atonement began

The second preliminary comment concerns when belief in Limited Atonement began.

I am not aware of any evidence that any Christian between the end of the apostolic era and the second half of the 16th century believed in Limited Atonement.

In saying this, I am not implying that before the end of the apostolic era any Christian believed in this doctrine. I am just leaving a consideration of the apostolic era to the examination of New Testament passages to follow. But if we think of the period between about 100 AD and the second half of the 16th century, I know of no evidence that anyone believed in Limited Atonement.

I admit that I am not an expert in church history. So I am open to being shown that there is actually some evidence for belief in this doctrine during this time. But nevertheless, even if there is any evidence, belief in Limited Atonement during this time was certainly at most extremely rare.

So if Limited Atonement is an important doctrine, we need to ask why no one, or at most almost no one, believed it for the millennium and a half that immediately followed the apostolic era.


Of course, by far the most important factor in determining whether or not Limited Atonement is a correct doctrine is what Scripture has to say.

Let’s turn, then, to see what the Bible tells us about this topic.

Passages which say that Jesus died for the church

Five-point Calvinists often point to passages which teach that Jesus died for the church, and claim that these support Limited Atonement. They argue that Scripture wouldn’t say that He died for the church, if in fact He died for everyone.

It is certainly true that there are biblical texts which teach that Christ died for the church.

For example, in John 10:14-15 we find Jesus saying: 
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” 
(Scripture readings in this article are from the English Standard Version except where otherwise stated.)

Similarly, in Ephesians 5:25 Paul writes: 
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” 
However, these passages, and others like them, can easily be interpreted to fit with an unlimited atonement. There are three points to make here.

First, it is important to understand that there is no biblical passage which clearly teaches that Jesus died only for the church.

Second, we need to take account of what Paul writes in Galatians 2:20: 
“And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 
Obviously, when Paul says that Jesus gave Himself for him, he doesn’t mean that He gave Himself only for him. Similarly, we mustn’t rush to conclude that passages which say that Christ died for the church must mean that he only died for the church.

Third, I do think there is a way in which Christ died for the church in a way that He didn’t die for the unsaved, but this in no way has to involve a limited atonement.

Let me explain what I mean.

God’s purpose in the crucifixion was to bring salvation to human beings. However, from all eternity, He knew (and in a sense planned) that only some people would accept the gift of salvation through faith in Christ. So in a very real sense the crucifixion was aimed at those who would accept Christ and not at those who wouldn’t accept Him.

Therefore, when the Bible says that Christ died for the church, we can easily understand things in this way:

Although Jesus provided atonement for all human beings, He chose to go through this suffering for the sake of those who would end up being saved. His focus was on them. So in this sense He died for the church and not for the unsaved.

This interpretation makes very good sense of those passages which say that Christ died for the church.

The combined weight of these three points shows that passages which teach that Jesus died for the church in no way have to mean that He provided atonement only for the church. In themselves, these passages could fit with this view or with the view that He provided an unlimited atonement.

There are other passages, however, which count strongly against the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Let’s turn now to look at some of these.

Romans 5:18

In Romans 5:18 Paul writes: 
“So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone [eis pantas anthropous], so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone [eis pantas anthropous].” 
(This quotation is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

To begin with, I need to make two preliminary points about this verse:

(1) In verses 12-17, Paul has been talking about the way that Adam’s sin led to all human beings becoming sinners. So the “one trespass” that he refers to in this verse is Adam’s sin.

(2) In verses 15-17, Paul has been talking about the justification that results from Christ’s work on the cross. So the “one righteous act” that he refers to is the death of Christ on the cross.

With the preliminary points in place, let’s think more about what Paul says here.

Because the “one trespass” refers to Adam’s sin, when Paul says in the first half of the sentence, “through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone,” the “everyone” surely refers to all human beings without exception.

Importantly, in each half of this sentence we find the Greek phrase eis pantas anthropous, which is translated each time as “for everyone.” As I have just noted, in the first half of the sentence this phrase refers to all human beings without exception. So it makes good sense to think that in the second half of the sentence it also refers to all human beings without exception.

Therefore, Paul is apparently saying that through one righteous act, i.e., the cross, “there is life-giving justification for everyone,” i.e., for all human beings without exception. And this would surely mean that Jesus died to provide atonement for every human being.

The only way to fit this verse with Limited Atonement would be to say that eis pantas anthropous has a different meaning in each half of the sentence. We would have to say that in the first half it means “for everyone” in the sense of “for all human beings,” but in the second half it means “for everyone” in the sense of “for all people who are saved” or “for all the elect.”

It is difficult to suppose, however, that this Greek phrase suddenly changes meaning in this way within the same sentence, especially when the two halves of the sentence are parallel to each other.

It is true that if we take “for everyone” in the second half of the sentence as a reference to all human beings, then “there is life-giving justification for everyone” might at first sight seem to be suggesting that every human being will be saved. And we know from numerous biblical passages that many people will not actually be saved.

However, we can easily understand “there is life-giving justification for everyone” as a potential statement. Paul could mean that life-giving justification is potentially available to anyone who chooses to accept it.

A good example of a potential statement can be found in John 14:12, where Jesus says: 
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do . . .” 
At first sight, Jesus seems to be saying here that every Christian will do the miracles that He did. Instead, however, the idea seems to be that being a believer in Jesus is all the qualification that people need in and of themselves to work miracles. For someone to actually work a miracle, God would still need to take the extra step of granting the ability to perform the miracle in that specific case. But believing in Christ qualifies believers to potentially work miracles if God enables them. 

John 14:12, then, provides us with an example of a statement that should be understood potentially. And it is not difficult to think that the same is true of Romans 5:18.

At the very least, it is much more difficult to think that the Greek phrase eis pantas anthropous suddenly changes meaning mid-sentence. And this means that this verse is a significant piece of biblical evidence that Limited Atonement is a false doctrine.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul writes: 
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people [panton anthropon], 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people [pantas anthropous] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all [panton], which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 
First, let’s consider verses 1 and 4 of this passage.

In the Greek text, each of these verses contains a phrase which consists of a plural form of the word “pas” along with a plural form of the word “anthropos.” Verse 1 has the genitive plural, “panton anthropon,” and v. 4 has the accusative plural, “pantas anthropous.” For our purposes, the variation between genitive and accusative is not relevant.

Anthropos means “human being, (human) person,” and by far the most common meaning of pas is “all, every.” Unsurprisingly, therefore, a large majority of commentators interpret the plurals panton anthropon and pantas anthropous in these verses as referring to all human beings. Under this interpretation of v. 4, Paul would be saying that God desires all human beings to be saved.

There are some Calvinists, however, who claim that panton anthropon and pantas anthropous should be interpreted differently. They argue in the following way:

In the Greek of the first century, the plural of the word pas sometimes meant “all sorts of.” It is natural to understand it in this way in v. 1. In this verse Paul is saying that he wants prayers etc. to be made for all sorts of people, and in v. 2 he gives some examples of sorts of people, i.e., kings and all who are in high positions. In v. 1, then, it seems that panton anthropon means “all sorts of people.” Given that this is its meaning in v. 1, we would expect the equivalent phrase pantas anthropous to have the same sense in v. 4 too. Therefore, in v. 4 Paul is saying that he desires all sorts of people to be saved, i.e., people from every social stratum of society. He is not saying that God desires all people to be saved.

So, how do we respond to this argument? Is it a strong one?

In a word, no.

It is true that in first century Greek the plural of pas sometimes meant “all sorts of.” And to avoid lengthening the discussion, let’s assume that “all sorts of” would fit the context in verses 1 and 4.

However, the meaning “all” also fits the context well in both these verses. And in first century Greek pas meant “all” far more commonly than it meant “all sorts of.” Importantly, when a reader reads a word that is very commonly used with a certain meaning and that meaning fits the context, they will automatically gravitate towards that common meaning, even if the word is also sometimes used in a rare way that would also fit the context. Just as importantly, we would expect the author to realise this, especially one who is being inspired by the Holy Spirit.

In other words, we would have to say that if Paul wanted his readers to understand panton anthropon and pantas anthropous in verses 1 and 4 to mean “all sorts of people,” he has done a very poor job of expressing himself. He has written in such a way that all or at least the vast majority of his readers will assume that he intends the much more common meaning of these phrases, “all people.”

However, instead of supposing that Paul has written poorly, we do much better to conclude that he really does mean “all people” in verses 1 and 4.

There are very good reasons, then, for thinking that in v. 4 Paul is saying that God desires all human beings to be saved. And this counts strongly against Limited Atonement, because it would be very strange for Paul to say this if Jesus never even provided atonement for everyone.

Next, we need to consider v. 6.

This verse contains the same Greek plural panton that we discussed above. Keeping this Greek word in the English translation for a moment, Paul says that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for panton.”

So how should we interpret the panton in this verse?

To begin with, it surely doesn’t mean “all sorts of (people).” This would be extremely obscure in the context, especially since, as we have seen, verses 1 and 4 seem not to be referring to all sorts of people. We should therefore translate panton by “all” and say that Paul is describing Jesus’ self-giving as “a ransom for all.”

Secondly, it is very difficult to think that “all” here means all the elect. The elect are not mentioned in the context or even in 1 Timothy as a whole. Instead, it is much more natural to think that “all” really does mean all (human beings) here.

So by far the most natural interpretation of v. 6 is that it is referring to Jesus’ self-giving on the cross as a ransom for all human beings. And this would obviously contradict Limited Atonement.

In conclusion, then, 1 Timothy 2:1-6 stands as a very strong piece of biblical evidence that the doctrine of Limited Atonement is false.

See also:

Monday, 19 November 2018

Is Illness Caused by Personal Sin?

It is, of course, a fact that the world is full of people who are ill, infirm and disabled.

One question that Christians often ask is how much of a connection there is between sin and illness. If we are struck down with a serious disease, for example, is it because of something we did wrong? For many, this is a burning question.


It is certainly true that all human illness and disability is at least indirectly the result of sin.

As a human race, we have chosen to rebel against our Maker. This has led to each of us becoming damaged in various ways, sometimes by suffering illness and disability. So when we become ill or disabled, we are certainly at fault insofar as we are members of a sinful human race.

Christians widely agree about this corporate responsibility for sin.


Something else that it isn’t necessary to defend is that many illnesses are the physical results of personal sin.

One common example of this in Western countries is people overeating and becoming ill as a result. There are many who suffer physical illnesses because they have repeatedly committed the sin of gluttony.

No reasonable Christian would deny that this sort of physical cause and effect exists between personal sin and illness.


The question that many Christians ask is not about corporate responsibility for sin, or about the physical causes of illnesses. Rather, the question is whether there is some sort of a spiritual connection between personal sin and illness.

If someone suffers from an illness, might it be because they committed a certain sin or sins, even though there is no physical connection between the sin and the illness? This is what many want to know.


To try and answer this question, we need to turn to the Bible to see what it has to say. Scripture is our God-given “Manual for the Human Life,” and what it says is always key.

As we will see below, the Bible makes it very clear that sometimes illness is not the result of personal sin, but sometimes it is.


Let’s look first at some passages which tell us of people who were ill or disabled, without personal sin being the cause.

Actually, the final example doesn’t involve illness or disability, but it is relevant for our topic, as I will explain in due course.

The book of Job

To begin with, a famous biblical example of where illness, and other disasters, are not the result of personal sin is the book of Job.

The book begins, in Job 1:1, by introducing Job in this way:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

(Scripture readings in this article are from the English Standard Version.)

As the rest of the book goes on to show, however, Job’s uprightness didn’t spare him from suffering terribly, including in illness (e.g., Job 2:1-8; 7:5).

Much of the book is taken up by speeches of Job’s friends, who insist that calamity and personal sin are closely connected (e.g., Job 4:1-21; 8:1-22; 11:1-6).

But Job’s friends, although sincere, were just plain wrong (e.g., Job 1:8, 22; 2:3, 10).

John 9:1-3

A New Testament example of disability that is not the result of personal sin can be found in John 9:1-3, which reads as follows:

1 As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

Jesus is clear that this man’s blindness was not the result of personal sin.

The disciples seemed to assume that he was either born blind as a pre-punishment for future sins he would commit, or that his parents sinned in some way. But Jesus leaves them in no doubt that such thinking is badly mistaken.

Luke 13:1-5

Another passage that is relevant for our topic is Luke 13:1-5. Illness is not actually mentioned in this text, but it is worth noting nevertheless. The passage reads as follows:

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

2 And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Jesus refers here to two groups of people who had suffered horrible deaths. And He says that the fact that they died in these ways doesn’t mean that they were worse sinners than other people.

Although Jesus doesn’t spell out the logic of His argument, it is likely that He is implying that the suffering these people experienced was not the result of personal sins.

And if people suffer disasters like these that are not caused by personal sin, it makes sense to think that the same would often apply to suffering from illnesses too.


Let’s turn now to look at some biblical passages which show a connection between personal sin and illness.

2 Samuel 11-12

In 2 Samuel 11:1-12:12, we are told how David committed the sins of adultery and murder, and how the prophet Nathan rebuked him for what he had done.

Then in 2 Samuel 12:13-14, we read:

13 David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.’”

In verses 15-23 we learn how Nathan’s prophecy was fulfilled. David’s baby son became ill and died.

Verse 14 is very clear that David’s sin caused the death of his son.

This whole business of a child being affected by a parent’s sin is a very difficult issue, and not one that I want to discuss here.

For our purposes, it is enough to note that this passage provides an example of personal sin leading to illness and death.

Acts 12:21-23

Our next example concerns the Jewish king Herod Agrippa I. In Acts 12:21-23, Luke tells us:

21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”

Although v. 23 says that an angel immediately struck Herod down, Luke surely doesn’t mean that he died at the time he was before the crowd.

Rather, Luke apparently means that he immediately contracted a fatal disease. There are two reasons for this. First, the reference to being eaten by worms seems to be about suffering from a disease. And second, Luke implies that Herod was eaten by worms before he breathed his last, and it surely took some time for him to be eaten by the worms.

It seems, then, that an angel struck down Herod by giving him a fatal disease.

And the passage is completely clear that the angel did this as a punishment for personal sin, because Herod accepted the crowd saying that he was a god.

1 Corinthians 11:27-30

Our next example concerns Christians. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, Paul writes:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

The Corinthian Christians were making a real mess of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. They were not treating this sacrament with nearly the respect that it deserved. So Paul sharply criticises them.

In v. 30 he is very clear that many of them have become ill because they have been committing this sin. And he even says that some have died as a result.

It is unlikely that all in the Corinthian church were genuinely born-of-the-Spirit believers. Yet to claim that all those Paul refers to in v. 30 would not have been genuine Christians is totally unwarranted.

This passage should leave us in no doubt that personal sin does sometimes lead to illness, and that this happens even to Christians.


The texts we have looked at, then, make it clear that illness is sometimes the result of personal sin, but that sometimes it has nothing to do with personal sin.

James 5:14-16

This conclusion is well illustrated by James 5:14-16, where James writes:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Note in v. 15 how James says, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” The way that this immediately follows the preceding instruction about illness and healing surely means that James is implying that some Christians who become ill do so because of committing sins.

There are, however, many who deny this. They claim that when James says, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,” he is saying something unconnected to what he has just said about illness and healing. They claim that in v. 15 James is saying two separate things about those who are ill: one, that they should be prayed for, and two, that if, on an unrelated note, they have committed sins, they will be forgiven.

This is an extremely unnatural interpretation of James’s words. Under this interpretation, the reference to committing sins seems to come out of nowhere and fits very poorly with the context.

Instead, we should accept that James is implying here that illness is sometimes caused by sin.

On the other hand, however, James is very clear that personal sin is not always the cause of illness. He says, “if he has committed sins,” which certainly implies that sometimes sin would not be the cause. 

James, then, sums up the biblical position on this issue well. Sometimes personal sin is the cause of illness, and sometimes it isn’t.


There are huge numbers of Christians today who deny that personal sin is ever the spiritual cause of illness. They will always rush to tell anyone suffering from an illness that it is not because of sins they have committed.

I think in some ways their motivation for doing this is good. They know that people suffering from illness sometimes get depressed by the thought that they might be responsible. So they want to prevent their suffering from increasing.

It is not acceptable, however, to distort biblical teaching, even if it is out of a desire to comfort people. We must also be careful not to give in to the temptation to believe what we want to believe about things. Many Christians have clearly fallen into this trap on this issue.

Besides, if someone does have an illness that has been caused by personal sin, we are doing them no favours at all if we say that sin is not the cause. Usually, the more we understand the truth about a situation, the better placed we will be to resolve it.

We should all therefore choose to accept biblical teaching on this topic. Personal sin is sometimes the cause of illness, and sometimes it isn’t.


My main aim in this article has simply been to show that illness is sometimes caused by personal sin. It isn’t my intention here to discuss the ramifications of this in any detail.

Nevertheless, I will make a few brief comments.

How often sin is the cause of illness

Firstly, there is the difficult question of how often personal sin is the cause of illness and how often it isn’t.

I suspect that quite a large majority of the time it isn’t the cause, but I am not confident about that.

When Christians become ill because of personal sin

Secondly, there is the issue of how we understand the mechanics of Christians becoming ill because of personal sin. As we saw above, believers do sometimes get ill in this way.

The difficulty here is that we Christians are God’s saved people, who have received His forgiveness. So it looks quite strange to suppose that when we sin, God punishes us by making us ill.

When Christians become ill through personal sin, I think, instead of seeing this as God’s retributive justice, we do better to see it differently.

First, instead of viewing the illness as justice being meted out, I think it is preferable to view it as a consequence of God’s protection being withdrawn to some extent. The sin leads to God becoming more distant, which in turn leads to greater exposure to dangers, including illness.

And second, we can probably see it along the lines of God’s discipline.

In Hebrews 12:7, the writer asks rhetorically:

“For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

And then he goes on in v. 11 to say:

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

I think that looking at this issue in terms of God’s discipline is a helpful approach.

For Christians who become ill through personal sin, then, we do better to view things in terms of God’s discipline and the withdrawal of His presence, rather than as Him administering justice by punishing.

Counselling those who are ill

Finally, because illness is sometimes due to personal sin, this means that counselling those who are ill can be a challenge.

If someone is troubled that they might be ill because of sin, it won’t do to simplistically deny that there is ever a spiritual connection between personal sin and illness. And in some cases, discernment might be needed to help people appropriately.

Incidentally, this point speaks volumes for the usefulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:8, i.e., messages of wisdom and messages of knowledge. Sometimes, one of these gifts might provide an important piece of information that can be used when counseling believers who are ill.

Of course, even if we become convinced that a certain illness is the result of committing a sin, that doesn’t mean that God is any less able to heal it than if no sin were the cause. Once we confess our sins, God forgives them (1 John 1:9), so any obstacle to healing caused by unrepentance is immediately removed.

The truth of the matter is that God works everything for the good of Christians (Romans 8:28), and that He is with us (Matthew 28:20). So, like Paul, we can confidently put the past, including our sins, behind us and move forwards with the Lord into the future (Philippians 3:13).

See also: