Condemnation for Unbelief and the Atonement

, posted by neborg

From John 3:18 (ESV)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

In this post I intend to show that Limited Atonement is not compatible with this passage from scripture. I will lay out my case logically.

P1. If Jesus did not die for the condemned, then unbelief in him is not the cause of their condemnation
P2. Unbelief is the cause of their condemnation
C1. Therefore Jesus died for the condemned

As there are just two groups, condemned and not condemned, and both Calvinists and Arminians will agree Jesus died for those not condemned – and if this argument shows that Jesus died for the condemned, we can conclude that Jesus died for all.

First it is important to note that this argument is logically valid. That is, if the premises are true then the conclusion is also true. It follows the form of modus tollens. Having valid form, we need to support the truth of the two premises in order to establish that the argument is logically sound.

In defence of P1

If Jesus did not die for a man, then he is condemned – regardless as to whether he believes or not. Now a Calvinist might be tempted to argue that because of the facts that Jesus did not die for them and that they did not believe – these are both causes of their condemnation, that both Jesus’ payment for the person and the person’s belief are necessary conditions for avoiding condemnation, but only together are they sufficient conditions for avoiding condemnation. So then the Calvinist might conclude that the removal of either condition would be the cause of their condemnation, and hence be sufficient reason to reject P1.

While it may be true that the removal of either one of these necessary conditions on their own would be the cause of condemnation, I am arguing that men’s lack of belief is not the cause of their condemnation if Jesus did not die for him. This is because there is a logical order in the two conditions. For example: you wouldn’t say the reason a man doesn’t become a lawyer in a law firm is because he didn’t accept the job if it turns out he didn’t have the qualifications and hence wasn’t offered a job and therefore didn’t have a job to accept. Or you wouldn’t say the reason a person drowned was because he chose not to grab hold of a life buoy if there was no life buoy for him to grab hold of. Likewise you wouldn’t say the reason a person was condemned was because he didn’t believe in Jesus if Jesus didn’t die for him and so he had no one to believe in. So we can see that when there is a logical order of requirement in necessary conditions, the logically latter conditions are only causal if the logically prior conditions are fulfilled. This gives us more than adequate reason to think that Premise 1 is true.

In defence of P2

Calvinists may dismiss passages that link condemnation to unbelief as mere correlation. The strength of John 3:18 is that it clearly states that there is more than simple correlation, but a causal relation between unbelief and condemnation. Thus Premise 2 is established from scripture – from John 3:18, which unambiguously tells us that condemnation is the result of unbelief.


In conclusion, it seems the argument is sound, having both valid form and demonstrably true premises. This is just one more argument from scripture against the faulty doctrine of Limited Atonement as espoused by five-point Calvinists, and gives us one more reason to favour the Arminian view of Unlimited Provisional Atonement over the false Limited Atonement of Calvinism.

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