More Biblical Reasons Why Catholics Don’t Believe in ‘Limited Atonement’

John Calvin was wrong. As found in the Bible and taught by the Church, Christ died for all men.

Anonymous, “Portrait of John Calvin,” c. 1550
Anonymous, “Portrait of John Calvin,” c. 1550 (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

This is a continuation of my previous article on the specifically Calvinist doctrine of “limited atonement,” which erroneously holds that Christ died not for all men, but only for the “elect” — those whose eternal destiny is heaven.

I had listed several biblical passages that provide the basis for Christian belief that the free gift of salvation is available to all. I continue:

  • John 12:32 — “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
  • John 12:46 — “If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
  • John 17:21 — “… that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
  • Acts 2:21 — “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (cf. Romans 10:13)
  • Romans 5:6 — “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
  • Romans 5:15 — “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass [original sin], much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many [universal atonement].” (cf. 5:17, 20-21)
  • Romans 11:32 — “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19 — “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised … that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 — “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners …”
  • 1 Timothy 2:3-6 — “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all …”
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 — “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
  • Titus 2:11 — “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men …”
  • Hebrews 2:9 — “But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.”
  • 2 Peter 2:1, 15 — “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. … Forsaking the right way they have gone astray …”
  • 2 Peter 3:9 — “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The efficacy of this atonement is not dependent on man. It is what it is: sufficient to save all men who will accept it. What is dependent upon man is whether each person will accept or reject God and His free offer of mercy and salvation. If a person accepts it, it was only because God’s grace enabled him or her to do so.

If he or she rejects it, it’s because they chose in their free will to do so, just as Adam and Eve chose to listen to and follow the advice of the serpent rather than God. They chose their own wisdom over God’s: which is what every reprobate person does.

Even John Calvin seems to have rejected limited atonement in his later years:

He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. (Commentary on Romans 5:18)

Calvinists contend that Jesus died for “many” (Matthew 20:28; Isaiah 53:11), and for the “sheep” (John 10:11, 15), and the Church (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25-27; Titus 2:13-14), and “his friends” (John 15:13). But this is “either/or” fallacious thinking. One thing doesn’t exclude a wider category. If I say “I love my wife” does it follow that I don’t love my children, too? If I tell one of my four children that I love them, does it follow that I don’t love the other three? The fact remains that the Bible says that Jesus died for all men.

Holding to the Calvinist position means completely ignoring the several passages that say Jesus died for “all men” (John 12:32; 1 Timothy 4:10), the “world” (John 1:29; 3:17; 4:42, 6:43, 51; 12:46; 2 Corinthians 5:29), “whoever believes” (John 3:15-16), “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6), “all” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6), “sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), and “every one” (Hebrews 2:9). That’s an awful lot of Bible to ignore, isn’t it?

Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). He doesn’t merely say, “if the elect hear my voice … ” 

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi River are seen from East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 27. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24, abortion is now banned in Missouri. The nearest clinics to St. Louis are across the river in Illinois, including a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights that was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Welcome to Post-Roe America

Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, his care for the child’s growth, his knowing each by name, and the future for which he has given each child life.