Oct 3, 2012

Definite Atonement V

"Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20: 28 & Mark 10: 45)

"For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26: 28)

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Hebrews 9:28)

These verses speak of Christ dying for "many."  Who are these "many"?  Do they represent every human being?  Every sinner?  Or, do they represent some men, or some sinners?  Those who believe that the atonement is limited to the elect, or to the sheep, insist that the "many" denote them.  Those who believe in a general atonement believe that the term "many" may refer to every sinner.  Who is right?

First, I admit that it may be possible to refer to the totality of humans as being "many."  Thus, by itself, the fact of Christ dying for "many" does not prove that it excludes any.  If I were talking to an angel, in the time before the flood, about the human race, I could say that they are "many" and my reference to them as being "many" would not exclude any of them.  On the other hand, if I were talking to an angel, in the time immediately after the flood, about the human race, I would say that they are "few."  Or, if I am talking about a virus that is in the world, I could say about this virus that there were many or few of them, and when speaking of the viruses as being few or many I would be talking about the totality of them.

This being said, however, it seems most natural to interpret the use of the word "many" to denote a number less than all.  This is how we most often use the word in every day language.  If I say "many of the citizens are democrats," I imply that not all of them are democrats. 

When I speak of all of a certain group as being many it is when I want to impart information about the size of the group.  The totality of a group may be few or many.  But, who can read the above passages where Christ is said to die for many and think that the purpose is to inform one about the size of the human race, or the number of sinners in the world? 

When one looks at the numerous instances where Christ and the Bible writers used the word "many" (Greek polys), then it becomes obvious that they are not using the word to denote the totality of the class under consideration, but to a limited number of that class.  Further, most times the word "many" is used as an adjective, as in "many people," or "many bodies," etc.  In the above passages about Christ dying for "many," the word is used as a noun and without the definite article, except in Heb. 9: 28 where the definite article is present.  Christ gives his life for "many" and for "the many." 

Even though the word "many" is used as a substantive, it nevertheless cannot be comprehended apart from its connection with an implied noun, or lose its adjectival quality.  If I say to a waiter "I'll have a large," I am using the adjective "large" as a noun, yet the the idea is still adjectival, meaning a "large drink."  Thus, when Christ says he will give his life for "many," the reader naturally asks "many what?"  Christ dies for many sinners, or many people.  And, again, the normal way of interpreting "many people" is to denote a portion of the whole, and not of the whole.  Let us look at some examples.

"And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils..."  (Mark 1: 34)

Clearly Christ did not heal everyone that was sick or demon possessed, but a large number of them.

"...and many bodies of the saints which slept arose..."  (Matt. 27: 52)

Clearly not all the bodies of the old testament saints were raised, but a large number of them.

"And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him."  (Mark 2: 15)

Clearly not all publicans and sinners sat with Christ and followed him, but a large number of them.

One writer said this about this issue of the use of the word "many" in Scripture:

"Acknowledging the difference between the Greek words for ‘many’ and ‘all’, scholars point out that based on a distinctive Semitic usage, the Greek word for ‘many’ in the New Testament can bear an inclusive meaning. In other words, in some cases, “Many is the qualitative designation of all: all men are many in number” (F. Delitzsch). For example, in Rom 5:12 ‘all’ are said to have sinned in Adam. However, in v19 Paul says, “By one man’s disobedience ‘many’ were made sinners.” Clearly here, many does not contrast with all; many actually represents all. The same is true in Heb 9:28. The ‘many’ in question are the ‘men’ appointed to die in v27."   (see here)

Though I agree that "many" can mean "all," as explained earlier, and agree that the word "many" may be used qualitatively (anarthrous), yet I do not believe that this is necessarily so in Hebrews 9: 28 and Romans 5: 19.  First of all, the definite article "the" is used in the two passages referenced ("the many").  It is agreed that the definite article is not used in the other passages mentioned at the head of this posting, however.  Thus, the argument that "many" in Heb. 9: 28 and Rom. 5: 19 give a "qualitative designation" is not valid for those passages.  But, more on those two passages later.

All this being said, still one must take into account the words of Paul, who wrote:

"Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (I Tim. 2: 6)

It is important, in analyzing all these passages to pay attention to the Greek prepositions used.  In Matt. 20: 28 the preposition is "anti" which always denotes substitution, or "instead of" or "in behalf of."  It is sometimes translated "in the room/stead of." (See Matt. 2: 22; Philemon 1: 13)  In Matt. 26: 28 the preposition is "peri" which means "concerning."  The passage in Heb. 9: 28 has no adjective and simply means "to bear the sins of the many."  The preposition in I Tim. 2: 6 is "huper."  This preposition does not necessarily denote substitution, though sometimes it is used in context with "anti" which shows that the writer is using them interchangeably.  "Huper" means "for the benefit of" without always including the idea of substitution. 

Thus, two questions need to be addressed regarding I Tim. 2: 6 and its relation to the passages in the Gospels where Christ speaks of himself giving his life a ransom for many.  First, how do the words of Christ harmonize with those of the Apostle?  In other words, how are the all and the many the same group?  Second, why does Paul not use the Greek preposition "anti" which clearly denotes substitution?

Those who favor general atonement insist that Paul's "ransom for all" means ransom for every person, or for every sinner, and that Paul's wording should explain the use of "many" by Christ.  That this is plausible cannot be denied.  This is why one's interpretation must take into account the totality of Scripture.  Does such an interpretation contradict the rest of Scripture on the subject?  Those who favor particular or limited atonement interpret Paul's "for all" in various ways.  Some say that "for all" means for "all kinds" of men, for some of all nations, for "all without distinction," though not for all without exception.  This too is plausible based upon how "for all" or "all" is used elsewhere in Scripture.  Some agree that "all" denotes everyone without exception and yet do not believe that it contradicts the teaching of special atonement. 

The first thing to say, relative to this discussion, is the fact that it cannot be denied that the "many" for whom Christ died and shed his blood are the same group called the "sheep" and the "church."  As was shown in previous postings, Christ laid down his life for the sheep and for the church and therefore these must be the "many" of the passages now in question.  This being so, the many cannot mean "all men" without exception. 

Secondly, it is possible that the "all" of I Tim. 2: 6 does mean every sinner, but does not mean that Christ died as a substitute for every sinner, but that he died for the benefit of every sinner, and explains why Paul used the preposition "huper" rather than "anti."  Those who believe that Christ died as a substitute for the elect do not deny that the death of Christ was for the benefit of all, that all receive numerous blessings from the death of Christ. 

Thirdly, one's interpretation of I Tim. 2: 6 must square with the context.  In verse one Paul said:

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men."

And, in verse four Paul said:

"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." 

Clearly the "all men" of these verses is the same "all men" of verse 6.  The "all men" that are to be prayed for and that God wishes to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth are the same group that Christ gives himself for a ransom.  If "all men" in verse six is restricted to the elect, then so must "all men" of verses one and four be restricted to the elect.  But, who can deny that prayer is to be made for unbelievers and for the non-elect?  Who can deny that, in some sense, God wishes the salvation of all? 

Therefore, like other believers in particular atonement, such as Charles Spurgeon and John Piper, I believe that the "all men" of this passage does refer to all men without exception.  And, like them, I also believe that this does not mean that Christ did not die specially, as a substitute, for the elect only. 

Christ died "for" the benefit of all men, though he did not die as a substitute for all men.  He died for all men, but died especially or particularly for the church.  Later, in this same epistle, Paul spoke of God as being "the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe."  (I Tim. 4: 10)   God wills the salvation of all, but he especially wills the salvation of the sheep. 

The "will of God" in Scripture sometimes denotes God's sovereign decree of what shall certainly come to pass.  Other times, however, the term denotes what God simply announces as his will without any determination of making it so.  In the former case, God's will cannot be resisted or fail of fruition, for "who has resisted his will?"  (Rom. 9: 19)  In the latter case, God's will is often resisted and fails of being realized.  God wills that all men not lie and steal but they do lie and steal nonetheless.  Thus, God does not will that any be lost in the same sense that he does not will or wish that any break his commandments. 

Certainly God has willed that not all be saved, for he has restricted salvation to believers.  All but the Universalists must admit this.  So, even the believer in general atonement must admit that God wills the salvation of sinners, but at the same time does not will the salvation of unbelieving sinners. 

God asks - "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?"  Then he says postively - "For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye."  (Eze. 18: 23, 32)

Thus, in accordance with I Tim. 4: 10 we may say that God wills and desires the salvation of every sinner, but "especially" wills and desires the salvation of the elect.  And, how does this "especially" manifest itself towards believers, or to his elect?  Is it not in that he operates upon them with special power and grace which assures their salvation?  That he died not only to benefit them generally but specially?  That he died for them as a substitute and bore the punishment for sin that they deserved?

Now let us look again at Rom. 5 and the verses about "many" and "all," which I have somewhat noticed already in a previous posting.

"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5: 18-19)

The first question to be addressed concerns whether "all men" who are condemned and judged by the one offence of Adam are the same number as the "many."  Obviously it is.  Then, does this not prove that "many" can mean "all"?  Yes;  And, as I said, it is possible to refer to all of a group as being many.  The second question to be addressed concerns whether "all men" who receive the free gift and are justified, the "many" who shall be made righteous, are the exact same group as the "all" and "many" who are condemned. 

As I stated in a previous posting, citing Hodge, we know that the sin of Adam did not simply make the condemnation of "all" possible but actually condemned them.  So, likewise, the obedience of Christ does not simply make the salvation of "all" merely possible, but certain.  Therefore, unless we are prepared to become Universalists, we cannot make the "all men" or "many" that Adam and Christ represent to be the exact same group.  Adam represented all men/many who are in him and Christ represents all men/many who are in him.

I believe that the passages cited at the start of this posting, about Christ dying for "many" and "the many," must be interpreted in the light of Isaiah 53 which must have been in the mind of Christ and Paul when they spoke of Christ dying for "many." 

"He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken...He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isa. 53: 8, 11)

Clearly the "many" whose sins Christ is to bear are identified as being the people of God.  These are not all men, but are the elect, or the spiritual Israel.  So was the announcement of the angel to Mary:

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins."  (Matt. 1: 21)

Notice that the prophecy here is not that Christ would merely attempt to save "his people" but that he would actually do it.  Further, "his people" cannot possibly refer to those who are "Jews by nature" (Gal. 2: 15), who are naturally "his own" (John 1: 11), according to the flesh, for we know that not all of them are saved from their sins.  Paul says that "they are not all Israel which are of Israel," and that "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children" (Rom. 9: 6-7), and he speaks of the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6: 16), the true spiritual Israel, those chosen to salvation, who are the elect from both the nation of the Jews and the nations of the Gentiles.  Paul speaks of "Israel after the flesh" (I Cor. 10: 18) which is distinct from that Israel which is after the Spirit.  He also says that "he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."  (Rom. 2: 28-29)

Further, when Paul is identifying the antitypical "elect" he says:

"Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"  (Rom. 9: 24)

"What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded."  (Rom. 11: 7)

God's elect are a "remnant" among the Jews together with those who are "called out" or "taken out" from among the Gentiles.  (Acts 15: 14)  This is in keeping with the words of John 11: 51-52:   "And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." 

Jesus said the same thing when he said:

"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."  (John 10: 16) 

The elect are those children of God (sheep) who are within the Jewish nation ("this fold") together with those who are among the Gentile nations.  This is why God says to Paul:

"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city."  (Acts 18: 9-10)

Those people of God within the city of Corinth were those who God had chosen to salvation and who needed to be called and saved by the Gospel.  This is in keeping with what Paul wrote:

"Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."  (II Tim. 2: 10)

When John speaks of Christ coming to "his own" (John 1: 11) he denotes the fleshly Jews, or natural Israel, but in John 13: 1 it seems clear that "his own" refers to the antitypical elect from all the nations.

"Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." 

Notice it is his own "which are in the world," not merely his own which are in the Jewish nation.

Thus, the "many" referred to in Matt. 20: 28, Matt. 26: 28, Romans 5: 19, and Hebrews 9: 28 are the same "many" first introduced in Isaiah 53, or the elect people of God.  "The many" of Hebrews 9: 28 are the "many sons" of Hebrews 2: 10 and "all the people" of Israel (elect) of Hebrews 9: 19.

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