Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor? (Part 2)

Dr. James Leo Garrett indicates three kinds of biblical texts that he believes support “general atonement.”

First are the “all” or “all men” texts: 2 Cor. 5:14b; Rom. 5:18b; 1 Tim. 2:6a; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11, Heb. 2:9b.

As Tom Ascol has pointed out, it is disappointing that neither in his presentation of “limited atonement” nor of “general atonement” does Dr. Garrett actually deal with the context of the Scripture in which the lists of verses he offers occur. His teaching on this matter would be considerably strengthened if he would carefully exegete at least one passage from each side of the issue before offering bare citations. By teaching people to depend on several out-of-context verses in making doctrinal judgments, Dr. Garrett leaves his readers susceptible to heretical groups such as the Mormons, who can rattle off dozens of verses that (outside their proper context) seem to teach works-salvation.

In regards to the “all” passages above, it has been pointed out on this website before that “all” is always defined by its context. In other words, we can see the words “all” or “all men” and read into them, “every man, woman, and child ever to exist,” or we can look to the verses around the word to see what people the author had in view. To his credit, Dr. Garrett does mention that, “Augustine of Hippo interpreted the ‘all’ and ‘all men’ to mean all classes and types of human beings, and thus he could retain limited atonement.” What Dr. Garrett does not mention, however, is that this understanding of “all” and “all men” is in regards to a certain passage, 1 Tim 2:4, and that “all” is defined in this passage- in 1 Tim. 2:2.

Next, Dr. Garrett cites several passages where the Bible speaks of Christ’s death on behalf of “many” (Isaiah 53:12e, Mark 10:45b, Mark 14:24, Romans 5:15c, and Hebrews 9:28a). I find it exceedingly remarkable that Dr. Garrett would consider these passages to support “general atonement.” To quote from Tom Ascol once again, “The ‘many’ texts might just as easily be cited as supporting a limited perspective as a universal perspective since many is by definition less than the totality.” In fact, these texts have often been understood in support of “limited atonement” for the very reason Ascol mentions. The only sense I can make of Garrett’s use of these texts is that he has apparently come to the erroneous conclusion that holding to the “limited atonement” view, one must understand fewer people to receive salvation than the “many” understood by those holding to “general atonement.” But this does not follow. While every follower of Christ believes few people will be saved relative to the overall population- as our Lord makes clear, for example, in Matthew 7:13-14- we also believe that throughout history the cumulative number of people finding salvation will total “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” Interestingly, the verse just quoted from (Revelation 5:11) immediately follows a song in which the Lord is declared to have “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” by his blood (cf. Rev. 5:9-10). The idea of Christ ransoming a certain people out from every one of these larger groups mentioned certainly seems to indicate particular redemption, or “limited atonement.” Likewise, Charles Spurgeon, in a section of his work just preceding a defense of “limited atonement,” wrote:

His elect on earth are to be counted by millions, I believe, and the days are coming, brighter days than these, when there shall be multitudes upon multitudes brought to know the Saviour, and to rejoice in Him. The Father’s love is not for a few only, but for an exceeding great company. “A great multitude, which no man could number,” will be found in Heaven. A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone can tell the multitude of His redeemed. I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre-eminence,” and I cannot conceive how He could have the pre-eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise. Moreover, I have never read that there is to be in hell a great multitude, which no man could number. I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them! Then there are already in Heaven unnumbered myriads of the spirits of just men made perfect—the redeemed of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues up till now; and there are better times coming,

You see, therefore, that the “many” texts offer no support of “general atonement” both because, as Ascol indicated, “many” is, by definition, less than the totality, and, as demonstrated by the quote from Spurgeon, those believing in “limited atonement” certainly believe that “many” will be saved.

Finally, Dr. Garrett cites passages speaking of the “world” (John 1:29b, John 3:16a, John 4:42d, 2 Corinthians 5:19a, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:14) as being in favor of “general atonement.” Again, this argument has been previously examined on this website. As with the “all” passages, the “world” passages only support “general atonement” if one reads a certain meaning of “world” into the text rather than allowing the text to define its own terms. As with understanding any other passage, within each “world” text, the context is key.

Dr. Garrett concludes the section of his article in which “limited atonement” is examined with the following statement:

In light of these “all,” “many” and “world” passages, it can hardly be said that the weight of the New Testament rests on limited atonement, for the case for general atonement is indeed strong.

But the reader must decide, in light of information such as that presented in this post, how “strong” the case for “general atonement” really is.

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8 Comments on “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor? (Part 2)”

  1. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    I think above you meant 1 Timothy 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:4.

    There is more to that passage: 1 Timothy 1:5-6 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, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

    What is meant by one mediator? Does mediation, from John 17.:15, mean between God and (all) men? Mediation is the sheep door through which only those who know the master’s voice, enter in. And they know his voice because they are His. Then, we have the ransom. When it says “who gave himself,” is this not reflective of John 3:16 and John 10:11-18; John 10:25-38. If 3:16 in inclusive of the world exhaustively, then the sheep are inclusive of the world exhaustively, also. Ransom is the thing given coextensively by the Father and the Son, but then this all parenthetically in verse five and in six, can only mean the sheep exclusively, otherwise we have a clear pronouncement of universal salvation. The ransom is the purchase price paid in blood, Revelation 5:11. Hosea speaks of this ransom as the price paid for his Bride who is bought back from slavery. No others are brought back, nor is the price paid for any others, save her alone, Hosea 3. Interestingly, she was his Bride from the beginning and that is why she alone is purchased back, for the Lord does not commit adultery against her by taking any other. The final portion of verse six tells the timing of the Ransom paid for this particular Bride. It was at the cross. That is where it is accomplished. It is there that his bride is saved. It is not as the Arminian would have people believe, that Christ’s blood merely provided opportunity, rather, it is as He said, “It is finished.” The blood is not continuously being spilled, as the Romanists claim, it was one sacrifice at a specific time bearing witness to the perfecting of the mission that the Son was sent to accomplish. It was at that particular time that the blood of Christ, distinct from the blood of bulls and goats, perfected once and for all those being saved.

  2. Yes, I meant 1 Tim and will change it. Thank you for the correction.

  3. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    This is only slightly connected to the post. I am looking for a short commentary on the 1689 to go along with a bible study that I am conducting. If anyone knows of a source for a paragraph by paragraph discussion, or a synoptic commentary that deals with exposition of the chapters, I would love know.

  4. Barry Says:

    “Dr. Garrett leaves his readers suseptible to heretical groups…that seem to teach works-salvation.”

    And, you say, they rattle off verse outside it’s proper context?

    Andrew, could you describe how the following Scripture is taken out of its proper context?

    Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense
    I will give to each according to his deeds.”

    Rev 20:12 “I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to his deeds, by what was written in the scrolls.”

    James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

    Hebrews 10:24 “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.”

    Proverbs 24:12 “…he who guards your life knows it, and he will repay each one according to his deeds.”

    These are, of course, just a few places in Scripture (old and new) wherein it speaks directly of works and deeds.

  5. Thomas,

    The only commentary I can find on the 1689 is that by Sam Waldron, which is far from “short.”

  6. re: could you describe how the following Scripture is taken out of its proper context?


    Rev. 22:12. No one here denies that he will be judged according to our deeds, what is in dispute is whether anyone is justified on the basis of his deeds.

    Rev. 20:12. This is from a passage that I have actually had the opportunity to refer to while sharing the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus, speaking to a co-worker of mine. Notice that their is a distinction between the “scrolls” and the one “book of life.” Everyone is certainly judged according to his deeds. Notice, however, that the judgment concerning deeds- the judgment based on the scrolls- does not lead to salvation. For a few verses later, in Rev. 20:15, we read, “if anyone’s name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The question is, how does one’s name come to be written in the “book of life”? Is it by “deeds”? Obviously not, for we have been told a few chapters before, in Rev. 17:8, that the names recorded in the book were placed there “before the foundation of the world”- so that this salvation from the lake of fire comes by grace alone.

    Jas. 2:14. We at SBF would strongly affirm with James that those claiming to have faith, but having no works to show for that faith are deceived. But do the works play a part in our justification before God? What works did thief on the cross perform? Did he not rather simply believe and receive Christ’s favor? What works did the tax collector in Luke 18:14 perform other than calling out, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” We should not imagine that these individuals, if given opportunity, would have continued living their lives in disregard for God’s law, but we must likewise not imagine that any subsequent good works on their part would have made them any more justified or fit for paradise than at the moment they first believed. Likewise James, while calling self-deceived hypocrites to repentance, yet acknowledges that God alone acts in bringing about the new birth, which is required for salvation (cf. John 3:3), writing, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18)

    Heb. 10:24 is directed toward Christians and the judgment of deeds in Prov. 24:12 presupposes (as the verse says) that there is someone who “guards your life,” or, as the NASB reads, “keeps your soul.”

    How are the following verse to be understood, according to your reading?
    “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

  7. Barry Says:

    This is what makes things so interesting for me.

    We have the oft quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 contrasted with, as an example, Paul reflecting back or reproducing the Septuagint of Psalms 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12 in his letter to the Romans 2:5-6.

    Instead of looking at all the verse in both testaments and recognising the contra-indicating features, we (various movements) are more inclined to grasp close to us those pieces of verse that we feel most comfortable with and take that literally while at the same time we feel compelled to explain an opposing thought (verse) as not literal. Which would also indicate that while some of us may profess a literal inerrancy I’m not sure how many actually believe it.

    It’s also curious that the word “heretical” is, I would say almost happily, lobbed about from one movement to another.

  8. Ted Says:


    You operate from a fundamentally flawed presupposition; that is, that Scripture contains contradictory thought lines. We do not “explain away” “opposing verses”, we let Scripture interpret Scripture, in context, and take it as a coherent whole.

    The coherent whole says each person will be judged according to their deeds, but this judgment only results in the lake of fire for those who are not justified before God through Jesus Christ. They are two different concepts, and those that would link them together are the ones that are misreading the Scriptures. I see no contradiction here (nor anywhere in the Bible).

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