What was the purpose and extent of the atonement? Was it to merely make salvation possible for all and secure it for none? Or was it to definitely secure salvation for Paul? After setting aside man-centered thinking, it can be proven with certainty that Jesus died to effectually secure salvation for Paul of Tarsus, and for Paul alone.
First, take a look at Galatians 2:20. This is the most important verse in the Bible, because it explicitly states the extent of the atonement (bold mine):
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This verse indisputably proves that Jesus died only for Paul.
It’s worth noting that some liberal theologians have referenced other passages in vain philosophical attempts to apply the atonement to others for whom it was not intended. These heretics fail to make an important distinction. Ambiguous verses should always be interpreted in the light of more explicit verses. Galatians 2:20 clearly limits the scope of the atonement to only Paul. Other less clear passages should be interpreted accordingly. If Galatians 2:20 was the only verse that declared the extent of the atonement, the heretics might have a point. By God’s providence, it is not. Let’s study some additional passages.
In Matthew 18:12 we learn that the shepherd purposed to save one sheep. In fact he abandoned 99 sheep to save the one (bold mine):
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?“
The text is clear. The shepherd found and saved only one sheep. He left the 99 other sheep on the hills. By doing this the shepherd maximized his glory. Moreover, he increased the appreciation and adoration of Paul, whom was effectually retrieved. If other sheep had also been retrieved, it would have diluted the value of the shepherd’s act.
To make his point extra clear, Jesus repeats the account in Luke 15:4-6 (bold mine):
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
One again, we see the shepherd saving only one sheep. He leaves the reprobate sheep in open country, puts the one sheep on his shoulders, and goes home.
Theologian James White gives additional insight on the use of the word sheep (bold mine):
“The good Shepherd lays down His life in behalf of the sheep. Are all men the sheep of Christ? Certainly not…”
Before commenting on this quote, it is necessary to exegete White’s use of the term “sheep”. To the untrained mind, it appears that White is using the word “sheep” to refer to more than one person. That is not the case. In English the word “sheep” can be singular or it can be plural. This is defined by the context in which the word is used.
Singular example: Look! There is one sheep over there!
Plural example: Look! There are a boat load of sheep over there! We must be in New Zealand!
Untrained and tradition entrenched readers do not often note this subtle distinction in the usage of the word “sheep”. Nor do the misguided plural atonement heretics who resort to man centered thinking over exegesis. White’s context is plain. When he uses the phrases “the sheep” and “the sheep of Christ”, he is referring to only one sheep. White does not use the term “boat load of sheep”, nor does he refer to New Zealand. He properly defines his context by singularly stating “the sheep” (which of course we know is Paul).
Enough with vain philosophy, let’s get back to God’s word and take a look at 1 Corinthians 9:24 (bold mine):
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Again, Paul himself writes that only he will get the prize.
Another critical passage is Acts 9:3-7 (The Damascus Road story). In it we see with clarity that Jesus chose only Paul: (bold mine)
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”….the men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
This passage indicates that only Paul heard Jesus’ voice and saw the light from heaven. The travelers with Paul heard the voice but did not see the light. Clearly the light wasn’t intended for them because they were reprobate. Of course they would be, they were not Paul.
Philosophical Arguments Proving Atonement for Paul:
Philosophy is usually evil, however, it may be used sparingly when it is girded by God’s word. There are three philosophical possibilities for the extent of the atonement:
1) The atonement was for everyone
2) The atonement was for no one.
3) The atonement was for Paul.
We know that #1 is false, that is universalism. We know that #2 is false because Paul was saved. Option #3 is all that is left. The atonement was for Paul.
Common objections to Atonement for Paul:
Q: What about the many passages that speak about “the world”? Isn’t the world more than Paul?
A: In light of the explicit statements of Gal 2:20 and 1 Cor 9:24, it is clear that the ambiguous passages that refer to “world” are more accurately translated as “the world of the one elect person whose name is Paul”. Remember, ambiguous passages should always be interpreted in the context of explicit ones.
Q: But doesn’t Romans 1:16 state salvation is for both Greek and Jew? How can this be the one person Paul?
A: Quit imposing your own biased interpretation on the word. Read scripture and let it speak for itself. Paul easily answers this objection in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 “To the Jews I became like a Jew…To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…“ You see, Paul is both Jew and Greek. Romans 1:16 refers only to Paul.
Q: But what about Mark 10:45? It says Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.
A: Scholars are divided on the issue, but the most likely explanation is that Paul’s nickname was “Manny”. The verse should be read as “ransom for Manny.”
Q: Okay, What about Mary, Jesus’ mother? She wasn’t Paul and yet the Bible says she was blessed.
A: What are you, some kind of closet Catholic? That line of reasoning always leads back to Rome.
Q: This whole system is not fair. If only Paul is saved, what about everyone else who perishes? This is a bum deal for everyone except Paul.
A: Paul anticipates your objection and addresses it in Romans 9:20 “Who are you oh man to talk back to God?.” In other words this may seem unfair from your man-centered view, but it is God’s sovereign choice to individually and effectually save Paul alone. This gives God more glory, and makes Paul’s salvation more valuable. Don’t talk back to God.
Q: I’m not talking back to God, I’m saying that your system unfairly distorts the character of God.
A: That’s because you’re depending on philosophy instead of scripture. Besides, only one person usually wins the lottery too. Do you complain about that? Sometimes no one wins the lottery and the jackpot grows even bigger. If everyone won the lottery it would dilute the value. For example if the jackpot was $1 million and 10 million people won it, they would each get only 10 cents. What a ripoff! The same principles apply to salvation. Paul hit the jackpot.
Q: But wasn’t it a waste of Jesus’ sacrifice to apply it only to Paul when it could have covered more?
A: Not at all, this was planned by divine decree before the creation of the world. Jesus blood was only intended for Paul, and it effectually secured Paul’s salvation. The atonement did not make salvation merely possible for Paul, it secured it.
Q: I don’t find this doctrine very motivating to preach the Gospel.
A: That is a straw man. Paul taught this doctrine, and he was very motivated. Besides, scripture commands us to preach the Gospel.
[Note: this post is an attempt at satire. Any similarities to another theological system are entirely coincidental. ;) This is also an updated version of a post I did a few years back. You can find the original here.]