Does the Gospel of John Teach Unconditional Election? | Conclusion

February 23, 2015

Dr. Bill Helton | Leroy A. Peterson Professor of Homiletics
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY

*For more information about Dr. Helton or Clear Creek Baptist Bible College click HERE.

Click HERE for Part One.
Click HERE for Part Two.
Click HERE for Part Three.
Click HERE for Part Four.

Some Verses in John That Teach Unlimited Atonement Thus Refuting Unconditional Election

John 1:29
“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (NASB)

When looked at as a whole, the Gospel of John consistently uses the words “all” and “world” in salvation concentrated passages to mean the whole of lost humanity, not just an elect few. Outside of the context of salvation sometimes the words “all” and “world” are sued to refer to a group less than the whole of humanity, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.’” (John 12:19, NASB) It is clear in this context that the Pharisee’s are using hyperbole. To argue as some, “that often the Bible uses the words “world” and “all” in a restricted sense”[1] and ignore the individual context of each use is clear hermeneutical violation. The clear meaning of this verse is that the blood of “The Lamb of God” was sufficient to cover the sin of the whole of fallen humanity.

John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (NASB)

John 3:16 can be read from different theological perspectives and has been a source of different doctrinal positions. The Calvinists will tend to emphasize the role of “God” in loving the world and giving the Son. The Arminians will tend to stress the word “whosoever” as indicating human freedom and the human decision-making process in salvation. But this verse is in fact an excellent reflection of the wonderful tension in the Bible that must be maintained in all discussions on salvation.

The full perspective is that God is the initiator and principal actor in salvation, and we should never think that salvation originated with us (cf. 1 John 4:9-10). God, however, has given humanity a sense of freedom and requires us to make a choice. Accordingly, people are responsible for their believing. It is unproductive theological speculation, therefore, to minimize either the role of God or of humanity in the salvation process. The Bible and John 3:16 recognize the roles of both.[2]

John 3:17 expands on 3:16 giving God’s purpose for sending the Son and “makes it unmistakably clear that “world” here means the whole fallen world, for it is the same world that is under His condemnation (vv. 17-18).[3] To find unconditional election in this verse would require a retranslation such as that of Calvinist John Owen, “God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved.”[4] Such tampering with the Scriptures “needs no response, simply a sober reminder that God repeatedly exhorts us not to add to or subtract from His words (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19).”[5]

John 12:47
“If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (NASB)

The plain teaching of this verse is that, as the whole world deserves God’s judgment, the coming of Jesus as Savior was for the whole of fallen humanity. Once again, the only recourse Calvinists have is to claim that the word “world” is used here in a limited sense. This argument was refuted earlier and needs no further discussion. John writes clearly of Jesus in 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, NASB) It seems unsupportable to take the position that John’s reference is somehow limited to the Christian world and not the world in general.

The tension between the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man will not be ultimately resolved this side of heaven. The debate over unconditional election will continue until the Lord Himself returns and we can all see clearly, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB) A close look at the Gospel of John revealed that there are numerous examples of God’s sovereignty, initiative, prompting, and even choosing to discipleship and fruit bearing, but there are no clear examples of unconditional election in John’s Gospel.

Man cannot set about to save himself; therefore, to God be all the glory for salvation. Jesus came to all but not all would receive Him. John 1:12 could not be more clear concerning those who will receive the power to become the children of God, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12, NASB) This gospel begins on this note of believing to receive and remains consistent throughout. Jesus Christ is the Elect One and all those who believe Him become part of the elect. To God be the glory, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NASB)


[1] Palmer, Edwin. The Five Points of Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 52.
[2] Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, (Logos Library Systems; The New American Commentary 25A), S. 183.
[3] Geisler, Norman L. Chosen But Free. Bloomington: Bethany Press, 201.
[4] Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 214.
[5] Geisler, 202.

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Les Prouty

This has been an enlightening series. Couple of thoughts/questions:

1. “The clear meaning of this verse is that the blood of “The Lamb of God” was sufficient to cover the sin of the whole of fallen humanity.” The word “sufficient” is not in dispute when discussing the the atonement. Cs and non Cs agree that the blood of the Lamb is sufficient to cover the sin of all humanity as well as millions of other worlds if they existed. But did the atonement actually cover the sin of all humanity? What did the atonement actually accomplish? Was there an actual substitution by the Lamb for the sin(s) of every individual who ever exists?

2. On John 3:16, Owen went where he needed not go to try to defend LA. Cs need not try to defend sovereign grace by trying to make the argument Owen made.

3. If John 12:47 means, “…for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” that Jesus came with the intended purpose to save every individual, how is He doing on His intended task?

Doug Sayers

Les asks, “Was there an actual substitution by the Lamb for the sin(s) of every individual who ever exists?”

Answer: Yes, of course. That is what is meant in all of the universal texts regarding the cross and the mission of Christ. Note: John also wrote that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (written to believers – not specified Jew or Gentile) and *not for ours only* but for the sins of the whole world (clearly implying unbelievers). 1 John 2:2

The better questions: When and how are the effects of His definite atonement permanently imputed to lost sinners?

An atonement made is not an atonement applied. Both must occur for salvation to be complete; and God is sovereign over the imputation of the cross and righteousness of Christ.

Gladly, God has told us how He can justly apply the cross to the account of responsible sinners. The just shall live by their faith. This is what John 3:16 and Romans 4 is saying.

Les Prouty


“Yes, of course. That is what is meant in all of the universal texts regarding the cross and the mission of Christ.”

But what constrains me are texts like these:

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins,” Matt. 26:28 and “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45.

I have a hard time allowing the universal passages (“all”) dictating the limiting passages (“many”). No human analogy can do justice, but I see it like someone saying, “All congressmen of the US swear to uphold the constitution.” And then also say, “Many of the US congressmen of the US swear to uphold the constitution.” Is it all (each one) or many (some but not all). The all of course includes the many but the converse is not necessarily true. It COULD be true to say that “many” swear to do so. 435 is certainly many, as 384 is many. 435 is certainly all but 384 is not (though it is “many” if one means by that “a lot.”

But to me the real question is what happens at propitiation? I have yet to see from a universal atonement proponent a satisfactory answer to that. If Christ’s death on the cross was substitutionary and penal, what actually happened for those who now reside in hell according to the universal atonement position?

Thanks Doug. I’m very busy these days on my Haiti ministry but can check in once or twice a day.

Blessings brother.


    I suppose a related question is: What is it that causes people to end up in hell?

    -Some would say, the atonement was not applied to them, therefore they go to hell FOR THEIR SINS.

    -Others would say, their sins have actually been atoned for, but they rejected the offered gift, such that they go to hell ONLY FOR UNBELIEF…not for their other sins.

    Doug Sayers

    I hear you Les. I once was where you is, but I came to realize that trying to make a very few “many” texts say that Jesus *only* died for a pre-determined elect is a weak and unnecessary inference, especially in light of all the “worlds”, “alls”, “every mans”, “whosoevers”, and “if any mans” in the NT. Again, there are no texts that teach explicitly (or by good and necessary inference) that Jesus *only* died for a pre-determined elect. If there was such a text then Calvinists would be writing 3 books, per generation, on that text alone.The Calvinist version of Limited Atonement would need some very explicit texts to overturn all the alls, and worlds, and …..

    It would be a sick lie for any ambassador of Christ to implore someone to be reconciled to God if Jesus did not make the necessary atonement for their particular sins. The good faith offer of the gospel depends upon the universal atonement. Again, the doctrine of imputation holds the key to getting this right. The money is in the bank but it must be distributed to each culpable sinner… by faith. (Penitent faith. The kind you don’t brag about.)

    This issue is much like the global warming debate. Some smart people keep telling us that the world is getting warmer and warmer (and it is our fault!) but this is really hard to buy when your region of the world is experiencing below average (or record low) temps. We tend to trust our own experience. Likewise, some smart people keep insisting that there are hopeless souls for whom Jesus did not die… but that is not what we see with our own eyes when we read the Bible. As long as translators maintain their integrity, the Calvinist will forever be battling the way the Bible reads to the average believer.

    May God bless the work in Haiti. (Hope you tell them that God loves them and Jesus died for their sins.)

Les Prouty


I understand where you are brother. I was once there too. I desperately wanted to make the “all” texts mean that Jesus put away once and for all the sins of all people. That would in some ways make me feel better. But those limiting “many” texts just wouldn’t let me. Besides the analogy of scripture keeps me on my toes here. As the Westminster divines said, “The infallible rule of interpretation of scripture is the scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

So when I understand what the atonement actually does (puts sinners’ sins on Jesus once and for all) and then I see a verse that **seems* to say that every sinner’s sins have been put on scripture, I have to look around for more evidence. Can a man be in hell for eternity after Jesus paid it all for him? The doctrine of the atonement says no. So the “all” verses must mean something else. But I understand why you and others want it to be all inclusive.

“It would be a sick lie for any ambassador of Christ to implore someone to be reconciled to God if Jesus did not make the necessary atonement for their particular sins.” Well by your definition, call me a sick liar in this regard. See the one itty bitty fact you left out, no…a big thing…is you, nor I nor anyone else can know that any person we are imploring is elect or not. Besides, going back to the scriptures again, all men everywhere are commanded to repent. I just go along with scripture.

“Again, the doctrine of imputation holds the key to getting this right.” Boy do I agree with that!

“The money is in the bank but it must be distributed to each culpable sinner… by faith.” That’s a nice analogy, but supremely flawed. Make one where you say that God’s wrath has been appeased……And figure out how that wrath can then be put back on a sinner from whom it’s been appeased to God.

“As long as translators maintain their integrity, the Calvinist will forever be battling the way the Bible reads to the average believer.” I kind of see that but would insert non Calvinist.

Thanks for asking God to bless the Haiti work.

Doug Sayers

I appreciate your civility, Les. When you can produce a biblical text (or group of texts) that teach explicitly (or by good and necessary inference) that Jesus did not die for someone, I’ll reconsider. But not until… I have to face God someday and give an account for what I told people the Bible teaches.

Calvinists make an easy teaching needlessly difficult and confusing. Their system emasculates faith as a meaningful condition of salvation.

    les Prouty


    Thank you as well for your civility. It is always better this way brother.

    I’m not expecting you to return to holding to Reformed soteriology. Neither am I likely to revert to Arminianism after these lo 30 years in the Reformed faith. But for kicks I’ll give you a cluster of verses showing that Jesus did not lay down his life for everyone.

    “John 10:11, 14-16, 26-29. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd…. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”

    Now I know how you all turn this in some gyrations to make it Not say what it plainly says. Ok. But there you are.

    Now could you do me a favor and answer a couple of thongs?

    1. If the atonement appeases the wrath of God, how under your view is the wrath that is taken away at the cross put back on some sinners?

    2. If the atonement is an actual putting away of sins, how do some under your view end up in hell after having their sins put away by Jesus?

    3. With this verse, “The Lamb who has been “slain from the creation of the world” has a book in which are written all those who have been redeemed by His sacrifice,” are names added as time goes on? Are some added then scratched out when they refuse the gospel and then die? How does this work?

    Thanks brother.

Doug Sayers

Les, sorry, if you are still checking in and Jonathan is willing I will offer a short reply and move on.

No “gyrations” needed to explain John 10… just careful exegesis that includes all that Scripture gives us in the context of the cross. Saying something is “plain” does not make it so. If Jesus had said clearly that He did *not* lay down His life for some sheep then you might have a case. This discourse should not / cannot be used to overturn all of the universal language regarding the cross in NT.

Jesus is giving an illustration of what Paul said, succinctly, to Timothy: Jesus is the Savor of all men/people especially those who believe. This is seen also when Jesus said that He came not to condemn the world but that the world through Him *might* be saved. (This intent is pretty clear especially when you understand that salvation has a *meaningful* condition.) Again, you struggle to distinguish between the atonement made and the atonement applied. We can’t be consistent and say that the cross alone saves and then insist upon justification by faith for salvation.

In your system, there could be no meaningful sense in which Jesus is the Savior of all (contrasted to those who believe); yet Paul calls Him just that. Jesus is properly called the Savior of all men. An unbeliever’s only hope is in Christ. He is the only Mediator between man and God… every man.

Remember, Jesus is talking to Jews who were rejecting Him as the Son. They thought they were the true sheep of God but were mistaken. If they had been true believers in the Father (like Nathanael and others) they would have believed in the Son. Jesus was constantly showing them His unity with the Father and they were constantly resisting it. These Jews had yet to “learn” from the Father therefore they did not come to the Son. (John 6:45) Indeed, they could not come to the Son as long as they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Their choice.

As to your “thongs” (I hope your are staying away from Sports Illustrated! :-) These are my thoughts, not necessarily those of the SBC Today folks.

1. I don’t think the effects of the cross are ever revoked once permanently imputed among adult/culpable sinners; but what we must recognize is that the assurance of our new birth (aka: washing of regeneration) is the great business of life. Surely God knows when He has made someone born again but that is not so easily distinguished among sinners.

2.The atonement is a one time universal ransom payment, satisfactory to God for the sins of the entire race, but it must be imputed to our individual accounts by faith before we can consider the deal done. Synergism, if you like. Its like Peter’s walk on the water. God’s power. Our faith.

3. Lamb’s Book of life presents some problems for both sides of the debate but, again, good principles of interpretation would not allow so many clear universal texts to be overturned. More on that one someday!

    Les Prouty


    Thanks for your congenial and brotherly spirit. We are getting snowed in tonight so I saw your reply. And since we both are deeply rooted in our positions, with each of us sincerely believing that we have scripture on our side, I’m content to leave it where we are. You had the last word brother.

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