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Owen Thomas on the “Evolving” Doctrine of the Atonement within Reformed Theology

September 12, 2007


The Protestant Reformation brought a particular emphasis upon Augustine’s doctrine of the grace of God but it appears that all the early Reformers considered Christ’s sacrifice as bearing a general aspect and as offered for all mankind so as to establish a ground of hope for all. This, unquestionably, was Calvin’s view. So also taught Bullinger, Musculus, Zanchius, and the English Reformers generally. Only in the works of Tyndale and Ridley do we read of any tendency towards the more limited and narrower interpretation.

But in the period succeeding that of the early Reformers, when the effort was made to present theology in a more systematic way, the idea of a particular redemption became more general amongst Calvinistic divines. This, indeed, had begun with Beza who was the first of them to reach the doctrine definitively and to interpret all the general and extensive phrases employed in the New Testament in this context as referring either to the elect only, or to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, or as being used in an indeterminate manner and referring to all ranks and classes of men…

Owen Thomas, The Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2002), 123. [first published in 1874.]

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