Does Hebrews 2:9 teach universal atonement? (Part 1)
[Continued from the post Limited Atonement in Historical Theology.]
In arguing against Limited atonement from Hebrews 2:9, Dr. Allen actually spends the majority of his time discussing issues of Historical Theology (i.e., as mentioned before, he asserts, “Virtually every Christian from the early church until the Reformation believed in an unlimited atonement;” he also spends a great deal of time proving that John Calvin believed in universal atonement) and offering rhetoric against Limited atonement.
Dr. Allen makes two arguments from the text itself; I intend to discuss the first of his arguments in this post and the second in a post next weekend.
Dr. Allen’s first argument against Limited atonement from Hebrews 2:9 consists entirely of the fact that the text reads “everyone” rather than “every one of the elect.” In a manner similar to how Arminian theologians view the “all” passages, Dr. Allen would have us understand that “everyone” is most naturally understood to mean “every person ever to live throughout history.” As with the word “all,” it is my assertion that “everyone” in normal conversation is always defined by its context, and that, without qualification, it rarely carries the universal connotation assumed by the Arminian (or those holding to Arminian pre-suppositions). In other words, when we read, “everyone is required to attend the meeting,” we do not automatically assume a universal meeting of every human throughout time, instead we look for the context to see what group is required to attend. When we read the word “everyone” in Scripture, we must allow the context to define the term.
In regard to the context of this particular verse, Dr. Thomas J. Nettles has noted:
Hebrews 2:9. In question is the phrase, “taste death for every man” [KJV], where “every’ [pantos] (“man” is not in the Greek text) has the thrust of assured certainty as well as plurality. “Every” has reference to “many sons” (Hebrews 2:10), “they who are sanctified” and “brethren” (Hebrews 2:11), “children which God hath given me” (Hebrews 2:13), “children” (Hebrews 2:14), “seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16), “his brethren” and “his people” (Hebrews 2:17). Its intent is to give assurance that not a one for whom he has suffered will experience the death of the wicked and, thus, they need not fear it (Hebrews 2:15). This entire passage is most expressive of the absolute certainty that Christ’s death will have its full effect and cannot be mitigated by any circumstance. His suffering shall not suffer loss. It is remarkable also that this work is done not for the seed of Adam (all men without exception) but for the “seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16), only those who will come to have the faith of Abraham (cf. Romans 4:22-25). [Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 300]
Dr. Allen himself notes that the purpose of this passage is to provide assurance, saying that it is used “to encourage a church.” But what assurance or encouragement can come from the idea of Jesus tasting death for those who are already damned or those who will be condemned to Hell forever? Does assurance not, instead, rest in the fact that He has tasted death for every one of us- we who have Jesus as the founder of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10), as our sanctifier (Hebrews 2:11), as our brother (Hebrews 2:11-12), as our deliverer (Hebrews 2:14-15)?