Jerome (347-420) on the Death of Christ

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in For Whom did Christ Die?


20.28. “Just as the Son of man did not come be served but serve.” Note what we have frequently said, that he who serves is called the Son of man. "And to give his life as a redemption for many." This took place when he took the form of a slave that he might pour out his blood for the world.": And he did not say "to give his life as a redemption" for all, but "for many," that is, for those who wanted to believe. Jerome, St. Jerome Commentary on Matthew, in The Fathers of the Church, ed., Thomas P. Halton, et al, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 117: 229. [Underlining mine.]

On the basis of this comment from Jerome, Michael Haykin, in the recently published book From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, makes this claim regarding Jerome and the doctrine of limited satisfaction:

Here Jerome defines the “many” as “those who wanted to believe.” While there may be some ambiguity here in Jerome’s statement, the words at least hint that Jerome saw Christ’s death to be for a particular group of people–believers.

The question is, can that statement be contextualized in a way that that suggestion, that alleged “hint,” that Jerome believed Christ’s death was particular to the elect alone.1

I think this can be accomplished in three ways. Michael A. G. Haykin, “We Trust in the Saving Blood: Definite Atonement in the Ancient Church, in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, ed. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2013), 70. See also John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth (London: CO. Waterford: 1855), 260.

1) It should be noted that within the quotation, itself, Jerome affirms that Jesus poured “out his blood for the world.”

2) Counter-factual statements from Jerome.

For example:

26.6. Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper He was about to suffer for the whole world and to redeem all nations by his blood. He stays in Bethany, "the house of obedience," which at one time belonged to Simon the leper. It is not that he remained a leper even at that time, but that he was formerly a leper and afterward was cleansed by the Saviour. His original name remained with him in order that the power of the one who cured him might appear. For even in the list of apostles, though Matthew is called a tax-collector according to his former vice and duty, he had certainly ceased being a tax-collector. Some want the house of Simon the leper to be understood as that portion of the people that believed in the Lord and was cured by him. Simon, too, is himself called "the one who obeys." According to another understanding his name can be translated "clean." It was in his house that the Church was healed. Jerome, St. Jerome Commentary on Matthew, in The Fathers of the Church, ed., Thomas P. Halton, et al, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 117: 292.

1.3. Judah begot Phares and Zani of Thamar. In the Savior’s genealogy it is remarkable that there is no mention of holy women, but only those whom Scripture reprehends, so that (we can understand that) he who had come for the sake of sinners, since he was born from sinful women, blots out the sins of everyone. Jerome, St. Jerome Commentary on Matthew, in The Fathers of the Church, ed., Thomas P. Halton, et al, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 117: 59

The problem is that in Jerome’s writings these types of statements seem few and far between. More research needs to be done in order to identify the totality of his statements on the extent of the satisfaction.

3) By comparing what Jerome says with what Chrysostom says on the same biblical phrase.


Ver. 28. “So Christ was once offered.” By whom offered? evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] was offered.” “Was once offered” (he says) “to bear the sins of many.” Why “of many,” and not for all”? Because not all believed. For He died indeed for all,2 that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing. And what is [the meaning of] “He bare the sins”? Just as in the Oblation we bear up our sins and say, “Whether we have sinned voluntarily or involuntarily, do Thou forgive,” that is, we make mention of them first, and then ask for their forgiveness. So also was it done here. Where has Christ done this? Hear Himself saying, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself.” (John xvii.19.) Lo! He bore the sins. He took them from men, and bore them to the Father; not that He might determine anything against them [mankind], but that He might forgive them. “Unto them that look for Him shall He appear” (he says) “the second time without sin unto salvation.” What is “without sin”? it is as much as to say, He sinneth not. For neither did He die as owing the debt of death, nor yet because of sin. But how “shall He appear”? To punish, you say. He did not however say this, but what was cheering; “shall He appear unto them that look for Him, without sin unto salvation.” So that for the time to come they no longer need sacrifices to save themselves, but to do this by deeds. Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and the Epistles to the Hebrews,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 14:447-448.

As the language is virtually identical, many not all, because not all believed, the sentiment certainly is identical. Fortunately, Chrysostom then goes on to explain what he means by "to bear." For him, it means "to forgive."

For Chrysostom, then, the import of this verse is that “to bear sin” is “to forgive sin,” and so of course, not all sins are forgiven, only the sins of believers, so Christ did not bear, in this sense, the sins of all men. And note also the parallel structure which could be paraphrased, though he died for all, he did not bear the sins of all, that is, he did not forgive all. Jerome’s statement “that he might pour out his blood for the world” corresponds to Chrysostom’s similar statement “For He died indeed for all,”2 both of which are set in juxtaposition to the statement that Christ did not bare the sins of all. In both cases, a statement about the universality of Christ’s death, precede the statement of limitation. It is almost as if one is paraphrasing the other.

What is more, the fact that both Chyrsostom and Jerome reference “believers” and not the “elect” abstractedly, further supports the point. It only begs the question when the modern reader hastily converts the word and concept “believers” into the concept “the elect.”

It is more than likely, then, that in the quotation cited by Haykin, there is no argument or statement for limited satisfaction, only what may perhaps be called an idiosyncratic way of interpreting this verse, which was perhaps common at that point of time in early church history. Or it may be that they are referencing each other. At this point, more research is required.

We can know that in the time of the Reformation, the statement Christ died for “the sins of many” as found Isaiah, and the Synoptics, was often open to a dynamic interpretation. Some early Reformers, the phrase, "the many" could be interpreted in two ways, as referring to the elect or believers, if the efficacy of the satisfaction was in mind, or to all men if the sufficiency of the satisfaction was in mind.3

To conclude

If this reading of Jerome is correct, and I strongly suspect it is, then with regard to the quotation provided by Haykin, there is no reference to the extent of the satisfaction properly speaking. Rather, Jerome speaks to the application of Christ’s satisfactory work. His particular interpretation of “the many” would then be perfectly compatible with the doctrine of unlimited satisfaction–as it was with the case of Chrysostom, he could have equally subscribed to the belief that Christ died for (suffered for, etc) all men.


1That is, it was limited to the elect, to the exclusion of the non-elect? There is some ambiguity in the word “particular” as all proponents of hypothetical universalism can say that in one sense Christ died particularly for the elect, though not exclusively for the elect.

2For proof that Chrysostom held to an unlimited or universal satisfaction, see here.

3See for example, Juan de Valdés see here.

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