An ancient testimony of belief in Limited Atonement

An ancient testimony of belief in Limited Atonement

The  following is extra-biblical documentary evidence that the first century church did not hold to a notion of Universal Atonement (i.e. that Christ died for all mankind).  This is the same church, that is spoken of in the reference following.  It is fascinating to see a letter, written by members of the Church at Smyrna, to sister churches in their region concerning the recent martyrdom of their pastor, Polycarp.   Polycarp was a son in the ministry to the Apostle John, just as Timothy and Titus were to the Apostle Paul.   In this small extract, we get a clear insight into their beliefs concerning the extent of the atonement of Christ, that they held to the Limited Atonement doctrine.   This is how the brethren at Smyrna, a first century apostolic church, would have answered the question, “For whom did Christ die?”.  One simply cannot get to the Universal Atonement position from the statement that the church at Smyrna made:  “Neither  can  we  ever  forsake Christ,  him  who  suffered  for  the  salvation  of  the  world  of  them  that  are  saved,  nor  worship any  other.”  We also see their clear recognition of the words that had been penned to them not long before in the book of Revelation and that they had received strength and encouragement in their time of trials from those words.


[Rev 2:8-11 KJV] 8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; 9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and [I know] the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but [are] the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. 11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

From the appendix of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, pg 284 in PDF edition, by John Owen (1647)

Some  few  testimonies  of  the  ancients.

  1. The confession  of  the  holy  Church of  Smyrna,  a  little  after  the  commendation  given  it by  the  Holy  Ghost,  Rev.  ii.  9,  upon  the  martyrdom  of  Polycarpus:—  Ὅτι  οὔτε  τὸν  Χριστόν ποτε  καταλείπειν δυνησόμεθα τὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς τοῦκόσμου τῶν σωζωμένων σωτηρίας παθόντα, οὔτε  ἕτερον  τιμῇ  σέβειν. —  Euseb.  Hist.  Eccles.,  lib.  iv.  cap.  15.  —  “Neither  can  we  ever  forsake Christ,  him  who  suffered  for  the  salvation  of  the  world  of  them  that  are  saved,  nor  worship any  other.” [It  is  an  extract  from  a  letter  of  the  church  of  Smyrna  to  the  churches  of  Pontus,  giving an  account  of  the  martyrdom  of  Polycarp.]