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Zwingli and the Reformed Doctrine of Unlimited Atonement

December 5, 2008

I want to continue my thread on the Reformed Doctrine of Unlimited Atonement.

Today I want to post some exemplar remarks from Zwingli.

However, a few explanatory notes may be in order. I am not using my preferred terms, expiation or propitiation. I do not buy into CH Dodd’s sharp dichotomy between these two terms, or the Evangelical community’s like acceptance of that separation. I generally default to expiation because it is easier to type. The word “atonement” in academic and historic literature is sometimes assumed to be vague, or inaccurate or incorrect, after all, it originally denoted reconciliation. I suspect ‘atonement’ in today’s context oftentimes denotes the whole process of expiation and accomplished reconciliation. In these posts, however, I use the term to denote, more simply, the expiatory sacrifice offered, that should effect reconciliation. Now to today’s post:



Therefore the birth had to be absolutely pure of every stain, because He that was born was also God. Second, on account of the nature of the sacrificial victim. For that had to be free from all blemish, as the law of Moses required, though that only applied to the purity of the flesh, Heb 9:9. How much more had the victim to be absolutely spotless which made atonement for the sins not only of all who had been, but of all who were yet to come… Of this figure I shall say nothing more, since it is perfectly clear in itself and through the notices of all who have spoken of it. Furthermore, the John who baptized the Son of God, as soon as he saw Christ coming towards him, pointed out to his disciples with the words: “Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. Zwingli, Commentary on True and False Religion, (Labyrinth Press), p., 112 and 113.


That Christ was offered himself up once as a sacrifice, is a perpetual and valid payment for the sin of all believers

For just as all persons die only once, and immediately after their death follows the judgement of God, so Christ has offered himself only once through the death he suffered. And after his death follows the taking away of the sin of all, i.e., of all who believe

But if he were to be offered up again and again, he would be much like the sacrifices in the Old Testament which had to be offered up repeatedly because of their imperfection. This would mean a belittling and degrading of the perfection of the sacrifice which is Christ who through his death has offered himself to God for the sins of all who ever been and ever shall be. Zwingli, Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, Pickwick Publications, vol 1, p, 92, 93, and 94.


If then Christ by his death has reconciled all people who are on earth when he poured out his blood on the cross and if we are on earth, then our sins, too, and those of everyone who has ever lived, have been recompensed by the one death and offering. Zwingli, Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, Pickwick Publications, vol 1, p, 97.


In the same way also our sins are forgiven and we may come to God on the strength and efficacy of the suffering which Christ endured once, for us and all persons. So costly and precious it is before God that it has become for all eternity the pledge and price for all humankind by which alone they may come to God. Zwingli, Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, vol 1, p, 94.

As with Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli, Calvin, Cranmer, and Davenant, et al, we see the same basic three-fold structure of unlimited expiation, unlimited redemption, and universal reconciliation.

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