The Gospel According to Jesus

Posted by on Aug 1, 2012 in Academic Work, Atonement, The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the church, The Gospel and the Ministry, What is the Gospel?, What We Write About


Through the work of the Holy Spirit- Jesus alone can open or close one’s eyes to the Christ-Centric nature of His Word. This paper will examine Luke 24:13-35.

Historical-Cultural Context of the Gospel of Luke

The author of the Gospel of Luke-Acts is Luke. The Lukan authorship of Luke-Acts is affirmed by both external evidence (Church tradition) and internal biblical evidence. Church tradition supporting Luke as the author is both early (from the mid-2nd century A.D) and unanimous (it was never doubted till the 19th century). Proponents of the church tradition include the Muratorian canon, the Anti-Marcionate Prologue, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Tertullian.[1] The oldest manuscript of Luke, Bodmer Papyrus XIV, cited as p75 and dated 175-225 A.D. ascribes the book to Luke.[2]

The “we” sections of Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16) demonstrate the author was a companion of Paul and participated in the events described in those sections. The author of Acts was one of Paul’s companions listed in his letters written during those periods (Luke is mentioned in Col. 4:14; 2 Tim.4:11; Philem. 24) and not one of those referred to in the third person in the “we” sections (Acts 20:4-5). It is known that the author was from the second generation of the early church, and was not an “eyewitness” of Jesus ministry (Luke 1:2), and was a Gentile (Col 4:14). All of this confirms the tradition that Luke was the author of the third Gospel. Because Luke traveled with Paul, this Gospel was received as having apostolic endorsement and authority from Paul and as a trustworthy record of the gospel that Paul preached.

Luke-Acts are both addressed to “Theophilus,” and there is no reason to deny that he was a real personal, though attempts to identify him have failed. Luke uses the same description “most excellent” (Luke 1:3) in the book of Acts to describe the Roman governors Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:2) and Festus (Acts 26:25). Theophilus was probably a man of wealth and social standing, and “most excellent” served as a respectful form of address.

Luke’s broader intended audience consisted primarily of Gentile Christians like Theophilus who had already “been taught” (1:4) about Jesus. Luke realized that his recounting of Jesus’ life and message would be useful for evangelism among non-Christians. Luke had several goals in writing his Gospel. Luke’s first goal was to assure his reader of the certainty of what they had been taught to them. This was accomplished by demonstrating his credential as a historian (Luke 1:1-4). He mentions that the material he is sharing is well known (Luke 24:18; Acts 26:26). The fact that the material in Luke comes from eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:2; 24:48; Acts 1:8) further assures his readers that what they were taught is certain. Luke also seeks to assure his readers by demonstrating that the vents recorded in Luke-Acts were the fulfillment of ancient prophecy (Luke 1:1; 3:4-6; 4:17-21; 7:22-23) and the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies (9:22, 44; 11:29-30; 13:32-34; 17:25; 18:31-33).

Secondly, Luke’s purpose was to help his readers understand how Israel’s rejection of Jesus and the Gentiles’ entrance into the kingdom of God are in accord with the divine plan. Luke here emphasizes that Christianity is not a new religion but rather the fulfillment and present-day expression of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Thirdly Luke’s purpose is to clarify for his readers Jesus’ teaching concerning the end times by showing that Jesus did not teach that the paraousia (return of Christ) would come immediately but that there would be a period between his resurrection and his return (9:27; 19:11; 21:20-24; 22:69; Acts 1:6-9). Nevertheless, Jesus would return (Luke 3:9-17; 12:38-48; 18:8; 21:32) in bodily form (Acts 1:11), and believers should live in watchful expectation (Luke 21:34-36). Finally, Luke’s purpose is to emphasize that his readers need not fear Rome. Luke hints at this theme by highlighting Herod’s and Pilate’s desire to release Jesus and the Roman centurion’s recognition of his innocence. Luke also records (in Acts) several occasions where Roman authorities came to Paul’s rescue. When Roman officials did persecute, Luke explains that it was due to error and that the persecution ceased immediately when the error was discovered (Acts 16:22-39).

Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke to give assurance to his readers about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in His death, burial and resurrection (Luke 1:4).  The Gospel of Luke answers two questions, “Who is Jesus?” which consumes chapters 1-9 of Luke. The second question is, “What has Jesus done?” which takes up chapters 10-24. The Gospel can be divided into five sections. The first section is the introduction to Jesus ministry, which begins at Luke 1:1 and ends at Luke 4:14. The second section is about ministry in and around Galilee beginning at Luke 4:14 and ending at Luke 9:50. The third section is Jesus’ teaching “en route” to Jerusalem (9:51-18:34). The fourth section is Jesus in Judea: Ministry near and in Jerusalem beginning in Luke 18:35 and ending in Luke 21:38. The final section is the climax of Jesus’ life beginning in Luke 22:1 and ending in Luke 24:53.

No other Gospel encompasses such as broad range of subgenres as Luke: annunciation stories, birth narratives, lyric praise psalms, Christmas carols, prophecies, genealogies, preparation stories, temptation stories, calling stories, recognition stories, conflict stories, encounter stories, miracle stories, pronouncement stories, parables, beatitudes, sermons, proverbs, passion stories, trial narratives, and resurrection accounts. Stylistically Luke is known for his vivid descriptive details and ability to make scenes come alive in the imagination.

The Gospel of Luke finds its unity in the person of Jesus and in his mission to seek and save the lost. From the first announcement of his coming to his ascension into heaven, Jesus is at the center of everything: the songs are for his praise, the miracles are by his power, the teaching is from his wisdom, the conflict is over his claims, and the cross is that which only he could bear. Luke gives his account further literary unity by intertwining the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist; by beginning and ending his story at the temple; by presenting the life of Jesus as a journey towards Jerusalem; and by following the progress of the disciples as they learn to count the cost of discipleship. The unity of the Gospel of Luke is expressed in Jesus’ pronouncement to Zacchaeus: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Literary Context of Luke 24:13-35

The story of Jesus appearance on the road to Emmaus is the first of three resurrection appearances reported in Luke and is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The second, the appearance to Peter, is also reported within this account (Luke 24:34). The story is one of the longest in Luke and consists of four parts. The first part involves Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-16). The second (Luke 24:17-27) concerns 1) the ensuing conversation in which one disciple, Cleopas, explains to the stranger about Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jewish leadership; 2) the women’s report concerning the empty tomb, which had been confirmed by others; and 3) the report of the angelic visit to the women. At this point the stranger explains from the Scriptures the necessity of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. The third part tells of the two disciples inviting the stranger to stay at their home and the subsequent meal. When the stranger (as in the Lord’s Supper) takes bread, blessed it, breaks it, and begins to distribute it, their eyes are opened. They recognize that the stranger is Jesus, and his teaching concerning the divine necessity of the passion are confirmed. Jesus then disappears (Luke 24:28-32).  The final part involves the return of the two disciples to Jerusalem, where they are informed that the Lord has risen and appeared to Simon (Luke 24:33-35). In turn they share their experience of the risen Christ and how he has revealed to them in the breaking of the bread.

The immediate context of Luke 24:13-35 fits within the broader context of Luke 24, which is about the Resurrection of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel began in the Temple (Luke 1:5-23) and, after Jesus has risen from the dead, it will conclude in the temple as well (Luke 24:52-53). After Luke 24:13-35 Luke teaches how Jesus appears to His Disciples and then gives the Ascension of Jesus.

Passage Relation of Luke 24:13-35

The NIV, ESV and NASB divide Luke 24 into four sections. Luke 24:1-12, Luke 24:13-35, Luke 25:36-49 and Luke 24:50-53. The KJV and ASV have no divisions for Luke 24. NKJV has six divisions. Luke 24:12-, 13-27, 28-35, 36-42, 43-49, and 50-53. Vs.13-14- Jesus meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Vs. 15-24- Cleopas explains what happened to Jesus to Jesus. Vs. 25-27- Jesus interprets Scripture through Himself. Vs. 28-31- The Disciples eyes are opened to Jesus when He gave them communion. Vs. 32-35- The disciples discuss meeting Jesus. Luke 24:1-53 describes the resurrection of Jesus. Luke began in the temple (Luke 1:5-21) and after Jesus has risen from the dead, it will conclude in the temple as well (Luke 24:52-53).

Detailed Explanation of Luke 24-13-35

Explanation of Luke 24:13-14

Luke 24:13-14. That very day in Luke 24:13 is the first day of the week, Sunday (Luke 24:1). One of the two people is unarmed while the other is named Cleopas (Luke 24:18). They were going to Emmaus. The location of Emmaus is uncertain but it was in Judea seven miles from Jerusalem. The identification of Emmaus with Anwas, more than thirty kilometers (about nineteen miles) WNW of Jerusalem is highly improbably, since it is hard to imagine that the two men covered twice that distance on foot that afternoon-evening.[3] Dr. Stein says that a stadion is about 607 feet; therefore, the distance is about 6.8 miles.[4] The significance of Emmaus is twofold as Dr. Bock points out. First, it indicates an appearance in the Jerusalem area, which is Luke’s geographic concern, and secondly it reflects the retention of historical detail. [5]

Explanation of Luke 24:15-24

Luke 24:15-16. Suddenly footsteps were heard behind those of Jesus. He was catching up with them and presently as walking alongside of them. The two men here were being kept from recognizing Jesus (Matthew 28:17; John 20:14; 21:4). The use of the articular infitive (tou me epignonai, not to recognize) is epexegetical and specifies that they were kept from knowing.[6] The construction of this verse places the responsibility outside of the disciples and Satan is entirely absent from the resurrection account. The point here is that God had things to teach the disciples. This veil would be lifted in Luke 24:31. Dr. Ryken notes that it is not the physical sight of Jesus that brings the assurance of salvation, but believing in Jesus by seeing him in the gospel, whether or not we have ever walked with him on the road to Emmaus.[7] The purpose of this is to demonstrate the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Luke uses dramatic flair so the reader knows more about the situation than those who experienced it. Part of the drama that builds in this story is how they will realize who their discussion partner is.

Luke 24:17. The unrecognized intruder now asked them a question. During His public ministry Jesus often used this method (Luke 6:3, 9; 8:30; 9:18; 18:40, 41; 20:3, 4, 41-44, 22:35). Jesus asked this question to arouse interest so that he would have an opportunity to explain what those questioned needed to know. The men were not expecting this question so it surprised them- looking sad as the last few days had filled their hearts and minds with sorrow and a feeling of disappointment.

Luke 27:18. The man who answered was Cleopas but there is no reason to identify him with the Clopas of John 19:25. His answer was in the form of a counter-question. He wanted to know whether was the only stranger in, or visitor to, Jerusalem who had managed to remain completely uninformed about matters that were on everybody’s lips.

Luke 24:19-20. Prophet is a correct but inadequate designation for Christ (7:16). Mighty in deed and word as show in his casting out of demons, performing healing and nature miracles, his divine authority to forgive sins, and his extensive teaching with divine authority. Before God and all the people (24:19) stands in contrast with chief priests and rulers (v.20). What Judas did in delivering Jesus over to the chief priests, they in turn did by delivering him over to Pilate.

Luke 24:21-24. But we had hoped contrasts the people’s view of Jesus with that of the

religious leadership. The two men were thinking of Peter and John, for they were the ones who had gone to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but had not yet seen the Risen Savior. Cleopas and his companion are bewildered and don’t know what to make of it. Some of those went to the tomb assumes that, after Peter’s visit other disciples went (John 20:2-10).

Michael Wilcock calls this speech “The Gospel according to Cleopas”[8] Cleopas started with the life of Jesus- his earthly ministry. Cleopas rightly noted that Jesus was a man- a real flesh and blood human being. Cleopas also called him the “prophet-man”. Next the two disciples told about the tragic death of Jesus (Luke 24:20). They said it was the fault of the chief priest and rulers of Israel who set Jesus to die. The two disciples even noted in Luke 24:21 that this was the third day. The phrase “third day” is a signal of the resurrection, reminiscent of the prophecy that on the third ay Jesus would rise again. For the Emmaus disciples it seems to have meant that the situation was beyond any earthly hope. They were not thinking in terms of a resurrection so when the third day came, they thought Jesus was as dead as he could be. Cleopas and his friend were unsure about the empty tomb. These two disciples had not yet seen Jesus.

The Gospel according to Cleopas is no gospel at all. The word “gospel” means good news but there is no good news unless Jesus has risen from the grave. Cleopas and his friend were sad because they did not know if Jesus was alive. Since they did not know the truth of the resurrection they did not know that their sins were forgiven through the cross or that the empty tomb was God’s guarantee of eternal life. Without the resurrection of Christ there is no Gospel at all. The Gospel is the crucifixion plus the resurrection, which equals forgiveness for our sins and everlasting joy in the presence of God.



Explanation of Luke 24:25-27

Luke 24:25-26. O foolish ones is actually, “O foolish men,” because of the Greek does not specify whether these were two men or a man and a woman walking together. Luke 24:26. Was it not necessary refers to the fact that the entire Old Testament had shown how God brought his chosen leaders first through suffering and then to glory. Therefore the Messiah himself, in fulfillment of this extensive pattern and in fulfillment of many prophecies would also first suffer before entering into his glory (Luke 9:22; 24:44). This glory, foreshadowed in Luke 9:32, comes at his resurrection and then more fully at his ascension into heaven (Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; 7:55; 22:6-11; Phil. 2:-811; Heb. 1:3).

Luke 24:27. The root idea of explained is the word from which we derive the word hermeneutics, the science of Bible interpretation.[9] Moses and the Prophets refers to the entire Old Testament, also summarized as all the Scriptures. Jesus explained to them how not only the explicit prophecies about the Messiah but also the historical patterns of God’s activity again and again throughout the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus himself. In the inscrutable wisdom of divine providence, the substance of Christ’s exposition of the Old Testament messianic prophecies was not recorded. But the gift of what He expounded would have undoubtedly include an explanation of the Old Testament sacrificial system which was full of types and symbols that spoke of His sufferings and death. He also would have pointed them to the major prophetic passages which spoke of the crucifixion such as Pss. 16:9-11; 22; 69; Is. 52:14-53:12; Zech. 12:10; 13:7. He would have pointed out the true meaning of Genesis 3:15; Numbers 21:6-9; Ps. 16:10; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 9:26- and a host of other key messianic prophecies particularly those that spoke of His death and resurrection. There are four lines which running through the Old Testament from beginning to end, converge at Bethlehem and Calvary: The historical, typological, psychological and prophetical.[10] It is reason then to believe that the Lord in interpreting in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself, showed how the Old Testament in various ways, pointed to Himself (Acts 10:43).

All of these truths described above find their fulfillment in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  The key to understanding the Bible is Jesus Christ.[11] He is the son of the woman who was bruised on the cross before crushing Satan’s head. He is the Lamb who offered his blood for our sins (John 1:36) and was lifted up for our salvation (John 3:14-15). He is the covenant-maker who was cursed for all our covenant breaking and who sprinkled his redeeming blood on the altar of the Cross (Gal. 3:13). If we turn to Isaiah, the Scriptures says that the Savior will be wounded for our iniquities and pierced for our transgressions (Isa. 53:5). If we turn to Jeremiah, the Scripture s say that he will be mocked and abused (Jer. 20:7-10). If we turn to Zechariah, the Scriptures say that he will make atonement for the whole land in a single day (Zec. 3:9). These prophecies also find their fulfillment in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, who was wounded, pierced, and abused in offering himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. All of this was only the beginning. Jesus continued his Bible exposition by using all the principles of his Christ-centered, gospel-driven interpretation to explain all that was said “in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus is not just here or there in this prediction or prophecy: he is everywhere in the Old Testament. He is the ark of the covenant and the blood on the mercy seat. He is the light on the golden lampstand and the bread of life. He is the prophet who preaches like Moses the priest who prays like Aaron, and the king after David’s heart.

The preaching Jesus did here was biblical: it was based on the law and the prophets. His preaching was through: he wanted his friends to know everything the prophets had spoken. His preaching was Christ-centered, for he was preaching about himself. It was also gospel-centered including both the crucifixion and the resurrection: Jesus proclaimed the agonies of the cross and the glories of the empty tomb. His preaching was persuasive: Jesus argued for the absolute necessity of doing his saving work the way that he did it- it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and then to be glorified.

Explanation of Luke 24:28-31

Luke 24:28-29. As the three neared Emmaus Jesus acted as if he would go farther. Yet, the two pressed Jesus to stay with him. Traveling late in the night in the ancient world involved a lot of danger facing robbers, and obstacles in the path. The main reason why the two men urged Jesus to stay with him was that they were so impressed with him. At the moment when the Savior had first joined them, they were not at all pleased to have this stranger intrude on them. But by now, for a very understandable reason they could not imagine Jesus leaving them. Jesus allowed himself to be persuaded, entering their home, and the two honored their guest by asking him to perform the duties of a host.

Luke 24:30. For other resurrection appearances with eating (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:9-15; Acts 10:41). He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. There is a striking similarity between this, the Last Supper (Luke 22:19), and the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:16). Luke 24:31 Their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread which says they recognized him as the crucified one who died for the redemption of Israel (Luke 24:21). Jesus then vanished (Luke 24:36; John 20:19; 26). These people on the road had been sovereignly kept from recognizing Jesus up to this point (Luke 24:16_. His resurrection body was glorified, and altered from its previous appearance and this surely explains why even Mary did not recognize him (John 20:14-16). Jesus resurrection body though real and tangible (John 20:27) and even capable of ingesting earthly food (John 20:42-43) possessed certain properties that indicate it was glorified, altered in a mysterious way (1 Cor. 15:35-54; Phil. 3:21). Christ could appear and disappear bodily as seen in this text. His body could pass through h solid objects such as grave clothes (Luke 24:12), or the walls and doors of a closed room (John 20:19, 26). He could apparently travel great distances in a moment, for by the time these disciples returned to Jerusalem, Christ had already appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven bodily demonstrated that His resurrection body was already fit for heaven. Yet it was His body, the same one that was missing from the tomb, even retaining identifying features such as the nail-wounds (John 20:25-27). He was no ghost or phantom.

Explanation of Luke 24:32-35

Luke 24:32. Did not our hearts burn within us.  Even before the two disciples recognized Jesus, the fact that he opened (interpreted) the Scriptures (Luke 24:27; Acts 17:2-3) gave them hope and began convincing them of the resurrection. The phrase “our hearts burned within us” is an expression denoting the deep interest and pleasure which they had felt in his discourage before they knew who he was. They now recalled his instruction; they remembered how his words reached the heart as he spoke to them; how convincingly he had showed them that the Messiah ought to suffer, and how, while he talked to them of the Christ that they so much loved, their hearts glowed with intense love.[12] Luke 24:34-35. After being told by the Eleven that the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon (Mark 16:7; 1 Cor. 15:5), the two tell how they met the Lord who was known in the breaking of the bread which meant they understood that the Risen one was also the one who poured out his life for them.


The Gospel is Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. When this confused or muffled as, it was by Cleopas and his friend it had disastrous consequences for Churches locally, globally and for Christians individually. Dr. Goldsworthy points out that the meaning of Scriptures is unlocked by the death and resurrection of Christ.[13] Luke 24:13-35 points to the need for Christian leaders and believers to understand the Christ-centric nature of Scripture in order to properly interpret the Bible. Jesus by explaining the Scriptures was engaging in the task of hermeneutics.

The words “gospel-centered” and “Christ-centered” have become buzzwords in Reformed and evangelical circles much the same way that the emergent church became popular many years go. Words such as “Gospel-centered” and “Christ-Centered” are biblical and therefore should be defined and explained biblically. It is far too common in evangelical circles today to attach a “label” to such buzzwords and then the meaning is lost. The Christ-Centered nature of the Bible should never be assumed but explained and upheld by every evangelical believer. The phrase “Gospel-Centered” should never be treated lightly because the death, burial and resurrection of Christ form the basis for the Gospel. Christ-Centered means just hat keeping Christ at the center of the explanation of the passage. Being Christ-Centered does not mean forcing a biblical text into saying “this is about Christ” but explaining how it relates to Christ. Being “Gospel-Centered” like being “Christ-Centered” does not mean forcing the biblical text to teach the Gospel. Being “Gospel-Centered” means explaining how the Gospel finds its fulfillment in a particular text. When biblical teaching is treated as common or just as another phrase the result is that the meaning of biblical phrases is depleted for a meaning other than what the Bible teaches.

The goal for every Christian should be to live lives that are Christ-Centered that is lives that not only profess in words but also in actions that Christ the Lord is being honored as Lord in their hearts. Every Christian should live Gospel-Centered lives- lives that reflect the truth of the Gospel they profess with their words. In other words- Christ-Centered and Gospel-Centered are words that should lead the individual Christian, and Churches (locally and globally) not just to mere proclamation but equally to action. The way Christians treat the poor, care for their cities, treat orphans and widows is a good indication whether the Christian of the Church takes seriously the Gospel one professes. The Gospel is not just words one professes. The Gospel is words one professes accompanied by action that demonstrates a heart- transformation has been wrought by the Holy Spirit resulting in the display of the fruits of the Spirit, godliness and service to the King of Kings, for His glory alone.


Through the work of the Holy Spirit- Jesus alone can open or close one’s eyes to the Christ-Centric nature of His Word. The Gospel according to Jesus is His death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel Jesus explained to the disciples walking on the road of Emmaus is the same Gospel today with the same power to save. The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of man (Romans 1:16). The goal of the Gospel is much more than reciting words and taking action for Christ. The Gospel is the message Jesus explained as the centerpiece of the Bible. The Gospel then is more than just words and actions- the Gospel is the message God gave His people to believe, confess, and live by.

The Gospel according to Jesus is under attack today in the academy by men and women who seek to redefine the biblical teaching on justification. The Gospel is under attack by a liberal media who want Christians to redefine the exclusiveness of Jesus to mean the opposite of people perishing and going to hell. The Gospel according to Jesus is under attack by liberal scholars who seek to raise doubt and question the unity of the Bible itself. The Gospel according to Jesus is Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

The message of the Gospel has sustained the Church locally and globally for two-thousand and ten years. The Gospel of Christ continues to go forward with great speed all around the world because it alone is the means God is using to create a people who once were not His people. The Gospel alone contains the power of God to sanctify people for God’s glory and make them useful for His service. The Gospel according to Jesus will continue to go forward because it is the means God uses to justify and sanctify people for His own glory so that His Church, and His Kingdom will go forward till the day Jesus Christ returns for His people. 














Bock, Darrel, Luke 9:51-24:53(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009) 1908-1909.

Bloomberg, Craig, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997), 162.

ESV Bible (Illinois, Crossway, 2002).

Fitmyer, Joseph, The Gospel According to Luke- IX, 2nd Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 35-36.

Goldsworthy, Graeme, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 54.

Hendrickson, William, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), 1060, 1065.

Marshall, I., The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 897.

Ryle, J.C., Luke (Illinois, Crossway, 1997).

Ryken, Philip Graham, Luke Volume 2: Chapters 13-24 Reformed Expository Commentary (New Jersey: P & R, 2009), 644.

Stein, Robert, The New American Commentary An Exegetical and theological exposition of Holy Scripture: Luke (Nashville, Broadman & Holman, 1992), 601.

Wilcock, Michael, The Message of Luke, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979), 208.

[1] Craig Bloomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey(Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997), 162.

[2] Joseph Fitmyer, The Gospel According to Luke- IX, 2nd Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 35-36.

[3] William Hendrickson, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), 1060.

[4] Robert Stein, The New American Commentary An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture: Luke(Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1992),  601.

[5] Darrel Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009) 1908-1909.

[6] Ibid, 1909.

[7] Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke Volume 2: Chapters 13-24 (New Jersey: P&R, 2009), 644.

[8] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Luke, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979), 208.

[9] I. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 897.

[10] William Hendrickson, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), 1065.

[11] J.C. Ryle, Luke (Illinois, Crossway, 1997), 311.

[12] William Hendrickson, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), 1017.

[13] Grame Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 54.

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The Meaning of world in 1 John 2:2, and all 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9

Posted by on Oct 9, 2010 in Academic Work, Atonement


This paper will attempt to prove that the  word all in 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Tim 2:4 and the word whole world in 1 John 2:2 considered in their proper contexts are expressions used to teach that the atonement is sufficient for all, but only effective for some.

Scripture uses two classes of texts to speak of Christ’s saving work in general terms. The first class contains the word world (John 1:9, 29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). The second class containing all (Romans 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9). The use of these expressions in the New Testament is to deal with the false notion that salvation was only for the Jews alone. Phrases such as all men, the world, all nations and every creature were used to correct the mistake that salvation was only for Jews, and teach that Christ died for all men without distinction and without exception.[1]

The context of 1John 2:2

1 John 2:2 appears within the context in 1 John 1:1-2:26 a section that teaches God is light and Christ is the way to God. In the immediate context of 1 John 2:1-6 John is teaching the active role of Jesus in one’s everyday life. In 1 John 2:2, propitiation means appeasement or satisfaction. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin. (Rom. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:3).

Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because He is a holy God. Thus His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith. The actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 8:32, 37; Eph.5:25). The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (4:9, 14; John 5:24). There is no other way to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

The meaning of world in 1John 2:2

The Greek word for world (kosmos) has several meanings in Scripture. First, world in Scripture can refer to the entire elect both Jew and Gentiles. Secondly, world can refer to the public who surround Christ, especially the Jews. Thirdly, world can refer to all kinds of people, such as kings and subjects. Fourth, world refers to humankind under the righteousness judgment of God. Finally, world can refer to the creation, or in the classical sense, to an orderly universe, or to a great number of people.[2] Dr. Walvoord a conservative Christian theologian offering a different perspective on the atonment taught that the phrase world in 1John 2:2 means that Christ in His death made a forensic provision for the entire world and has provided reconciliation for all, not just the elect.[3]

John teaches that the whole world does not mean that every person will be saved, because the forgiveness of sins only comes to those who repent and believe the Gospel (1st John 2:4, 23; 3:10; 5:12; John 3:18; 5:24). 1John 2:1-2 is a difficult passage as it makes a distinction between a limited atonement and a universal one.

There are several different ways in which this verse might be understood. John may be stressing the universal application of Christ’s work. When the scope of this verse is not restricted Dr. Boice a Reformed Pastor-Theologian believes that this passage teaches universal salvation and not universal atonement.[4] Dr. Towns a conservative Christian theologian believes that when one understands the meaning of the satisfaction Christ made for sinners on the Cross that the atonement cannot be limited.[5] Dr. Grudem a leading Reformed theologian believes that the preposition “for” in 1 John 2:2 is ambiguous with respect to the specific sense in which Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the world. He continues by stating it would be consistent with the language of the verse to think that John is simply saying that Christ is the atoning sacrifice who is available to pay for the sins of the world.[6]

Dr. Long a Reformed theologian notes there are four primary references in the New Testament where the word “propitiation” is used (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Three of the four references clearly teach propitiation is strictly limited to a definite people, namely, the elect of God.[7] Dr. Lightner espouses the view of four point Calvinists when he explains that the meaning of propitiation in 1 John 2:2 means all mankind without exception.[8] Dr. John Owen a famous Puritan theologian responds to the objection raised by Dr. Lightner when he writes that the issues in 1John 2:2 lies in the extent of propitiation and world in 1 John 2:2. Owen continues by stating that the four point Calvinist believes the meaning is obvious as the words themselves, they say, without any wresting, signify all men in the world, that is, world means world.  Owen then asks: On what ground do they perish, all their sins having been expiated? [9]

The context of 1 Timothy 2:4

1 Timothy 2:4 falls within the context of Paul’s letter to his student Timothy. Paul writes to Timothy to remind Timothy of all he has taught him, and also encourage him. 1 Timothy 2:4 falls within the context of 2:1-3:13 a section in 1 Timothy where Paul gives Timothy a description of Gospel-Shaped Living. Paul in the first chapter of 1 Timothy chapter one denounced the idle speculation of false teachers. Now Paul turns to expounding in specific terms what true gospel living (1:5) should look like. He calls Timothy to prayer and addresses hindrances to prayer (2:1-15), qualifications of overseers (3:1-7), and qualifications for deacons (3:8-13).

The meaning of all in 1Timothy 2:4

The Greek word for desires in 1 Timothy 2:4 is not that which normally expresses God’s will of decree (His eternal purpose) in Scripture, but God’s will or desire. The distinction here lies between God’s desire and His eternal saving purpose, which must transcend His desires. An example of this would be, the Lord hates sin with all His being (Pss. 5:4; 45:7); thus, He hates the consequences- eternal wickedness in hell. God does not want people to remain wicked forever in eternal remorse and hatred of Himself. Yet, God, for His own glory, and to manifest that glory in wrath, chose to endure, “vessels prepare for destruction” for the fulfillment of His will (Rom. 9:22). In His eternal purpose, He chose only the elect out of the world (John 17:6) and passed over the rest, leaving them to the consequences of their sin, unbelief, and rejection of Christ (Rom. 1:18-32). Ultimately God’s choices are determined by His sovereign, eternal purpose, not His desires (2Peter 3:9). Those who come to the knowledge of the Truth come to Christ because they learn that the Gospel is the ground for all Truth (1 Tim. 3:15; 4:3; 2n Tim 2:15, 18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4; Titus 1:1, 14).

1Timothy 2:4 figures prominently in theological disagreements over the extent of the atonement. This passage cannot be read to suggest that everyone will be saved (universalism), because the rest of the letter makes it clear that some will not be saved (4:1; 5:24; 6:10). The crux of this verses hinges on how one answers the following question, Does 1 Timothy 2:4 mean God desires something (all people being saved) that he cannot fulfill? Arminian and Calvinist theologians respond that God desires something more than universal salvation. Arminians believe that God’s greater desire is to preserve genuine human freedom, which is necessary for genuine human love. The Calvinist believes that 1 Timothy 2:4 teaches God’s greater desire is to display the full range of His glory (Rom. 9:22-23), which results in election depending upon the freedom of his mercy and not upon human choice (Rom. 9:15-18). Regardless of how one understands 1 Timothy 2:4 what is clear is that it teaches the free and universal offer of the gospel to every single person. Desires then must mean that this offer of salvation bona fide expression of God’s good will towards sinners.

Paul reveals that “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1st Tim. 2:3-4). Since “God does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3 NASB), and since he will accomplish all he has purposed (Isa. 46:10), and since “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35), and since the Potter’s will cannot be thwarted by mere clay (Romans 9), it is certain that the all in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 is undoubtedly “all” the elect. Bridges and Bevington both conservative theologians note that the all for whom the ransom was actually operative and effective resulted in the transaction in which those who believe are purchase out of slavery to sin.[10]

Speaking of this all, Jesus proclaimed, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Dr. Joel Beeke is considered one of the preeminent scholars on Reformed theologian notes regarding the context of 1 Timothy 2:4-6 that the words ransomed for all are set within the context of prayers being offered for all people (vv.1-2). He continues by explaining that the word all does not always mean all individuals in either Greek or English usage in Scripture, so there is no compelling reason to conclude that the all in verses 4 and 6 refers to every single person.[11]

Historical Consideration on 1 Timothy 2:4

The history of the debate on 1 Timothy 2:4 goes back to the time of Augustine. Augustine, one of the best theologians in the history of the Church rejects idea of the Pelagians’ that God desiring the salvation of every individual somehow frustrates God’s divine will by the free choice of the sinner.[12] Augustine taught that the all in 1 Timothy 2:4 are the elect of God are those whom God wills to come to the knowledge of the truth.[13] Augustine understood Paul to mean “that no man is saved unless God will his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will, but that no man is saved apart from his will.”[14]

Prosper of Aquitaine, Augustine’s defender, and contemporary states that the extent of Christ’s redemption extends to all only as a result of Him taking on human nature common to man. Prosper distinguishes between Christ and humanity by explaining that only humanity shares the fallen condition, and concludes by saying that that Christ was crucified only for those who were to profit by his death who are none other than the elect.[15]

The Bible says that Christ died a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6). Dr. Horton a leading Reformed scholar explains that all does not always mean “each and every person.”[16] William Tyndale was one of the English Reformers taught regarding 1Timothy 2:4 that  Christ’s blood only deals with the sins of the elect, as those who are elected are elected to everlasting life by Christ’s blood.[17] Martin Luther on the all of 1 Timothy 2:4 taught that Christ did not die for everyone, because Christ says “This is My blood which is poured out on you” and for many”- He does not say: for every person- ‘for the forgiveness of sins.” As the Apostle says, “Everything for the sake of the elect.”[18] Charles Spuregon the famed Reformed-Baptist evangelist raises the objection to those who hold to the doctrine of universal when he states that if it was Christ’s intention to save every person He has been sorely disappointed, for there is a lake of fire, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. We cannot preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross.[19]

Dr. Horton brings this discussion full circle when he states that to affirm a universal atonement, then, one is left with only two options 1) either to limit the atonement in its effect- that is in what it accomplishes- or 2) to accept at face value the clear statements of Scripture regarding the nature of redemption. Horton continues explaining if Christ’s death secured redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction then one must affirm that each and every individual will be saved or that the work of Christ itself must be limited in its scope. Otherwise the atonement is limited in its nature.[20]

If one is going to Charles Spuregon on this point concludes the examination of 1 Timothy 2:4 by explaining the historic position of the Church on the atonement as literal payment for sin requires one to either accept universal salvation (Christ dying for everyone) or an atonement limited in scope.

It is clear from 1 Timothy and the history of the Church that the historic position of the Church on the atonement requires one to either accept universal salvation (Christ dying for everyone) or an atonement limited in scope. Finney a famous revivalist choose to embrace a view of the atonement based only on following Christ’s example. Finney argued that a belief that Christ died for the elect alone assumes that the atonement was only a payment of a debt which does not consist with the nature of atonement.[21] Finney’s weak understanding of Christ’ work on the atonement is demonstrated in the fact that he believed that everyone could be saved by making a decision or by living a holy life. An atonement that doesn’t atone, a redemption that doesn’t redeem, a propitiation that doesn’t propitiation, a satisfaction that doesn’t satisfy does not help anyone. Dr. Lightner states regarding those who believe in definite atonement that they believe the work of Christ on the cross was effective in and of itself.[22] Christ secured the salvation for all whom He died.

The context of 2 Peter 3:9

2 Peter like 1 Peter was written to elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1). 2 Peter 3:9 falls within the context of 2 Peter 2:11-4:11 which teaches what it means for the believer to bring God in a hostile world to the Gospel. Peter explains in this section how believers should live as sojourners admit a world that rejects the Gospel as they bear witness to the gospel when they live in a way that pleases God.

The Meaning of all in 2Peter 3:9

2nd Peter 3:9. The “us” is the saved, the people of God. He waits for them to be saved. God has an immense capacity for patience before He breaks forth in judgment (Joel 2:13; Luke 15:20; Rom. 9:22; 1 Peter 3:16).God endures endless blasphemies against His name, along with rebellion, murders, and the ongoing breaking of His law, waiting patiently while He is calling and redeeming His own. It is not impotence or slackness delays final judgment; it is patience.

The “any” in not willing that any should perish must refer to those whom the Lord has chosen and will call to complete the redeemed the “us.” Since the whole passage is about God destroying the wicked, his patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all His own. He can’t be waiting for everyone to be saved, since the emphasis is that He will destroy the world and the ungodly. Those who do perish and go to hell, go because they are depraved and worthy only of hell and have rejected the only remedy, Jesus Christ, not because they were created for hell or predestined to go there. The path to damnation is the path of a non-repentant heart; it is the path of one who rejects the person and provision of Jesus Christ and holds onto sin (Isaiah 55:1; Jer. 13:17; Ezek 18:32; Matt. 11:2; 13:37; Luke 13:3; John 3:16; 8:21 24; 1 Tim. 2:3,4; Rev 22:17).

All (“us,” “any”) in all should come to repentance must refer to all who are God’s people who will come to Christ to make up the full number of the people of God. The reason for the delay in Christ’s coming and the attendant judgments is not because He is slow to keep His promise, or because He wants to judge more of the wicked, or because He is impotent in the face of wickedness. He delays His coming because He is patient and desires the time for His people to repent.

Calvin on 2Peter 3:9 asks, if God wishes none to perish why is it that so many do perish? His answer is that within 2 Peter 3:9 no mention is made of the purpose of God by which the reprobate are doomed to ruin but only of God’s will made known in the Gospel. In the Gospel God stretches forth his hand without difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.[23]

Historical Considerations on 2 Peter 3:9

Dr. Boice a Reformed Pastor-Theologian believed that 2Peter 3:9 is not talking about the salvation of all men, but only of the elect. He continues explaining that the delay of Christ’s intention is not out of indifference to man but rather as a result of God wanting to bring to repentance those whom he has determined would be saved.[24]

John Owen one of the finest of the many Puritan theologians on 2 Peter 3:9 asks, “Who are these of whom the apostle speaks?” Owen then goes to explain that such as had received “great and precious promises,” chap. 1:4, whom he calls “beloved” (chap. 3:1); whom he opposeth to the “scoffers” of the “last days,” verse 3; to whom the Lord hath respect in the disposal of these days; who are said to be “elect” (Matthew 24:22). Owen bringing his argument into focus states that those who argue that because God would have none to perish but that all of them to come to repentance, therefore he hath the same will and mind towards all and everyone in the world (Even those to whom he never makes known his will, nor ever calls to repentance, if they never once hear of his way of salvation), comes not only short of extreme madness and folly.[25] Dr. Towns a conservative Christian theologian and co-founder of Liberty University states that the Calvinist has misunderstood the separation between the historic accomplishments of salvation and how an individual obtains salvation. He continues by first explaining that to teach that Christ died for all does not mean all will be saved, nor does it mean God has failed if some are lost. This does not question the sovereignty of God, but it does show a misunderstanding of the purpose of God by those who hold to limited atonement. Towns contends that God’s desire is that none be lost since God created a plan for all, He offers it to all, and wants all to participate in it. Responding to objections to his teaching he first says that God did not provide a universal salvation to question His attribute of love. Continuing to answer objections to his view on limited atonement he says that God saved all apart from the appropriate discharge of human responsibility is to question God’s integrity. Responding specifically to the Calvinist Dr. Towns says that God to say God elected some to salvation, but not all is to question His justice since the human response necessitates one’s understanding of God’s relationship to His creatures.[26]

Charles Spuregon the Prince of Preachers on 2 Peter 3:9 taught that the Arminians say that Christ died for all men. He continues by asking what the Arminians mean, Christ died for all men. Spuregon asks them, “Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men?” The Arminians response to Spuregon is, “No, certainly not.” Spuregon continues asking them the next question, “Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular?” They answer, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if” –and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Spuregon goes back to his original statement by saying- Christ did not did so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did he? Spuregon at this point says the Arminians must say “no”; you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.[27]


This paper began by seeking to prove the meaning of all in 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9, as well as the meaning of world in 1 John 2:2. The meaning of world and all must be restricted otherwise it leads to universal salvation which denies there was a design in the atonement. This paper through careful exegesis, historical exploration, and biblical argumentation has sought to clearly set forth that the atonement is sufficient for all, but only effective for some. The death of Christ has infinite value to man because the death He died- He died for man’s sin in man’s place to appease the wrath of a holy God. Only Christ’s death saves, so man cannot be saved through of his/her own free will but only by the sovereign grace of God by believing in the Gospel Christ died for on the Cross. The design of the atonement as set forth in Scripture teaches that Christ’s death is of infinite worth to man because by believing in it those who elected by God will be saved by His grace, for His glory forevermore.












Beeke, Joel, Living for God’s Glory An Introduction to Calvinism (Florida; Reformation Trust, 2008), 93.

Boice, James, Ryken, Philip, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 131.

Bridges, Jerry, Bevington, Bob, The Great Exchange My Sin for His righteousness (Illnois, Crossway, 2007), 200.

Calvin, John, Commentary on Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus & Philemon trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, reprint from 1610), 420.

Contra Julianum, 4.8.42; PL 44:759-60.

Finney, Charles G., Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1985), 217, 206.

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Michigan, Zondervan, 1994), 598.

Lightner, Robert P., The Death Christ Died- A case for Unlimited Atonement (Des Plaines, Illnois: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), 81.

Lightner, Robert, “For whom Did Christ Die?” in Walvoord, a Tribute, John F. Walvoord and Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982), 162.

Long, Gary D., Definite Atonement (MD; New Covenant Media, 2006),103.

De Pred. Sanct. 14; PL 44:971

Enchiridon, cap. 103; De Corrept. Et Gratia, 47.

Owen, John “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967),173-147,191.

Quoted in J.I. Packer, Introduction to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), note 12.

Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Grace into grace, (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 244, 247-248.

Steele, David N., Thomas, Curtis, C, Quinn, Lance S., The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Document. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004.

Towns, Elmer, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 430, 433.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 233-234.

Walvoord, John, Jesus Christ our Lord,(Chicago, Moody Press,1969)),182.

[1] David N. Steele, Curtis, C. Thomas, S. Lance Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented (New Jersey: P&R, 2004) 50.


[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 233-234.

[3] John Walvoord, Jesus Christ our Lord,(Chicago, Moody Press,1969)),182.

[4] James Boice, Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 131.

[5] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 430.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Michigan, Zondervan, 1994), 598.

[7] Gary D. Long, Definite Atonement (MD; New Covenant Media, 2006), 103.

[8] Robert P. Lightner, The Death Christ Died- A case for unlimited Atonement (Des Plaines, Illnois: Regular Baptist Press, 1967), 81.

[9] John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967),191.

[10] Jerry Bridges, Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange My Sin for His righteousness (Illnois, Crossway, 2007), 200.

[11] Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory An Introduction to Calvinism (Florida; Reformation Trust, 2008), 93.

[12] Contra Julianum, 4.8.42; PL 44:759-60

[13] De Pred. Sanct. 14; PL 44:971

[14] Enchiridon, cap. 103; De Corrept. Et Gratia, 47.

[15] Cited in Godfrey, Tensions, 75; “Reformed Thought,” 135.

[16] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 244.

[17] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 247.

[18] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 247.

[19] Quoted in Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 248.

[20] Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Michigan, Baker, 2002), 144.

[21] Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1985), 217, 206.

[22] Robert Lightner, “For whom Did Christ Die?” in Walvoord, a Tribute, John F. Walvoord and Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982), 162.

[23] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus & Philemon trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, reprint from 1610), 420.

[24] James Boice, Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illnois, Crossway, 2002), 127.

[25] John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 173-174.).

[26] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (CA, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 433.

[27] Quoted in J.I. Packer, introduction to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), note 12.

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Contemporary Thought Regarding Penal Substitution as It Relates To Isaiah 53

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Academic Work, Academic Work, Atonement, What is the Gospel?, What We Write About

Isaiah 53 teaches us that Christ would live a sinless life, bear the guilt of mankind on His shoulders, and die as a substitute for sinners in their place. The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin.[1]

Steve Chalke a member of the Evangelical Alliance popularized the view that penal substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse”[2] Mr. Chalke is increasingly popular in the Emergent Church discussion and was promoted by Emergent Village leader Mr. McLaren in The Story We Find Ourselves In, where he takes Mr. Chalke’s view and puts it in narrative form.[3]

Mr. Kunkle said of McLaren’s book, “Taken alone, this is worrisome. Coupled with McLaren’s endorsement of Steve Chalke’s book, The Lost Message of Jesus, this is cause for concern. But add to these the following account from McLaren’s book, More Ready Than You Realize, and his views on the cross are a serious concern.”[4]

The conversation the Emergent Village is having relates to how to make disciples. When a conversation with good intentions turns south toward opinion that conversation as it relates to making disciples is no longer relevant. In Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church: Five Perspectives, Pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, gives the Reformed position on the atonement.

Mr. Pagitt one of the leaders of the Emergent Village responded to Mark by saying, “Mark places great emphasis on Christianity’s explanation of God’s effort to save sinners. He says, “I will explore what is arguably most distinctive about Christianity, namely the nature of God’s revelation, the nature of God, and the means by which God has chosen to save some sinners.” So, for Mark, that serves as the unifying concept of his perspective, and as he wrote, he built into and from that presupposition. I find God’s hopes, dreams and plans for the world to include the eradication and freedom for humankind through Jesus, but those are not the primary points of the Gospel. I think much of our difference comes from the fact that in many ways we are telling different stories of Christianity. We seem to be calling for different starting and ending points.”[5]

Penal substitution is clearly taught in Isaiah 53, so the charge that penal substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse” cannot be sustained in light of the text of Isaiah 53. The Bible is the message of how God redeems people from sin. From Genesis to Revelation; God is at work in people’s lives both visibly and invisibly to get them to understand His gift of salvation. The Gospel is the message of the Bible which means the claim of Pagitt that “much of our difference comes from the fact that in many ways we are telling different stories of Christianity”[6] is not biblical but appeals to his discomfort with Driscoll’s Reformed theology. Furthermore, Pagitt demonstrates his ignorance of the Gospel message by stating that “we seem to be calling for different starting and ending points.” There is only one beginning point for Christianity, and that is Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (1st Corinthians 15:1-8).

The claim that there is different starting points for Christianity other than what is clearly defined in Scripture cannot be sustained by Scripture but is quite obviously a dismissive statement from Mr. Pagitt. Mr. Pagitt’s argument stems from the classical liberal position which makes justification into a feeling rather than a fact.

The Bible is clear that justification is a fact based on the actual death and resurrection of Christ. The argument from the Emergent Church fails because it dismisses Christ and the Bible which records the story of Jesus and the foundation upon which Christianity is built upon- Jesus Christ! Paul (Romans 1-3) teaches that man is depraved and cannot on his own be saved. Chapters 4-5 of Romans make it clear that one is not justified on the basis of works but on the merits of Christ. The argument the Emergent Village makes cannot be sustained biblically, theologically or logically because it fails to deal with the actual text of Scripture.

Dr. John Piper responds to Chalke’s claim by saying, “With one cynical stroke of the pen, the triumph of God’s love over God’s wrath in the death of his beloved Son is blasphemed, while other church leaders write glowing blurbs on the flaps of his book. But God is not mocked. His word stands firm and clear and merciful to those who will embrace it.”[7] And if he can learn these theories on the atonement by reading history, cannot he (McLaren) at least attempt to read the Bible and try to discern the extent to which they are taught or sanctioned by Scripture?[8]

Mr. Chalke’s and the Emergent Village’s denial of penal substitution is a denial of Christianity itself. The Bible makes it clear how believers are justified, and as will be shown further, any view that opposes justification by faith, and or penal substitution opposes the Gospel that God gave people through His Word.

Justification by faith is under attack by liberals who make justification into a feeling. Friedrich Schleiermacher is considered to be the “father of liberal theology”. He believed that our Christology begins neither in Christ’s humanity nor his divinity, but rather both his humanity and divinity are derived from the irreducible fact of the believer’s consciousness of salvation. He would say that our understanding of this vital doctrine began with our personal experience. In doing so he placed our understanding of Christ solely on our conscious of redemption through him.[9]

The reducing of the justification to a feeling is the liberal position on justification, which denies the person and work of Christ. Scripture soundly declares that our justification is grounded in who Christ is. Christ came to die for sinners in their place for there sin, and it is through His death, and resurrection that people may hear the Gospel, and be saved. The issue liberal theology has raised regarding justification is not an issue that evangelicals can dismiss or ignore. The rejection of justification by faith is a rejection of what Christ did for sinners. The rejection of the doctrine of penal substitution is a rejection of the Gospel itself. God saves sinners from sin through His death and resurrection. Mankind does not deserve to be saved but God who is rich in mercy came in the person of His Son- Jesus Christ to die for sin. From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord is trying to get people to understand how He is holy. Christ came to deal with the problem of sin. The Bible is not silent on the issue of justification but loudly proclaims that Christians have a Christ whose death, and resurrection secured their salvation.

Popular culture dismisses the truthfulness of Christianity through an appeal to fairness. Who exactly defines fairness man or God? Popular culture charges God with being evil for sending sinners to hell but this argument fails at a fundamental level because it fails to deal with reality. The reality is humans sin; a fact that is attested not only in the news everyday, but in criminal courts throughout the world. The truth is that humans are uncomfortable with a Holy God who can Judge them for sin.

Postmodernists believe that they are “gods” and are offended when exclusive claims on their lifestyle or beliefs are imposed upon them. The postmodern concept of “truth” fails because it fails to deal with reality, and says that “salvation” is available to all when Christ is the only One who can offer salvation, because He is the One who died for sin, and rose again. The Gospel is still good news worth believing because it alone can give hope to sinners who otherwise would burn in Hell forever. Christ is the only One who can justify because He is the only One who can offer salvation.

In Christ Alone,


[1] Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Illinois, Crossway, 2007), 21.
[2] Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003], pp. 182-183.
[3] Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 101.
[4] Brett Kunkle. “Essential Concerns Regarding The Emerging Church”, November 2006, accessed April 29, 2009.

[5] 7 Karen Ward, John Burke, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Mark Driscoll, General Editor Robert Webber, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspective (Michigan, Zondervan,, 2007), 41.

[7] John Piper. “The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World”, October 2006, accessed April 29, 2009.
[8] D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its implications (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 167-168.

[9] Jonathan Hill, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, 238.

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