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Views on Propitiation and Universal vs. Limited Atonement




Since we’re on the topic of predestination, here’s a passage from 1 John 2:1-2 worth reading:


“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”


Now here’s a piece of commentary from a prominent Calvinist pastor on what he has to say in regards to this particular passage:


“2:2 propitiation. The word means “appeasement” or “satisfaction.”  The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin.  So Jesus propitiated or satisfied God.   For the whole world.  This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrew 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages which speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:3,4). “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated His wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life.  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporal propitiation for the whole world.  But He actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because He is Holy God.  Thus His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (cf. John 10:11,15; 17:9,20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32,37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (cf. 4:9,14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.”


It doesn’t really matter who the author is, but rather this is a view that is widely shared by most devout Calvinists.  Notice the amount of mental gymnastics that a honest Calvinist has to play to justify their theology, and mind you I am someone who leans towards the “Reformed” view of Christianity.





While we’re on this topic, here are some of Paul’s universalist-like statements in the Bible.  It’s an impressive list:


And verses with limitarian readings:


Now if we go on the sheer weight of Pauline scripture, then clearly universalism wins hands down. But if we take the position that one drop of poison contaminates the entire cistern then limited atonement seems to come out on top.
This may turn out to be a no-win argument. Basically, it’s a “pick-your-salvation” and run with it based on faith situation.  Honestly, the Bible—and the best of scholars will agree on this–never settles the issue. Luther died saying essentially, “It’s a question we should not waste time debating because the Bible doesn’t answer it.”


  1. Hey there,

    Basically the block quotation above asserts the famous double payment dilemma. You might interested to know that this argument has been refuted by men like Charles Hodge and Robert Dabney, among others. If you click on my name, go to my website, then click on main index and then scroll down the file on double payment. I wont post the links in case your spam filter thinks this comment is spam.

    Also the grammatical problem with the double payment argument’s use of 1 Jn 2:2 is that it converts the noun into a verb. The word “hilasmos” is a noun and so refers to what the expiation does, not to what it has necessarily accomplished. Christ, therefore is the means of expiation, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world world. In other words, John is saying, in context, if any man sins, he has an advocate (another noun), not only us, but all mankind.

    Anyway, if you want to continue a discussion, I am more than willing.


    • Michael Lee says:

      Hi David:

      Thank you for your input and welcome to Project Augustine.

      Going beyond the double payment dilemma, the bigger question is whether or not Paul’s letters and epistles can be harmonized with the Gospels since it is relatively unclear if Paul even had access to the Gospels. Clearly Paul does imply that Jesus is an advocate for all mankind, but my question for you would be does Jesus atone for the sins of only the Elect or for all mankind both present and past?


  2. Hey Michael,

    I think its pretty solid that Paul had some reading knowledge of the gospels. He sometimes quotes one of them or references the words of Jesus. For example, 1 Cor. 7:25, 1 Cor 11:24. Even if not the written texts, certain the oral tradition. From my memory, I think its generally accepted the reference to ransom in 1 Tim 2:4 is a paraphrase quotation of the same sentiment in the gospels.

    But to your question, yes, I believe Christ made a satisfaction for all the sins of all men, not just for all the sins of the elect alone. The word “atonement” and its cognates is a tricky word, as it sometimes entails the objective satisfaction for sin (the sacrifice of expiation) and sometimes for reconciliation, and sometimes for the both aspects collapsed into one thing, namely, complete salvation.

    Back to world, “World” for John is not the sphere of humanity or mankind in general, but mankind in opposition to God. World means, all men and women who stand in opposition to God and his church. For example, one leaves the church and enters the world. I dont suddenly enter the “sphere”. And in 1 Jn 5:19 we have the only other instance of “whole world” and it denotes the world of mankind in sin and apostasy, in opposition to God. In the epistles, John uses “kosmos” quite uniformly. And in the mind of God in Christ, there is no “mankind” in general that does not comprehend every particular man and woman.

    Thanks for your time,

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