Particular Redemption: An Overview

Limited Atonement: A Historical Introduction 

One of the most challenging topics to come to grips with in Biblical theology are issues surrounding the atonement.  As a young pastor I have racked my brains over this topic on numerous occasions.  I have begun to formulate some convictions concerning this topic but they are not set in stone.  In what ways is the atonement of Christ limited?  For whom did Christ die?  If you really want to swim in the “deep end” of the pool ponder the following question: For whom did God foreordain the atonement?  For today, I am more concerned with the former question since I think it has more practical implications. 


My goal is to present a brief summary of two excellent works by notable modern day church historians.  These historians provide wonderful documentation that will hopefully set the table for some actual biblical exegesis (or perhaps better put some Expository Thoughts).  Dr. Tom Nettles has written a wonderful book titled, “By His Grace and For His Glory”.  Dr. Curt Daniel has put together an exceptional thesis on “The History and Theology of Calvinism.” I would highly recommend both books for your reading pleasure.  The research below is primarily from these two sources (I want to make sure I give credit to whom credit is due).


On page 360ff Curt Daniel provides some interesting historical information about the people and documents that surrounded this ‘controversy.’  He notes the following historical information: There were occasional debates about this issue (concerning the extent of the atonement) long before the days of Calvin.  Augustine himself believed that Christ died for every human being.  Some Roman Catholic “Schoolmen” added the proviso that atonement is not applied to all but only those who receive it by faith.


Then the Reformation came along.  Issues concerning soteriology were hashed out in great detail.  Martin Luther appears to have been a “4-pt Calvinist” (for lack of a better description).  Dr. Daniel points out that all succeeding Lutherans have believed in a ‘Universal Atonement’.  This was also the view of all the English Reformers (as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles).


“When we come to the Swiss Reformation, we find the same views.” Zwingli, Bullinger, and Musculus all believed that Christ died for every man.  Daniel than makes, what some may argue, is a controversial statement: “The evidence is overwhelming that John Calvin agreed with all the other Reformers that Christ died for all…Universal Atonement was clearly the accepted viewpoint of Reformed Theology up to about the year 1600.”  To support this general statement Daniel sites the Heidelberg Catechism, “That all the time He lived on the earth, but especially at the end of His life, He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the whole human race…” (Question 37).


Curt Daniel believes Theodore Beza was probably the first Reformer to explicitly teach Limited Atonement (as well as Supralapsarianism).  Soon other Calvinists began making similar conclusions, such as William Perkins and Johannes Piscator.  This article will be continued…



7 responses to this post.

  1. My next post will be on “Limited Atonement: Historical Introduction” (Pt. 2)

    Followed by “Limited Atonement: A More Limited View.”
    As defended by Dr. Tom Nettles.

    Followed by “Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect.” As defended by Dr. Curt Daniel.

    Followed by some biblical exegesis.

  2. Posted by Juan Z on April 4, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Great post. I have been looking into this subject myself. I have always assumed that Christ died for all but when I started reading Calvin I discovered limited atonement. I have put it off till I finish school but it will not keep me from preaching Salvation. I have a friend who is “Calvinist” is theology but it has destroyed much of his walk with God and I tell him over and over that is not the intend of what John taught.

    Right now my view is Jesus died for the ones who accept Him. :)

  3. […] Caleb Kolstad ( gives an overview of particular redemption. […]

  4. Juan,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I hope this series of posts adds light not just heat to a much debated subject.

    Together for the gospel,


  5. […] you wishing to think through the issue, Expository Thoughts has commenced a new series of posts on Particular Redemption. * How many of us have a robust theology of the ascension? Read Justin Buzzard’s interview […]

  6. A robust theology on the ascension would be very helpful. Let me know when you come up with one!


  7. […] Overview of particular redemption. […]

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