Monday, July 22, 2013
Does John 3:16 Imply a Universal Atonement?
The doctrine of particular atonement, also known as definite or limited atonement, is one of the five doctrines of salvation commonly called the five points of Calvinism. It is probably the most controversial of the five, which is why you'll even find those who call themselves "four-point Calvinists," as if the five doctrines don't stand or fall together. Arminians are most shrill in attacking the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. In essence, the Calvinist says that God the Father gave a number of particular individuals to God the Son to be redeemed and to be regenerated by God the Spirit. This group is explicitly named, not just any unspecified number. Refer to John 10:29 and 17:2.
In contrast, the Arminian (and the semi-Pelagian of any type) holds that Jesus died for every person in the world, without distinction. In every discussion on the issue I can remember, the Arminian participant always threw out the verse above, arrogantly, as if it ended the debate. They act like a man who steps on an ant; he doesn't pause to see whether not the ant is dead.
I, however, suggest that John 3:16 tells us nothing about the extent of the atonement. Let us consider what it actually says: "God so loved the world." Even if the Bible didn't explicitly state this, would it not be obvious? The world is His creation. He devoted great wisdom to its form and orderly operation. Of course He loves it! But let us consider an analogy. If I tell you that 70% of Americans are white, what race is John Smith (just to pick a name hypothetically)? You would have to say that you don't know, because what is true of the aggregate implies absolutely nothing about the particular.
In the same way, to say that God loves His creation in aggregate, in no way conflicts with, for example, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated," (Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13). The particular takes precedence over the general.
There are plenty of more-technical reasons to demonstrate that John 3:16 doesn't mean what the Arminian claims it means. However, this simple logical argument seems to me the most-straightforward way to deal with it. So, whatever you might think of the doctrine of particular atonement, I deny that you have the option of simply throwing out this verse as if it trumps every other consideration. If you want to see other arguments, simply click on the tag below, and you will see what else I have written on the issue.