Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Titus 2:11 and Definite Atonement

Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”. I recently heard a synergistic preacher preach from this text with these words, “There are those people, some Baptists, that like to limited the atonement, but I have never had one of them get around this verse”.  Let me say first of all that he probably has not had anyone “get around this verse” because, for the person who believes in the Doctrines of Grace, it is not an issue. We celebrate this verse.
Let me also say that I do not like the term “Limited Atonement”, because I do not believe that there was some kind of defect in the atonement. In other words, I do not believe that the atonement was or is ever limited in its power. I have always preferred the phrase “Definite Atonement” or “Particular Redemption”. Yet, I believe that the people who believe in an “unlimited atonement”, really do not think things all the way through.
My question, before I deal with the verse, to this bother would be, “what do you believe actually happened at the cross”. If he is your typical synergistic preacher, which I believe he is, he no doubt would say that Jesus died to atone for the sins of all people.  But was the atonement actual or potential? I do not see anywhere in any language of the Scriptures where it even intimates that the atonement was potential. Jesus said, “It is finished”; that is not language of potentiality but of actuality.
But if we say that the atonement paid in full  the the sins of all people everywhere, then I ask, “What of those people who were already in hell at the time of this atonement? If Jesus paid the sin debt of every single person without exception at the cross, then what sin do they commit that causes them to die and go to hell? I ask that question because people do die and go to hell, so if Jesus died to atone for the sins of people already in hell and those that will go to hell, what sin did He NOT atone? Some say “unbelief”. So the atonement was incomplete? You see the circle that such thinking takes you. The Scripture say nowhere that unbelief is the one sin for which Jesus did not atone.  The greatest picture of an “unjust God” (for which I am blamed as believing in… hmm, strange) is for God to pour out His wrath for sin on Jesus for all men, and then for most men (Matt 7) to spend an eternity in hell in judgment for the sins poured out on Christ.  John Owen spoke of this as double jeopardy.
But now to the verse at hand. Why would anyone assume that the phrase “πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις” is referring to every single person without exception? Answer, of course, is because they are looking at it through the eyes of tradition and not allowing the text to speak for itself. There seems to be the constant assumption that “all” is always referring to every single person without exception. Context must be our teacher. It is easy to rip a verse from its natural context and form a theology, but usually it is bad theology.
Context is King!! Paul spends the whole chapter speaking to different kinds of believers; Old men, young men, old women, young women, and slaves. And how they should be godly, self-controlled, obedient, demonstrating dignity; etc. The point is that such is not the language that would be spoken to unbelievers or in a context speaking about unbelievers. Unbelievers do not have the ability to be any of those things; so by natural context, the audience is believers. Such is not, I hope, up for debate.
The debate comes in when you get to verse 11 and what exactly did Paul mean and to whom was he speaking.  Paul says that our life should demonstrate all good faith, doing credit to the teaching of God..then you have verse 11. Please note:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, (comma, continuation of thought), training US,….” did you see that vital pronoun? This grace that Paul is referring to that brings salvation, is for the training of the believers. This, in its natural context, does not speak about salvation for all men, in the idea of all people without exception, but what is being referenced is the grace that brought salvation to the ones Paul is speaking, the saved. Because this grace teaches US. This is speaking about grace that God extended to the ones saved, not some grace that God extends to every person without exception. This grace was not for all in some universal sense, but was for all in the ecclesiastical sense (those in the Church).
I trust that it can be clearly seen, that a universal application of this verse is simply reading into the text what is not there, instead of allowing the text read for itself.