I came across an interesting discussion on Facebook involving the atonement. The question revolved around whether or not Jesus has “forgiven and paid the price for those who are in hell.”
The original poster, in answering the question, said:
“Yes I do believe that Jesus has paid the price for them but has [sic] not forgiven because they didn’t respond in faith!
The provision is unlimited but the application is only by faith. So those who are in hell are not there because they are sinners & Christ did not provide an atonement for them but rather that Christ provided the atonement for them but they rejected it.”
The objector then replied, inter alia, the following:
“With all due respect, I think your position that [Jesus paid but they suffer for their rejection] fails for 2 main reasons: (A) Logical Reasons & (B) Biblical Reasons…
A. Logical Reasons
Logically the position is incoherent because it fails to account for those who never heard the gospel. Here are 3 questions to consider:
i. Did those who never hear the gospel reject it?
ii. Shouldn’t they be saved because Jesus died for them and they never rejected it?
iii. If your answer to (II) is “yes”, then why bother preaching the gospel? Ignorance would be bliss [Literally], wouldn’t it?
Furthermore, it would be a logical contradiction to claim Jesus died for all sins of all men and yet send them to hell for the sin of rejection. If Christ died for ALL sins then He also died for the sin of rejecting the gospel. Your only way out is to claim that rejecting Christ is not a sin? Do you want to take this exit route?
B. Biblical Reasons:
Biblically, people are sent to hell not for rejecting Christ but for their sins and disobedience:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:6)
In the context of Ephesians 5, a list of sins are presented, none of which have anything to do with rejecting the gospel. We find a similar list in Colossians 3 and Paul repeats the same warning
“For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience” (Colossians 3:6).
Nowhere does the Scripture teach that the provision is unlimited. It does teach, however, that faith itself is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).”
The Logical Reasons Objection
The Incoherence Objection
i) Incoherence 1
One option to avoid the incoherence is to view things from a Molinistic framework – namely that, before the foundation of the world, God middle knew which individuals and/or people groups would freely accept or freely reject the Gospel should it be presented to them.
In light of this knowledge, God actualizes a possible and feasible world in which some individuals who would freely reject the Gospel are not presented with the Gospel. Paul Copan puts it as such:
“God has arranged this world in such a way that those who never hear the gospel would not have responded to it even if they had heard it. Those who are beyond the reaches of the Gospel in the actual world could be those who would never have responded to the Gospel in any possible world.”
These individuals are still deemed to have rejected the atonement which was provided for them because the atonement would have applied to them had they freely chosen to accept it.
Another option to avoid the incoherence is to embrace the inclusivist position in the context of those who have not heard the gospel. John Sanders explains that, for the inclusivist, “The unevangelized may be saved if they respond in faith to God based on the revelation they have.”
Inclusivism advocates that “salvation found only in Jesus Christ is made universally available.” This universal availability should not be confused with universalism which espouses that “no human being will be condemned or allowed to suffer pain and separation forever.” Universalism teaches that all will be saved.
John Sanders provides some Scriptural support for inclusivism:
“Inclusivists glean from various biblical texts an optimism of salvation, for they see God working outside the bounds of ethnic Israel as well as the church. God made a universal covenant through Noah, and God’s choice to work through Abraham was for the purpose of blessing the nations (see Genesis 12:3). Scripture mentions several nations for whom God provided land by driving out the previous inhabitants (see Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19, 21–22; 2 Kings 5:1). The prophet Amos declared that God had performed events similar to the exodus of Israel for other nations (see Amos 9:7). Attention is drawn to the so-called “holy pagans” in scripture. God seems to have looked favorably upon non-Israelites such as Melchizedek, Jethro, Job, and the Queen of Sheba. On several occasions Jesus commented on the extraordinary faith He discerned among Gentiles such as the Canaanite woman (see Matthew 15:21–8) and the Roman centurion (see Matthew 8:10). Though God was doing a special work in Israel, God was working and was known outside her borders.
The Gentile that inclusivists highlight is Cornelius, a God-fearing uncircumcised Gentile who prayed continually. One day an angel informed him that his prayers and alms were a memorial offering of which God took note, and he was given instructions to send for Peter (see Acts 10:4). Peter arrives and informs the household about the redemption in Jesus, whereupon the household is baptized in the name of Jesus. In light of these events, Peter declares, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him” (see Acts 10:34–35). The welcome of God extends outside Israel and outside the church.”
This view seems to also find support from Acts 17, Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill.
Acts 17:22-31 NASB
 Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Caveat: I do not know if this is a position held to by the original poster but from my understanding of incoherence 1 and inclusivism, in the context of those who have not heard the gospel, the latter would resolve the incoherence.
Caveat: The author does not hold to inclusivism and is concerned about views within the inclusivist camp that result in a reduced necessity to preach the Gospel.
ii) Incoherence 2 & 3
Incoherence 2 does not hold water because the original poster also explicitly said that those in hell “didn’t respond in faith.” This shows that a mere ignorance about the provision of the atonement of Christ would not be sufficient to save a person.
I will not address incoherence 3 in light of my observations regarding incoherence 2.
The Contradiction Objection
If indeed the original poster believes that those who are in hell are there only because they rejected Christ’s atonement, this would be inconsistent with the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death in Romans 6:23 is used in contrast to eternal life, indicating that death refers to spiritual death/separation from God. Thus, it is clear that because we are sinners, we are deserving of hell.
The position I suspect the original poster holds to, because of his use of the phrase “sinners,” is that those in hell are there because of their sin and though they were offered a way to avoid hell, by way of Christ’s atonement, they rejected it. This, of course, is merely my inference and is subject to correction by the original poster.
The logical contradiction raised by the objector arises because of a conflation of the provision and application of the atonement. In a previous article, I compiled 4 responses to John Owen’s Double Payment Argument. Response 1, would be the most relevant to the discussion at hand:
“The provision and application of the atonement must be distinguished. After all, “Eph. 2:1-3 makes clear that even the elect are under the wrath of God, “having no hope” (v.12) until they believe.”4 However, “the moment the debt is paid the debtor is free, and that completely. No delay can be admitted, and no conditions can be attached to his deliverance.”5.
What can be deduced is that the atonement is only applied upon the profession of faith. “… as 2 Cor. 5:18-21 makes clear, reconciliation has an objective and subjective aspect to it. The death of Christ objectively reconciles the world to God in the sense that his justice is satisfied, but the subjective side of reconciliation does not occur until the atonement is applied when the individual repents of sin and puts faith in Christ.”6
Consider the Day of Atonement. It was for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year (Leviticus 16:34). An Israelite applied the benefits of the annual atonement by humbling his soul and not doing any work on that day (Leviticus 16:29). If a person will not humble himself on that day, he will be cut off from his people (Leviticus 23:29). As for a person who does any work on that day, he will be destroyed from among the people (Leviticus 23:30).7″
Further biblical examples, demonstrating a distinction between the provision and application of the atonement, are as follows:
i) “The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel. But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it. The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone. Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.”
ii) “Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6). When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,
“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)
The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it. The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith.”
iii) “The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15). But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them. The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28). Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.”
It would not be a logical contradiction to say that Christ died for the sins of all men and yet some are sent to hell for rejecting the provision as Christ’s death does not necessitate an automatic application of the atonement.
Another way to possibly put it is that Christ’s death is sufficient for all but efficient/effectual for some, the latter being those who do not reject the provision/respond in faith.
Even the Synod of Dort used similar phraseology:
“Article 3: The Infinite Value of Christ’s Death
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”
“Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death
For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that Christ should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death). It was also God’s will that Christ should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.”
G. T. Shedd, 19th century theologian, appears to have shared this view when he said:
“Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind … Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins for all and every man in the world.”
The Biblical Reasons Objection
I would agree with the first 4 paragraphs of the objector’s reply in the event the original poster does take the position that individuals are only in hell because of their rejection of the provision of the atonement.
With regards to whether the provision of the atonement is limited or unlimited, this is and has been a matter of immense debate. This debate cannot be settled by way of a one liner assertion that the atonement is unlimited (the original poster’s position) or that it is limited (the objector’s position). It is even debated whether or not John Calvin himself held to unlimited atonement or to limited atonement.
The objector takes an overly simplistic position in arguing that “nowhere does Scripture teach that the provision is unlimited.” Ron Rhodes, a 4-point Calvinist, has a list of Bible passages hinting in favour of unlimited atonement.
As for use of Ephesians 2:8-9 to argue that faith is a gift from God, this is also a debatable matter. Daniel Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, has noted:
“[Ephesians 2:8-9] is the most debated text in terms of the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun, τοῦτο. The standard interpretations include: (1) “grace” as antecedent, (2) “faith” as antecedent, (3) the concept of a grace-by-faith salvation as antecedent, (4) καὶ τοῦτο having an adverbial force with no antecedent (“and especially”).”
Even John Calvin himself was of the opinion that, “… they commonly misinterpret this text, and restrict the word ‘gift’ to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating his earlier statement in other words. He does not mean that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or that we obtain it by the gift of God.”
 Molinism is a view of Divine Providence, advocated by Luis De Molina, which espouses inter alia that “[God’s] middle knowledge, although being eternal, reflects what the creature will do freely and depends on what it will do, thus it does not necessitate A doing B.” [Alexander Aichele, and Mathias Kaufmann, A Companion to Luis de Molina (BRILL, 2013), pp. 372-373]
 Paul Copan, “True for You, But Not For Me”: Deflating the Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless (Bethany, 1998), p. 128
 Salvation in Christ: Comparative Christian Views, ed. Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 299–325
 Gabriel J. Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized (InterVarsity Press, 1995), p.22
 “Our Spiritual Perspective.” ChristianUniversalist.org. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://christianuniversalist.org/beliefs/
 Salvation in Christ: Comparative Christian Views, ed. Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 299–325.
 “Collection of Responses to the Double Payment Argument.” LaikosTheologos.com. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://laikostheologos.com/collection-of-responses-to-the-double-payment-argument/
 “Feedback: Arminians Limit the Power of the Atonement.” ArminianTheologyBlog.wordpress.com. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://arminiantheologyblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/feedback-arminians-limit-the-power-of-the-atonement
 “Canons of Dort.” CRCNA.org. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/canons-dort
 William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Volume 2 (Scribner, 1888), p. 464
 In favour of limited atonement, see e.g. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective, eds. David Gibson, Jonathan Gibson (Crossway, 2013). In favour of unlimited atonement, see e.g. David L. Allen, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (B&H Publishing Group, 2016)
 “Calvin and Calvinism.” RTKendallMinistries.com. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://rtkendallministries.com/calvin-and-calvinism: “When I discovered for myself that John Calvin did not believe in limited atonement I was both thrilled and sobered … Calvin taught that Jesus died indiscriminately for all people. Calvin taught that although Jesus died for all people, He made intercession for the elect only. That is four and a half point Calvinism”;
See also Curt Daniel, “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill” Ph.D. diss., University of Edinburgh, (1983), 819–22 which contains an extensive 50 page appendix entitled “Did John Calvin Teach Limited Atonement?” (pp. 776-828); P. L. Rouwendal, “Calvin’s Forgotten Classical Position on the Extent of the Atonement: About Sufficiency, Efficiency, and Anachronism,” WTJ 70 (2008), p. 328; David Ponter, “Review Essay (Part One): John Calvin on the Death of Christ and The Reformation’s Forgotten Doctrine of Universal Vicarious Satisfaction: A Review and Critique of Tom Nettles’ Chapter in Whomever He Wills,” Southwestern Journal of Theology, 55.1 (Fall, 2012): 138-158. Part Two can be found in SWJT 55.2 (Spring, 2013): 252-70
 See “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement by Paul Helm.” Monergism.com. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://www.monergism.com/calvin-indefinite-language-and-definite-atonement-paul-helm; “John Calvin’s view of Limited Atonement – by Dr. Roger Nicole.” APuritansMind.com. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://www.apuritansmind.com/arminianism/john-calvins-view-of-limited-atonement/
 “The Extent of the Atonement—Limited Atonement versus Unlimited Atonement.” RonRhodes.org. Accessed October 2, 2019. http://ronrhodes.org/articles/the-extent-of-the-atonement.html
 “Daniel Wallace.” DTS.edu. Accessed October 2, 2019. https://www.dts.edu/people/daniel-wallace/
 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996), p.334
 John Calvin, Commentaries, Volume 11 (Eerdmans, 1959), p. 145