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Question and Answer

Lutheranism and Limited Atonement


I happen to be a Lutheran who holds to the Reformed faith. When discussing "Limited Atonement" with my spiritual leaders they claim "To make a scriptural case for a limited atonement, you have to cite a passage which says, "Christ died for believers, not for unbelievers. There is no such passage in Scripture." Is this a rule for biblical interpretation? Thank you.


I know of nothing in the Book of Concord (1580) or elsewhere in Lutheran writings that would establish such a principle of interpretation. The Lutherans, in common with other Protestants, would hold to some kind of analogia fidei (analogy of faith) that teaches us to compare Scripture with Scripture, to interpret less clear passages by clearer passages, and that permits us to deduce teachings by good and necessary consequence from the text of Scripture. Many key doctrines, like the Trinity and the nature of the Incarnation, are gathered from a multitude of passages spread throughout Scripture and are not necessarily taught with the explicitness in a given passage along the lines of your example above. Given the requirement of explicit affirmation that you indicate is required, one would not be able to affirm the Trinity.

All that having been said, there are a number of passages that teach that Christ's death is efficacious for His own. Check out Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 1:21; John 17:9, and elsewhere. All of these passages, and a number of others, highlight that Jesus is the sin-bearer for His people in particular and not the world in general.

Luther himself, in fact, in his commentary on Romans, argues that all interpretations of passages that seem to indicate universal atonement "must be understood only with respect to the elect [sic], as the apostle says in 2 Tim. 2:10: 'All for the elect.' Christ did not die absolutely for 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' (Matt. 26:28)." This is from the William Pauck edition of Luther: Lectures on Romans in The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), p. 252.

Much more could be said, of course, but I trust that this proves helpful.

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"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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