For Whom Did Christ Die? the Extent of the Atonement in Paul's Theology
Fesko, J. V., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
For Whom Did Christ Die? The Extent of the Atonement in Paul's Theology. By Jarvis J. Williams. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2012, 267 pp., $31.00 paper.
For whom did Christ die? This is the issue that Jarvis J. Williams, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at Campbellsville University, addresses in his monograph published in the Paternoster Biblical Monographs series. Williams sets forth his thesis from the very outset of his work: "According to Paul, Jesus died exclusively for all the elect Jews and Gentiles to achieve their salvation" (p. 1). Williams argues his case in five chapters. In the first he deals with introductory matters where he surveys the history of the question of the extent of the application of Christ's atonement from the early church, through the Middle Ages, Reformation, and then into the present day (pp. 2-30). In chapter 2, he sets the broader context of the necessity of the atonement through an examination of the "plight" of humanity (pp. 32-103). In other words, humanity is universally under the power of sin and death. Williams surveys numerous Pauline texts to prove the point that humanity, both Jew and Gentile, is powerless to respond to the work of salvation God has provided in Christ. According to Williams, "Paul deems Jews and Gentiles to be under the power of sin as a result of Adam's transgression and that such power both condemns and destroys their ability to respond by faith to God's great act of salvation in Jesus Christ" (p. 103).
In chapter 3, Williams covers divine and human agency in Paul's soteriology and contends that only the elect, according to Paul, are enabled by God to believe and thereby embrace the salvation in Christ. Once again, Williams surveys numerous Pauline texts to build his case that God must initiate salvation to enable fallen sinners to respond to the gospel. Williams strives to demonstrate that when Christ achieves redemption, it is not hypothetical. Rather, "[t]hose for whom Jesus died actually receive God's Spirit and those who receive God's Spirit by faith actually experience this new status in Christ" (p. 179).
Chapter 4 deals with the purpose and benefits of Christ's death in Paul's atonement theology. Williams does not delve too deeply into the OT but moves quickly into intertestamental Judaism and Second Temple views of atonement theology, which he argues, shapes the conception of Paul's own views of atonement and soteriology (p. 201). Along similar lines as presented in chapter 3, Williams contends: "Paul does not speak of Jesus' death as hypothetically accomplishing soteriological benefits for all people via his death, but that Jesus actually effected justification for those for whom God offered him to die. This suggests that the group for whom he died is the same group whom he elected and predestined for justification and glorification to be vessels of mercy... since they are the only ones (not those who die in disbelief) who receive God's soteriological benefits effected by the death of Jesus" (p. 203). In the fifth and final chapter, Williams offers summaries of his previous chapters and then gives observations and suggestions for future dialogue for NT scholars and theologians about the extent of the atonement in Pauline theology (p. 218).
There are a number of positive strengths in Williams's work that deserve attention. First, this work is thoroughly researched and demonstrates an excellent familiarity with NT scholarship on a host of subjects in Pauline theology. The densely packed gutters on each page of his book provide a trove of relevant literature that will satisfy the scholarly-minded reader. Second, Williams presents a compelling argument over the course of his book that requires readers to work through a host of Pauline texts on several important exegetical and theological questions. Williams provides ample grist for the mill for future theological discussion on this hotly debated subject. …