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Did Jesus die only for the elect, or for everyone?

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Anugrah Kumar, Christian Post Contributor, gave a summary (25th January 2014) of a debate between two theologians. One believed Christ died for everyone, and the other did not. Who was right? The debate was held between Messianic Jewish apologist Dr. Michael L. Brown, and Alpha and Omega Ministries Director, Dr. James White, on I will quote the two theologians and assess what they said, giving comments. I have numbered the quotes I wish to comment on.

White said:

“The issue boils down to what the intention of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit was in Christ going to the cross. Jesus' death on the cross was a covenantal death. God deals with His people in the form of a covenant, and the new covenant was established in the blood of Jesus Christ. (Now) that has a specific audience, and a specific perfecting effect for those for whom it is made. Specifically, Jesus Christ died in behalf of His elect people and that in so doing He procured eternal redemption in their place." (1)

White quoted Hebrews 9:15 as a basis for his argument:

"For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant."

(Unfortunately, White used the NIV for his quote).

He said that

“The stated intention for Jesus' death on the cross is revealed to us in this passage.” (2)

Dr Brown disagreed:

"The testimony of the Scripture is overwhelmingly clear that Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, so as to pay for the sins of every human being who's ever lived, demonstrating the grace and love of God to the entire human race and securing the salvation of everyone who believes." (3)

As President and professor of practical theology at the Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism School of Ministry in Concord, N.C., he makes a fundamental error in his belief, as we will see later. He went on to make the famously Arminian misquote from John 3:16,

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (Sadly, another use of the NIV)

He adds that

“The term, "the world," is clearly defined in John's Gospel, and it cannot mean the elect.” (4)

And he quoted 1 John 2:2 ("He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.") (5) and 1 Timothy 2:3-6 ("...God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people..."). (6)

White asked if Brown thought the word "all" is used without distinction in the Bible. After all, God demonstrates His love toward the entire created order in His Son Jesus Christ, but even John 3:16 limits who benefits from Christ's death, for those who believe... He added that faith is described as a gift of God. (7)

Brown contended that Jesus' death was not just the demonstration of God's love; He also took away the sins of the world. (8)

Brown said he does not believe God would predestine anyone to hell. In fact, culpability comes only when some choose not to believe in Jesus' death which was also for them, he argued. If they were not elected in the first place, then why should they be held responsible for their response in the negative? (9)

White said he was concerned about the result of the death of Jesus Christ, and the extent and the impact of atonement. He asked Brown if Jesus intercedes for everyone, because, if He does, why is His intercession failing for some. Faith and repentance are a gift of God, he said. (10)

Brown argued that the New Testament repeatedly says we are justified by faith, and not by Christ's death only. "So there is human participation." (11)

He added that God decided to create the world while foreseeing the results:

"I have no problem with foreknowledge and free will... But, God set things up so that there would be a people who responded to His call to be His, and many who would not." (12)

After the debate, a viewer asked White if he ever extended the Gospel invitation to a group of people comprising of both Christians and non-Christians, and if so how could he be honest by offering salvation to everyone because Jesus did not die for everyone? (13)

White replied

“We are called to make a clear Gospel presentation, and it is not for us to know the identity of the elect.” (14)

Brown asked how belief in predestination can affect his or her evangelism ministry, and said that if he went to a village to preach, he always hoped that some of the people there would respond to the Gospel. On the other hand, those who believe in election may not know if there's anyone from the elect in that group, he added. (15)

KB Napier's Commentary on the Debate

In general, I found Brown’s responses were cloudy and rather indistinct, and he tended to mix various truths/falsities as if they were one. White, on the other hand, tended to be clearer and more biblical. Below I comment on the numbered quotes and statements.

(1) White is perfectly correct in this quote. I cannot understand how others can believe God makes a covenant with ‘everyone’! If everyone is to benefit, then why make a covenant? There is no need for extra wordage where God intends to give the same thing to everyone regardless of eternal status! Arminians cannot grasp this logical conclusion. As White says, the covenant only applies to a “specific audience” and a “specific perfecting effect for those for whom it is made”. This is what scripture tells us. Jesus indeed died “in behalf of his elect people... procur(ing) eternal redemption in their place.” In this statement he is speaking in biblical terms. In the Hebrews quote we find specific mention of who the covenant affects – those who are called/elect, and NOT ‘everyone’: “they which are called”. In this text, ‘called’ refers only to the elect. If it were for everyone, there would be no need to mention “those who are called”!

The above truth is found in, say, God dealing with Noah and his family ONLY. “With THEE I will establish my covenant” (Genesis 6:18). This is a very specific promise to a handful of people alone. Later, when God gives us the rainbow, He makes this a promise to ALL the earth (Genesis 9:16). Later again, in Genesis 15:18, God made a covenant with Abram and his seed, and NOT with everyone in the world.

(2) Note that White uses scripture to support his claims.

(3) Brown uses the usual Arminian ‘sleight of hand’ by making a vague statement... the answer should not be a general appeal to supposed scriptures that vaguely support his view! He should be as specific as White. Brown says that the testimony of scripture overwhelmingly tells us that Christ died for everyone. But, I have not read any such proofs, and need to know what texts he refers to.

It is again a matter of divine logic: If Christ “died for the sins of the entire world” to “pay for the sins of every human being who’s ever lived”... then where is the proof? If everyone’s sins have been removed and their guilt paid for, then it means everyone is saved! But, it is evident they are not. God cannot make a mistake, like dying for some who refuse to believe. A doctor does not give antibiotics for a cold! To do so would be folly, because they do not work on a virus.

The biblical logic is very plain: to be accepted by God we must be righteous, but we are told that He chose who would become righteous before He made the world. Thus, all who will be righteous have already been called or elected. The result of their election is ‘triggered’ when the Holy Spirit causes them to be born again, regenerated. After that they will be saved. And after that they will change, showing the effects of salvation in their lives.

So, if Christ died for ‘everyone’ and took away their sins, bearing them upon Himself, it stands to reason that everyone would show the same results – born again, repentance, salvation, changed lives. But, they do not!

The blasphemous explanation is that they are saved by Christ’s death, had their sins removed, which makes them righteous... and then do not respond to the Gospel (making them unrighteous). That is, the death of Christ was wasted on them. How could this be? Only if Christ could make a mistake... another blasphemy.

At the end of his quote, Brown gives a confused statement. He began by saying Christ’s death was for everyone, without distinction. As I have shown, this means everyone MUST be saved and accepted by God. But, Brown goes on to give an opposite statement, that Christ secured the salvation of everyone who believes! This is shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted! Brown is effectively saying that though God has freed everyone from sin by the death of Jesus Christ, the death is ineffective unless a man believes. (Yet, nothing done by God can be superfluous). This is like saying that a man can have all the money left to him by a relative, IF he believes it is for him. The will is drawn up legally, and the one receiving the inheritance is the person it is left to. Belief, or disbelief, does not alter that fact! Nor does belief add anything to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, or to election.

To put it another way, salvation is given to those who are elect in eternity. They are born again, so their spirits are made alive. Once spiritually alive, the Holy Spirit leads them on until they repent and are then saved. Belief comes as a confirmation that salvation has already been secured. Belief is not, then, the means by which any man is saved, but is the effect of an eternal mandate by God in Heaven. Logic tells us that if God chooses in eternity, then it cannot be changed by the will of men. Brown’s latter phrase is, then, misleading and wrongly construed, a typically Arminian belief. Note that Arminianism is heresy, a teaching that rejects the true Gospel (all of grace) and accepts the will of man (free will) as a ‘trigger’ to salvation. (See my articles on the impossibility of free will: A-094, A-156, A-157).

(4) Brown adds to his problem by misquoting John 3:16 (See my articles on this text: O-075, O-114, A-149, and Bible study). Arminians regularly and frequently refer to this scripture as if it meant ‘everyone’... but it does the opposite, and this error can easily be cast aside when we read the verse in context. “The world” is indeed “clearly defined” in John’s Gospel... but its definition is not the one given by Brown. He says that the phrase “the world” CANNOT be applied to the elect. This is a strange thing to say, because one of its meanings IS ‘the elect’. The “whosoever” ARE the elect... and this is shown to be the case in the ensuing context! (See my article on John 3:16).

In John 3:16, ‘world’, kosmos, CAN mean ‘world’. But, to insist that it CANNOT mean the elect is wrong. There are eight primary meanings for ‘kosmos’ and two secondary meanings, and the meaning that applies in 3:16 depends on the context. It can mean the ungodly masses, or everyone regardless of nation; it can mean the earth, an harmonious order of anything, the ‘circle’ of the earth, anything at all to do with earthly things, or “an aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort”, such as Gentiles rather than Jews, the elect rather than ‘everyone’, and so on. Indeed, the sub-meanings and linked meanings of kosmos are many, so Brown was being deliberately obtuse and deflective.

God sent His Son for the ‘world’, so what does it mean here? It has to refer to a group of people, but not all of them, otherwise it makes no sense. ‘Whosoever’, pas, can speak of individuals or of some individuals gathered together as a single group, from amongst ‘some of all types’. So, it could mean ‘every individual’ but the context plainly speaks of some from each type... a special group (such as the elect).

Now, whether one accepts that ‘pas’ refers to everyone or some of everyone (that is, the elect), the meaning of ‘believeth’, pisteuō, must be taken into consideration. This verb refers to men who are totally convinced that God is true and so have faith in Him... saving faith. It could, at times, point to mere intellectual acceptance of the truth, but, the context does not allow this interpretation in this text. (There are a few other possible meanings, that do not apply here). The noun root of the word, pistis, repeats that the person is a believer. This upholds the interpretation of ‘world’ in this text as ‘the elect’. Vine’s entry on this in his expository dictionary agrees.

The person with this belief – a believer – will have ‘everlasting life’. We know from other texts that God chooses who will be saved from before the beginning of the world (e.g. Ephesians 1:4). If saved, then, a man will be given everlasting life. Therefore, God did not send Christ to condemn the elect (called here ‘the world’), but to save them! (verse 17). Those who are saved, will not be condemned (which automatically presupposes that some are NOT chosen and so ARE condemned).

Unbelievers are automatically condemned to hell (verse 18). This is what the text tells us, so it cannot possibly be interpreted otherwise. Also, pretending that God does not condemn until He knows someone will not believe (foreknowledge), is intellectual and logical gobbledygook! Those who think this way are being blind – they are saying that God plays a semantic game, pretending not to know who will be saved until they disbelieve. Then, He condemns them. I hope you can see the illogic and stupidity of such a belief.

God elects who will be saved, and foreknows who will be saved because of this. And because God knows everything all at once, He both foreknows and elects at the same time (though ‘time’ does not come into it; His knowledge and aims are all eternal). Because God elects, no man can choose their salvation nor reject it, for God’s will MUST come to fruition. By the same token, no man can disbelieve unless it is decreed by God he will stay unsaved.

The rest of the text upholds the interpretation of ‘world’ as the elect. Read it. In His reply to Nicodemus, Jesus said that a man had to be born again (his spirit be regenerated) before he can see or enter the kingdom of God (be saved). Jesus emphasises this fact several times and adds that those who are spiritually blind cannot see these things. This led on to the fact that only believers can have eternal life. Verse 16 is related to the entire context.

In verse 18 we find that those who do not believe are “condemned already”. This is not just foreknowledge but eternal judgment against those who are not elect: ēdē means ‘already’, and so those who do not believe are condemned by a prior decision of God (in eternity). Therefore ‘world’ CANNOT mean ‘everyone’.

Brown’s illogic can easily be found in history. And, if we accept universalism, we must accept that Jesus’ death WAS for ‘everyone’; if someone does not believe, it does not matter, because Jesus died for him! This means all talk of hell is to be disregarded as hearsay or nasty innuendo. It means that we can all do whatever we wish in this world, no matter how heinous or wicked... Hitler, Nero, Pharaoh, Stalin... all are equally accepted. Talk of ‘belief’ is superfluous against this ‘catch-all’ acceptance by God; it does not matter if they believe, or even if they curse the Lord. They will enter Heaven! We see, then, that universalism (much of which can be found in Arminianism) is beset by a huge number of fallacious beliefs, illogical suppositions, unsustainable ideas and false theology, which can only be ‘true’ if they are encapsulated in their own contextual bubble (a false reality).

(5) Once we understand that ‘world’ means the elect, so-called ‘problem’ texts vanish. In this way we can see that in 1 John 2:2, “whole world” means the elect. “Ours” shows that the salvation given to the Apostles is the same as the salvation given to the ‘whole world’, i.e. the elect throughout the earth.

(6) “All people” in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 can also be easily understood in the same light. We see this because Jesus gave Himself to be a ransom... to say He did so for ‘everyone’ is specious and nonsense. A ransom is only paid for a specific person or persons. Otherwise it is not a ransom! ‘All’, pas, as we have seen, can refer to individuals or some of many. But, not ‘all’ in our modern sense of fully inclusive. A ‘ransom’, antilytron, is something given in exchange for something else, in this case, the life of Christ for the eternal salvation of believers. This implies a sacrifice by Christ for some, not all. If it meant everyone of whatever status, then a sacrifice would be superfluous, if not cruel. It would be like saying we will shoot dead a man, so that 100 others can be given freedom... but, there is no real need to shoot him because the others will be released anyway! But, the man is shot for good measure. What?

(7) While Brown says that the number of those who benefit from Christ’s death is ‘limited’ his interpretation of ‘world’ etc., shows a deficient understanding overall. His idea is that though Christ died for ‘everyone’, some will not benefit because they refuse to believe. This effectively calls God a liar and says Christ’s death was wasted or an error.

(8) Again, Brown tries to cover his exits by saying that because God loves, He must love everyone without distinction. He then says that His love extends to saving the whole world. Thus, he contradicts himself. Christ died for the elect alone. If everyone is to be saved anyway, then why die in the first place?

(9) Here we have the old disbelief in election to hell. The idea that God will actively elect some to Heaven, but merely passively ‘not elect’ others, is a silly thing to believe: it is not logical nor does it fit the character of Almighty God. He has no problem electing to hell, because He is The Potter! God states that he sends some to hell deliberately. Indeed, the stark text concerning the birth, life and death of Pharaoh (in Exodus) shows us that God brought Pharaoh into being specifically to be obliterated and sent to hell! Brown also seems not to understand the significance of ‘original’ or inborn sin at conception. It is this that condemns a man to hell, even before he is born, if he is unsaved at death. Refusing the sacrifice of Christ is only another layer of condemnation, added to the election to hell. It is irrelevant (in the light of the Potter statements) to claim that God ‘must not’ condemn them to hell if they are elected to be unsaved.

(10) Does Jesus intercede for everyone? No, He does not. If He did, it would mean that all the verses that show a definite barrier between God and the unsaved, are wrong or ‘misinterpreted’... and it begs the question: “Well, why bother to live a holy life if everyone is able to access the Lord? And, why be saved if Christ died for everyone?” Jesus’ intercession CANNOT fail, not even for one person He intercedes for. It is just not possible. The only logical conclusion is that He does not intercede for the majority of people, because they are unsaved and therefore have no way to commune with God. It is true that faith and repentance are gifts of God. And gifts of God are only given to those who are elect. End of story.

(11) Brown then comes out with a classic universalist/Arminian statement, that there is “human participation” in our salvation. He refers to the fact that we are “justified by faith” and “not by Christ’s death alone”. This latter statement is a clear heretical teaching. As faith is a gift of God, and it is only given to those who are born again, no man who is NOT born again can have faith, and so has no inclination or ability to seek salvation! Justifying faith is a seal given by God to show that our salvation is effective. It is certainly not our part in saving ourselves! Nothing in us can save us. Salvation is by grace alone. We have no part in it. Yes, we accept salvation, but this is after we are born again and we have repented. It is not a salvic mechanism.

(12) Brown says he has no problem with “foreknowledge and free will”... but he seems to have a great problem with election. He again contradicts himself by saying that he understands that God “set things up” so some would respond to be His, and some would not. This is just another way of saying that God elected some to salvation and elected some to hell! All he is doing is avoiding the exact words.

As for ‘free will’, this does not exist! Not even for the Lord, Who, as God, is unable to choose certain acts and words. For example, He is not free to choose to be sinful, nor can He choose to contradict Himself. He could certainly do so, except for the fact that He declares Himself to be unchangeable and holy. Therefore, He limits himself to not having ‘free will’. Man, a created being, is unable to have free will for many reasons (see my articles on Free Will), such as having a finite mind, a heart corrupted by sin, and labile emotions that often sin against God.

(13) The question from the audience is muddled and evidence of ignorance on the part of the questioner. Firstly, the Gospel is NOT an ‘invitation’ (implying that one may choose it or reject it of one’s own will), but a bald declaration of a decision already made by God in eternity, through election and predestination. Secondly, the Gospel is not for believers. Most local churches make the mistake of using their Sunday evening meetings to preach the Gospel (it is an error because meetings in a local church are NOT meant for the unsaved, but for the saved). Where the congregation is already saved, such preaching is superfluous, and is a waste of time.

There should not be provision made for the unsaved in these meetings... because a local church is FOR the saved, not for the unsaved. And, if already saved, the congregation requires meat not milk – especially if the milk is not needed, either! The real reason that we preach the Gospel is that we do not know who is unsaved in the group we are speaking to. As preachers and teachers we do not know whom God has elected, and so we must preach the Gospel universally, to all. It is up to the Holy Spirit to cause a hearer to be born again, so that he can then hear the Gospel and act upon it. Thus, the preacher announces the Gospel, not knowing who will benefit. He must never ‘offer’ it – the Gospel is a commandment to obey. The fact that Jesus did not die for everyone does not come into it, because we are required to preach the Gospel to all.

(14) This is why White’s response is quite correct. We can only know who the elect are, when they are saved.

(15) Brown, in reply, merely stated the obvious... yes, every preacher hopes that some amongst his hearers will respond to the Gospel, but the true preacher knows that if someone does respond it will be because he or she is already elect in eternity, and the time has come for them to respond on this earth at that time. His statement, that we may not know who is elect in the group, is self-evident, just as it is for the Arminian/universalist (except that the latter has no true belief in election, only a humanised version)! We must preach the Gospel to all, because of this not-knowing; it is God’s command.

For me, Brown was muddled, which he must be, because like all universalists his theology and understanding of God’s word is defective, if not absent. Such preachers may not be saved at all (a probability rather than a possibility, because a man really called by God to preach the Gospel will have a sure knowledge that his preaching is true, and that what he says will reach a defined ‘target’ already selected by the Holy Spirit). White, on the other hand, was precise and gave a true picture of salvation. We must never allow even the smallest of errors to creep into the Gospel, or our understanding of salvation.

© February 2014

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