Did Calvin Teach Limited Atonement?



Picture of the book, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin. Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement.


As I understand it, he did believe in the doctrine of limited atonement. His beliefs have been summarized by the TULIP acronym, with the “L” standing for limited atonement. While I agree with a lot of what he taught, I strongly disagree on the doctrine of the extent of Christ’s atonement, and I’m not Arminian.


The premise he and most who support the limited atonement view rest on, is the idea that if Christ died for all men’s sins, then that would include the sin of unbelief, and therefore, no one could be sent to hell. However, it wasn’t enough that the blood of the Passover lamb was shed. It still had to be applied to the doorpost of the house, before the value of the death took effect. Even the elect are lost, until they trust Christ as Savior (2 Timothy 2:10). In the same way, the lost go to hell not because their sins were not paid for, but because the value of the atonement was never applied to their soul through faith.

There are also many verses and passages which would be nonsensical, if Christ didn’t die for all men’s sins. For example, in John 12:47-50, it says those who ultimately reject Christ will not be judged by Him, but by the gospel message they rejected. You can’t condemn someone to hell for rejecting God’s offer of Christ as Savior, if Christ was not, in fact, their Savior. Also, 2 Peter 2:1 says the false teachers, who bring swift destruction on themselves, deny “the Lord who bought them”. Calvinists then either try to claim that these false teachers were actually saved, or that there’s only some superficial sense in which Christ “bought” them. 1 John 2:2 says Christ is the atonement not only for our sins, but for the sins of the “whole world”. The Calvanist then inserts the word “elect” into that passage (e.g., “Christ died not only for our elect sins, but also for the sins of the whole elect world”), where it makes no sense, and contradicts the contrast that epistle uses between the unsaved “world” and true believers.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash


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