The Proof-Texts

After giving his definition of what Calvinists believe concerning Limited atonement and after making an appeal to popular Baptist hymns in an attempt to demonstrate that Baptists do not believe in this doctrine, Dr. Vines next turned to the proof-texts commonly used on both sides of this debate.

Limited atonement proof-texts cited:

In one sense, Dr. Vines was more even-handed than some anti-Calvinists in his presentation against Limited atonement, for he actually did, at least, present some of the common proof-texts that help persuade people that Limited atonement is a biblical doctrine. The texts he cited are as follows:

Matthew 1:21

Mark 10:45

Galatians 2:20

To this last text cited above, Dr. Vine added the following comment:

“Now, wait a minute. Are we going to say, then, that the only one Christ died for was Paul? Now let’s just use an illustration here for a moment. ‘I love Pastor Johnny, I love Miss Janet.’ I’ve just made a statement… Now what does that mean? Does that mean I don’t love his children? Does that mean I don’t love his grandchildren? Not at all. It just means I’ve said I love him, I love his wife. But if you ask me, I’d say, ‘Of course I love his children; of course I love grandchildren. You do not restrict the love of God simply because the language at some specific point of Scripture does not make it all-encompassing.”

The kind of comment presented above is usually enough to persuade people that the doctrine of Limited atonement is a shallow view of what the Bible teaches concerning Christ’s work on the Cross. I know of many who consider themselves “four-point Calvinists” based only upon observations such as the above quote from Dr. Vine and upon proof-texts such as those presented below. As I hope to demonstrate, no one should base their doctrine on proof-texts alone, but our opinions of what Scripture teaches should be based upon careful exegesis.

Unlimited atonement proof-texts cited:

Dr. Vines cited the following proof-texts, giving no context for the verses. After each verse, for the sake of time and space, I’ll not give a full exegesis either, but only a suggestion of how the verses should be understood in context.

John 1:29

[Dr. Vine’s citation of this verse is only effective if we accept the presupposition that “world” means every individual ever to live, rather than acknowledging the theme in John’s writings, culminating in the declaration that Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”]

Hebrews 2:9

[Dr. Vine’s citation of this verse is only effective if we do not explore what is meant by the phrase, “he might taste death for everyone,” and if we ignore the following verse, Hebrews 2:10, which declares that by Jesus’ death on the Cross, He was bringing many sons to glory.]

II Peter 2:1

[A full exegesis of this verse is given by Simon Escobedo III on the Alpha and Omega Ministries website. For now, I hope it will suffice to note that the verse does not say the Master bought a potential salvation for anyone, or that the Master potentially bought anyone, but that the Master actually bought false prophets. In what sense did the Master buy them? The rest of II Peter 2 answers this question in speaking of Balaam, who was restrained for a time by the Word of God (II Peter 2:15-16), and in verse 20, false prophets are mentioned as having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, [but] they are again entangled in them and overcome, [and] the last state has become worse for them than the first.]

I John 2:2

[Again, Dr. Vine’s citation of this verse is only effective if we accept his loaded definition of “world” and do not take the historical context into account, that most of the Christians during New Testament times came from the Jewish community and a major debate in the Church during the writing of the New Testament was the inclusion of the Gentile nations- the “whole world”- into God’s plan of redemption.]

John 3:16

[Once again, Dr. Vine has an assumed definition for “world” not rendered through biblical exegesis, but this passage raises an additional question with the second half of the verse, which states “that [God] gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Since this is the reason God gave His only Son, the question becomes, ‘Why are there some who believe and some who do not?’ Do those who believe in Jesus make the decision to submit to Him as Lord because they are more morally sensitive or more intelligent than others? Or does belief in Jesus itself come as a gift from God to entirely undeserving sinners based on His grace, as declared in Ephesians 2:8-9? If this second option is true, then the “whosoever” for whom Jesus died are determined by God- in other words, Jesus died in a redeeming and reconciling sense only for the elect.]

The danger of proof-texting:

Proof-texting can be a helpful tool. All biblical confessions of faith, from the 1689 London Baptist Confession to the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message have lists of texts that illustrate each of the doctrines asserted as being in line with Scripture. But- and I cannot emphasize this enough- church members MUST be taught that our beliefs should never be formed by a few isolated verses taken out of context, but instead we must do the hard work of careful exegesis- looking at Scripture in context, realizing what type of passage we are reading, comparing Scripture with Scripture, etc.- in order to know what truths God has given us in His Word that should shape our faith in His Son. It is my concern that presentations such as Dr. Vines’- presentations entirely built on decontextualized proof-texts- leave church members open to some cultist approaching them with a list of verses (say, for example, Matthew 24:36, Luke 2:52, John 5:19, John 8:28, John 17:3) and undermining their faith in Christ.

So, after examining one further topic addressed by Dr. Vines in my next post, I hope to turn to a positive, exegetical presentation for the doctrine of Limited atonement, or Particular redemption.

Explore posts in the same categories: Doctrinal Issues, Exegetical Issues, Other Anti-Calvinism, Sermon Reviews

6 Comments on “The Proof-Texts”

  1. 4ever4given Says:

    You wrote: “…but instead we must do the hard work of careful exegesis- looking at Scripture in context, realizing what type of passage we are reading, comparing Scripture with Scripture, etc.- in order to know what truths God has given us in His Word that should shape our faith in His Son.”

    Well said. Limited Atonement is only shallow if completely misunderstood and taken out of context, as the necessary approach to compare Scripture with Scripture is essentially forsaken. I am looking forward to your exegetical presentation on this difficult Biblical truth… as well as praying for you all as you “speak” this truth in love for the glory of our Lord.

    By the grace of God alone,

  2. Gordan Says:

    I would add as well that the so-called Unlimited Atonement proof texts are truly dangerous things. Meaning, if they disprove Limited Atonement, as the Arminians assert, then they generally also must prove Universalism. (For instance, if Jesus really tasted death for every individual, then what need is there for anyone to perish, etc., etc.)

  3. Sam Hughey Says:

    It is interesting anyone would use the texts Dr. Vines cited to defend Unlimited Atonement when in fact, none of them make any reference to an Unlimited Atonement.

    Matthew 1:21 makes no reference to an Unlimited or Universal aspect of the atonement. Actually, it makes a clear and distinct reference to Jesus having died for His people. Now, if Jesus died for ALL people then ALL people are His sheep (John 10:11), including those already in eternal torment. It seems very odd, to me, that Jesus would leave His heavenly throne, reside in a human body, suffer unspeakable torture and pay the price for ALL people (including those who cannot be ransomed) but then not pray for some of those same people (John 17:9). Furthermore, Jesus said He knows His people and they know Him and follow Him (John 10:14). This cannot be said of ALL humans.

    Concerning Mark 10:45, it seems to me Dr. Vines would be on more solid ground had he chosen 1 Timothy 2:6. There is one possibility (for some) and one Biblical view (for some); 1) the view that many and all mean exactly the same thing or 2) the view that the many are the all whom the Father elected before creation and gives to the Son in history from among the many humans. Only of these views is the true Biblical view.

    The first view has some very serious problems with Scripture. It forces an assumption to be imposed onto the text as to why ALL are not saved (or ransomed) and actually contradicts more than one text of Scripture (John 1:12,13 and Eph. 1:4,5) because of the (free-will theistic) assumption. Indeed, if the ransom was demanded by God, paid by God and accepted by God, why then is the ransom not for ALL, since not ALL benefit from the paid ransom?

    The second view forces neither assumptions nor contradictions upon Holy Scripture.

    Galatians 2:20 has always been one of my favorite verses. In fact, it was the first verse I learned when I became a Christian and long before I knew anything of Calvinism. Every Christian can rightly state Christ gave Himself for me. However, this text does not address the extent of Christ’s death except to say it was for me.

    Sam Hughey
    The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:17)

  4. Sam,

    Sorry if my post was unclear. Matt. 1:21, Mk. 10:45, and Gal. 2:20 were all cited by Dr. Vines as examples of Limited atonement proof-texts. The proof-texts he cited for Unlimited atonement were Jn. 1:29, Heb. 2:9, II Pet. 2:1, I Jn. 2:2, and Jn. 3:16.


  5. Sam Hughey Says:


    I apologize for the misunderstanding and it was entirely my fault. I’ll read more carefully next time.

    Sam Hughey
    The first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:17)

  6. […] Dr. Vines has apparently had at least some exposure to Calvinistic exegesis of the proof-texts used for Unlimited atonement mentioned in my previous post and he has chosen to disregard these explanations in favor of his own tradition, as demonstrated in the following quote: […]

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