In this post I would like to look at the extent of the atonement. By using proper exegesis of scripture it can be proven with certainty that Jesus died to effectually secure salvation for Paul of Tarsus. And for Paul alone.
First, let’s 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 is key. It indisputably proves that Jesus loved and gave himself only for Paul.
It’s worth noting that some theologians have used other passages in a vain attempt 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 very clearly limits the scope of the atonement to Paul, and Paul alone. Other less clear passages should be interpreted accordingly.
If Galatians 2:20 was the only verse that dealt with the extent of the atonement, the heretics might have a point. Fortunately it is not. Let’s take a look at some other clear passages:
In Matthew 18:12 we learn that the shepherd only wanted 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?“
This passage is so clear. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the shepherd found and saved only one sheep (Paul). The shepherd 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 could have been retrieved, it would have diluted the value of the shepherd’s act.
The same parable is presented 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 non-educated it may appear that he is using the word “sheep” to refer to more than one person. This is not the case. In English the word “sheep” can be singular or it can be plural. Here are some examples:
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!
Non-English scholars 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 instead of 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. Never once does White say “boat load of sheep”, nor does he refer to New Zealand. He says only “the sheep” (which of course we know is Paul).
Now let’s get back to God’s word. Another important passage to look at is Acts 9:3-7 (The Damascus Road story). In it we see with crystal 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 a light from heaven. The men with Paul heard the voice but did not see the light. The light was not for them, it was only for Paul. This proves that Paul’s fellow travelers were reprobate. Of course they would be, they were not Paul.
Philosophical Arguments on the Atonement for Paul:
There are only three philosophical arguments to be considered.
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 we have 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 context of Galatians 2:20, 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: 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? Your line of thinking 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 fallen human view, but it is God’s sovereign choice to individually and effectually save Paul and 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 distorts the character of God.
A: You have an odd concept of fairness. Only one person usually wins the lottery too, but you don’t complain about that do you? Sometimes no one wins the lottery and this makes the jackpot even bigger. If everyone won the lottery it wouldn’t do anyone any good. For example if the jackpot was $1 million and 10 billion people won it, they would each only get 0.01 cents. What a ripoff! The same concept applies to salvation for Paul. He hit the jackpot.
Q: But wasn’t it a waste of Jesus blood 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 believed this and was very motivated. Besides, scripture commands us to preach the Gospel.
In conclusion, the extent of the atonement is very clear. Jesus death was for Paul, and Paul alone. We all need to throw aside our traditional biases and read scripture in the context that it was intended. Case closed.