range of the atonement

Range of the Atonement

What is the range of the atonement? I wrote last week that Christ died in our place and for our sins on the cross, but for who all did he die? Did he die for Christians only or did he die for everyone? In this post I’m going to take a look at the two views on the range of the atonement. We will look at both the logical arguments and the biblical evidence used to support each view.

Limited atonement

This is the view that Christ only died for the sins of the elect. The reasoning behind this view is as follows: if Christ died for everyone’s sins then everyone would be saved. Not everyone will be saved therefor Christ died only for the sins of those that God chose, in eternity passed, to be saved. Some passages used to support this view are John 10:11; 15, Acts 20:28, and Romans 8:32-33.

Those who hold to this view of the range of the atonement are known as Reformed, 5 point Calvinists, or Ultra-Calvinists.

Unlimited atonement

This is the view that Christ died for everyone’s sins. The strength of the limited atonement view lies in its logical harmony with the rest of a 5 point Calvinist system of salvation. While on the other hand the strength of the unlimited atonement view lies in the biblical evidence that supports it.

At first glance it doesn’t make any since that if everyone’s sins are payed for that some would not receive salvation. However, if we highly esteem the sovereignty of God then it wouldn’t matter that everyone’s sins are paid for, they would still have to chosen¬†by Him for salvation. Their salvation would be based on His sovereign will.

If we think of the decrees of God as occurring in a sequence then 5 point Calvinists would argue that God chose some to be saved and then decreed that Christ would be sent to die for their sins. On the other hand those who hold to an unlimited view of the atonement would say that God decreed that Christ would be sent to die for everyone’s sin then He chose who would be saved.

From what I understand you can believe in unlimited atonement and still be considered a Calvinist but not Reformed. Those who do believe in unlimited atonement and consider themselves Calvinists would be known as 4 point Calvinists, Moderate Calvinists, or Amyraldians. And of course all Arminians believe in unlimited atonement.

A few of the strongest pieces of evidence from scripture that support unlimited atonement are 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:2, and 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 4:10. The verse from 2 Peter says that Christ died even for false teachers. 1 John 2:2 says that Christ not only died for the sins of believers but for the sins of the rest of the world. The passages from 1 Timothy are similar in nature to 1 John 2:2. Other passages from scripture that support an unlimited view of the atonement include Hebrews 2:9, John 3:16, and Acts 17:30.


Both views of the range of the atonement presented above are evangelical. I would argue that your interpretation hinges on your method of theology. The Reformed believer puts most of the weight of his view in its logical reasoning. He believes that those who Christ died for will be saved and so Christ must not have died for everyone. The Arminian puts a lot of weight into the idea of the free will of man. So unlimited atonement is the best option that harmonizes with their view of free will. The moderate Calvinist puts most of the weight of his belief in the evidence of scripture. From the evidence of scripture she then develops her system of theology. Particularly, the passages sited above in the section on unlimited atonement are extremely difficult to coordinate with a limited view of the atonement.

But I want to hear what you have to say on this topic. Even if you’re not familiar with the theological systems of Arminianism or the various forms of Calvinism you must have a view on this topic. So feel free to ask a question or leave a comment in the comment section below.


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