Martin Luther Taught Limited Atonement

I wanted to repeat this point, as it may have gotten somewhat buried in my last post.

The Reformer Martin Luther taught Limited atonement.

Regarding Romans 9:20-21, Luther wrote:

“God will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and he gave his Son for us men, and he created man for the sake of eternal life. And likewise: Everything is there for man’s sake and he is there for God’s sake in order that he may enjoy him, etc. But this objection [to God’s sovereignty in salvation] and others like it can just as easily be refuted as the first one: because all these sayings must be understood only with respect to the elect [emphasis in original], as the apostle says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “All for the elect.” Christ did not die for absolutely all, for he says: “This is my blood which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20) and “for many” (Mark 14:24)- he did not say: for all- “to the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). [Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, translated and edited by Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), 252.]

This is (at least) historically significant, for with all the debate over ‘did Calvin himself believe the L of TULIP?’ and with all the charges against Beza– that he introduced Limited atonement as a strange new teaching within Reformed thought (Dr. Allen is far from alone in this kind of argumentation), it turns out that at the time of the Reformation, the first teacher to assert Limited atonement was the same man who (in a sense) started the Reformation, with his clear, forceful assertions of justification by faith alone.

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16 Comments on “Martin Luther Taught Limited Atonement”

  1. Pat McGee Says:

    I don’t know why this is an issue, except for willful disbelief. Why is it so hard for professsing Christians to believe that Christ died for the elect rather than the entire world? If He died for the entire world and it was left up to people to sovereignly choose to be saved, God’s plan would be really lacking. He would be a poor God who could not woo people to believe in Himself. A huge percentage of the people in this world have died in their sin. Because they did not choose God. On what basis would people choose? Higher intellect? Born in the right place or time? Moral superiority? The right sales pitch? If you accept human sovereignty in salvation, you have to accept loss of salvation. A person could sovereignly unchoose himself from salvation. That clearly goes against scripture.

  2. Barry Says:


    The problem comes because things are not as clear-cut as this.

    The request that Jesus makes is an echo of the one God makes and you see it throughout the bible: Believe in me and you are acceptable. Do the right thing and you are acceptable.

    That is God’s mantra. Believe in me
    That is Jesus’s mantra. Believe in me

    The criteria is the same in the OT and the NT: belief and doing.

    Yes, it does in fact talk about the “elect” and “chosen”, but in the NT this emphasis is also put in the perspective of Jesus picking his apostles to continue on with his work. It isn’t a blanket indictment wherein he is saying I’ve just picked a few to be saved and the rest of you are out-of-luck.

    This is revealed also in the NT.

    In Mt 11:28 the stress is come to me and I will give you rest.

    As when Peter echos Joel in Acts 2:21 “and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls upon the name of the Lord”.

    And again in Acts 10:34-35 we see that the criteria is plainly expressed (as it is time and again in the bible)–belief and action.

    If the bible were clear-cut, which it is not, then people would not have been debating it for 2,000 years.

    So, there is evidence enough for those who want to pick the “election” side of the issue.

    And, there is evidence enough for those focusing on belief and conduct as the means to salvation and not just an elect.

    I think that is the reason, also, why there are so many movements, if you will. Some people want to pick certain things in the bible to lean on to the exclusion or resistance of other parts of Scripture.

    And, of course, we embellish our notions with supplimental works like Augustine of Hippo, Luther, Calvin and a pantheon of others (early and late).

    It’s kind of a fun study actually.

  3. Pat McGee Says:

    Those who call on the name of Jesus are the elect. It really is clear cut.
    In Acts 10:34, 35 Peter is expressing that Jesus is not just for the gentiles. Read the context. Peter is simply saying that people who believe from all over, not just withing the Jewish tribes, will be saved. Christ’s death unites Jews and gentiles.Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Those who call of Christ’s name are the chosen, the elect.

  4. Howard Says:


    I understand why you say it is not clear cut. You see all of these passages that call men to faith in Christ. What is interesting is your citation of Matt 11:28. You seem to miss that in this very text we have BOTH the calling of all sinners and the reason why only the elect will come to Christ. Read these verses just prior to 28.

    25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

    27″All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

    Jesus actually chooses those who come to Him. Yes, this is mysterious and difficult to grasp that God commands all to repent and believe while only effectually calling His own that He sovereignly chooses.

    God Bless


  5. Dan Edney Says:

    I agree with the post of it obviously being difficult to reconcile the general call to repentance to all men by Christ and the NT Apostles with the clear teaching of the elect. I can understand that limited atonement effectively deals with the elect as we are the ones to enjoy the grace of God via the atonement of the Savior. However, for the average person in the pew it is confusing to say John 3:16-17 does not apply to offering salvation to all whosoever believes. Whosoever implies potential for the opportunity rather than only a select group who have the possibility. The ultimate matter for me is to understand the true nature of God as best as my human mind can, and the two viewpoints teach two different characters to our God. I do believe that whichever teaching is true reveals a just and holy God. However, is there no hope for the vast majority who clearly are not the elect because God has not included them in the atonement or are the elect those whom God has known since eternity would respond to His call to repentance and salvation through faith in Christ alone. Hobbs states in his commentary that foreknowledge always precedes predestination and are linked in God’s character. How could He not know who would respond and therefore be chosen as the elect. For me the sovreignty of God stands either way, as whatever is true is so because God has ordained it to be true. I appreciate any fresh teaching on the subject as I have studied these issues from both perspectives and study God’s word for myself seeking His leadership and instruction.

  6. If the bible were clear-cut, which it is not, then people would not have been debating it for 2,000 years.

    This debate started in the Garden when God had chosen who and what was to be, and the Devil convinced Eve that she had free-will to be and do otherwise. The only thing she lacked to be a true god was the knowledge of evil. Then she could really decided for herself what reality would be. From that point on, nothing was clear cut to fallen man. But thanks be to Christ Jesus he has set us free from sin and the doubt that comes with it and given us the sure word of prophecy, the mind of Christ, so that we are fully equipped and able to understand the mysteries of God so as to mature in the true knowledge of the Son of God. But to the natural man these things are foolishness because he cannot understand them.

    Those who doubt that anything can be known for sure, James warned, not to ask God for any wisdom seeing as how he doubts and being doubleminded, asking would be taking the Lord’s name in vain: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

    Luther had it right, the atonement is limited to those God chooses to give life to. It is not their choice, never has been, and never will be. Under the Roman system we would still be burden with loads works that not even the Pope nor his minions can carry. The only thing they succeeded in was in making disciples twice the devil as themselves. What a shame that so many in the protestant community have forgotten why we came out of apostate Rome in the first place. The return to the Roman nightmare has wrecked havoc throughout protestantism. It is time, isn’t it, that all the division over this essential doctrine of God’s omnipotence cease being blasphemed? It is time, isn’t it, that we nail again our theses on the door of compromise?

  7. Dan Church Says:

    “However, for the average person in the pew it is confusing to say John 3:16-17 does not apply to offering salvation to all whosoever believes. Whosoever implies potential for the opportunity rather than only a select group who have the possibility.”

    I have heard Dr. White and others respond to this ‘problem’ regarding “whosever” and “all” and the “world” by pointing out there is no word for “whosoever” in the Greek and should be more literally translated…”and all those believing in Him should not perish…”

    And yes to the average person TODAY they would be confused; however in centuries past they would not have been confused by a more “Calvinistic” reading passages like this with “whosoever, all and the world”. Today’s main stream exposition is obviously not Reformed (though I believe that is changing) and thus will be confused by issues concerning the Doctrines of Grace.

    Spurgeon sheds light on this hermeneutical issue:

    … “the whole world has gone after him” Did all the world go after Christ? “then went all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan.” Was all Judea, or all Jerusalem, baptized in Jordan? “Ye are of God, little children”, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one”. Does the whole world there mean everybody? The words “world” and “all” are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture, and it is very rarely the “all” means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts—some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile…”

    Coinicidently, we live in a day and age when most ‘average’ people sitting in the pews today are biblically illiterate and/or ignorant. And as a result there will always be confusion when understanding such “plain and simple” (supposedly) passages of the Bible like John 3:16 and the like.

    It is not what seems simple and/or the most obvious interpretation of the passage to the reader that matters; but what was the most obvious and simple interpretation/understanding of that passage by that particular author in his own context…in this case John.

  8. Dan Edney Says:

    I refer those posting to article by Dr. John MacArthur on God’s love for the world currently posted on “Grace to you” web site dealing with John 3:16 and the love of God in general. Also interesting comments regarding the attitude of many who may be newly embracing reformed theology. Also, we are on thin ice when lay persons, such as myself, are instructed that the translations that are all in agreement on specific terminology and are generally accepted by academics as true and correct translations of God’s word are in fact incorrect. If the translations of “whosoever” or “world” are not accurate, then how do we know what else is not accurate in current translations?

  9. Dan Church Says:


    Could you send me a link to Johnny Mac’s stuff on John 3:16…I tried looking for it but couldn’t locate the article.

    D.A. Carson also has a good book entitled, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.” If you don’t know he does believe in particular redemption and yet does a very good job with texts like John 3:16 and others.

    Also, I don’t think it is a matter of disagreeing with translations, but rather with the interpretations of those translations. Also, those same translators probably wouldn’t be as concerned with a disagreement with any translation…but they would if there was a disagreement with the original language.


  10. Dan Edney Says:

    I read MacArthur’s post on the Grace to You web site and Mike Corley also has it on the “expositor” blog site which can be linked via

  11. Andrew Says:


    Your comment I deleted was way off-topic.

  12. […] of Conditional Immortality in History (Specialty Interests; 15 March 2008)19. Darrin Lyon. Martin Luther Taught Limited Atonement (Strange BaptistFire; 22 April 2008) ✔20. Martin Luther. Lectures on Romans, translated and […]

  13. […] The Error of Universal Atonement (Grace Abounding Bible Ministries/SermonAudio; 22 April 1980)10. Martin Luther Taught Limited Atonement (Strange BaptistFire; 22 April 2008)11. Martin Luther. Lectures on Romans, translated and edited by […]

  14. Ken Miller Says:

    I know this is an old post, but the quote above from Luther was taken from his Roman’s commentary, which he wrote in 1515. As you know, the Reformation did not begin until 1517 with the posting of the 95 theses.

    Luther himself said that when he posted the 95 theses he was still very much a Roman Catholic. Many of his views changed through his conflict with Rome so that he no longer could simply be a Reformer, but instead had to become a Protestant.

    The same is true with Luther’s view on the atonement. In his 1515 commentary on Romans, it sounds like he affirms limited atonement. In his later, post-conflict with Rome works, Luther rejected limited atonement and the Lutheran church has, since the time of Luther, affirmed an unlimited atonement with limited application.

    Lutherans affirm the sovereign election adhered to by Calvinists, but they also affirm the unlimited atonement adhered to by the Arminians. Calvinism and Arminianism seek to be logically consistent, so that they explain away the plain meaning of many biblical passages. Lutherans seek to be biblically consistent, so they allow paradoxes to exist even if they cannot explain them.

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