White vs Brown Debate: Does Revelation 5:9 Prove Limited Atonement?

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Calvinism
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In a recent debate between James White and Michael Brown on the Atonement, White opined that Revelation 5:9 proves the Calvinist TULIP tenet of Limited Atonement, and asserted that there is nothing in this text that shows that the atonement was applied or effective to those redeemed as a result of their belief. Although, this seemed more for an argument for Unconditional Election, Rev 5:9 does not support White’s contention, and White ignored the plethora of examples throughout Revelation that show the exact opposite.

We will comment later on the debate in its entirety as we believe that a fundamental error made by White is that he attempted to argue that God’s intentions in the atonement prove its limitations, which he actually argues by making “intention” and “decree” synonymous. In other words, whatever the results are of those who believe, God must have intended that those saved prove His divine decree of election. White makes an a posteriori argument for intention based on his presuppositional inclinations towards election without actually establishing any valid argument for what exactly did God intend?  White makes the application of the atonement and its provision the same thing. And although White repeatedly stated that the issue was about God’s intentions in the atonement, he did not provide one Scriptural argument that defines God’s intentions, he merely offered philosophical speculation that God’s intention must be to limit the atonement to the elect since in his view they are unconditionally elected.

For example, if we were to define God’s intent, we could show that God is not willing that any should persish, but that all come to repentance. That shows intent. We could show that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and wants them to turn to Him and live. Ezekiel 33:11. Again, showing intent. In Jeremiah 32:35, you can see God’s intent by contrasting it with what He did NOT intend, and that was that Israel caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech. In John 5:40, Jesus said, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life”. Or Hosea 6:6 where the LORD says He desires mercy and not sacrifice. There are numerous passages in Scripture that show God’s intent and desires, and White failed to show one single example of God’s intent that supported his assumption that God only intended for the atonement to have a limited provision.

Revelation 5:9 reads,

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

White’s argument here is really the same age-old Calvinist cliche that God offers to save “all without distinction, not without exception”. The simple Greek “ek” used in Revelation 5:9 “out of” every kindred, tongue and tribe, does not help White’s case. As in Matthew 24:31, where God gathers his elect “ek” or “from” “out of” the four winds, does this mean that there are winds that God forgot about? Revelation 5:9, as in Matthew 24:31, simply refers to the object that the believers were taken from (the four winds, every kindred, tongue), and says nothing about any who were predestinated to believe.

One problem with White’s theory is that if this verse implies that only all “kinds” were taken out of every kindred, tongue, and people, if he is conceding that the atonement is limited to every kindred, then what about the other kindred? In attempting to make parts of the whole, White’s composition fallacy actually serves to refute his own argument.

Nevertheless, a fatal flaw in White’s logic is the failure to understand or even address the numerous other examples in Revelation that show that salvation was contingent upon something done by the person, i.e., showing faith and repentance. In Revelation 3:5, those who did not overcome by faith were blotted out of the book of life. In Revelation 7:14, those of whom were redeemed were those who came “out of” (there’s that ‘ek’ again) great tribulation and MADE THEIR robes white in the blood of the Lamb. In Revelation 12:10-12, the believers overcame the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. In Revelation 15:2, the believers had gotten victory over the beast by refusing to take his number.

Not only is White in error by the clear demonstration in Revelation of what believers did to be saved, but we must also look at what condemned the rest. In Revelation 9:20-21, those who were not killed by the previous mentioned plagues refused to repent of their deeds. Since White argued in Revelation 5:9 that there was nothing in the text that said these men were redeemed by showing the condition of exercising belief, then he must also be consistent in Revelation 9 where the text does not say that men refused to repent because they were never given the ability to do so. Likewise, in Revelation 16:11, again the men upon whom suffered under plagues continued in their refusal to repent. If repentance was not a willful option here, it would be senseless for John to include their refusal to do so if they were never able to repent simply because the atonement did not apply to them, which of course as we stated earlier, White would confuse the provision of the atonement with its application, and since these men refuse to believe (thus not receiving the benefit of the atonement’s application) then the provision of the atonement must not apply to them.

Furthermore, Revelation 14:9-12, one of the clearest passages in the Bible on the traditionalist view of hell, shows that those who suffer eternal damnation receive this punishment as a result of willfully taking the mark of the beast. In contrast with believers in Revelation 15:2 who overcame the beast by refusing to take the mark, it is clear that a free will choice was made from Revelation chapters 13:11-18-Revelation 14:13 whether to receive the mark of the beast and thereby secure in themselves eternal damnation whereas they could have chosen otherwise by refusing the mark, and be martyred for their faith.

Even though White attempted to argue that the atonement in the Old Testament was limited, he again, ignores the provision with the application. When the “Destroyer” sought to slay all the firstborn in Exodus 12 during the tenth plague, the provision was available to every Israelite (“whole assembly” Ex 12:6), but the atonement was only effective to those who applied the blood to the door (Ex 12:13). White attempts to presume that since this provision was only applicable to Israel, that such demonstrates a limited atonement. However, if this were true, then no Israelite would be able to resist the atonement. Moreover, this argument fails to account for the offer, which at this time, was NOT a universal offer, although there was a universal acceptance of any who desired to become a proselyte to Israel that met the conditions. Exodus 20:10, 23:12, 12:19-48, Deut 5:14, 16:11-14.

White then contends that an unlimited atonement would lead to universalism. Again, this is based on the view that the provision of the atonement and its application are the same thing. White is confusing provision with the effect of the application. A father that provides for his family does not mean that everyone at the table is eating their spinach. Provision does not equal effect and application. The provision of the food on the table is effective when the person applies the food to a spoon and fork. If provision always amounted to application, then no father who provides for his family would ever have an anorexic child.

The Scriptures are so clear on the universal atonement that one must wrest the words of God like a UFC fighter to make them say otherwise.

 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:

And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Who were the “all dead” here? Were only the elect dead? If Christ only concluded the elect in unbelief (Romans 11:32) then that would mean that all the non elect were never sinners. Yet this verse shows clearly that the one who died for all, died for all who were dead. Of course, the Calvinist is quick to seize on the “but it says ‘which died for THEM'”; however, that applies to “those that live”.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 is further evidence of unlimited atonement,

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

In the Calvinists attempt to limit “all men” to the elect, they skip over verses 1 and 2 where we are told to make prayers for kings, and ALL that are in authority. So if “all men” here means the elect, then are all kings elect? Or are we not supposed to pray for anyone but the elect? If the context defines all as all in authority, does that mean we we only pray for some police officers and judges?

In John 7:37, Jesus speaking at a feast said, “If ANY MAN thirst, let him come unto me and drink”.

In John 6:51, Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If ANY MAN eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the LIFE OF THE WORLD”. The fact that those whom Jesus called to be disciples chose not to continue following Him in verse 66 of John 6, shows that the provision was made to all men, but the application only applied to those who believed in Christ.

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men” Titus 2:11.

“To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” Galatians 4:5

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for THE UNGODLY” Romans 5:6

“And if any man believe not, I judge him not, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world”. John 12:47. The Father does the judging of the sinner at the Great White Throne judgment, and judges the whole world of those remaining that refused to believe in Christ. The world is therefore comprehensive and in contrast to whom Christ died, the clear meaning of the text is that He literally died for the whole world, not just the elect.

Limited Atonement is quite useless if there is only a certain amount of elect chosen before the foundation of the world to be saved. It would make no difference to whom it applies if only a certain amount were preordained to be saved anyway. Nevertheless, this is why Limited Atonement is also contingent upon unconditional election and irresistible grace. But the Scriptures make it clear that those to whom even though a provision was made, willfully rejected him. This could not be any more clear than in Isaiah 65:12,

Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not [not ‘could not’] answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.

This shows that people often choose the things that God did not desire, even though He called them to do otherwise. This shows that the call is not irresistible, and shows that not only can those called choose to do evil instead, but that what God intends, what He provides, and the application and effects are altogether different from each other.*

The Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement is actually more akin to universalism than the Calvinist straw-man applied to the universal atonement premise. The crux of universalism is that God saves everyone unconditionally. The Calvinist view is not much different, it only limits the audience, but everyone within that audience is saved unconditionally, so at least the method between Calvinism and universalism is exactly the same; whereas universal atonement includes the whole audience, but limits the benefit and effects of the atonement to whom it is applied of those who meet the conditions of repentance and faith. John 8:24, 2 Thess 1:8.

Although we believe Dr. Brown failed to defend his views on Authentic Fire (we agree with White on this debate), Brown did an adequate job of defending the universal atonement, and White simply had no answer for the plethora of verses that clearly teach this position. Instead, White wanted to limit the debate to the effects of the atonement, but only according to how he defines “effects” which would have slanted the debate if he had gotten his way because he would have successfully stacked the deck by preventing any possible rebuttal that would show the difference between provision and application.

Authentic Fire, White 1

Atonement, Brown 1


* The Calvinists here would argue that such verses are counter-factual conditionals explained by secondary causation which is a complete farce, but we will deal with those objections in a separate article.

Although we believe that Brown adequately defended the atonement, we do reject his assumption that salvation can be cast away (conditional security). This view completely undermines the effect of the atonement.

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