Calvinism and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19?

Question
Christ reconciled the entire world to himself (2 Cor 5:19), so he died for everyone (2 Cor 5:14-15) and so everyone will be saved. Therefore, no one is going to hell as God can't be stopped in his mission.
Answer

I agree with you that God can't be stopped in his mission (Isa 40:8; 45:23; 55:11; cf. Num 23:19; Matt 24:35). So, whatever God reconciled to himself will remain that way. However, we need to examine 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19 in context to see what they mean. Who is God reconciling to himself?

Let's look at the verses in question:

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Textual Note

The best commentary I've seen on this section of 2 Corinthians 5 is John Murray's, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I've copied the pertinent parts of it below. Here I will just make a few comments about the text itself to show how Murray's explanation is the best. This is technical information, so it may be limited in its assistance to some. It concerns two rather small, but very important words: (1) "therefore" (ara) and (2) "the" (hoi).

When we see the phrase, "died for all" (2 Cor 5:14) we may assume the "all" refers to "the entire human race without any exceptions." But the next phrase is "therefore all have died" (2 Cor 5:14). So, in what sense do "all" die? Some readers assume the answer is "in physical death" or "all are dead in their sins." But, while dying a physical death and dying in our sins are true in other contexts, here they ignore the connective "therefore" (Greek, ara) in this text. Ara is an inferential particle, so it is best translated "consequently" or "therefore" (not "then" as in many translations). So, ara doesn't indicate temporal progression, but a logical progression.

So, what is Paul saying? Christ's death comes first and then the death of "the all" comes about as a result of his death. Moreover in the Greek text, there is a "the" (hoi) in front of the "all." So, it is a specific "all." Paul is making it crystal clear that the exact same ones for which Christ died are the exact ones who died. Their death was the result of Christ's death! So the text is better read as, "one died for all, consequently, the all died."

So, these two small Greek words make a huge difference in us understanding these 2 Corinthians 5 passages, IMO, John Murray's explanation below is correct.

John Murray's Explanation of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 1996).

The second biblical argument that we may adduce in support of the doctrine of definite atonement is that drawn from the fact that those for whom Christ died have themselves also died in Christ. In the New Testament the more common way of representing the relation of believers to the death of Christ is to say that Christ died for them.

But there is also the strand of teaching to the effect that they died in Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-11; 2 Cor 5:14; Eph 2:4-7; Col 3:3). There can be no doubt respecting the proposition that all for whom Christ died also died in Christ. For Paul says explicitly, "one died for all: therefore all died" (2 Cor 5:14) - there is denotative equation.

The significant feature of this teaching of the apostle for rest is, however, that all who died in Christ rose again with him. This also Paul states explicitly. "But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him" (Rom. 6:8, 9).

Just as Christ died and rose again, so all who died in him rose again in him. And when we ask the question what this rising again in Christ involves, Paul leaves us in no doubt - it is a rising again to newness of life ... (Rom 6:4, 5; 2 Cor 5:14; Col 3:3).

To die with Christ is, therefore, to die to sin and to rise with him to the life of new obedience, to live not to ourselves but to him who died for us and rose again. The inference is inevitable that those for whom Christ died are those and those only who die to sin and live to righteousness. Now it is a plain fact that not all die to sin and live in newness of life. Hence we cannot say that all men distributively died with Christ. And neither can we say that Christ died for all men, for the simple reason that all for whom Christ died also died in Christ. If we cannot say that Christ died for all men, neither can we say that the atonement is universal - it is the death of Christ for men that specifically constitutes the atonement...

In concluding our discussion of the extent of the atonement it may be well to reflect upon one or two passages which have frequently been appealed to as settling the debate in favour of universal atonement. 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 is one of these. On two occasions in this text Paul says that Christ "died for all." But that this expression is not to be understood as distributively universal can be shown by the terms of the passage itself when interpreted in the light of Paul's teaching.

We have found already that according to Paul's teaching all for whom Christ died also died in Christ. He states that truth emphatically - "one died for all: therefore all died." But elsewhere he makes perfectly plain that those who died in Christ rise again with him (Rom 6:8). Although this latter truth is not stated in so many words in this passage, it is surely implied in the words, "he (Christ) died for all in order that those who live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him who died for them and rose again." ...

Hence those referred to as "those who live" must have the same extent as those embraced in the preceding clause, "he died for all." And since "those who live" do not embrace the whole human race, neither can the "all" referred to in the clause, "he died for all" embrace the entire human family. Corroboration is derived from the concluding words of [2 Cor 5:15], "but to him who died for them and rose again." Here again the death and resurrection of Christ are conjoined and the analogy of Paul's teaching in similar contexts is to the effect that those who are the beneficiaries of Christ's death are also of his resurrection and therefore of his resurrection life.

So when Paul says here, "died for them and rose again" the implication is that those for whom he died are those for whom he rose, and those for whom he rose are those who live in newness of life. In terms of Paul's teaching then and, specifically, in terms of the import of this passage we cannot interpret the "for all" of 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 as distributively universal. So far from lending support to the doctrine of universal atonement this text does the opposite.

2 Corinthians 5:19

As far as 2 Corinthians 5:19, note that in 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul mentions becoming "new creations." In addition, 2 Corinthians 5:18 mentions "through Christ reconciled us" and then 2 Corinthians 5:19 mentions says, "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself." Clearly, Paul is speaking of believers, the elect. Universalism is not a biblical doctrine. We all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and some go to heaven, some go to hell (2 Cor 5:10; cf. Matt 25:31-46).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).