The Death of Death: The Dilemma

March 5, 2010 — 2 Comments

Death of Death

[This post is part of the Atonement series]

So here’s the dilemma:

Christ underwent the pains of hell for either:

  1. All the sins of all men
  2. All the sins of some men
  3. Some of the sins of all men

If the last, then all men have some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved…

If the second, which we affirm, Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world…

If the first, why then are not all freed from punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.”

But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not?

If not, why should they be punished for it?

If it be, then Christ underwent the punishement due it, or not.

If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death?

If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins. (which regresses to option 3 above)

This is mostly just direct quotation from a passage on pgs 173-174. Prior to presenting the dilemma, Owen had commented:

“…it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for ‘their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched.'” (The Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

We’ll see further in Owen’s treatise, but the dilemma, if sound, seems to make the point that there is in reality only two options: Either the death of Christ brings salvation to the elect only, or brings salvation to no one. The means of bringing about salvation is the atonement. So either the atonement was efficient for the elect only, or it was efficient for no one.

The question that will remain to be answered is whether it is proper to raise the question of whether there is “sufficient” element to the atonement, as in, it was sufficient for everyone, but only efficient for the elect. We’ll see if this is a valid distinction at all, and what Owen has to say about it. I’m interested myself to see.


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2 responses to The Death of Death: The Dilemma

  1. At best Owen’s argument works if you accept the premise that the atonement was penal in nature. If it’s not, then the argument doesn’t follow.

    Something else to consider. What do we make of 2 Cor 5-Christ dies for all because all were dead. Were only some dead? That would imply Pelagianism, that some men have no need of Christ.

    • Thanks for pointing out the penal assumption. I would say that the penal perspective is what Owen has in mind here. For other perspectives this argument would not make sense and would need to be reformulated.

      As far as 2 Cor 5:15, it seems that the context is referring to believers, ”all” is referring to all who live to Christ as the rest of the verse states. Certainly in a penal sense Christ didn’t die for all, but possibly in some other sense his death was for all.

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