What Christian’s believe and how they have come to understand what the Bible teaches isn’t always shaped purely by scripture. The Ancient Greek influence of Gnosticism has had a profound and enduring effect on Christian thought. Indeed, that may be the case in needing to ask the question, “For whom did Christ die?”

This question often gets raised in the broader context of popular teachings of prominent Christian preachers and philosophers from the past. For example, one’s conclusion that Scripture advocates for a “limited atonement” of man (e.g. Christ only died for some) would be a natural, almost forced, conclusion if you already believed that only some were even eligible (“Unconditional Election”) to be saved by God.

So, let’s establish from scripture for whom did Christ die?

T-U-L-I-P

(aka “total inability”) Every person that is enslaved to sin as a result of the fall of man and further, is not inclined to love God. Instead, man’s nature is to reject the rule of God and serve themselves. As a result, no human has the moral capacity to choose to obey God for spiritual salvation. Their sin (“depravity”) affects every part of them (“total”). Calvin’s “total depravity” doctrine is based on his interpretation of Augustine’s definition of Original Sin.

From the beginning, God chose individuals that he would call his own. This was not based on any foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Instead, his selection is unconditional (e.g. unilateral) and based only on his mercy. He extends mercy and salvation in Christ Jesus to those chosen (the “elect”). Those not chosen are separated from him because of their sins, receiving his wrath.

(aka “particular redemption” or “definite atonement” or “particular atonement”) Because of God’s complete sovereignty over man, the sins of the elect – and only the elect – were atoned for by Jesus’ death.

(aka “efficacious grace”) God’s saving grace is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect). By his sovereignty, he overcomes any resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. After all, he has purposed this from the beginning (“Unconditional election”). Here a distinction is made with the Holy Spirit’s “outward call” (preaching of the Gospel) that goes to all (elect and non-elect). It is only this “outward call” that can be rejected by sinners, whereas the “inward call” (or “effectual call”) of the Holy Spirit’s saving grace cannot be rejected (e.g “irresistible”).

(aka “perseverance of God with the saints” and “preservation of the believing”) God’s sovereignty precludes any that have received his “inward call” to be lost.  These “elect” will definitively be saved.

how Scripture answers "For whom did Christ die?"

Jesus died for all mankind – everyone3, the world/universe1,4,6, all people2,8, the unrighteous5 – different ways to say the same thing. Scripture teaches the full atonement of Christ. Since God “so loved the world”1 and wants all to be saved9, why would he send his only son to die for just some? He wouldn’t, which is just as Jesus states1, Paul states2,8, Peter states 5, and John states4,6 — all quite plainly.

There are two clear truths taught in all of these passages: (1) Jesus Christ came for all in order to save all1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, and (2) not all will obey1,2,4,6,8. The two are not mutually exclusive; you can have both truths existing at the same time. Unfortunately man’s doctrine forces the twisting of passages to mean something they’re not.

An inspiration for this question was provided by this argument FOR limited atonement on the prominent The Gospel Coalition site. While some Scripture is used, there is mostly commentary and no opportunity for public comment. One passage6 admittedly gives “people [that hold to limited atonement] fits when understanding what John is talking about.” Mr Raymond then goes on to redefine “world” as if it were only referring to “nations” (e.g. Gentiles) in order to make it fit. Other passages that would give equal fits8 are not even mentioned. It’s a great example of why the any/only/all rule is so important and yet another example of scripture weighting and where it can lead.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

God loved the world so much that He offered His Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die but have eternal life.  God sent Him because He wants all to be saved through Him.  If anyone believes in the only Son of God, they will not die.  But if they refuse, they are dead already.  The judgement is the light coming into the world and people clinging to the darkness instead because they practice evil.  Those practicing evil will stay in darkness so they won’t be exposed by the light. But those that practice righteousness come to the light so that they what they do is easily seen to be of God.

Nicodemus, a pharisee, has come to Jesus at night acknowledging that he is from God because of His miracles (vs 2). Jesus responds by telling him a truth, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and concluding with this well-known passage.

How does it inform?

God loved the world (Gr: “kosmos” – universe, inhabitants of the earth) so He sent his son “in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is clear that the gift/grace of God was for the world, but only those that “believe” and “does what is true” will receive the gift.

Does it apply? Yes

2
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Christ’s love controls us because we have believed that He died for all since all are dead [in their sins]. He died and was raised for everyone that no longer lives for themself but lives for Him.

Paul is speaking of the temporary state the Christian finds themself in – yearning to be “further clothed” but still in this “tent” in which we “groan” to be with Him (vss 1-4).  His encouragement is to be reconciled to God through Christ and the “ministry of reconciliation” that he preaches (vss 16-20).
How does it inform?

Paul makes a clear distinction between two groups: (1) the “all” – who Jesus died for, and (2) “those who live” – the ones that no longer live for themselves (e.g. believe and accept Christ).

He goes on to say that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself” through the “ministry of reconciliation [gospel]” (vs 18) and concludes, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (vs 20).

Does it apply? Yes

3
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
But we see that Jesus, who was crowned with glory and honor because of His suffering and death, was made lower than the angels for a time, in order that by God’s grace He might taste death for everyone.

The writer is concluding his introductory argument of Jesus’ supremacy over all of those messengers that for the Jew have come before.  Specifically, he has contrasted Jesus against the prophets and angels by “calling forward” and interpreting several Old Testament prophecies and sayings.

How does it inform?

Jesus tasted death for everyone (Gr: all, all things, every, the whole).

Does it apply? Yes

4
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

We know that we dwell in him and he in us because he has given us his [Holy] Spirit.  We [apostles] have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.

John is arguing that Christians are to love each other since “God is love” (vs 15) and He “loved us first” (vs 19).  He goes on to say that we know we love (or are loving) our brethren “whenever we love God and obey his commandments” (5:2).
How does it inform?

John is virtually repeating what Jesus said1. God sent his son to “be the Savior of the world” and whoever confesses Him will abide with Him (through the Holy Spirit).

Does it apply? Yes

5
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,
For Christ, the righteous one, also suffered once for sins of the unrighteous so that he could bring us to God.  As such, we are put to death the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
Peter’s letter of encouragement to the “elect” scattered throughout the region who were facing great persecution for their faith.  Here he is telling them to “not be surprised” (vs 12) with trials/suffering and reminding them of the glory that it brings, as it did with Christ.
How does it inform?

The righteous (one, that is Jesus) died for the unrighteous (or all/everyone, since all have sinned).

Does it apply? Yes

6
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.

He [Christ] is the atonement for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And if we keep his commandments, we come to know him and his atonement.

John, in his letter to brethren, makes refrain after refrain for them to continue to “walk in the light”.  In the first chapter he states it as, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1:6)
How does it inform?

The apostle John makes it clear that Jesus was the atonement (the Greek word for propitiation) for the sins of the universe/all mankind (the meaning of Greek word for world – “kosmos”). The distinction is drawn with those that “have come to know him” through obedience.

BTW, it should be noted that the Greek word used for world (“kosmos”) is not the Greek word “goy” (e.g. nations). The former means universe or all mankind. The latter is used prominently throughout Scripture (primarily Old Testament) to contrast Jew from Gentile (e.g. nations or “goy”) and later to emphasize (New Testament) the joining of Jew and Gentile in Christ.

Does it apply? Yes

7
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Come to me [Jesus], all who are troubled and weighed down and I will give you rest.  Submit under me and learn from me, for I am gentle and meek, and you will find rest for your souls.  Submitting to me and my requirements is not difficult.

Later in Jesus’ ministry when his cousin John the Baptist has been imprisoned (vs 2) before his death.

How does it inform?

Jesus invites all that are burdened [with sin] to come to him in submission and obedience.

Does it apply? Yes

8
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.

Since we have our hope set on the living God, we work and labor.  He is the Savior of all people and most for those who believe in Him.

Paul’s letter to a young preacher, Timothy.  Throughout the letter, Paul’s instructions have to do with Timothy’s activities and relationship with the brethren there with Timothy (the church).

How does it inform?

Paul states the all/few correlation regarding Jesus – the Savior of “all”, but the “hope” is only realized by the few (“those who believe”).

Does it apply? Yes

9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God has not forgotten about his promise, but is patiently waiting, not wanting any to perish but for all to reach repentance.

Peter’s letters have been of encouragement to the saints to remain strong during persecution and false prophets.  God has not forgotten them or His promises (vs 8); the “day of the Lord” will come as a “thief in the night.” (vs 10)
How does it inform?

Peter’s letter for the saints to patiently endure their persecution for their faith while God affords anyone/everyone an opportunity to repent.

Does it apply? Yes

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