Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Day of Atonement

In the “Question and Answer” section of his chapter on “Unlimited Limited Atonement” in Death by Love, Mark Driscoll writes, “Jesus’ work on the cross follows the pattern of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)… The two goats provided propitiation and expiation on behalf of all the people, even though these benefits were applied only to God’s elect, a remnant within the larger group” (179).

This kind of analogy (between the atonement made by Christ and the atonement made on the Day of Atonement) is persuasive at first glance against Limited atonement. When I first began struggling to understand the biblical teaching on the extent of the atonement, I had considered a similar conclusion to that reached by Driscoll specifically due to the system of atonement found in the Old Testament. Two considerations led me to reconsider such conclusions based on “the pattern of the Day of Atonement.”

1. The atonement is made for the covenant people. Driscoll writes, “the two goats provided propitiation and expiation on behalf of all the people.” This statement is true, and would provide great support for his idea of “Un/limited” atonement if the phrase, “all the people,” as defined in the context of Leviticus 16, properly carried the Arminian definition of “every individual ever to live.” But notice Leviticus 16:16a- “In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleaness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (NIV, emphases added). The High Priest of Israel, in offering atonement for the sins of “all the people,” is not offering atonement for the sins of all the Babylonians, the Philistines, etc.; rather, he is offering atonement for “all the people” of Israel. The atonement is made on behalf of God’s covenant community.

2. No “remnant” within the New Covenant. Driscoll writes, “these benefits were applied only to God’s elect, a remnant within the larger group.” Driscoll is correct to point out that eternally salvific benefits were not bestowed upon all for whom the Old Testament atonement was made. This is the faultiness of the old covenant mentioned in Hebrews 8:7. But in the new covenant community, salvific benefits are not applied only to “a remnant within the larger group;” as the author of Hebrews explains, quoting from Jeremiah 31-

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more. (Heb 8:10-12 NIV)

As under the old covenant, under the new covenant, the atonement is made for all the people of God’s covenant community. The difference is that whereas under the old covenant not all the people for whom the atonement was made benefited from that atonement in an eternal, salvific way, under the new covenant all the people for who the atonement was made certainly receive the full benefits of the atonement.

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4 Comments on “Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Day of Atonement”

  1. Brandon Says:

    I think it’s also important to note that the atonement made for Israel did not fail. It is not as if it only worked for some Israelites. The sacrifices accomplished for all Israelites what they were intended to accomplish – the purification of the flesh, not the heart.

    Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

    The sacrifices offered for Israelites were not offered for their eternal salvation, they were offered for their physical salvation (cf. 1 Sam 11:13; 14:45; 19:5; 2 Chron 20:17 – Deut 30:18). Certainly the elect saw in this temporal forgiveness by the blood of goats the future reality of eternal forgiveness by the blood of a Redeemer. But the two were not the same – the Day of Atonement only pictured and foreshadowed the eternal Atonement of Christ, but it was not just a picture, it actually accomplished temporal forgiveness for the Israelites so that their flesh would be purified and they would not be vomited from the land. Their flesh was literally purified by the sprinkling of blood on their flesh. (Thus the blood of Christ must be sprinkled on our hearts)


  2. […] Strange BaptistFire A Closer Look at the Doctrines of Grace in the SBC « Response to Driscoll’s Presentation of Un/Limited Atonement: The Day of Atonement […]

  3. fourpointer Says:

    Another problem Driscoll runs into is that by using the picture of Yom Kippur to defend his doctrine, he actually refutes himself. The blood that was shed on Yom Kippur was NOT shed for every single Israelite, but only for those who came to the tent of meeting. Leviticus 23:29-30–“For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.” What happened to those who did not “afflict themselves?” The blood was not applied to them, and they were cut off. In effect, the blood of the goats was shed only for those who showed up at the tabernacle. It was limited to those people only.

  4. strangebaptistfire Says:

    Thanks for the comment, fourpointer. I really enjoyed browsing your (misnamed :) ) site.

    -Andrew


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