A Brief Response to a Friend on Limited Atonement…

You quoted Romans 5:18 in order to prove that my understanding of certain words are selective. Perhaps what follows may help to solidify my exegesis, thereby providing a defense of the Reformed faith.

Here is the verse as you quoted:

Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon ALL men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon ALL men unto justification of life.

First,  notice how “justification” (dikaiwmatos) is used in the text. The correct exegesis of this verse is answered in its context beginning with verse 1 in chapter 5. Paul is addressing the elect when he says: “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, justification has been applied to a certain people and they are having peace with God. The Westminster defines justification as:

an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC Q33).

These whom Paul addresses have by God’s grace believed in God’s covenant promises and experienced salvation through the gospel as Abraham did in the Old Testament (see chapter 4). Justification is applied to a people, not made possible to a people.

Secondly, Paul continues his case in chapter five by declaring that those who are justified receive the benefits of redemption, that is, peace with God, access by faith and joy in the hope of God’s glory (vs.1-6).

Thirdly, you mentioned: “Your picking and choosing which verses mean “all” as in “all” and which verses mean “all” as in “some” namely those which further your argument for Calvinism.” This is false since my proposition is that context indicates the meaning of a word. In verse 15, Paul says that the gift of Jesus Christ abounded to “MANY.” It is an interesting passage since if Paul desired to prove your point he would have said “ALL.” Now, in verse 18 Paul says, “through one man’s offense judgment came to all men (here we have no problem in affirming the universal judgment poured upon all mankind), resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

This is a fascinating description of redemption applied; hence, it deserves a few observations. A) Verse 18 confirms the universal judgment that must be poured upon men because of Adam’s sin. As the saying goes: “In Adam’s fall we died all.” B) Jesus described the”one Man” performing a righteous act. When Jesus’ acts are described as “Righteous” we can safely infer perfection. That is, his sacrifice was righteous and efficacious. Why? Because it “came to all men.” It did not remain as an ethereal, abstract, theoretical possibility. It was actually applied to all men, and as a result, they were justified unto life (they were converted; united with Christ). C) Notice “eis dikaiosin zoes,” meaning for the purpose of or for the result of justification. Would you still understand the “all men” of this latter part as referring to all people in the universe?

Fourthly, you stated:

Since you’re making the argument that Justification is not available to all men, then I would think that the second word “all” in this verse must be taken as “some” therefore you would also have to take the first “all” to mean some and admit that not all men have sinned and are condemned through Adam’s sin.

Notice your first statement and its fallacy. You said: “Since you’re making the argument that Justification is not available to all men…” The text says nothing about Justification being available. It says, it came to all men, resulting in justification unto life. Notice it does not say: ” It came to all men so that they may choose if they want it or not, hence resulting in justification unto life.” Your interpretation is impossible since it assumes one thing, but is contradicted in the text itself.

Finally, your interpretation is dangerous since this text is often used by Universalists to prove that all men will be saved. In fact, listen to the words of inclusivist John Sanders:

God’s intention is to save the human race, not a pathetic little segment of it. The Scriptures says: ‘Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men’ (Romans 5:18).

This is Dr. Sander’s clear conclusion: If it brings life unto all men, then all men will be saved.

You fail because you read “all men” to refer to all without exception. By taking this interpretation you add into the text and deny the context that affirms that justification is not a possibility but an actuality to a certain people, not all mankind. Also, according to verse one, Paul is addressing the believers who have been justified, so “all men” refers to all believers. Furthermore, notice how “pantwn” and “pollon” (all and many respectively) are used differently in their contexts. To prove this, read the following verse. Verse 19 reads: “For as by one man’s disobedience “many” were made sinners, so also by One man’s obedience “many” will be made righteous.” As you can see, the following verse from the one you quoted provides an example of this dual usage. I am sure you are not willing to propose that only “many” are fallen. But this is exactly what verse 19 says. So on the basis of the text we conclude that “many” indicates that all man are fallen not a few. Again, it is defined according to its context.

I look forward continuing our dialogue.
Soli Deo gloria,
U.T. Brito

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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1 Response to A Brief Response to a Friend on Limited Atonement…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Threw this together quickly on the way out the door…

    1 – I have no doubt that the Westminster [Confession] does define justification in such a manner but it is question begging as to whether it is the proper definition.

    2 – If we are looking for context for what justification means in Rom 5:18, why look any further than 5:16? Why jump all the way back to v 1?

    3 – Not sure what you mean by “Justification is applied to a people, not made possible.” Could you expand? Are you arguing this this is not a group in mind but individuals? That could hardly be what you mean.

    4 – As to why Paul used “many” in v 15, rather than “all” the meaning of the “many” is in the context, it is “all”. One can have a “many” in an “all” but unless the “many” includes “all”, one cannot have an “all” in a “many”. Thus, “many” can only mean “all” in this context. As you concede for verse 19: “on the basis of the text we conclude that “many” indicates that all man are fallen not a few”. If the many means all in the first half, why not the second half as well? [You may need to read the first sentences of this point a few times.]

    5 – Let’s examine the possible senses of your statement “verse 18 confirms the universal judgment”. In the eschatological sense, your statement is untrue. Not everyone will be judged since some have Christ and escape the judgment. In the temporaral realm all were judged, before they knew Christ. Their escape clause was that they have faith. Through faith they move from being “under judgment” to “in Christ”. As to whether or not this verse asserts Limited Atonement, that is a concept quite foreign to Paul’s argument. All are brought to God through Christ, but not all have faith so eschatologically not all will be saved. Not that hard to understand if you split this into time-frames. But this does refute the L quite nicely.

    6 – Is the work of Christ so inferior to the fall of Adam that it cannot be available to all? If this is the Reformed view of the cross it is quite deficient in explanatory power and not compelling, at least to me.

    7 – Again you beg the question you seek to prove by assuming the I and the L in your argument. You are not proving the Reformed position (whatever that may be) you are assuming it and then trying to demonstrate that a passage which clearly shows signs of not fitting actually does fit.

    8 – I will repeat my point since it was not addressed. Since you’re making the argument that Justification is not available to all men, then I would think that the second word “all” in this verse must be taken as “some” therefore you would also have to take the first “all” to mean some and admit that not all men have sinned and are condemned through Adam’s sin. As to the word “available” you are free to reject the word, it doesn’t change the sentence in a substantive manner. It it a mischaracterization of your position that justification is not available or not?

    9 – The claim that this verse is dangerous because it leads to universalism has several answers. The first is that it only leads to universalism if the I in TULIP were to be true. Since I don’t assert the I, it doesn’t lead to universalism. But in a way you are right since it has led historically Calvinistic traditions to become perverted into universalism. But that is not a problem with the exegesis of the passage so much as the application of the I in TULIP.

    10 – As to whether it fails to add exceptions to the all or not, it should be pointed out that adding a “NOT” to the all fits your understanding not mine – as in “not all”. How could there be a more opposite possibility than outright negation of a point?

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