Five-point Calvinists claim that Jesus’ Death on the Cross was not for the whole world, but only for those few who are saved. For the rest, Calvinists claim, Christ didn’t die for them, and no amount of faith or virtue could ever save them. Catholics rightly reject this as contrary to both Scripture and even a basic understanding of the nature of God’s Love. Which is why it’s all the more important that the new Mass translation doesn’t lead Catholics into think that Limited Atonement is compatible with Scripture or the Faith.
As many of you are aware, on the first Sunday of Advent this year (November 21), we’ll be using a different Mass translation than we’ve been using in the past. Essentially, this English version is more faithful to the Latin text, and more faithful to the Scriptures quoted throughout. One of those changes in particular is quite controversial. Currently, the words of institution for the Blood of Christ are:
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
In the new translation, “It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven” becomes “It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.” This change is more faithful to the Latin, and more faithful to Christ’s words, recorded in Scripture (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). So which is right: did Christ die for many, or for all?
In a sense, the answer is both. In Greek, “many” doesn’t mean “a lot, but not all,” like it does in English. It just means “a lot.” So Christ is saying that He’s offering up His Blood for the masses. Many is the opposite of few, not a point between none and all. So if you invite 100 people to a party, and all 100 show up, you’d have many and all. So when Christ says His Blood will be shed “for many,” He might be saying only for some, or He might be saying for all. This passage alone doesn’t tell us. But the rest of Scripture does.
- Scripture says that Christ died for x group, so it must mean only x group.
- If there are some who Christ died for who aren’t saved, this makes the Cross deficient.
1. Jesus lays down his life for the sheep.[Jn 10:14-15]2. Jesus will lose none of his sheep.[Jn 10:28]3. Many people will not receive eternal life.[Mt 7:13-14]Therefore, the Calvinist position is that Jesus did not die for everyone, but only for those whom the Father purposed to save.
Just look at Galatians 2:20,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
So as we’ve seen, neither of the Calvinist arguments for limited Atonement are very strong. But what are the Scriptural passages supporting the notion that Christ died as a ransom for the whole world, including those who choose damnation? Well, 1 Timothy 2:1-6 says,
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
That’s pretty explicit. It means just what it says. Christ died as a ransom for all, so limited atonement is false. God desires all men to be saved, so unconditional election and double predestination are false. Christ is a ransom for all, and God desires all to be saved. Many Calvinists struggle with this: how could an all-powerful God’s will be thwarted? It’s precisely because salvation must be freely accepted or rejected. God can’t force someone to make a free choice (you might as well demand that God make square circles — it’s a meaningless contradiction in terms). We see this quite clearly when Christ says to the people of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
If free will doesn’t exist, this passage becomes meaningless. Christ is clearly saying that His will, that they should return, is being thwarted, because they’re refusing to return.
Likewise, we see even in the Old Testament that salvation was offered even to those who would ultimately die in their sins. In Ezekiel 33:11-12, God gives this message to Ezekiel:
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’”
John 3:16-21 famously says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
This is quite clear. Look at the second sentence: Christ died for the whole world, in order to save it. John then separates “the world” into two categories: “Whoever believes in Him,” and “whoever does not believe.” Of these two groups, Christ died for both, but only the former are saved through His Atoning Death: For “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So what’s necessary is not only for Christ to die for us, but for us to have faith in Him. Otherwise, faith becomes irrelevant to salvation (see places like Luke 7:50 and Ephesians 2:8, which show it is not).
Christ is also described by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). You get the picture. To go back to my movie theater analogy, Christ has bought tickets for everyone to get to Heaven, paid for out of His own Blood. We may accept or reject those tickets. Only those who believe in Christ accept this free ticket of salvation. The rest miss out on Heaven, not because the ticket wasn’t there, but because they freely rejected it.
So when we watch the priest lift up the Chalice at the consecration, He’s holding up our ticket to Heaven, Jesus Christ, whose Blood was poured out for many, and for all. Let us never forget that.