Unlimited atonement

Unlimited atonement (sometimes called general atonement or universal atonement) is a doctrine in Protestant Christianity that is normally associated with Amyraldians and non-Calvinist Christians. The doctrine states that Jesus died as a propitiation for the benefit of mankind without exception. It is a doctrine distinct from other elements of the Calvinist acronym TULIP and is contrary to the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement.

A doctrinal issue that divides Christians is the question of the extent of the atonement. Did Christ die with the intention to save only the elect, or did his death provide a way to salvation for all human beings who would believe? Those who take this view read scriptures such as John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2 to say that the Bible teaches unlimited atonement. However, the argument can be made that it is equally possible to interpret those passages from the perspective of limited atonement.[1]

Historical background

For more details on this topic, see History of Calvinist-Arminian Debate.

In response to the Remonstrants' Five articles of Remonstrance, the Synod of Dort published the Canons of Dort which included limited atonement.

One of the stronger, more vocal proponents of Unlimited atonement was John Wesley. Those who opposed the view include George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. It should also be noted that the namesake of the Calvinist systematic theological viewpoint, John Calvin, seemingly expressed an unlimited atonement position in several passages from his published Commentaries.[2] DEAD LINK

The doctrine

The terms unlimited, universal, and general are somewhat of a misnomer and have been adopted primarily to distinguish this doctrine from a Calvinist understanding of limited atonement. More accurately, the call of the Gospel is universal and there are no limits on who can believe through faith, but the legal payment is still regarded as limited only to those that respond through faith in Jesus. Thus, it is not the same as the doctrine of universal salvation, which holds that all souls will ultimately be reconciled to God, irrespective of faith.

The following statements regarding what it states and what it does not state are subject to close scrutiny of which many distinguished theologians on both sides of this issue disagree.

What it states
What it does not state

Amyraldism (commonly called "four-point Calvinism" holds to a view of Unlimited atonement that is very similar but not synonymous with the traditional Arminian understanding) teaches that God has provided Christ's atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elects those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of the unconditional election of individuals.

Unlimited atonement has a number of important points in common with traditional formulations of limited atonement. Both positions affirm that:

Biblical passages

All quotes from the NKJV unless otherwise noted, emphasis added:

Scriptures used in support of unlimited atonement

These are Scriptures commonly used by those who support Unlimited atonement:

Scriptures used to criticize unlimited atonement

These are Scriptures commonly used by those who deny Unlimited atonement:

See also


  1. Chang, Andrew. Second Peter 2:1 and the Extent of the Atonement (Bibliotheca Sacra. V142 #565, Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, [electronic edition] 1998), p.53.
  2. Paul Hartog, A Word for the World: Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement (Schaumburg: Regular Baptist Press, 2009).
  3. 1 2 3 "Calvinism: Limited Atonement". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015.
  4. 1 2 "Justification / Salvation". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. Romans 3:23-24, 5:9, 18 are other passages that lead us to say that it is most appropriate and accurate to say that universal justification is a finished fact. God has forgiven the sins of the whole world whether people believe it or not. He has done more than "made forgiveness possible." All this is for the sake of the perfect substitutionary work of Jesus Christ.
  5. "Justification / Salvation". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 we are told that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them. And, he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Here the forgiveness of the world's sins (not counting the sins against them because of Christ's work) is declared to be a past and present reality to be announced and appreciated.

Further reading

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