I was reading a Calvinist webpage. The person expounded 1 John 2:2 and said Christ died for all without distinction not without exception. What this means is that Jesus died for people of every race/nation/tribe, but not each individual member. What’s wrong with that interpretation? https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/jhendryx03.html
Here’s a lengthy defense of limited atonement.
2 Peter 3:9 . “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” When Peter says that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” who is he referring to when he says all? The word all is clearly restricted by the context to the pronoun us . Peter is clearly referring to believers, to Christians when he says “us” (2 Pet. 1:1). God is not willing that any of us (that is, Christians) should perish, but that all of us (God’s people) should come to repentance. If Peter had meant that God is not willing that any person in the whole world will perish, then this passage would teach universal salvation, for the Bible teaches that God does have the power to carry out His will. “No one can take II Pet. 3:9 to support the Arminian position without wrestling it out of context, misapplying it to the reprobate, and breaking basic rules for the interpretation of plain English or Greek. Peter’s position there, as everywhere else, is that Christ died for us (the elect) and not for the whole world.”87
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 . “For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” This passage says that Christ died for all. The question is: does all here refer to the whole human race or to the elect—the church? The analogy of Scripture and the context clearly favors the elect only. Paul’s aim in this passage is to motivate Christians to greater obedience by pointing to Christ’s love for us and the judicial union with Christ in His death and resurrection. If Paul was teaching that Christ died for all men without distinction, this passage would prove too much, for Paul’s argument is that this union with Christ in His death and resurrection (which according to the Bible definitely achieves expiation of sin and reconciliation with God) must lead to the service of Jesus Christ—“the love of Christ constrains us.” “Can it be said of all men, including those who reject the gospel or have never heard it, that they died when Christ died on the cross; can it be said of them that they no longer live unto themselves but unto Christ who died for them?”88 Can it be said that they are a new creation; that the old pagan lifestyle has been replaced by a Christian lifestyle (v. 17). Can we refer to Adolf Hitler, Stalin, or Charles Manson as “the righteousness of God in Him” (v. 21). If the things that Paul attributes to those united to Christ in His death and resurrection cannot be attributed to all men, then in this passage Paul cannot be referring to all men, but to the elect only.
1 Corinthians 15:22 . “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The use of all in this passage refers to all in Adam and all in Christ. Adam is the covenant head of all those who die, and Christ is the covenant head of all those who shall live, or all those who will have eternal life. Since all men do not have eternal life, the “all” in Christ cannot refer to the whole human race without exception. The word all in the second half of the verse must be restricted to believers. This interpretation is strengthened by the parallel passage in Romans 5:12-21, where it is stated that those in Christ are justified. “No historical Christian church has ever held that all men indiscriminately are justified. For whom God justifies, them he also glorifies, Rom. 8:30.”89 Consistent universalists understand that those in Christ who are justified in Him must go to heaven; therefore, this is a major proof text for their heretical notion that all men will go to heaven.
2 Timothy 2:3-6 . “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Of the proof texts cited thus far for a universal atonement, this passage is considered to be the strongest in favor of their doctrine. However, before jumping to conclusions one should first examine the Greek text, the immediate context, and the theological context (or the analogy of Scripture). There are many reasons why this passage should not be construed to mean that Christ died for every individual who ever lived.
Note, first, that the context favors translating the Greek word all ( pas ) as all kinds of men. In 1 Timothy 2:1 Paul says “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority.” Paul means that we are to pray for all kinds of people, or all sorts of people—including the civil authorities. Paul’s use of all in verse one cannot mean all men that have ever existed, or who exist presently, or who shall exist in the future. Are Christians supposed to pray for the millions of people who are dead and burning in hell? Furthermore, the myriads of people in heaven certainly are in no need of our prayers. In John chapter 17 Jesus refused to pray for all men: “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world” (v. 9). The apostle John says specifically that believers are not to pray for those who have committed the sin leading to death (cf. 1 Jn. 5:16). Paul also tells believers to give thanksgiving for all men. Are Christians supposed to give thanks for the persecuting Nero, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, Charles Manson, child molesters, etc.? Of course not! Christians are to pray for all types of men: “that is, for men of the highest, as well as the lowest rank and quality.”90
But does the Greek language permit one to translate or interpret “all men” as “all kinds of men“? Yes; in fact, there are many instances in the New Testament in which pas is translated as “all kinds of” or “all manner of” (e.g., Mt. 4:23; 5:11; 10:1; Lk. 11:42; Ac. 10:12; Rom. 7:8; Rev. 21:19). Custance writes: “Every lexicon of New Testament Greek and of Classical Greek agrees upon the validity of the expanded translation. Thayer, for example, gives a number of references by way of illustration and adds this comment: ‘So especially with nouns designating virtues or vices, customs, characters, conditions, etc.’ On numerous occasions it greatly illuminates the text to convert the simple ‘all’ (whether things or men) into ‘all kinds of’ or some such alternative.”91 Therefore, if the context and many other clear doctrines and passages point in the direction of the expanded meaning of all (i.e., “all kinds of“), then one is justified in preferring such an interpretation.
Although the Greek language permits, and the immediate context favors, the view that Paul is speaking of all kinds of men , the greatest reason one should favor the interpretation above is that it best fits with the many clear passages which discuss Christ’s death and God’s will. The salvation spoken of in this passage is not a mere possibility of salvation, or an offer of salvation, or an arrangement set up by God in which men can save themselves. Paul is speaking of a real, certain and actual salvation. When Paul says that it is God’s will, or desire, that all men are to be saved, he is not speaking of a will conditioned by man’s response. Such would clearly contradict Scripture: “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16; cf. Jn. 1:13). God’s will regarding “the salvation of men is absolute and unconditional, and what infallibly secures and produces it”92 (cf. Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:4, 5, 11; 2:10). If it was God’s will that all men without exception should be saved, then all men would go to heaven. This passage would teach a universal salvation. Paul says, “Who has resisted His will” (Rom 9:19)? God’s word declares: “He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35).
Does the Bible teach that it is God’s desire to save all men? No, not at all. God did not choose or elect all men to eternal life. He only chose some; the rest are hardened (Rom. 9:18). These are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (2 Th. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 2:8-9; Pr. 16:4; 1 Th. 5:9). God is infinite in power, knowledge and wisdom. If God really was trying to save every individual throughout history, then why did He restrict His special revelation to a tiny nation in Palestine under the Old Covenant? Why did God forbid Paul, Timothy, and Silas to preach the gospel in Asia (Ac. 16:6)? Why does the Bible repeatedly say that God hides the truth from many people (Mt. 11:25; Isa. 6:9-10)? Why did Jesus Christ not pray and intercede for all men, but only for some (Jn. 17:9)? In Acts 9, Jesus Christ appears to Paul and turns a zealous persecutor of Christians into the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. Why doesn’t God raise up thousands of apostle Pauls to spread the gospel throughout the earth? God certainly has the power to do so. But He does not. Regeneration is a sovereign act of God, yet God refuses to regenerate all men. Faith and repentance are gifts of God, yet God only grants these gifts to some and not others. The Bible clearly teaches that God is not trying to save all men. What it does teach is that He will save some people out of every nation before Christ returns (Rev. 5:9).
Those who believe that Christ died for all men without exception use as proof texts passages which say that Christ is the “Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42; 1 Jn. 4:14), or that say “God so loved the world“ (Jn. 3:16). Before one assumes that the term “world” means every single human being in the world without exception, one should carefully examine how the word world ( kosmos ) is used in Scripture. The term “world” has a variety of meanings in the New Testament. The best way to determine the meaning in each passage is to examine the context and other passages that have a similar usage. A clear passage can shed light on a less clear passage.
There are at least eight different uses of the term “world” in the New Testament. 1. The word can refer to the entire created order—the universe. “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth…” (Ac. 17:24). 2. It can refer to the earth itself. “Jesus…loved His own who were in the world” (Jn. 13:1; cf. Eph. 1:4). 3. “World” can mean the evil world system (cf. Jn. 12:31; 1 Jn. 5:19). 4. Sometimes kosmos refers to the whole human race (except Jesus Christ). After spending two and a half chapters proving that all men without exception are sinners, Paul says “all the world” is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). 5. Sometimes world refers only to unbelievers. The devil is called the “deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). John says that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Christians are not under Satan’s power. Revelation 13:13 says that “all the world…followed the beast,” yet Christians do not follow the beast or receive his mark (Rev. 14:9-10). When Jesus told His disciples: “the world hates you“ (Jn. 15:18), He obviously was referring only to unbelievers. 6. The term world can also be used to describe the Roman empire or what was considered the civilized world in the days of the apostles. “A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Lk. 2:1). When Paul wrote to the church at Rome and said, “your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (1:8), most of the earth had not heard the gospel and knew nothing about the Roman church (cf. Ac. 2:5; Col. 1:23; Ac. 19:27; Gen. 41:57). 7. “World” is also used as a synonym for the Gentiles. “Now if their [i.e., the Jews] fall is riches for the world , and their failure riches for the Gentiles , how much more their fullness?” (Rom. 11:12; cf. v. 15, 32). 8. Sometimes “world” is used as a general term referring to the human race throughout the world. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). This passage means that God is propitious to men (i.e., the class of beings). This passage cannot mean that God has reconciled every single individual in the world to Himself, for it cannot be said of individuals who do not believe and go to hell that God has not imputed their trespasses to them. People without sin do not go to hell. God is exercising mercy toward mankind as a class by saving men out of every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev. 5:9). Some commentators (e.g., Arthur W. Pink and John Gill) argue that “world” in this and other similar passages is synonymous with believers only or the elect.93 Although this interpretation has merit and fits in with the analogy of Scripture, it is not necessary to refute the notion that Christ died for all men without exception. Passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:19 and John 3:16 contain within their own contexts phrases which render the universalist interpretation impossible. Since the word “world” can be used in so many different ways in Scripture, one should be very careful to study the context in each case before jumping to a conclusion which contradicts other plain teachings in Scripture. Here are a few examples.
When the Bible says that Jesus Christ is “the Savior of the world,” it does not mean that He died for every individual in the world, but that He came to save people from every nation and not just Israel. This later interpretation is easily proven from the context. In John 4 Jesus witnesses to and converts a Samaritan woman. To modern believers this may hold little significance, but in Jesus’ day the Jews had nothing to do with the Samaritans (Jn. 4:9). After the woman witnesses to the Samaritans of her city and many believe, Jesus spends two whole days among the Samaritans and many more believe in Him (Jn. 4:39-41). The Samaritans say to the woman, “this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (4:42). The common idea in Jesus’ day among Jews was that the Messiah was coming to save only Israel, but to the Samaritans’ surprise and gratitude, they now understand that the Messiah will save people from every nation, even the despised Samaritans. To assert that the Samaritans were saying that Christ had come to offer a hypothetical salvation to every individual, or that every individual in the whole world would actually be saved is absurd.
1 John 2:2
But what about 1 John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the whole world“? The apostle John was a Jew writing to Jewish believers.94 John is saying that Christ is the propitiation not only for the sins of the Jews, but also for the whole world—the Gentiles also. This interpretation is preferable for a number of reasons. First, note the striking similarity between this passage and John 11:51, 52, “Jesus would die for the nation [Israel], and not for that nation [Israel] only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad [i.e., the elect in every nation—the world].” Caiaphas, under divine inspiration, contrasts Israel and the world. It was common for Jews in ancient rabbinic literature to use the terms “world” and “Gentiles” as synonymous. Note how the apostle Paul uses “world” and “Gentiles” in a parallel manner: “Now if their fall is riches for the world , and their failure riches for the Gentiles …“ (Rom. 11:12).95 Second, John uses the word “propitiation,” a word which means that God’s wrath against the sinner is appeased and removed. If John means that Christ is a propitiation for all men without exception, even for those people in hell, then this passage would teach a universal salvation. If one prefers to translate the Greek word as “expiation” instead of “propitiation,” the passage would still teach universalism. Expiation means that the guilt of sin is removed. If the guilt of sin is removed from everyone, then why would God punish anyone? Third, “If Christ is the propitiation for everybody , it would be idle tautology to say, first, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins and also for everybody.’ There could be no ‘also’ if He is the propitiation for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal propitiation, he had omitted the first clause of v. 2, and simply said, ‘He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.’”96