A Response to Dr. David Allen’s Presentation on Limited Atonement, Part 1a. The Historical Question in Regards to Martin Luther
The Reformer Martin Luther taught Limited atonement.
Regarding Romans 9:20-21, Luther wrote:
“God will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), and he gave his Son for us men, and he created man for the sake of eternal life. And likewise: Everything is there for man’s sake and he is there for God’s sake in order that he may enjoy him, etc. But this objection [to God’s sovereignty in salvation] and others like it can just as easily be refuted as the first one: because all these sayings must be understood only with respect to the elect [emphasis in original], as the apostle says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “All for the elect.” Christ did not die for absolutely 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” (Matthew 26:28). [Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, translated and edited by Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), 252.]
1. The Historical Question
At the beginning of his presentation, Dr. Allen mentioned a long list of theologians, including Calvin, Bullinger, Ursinus, Bunyan, Edwards, Hodge, Strong, etc. Dr. Allen asserted that all of these theologians were Calvinists, and that all of these theologians rejected Limited atonement. To examine each of these theologians’ statements concerning the extent of the atonement would require at least a year, and so I will focus attention on only two historical figures mentioned by Dr. Allen in his presentation; namely, Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards.
a. In Regards to Martin Luther
Martin Luther, of course, antedates John Calvin and therefore is not mentioned in the initial list of Calvinist theologians given by Dr. Allen, as described above. Luther is mentioned later in Dr. Allen’s presentation, however, as Dr. Allen gives an overview of the extent of the atonement in historical theology in order to argue that Limited atonement is an anomaly in the history of Christian theology. Luther is specifically mentioned in reference to my previous interaction with Dr. Allen (Dr. Allen mentioned my email to him in his presentation without naming me) in which I had argued that Luther held to Limited atonement. Dr. Allen did not address the proof I had offered for my argument concerning Luther’s view- the fact that in Luther’s comments on Romans 9:20-21, he specifically stated, “Christ did not die absolutely for all.” Luther supported this statement with an argument that would today certainly be labelled “Calvinistic,” as it has been ignored by the Lutheran tradition and repeated so often in the Reformed tradition [see my previous post, “Martin Luther Taught Limited Atonement“].
As proof that Martin Luther held to an Unlimited atonement view, Dr. Allen gave several quotes from Martin Luther in which he used the words “world” or “all” in reference to God’s intention in salvation. If Dr. Allen mentioned the specific source for these quotes, I was unable to record it due to the rapid pace of Dr. Allen’s delivery. My hypothesis concerning these quotes is that Luther is not specifically addressing matters of election or the extent of the atonement in any of them.
In Tuesday’s post, I argued that Dr. Richard Land was incorrect in his argument that John Leland sought a hybrid system of Calvinism and Arminianism and that Leland was thoroughly “Calvinistic” in his soteriology, even if he did not refer to himself as a Calvinist. I made this historical argument through both offering a positive presentation of my position based on primary source documentation and through providing a counter-explanation to the quote from Leland given by Dr. Land. In this counter-explanation, I did not charge Leland with self-contradiction, though I did argue that Leland used the terms “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” in non-technical ways (this latter argument was based on an analysis by Baptist historian Dr. Greg Wills, which analysis is consistent with my own observations concerning Leland’s writings).
I mention my argument about John Leland in order to provide an example of the type of work that must be done by anyone wishing to argue that Dr. Allen is right in his assessment of Luther and that I am wrong. For conversation on this issue to continue between parties in disagreement, one would have to disprove my hypothesis concerning the Luther quotes offered by Dr. Allen- a hypothesis made on the basis of a documented quote from a primary source in which Luther directly argued “Christ did not die absolutely for all.” One holding Dr. Allen’s view would also need to provide a counter-explanation for the quote from Martin Luther that I have given [again, the quote is found HERE, with the source documented]. As a matter of principle in historical research, when explaining various writings from an author, the historian avoids charging the author with self-contradiction if at all possible.
In the absense of the type of historical argumentation mentioned above, I believe that my argument (an argument also made by Dr. Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School in his book Theology of the Reformers) stands- Martin Luther taught Limited atonement.