237 – The Basic Schools of Thought Concerning the Extent of the Atonement

237 – The Basic Schools of Thought Concerning the Extent of the Atonement




1. In the previous lesson, I dealt at length upon the insufficient and erroneous views of atonement.
2. In the lesson before that, I outlined the things the opposing schools of thought hold in common, concerning the atonement.
3. In this lesson, I want to try to pinpoint the basic divisions of thought concerning the extent of the atonement.
4. By the term extent, we mean to ask, “For whom was an atonement made?”
5. A more accurate way of asking the question would be: “Who was reconciled to God by the death of Christ?”

i. It must, however, be recognized that many never arrive at an answer to the above question, because they never grasp the simplicity of the question.

6. Three basic theories exist, though some men might identify them as only two.

i. This is done, because two of them are so indefinitely stated, they appear to be the same.
ii. These two are partial general atonement and general atonement.
iii. The other view is definite atonement, or particular redemption.


1. This theory holds that Christ paid the penalty for the Adamic sin (but only the Adamic sin) of the whole race.
2. This idea is held as a provisional basis for the sins of all men.
3. They usually hold to a difference in sin and sins and cite as their warrant John 1:29.
4. They see man as being automatically freed from the guilt of Adam’s sin, in taking the forbidden fruit, by the death of Christ.
5. They would hold that now the problem is only his inherited corrupt nature, not an inherited condemnation.


This view is stated in so many ways it is difficult to state it fairly, but the basic theory is as follows:

1. That Christ died for every son of Adam, for one as much as for another.
2. They logically conclude that there are many men in hell, for whom Christ died with the very same efficiency as for those who are in heaven.
3. They cite for their belief such scriptures as: Jn. 3:16Rom. 8:32Jn. 1:29I Jn. 2:2II Cor. 5:15,16Heb. 2:9I Tim. 2:6.
4. They also present at least the following conclusions as logical arguments.

i. God could not justly command all men to come to Christ, if provision were not made.
ii. That evangelism to all cannot be sincere if provision were not made for them.
iii. God would be unjust if He made provision for some and not for all
iv. That the nature of God, i.e., love and mercy demand that Christ’s death be for all.
v. That man cannot rightly be held responsible for his condem­nation if an atonement has not been made.

5. Do not ignore these conclusions. Let them carry all the weight they can.
6. Remember that many good and capable Bible scholars have held to these views.


This theory is also referred to as limited atonement, or particular redemp­tion.

1. This theory is that on the cross Christ was the substitute for certain individuals, i.e., the elect.
2. They hold that no one for whom Christ died may possibly perish, else it could not be true that atonement was made.
3. They cite for their belief such scriptures as: Jn. 6:37-44Rev. 1:5,6Rev. 5:9Rev. 14:4Jn. 17:9Jn. 10:14-16Jn. 14:3Mat. 10:45Mat. 20:28Isa. 53:11, and many others.
4. They also present at least the following conclusions as logical arguments.

i. That if God chose from the foundation of the world and works all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11) that the atonement must of necessity be in keeping with that eternal purpose.
ii. That if Christ actually paid for sins then justice would not permit them to be paid for again.
iii. If Christ was indeed a ransom, then those for whom He was a ransom must be freed.
iv. If men are actually redeemed by the blood then those for whom the blood was shed must of necessity be redeemed.
v. That the words atonement and reconciliation demand that where an atonement is made the object of it must be reconciled.
vi. That if Christ died for men who yet may not be saved, then it cannot be accurately stated that we who are saved were saved by His death.

Note the observations at the beginning of the next lesson as part of this lesson.