The Extent of the Atonement in Paul’s Theology

This new book argues exegetically that Paul affirms definite atonement:

Jarvis J. Williams. For Whom Did Christ Die? The Extent of the Atonement in Paul’s Theology. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2012.

It has five chapters:

  1. Introduction, Thesis, and History of Research
  2. Humanity’s Spiritual Plight in Paul’s Anthropology
  3. Divine and Human Agency in Paul’s Soteriology
  4. The Purpose of Jesus’ Death in Paul’s Atonement-Theology
  5. Conclusion

Jarvis Williams earned his BS at Boyce College and his MDiv, ThM, and PhD at Southern Seminary. He wrote his dissertation under Tom Schreiner on “Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement” (2007), which Wipf and Stock published in 2010.

Excerpts from For Whom Did Christ Die?

  • Thesis. I will argue in this book that according to Paul, Jesus died exclusively for all elect Jews and Gentiles to achieve their salvation. (p. 1)
  • Purpose. The book’s purpose is to offer a detailed, exegetical investigation of selected texts in Paul and in early Judaism that shed light on Paul’s view of the extent of Jesus’ death. (p. 1)
  • [M]uch of the scholarly work on the extent of the atonement that argues for particular atonement has primarily approached the topic from the perspective of systematic theology, even when such works have appealed to New Testament texts. (p. 2)
  • [J]ust as both animal and human sacrifices of atonement were restricted to and offered specifically for believing Jews (i.e. God’s elect community of faith) in early Jewish religion and not for Gentiles (i.e. the non-elect and unbelieving community) to accomplish soteriological benefits for them, so also Jesus’ death in Paul’s atonement-theology is restricted to and specifically for those who identify with the Christian community, and it accomplished soteriological benefits for them. However, whereas atonement in early Judaism was only for Jews and those who converted to Judaism (even Gentile converts), Paul argues that Jesus’ death atoned for the sins of all Jews and Gentiles who possess faith in Christ and who unite themselves to the Christian community. (pp. 189–90)
  • To rebut my thesis, theologians must replace convoluted and confusing theories of the extent of the atonement with a detailed analysis and critique of the exegesis of the relevant texts presented in the earlier chapters. (p. 220)
  • [T]he philosophical and theological problems that one may find with the view presented here of Paul’s view of the extent of the atonement (or with any Pauline view for that matter) is a separate issue from the issue of seeking to determine what the relevant Pauline texts actually say about the extent of the atonement (or any given Pauline issue). New Testament scholars and theologians must not conflate or confuse these two matters. (p. 221)

Related: John Owen’s Argument for Definite Atonement


  1. mark mcculley says

    No notion here of God uniting elect sinners to Christ. This leaves plenty of room for the Arminians in the Southern Baptist Convention who teach that we unite ourselves to the false Christ who died for everybody, and can pluck ourselves out by unbelief. This turns the gospel into law and a means of condemnation, ie, Jesus can condemn you because Jesus died for you. This makes the death of Christ a luxury, something done for everyone, with the decisive thing being faith or unbelief.

    This would fit well with NT Wright’s view that the Reformed doctrine of justification is only about the distribution of the atonement. Wright says that this makes faith a luxury. The important thing, the priority becomes “uniting yourself to Christ”

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