What Do The Biblical Covenants Have To Do With The Extent Of The Atonement? Part 2
February 21, 2013 § 8 Comments
In the preceding post, it was advocated that the sacrificial death of Jesus must be viewed in a covenantal context. In this covenantal context, Jesus must be viewed as the antitypical fulfillment of the types and patterns put forth in the Old Testament who functions as the great high priest and covenant mediator of a better and new covenant. It has also been proposed that placing Jesus in the typological role of great high priest and covenant mediator entails a definite, limited, or particular atonement. This short summary will begin where the last one left off, by overviewing the first part of Dr. Stephen Wellum’s argument for particular redemption.
Christ’s Work As Our Great High Priest Is A Unified Work
The theological concept of a “unified work” is that as great high priest, the intent of Jesus’ death “was not only to achieve the redemption of a particular people but also to secure everything necessary to bring those same people to the end for which his death was designed, namely, the full forgiveness of sin and all the blessings of the new covenant including the gift of the Spirit, who effectively applies his work to those whom the Son represents.”(1)
Wellum sets out to prove the argument of Christ’s unified work as priest by first demonstrating how Jesus function as such. He writes, “the New Testament is clear that our Lord is the antitypical fulfillment of the Old Testament priest.” He then bolsters this claim with five points of comparison and contrast with texts found mainly in Hebrews (5:1-10;8:1-10:18). I will summarize these important points below.
- Similar to the OT (Old Testament) priests, Jesus was appointed and met the required qualifications (Heb. 5:4-6; cf. Psalm 2; 110).
- Similar to the OT priests, Jesus represented a particular people. On this important point, Wellum mentions the fact that “nowhere in the Old Testament does the priest make atonement for all the nations or function as a universal mediator.”
- Similar to the OT priests, Jesus offered a sacrifice. However, in contrast to the OT priests, Jesus’ sacrifice is a once-for-all-time sacrifice and is “able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25).
- Similar to the OT priests, yet in greater fashion, Jesus’ work cannot entail a separation between the provision and application of the atonement. This means that there is no distinction between the achieving and the applying of covenant benefits to those in the covenant (Heb. 8:4-5; 9:11-15, 24).
- In contrast to the OT priests, who’s work was unified yet imperfect, Jesus’ work is both unified and perfect.
It is in at least these five ways that Jesus functions as the antitypical fulfillment of the OT priests who’s work involves a particular redemption.
To further his argument, Dr. Wellum next moves to demonstrate the particular nature of Jesus’ intercession by writing that “there is no evidence that he intercedes salvifically for the non-elect.” He demonstrates that in every case before (Luke 22:31-22; John 17:6ff) and after the cross (Rom. 8:32-34; Heb. 7:24-25; 1 John 2:1-2), Jesus only intercedes on behalf of the elect. Not only does Jesus only intercede for the elect, his prayers are effective for them as
“he always lives to intercede” for his covenant people. His intercession brings about the application of covenant blessings to the elect.
Wellum then claims that “the problem with all general atonement views is that they fragment Christ’s priestly work of offering and intercession.” As a result of this, Wellum gives two options for general atonement advocates, “either they must view Christ’s work apart from these typological patterns and not discuss the atonement within the constraints of these biblical categories, or they must separate Christ’s intercession from his death, thus dividing his priestly work.”
Dr. Wellum gives examples of two such argument and reveals how each fails to place Jesus in the context of a unified, covenantal, and priestly work. The first argument puts forward the idea that Jesus’ intercession is saving and effective yet does not take place until people believe. Wellum contends that the problem with this view is threefold. First, this view fails to view Christ’s work as unified. Second, it fails to acknowledge that Christ interceded for his people while on earth. Third, it separates Jesus’ death from its covenant context and has Jesus dying for non-covenant members.
The second argument proposes that Christ’s intercession may be viewed as salvific for the non-elect. By appealing to Luke 23:24, it has been proposed that “intercession unto salvation is something that is available to all but only effectual for those who are in Christ.”(2) Wellum argues that such an interpretation divorces Christ intercession from biblical categories by failing to understand that “all we know of priests is that they intercede for those they represent.” He also proposes that if this is true, then Christ failed in his priestly work as he interceded and died salvifically for those who have not been redeemed.
Dr. Wellum concludes his argument for particular redemption in Christ’s unified work by citing and disputing two responses typically given by general atonement advocates. The first response suggests that Christ represents the entire human race–a result of the incarnation. He rejects this response by again recalling the pattern of particular representation by the OT priests and by demonstrating that Christ’s death does not fail to save those whom he covenantally represents (Heb. 2:5-18). He writes that if this were not true, then “Christ’s representative headship would not have achieved what it was intended to achieve.”
The second response rebutted by Wellum suggests that since the OT priests offered sacrifices on behalf of a “mixed” people (the understanding that Israel contained both believer and unbeliever), so Christ’s atonement could be offered to all without exception. His rebuttal is threefold. First, atonement by the OT priests for only the covenant people moves in a particular direction. Second, one must realize the ineffectual and typological nature of the OT priest and move to the perfectly effectual antitype in relation to the extent of the atonement. Third, the argument fails to see the discontinuity between the old and new covenants by making the new covenant no more effectual than the old and by failing to acknowledge the difference between the mixed covenant community of old and the regenerate community of the new covenant.
In the post to follow we will unpack the second and final argument in Kingdom Through Covenant for particular atonement by looking at Christ’s work as the new covenant mediator.
- All quotations are taken from Kingdom Through Covenant, pp. 672-679.
- Gary Shultz, “A Biblical and Theological Defense of a Multi-Intentional View of the Extent of the Atonement” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008), 155, fn. 195.