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Theology > Jesus > Christ's Death > The Extent of the Atonement  


For whom did Christ die? Was His death for some or for all? The wording of two verses serve to amplify the problem:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45; note the word “many”);

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29; note the world “world”).

Was the death of Christ for the “many” or for the “world”? Is the “many” the “world”; or, are they separate? This is the dilemma that has caused voluminous debate and writing, especially since the time of the Reformation. Up to the present no consensus has been reached. Did Christ die for “many” or the “world,” world understood in the sense of every person who has live?

Is it possible to affirm both? Could “many” be understood in one sense and “world” understood in another sense? That is, can both be true but true from different perspectives?

This contrast, contrast between “many” (or “us,” or some other word that suggests limitation) and “world” (universal implications) is not unique to these two verses. There are numerous verses in the New Testament the contain “many” or “us,” while others contain “world”.

“many” or “us” (and other words of limitation)

The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6; note the “us”);

He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; note “His people” and “their”);

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (Jo. 10:11; note “sheep”);

God showed His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8; note the “us” and “we”);

Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25; note “Church” and “her”);   Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13; note “us” twice);

Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Heb. 9:28; note the word “many”).


Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29; note “world”);

God so loved the world . . . (Jo. 3:16; note “world”);

The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jo. 6:51; note “world”);

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (II Cor. 5:19; note “world”);

The Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all (I Tim. 2:5-6; note “all);

We trust in the living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (I Tim. 4:10; note “all men”);

He by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9; note “everyone”);

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jo. 2:2; note “whole world”).

Is it simply proper to maintain that Christ’s death was sufficient for all but is only efficacious for the elect? This understanding which is seemingly Biblically correct was stated in Latin by the early church: sufficienter pro omnibus, sed efficaciter tantum pro electis. The quality of the death of Christ, because of the One who died, is sufficient to save any and all, but the efficacy or application of that sufficiency is given or applied only to the elect.

Questions for consideration:

Does the death of Christ for all people imply universalism? If Christ paid it all, then why would anyone have to pay a second time in the lake of fire?

Is righteousness imputed in connection with faith, or was righteousness imputed at the time of Christ’s death?

Was the Atonement universal while the redemption is particular?

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