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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!

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7 Responses to “Limited Atonement Or Universalism? Romans 4:25 Means That You Must Choose!”

  1. This is not that problematic. Its called the negative inference fallacy.

    You cant infer a universal negation from a simple positive.

    For example, John says to Mary, “I love you.” Sally cannot infer that John loves only Mary.

    Or this: Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

    A reader could not infer that Christ was given up for Paul only.

    Its the same logic kicking in.

    If we go back to Romans 4. Paul says, “Christ was delivered up for our sins.”

    If you were consistent, you would have to say only the sins of believers (v24) were imputed to Christ, such that no sins of unbelievers, even unbelieving living elect, were imputed to Christ.

    So what you have set up is a false dilemma, a false either/or.

    Hope that helps.
    David
    Calvin and Calvinism

    • Job said

      “This is not that problematic. Its called the negative inference fallacy.

      You cant infer a universal negation from a simple positive.

      For example, John says to Mary, “I love you.” Sally cannot infer that John loves only Mary.

      You not only can, but absolutely should, come to that conclusion had John employed those words in the course of turning down marriage proposals from his beautiful, wealthy former girlfriend and businesswoman Sally and his even more beautiful, even wealthier former girlfriend and princess Jane and justified his decision by telling them both on separate occasions in the presence of reliable witnesses: “I cannot marry you because I love Mary” and this Mary is a homely, penniless, barren commoner. Now apart from this context, the theoretical possibility does exist that his words would leave room for the interpretation that he wants to be a polygamist and marry all three for the purposes of wealth, status, heirs and love, when placed in the proper context of both his prior, well attested and easily understood words and the situation that his words were delivered. The same is true of Romans 4:25. The context of Romans 4 precludes the existence of such a fallacy, as does the (“a” indeed “b”) or (“a” likewise “b”) logical construction of the text itself.

      Or this: Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

      A reader could not infer that Christ was given up for Paul only.”

      Now you have introduced an invalid comparison fallacy. The literary construct, the literary form of Galatians 2:20 is altogether different from that of Romans 4:25. Where in Romans 4:25 Paul is directly addressing the body of believers, in Galatians 2:20, Paul is using himself as a symbol, a stand-in or a substitute that represents the body of believers. Galatians 2:20 could have easily been rendered “We have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us” with the “we” and “us” of Galatians 2:20 correlating more explicitly with the “our” in Romans 4:25. But despite the divergent literary forms, it is clear that the same group of people is in view in both texts, those being believers.

  2. Calvin,

    Hi hope you are well.

    1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but alsow for the sins of the wholed word.

    See Romans 5:12-21.

    1 Timothy 2:4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of truth.

    The blood of Christ gave the opportunity for all man to come back to fellowship with God.

    Love,

    John Kaniecki

    • Hey John,

      The point I made shows that the presence of the simple positive “our” can not be taken as inferring a universal negation, “only our.”

      Secondly, as a further note, i do think the Greek of Romans 4:25 supports your claim here: 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.

      All Paul is saying that Christ was delivered up for our sins, and he was also raised up for our justification.

      One cannot infer that for any for whom was Christ was delivered up, they cannot fail to be justified. There is no logical hint of that in the verse.

      There is a lot that could make this easy to understand.

      A Presbyterian minister says to his congregation during the morning sermon, “Christ died for our sins, and was raised for our justification.”

      Can the Lutherans down the road infer that the Presbyterian is saying Christ only died for Presbyterians? No. That’s the first point.

      Its all about the audience-context.

      Secondly, one cannot infer from this verse alone that all for whom Christ died, will be justified is also not there in this verse.

      Again, our minister may say that to his congregation, but the obvious assumption is, “if we believe.” So all would know, that Christ died for our sins, and if we believe, we will be justified. Make sense.

      Regarding the other verses you cite in the comment, I wont comment because you’ve not included any comment that I can speak to, or determine your intent.

      Thanks,
      David
      Calvin and Calvinism

  3. Hey Job,

    Job said: You not only can, but absolutely should, come to that conclusion had John employed those words in the course of turning down marriage proposals from his beautiful, wealthy former girlfriend and businesswoman Sally and his even more beautiful, even wealthier former girlfriend and princess Jane and justified his decision by telling them both on separate occasions in the presence of reliable witnesses: “I cannot marry you because I love Mary” and this Mary is a homely, penniless, barren commoner. Now apart from this context, the theoretical possibility does exist that his words would leave room for the interpretation that he wants to be a polygamist and marry all three for the purposes of wealth, status, heirs and love, when placed in the proper context of both his prior, well attested and easily understood words and the situation that his words were delivered. The same is true of Romans 4:25. The context of Romans 4 precludes the existence of such a fallacy, as does the (“a” indeed “b”) or (“a” likewise “b”) logical construction of the text itself.

    David: But that’s all a disanalogy.

    “I cannot marry you” is not comparable to “I love Mary.” You’ve simply put oranges for apples there.

    You need to find a usable example where a simple positive predication or statement can rightly imply a universal negation. Do you understand this?

    Further, its not all that hard to work out. Sally may be John’s daughter, sister, or mother.

    You also concede that without a context, there is room for interpretation. While being a rather unhelpful way of making a concession, you have conceded the point.

    The words themselves, contained in Roms 4:24 are contextless in terms of negation or extension regarding for whom Christ did not die for, or all for whom Christ may have died for. It simply uses a simple positive.

    If you want limited atonement, you need something else. For example, imagine Paul saying to Titus, “we are sinners.” To get universal depravity out of that, that would not be enough. I am sure you know that you need to get some universal negatives in there, such as found in Rom 3., not one, none, all, etc.

    Job says: Now you have introduced an invalid comparison fallacy. The literary construct, the literary form of Galatians 2:20 is altogether different from that of Romans 4:25.

    David: Oh my goodness.🙂 The literary form? Both are letters, and both have a lot of almost identical content.

    Job: Where in Romans 4:25 Paul is directly addressing the body of believers, in Galatians 2:20,

    David: This hardly compelling.

    Romans 4:24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

    David: the pronouns refer back to the subjects, as noted by the participle, the ones who believe.

    Job: Paul is using himself as a symbol, a stand-in or a substitute that represents the body of believers.

    David: Beside the point. The singular proposition, “Christ died for me” does not validate, by the standard common sense rules of inference, “Christ died only for me.” That’s the point.

    Job: Galatians 2:20 could have easily been rendered “We have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us” with the “we” and “us” of Galatians 2:20 correlating more explicitly with the “our” in Romans 4:25. But despite the divergent literary forms, it is clear that the same group of people is in view in both texts, those being believers.

    David: No it could not have been easily rendered, if you know Greek.

    He says, ego, ‘I have been crucified…’ etc etc, ‘Christ was delivered uper emou, for me.’

    Sorry Job, but no credible translator would “render” that otherwise.

    Thanks for your time,
    David
    Calvin and Calvinism

  4. Ross said

    STOP redefining the obvious with the obscure, and read the obvious first:
    “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
    “When I rise from the earth, I Shall draw ALL unto Me.”
    “Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”
    “All flesh belongs to God”
    “God of the spirits of all flesh.”
    “Owns all spirits.”

  5. Jan said

    Paul preached this word of faith:
    If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him form the dead, you will be save

    This presents an anomaly for you – for since you say that Christ’s resurrection was limited to the elect, then what is Paul doing telling the non-elect (Paul preached to the unsaved, which obviously includes the non-elect (per your view)) to believe in a resurrection that was intended exclusively for the justification of others so that they (the non-elect) will be saved.

    Your interpretation of Romans 4:25 is demonstrably wrong.

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