Tuesday, April 21

Pronouns and the Cross: Romans 5 and Limited Atonement

Pronouns.

My high school grammar teacher would be pleased that I possess such an infatuation for them--especially when it comes to defending the great doctrinal truth of substitutionary atonement. You see, did Christ really die in the place of real people--releasing them from the sentence of death? Did He face God's wrath in their stead? All conservative theologians would answer a definite and resounding yes!

Yet their enthusiasm for this same doctrine mysteriously wanes when the subject of limited atonement arises. Their "unlimited" view of the atonement (read: unlimited in hypothetical scope, limited in actual efficiency) borders on denying the real substitutionary death of Christ if, as they say, Christ died as a substitute for all people--even those currently facing God's unsatisfied wrath in hell.

When pressed for the reasoning behind their universal view, many "unlimited" proponents use the "well-show-me-a-verse-that-always-limits-the-atonement-ONLY-to-the elect" argument. This, of course, is nothing more than a not-so-well crafted deflection tactic--a tactic that would require them to renounce their view of a pretribulational rapture (most unlimited, universal atonement proponents would be pretribulationalists). Just as there is not a single verse that limits the atonement only to the elect, there is not a single verse that specifically states Christ's second coming will occur in stages, and that the rapture will occur before a seven-year tribulation period. Yet, they will defend their rapture position with great fervor and vehemency--while deriding your "limited atonement" as a purely (il)logical argument that lacks sufficient scriptural support.

This is where pronouns become huge--especially first-person plural pronouns like "we" and "us" and "our." As you remember from Language Arts class, first-person plural pronouns speak of a specific group--and are to be distinguished from third-person plural pronouns like "you (all)" and "they". Recognizing the specific intent of these oft-overlooked pronouns will make the doctrine of particular redemption come alive--especially when considered within their specific context.

For example, I was taught that Isaiah 53:6 was indisputable proof of an unlimited atonement ... and at first-glance, I would agree: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." After all, all means all all the time, right? No. In this text, the all is a qualified all. Isaiah is not stating that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of all people--including those in hell. He is saying that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of us all. Us. There it is. First-person plural. All of us. Not all in an unqualified sense, but all in a qualified, first-personal plural sense. All in a specific, limited, group sense. For a much more detailed treatment of the entire Isaiah 53 passage in regards to particular redemption, see THIS.

So this past Sunday I preached from Romans 5:1-11 on the subject of "Don't Waste Your Suffering." Never before had I seen the relationship between our justification and the purpose for our sufferings (to awaken within us a desire for glory through producing endurance, proven character, and hope).

But that wasn't all I had missed from the passage; I had missed those first-person plural pronouns I had become so infatuated with in Isaiah 53. And then it hit me--like a proverbial ton of theological bricks: those who had paved the "Romans Road" must have embraced the same particular redemption I embrace. There it was. In black and white on the page before me. I could spend the next two-hundred and fifty words explaining it to you, but I'm quite sure you are capable of picking up on the first-person plural pronouns (especially verse 8)--and their relationship to justification and Christ's death.

So here is the Apostle Paul in God's own words (first-person plural pronouns are in bold for effect ... not because I think you can't identify them!):

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Praise God for first-person plural pronouns. Because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, we have peace with God ... access to God ... and the hope of God. We are recipients of God's love (through the Spirit), and are spared God's wrath. We, who were His enemies, are not killed, but spared through Christ's life.

And smack-dab in the middle of this great text on the blessings of justification is a telling statement on Christ's death: "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

17 Comments:

Anonymous gumbygangsta said...

Hail to Ken, the King of Deflection Tactic.

Why am I reading Pre-tribulational rapture and Second Coming of Christ statements in a limited atonement post?

4/21/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

gumby,

I only refer to the pretribber in relation to the logic and argument made against the limited guys.

I'm not attacking the pretribbers, just showing the fallacy of the "show me a verse that states that Christ died ONLY for the elect" argument against a limited atonement view.

4/21/2009 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken,

I agree the sufficiency-efficiency argument is weak and does little, if anything, to establish universal atonement. In reality, it only distorts the issue.

By the way, if Christ's dying for those already in heaven didn't undermine His substitutionary atonement, then why should His dying for those in hell undermine it? Besides, maybe God has more than one purpose in the atonement. Maybe it furnishes the future groundwork for the judgment of all men, even those already in hell (Jo. 3:18), in which case a universal atonement would be absolutely indispensable to the great final assize.

You say, "When pressed for the reasoning behind their universal view, many "unlimited" proponents use the "well-show-me-a-verse-that-always-limits-the-atonement-ONLY-to-the elect" argument." You're right. They use that. And it's a good argument. After all, I can cite dozens of texts that show Christ died for the world. So why can't you cite one that shows He didn't? Indeed, there's not a single text that says Christ died for the elect only; there's not a single text that says He didn't die for all the world; and there's not a single text that says there are some for whom He didn't die. Your apologetic burden is enormous. Not only must you show how dozens of Scriptures don't really mean what they obviously say, but how other Scriptures must say what they obviously don't mean.

Ken: [As you remember from Language Arts class, first-person plural pronouns speak of a specific group--and are to be distinguished from third-person plural pronouns like "you (all)" and "they".]

tjp: Perhaps it's just me, but I've never heard of a third person "you (all)." I've heard of a second person plural, but a third person "you (all)"? Mercy!
Ken: [Recognizing the specific intent of these oft-overlooked pronouns will make the doctrine of particular redemption come alive--especially when considered within their specific context.]

tjp: Yes, the pronouns "we," "us," and "our" are wonderful. But how they prove a limitarian atonement is beyond me. The mistake restrictionists commit in making these NT personal pronouns carry the argument for limitation is that when the Bible uses such pronouns in referencing the atonement, it generally speaks only of those to whom it has been applied, and not for all those for whom it was provided.

Ken: [After all, all means all all the time, right?]

tjp: Does it? I know of no recognized non Calvinist writer who believes that "all" means "all" all the time. Perhaps you know of a Calvinist who does or a Calvinist who thinks he knows of a non Calvinist who does. Personally, I think I smell burning straw.

Ken: [No. In this text [Isa. 53:6], the all is a qualified all. Isaiah is not stating that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of all people--including those in hell. He is saying that the Lord laid on Christ the iniquity of us all. Us. There it is. First-person plural. All of us. Not all in an unqualified sense, but all in a qualified, first-personal plural sense. All in a specific, limited, group sense.]

tjp: You've got to be kidding, right? You're saying that "us" in Isa. 53:6 is the elect? That Christ's work spoken of in this chapter is limited to them? Surely you can see, Ken, that the "us" in 53:6 is also the "we" and "every one" of verse 6 and that the "we" and "every one" of verse 6 is also the "our" and "we" of verse 5 and that "our" and "we" of verse 5 is also the "our" and "we" of verse 4 and that the "our" and "we" of verse 4 is also the "we" and "our" of verse 3 and that the "we" and "our" of verse 3 is also the "we" in verse 2.
Now it's clear, isn't it, that Isaiah is speaking from the perspective of the nation of Israel ['my people,' v.10] through the pronouns "we" and "our"? And it's also clear, isn't it, that although God laid on the Messiah all the sins of Israel (vs. 6,8) that only some would benefit: justify many (v. 11)? If the "all" is qualified in this text, it's qualified to the entire nation of Israel. And we know the entire nation wasn't saved. Hence, we have many for whom Christ died who will never enjoy the work of redemption. The notion that all must be saved for whom He died is a figment. Nothing more.

Have a good one!

tjp

4/21/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Your statement about "all" not meaning all came through loud and clear to me since I had just been meditating on Romans 3:23, 24 and realized that when it says "all of have sinned", the emphasis in the "all" is not on all people but on both Jews and Gentiles. (Yes I believe all people have sinned.) I have always been puzzled by the fact that verse 24 goes on to say, "being justified freely by His grace."

The same "all" who have sinned are freely justified. I think verses 27-30 show that this is what he is talking about. I think that is what he is alluding to in Galatians 2:14-17 also where he talks about the Gentile sinners and if Jews come to Christ the same way, they are admitting that they are sinners as well.

Recently in a Sunday School class I was teaching it struck me that when Peter was defending his ministry in Acts 15 he says that "we shall be saved even as they." One might have thought he would have said it the other way around.

All of this to say that "all" in Romans 3:23, 24 as in many other cases is making the case that the Gentiles and Jews alike have access to the promise of God in the gospel.

By the way, in response to gumby, I'm also a Pre-trib and Second Coming guy.

4/21/2009 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

tjp,

It is a pleasant surprise to see that you likewise limit the Isaiah 53 passage! Although we may disagree as to the objects of the personal pronouns (verse 1 is key here ... who has believed OUR report ... to WHOM is the arm of the Lord revealed?), it's reassuring to see you agree that Isaiah 53 cannot be used to purport an unlimited atonement.

Also, I am a bit perplexed by the fact that you failed to interact with Romans 5:1-11. Are you conceding the fact that the justifying, reconciling benefits of the cross are limited to those who believe (i.e., the elect)? Do you believe Romans 5:8's "us" cannot refer to all who have ever lived, but to those who are justified?

Good to have you commenting!

4/21/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

tjp,

Another couple of interesting uses of the first-person plural pronoun occur in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"

4/21/2009 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger Don Fields said...

I also preached on Romans 5:1-11 last Sunday. What a strange coincidence! I also saw the connection between the pronouns and believe you are making a very excellent and strong case here from a passage of Scripture within its context.

4/22/2009 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken,

Ken: [It is a pleasant surprise to see that you likewise limit the Isaiah 53 passage!] p: I aim to please.

Ken: [Although we may disagree as to the objects of the personal pronouns (verse 1 is key here ... who has believed OUR report ... to WHOM is the arm of the Lord revealed?), it's reassuring to see you agree that Isaiah 53 cannot be used to purport an unlimited atonement.

tjp: Obviously either you misread me, or I didn't communicate clearly. I think Isaiah 53 is a powerful argument for unlimited atonement. True, I don't see Isaiah addressing all men without exception in his prophecy, but I do see him addressing all the children of Israel without exception. Now, if it's unlimited as it applies to them, then it's certainly not difficult to see how it can be unlimited as it applies to all.

But here's the rub for restrictionists. If such expressions as "wounded for our transgessions and bruised for our iniquities (53:5) and "the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (53:6) and "for the transgression of my people [Israel] was he stricken" (53:8) apply to the entire nation of Israel without exception (as "our," "us," and "we" suggest), then limitarians have a huge problem. The problem? The problem is they have the Messiah offering Himself as a substitutionary sacrifice for all the children of Israel, and yet all the children of Israel aren't saved, a fact which stung Isaiah.

Indeed, I believe "our" and "whom" are keys to the passage (along with "we" and "us"). Clearly, Isaiah was stunned at the meager response among the children of Israel (to whom the saving arm of the LORD was revealed) to his Messianic prophecies. Again, it's clear from the text he is speaking from the perspective of the nation of Israel (both saved and lost). Let me cut to the point: If Christ died for the entire nation of Israel, and yet the entire nation wasn't saved, then why is it so shocking that He would die for the entire world (without exception), and yet the entire world not be saved?

So I repeat may statement: The notion that all must be saved for whom Christ died is a figment. Nothing more.


Ken: [Are you conceding the fact that the justifying, reconciling benefits of the cross are limited to those who believe (i.e., the elect)?]

tjp: No, I'm not. No where does the Bible every say (or even hint at) that Christ died only for those who believe. That's simply Calvinian word play. Again, citing contexts (and their pronouns) in which the speaker includes himself among those whom redemption has been applied is no argument for limitation, or the extent of redemption's provision.

Ken: [Do you believe Romans 5:8's "us" cannot refer to all who have ever lived, but to those who are justified?]

tjp: Well, context and purpose control Paul's usage of "us." As I understand it, Paul is using "us" here as including all who've experienced redemption applied and not all those for whom redemption has been provided. Indeed, "Christ died for the ungodly" (all sinners), which necessarily means He died for all sinners who believe (the "us's"), that is, for all who know redemption applied. Certainly Paul can say "Christ died for us" without suggesting He didn't die for all. And that, I believe, is the case here.

Have a good one!

tjp

4/22/2009 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

How do you interact with the pronouns and nouns of First John 2:2? I'm pretty sure who the "our" and "ours" refers to, as in Romans 5. But who is "the whole world"?

4/22/2009 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Responding to Robert, I think the whole world there is a reference to the Gentiles instead of just the Jews (not ours only). I think 2 Corinthians 5:19 is an interesting passage in this whole discussion to because he says he reconciled the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them. Who is the pronoun "them" referring to. The whole world? God does not count the trespasses against anyone in the world?

4/22/2009 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

Roger,

Good thoughts!

4/22/2009 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

Robert,

In response to your question on 1 John 2:2, it's important to note that this verse would echo the teaching of John 4:42, that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Certainly, He was not Hitler's Savior ... neither is He Osama's Savior. So He is not the Savior of the whole world in a universal sense (because not all are saved), but He is the Savior for men of all sorts, of all ages, and all places.

So in 1 John 2:2, "the world" refers to Christ's propitiatory benefit being not to the Jews only, of whom he speaks as appears in 1 John 2:7, but also to other nations.

If this is not the case, you are left with two options in regards to Christ's propitiatory substitution:

Option 1: Christ's death was incapable of fully satisfying God's wrath for those in hell. Therefore, they must eternally endure God's wrath against their sin. Sin is what qualifies men to an eternity in hell (Romans 6:23). Unbelief is one of those sins that condemns (John 3:18).

Option 2: Christ's death was not substitutionary in nature. He never actually died in the place of anyone. If He was incapable of satisfying the wrath of God against those in hell, His death must likewise be insufficient to satisfy the wrath of God against the rest of us.

This second option leaves a part of propitiation up to the individual sinner ... he must claim and apply this "partial propitiation" for it to become effective on his behalf.

4/22/2009 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger greglong said...

Ken writes:

In response to your question on 1 John 2:2, it's important to note that this verse would echo the teaching of John 4:42, that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Certainly, He was not Hitler's Savior ... neither is He Osama's Savior. So He is not the Savior of the whole world in a universal sense (because not all are saved), but He is the Savior for men of all sorts, of all ages, and all places.

1 Tim 4:9-10
10 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. ESV

4/23/2009 09:57:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...

Greg,

I think you are confusing Christ's POSITION as Savior, and a PERSONAL Savior.

He is the ONLY POSSIBLE SAVIOR of all men ... but Christ is not the PERSONAL SAVIOR of all men.

That was the point of my previous comment.

Unless you are stating that Hitler is in heaven since Christ is his Savior?

4/23/2009 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger greglong said...

In Gal. 2:20, Paul says:

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.Did Christ only give himself for Paul the apostle? Pronouns are important, remember!

5/05/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger greglong said...

According to 1 Tim. 4:10, there is some sense in which God is the Savior of all men, including Hitler, but there is a special sense in which He is the Savior of only those who believe, which would not (to our knowledge) include Hitler.

5/05/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggest you all see Rom 2:13 and 5:20, Heb. 7:12 "change of the law" and Gen. 9:5a,b&c NIV especially c. For it is God's set purpose that each man must give him an account regarding the fact of one man's life having been lost by bloodshed. All of you, it seems to me, are of the opinion that PSA/ substitutionary atonement or variants is a doctrine which has no possibility of not being true. However since there is no possibility of any man 's life taken by bloodshed that does not result in the residual requirement of giving an account directly to God the atonement perspective you guys refer to has NO possibility of being other than false. Simplified. You can whack a man in your place but, because it is not possible to obtain a remission of sin's penalty, eternal death, without the shedding of blood, God's requirement "give an account" is the only product of your effort. So actually you remain in the same sinking boat you attempted to get out of.
"It is not those who hear the law
who are righteous in God's sight
but, it is those who obey the law
who will be declared righteous."

What you really must understand is which law Paul is referring to rather the quibble about pronouns. For hasn't Jesus said that God has prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies? This table, by the way, sits right down in front of every one of your church houses.
Theodore A. Jones

10/12/2009 06:22:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home