Tuesday, March 30

Part 5 of the Unnamed Atonement Theory Series

In the previous post in this series, we were considering the proof texts used to support this theory. We looked at the universal texts used and showed how they cannot be interpreted the way proponents of this theory interpret them if they are to be consistent with the whole of scripture. We did not make it completely through the examination of the proof texts before my typing fingers went on strike, so let's finish up today by examining the last proof text--John 3:18.

If you remember, this text is used as proof that those who don't believe are condemned for unbelief only--that there is no other reason that anyone suffers eternal judgment. Here is what the verse says:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

The text quite obviously gives unbelief as a cause of damnation, and there is no need to argue with that. The question is: Does the text necessarily make unbelief the only cause of damnation? I don't think it does. The context of this verse is pointing to the need for people to believe in the Son who has now been revealed, and this particular verse is pointing to rejection of the Son (or unbelief) as the sin that seals a fate that already exists, since someone who refuses to believe has refused the only way out of their already existing condemned state. Unbelief is the culminating sin of the one whose deeds are evil (verse 20).

That this verse says that unbelief is the only cause of condemnation might be a legitimate interpretation if scripture had nothing else to say about the reasons people are condemned, but there are several other statements in scripture that point to things other than unbelief as a cause of damnation. We'll only look at a couple of them here.

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part {will be} in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8 NASB)

Here we see persistent unbelief listed among many other sins for which people receive the eternal judgment of God. It is one of the things men are finally condemned for, but it's not the only thing.

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS...(Romans 2:5,6 NASB)

Those who continue in unbelief--those who remain unrepentant--store up wrath against themselves. The word store up carries with it the idea of accumulation. Those who persist in unbelief continue to add to the righteous wrath of God against them because they continue to add to the disobedient deeds for which they are finally judged by God. The larder that holds the preserved wrath of God against unrighteousness continues to grow more and more full for those who continue in their unrepentant state.

It is impossible, then, to interpret John 3:18 the way adherents to this theory do, because that interpretation makes John 3:18 contradictory to many other statements of scripture. However, if we interpret John 3:18 to be pointing to unbelief as not the only cause of condemnation, but rather the crowning cause of it, we can see that it harmonizes completely with these other texts, particularly with Romans 2: 5 and 6, which also points to unbelief (or unrepentance) as the key cause of the cumulation of wrath--righteous judgment that continues to add up against those who persist in unbelief because they continue to add to their sinful deeds.

The proof texts used to support this atonement theory, then, do not support it when they are interpreted in conformity with the rest of scripture. The whole of scripture tells us that the removal of God's wrath does not extend to the whole of the human race, but only to those who believe.

In the next installment of this series, and what I hope will be the final one, I plan to look at the logical problem raised by this theory and also explain why I care enough about the error of this atonement theory to use this much time and space refuting it.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series.)