What is your interpretation of John 12:19 as it relates to limited atonement?

Question from a reader:

What is your interpretation of John 12:19 as it relates to limited atonement?
     I read a couple of your articles about limited atonement. I appreciate your honest approach to this subject. I too wonder about this issue like yourself especially when I read passages like you reminded me of: 1 John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.” 
     It sounds like you have studied this a lot more than me but what do you think about John 12:19: “The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him!’” (Good New Bible Translation) Should we hold to the same way of thinking with this passage in your opinion? I don’t think many would.

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

I used to respond to letters on limited atonement, but I’ve received so many that I just don’t have time.

I John 2:2 says not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. It bends over backwards to say not only for our sins, but also for the whole world. To me it couldn’t be more emphatic. The other passages aren’t as emphatic. This passage is trying to make a theological point, using the language of an epistle as opposed to a quote from the Pharisees. They were saying it as a known overstatement, whereas I John 2:2 is making a precise theological point. Therefore, we should look at the language as being more precise. One is a quote of the Pharisees (John 12:19) whereas I John 2:2 is the inspired words of the apostle.

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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