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He Gave Himself a Ransom for All

Posted by Matt Postiff May 21, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

There are a substantial number of Christians who believe that it is incorrect to say that Christ died for all mankind. To them, it is only correct to say that He died for the elect. There are others, such as myself, who are Calvinistic, who do not believe in universalism, and who do believe that the design of the atonement extends to more than just elect human beings. It also encompasses in some way the non-elect, so that I can say that Christ died for all human beings.

So how do I defend this broad referent as opposed to a narrower "all kinds of men" or "all the elect"? This is a question that I answered in my sermon yesterday on 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Here are the reasons I gave for taking the broader referent:

1. The plain normal reading throughout the seven verses is "all men" not "all kinds of men" or "some men," or "the elect."

2. There are words in Greek that could clearly convey the limited concepts, but those words are not used here.

3. The text does not indicate that God does not desire the salvation of some men; it rather says God desires that ALL men be saved.

4. The text ties together prayer for all men with the provision of the atonement for all men. Notice that contextually the "all men" in verse 1 is the same as the "all men" in verse 4, which is again the same as the "men" in verse 5, and which again is the same as "all" in verse 6. The paragraph goes together as a unit. It seems unreasonable to believe "all men" to be universal in the opening sentence and then limited to some other kind of "all" (all kinds?) in the later references of the same paragraph.

5. The clarification in verse 2 regarding governmental authorities and a peaceable life indicates that the "all men" the Ephesian church is to be praying for includes unbelieving leaders—those who could potentially make their lives difficult by persecution. A good way to have a tranquil existence as a Christian is to have formerly non-Christian leaders turned into Christian leaders. We are to be praying for unbelieving people as part of our fulfillment of the Biblical exhortation in verse 1.

6. God desires all to be saved, including leaders. We expect that some will be saved and some will not be saved. But we do not know who the elect are in advance of their salvation, so we cannot pray for them only. We are to be praying for unbelieving people, some of whom may not be elect.

Taking these together, I cannot get around the fact that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all. Of course He did not give Himself with the end result that all will be saved. There is a sense in which Jesus gave Himself a ransom for (only) the many. But we have to grapple with the fact that somehow the design of the atonement extends beyond the elect so that there is another sense in which Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all. Explaining that sense has proved very difficult over the centuries, but I hope to add a few more words of explanation in future posts.

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