Particular Atonement: A Biblical Foundation

by Jacob Abshire on December 22, 2023

In Christian theology, few doctrines stir as much thoughtful reflection and debate as Particular Atonement. This concept, pivotal to understanding God’s plan of salvation, invites us to examine closely the scriptural narrative. From the Old Testament’s symbolic richness to the New Testament’s clarifying teachings, Particular Atonement is a testament to God’s targeted act of redemption. 

This article aims to shed light on how this doctrine, deeply rooted in Scripture, reveals the specificity of God’s love and the precision of His justice. It’s a doctrine that challenges our intellectual understanding and calls us to a deeper appreciation of our relationship with God. Let’s consider the Scriptural foundations of Particular Atonement and uncover its significance in the Christian faith.

Typologies in the Old Testament

The Old Testament, a rich tapestry woven with symbols and types, intricately foreshadows the coming of Christ, offering insights into the doctrine of Particular Atonement. Two key examples are the Passover and the Day of Atonement, each uniquely pointing to Christ’s sacrificial work for a specific people.

The Passover narrative in Exodus 12 is a vivid typology of Particular Atonement. “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). The blood of the Passover lamb, marking the Israelites’ homes, served as a protective sign, sparing them from the judgment visited upon Egypt. This event prefigures the sacrifice of Christ, whose blood covers and protects not all humanity indiscriminately but specifically those who are His — the elect. This focused redemption demonstrates God’s intentionality in salvation, marking out a particular people for deliverance.

In Leviticus 16, the High Priest’s annual entry into the Holy of Holies with a blood sacrifice further illustrates Particular Atonement. Unlike a universal offering, this sacrifice was distinctly for Israel, representing atonement for a specific group. This foreshadows Christ, our ultimate High Priest, who enters not just an earthly Holy of Holies but the very presence of God, offering His blood not for all humanity in a general sense but for His elect. This atonement reflects divine justice, upholding the principle of specific redemption — God’s just and righteous plan to redeem those He has chosen.

The account of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22 also provides an influential typology. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, whom he loved, and God’s provision of a ram as a substitute prefigures the greater sacrifice of God offering His Son for the redemption of the elect. This narrative underscores the costliness of redemption and God’s commitment to fulfill His redemptive plan for specific individuals, aligned with His justice and mercy.

The story of the bronze serpent, lifted up by Moses in the wilderness to heal those bitten by snakes, is another type. Jesus Himself draws a parallel to this event in John 3:14-15, indicating that just as the serpent was lifted up for the healing of the Israelites, He would be lifted up for the salvation of His people. This event in Israel’s history foreshadows the selective nature of atonement — salvation available and effective for those who look to Him in faith.

Through these Old Testament typologies, we see a consistent pattern of God’s saving action directed towards specific people, a theme that culminates in the New Testament revelation of Particular Atonement. This theological thread illustrates God’s sovereign choice and his just and merciful character in the redemption narrative.

Teachings of the New Testament

In the New Testament, the foreshadowings of the Old Testament find their clarity and fulfillment, explicitly revealing the doctrine of Particular Atonement. Jesus’ own words and the teachings of the apostles underscore this truth with striking clarity.

Christ’s self-identification as the good shepherd in John 10:11 asserts His focused, redemptive mission. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This statement is not a broad, all-encompassing declaration but a specific indication of His intent to lay down His life for His sheep — the elect, those He came to save.

In Ephesians 5:25, the apostle Paul illuminates this truth further: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Here, the focus is not on a universal, indiscriminate sacrifice but on a particular act of love for the church, His chosen people. This specificity aligns with the principle of Particular Atonement, highlighting Christ’s intentional and selective act of redemption.

In Romans 8:32-34, Paul speaks to the heart of Particular Atonement: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” This passage emphasizes that Christ was given up specifically for “us,” whom he calls the “elect,” pointing to a distinct group for whom Christ’s atoning sacrifice is effective.

Hebrews 9:28 further cements this understanding: “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Here, “the many” indicates a particular group, distinct from a universal application, for whom Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious.

Additionally, in John 17, during His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays not for the world indiscriminately but specifically for those given to Him by the Father. This prayer reflects the selective nature of His intercession and atonement.

One more New Testament text is worth noting. Ephesians 1:3–14 intricately connects other Christian doctrines to a definite atonement. This passage describes God’s saving work as a seamless continuum from eternity past to eternity future. It encompasses four critical moments: God’s predestined choice of believers before the world’s foundation (Eph. 1:4-5); Christ’s redemption of humanity through His blood (Eph. 1:7); the application of this redemption as God seals His Word in the hearts of believers by His Spirit (Eph. 1:13); and the eventual consummation of this redemption in the form of our future inheritance promised by the Spirit (Eph. 1:14). These moments, while distinct, are fundamentally inseparable, forming a unified act of salvation — definite redemption predestined, accomplished, applied, and consummate.

Also, according to the same passage, this saving work is inherently Trinitarian. Paul highlights the distinct roles of the Trinity: the Father in electing and predestining (Eph. 1:4-5), the Son in redeeming through His sacrifice (Eph. 1:7), and the Spirit in sealing and guaranteeing our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). This collaboration underlines a harmonious effort within the Trinity to accomplish salvation, ensuring that the intent of Christ’s atonement aligns with the united purpose of the Godhead.

A final remark about Ephesians 1:3-14 is that the believer’s union with Christ is central to this theological tapestry. Paul repeatedly emphasizes this union using the phrase “in Christ” or “in him,” signifying that every stage of salvation is intrinsically linked to Christ. From being chosen in Him before creation to the final inheritance promised through Him, every aspect of redemption is enveloped within this union with Christ. This assures believers that while each stage of redemption is distinct, they are all inseparably interconnected in Christ.

These New Testament passages show a clear and consistent theme of targeted redemption. This specificity in Christ’s mission and sacrifice speaks powerfully to the doctrine of Particular Atonement, affirming the focused nature of divine justice and love in God’s plan of salvation.


As we conclude this introduction to the biblical foundation for Particular Atonement, we are invited to reflect deeply on the implications of this doctrine. The tapestry of Scripture, from the Old Testament typologies to the New Testament revelations, paints a picture of a God who is both just and intentional in His redemptive plan. Particular Atonement is a truth that deeply affects our understanding of God’s character and our place in His story.

Consider these questions as you think about the implications of Particular Atonement:

  • How does understanding Particular Atonement deepen your appreciation of God’s specific love and intentionality in redemption?
  • In what ways does this doctrine challenge or affirm your current understanding of God’s justice and mercy?
  • How might this understanding of Particular Atonement impact your personal faith journey and your view of your relationship with God?

As we progress in this series, our next article will address some of the most pressing moral and ethical questions surrounding Particular Atonement. We will explore how this doctrine aligns with our understanding of God’s justice, His love for humanity, and the implications for our ethical and moral perspectives. This exploration is crucial, as it helps us reconcile the deep truths of our faith with the realities of a world that needs understanding God’s justice and mercy.

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