Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Ransom For All: Why Every Human Being Will Be Saved (Part Three)


PART THREE: RANSOMED FROM DEATH

In part two of this study, I argued that the salvation of all humanity is a truth clearly revealed by what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3-6. As Mr. Screws remarked, “No one can read 1 Tim. 2:3-6, and believe every word of it, without believing in the salvation of all humanity.“ Because Christ gave himself a “correspondent ransom for all,” it follows that all mankind will, in fact, be ransomed and therefore saved. But ransomed from what? In part one of this study, I argued that it is from their sins that the “many” for whom Christ gave his soul a ransom will be saved. And I believe that the same can be said for the “all” for whom Christ gave himself a “correspondent ransom.” But what more can be said about the salvation that Christ secured for all mankind when he gave himself a ransom for all?

In his letter to the saints in Corinth, Paul made it clear that Christ’s death was essential to his evangel (or “gospel”), and referred to the message he heralded as “the word of the cross,” and as essentially involving “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 21-24; 2:1-2). Later, in chapter fifteen, Paul reminded the believers to whom he wrote of the evangel which he’d brought to them, and – in doing so - provided his readers with the reason why Christ’s death is so essential to his evangel. In 1 Cor. 15:1-5, Paul wrote:

Now I am making known to you, brethren, the evangel which I bring to you, which also you accepted, in which also you stand, through which also you are saved, if you are retaining what I said in bringing the evangel to you, outside and except you believe feignedly. For I give over to you among the first what also I accepted, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, thereupon by the twelve.

What does it mean for Christ to have “died for our sins?” In short, it means that Christ died to save us from our sins. But what does this mean? Well, those who haven’t yet been saved from their sins are described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:17-19 as follows: “Now if Christ has not been roused, vain is your faith – you are still in your sins! Consequently those also, who are put to repose in Christ, perished. If we are having an expectation in Christ in this life only, more forlorn than all men are we.”

For anyone to still be “in [their] sins” means that God is still reckoning their sins/offenses to them (cf. Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19), and that they remain under the condemnation of which their sins have made them deserving (cf. John 8:24). That this is the case is evident from the fact that, in v. 18, it’s implied those who have died while still being “in their sins” have “perished.” The word translated “perished” in v. 18 (apollumi) does not simply mean “died,” for the saints to whom Paul was referring were already dead at the time he was writing. In the context, the contrast is between “perishing” and being “vivified” (or “made alive”) “in Christ” (:20-23). Thus, for one to have “perished” means that one remains under the condemnation of death, and will not be given life beyond the dominion of death. And from this it follows that being “still in your sins” means remaining under the condemnation of death as well (i.e., being deserving of death).

That death is the condemnation of which our sins make us deserving is further confirmed from what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:54-57. After referring to the miraculous change that both the dead and the living saints in the body of Christ will undergo at the time of the snatching away or “rapture” (1 Cor. 15:50-53; cf. 1 Thess. 4:15-17), Paul declared, “Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? Now the sting of Death is sin, yet the power of sin is the law. Now thanks be to God, Who is giving us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In verses 54-55, Paul is quoting from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. Given its relevance to this study, it’s worth noting that immediately before the part of Hosea 13:14 quoted by Paul, we find God promising to “ransom” his rebellious people Israel “from the grip of the unseen” (i.e., Hades, the state of death), and to “redeem” them from death. Since this particular promise was made to unfaithful Israel, it’s not surprising that Paul didn’t quote this part of Hosea 13:14 when writing to those in the body of Christ. [1] Nonetheless, we can conclude that, based on this verse (as well as others)[2], Paul would’ve been familiar with the idea of death as being something from which mankind was in need of being “ransomed” by God.

But what did Paul mean by, “Now the sting of death is sin?” The word translated “sting” denotes a pointed instrument used to injure and inflict pain (cf. Acts 26:14; Rev. 9:10). Paul was essentially saying here that sin is what gives death the power to injure us. Apart from sin, death would have no power over us. Sin is the cause, and death is the effect. It is, in fact, the judicial consequence of sin that is common to all people. Thus, for Christ to have “died for our sins” means that he died to save us from the condemnation of which our sins made us deserving. And based on everything we read in 1 Corinthians 15, we can conclude that this condemnation is death.

That death is the God-ordained consequence of sin is further confirmed in the opening chapters of Genesis. In Genesis 2:16-17, God declared the following to Adam: “From every tree of the garden you may eat, yea eat. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat from it; for on the day you eat from it, to die, you shall be dying. In accordance with this stated consequence for Adam’s disobedience, we read that, on the very day that Adam sinned, the death sentence was passed upon him (Gen. 3:19). As a result of this sentence, both Adam and his wife – and, by extension, all of their future posterity - were banished from the Garden of Eden and denied access to the tree of life (vv. 22-24). Humanity was, in other word, excluded from the only means by which we could’ve lived indefinitely on the earth without the inevitability of death.[3] 

From this early episode in mankind’s history we learn that all humanity became deserving of death because of Adam’s sin, with every one of his descendants coming into existence under the power and “reign” of death. Paul makes this fact clear in Romans 5:12-14: “Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned -- for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law; nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him Who is about to be.”

In verse 12, Paul wrote that “death passed through into all mankind…” And then, in v. 18, death is referred to as the “condemnation” that “all mankind” came to be under “through one offense” (i.e., through the one offense of Adam). But it is not only because of Adam’s sin that death “reigns” over mankind. Although Adam’s sin affected the entire human race (which can be understood as demonstrating Adam’s representative relationship to the rest of mankind), what we read concerning Adam’s sin and condemnation reveals the consequence of sin for all of his sinning descendants, as well. This is evident from Romans 1:32, where - after listing a number of sins (among which most human beings could find at least one of which they’re guilty of committing) - Paul declared that “those committing such things are deserving of death.

Similarly, in Romans 6:22 Paul wrote that the “consummation” of the things that people do as “slaves of sin” is “death”; in the next verse, Paul (personifying sin as if it were a human slave master) adds that “the ration of Sin is death” – i.e., it is the “fixed portion” that Adam’s sinning descendants can expect to receive, as the ultimate consequence of their own sins. Thus, when those who are deserving of death because of their sins actually die, their death is not only because of Adam’s sin; it is because of their own sins as well (which are just as “condemning” as was Adam’s sin). 

It is this problem that Christ died to resolve when he “died for our sins.” And, if Paul’s testimony is to be believed (and I think that it is), Christ was 100% successful at resolving it. It is now only a matter of time before all are released from the condemnation of death of which sin makes us deserving. This is confirmed by Paul in Romans 5:15-19:

15 But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man, Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.
16 And not as through one act of sinning is the gratuity. For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award.
17 For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rather, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life's justifying.
19 For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

Some have objected that the words “the many” in v. 19 place a restriction on the words “all mankind” in v. 18. However, that’s not at all the case, for the same people referred to as “the many” in v. 15 were referred to as “all mankind” in v. 12 (into whom we’re told death – the consequence of sin - passed through). And with the exception of Christ, there is no human who wasn’t constituted a sinner and thus condemned to die as a result of Adam’s sin (this fact is confirmed by Rom. 3:23, where we’re told that “all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God”). Rather than placing a restriction on the words “all mankind,” Paul’s use of the expression “the many” (both in v. 15 and v. 19) serves to emphasize the fact that far more individuals were negatively affected by Adam’s sin – and far more positively affected by Christ’s obedience – than either Adam or Christ alone. The expression “the many” in verses 15 and 19 is, in other words, to be understood in contrast with “the one man,” Adam (whose disobedience negatively affected far more humans than himself) and the other “one man,” Jesus Christ (whose obedience positively affects far more humans than himself).[4]

The “obedience of the One” (v. 19) is an undeniable reference to Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, when he gave himself “a correspondent ransom for all.” Thus, the “grace of God” referred to in v. 15 (which we’re told “super-abounds” to all who were “constituted sinners”) involves that which Christ procured by his obedient death on behalf of all. According to Paul, just as all humanity fell under condemnation because of the disobedience of “the one man,” Adam, so all humanity will ultimately become the recipients of the grace secured by the obedience of Christ (who Paul referred to as both “the last Adam” and “the second Man” in 1 Cor. 15:45-47). And this means that all mankind – “the many” affected by the obedience of “the One” - “shall be constituted just.” Since the condemnation from which all will be saved when they’re constituted just is death, it follows that the justification in view necessarily involves a state in which all people will be vivified, or placed beyond the dominion of death: “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.1 Cor. 15:20-22

For those who have died, to be vivified (or “made alive”) in Christ means more than just being resurrected. It means being resurrected into the same incorruptible, deathless state into which Christ was raised. For Paul later declared that death “is being abolished,” and the only that this could be the case is if all people are ultimately made immortal, and thus unable to die. That being vivified in Christ means to be given the same life that Christ has is further confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:42-44, where Paul describes the body that those resurrected will have as being incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual (cf. :53-54). Thus, it follows that all mankind will ultimately receive the same “power of an indissoluble life” which, in Heb. 7:16, is said to be possessed by Christ.

After revealing that who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ, Paul went on to write in 1 Cor. 15:23-28:

Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.

According to Paul, the “consummation” of which he wrote will occur “whenever [Christ] may be giving up the kingdom to his God and Father, whenever he should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power.” Since the “last enemy” to be abolished is “death,” it follows that Christ will continue to reign until death is abolished, and that the “consummation” involves the abolishment of death. When death is abolished, Christ’s reign ends. Thus, the abolishing of death is the event by which Christ subjects himself to God so that God may be “All in all” (v. 28). Paul’s sequence of events in this passage, therefore, goes as follows: (1) Christ, “the Firstfruit,” is vivified; (2) “those who are Christ’s in His presence” are vivified; (3) the “the last enemy,” death, is “abolished” (which is the consummation), and God becomes “all in all.” And since the abolishing of death means that no death can remain, it follows that every human who has ever lived will be immortal when God becomes “all in all.”

Contrary to the belief of most Christians, there must be another category of human beings who will be vivified/made alive in Christ after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in his presence.” Otherwise, it would not be true that all who are dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ. And this class of humanity constitutes a third and final “order” in Christ’s conquest of death. Thus, we can conclude that those who do not fall into the second category of those who are to be vivified in Christ will be vivified at a yet future time – i.e., when Christ’s reign ends, and he delivers the kingdom up to God.[5] It is at this future time that every human being not yet vivified will be vivified.[6]

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he wrote: “Christ Jesus…abolishes death, yet illuminates life and incorruption through the evangel of which I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations” (2 Tim. 1:11). Concerning the tense of the word translated “abolishes” in this verse, A.E. Knoch notes in his commentary, “The abolition of death is put in the indefinite or aorist tense, as He [Christ] has done it in His own case and will do it for all in the future.” Death and “life and incorruption” are, of course, mutually exclusive states of affairs; the latter is the state of affairs that will exist when the former has been abolished. Since the abolishment of death means “life and incorruption” for all mankind, that which is illuminated through Paul’s evangel is the final destiny that awaits all mankind when death, the last enemy, is abolished. When all who are dying in Adam are vivified in Christ, death will be no more. “Life and incorruption” will be universal, characterizing the existence of all mankind. And the fact that life and incorruption is said to be “illuminated” through Paul’s evangel tells us that the truth of the salvation of all mankind from death is inherent in Paul’s evangel, and implied by what we read in 1 Cor. 15:3-5 and 1 Tim. 2:6.

Moreover, when we understand what it means for Christ to have “died for our sins,” we can also understand why Christ’s resurrection is just as essential to Paul’s evangel as his death for our sins. For, had Christ not been roused from among the dead by God, it would mean that Christ had not died in perfect obedience to God, and that he was just as much under the condemnation of death as the sinners for whom he died. And this would mean that Christ’s death did not actually procure mankind’s salvation. This would include those who believe Paul’s evangel: if Christ was not roused, then our faith is “vain” (1 Cor. 15:17) – i.e., our faith would be in something that never actually happened. And if that were the case, then – despite believing that we’ve been justified by the faith of Christ - we’d still be condemned, and deserving of death (or, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:18, we’d be “still in [our] sins”).

But since Christ was roused from among the dead, we know that Christ accomplished exactly what he died to accomplish: the procuring of mankind’s salvation. Everyone who is dying (or has already died) will be saved from the condemnation of which their sins made them deserving. In regard to Paul’s evangel, then, Christ’s resurrection is the confirmation and divine pledge that the salvation of all mankind was procured by Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Christ’s resurrection is the God-given proof that the words triumphantly declared by our Lord just before he gave up his spirit on the cross - “It is accomplished!” - were not uttered in vain. Because Christ died for our sins and was roused by God from among the dead, we can have confidence that sin will ultimately be eliminated from the universe, and death will ultimately be abolished. 



[1] Paul knew that the only part of this prophecy that had any applicability to us is the part he actually quoted (and even then, we shouldn’t understand our being vivified as fulfilling any part of this prophecy; rather, it’s simply the case that what’s being stated will “come to pass” when we’re vivified).

[2] Other examples from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the word translated “ransom” in Hosea 13:14 (padah) refers to the ransoming of a person’s life from dying/death are Leviticus 27:29, 1 Samuel 14:45, Job 5:20, Job 33:28 and Psalm 49:15.

[3] Significantly, we find that those who will get to live on the new earth during the final eon will live without the fear and inevitability of death, and will have free access to the life-sustaining fruit of the “tree of life” to which Adam and Eve were denied access because of Adam’s sin (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-2).

[4] Some have objected that Paul would’ve used the word “all” instead of “many” in v. 19 if he’d had in mind “all mankind” here. However, Paul already used the word “all” in the previous verse (and it’s, of course, absurd to think that Paul thought his readers would suddenly forget this fact when they got to the very next verse). Paul simply modified the wording in order to place a greater emphasis on the two categories of people he had in view: the two men, Adam and Christ, and those affected by their respective actions (the rest of humanity). In contrast with two men (Adam and Christ), the rest of humanity can indeed be considered “many,” and thus be appropriately referred to by Paul as “the many.”

[5]  We know that Christ’s reign continues long after the vivification of “those who are Christ’s in his presence,” for Christ’s kingdom and reign over the earth (i.e., when he sits on “the throne of his glory”) does not even begin until after his return to earth (Matt. 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; cf. Luke 1:32-33; 22:30). And Christ’s reign over this present earth will last for more than a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6; cf. 11:15). Christ’s throne and reign – along with the reign of the saints – will also continue during the time of the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 22:1, 5). And as long as Christ is reigning – indeed, as long as any “sovereignty,” “authority” and “power” continues (including that of the saints) – it means that the “consummation” has not yet come, and death (the “last enemy”) remains to be abolished.

It should also be noted that the kingdom which Paul said Christ is going to ultimately deliver to his God and Father is the same kingdom which Daniel had prophesied the Messiah would receive from God (see Dan. 7:13-14). And the implication is that this kingdom will, when given back to God, be full of subjects. But who will be the subjects of the kingdom that Christ is one day going to deliver up to his Father? Well, in this passage, we are told that “all” (ta panta, “the all” or “the universe”) is eventually going to be subjected to Christ. Significantly, God is said to be the only exception to the “all” that is to be subjected to Christ. This can only mean that all created, personal beings (both human and non-human) are included. Thus, the kingdom that Christ is ultimately going to deliver to his God and Father is going to consist of all created, personal beings.

[6] This will include those who were sentenced to the “lake of fire” and underwent the “second death” referred to by John in Revelation 20:11-15. Some may object that John doesn’t reveal that anyone will be saved from the second death. However, John recorded only what was revealed to him in the visions he received from God. What ultimately happens to those human beings who are to be cast into the lake of fire to die a second time was simply not a part of John’s vision, and was not meant to be revealed by him. This in no way means that this is the end of their story. If it was, it would mean that death is not going to be abolished by Christ. But this would contradict Paul, who (thankfully) provides us with further revelation on this subject.

According to Paul, Christ’s reign is going to continue until this “last enemy” is done away with. And we know from what John wrote in the chapters that follow (Rev. 21-22) that Christ - along with his saints - are still reigning during the period of time that immediately follows the judgment in which people are sentenced to the “second death” (i.e., the age of “the new heaven and new earth”). Thus, we can know that death has not yet been abolished during this future period of time (for Christ is still reigning and the second death is still in effect), and that the scene being described by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 will, during this time, still be a future reality.




A Ransom For All: Why Every Human Being Will Be Saved (Part Two)


What about the body of Christ?


Before moving on to the next "ransom" passage (1 Timothy 2:1-7), it should be noted that there are differing views on who else will benefit from the new covenant that God promised to make “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” The predominant view among Christians is that the beneficiaries of the new covenant will include not only those constituting the “Israel of God” but also the called-out company of saints that Paul referred to in his letters as “the body of Christ” (which is a company of saints composed of people from both a Jewish and – primarily – Gentile background). According to this view, the saints comprising the body of Christ are seen as either a continuation of faithful Israel, or as having been incorporated into faithful Israel (in fact, many Christians see no difference at all between the “Israel of God” referred to by Paul and the “body of Christ”). Either way, those in the body of Christ are understood as being just as much a part of the “many” for whom Christ said he came to give his soul a ransom as the believing Israelites to whom Christ was speaking in Matthew 20:28 (and, ironically, this view would also mean that the primary recipients of the new covenant blessings promised in Hebrews 8:7-12 will be of a Gentile background, rather than Jewish).

I’m not convinced that this position is correct. According to my understanding, the new covenant was not made with – and thus does not directly pertain to - those in the body of Christ (although I don’t think the future beneficiaries of the new covenant will be exclusively Jewish in background, either). Despite my misgivings concerning the more popular view, I must emphasize that it is, nonetheless, completely consistent with the overall position I’m defending in this study. With regard to the identity of the “many” of Matthew 20:28, the only point that can be said to be essential to the conclusion at which I’ll be arriving in part two of this article is this: the “many” for whom Christ said he came to give his soul a ransom is a definite group of people whose salvation was procured by virtue of Christ’s death on their behalf.

This point is perfectly consistent with the more popular view that the “many” of Matt. 20:28 includes those who are in the body of Christ. After all, it’s certainly the case that the body of Christ consists of “a definite group of people whose salvation was procured by virtue of Christ’s death on their behalf.” For example, in Ephesians5:23-25, Paul wrote that Christ is the “Head of the ecclesia (a “called-out company”)” and “the Savior of the body,” and that Christ “loves the ecclesia, and gives Himself up for its sake.” In Titus 2:13-14, Paul wrote that “our Saviour Jesus Christ…gives Himself for us, that He should be redeeming [lutroō, from lutron] us from all lawlessness and be cleansing for Himself a people to be about Him, zealous for ideal acts.” A few verses later, Paul went on to write, “Yet when the kindness and fondness for humanity of our Saviour, God, made its advent, not for works which are wrought in righteousness which we do, but according to His mercy, He saves us, through the bath of renascence and renewal of holy spirit, which He pours out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, that, being justified in that One's grace, we may be becoming enjoyers, in expectation, of the allotment of life eonian(Titus 3:4-7).

So, regardless of whether one understands the future beneficiaries of the new covenant to consist primarily of Israelites or primarily of those who are Gentile in background, I think scripture supports the view that it is the future beneficiaries of this covenant who comprise the “many” for whom Christ said he came to give his soul as a ransom.

PART TWO: A CORRESPONDENT RANSOM FOR ALL

In the previous installment of this study, I argued that the “many” referred to in Matthew 20:28 should be understood as comprised of the future beneficiaries of the new covenant, and that it is from their sins that these people are ransomed by virtue of Christ’s death. I also noted that, in regard to the identity of the “many” of Matthew 20:28, the acceptance of the following point is all that my overall argument requires: the “many” for whom Christ gave himself a ransom is a definite group of people whose salvation was procured by virtue of Christ’s death on their behalf.

Here, again, is the logical (and, I believe, scripturally-informed) argument I provided in support of this position:

1. Anyone for whom Christ gave himself a ransom will be ransomed as a result.
2. Anyone ransomed as a result of Christ’s death will be saved.
3. The “many” for whom we’re told Christ gave himself a ransom will be saved.

Now, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote the following:

“I am entreating, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, pleadings, thanksgiving be made for all mankind, for kings and all those being in a superior station, that we may be leading a mild and quiet life in all devoutness and gravity, for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of our Saviour, God, Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all (the testimony in its own eras), for which I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth.” (1Timothy 2:1-7)

The word translated “wills” in verse 4 (thelo) means just that – i.e., to form a decision, choice or purpose. Thus, what Paul is telling us in these verses is that, whether a person has come to such a realization or not, they are embraced by God’s purpose to save all mankind. Some – in an attempt to limit the meaning of the words “all mankind” in the above passage - have argued that the word “all” here means “all without distinction” or “all kinds of humans” instead of “all humans without exception.” However, the literal meaning of “all” necessarily refers to every member of whatever category of people or things that are in view – i.e., the entire number or quantity of people or things.

For example, when Paul wrote, “all those being in a superior station” (v. 2), the word “all” necessarily includes every person “in a superior station.” This group of people (on whom Paul placed a special emphasis because of the degree of influence that they have over the lives of believers) is simply a subcategory of the “all mankind” referred to in verse 1. Because prayer is fundamentally the aligning of our wills with God’s will, Paul exhorted believers to pray for “all mankind” (i.e., all without exception, which necessarily includes those in power over us) because of the fact that God has willed that this very same, all-inclusive group shall be saved and come into a realization of the truth. In other words, because all people are the objects of God’s unconditional, redemptive love, we should not show any partiality in our prayers for others, but have the same attitude toward humanity as a whole that our God and Father has.

Again, the literal meaning of the word “all” necessarily refers to every member of whatever category of people or things that are in view – i.e., the entire number or quantity of people or things. Thus, those arguing that “all” here should be understood as referring to less than the total number of people constituting “mankind” are actually arguing that Paul was not using the word literally here. That is, if the word “all” in this verse doesn’t actually include the entire number of people in view (which, in this case, would be every member of that category of people that is “all mankind”), then it can only be because Paul was using a figure of speech (hyperbole) when he used the word “all” here. Although the word “all” is, on some occasions, used hyperbolically in scripture, there is no good reason – that is, no non-question-begging reason - to understand it in this non-literal sense here.

Moreover, when Paul used the same expression “all mankind” later in his letter to Timothy, it’s pretty clear that he meant all humans without exception, for he considered “believers” to be a subcategory of this larger group:

“Faithful is the saying and worthy of all welcome (for for this are we toiling and being reproached), that we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers. These things be charging and teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:9-11

It should come as no surprise that many Christians – both Calvinists and Arminians – have tried to make 1 Tim. 4:10 mean anything but what it seems to be saying. “Surely,” some Christians will argue, “Paul didn’t really mean that God is the Savior of all mankind.” And yet, that’s exactly what Paul wrote. As with the expression “all mankind” in 1 Tim. 2:4, some have tried to argue that the expression “all mankind” in 1 Tim. 4:10 was simply Paul’s way of saying, “all kinds of men.” But if that were the case, then it would mean that believers are one “kind” of men of which God is the Saviour. And this, in turn, would mean that the other kind of men of which God is the Savior are unbelievers. But this, of course, would “prove too much” for those who want the expression “all mankind” to mean “all kinds of men” rather than “all men without exception,” for a human being is either a believer or an unbeliever.

By virtue of what is God able to be referred to by Paul as “the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers?” Well, we know why God is called the Savior of believers. It’s because believers have been, and will be, saved by God. Paul would not (and could not) have referred to God as the “Saviour” of believers if he didn’t think that we had been, or ever would be, saved. Neither God nor Christ can be considered the “Saviour” of anyone whom they will never, in fact, save. Now, regardless of who it is believed will be the recipients of the blessings of the new covenant after Christ’s return, it is believed by most Christians that only believers will, in fact, be saved. Based on the above passage, however, Paul clearly believed otherwise. God is the Savior “especially of believers,” but not exclusively. He is also the “Savior of all mankind.”

But if God is the Savior of all mankind, then what did Paul mean when he called him the Savior “especially of believers?” Whatever one believes it to mean, the meaning can’t contradict the fact that God is the Savior of all mankind. To better understand Paul’s use of the word “especially” here, we need only look to other examples in his letters. In Galatians 6:10 we read, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (for more examples of Paul’s use of “especially,” see 1 Cor. 14:1; Phil 4:22; 1 Tim 5:8, 17; Titus 1:10 and Philemon 16).

Is Paul saying that we are to “do good” to those who are of “the household of faith” to the exclusion of all others? Or, is Paul saying we are to do good to all people, but that those who are of “the household of faith” should come first? Obviously, the latter is Paul’s intent. Those who are of “the household of faith” ought to come first, though we should make the best of the opportunities God gives us to help all people who are in need - even those people who dislike or hate us. Similarly, Paul calls God the Savior “especially of believers,” since Scripture reveals that those who believe are going to be saved by God before everyone else. But this early salvation of believers does not in any way diminish or subtract from the salvation that all people are certain to receive from God at a later time.

Immediately after declaring that God ”wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), Paul explained how the salvation of all mankind was secured: Christ gave himself “a correspondent Ransom for all.” Here’s the key part of v. 6 in six different translations:

New English Translation: “…Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all…”

Young’s Literal Translation: “…the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all…”

Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible: “…a man - Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a ransom in behalf of all…”

Concordant Literal New Testament: “…a Man, Christ Jesus, who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all…”

Dabhar Literal Translation: “…the man, Christ Jesus, having given Himself as instead-loosening for all…”

Disciple’s Literal New Testament: “…the man Christ Jesus, the One having given Himself as a ransom for all…”

The expression translated as “a ransom for all,” “a ransom in behalf of all,” “instead-loosening for all” and “a correspondent Ransom for all” are the words “antilutron huper pantōn.” The first word – antilutron – is a combination of the Greek prefix “anti” and the noun “lutron.” The prefix “anti” means, “instead of,” “corresponding to,” or “serving as the equivalent of,” while the noun “lutron” is the same word translated as “ransom” in Matthew 20:28. In the Expositor’s Greek Testament, we read the following concerning Paul’s use of the prefix “anti”: If we are to see any special force in the ἀντί [anti], we may say that it expresses that the λύτρον [lutron] is equivalent in value to the thing procured by means of it. But perhaps St. Paul’s use of the word, if he did not coin it, is due to his desire to reaffirm our Lord’s well-known declaration in the most emphatic way possible. λύτρον ἀντὶ [lutron anti] merely implies an exchange; ἀντίλυτρον ὑπέρ [antilutron huper] implies that the exchange is decidedly a benefit to those on whose behalf it is made.”[1]

Commenting on the meaning of the words “correspondent ransom,” A.B. Screws remarked as follows:

“Christ's death is the exact equivalent of the need of the human family. And that need is more than to simply be restored to the Adamic “purity.” We need the grace that superabounds - not grace that puts us back in Adam’s condition. Everything that is needed to affect the salvation of all mankind (I Tim. 2:4) is supplied in Christ.  It is in this sense that He is ‘the One giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all.’ Nor would it be amiss to consider the meaning of ransom.  It will secure the release of the person for whom it is paid, unless the one accepting the ransom intends to deceive the one paying it.  If Christ gives Himself a correspondent Ransom for all, and any part of the human family is not subsequently released, then God has deceived His Son.  In other words, since Christ gives Himself a correspondent ransom for all, all must be saved, or else God stands eternally discredited as dishonest.  Perish the thought! No one can read 1 Tim. 2:3-6, and believe every word of it, without believing in the salvation of all humanity.“ (http://www.theheraldofgodsgrace.org/Screws/17_07_38_02.htm)

Now, in light of Paul’s use of the word “all” in 1 Tim. 2:5, let’s hear again from Calvinist theologian Loraine Boettner concerning Christ’s use of the word “many” in Matthew 20:28:  “…this verse does not say that He gave His life a ransom for all, but for many.” Echoing this statement by Boettner, one Calvinist pastor (Wes Bredenhof) wrote the following on his blog: The word “many” tells us that Jesus did not give his life as a ransom for all. He laid down his life for the sheep. That means that he made the atonement with the intent of paying for the sins of the elect and the elect only. Jesus did not die for all people. He died on the cross for his chosen ones and them alone.“ Bredenhof went on to say, “If Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all people, then why did the Holy Spirit say, “many” and not “all” or “everyone”?”[2]

Given their understanding of Christ’s words in Matthew 20:28 - and, it should be emphasized, Boettner and Bredenhof are affirming the standard, traditional Calvinist view here - consistency would demand that they admit that, in light of Paul’s use of “all” in 1 Timothy 2:5, all people without exception will be ransomed by virtue of Christ’s death. For if Christ’s use of the word “many” “in Matthew 20:28 means that he’s not talking about “all,” then Paul’s use of the word “all” in 1 Tim. 2:5 means that he’s not talking about “some” or “many.” The expression, “there is one mediator of God and mankind” helps us to determine who is included in the “all” for whom Christ gave himself as a ransom: it is all persons who fall into the category of “mankind” (anthrōpos), and who are in need of a Savior. Contextually, then, Paul’s clearly talking about all mankind. And since Calvinists admit that the “many” who are in view in Matthew 20:28 will, in fact, be saved, consistency demands that they also believe that the “all” in view in 1 Tim. 2:5 will, in fact, be saved as well.

Here is a modified form of the argument presented earlier:

1. Anyone for whom Christ gave himself a ransom will be ransomed as a result.
2. Anyone ransomed as a result of Christ’s death will be saved.
3. The “all” for whom we’re told Christ gave himself a correspondent ransom in 1 Timothy 2:5 will be saved.




A Ransom For All: Why Every Human Being Will Be Saved (Part One)



Introduction

In response to the question of why only some people will ultimately benefit from Christ’s death and receive salvation, the answer given by most Christians could be said to reflect either a “Calvinist” or an “Arminian” viewpoint.[1] The main differences between these two doctrinal positions within Christianity could be summarized as follows:

1. According to the Calvinist position, God is completely sovereign over the salvation of human beings, and his plan has always been that only a limited number of human beings (i.e., the elect) be saved. Because God can ensure that his will is not thwarted by the will of his creatures, he will succeed in saving every person he has unconditionally chosen for salvation. Although Christ’s death is understood by Calvinists as being sufficient for the salvation all, it is only effectual for those whom God has chosen beforehand to be saved. In accord with God’s plan to save only those chosen beforehand, the purpose and design of Christ’s sacrificial death was to benefit this definite number of people only. Thus, according to Calvinism, God gets exactly what he wants with regards to the salvation of human beings. Those whom God has predestined for salvation will inevitably benefit from Christ’s death on their behalf, while the rest of humanity (the non-elect) will receive no redemptive benefit from Christ’s death, and will be lost forever.

2. According to the Arminian position, God desires that all people be saved, and sent his Son into the world to make salvation available to all. However, God also wants all people to play a necessary and decisive role in the securing of their own salvation, and has given them the power of “free will” for this purpose. Since God cannot ensure that beings with free will use their freedom in a way that is consistent with his desire for them to be saved, many people (usually understood to be the vast majority of mankind) will be lost forever. According to Arminianism, then, God does not get everything he wants in regard to the salvation of human beings. Christ’s death on mankind’s behalf did not actually secure the salvation of anyone; it merely made it possible for people to be saved through the proper use of their free will. However, due to the misuse of their free will, the majority of people will, tragically, receive no redemptive benefit from Christ’s death.

Despite these (and other) important differences, there is one fundamental belief that both Calvinistic and Arminian Christians have in common, and in which they are in complete agreement. According to both positions, it is only a part of humanity that will actually benefit from what Jesus Christ accomplished by his sacrificial death on the cross. The rest of humanity, it is believed, will fail to receive any real and lasting benefit from Christ’s death, and will forever remain under condemnation (a fate which most Calvinists and Arminians understand to involve “eternal conscious torment”).

It is this shared belief between Calvinists and Arminians which, in this study, I will be arguing is completely inconsistent with what scripture affirms concerning the design and ultimate outcome of Christ’s sacrificial death. I will argue that, although there is an important sense in which Christ died for - and secured the salvation of - a select number of people (i.e., the chosen or “elect”), it is also true that Christ died for - and secured the salvation of - all humanity.

To reach this conclusion, I will be considering two passages of scripture in which the term “ransom” is connected with Christ’s death: Matthew 20:28 (where we read that Christ came to “give his soul a ransom for many”) and 1 Timothy 2:5 (where the apostle Paul referred to Christ as a “correspondent ransom for all”). In addition to shedding much light on the subject of Christ’s death and what it means for both believers and humanity as a whole, I believe that the truths being expressed in these verses completely undermine both the Arminian and the Calvinist positions regarding what, exactly, Christ died to accomplish (and what he did, in fact, accomplish). The first verse (Matt. 20:28) reveals that Christ died to secure the salvation of a chosen group of people, while the second verse (1 Tim. 2:5) reveals that all humanity will ultimately benefit from what Christ accomplished through his death.

I will conclude this study with a defense of the following position: it is death (rather than “eternal torment”) that is the condemnation of which our sins have made us deserving, and from which Christ died to ransom all mankind. Because Christ gave himself a “correspondent ransom for all,” all who have come under the condemnation of death because of their sins will, ultimately, be saved (although not all at the same time). And this salvation will involve being “vivified in Christ,” and thus placed beyond the power and dominion of death.

PART ONE: A RANSOM FOR MANY

In Matthew 20:25-28 (cf. Mark 10:42-45), we read that Christ declared the following to his disciples:

“You are aware that the chiefs of the nations are lording it over them, and the great are coercing them. Not thus is it to be among you. But whosoever may be wanting to become great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever may be wanting to be foremost among you, let him be your slave, even as the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated “soul” in most translations of scripture - nephesh and psuche, respectively - denote both the capacity for sensation possessed by humans and animals (Gen. 35:18) as well as – by extension - the sentient being itself (Gen. 1:20-21, 24, 7).[2] In Matthew 20:28, Christ seems to have been using the term “soul” in accord with the first meaning. Understood in this way, he was referring to his capacity for sensation (or sentience) as that which he would “give” as “a ransom for many.” But in what sense was Christ’s capacity for sensation “given” as “a ransom?”

On page 84 of his book All in All, A.E. Knoch expressed the view that the words “give his soul a ransom for many” refer to “[Christ’s] humiliation and suffering during His life---not death.” Knoch went on to say that “the expression includes His sufferings on the cross, but is not limited to that. The ransom…is the whole of His humiliation.” Although I would highly recommend this particular book by Knoch to all of my readers, I’m not convinced that Knoch is correct here. I’m inclined to believe that, in the verse under consideration, Christ was, in fact, referring primarily – and possibly exclusively - to his death on the cross. Christ’s sacrifice was, of course, his ultimate act of service on behalf of those whom he came to serve, and so this understanding of the words “give his soul a ransom for many” would certainly fit the immediate context just as much as (if not better than) Knoch’s interpretation.

Moreover, this understanding of what Christ had in view in Matthew 20:28 finds support from Christ’s words in John 10:11 and :14-18. In these verses, the same word “soul” (psuche) is used in reference to the death that Christ would die for the sake of a certain company of people that he referred to as his “sheep”: I am the Shepherd ideal. The ideal shepherd is laying down his soul for the sake of the sheep…I am the Shepherd ideal, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, according as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. And My soul am I laying down for the sake of the sheep…Therefore the Father is loving Me, seeing that I am laying down My soul that I may be getting it again. No one is taking it away from Me, but I am laying it down of Myself. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to get it again. This precept I got from My Father.”

By the words “I am laying down my soul,” Christ seems to have been referring more directly to his sacrificial death than to anything else (this seems to be confirmed from the fact that Christ almost certainly had his resurrection in view when he spoke of “getting [his soul] again”). Moreover, the word translated “give” in Matthew 20:28 is elsewhere used in reference to the voluntary nature of Christ’s death (Luke 22:19; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:14), so the expression “give his soul” could be understood to reflect this meaning. In view of these considerations, the expression “give his soul a ransom for many” in Matt. 20:28 can easily be understood as a reference to Christ’s sacrificial death for the sake of the people he had in mind here.

But what does it mean for Christ to have given his soul a “ransom?” In his entry on the word “ransom” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Archibald M'Caig remarks as follows concerning Christ’s words in Matthew 20:28:

The word He uses bears a well-established meaning, and is accurately rendered by our word “ransom,” a price paid to secure the freedom of a slave or to set free from liabilities and charges, and generally the deliverance from calamity by paying the forfeit. The familiar verb luo, “to loose,” “to set free,” is the root, then lutron, that which secures the freedom, the payment or forfeit; thence come the cognate verb lutroo, “to set free upon payment of a ransom,” “to redeem”; lutrosis, “the actual setting free,” “the redemption,” and lutrotes, “the redeemer.” The favorite New Testament word for “redemption” is the compound form, apolutrosis. http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/R/ransom.html

After providing some general cases of the usage of the word “ransom” in the Old Testament, M’Caig continues as follows:

But perhaps the most important passage is the law concerning the half-shekel to be paid by every Israelite from 20 years old and upward when a census was taken. It was to be the same for rich and poor, and it was called “atonement money,” “to make atonement for their souls.” In the opening words of the law, as given in Ex 30:12 (the King James Version), we read “Then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord”--the Hebrew kopher; the Septuagint rendering is lutra tes psuches autou, “a ransom price for his soul.” All the people were thus considered as doomed and needing atonement, and it is significant that this atonement money paid at the first census furnished the silver for the sockets of the tabernacle boards, intimating that the typical tabernacle was built upon atonement.

The same thought, that the people’s lives were forfeited, comes out in the provision for the consecration of the Levites, recorded in full in Nu 3:40-51. The firstborn represented the people. God claimed all the firstborn as forfeited to Himself, teaching that Israel deserved the same punishment as the Egyptians, and was only spared by the grace of Yahweh, and in virtue of the sprinkled blood. Now He takes to Himself for His services the Levites as the equivalent of the firstborn, and when it was found that the number of the firstborn exceeded the number of the Levites, equivalence was maintained by ransoming at a certain price the surplus of the firstborn males. In the Septuagint account, lutra occurs 4 times, twice for the phrase “those to be redeemed,” and twice for “redemption money.” Thus the idea of ransom for the forfeited life became familiar to the people as educated by the typical system, and redemption expressed the sum total of their hopes for the future, however faulty might be their conception of the nature of that redemption.

Based on the above scriptural data (see the full entry by M’Caig for more examples), we can conclude that the word translated as “ransom” (lutron) really does refer to a payment that releases someone from some kind of bondage (such as that of slavery or debt), or from some sort of penalty to which they’ve become exposed. It can also be reasonably concluded that those for whom Christ said he would “give his soul a ransom” will, in fact, be released from whatever it is they are in bondage to, and that Christ would not have used the word “ransom” if this weren’t the case.

Concerning this fact, Calvinist author Loraine Boettner notes that “the nature of a ransom is such that when paid and accepted it automatically frees the per­sons for whom it was intended. Otherwise it would not be a true ransom.”[3] Boettner is, I believe, absolutely correct here, and those who think that Christ could’ve given his soul a ransom for people without it resulting in their freedom would do well to reflect on his point. Unless the “many” for whom Christ said he was going to give his soul a ransom are, in fact, ransomed (and thus freed), the “ransom” that Christ paid could not be understood as a true ransom. In light of this reasonable, common-sense point, consider now the following argument:

1. Anyone for whom Christ gave himself a ransom will be ransomed as a result.
2. Anyone ransomed as a result of Christ’s death will be saved.
3. The “many” for whom we’re told Christ gave himself a ransom will be saved.

Not only is this argument logically sound, but - more importantly - I believe it to be scripturally-informed and supported. In order to demonstrate why I believe this to be the case, the identity of the “many” referred to in Matt. 20:28 needs to be considered.

The identity of the “many”

Concerning the people that Christ had in view in Matthew 20:28, Boettner went on to note that “this verse does not say that He gave His life a ransom for all, but for many.” Although I disagree with what Boettner, as a Calvinist, infers from this fact (which is that none others will benefit from Christ’s death), I agree with him that Christ did not mean “all” in Matt. 20:28. There is no indication from this verse or the immediate context that the “many” for whom Christ gave his soul a ransom consists of anything more than a part of humanity (as opposed to every human without exception). Some have tried to squeeze the “all” of 1 Tim 2:6 into the “many” of Matthew 20:28 (and vice-versa), but there is no need to do so. As we’ll see in part two of this study, Christ is expressing a different truth in Matt. 20:28 than is being expressed by Paul in 1 Tim. 2:6 (with the latter verse involving a much broader category of people than is in view in Matt. 20:28).[4]

But who did Christ have in mind here when he referred to “many?” Earlier – when defending my understanding of Christ’s use of the word “soul” in Matt. 20:28 - I quoted Christ’s words from John 10:14-18. Here, again, are verses 14-16: “I am the Shepherd ideal, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, according as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. And My soul am I laying down for the sake of the sheep. And other sheep have I which are not of this fold. Those also I must be leading, and they will be hearing My voice, and there will be one flock, one Shepherd.

In these verses, those whom Christ referred to as “Mine,” his “sheep,” and “one flock” are clearly a definite number of people for whom Christ died, or “laid down his soul.” I submit that the individuals to whom Christ was referring in these verses are the same people (or are in the same category of people) as the “many” of Matt. 20:28. In order to come to a better understanding of whom, exactly, these individuals are, let’s compare this verse with Christ’s later words in Matt. 26:27-28:

Matthew 20:28
“…the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many.”

Matthew 26:27-28
And taking the cup and giving thanks, He gives it to them, saying, “Drink of it all, for this is my blood of the new covenant, that is shed for many for the pardon of sins.

In both verses, Christ is speaking of his death as something that he would undergo on behalf of a certain category of people who are referred to as “many.” It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that the “many” being referred to in both verses consists of the same individuals. Now, in the second verse, Christ connects his death to the new covenant (with the implication being that, through his death, he became the mediator of this covenant). That Christ is the mediator of the new covenant is confirmed from Hebrews 9:15-17, where we read the following:

For if the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the contaminated, is hallowing to the cleanness of the flesh, how much rather shall the blood of Christ, Who, through the eonian spirit offers Himself flawless to God, be cleansing your conscience from dead works to be offering divine service to the living and true God? And therefore He is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that at a death occurring for the deliverance of the transgressions of those under the first covenant, those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment. For where there is a covenant, it is necessary to bring in the death of the covenant victim, for a covenant is confirmed over the dead, since it is not availing at any time when the covenant victim is living.

As the mediator of the new covenant, Christ “ratified” or “confirmed” the covenant by means of his sacrificial death (this fact is reaffirmed elsewhere in Hebrews; see Heb. 7:22, 8:6, 10:29, 12:24, 13:20). We also know that the actual realization/implementation of the covenant that Christ ratified awaits a future fulfillment, and will take place when “those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment.” More information concerning the new covenant, its blessings and its beneficiaries is provided in Heb. 8:7-12. Quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34, the author of Hebrews wrote:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

Here, the “called” who will be “obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment” are identified as the “house of Judah” and “house of Israel.” Does this mean that everyone who is ethnically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will, during the eons to come, be the recipients of the new covenant blessings described in this passage? No. We must be careful to distinguish between ethnic Israel and the believing, chosen remnant within ethnic Israel. Paul, for example, makes this important distinction in Romans 9:6-8 and 11:1-8 (cf. Rom. 2:28-29). In Galatians 6:16, I believe Paul identified this latter category of chosen Israelites as “the Israel of God.”

I believe that the apostle Peter addressed Israelites belonging to the “Israel of God” in his letters, and referred to them as having been “chosen…according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:1-2; cf. 2:7-10). He went on to refer to this category of saints as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a procured people” (2:9), and contrasted them with “the nations” among whom they lived as “sojourners and expatriates” (2:11-12). James, I believe, had those in the “Israel of God” in view when he wrote his letter to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion” (James 1:1). It is those among this category of chosen Israelites who I believe will constitute the “house of Judah” and “house of Israel” during the eons to come, and with whom God promised to establish a “new covenant.”

Based on Christ’s words in Matt. 26:27-28 and the above passages from Hebrews, it would be reasonable to conclude that the “many” for whom Christ declared he came to give his soul a ransom are the beneficiaries of the new covenant that he ratified by his death. That is, everyone who will end up benefitting from the new covenant will constitute the “many” of Matthew 20:28.

Before moving on, I need to address what some might see as a possible objection to this view. In Matthew 22:14 we read that Christ declared to his disciples, “For many are the called, yet few are the chosen” (cf. Matt. 7:14 and Luke 13:23-24). Some may see this verse as undermining the view that the salvation of the “many” of Matthew 20:28 was secured by Christ’s death. For if only few who are “called” are “chosen,” then how can the “chosen” be referred to as “many” in Matthew 20:28? I believe there’s a fairly simple solution to this apparent problem. First, it’s reasonable to believe that, in Matthew 22:14, Christ had in view “the called” and “the chosen” that were alive on the earth during his generation. However, in contrast with the number of the chosen on the earth in Christ’s day (or at any given time), the total number of the chosen from every generation could, indeed, be considered “many” (rather than “few”). Thus, we can understand the “many” of Matthew 20:28 as being the total number of the “chosen” from every generation in which they have been (or will be) alive on the earth.

That the total number of Israelites who will be saved for the eons to come can be described as “many” is evident from what we read in Revelation 7. In this chapter, the chosen Israelites who will survive the future time of “great affliction” (and who will thus be saved at Christ’s return to earth) are divided up into two groups: (1) those who will number “a hundred forty-four thousand” (cf. Rev. 14:1-5) and (2) those who will comprise “a vast throng which no one was able to number,” and who will be from “out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages.” These Israelites alone could appropriately be referred to as “many.” However, we must also include all of the chosen, believing Israelites throughout Israel’s history - including those who will be martyred during the time of great affliction - who will take part in what John referred to as the “former resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6), and which Christ referred to as “the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14; cf. Daniel 12:2, 12-13). When we add these resurrected saints to the total number of saved Israelites throughout Israel’s history, Christ’s use of the word “many” in Matthew 20:28 is more than justified.

From what are the “many” ransomed?

Having considered the meaning of “ransom” and the identity of the “many” in Matthew 20:28, the next question I want to try to answer is this: from what did Christ die to ransom the “many?” One verse that I believe can help us answer this question is a verse we’ve already considered. I have in mind Matthew 26:27-28: ”And taking the cup and giving thanks, He gives it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all, for this is My blood of the new covenant, that is shed for many for the pardon of sins.’Notice the expression, “shed for many for the pardon of sins.” The Greek word translated “pardon” here is aphesis (FROM-LETTING), and is derived from the term aphiemi (FROM-LET).[5] Like aphiemi, the word aphesis expresses the idea of a person’s sins being “sent away” from them, and of God’s no longer reckoning their sins to them. Other imagery that expresses the truth found in the word “pardon” includes that of sins being “blotted out” or “erased” by God, so that he no longer “remembers” them (Psalm 51:1, 9; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Jer. 18:23; Neh. 4:5; cf. Acts 3:19; Col. 2:14). Thus, for people’s sins to be pardoned means that God is no longer relating to them as if they’d committed the sins of which they were guilty. And this fact can only mean that those who’ve been pardoned have been released from the penalty, or negative consequences, of their sins.

In light of Matthew 26:28 and the meaning of “pardon,” I submit that it is from their sins that the “many” of Matthew 20:28 are to be understood as being ransomed by virtue of Christ’s sacrificial death. This is further supported by the fact that, in Matthew 1:21, we’re told that Christ would be “saving his people from their sins.” Consider also Revelation 1:5, where John – a chosen Israelite (and thus a beneficiary of the new covenant) - declared that Christ “is loving us and looses us from our sins by His blood…” The verb translated as “looses” in this verse is luo. As noted by Archibald M'Caig in the article quoted earlier, this word is the root of the word translated “ransom” in Matthew 20:28 (i.e., lutron).

We’ve already noted the relationship that the “many” of Matthew 20:28 have to the new covenant that Christ – the mediator of the new covenant – ratified by his death. Here, again, are the new covenant-based blessings promised by God to Israel: ”I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” The author of Hebrews quoted this passage again in Hebrews 10:15-17, and then commented as follows: “Now where there is a pardon of these [i.e., pardon of iniquities and sins], there is no longer an approach present [or “offering”] concerned with sin.” The author therefore understood the quoted passage as promising the pardoning of Israel’s iniquities/sins. Although it was “impossible for the blood of bulls and of goats to be eliminating sins” (Heb. 10:4), the shed blood of Christ – which is elsewhere referred to as the “blood of the eonian covenant” (Heb. 10:29; 13:20) - is more than able to accomplish the elimination of the sins of the “many” for whom Christ gave his soul a ransom.

The author of Hebrews went on to point his believing Jewish brethren to the time when this elimination of sins will occur: when the new covenant comes into effect. It is at this time that those constituting the “many” will finally be “perfected to a finality,” and God will “under no circumstances still be reminded” of their former sins and lawlessness (vv. 15-18). This agrees with what Paul wrote in Romans 11:25-27: “For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written, Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them whenever I should be eliminating their sins.





[1] The terms “Calvinist” and “Arminian” aren’t the only terms that have been used to describe the theological positions associated with them (at least some – if not all - of the doctrinal distinctions of each position date back more than a thousand years before either John Calvin or Jacobus Arminus began developing their respective theologies). However, these terms are undoubtedly the most recognizable and commonly-used today, and are adequate for the purpose of categorizing Christians according to what they believe concerning certain doctrinal subjects pertaining to salvation.

[2] In accord with this second usage, the term was sometimes used as an emphatic way of referring to persons themselves as sentient beings. For example, when the prophet Jeremiah declared, “They have dug a pit for my soul” (Jer. 18:20), this was an emphatic way of saying, “They have dug a pit for me.” Similarly, when Job lamented, “My soul is weary of life” (Job 10:1), it was simply an emphatic way of saying “I am weary of life.” And when David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 35:13), he meant, “I humbled myself with fasting.” It is also said in Psalm 22:9 that no one can “keep alive his own soul” - i.e., keep himself alive. And in Psalm 89:48, it is rhetorically asked whether one could deliver one’s soul from the power of the grave - i.e., keep oneself from the power of the grave. And when Samson declared, “Let my soul die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:30), he meant, “Let me die with the Philistines.”

In Lev. 5:1-4, a soul (nephesh) is said to see, hear, touch and speak with lips. In Deut. 14:26, it is said that souls can hunger and thirst. In Jer. 2:34, souls are said to have blood. In Lev. 7:20-27, it is said that souls can eat and be killed. The Law of Moses commanded that any soul which disobeyed certain laws should be “cut off,” or killed (e.g. Ex. 31:14; Lev 17:10; 19:8; 20:6; Num. 15:27-31). Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the Israelites that “the soul that sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20; cf. James 5:20). We are further told that souls can be strangled or snared (Prov. 18:7; 22:25; Job 7:15), torn to pieces by lions (Ps. 7:2) or utterly destroyed by the sword (Josh. 11:11; cf. Josh. 10:30-39; Ez. 22:27; Prov. 6:32; Lev. 23:30). See also Acts 2:41-43; 3:23; 7:14; 27:37; Rom. 2:9; 13:1; 1 Cor. 15:45; James 5:20; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:14; Rev. 18:13.

[3] The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 155.

[4] It may be objected that Paul used the expression “the many” to refer to all humanity in Romans 5:15 and 19. However, the immediate context of these verses makes it clear that Paul is distinguishing all mankind (“the many”) from Adam (who is referred to as “the one man”) and Christ (who is referred to as “the One”). However, unlike in Romans 5:12-18, there is no contextual reason to understand the “many” of Matthew 20:28 as a reference to all mankind. And without such contextual indicators, I submit that the most natural reading of Matthew 20:28 is to understand the “many” being referred to as consisting of a part of mankind, rather than humanity as a whole (and, based on what we read in Matthew 26:27-28 – which we’ll be considering below – I believe this understanding of Matthew 20:28 is justified).

[5] For more on the meaning of this word and its usage in scripture, see my article, “Concerning the Meaning and Application of the Word Translated “Pardon” in the Concordant Literal New Testament” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2017/09/concerning-meaning-and-application-of.html).