Limited Atonement Or Universalism? Romans 4:25 Means That You Must Choose!
Posted by Job on May 26, 2011
Most Christians believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ was universal, for all. Some believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ was for those given to Him by God the Father via divine election. The Christians who adhere to the majority view, then, must deal with Romans 4:25. This verse speaks concerning our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Now “delivered for our offences” means the atonement of Jesus Christ. Again, if you reject limited atonement (or the form of this doctrine that is more palatable to contemporary human sensitivities, “particular atonement”) in favor of universal atonement or unlimited atonement, then you believe that Jesus Christ was “delivered for the offences” of all mankind.
But there are two problems with this. First, Romans 4:25 does not say that Jesus Christ died for the offenses of all! Instead, it says that Jesus Christ died for “our offences!” Who is in view with “our”? Romans 4:24 makes it crystal clear: “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Further, the several preceding verses speak of righteousness imputed to Abraham, and that this righteousness is likewise only imputed to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Thus, the by context the “our” in Romans 4:25 is the believers only, and the text makes it clear that it is the sins of the believers only that Jesus Christ died for.
While that is a considerable hurdle – the plain explicit statement and meaning of the Bible text that precludes other interpretations unless one changes the meanings of the words or opts for some symbolic, allegorical or spiritual interpretation – it actually may not be the biggest issue with universal atonement doctrines that Romans 4:25 presents. Instead, this is posed by “and was raised again for our justification.” Now the “and” that appears in this translation is not a conjunction that was absent in the original language but added to the translation for clarity and readability, as is often done. Instead, the “and” is explicitly there in the Greek by way of the word “kai.” And “kai” is not merely “and” in the sense of a trivial, coincidental or weak relationship, but it is also often translated to be “both”, “likewise” or “indeed” indicating to things that must be taken together, such as one being dependent upon another, or one being a logical consequence or conclusion of the other. So make no mistake: the “our” of the atonement in Romans 4:25 is the “our” of the justification, with the atoning act in the former being the death on the cross, and the justifying act of the latter being Christ’s resurrection of the dead.
Now those of us who believe in limited atonement interpret this text consistently, meaning the “our” in “Who was delivered for our offences” and the “our” in “was raised again for our justification” refers to the same group of people. We hold that the same people for whom Jesus Christ died for, the faithful and elect, were the same ones for whom Jesus Christ was raised for and justified. However, universal atonement or unlimited atonement interprets this text inconsistently. For them, the “our” of the atonement is everyone, and the “our” of the justification is only those who believe by faith. Moreover, where limited atonement makes the death and resurrection, the atonement and justification work, as a unity as the text of Romans 4:25 states (remember the explicit “kai”) AND the gospel narratives clearly bear witness of (Jesus Christ NEVER separated His death from His resurrection) universal atonement separates them. Where unlimited atonement views the cross as making salvation possible for all and the resurrection as justifying only some, limited atonement views the cross and the resurrection as saving AND justifying some. Limited atonement makes atonement and justification the result of the same act in eternity – the decree by God the Father to send God the Son to effect salvation – where universal atonement makes atonement and justification the result of separate acts in creation, where the death of God’s Son was one act for one group and the resurrection of God’s son was another act for another group (or more accurately a subset of the larger group which benefited from the first act).
This dichotomy, this separation of the atonement and justification, of death and resurrection, cannot be supported by the text of Romans 4:25. It cannot be supported by the gospel accounts, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ. And it also cannot be supported by the epistles. With that being the case, Romans 4:25 is not an issue of universal atonement versus limited or particular atonement among those who believe that not all will be saved (as the Bible plainly declares, with Judas Iscariot being the most explicit example, the one whom Jesus Christ said that it would have been better for him had he never been born and called the son of perdition who was lost). Instead, the issue is whether the universal atonement described by the first phrase results in a universal justification given in the second phrase. The Greek text of Romans 4:25 leaves no other option, and neither does the context. If the “our” in view is all people, then “all people” are children of Abraham, which means that “all people” believe, which means that “all people” will be justified.
Please do not view this as seizing upon a single verse for the purposes of advancing a doctrine, for as mentioned earlier, the joining together of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is done in many times in the Bible, both prophesied in the Old Testament and borne witness of in the New Testament. So what is it going to be? Limited atonement or universalism? Romans 4:25 permits no other option. And as the Bible clearly declares universalism to be false (again, as Judas Iscariot is the prime example among humanity) you must repent of your sins and have faith in Jesus Christ to benefit from His death and resurrection. If you have not, I urge you to do so now!