No Atonement for the House of Eli (1 Sam 3:14)

Short Notes


By limited atonement and limited satisfaction, I mean the doctrine that Christ was only punished for the sins of the elect. That is, Christ only sustained a penal relationship with them, and them alone.

The Argument

In brief, it is argued that because it is stated that there was no atonement for the House of Eli, this entails or suggests a limited satisfaction with regard to the work of Christ. That is, that the satisfactory work of Christ is limited to the elect alone, to the exclusion of the non-elect. The suggestion is something like: If the House of Eli can be excluded from atonement in the Old Testament, then the non-elect can be excluded from the Christ’s satisfaction in the New Testament.


1) The context is because of their sin, the house of Eli was precluded from obtaining atonements (probably forgiveness) for their sins. At one time there were atonements or forgiveness available to them for their sins, then on account of their sins, at a later time, there was not as access to atonement as it was denied or withdrawn from them.

2) For the argument for “limited atonement” to work, one would have to show that at no point was there access for the house of Eli to atonements for sin. This would then indicate that they were denied access to atonements a priorily, even before they were born, etc. But having access to atonement removed, is not the same as never having an atonement made available to them in the first place.

3) Even if we grant that a priorily, there was no atonement (i.e., atonements) for the House of Eli, that would not prove “limited atonement,” properly speaking. It would only prove that a certain segment of the class “non-elect” were not died-for. It would not prove that all the class, non-elect, were not died-for. Here I am simply inverting Owen’s logic, when he concedes that even if a given passage in Eze 18 proves that God wished the salvation of the House of Israel, one could not universalize the text to claim that God wished the salvation of all men, or specifically of all non-elect.

4) Relative to 3), the OT sacrifices were a type to Christ’s future sacrifice, and even though they were limited to the Israel of God, Christ’s sacrifice, on the other hand, is for the world (Jn 1:29, John 3:14-17, 1 Jn 2:2). Therefore, any limitation in the type does not necessarily entail to a corresponding limitation in the anti-type. We have plenty of examples of this, the flood, the Ark, the Bronze Serpent, and so forth. With regard to Christ, the anti-type is expansive and global.

5) The case of the house of Eli parallels the warning passages in Hebrews. I need not labour all of them as mentioned in the book of Hebrews. However, one does stand out as relevant. Hebrews 10:26:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins . . .

The Greek for “no longer,” is ouketi, which is an adverb of time. Ouketi never means, “no other.” Thus, there was a sacrifice for their sin, but now, due to their sin, there is no longer a sacrifice for their sin: it has been withdrawn. This seems on all accounts to be the most natural reading of the text. In short, then, due to sin, access to atonement has been withdrawn from these apostates. The thought here is the same as that which lies at the back of John’s claim that there are some for whom there is no forgiveness, so do not pray for them (1 Jn 5:16).

Given the force of Heb 10:26, the case is the same with the House of Eli. Because of their sin, access to atonement(s) as a means of forgiveness has been withdrawn. Understood in this manner, there is here no argument for limited satisfaction. On the other hand, it actually entails the converse, a satisfaction was made even for those who are finally impenitent, which due to sin, access to atonement, having once made for them, is now to be removed.

6) If the argument is that Christ’s satisfaction did not cover the sins of the House of Eli, therefore Christ’s satisfaction is limited in itself, per se, then this is rebutted easily enough. A) While the Old Testament sacrifices of the atonement may be denied to the house forever, this does not necessarily entail that Christ’s satisfaction is likewise denied to them. B) It would still be wrong to generalize from the House of Eli to the totality of the non-elect. C) It remains most probable that the access to the benefit of the Old Testament atonements are denied to Eli’s house as a means for forgiveness, not necessarily that, absolutely considered, there was no provision of satisfaction obtained for his house per se given the fact of the yearly sacrifice which was made for all the people and for all their sins (Lev 16:21). D) It still remains the case that this proves that there once was an atonement for that house, but that it has access to it has been withdrawn due to sin. E) What is more, given the force of Eze 18:14-20, there is good reason to believe that the judgement on the fathers may be removed from the righteous sons. F) Given that it is most probable that the members of the House of Eli are probably all dead, such an argument seems rather moot, if not even irrelevant.


If all one wants to do is to show that there are some people for whom there is no access to atonement, we agree with that general statement.

If , however, one wishes to use this case to argue for the wider claim that Christ did not die for the non-elect, one would have to prove 2), above, and then engage in a generalization fallacy that this is applicable to all the non-elect. However, that generalization would, itself, beg the question, formally.

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