Atonement Was Limited

*My view on atonement has changed since this blog was written. Thoughts on Atonement offers a more recent position.

Colossians 2:13-14
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Romans 6:5-7
“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

According to Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry:

Limited atonement is the teaching within Calvinism which states that Jesus only bore the sins of the elect (those chosen for salvation by God) and that He did not bear the sins of every individual who has ever lived. This teaching is also called “particular redemption” and “definite atonement”. This doctrine is known within Reformed theology and is also considered one of the five points of Calvinism known by the acronym TULIP:

T = Total Depravity. 
U = Unconditional Election. 
L = Limited Atonement. 
I = Irresistible Grace. 
P = Perseverance of the Saints.

Wherever the Christian stands on the doctrine of limited atonement, the Bible is crystal clear regarding this doctrine. It’s unfortunate that this has been debated at nauseam for 400 years. It’s unfortunate because the Bible is absolutely one-sided regarding this subject. It’s surprising that within the church today we still must address the push back against limited atonement, from those who adhere to “unlimited atonement”. That’s the notion that Jesus atoned for not just the sins of the elect, but that He also atoned for the sins of the non-elect as well. In other words, “unlimited atonement” means that every person who has or who ever will live had their sins atoned for by Christ.

But, that’s not what the Bible teaches….

During the March 16, 2015 podcast of the “Bible Thumping Wingnut”, Episode 56, Matt Slick was a Q & A guest on the program. At approximately 1 hour and 33 minutes into the program, Matt taught a caller how to handle a conversation with someone who has just challenged the concept of Calvinism. Whether Matt realized it or not, what he provided the caller was not only a great defense of Calvinism, but in his explanation (as depicted in the brief portion of that discussion written out below in italics) he provided a BRILLIANT Biblical proof of limited atonement:

“You say…

“Well, thank you for all your talk and all your stuff.” 

You know, because they are going to call you a ‘heretic’ for what you believe, and say… 

“Can I open up the scriptures and ask you a couple of questions? I would like your input on this.” 

And they’re going to say, “Of course you can.” 

“Colossians 2:14.” 

Now, the King James is slightly different, but it’s the same thing… 

“‘Having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.'” 

Ask them (that’s talking about our sin debt)…

“When’s our sin debt taken away? When you believe, or when it was nailed to the cross?” 

Now, they’re gonna to have to say, “When it was nailed to the cross.” Right? Now, a lot of them will say, “No, when you believe.” 

Then, you get’em for not believing the scriptures…

“Well, it says at the cross. Ok? So, the sin debt was cancelled at the cross, right?” 


And once they finally admit that… 

“Ok, good. Ok, good good good. Um… Let’s go to Romans 6:6 ‘Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with.'” 

You say now…

“So, when were we crucified with Christ? When we believe, or when Jesus was crucified 2,000 years ago?” 

They’re going to have to say, “Well,” they’re going to have to say (if they believe the text), “2,000 years ago.” 

“Ok, so then my question is, are unbelievers crucified with Christ?” 

And they’re going to say, “Well… no.” 

“Then, how were we crucified with Christ 2,000 years ago? Can you answer that?” 

And you watch. They won’t be able to answer it very well. They’re going to stumble all over the place. And then, you can go back to Colossians 2:14…

“So, our sin debt was cancelled at the cross. Was it cancelled for everybody who ever lived? Or… just those who were crucified with Christ?”

Now, let them steam over that… Let them stew over that. Ok? Make sense?”

Yeah… it makes a lot of sense:

Christ’s atonement is limited because the only ones whose sin debt was paid for on the cross (Colossians 2:14), were the ones who were crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6).

Godspeed, to the brethren!



  1. Ok, Ok, I got it. The elect were forgiven before they were born and are therefore born already forgiven and saved. So much for sola fide I guess. Thanks Matt!


    1. Justification is the moment it’s actualized. It’s where the Christian goes from predestined to saved, and it’s the moment the Christian becomes aware of their standing with God.


      1. He is sovereign, like a king but not like a gamer. Calvinists have twisted the definition of sovereignty. The Jewish view of it, is like a king, not like a ps4 controller. 🙂


      2. I believe God changes man and man allows the change (and vica versa).
        You can read my post on synergism if you like (a view which the church always historically held to, which the gnostics denied). 🙂


  2. theidolblabber,

    So we can be forgiven, but that forgiveness is just not “actualized” even though we are forgiven? So we are forgiven but not forgiven? Or are we forgiven but not “actually” forgiven? Boy, things sure are getting complicated now, aren’t they?

    “Aware” of their standing with God? So they are forgiven before that point and that point is just a “point” of becoming “aware” of it? Really? Maybe Matt’s argument just isn’t so BRILLIANT after all.

    At any rate, it seems my initial point stands. If Matt is correct, then the elect are born forgiven and saved.


    1. Kangaroodort – Yes, you make a good point. The elect are never in danger of going to hell. And the reprobate are never able to go to heaven.


  3. Mate, you’re just engaging in the so-called “fallacy of negation.” You see the text where Paul teaches that Christ took the sins of believers, “having nailed them to the cross,” that is true. But your faulty inference to Limited Atonement comes from saying that because Paul intends, in that context, to pick out a particular set of people’s sins who were nailed to the cross (namely, believers), that therefore it was only and particularly those who are believers that Christ died for, and nobody else.

    But that’s completely wrong-headed. For example, if I have three children — Chris, Tom and Emma — and I’m talking to a friend and say, “Gee, I’m proud of Tom; he’s done so well in school,” do I therefore mean to communicate to my friend that I am NOT proud of either Chris or Emma, and that Chris and Emma have NOT done well at school? Of course not! just because I restrict my speech in a context to Tom alone does not mean the opposite is true for Chris and Emma; I’m just restricting my speech in a context for a purpose.

    So if, in the world, the numbers {1, 2, 3} represented all people, and {2} in the set is elect, then it does not follow that because Paul teaches Christ died for {2} that therefore he did not die for {1, 3} also. That will not follow on any rule of logic. What you will need I a more specific text teaching that it was the elect and the elect alone, with nobody else, that Christ died for. But I think you will find that difficult, as the universal language of Christ’s provision is elsewhere manifest (e.g. 1 Jn. 2:2).

    I think the motivation for Limited Atonement is either systematic or fear of Universalism. But,

    (1) Limited Atonement makes Total Depravity redundant anyway, since even if people had full fee will, and then sinned, if there was no atonement for them they could not be forgiven anyway: so it doesn’t exactly line up; and

    (2) Christ’s providing atonement for all does not necessarily mean effectually atoning for all. There is a difference between provision and application in the atonement. Interestingly, Universalists and Limited Atonnement advocates both deny the distinction between provision and application, taking them to be virtually synonymous or at least co-extensive, such that everyone Christ provided for is a recipient of that provision. Unlimited atonement proponents always make a distinction between provision and application, the latter being a subset of the former, as application is conditional on belief. Unlimited Atonement is the position that Christ provided atonement for all, by atones effectually and really for believers alone. Unlimited Atonement in making this distinction is thus wholly different to both Limited Atonement and Universalism.

    God bless.


  4. theidolbabbler,

    Yes, I did read those Scriptures. Did you read the implications Matt Slick drew from those Scriptures? Those implications lead to the conclusion that the elect are born forgiven. There is no way to avoid it given his argument. So unless you are willing to affirm that the elect are born already forgiven (which is plainly unbiblical), then I suggest re-evaluating his argument.

    I don’t have a problem with those passages at all from the perspective of a provisional unlimited atonement. But Slick’s argument removes any provisional element to the atonement and that is what gets him into big trouble.


  5. theidolbabbler,

    What gives me pause has been carefully explained to you. Matt Slick’s interpretation logically and unavoidably leads to the conclusion that the elect are born already forgiven. Are you not able to see that? He says the elect were forgiven at the cross and not at the point of faith. So that means that they are born forgiven and are forgiven prior to believing the gospel, which is plainly unbiblical and should cause Slick to re-evaluate the way he has interpreted those passages.

    Calvinist arguments like this can seem convincing at first blush, but they end up creating more problems than they solve. I am just pointing this out to you and allowing you an opportunity to fully defend Slick’s argument. You say it is BRILLIANT, but you don’t seem to want to own the logical implications. Why is that?

    The passage in Colossians is in the context of union with Christ. You will see again and again Paul talking about the Colossians being “in Him”, etc. This is one of the strongest theological themes in Paul. We see the same thing in Eph. 1. Eph. 1:4 says we (believers/the church) were chosen “in Him” (note it does not say we were chosen “to be” in Him). Our election is tied to our union with Christ, the chosen Head of the new covenant (Eph. 1:10, 22, 23; 2:18-22;4:15; Col. 1:18; 2:19). We are joined to Christ through faith and then we share in His election, we become a part of the covenant community (we became the chosen seed in Him because He is the chosen Seed, cf. Gal. 3:19, 29). In union with Him we identify with Him and we share in His election and His destiny as His people. And in a real sense, His history becomes our history. His death becomes our death. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. The redemption (forgiveness) found in Him alone, becomes ours (Eph. 1:7). But this happens through faith, which joins us to Him (Eph. 1:13).

    This is also why Paul says that we were crucified with Jesus. It is through union/identification with Him. Again, through faith union with Him, His death becomes our death. In the same way, we can be said to have been chosen from the foundation of the world, because Jesus was chosen from the foundation of the world. It is like when a foreigner comes to America and becomes an American citizen. At that point he becomes an American and America’s history becomes his history as he now identifies fully with the American nation. In that identification, he can say, “we won our freedom in the revolutionary war” even though he was not there when the war was fought, and even though he was not always an American. Likewise, as an American, he will share in the nations destiny as well (cf. Eph. 1:5)

    Through faith we enter into Christ and His covenant community (the church/His body/the chosen people of God). When we understand this we can understand these passages that Slick appeals to without needing to accept theological absurdities like being born already forgiven and not receiving forgiveness at the point of faith in Christ.

    Note that Paul is specifically addressing those who “have received” Christ in Col. 2 (vs. 6). Notice his use of “in Him” language throughout. That is significant and important for understanding what he says in vs. 14. Read verses 11-14 as unit and follow Paul’s flow of thought. As far as what I mean by provisional universal atonement, see my 3 Part series to get you started. Here is a link to the first post in the series. At the end of each post you find a link to the next part in the series. There is much more that could be said, but that is all I have time for at the moment.

    God Bless,


  6. theidolbabbler,

    I am addressing Slick’s argument which you have endorsed here as BRILLIANT. He writes,

    Ask them (that’s talking about our sin debt)…

    “When’s our sin debt taken away? When you believe, or when it was nailed to the cross?”

    Now, they’re gonna to have to say, “When it was nailed to the cross.” Right? Now, a lot of them will say, “No, when you believe.”

    Then, you get’em for not believing the scriptures…

    “Well, it says at the cross. Ok? So, the sin debt was cancelled at the cross, right?”


    If the “sin debt” of the elect was canceled at the cross, then that “sin debt” cannot be held against the elect. That’s forgiveness. The debt of sin is forgiven. That’s how Paul describes justification, which is by faith (i.e. received by faith),

    However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

    David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

    “Blessed are they
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
    Blessed is the man
    whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Rom. 4:5-8)

    Are you seriously suggesting that the elect’s debt of sin can be cancelled at the cross and that not involve forgiveness? If Slick is right then the elect are born with their sin debt already cancelled. Is that what you believe? If it is, then you believe the elect are born already forgiven. It’s unavoidable. If that is not what you believe, then why are you endorsing Slick’s argument as BRILLIANT?

    The Bible is clear that until we put faith in Christ, our debt of sin remains and for that reason we are under the wrath of God,

    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

    All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Eph. 2:1-3)

    How can we be under God’s wrath and dead in sin if our sin debt was cancelled before we were even born?

    So Slick’s argument in favor of limited atonement causes him to contradict Scripture. That doesn’t seem BRILLIANT to me. If limited atonement were so apparent in Scripture as you claim in this post, it wouldn’t be so hard to find a proof text that doesn’t create all sorts of theological and Biblical absurdities in the process.

    Whenever the Bible references the extent of the atonement, it uses universal language. Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus did not die for certain individuals. Nowhere. So the burden remains on those who want to deny the universal provision of atonement in Christ’s death and God’s desire for all to be saved, etc. Matt Slick has resorted to desperate hermeneutics to try to shoulder that burden and it has caused him to be at odds with what Scripture says about forgiveness of sin.

    If limited atonement were so obvious, why do we have so many moderate 4 point Calvinists? There can only be one reason that I can think of: because the case for limited atonement is incredibly weak and the case for unlimited atonement is overwhelmingly strong. For this reason, they are willing to be inconsistent for the sake of being honest with what the Bible says about the extent of atonement.

    Hopefully, though you will likely still want to affirm limited atonement, you can at least see the problems in Slick’s argument now.

    God Bless,


  7. theidolbabbler,

    This is starting to get silly. Please feel free to explain how one can have no debt of sin and yet still need forgiveness. From what? Sin? But the debt of sin has been cancelled. It’s gone. It no longer counts against the person. Here is what Jesus has to say about cancelled debts and forgiveness:

    “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
    “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
    “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
    When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
    “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
    Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
    In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
    “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:27-35, cf. Matthew 6:14, 15).

    It’s too bad you are willing to make such false dichotomies for the sake of defending Slick’s weak argument, rather than just acknowledge that it is wrong. Oh well, it seems you have dug your feet in.

    God Bless,


    1. Christ’s atonement is limited because the only ones whose sin debt was paid for on the cross (Colossians 2:14), were the ones who were crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6).


  8. Idle blabber; you have offered no meaningful response to the problems present to you.

    No one was actually literally crucified with Christ.
    You have shown no Scripture in support of some limited preselected indivuals being somehow actually crucified with Him at the time He was on the cross.

    The reason you have not been able to support this from an abundance of Scripture is because it is not there.


  9. theidolbabbler,

    Romans 6:6 was already addressed. It is a reference to identification through faith. See my comments above, which you ignored (which is why John rightly pointed out that you have offered no meaningful responses).

    You seem to think that by ignoring points that refute your claims and just repeating yourself over and over, you are defending your position. I trust that anyone who reads through this exchange can see that these tactics have failed and Slick’s argument has been shown to be unbiblical and irrational.


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