Those who argue against Particular Redemption and for a General Atonement can make a plausible case from Scripture. I do not deny that point. However, I believe that, when the totality of the evidence is taken into account, Particular Redemption best explains everything.
With that said, I need to address two categories of “problem texts” for my position. The first category is of those passages that seem to teach that Christ died for the purpose of saving all people without exception. The second category is of those passages that seem to teach that Christ died for the salvation of those who are or might be ultimately lost in the end. In this post I will address the first category, and in the next post I will address the second.
Passages that seem to teach that Christ died for the purpose of saving all people without exception include the following:
1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
Fortunately, Wayne Grudem addresses all three passages in two paragraphs of his Systematic Theology:
When John says that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, author’s translation), he may simply be understood to mean that Christ is the atoning sacrifice that the gospel now makes available for the sins of everyone in the world. The preposition “for” (Gk. peri plus genitive) is ambiguous with respect to the specific sense in which Christ is the propitiation “for” the sins of the world. It would be entirely consistent with the language of the verse to think that John is simply saying that Christ is the atoning sacrifice who is available to pay for the sins of anyone in the world [here Grudem inserts a footnote to Heb. 10:26, which contains a similar use of the preposition peri]. Likewise, when Paul says that Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6), we are to understand this to mean a ransom available for all people, without exception. [Here Grudem inserts a footnote on 1 Tim. 4:10, from which I quote below]:
When Paul says that God “is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10), he is referring to God the Father, not to Christ, and probably uses the word “Savior” in the sense of “one who preserves people’s lives and rescues them from danger” rather than the sense of “one who forgives their sins,” for surely Paul does not mean that every single person will be saved.”
In short, when Scripture speaks of Christ death being “for” all people, I think it means “for” in the same sense in which I have argued in earlier posts. Christ died for all in the sense that he died to make an offer of the gospel to all without exception. The universal dimension of these passages does not require us to say that Christ died for all in the same sense, nor does it require us to say that Christ suffered as a substitute for the sins of all people. The purpose of the universal statements is, rather, to affirm Christ’s exclusivity as a sacrifice for sins. He is a sacrifice who is available for all, for the gospel promises any and all that faith in Christ will certainly result in salvation. See my previous post for an explanation of how this statement is compatible with the doctrine of Particular Redemption.