Is Matthew 1:21 A Valid “Proof text” For The Reformed Believer Or Not?

One of the verses that I often cite when explaining my transition to a reformed theological position is Matthew 1:21.  The context of his verse is an angel telling Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful to him and that the child she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit.  The angel tells Joseph what to name the child and for what reason the Holy Spirit has supernaturally impregnated her.  See for yourself:

Matthew 1:18-25 (18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  (19)  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  (20)  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  (21)  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  (22)  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  (23)  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  (24)  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  (25)  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Verse 21 conveys a very specific message.  It says that “He will save His people”.  Note that it does not say that” He will make them savable” or “He will make salvation possible”.  I need to make this distinction because of an article recently posted over at Society of Evangelical Arminians under the title of “Matthew 1:21:  How Calvinists Blind Side A Text“.  As you can imagine, the title caught my eye so I read it.  It is a short article but it gives a good understanding of what the Arminian postition is.  The Article starts with the following paragraph:

One of the more inane prooftexts for Calvinism is Matt 1:21, “…for he will save his people from their sins.” Calvinists argue that this is a statement of definiteness, that it does not say that Jesus will merely provide the opportunity of salvation for “his people,” but instead, that Jesus will definitely save his people. They claim that this flies in the face of Arminian assertions that through Jesus, God provides a way for everyone to be saved.

The quick Arminian retort is simple: “What!? Do you Calvinists think that Arminians deny that Jesus will definitely save his people??? Of course, we Arminians affirm that Jesus will definitely save his people, just as the text says.”

The author correctly and briefly begins by stating the Calvinist position on this verse.  (For those who might be wondering the word inane means:  lacking significance, meaning, or point, i.e. silly).  He also addresses a common objection Calvinists present to Arminianism:  that in Arminian theology Christ’s death only makes salvation possible, it does not directly save anyone.

In my own personal experience, which includes believing in this way myself and then, once I accepted Reformed Theology,  discussing this topic with others who still hold this view, most will say the same thing the author does.  They will quickly and easily affirm that Jesus’ death will save His people.  But, when questioned on specifics of how, most actually come to the position that Jesus’ death only makes salvation possible.  At which point most who believe this way no longer want to continue the discussion because they see the hole in their theology but are unwilling to address it.

The author continues

The ultimate question is a matter of defining “his people.” Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, the issue which is pounded is whether “his people” consists of Abraham’s descendants only, or whether “his people” is actually the community of faith, consisting of both Jew and Gentile believers; obviously, Matthew favours the latter position.

I agree with him here that the ultimate question is who makes up His people.  This brings us to the point of Election.  Who gets to define who His people are?  Do we or does He?  It is my contention that only God, as Creator, has that right.  The Creator is always greater than the creation.

If you say that His people are defined by us, then that brings up several questions that must be answered.  How can God be truly sovereign if we have the power to decide who make up His people?  Why would Jesus choose to bear, on the cross,  the sins of those whom He knew would never choose Him?  If Jesus did bear, on the cross, the sins of those who would not choose Him then on what basis does God punish them (because the penalty has already been paid by Jesus)?

In conclusion, Matthew 1:21 is a Calvinist proof text.  The author of the post has missed the point of what is being proven though.  It proves that there is a definite group of people who are known as His people.  We must then move on to find out who these people are and how they become and stay His people.

Do you agree with my assessment?  If not, why?  What is your understanding?

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5 Responses to Is Matthew 1:21 A Valid “Proof text” For The Reformed Believer Or Not?

  1. Scott Hollander says:

    I agree. I had the same thoughts as I read that passage to my family this morning.
    God’s Sovereign Efficacious grace is a wonderful gift.

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  2. “His people” are those who believe. Acts 16:31 This condition is defined not by us, but by God, and that is his right. We must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. As a side note, the verse is not talking about TULIP. It is a comment by the angel on what the name of Jesus means – The Lord saves. It should be read in that context.

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  3. Tom Shelton says:

    Kevin,

    I agree that “His people” are those who believe. But the question then becomes who can believe. Can anyone? No. Only those drawn by the Father can believe (John 6:44).

    In biblical times names meant things. The name Jesus may mean “the Lord saves” but is also describes His purpose. It shows that He came to save a particular group…not everybody. That group was known before He came. As such, we have to reject the notion that He came to make people savable.

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  4. PJ says:

    I agree with Tom. The “L” that Kevin is looking for is explicitly found in “His people.” It doesn’t read “all people.”

    “We are not into partcular love or limited atonement. As a matter of fact we consider it heresy.” -Jerry Falwell.

    It’s high time to choose a side people. Reformed Monergism has an exegetical lock on the whole text, where the Arminian can only force their presuppositions into it.

    How much spin can you possibly put on John 15:16? The apostles are not an example of Jesus’ double-standard as the Arminian implies, but they are all chosen.

    Therefore, don’t tell us what the Bible “really means to say” because you’re only getting that from somewhere else and cherry-picking.

    -PJ

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  5. “They will quickly and easily affirm that Jesus’ death will save His people. But, when questioned on specifics of how, most actually come to the position that Jesus’ death only makes salvation possible. At which point most who believe this way no longer want to continue the discussion because they see the hole in their theology but are unwilling to address it.”

    Actually, making salvation through faith possible for those who will believe is saving them, hence, yes, in Arminian theology, Christ does save His people. Objections based upon such wording are fallacies of over-simplification.

    “How can God be truly sovereign if we have the power to decide who make up His people?”

    I don’t think anyone’s arguing that point. God sovereignly giving people free will and electing some according to His foreknowledge are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    “Why would Jesus choose to bear, on the cross, the sins of those whom He knew would never choose Him?”

    For one, to genuinely offer salvation to all men. God cannot make a sincere offer of forgiveness to those for whom no provision of forgiveness has been made.

    “If Jesus did bear, on the cross, the sins of those who would not choose Him then on what basis does God punish them (because the penalty has already been paid by Jesus)?”

    Because the benefit of forgiveness is provisioned upon faith in Christ.

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