Some argue that Calvinism and Hebrews 2:9 are contradictory because Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus would “taste death for everyone.” They argue that this contradicts the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement. However, there is a very reasonable interpretation for Hebrews 2:9 that does not at all contradict the doctrines of Calvinism.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.Hebrews 2:9
The context of Hebrews 2:9 helps us understand what the author Hebrews means when he uses the phrase, “for everyone.”
First, we should recognize that one of the major arguments the author of Hebrews is making is that Jesus’ sacrifice actually perfects, or saves, the people for whom he died. This is the clear teaching of Hebrews 10:10-14.
10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ[a] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.Hebrews 10:10-14
Because of this, we should not expect the author to contradict himself within his very own writing. If Jesus tasted death, or sacrificed himself, for every single person in the world, then that would mean that he “perfected” every single person in the world, or that every single person in the world is saved, which Scripture clearly does not teach.
Second, looking at the immediate context of Hebrews 2:9, we see who exactly the author is referring to when he uses the phrase, “for everyone.”
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothersHebrews 2:10-11
In Hebrews 2:10-11, we see that Jesus’ atoning work was for “many sons” and “brothers,” or, in other words, everyone who are or will become part of the family of God, everyone who follows and obeys Christ.
Heb. 2:9 – But we see him, that is, Jesus. At this point all interpreters agree that the focus of the passage is Jesus (cf. notes on vv. 7, 8). The phrase little while and the sequence of events in vv. 7–8 (cf. Ps. 8:5–6) demonstrate that, after first being made lower than the angels, Jesus was subsequently crowned and exalted. While Jesus’ sufferings indicated his humiliation and subjection, his suffering of death was also the reason for his being crowned with glory and honor. Jesus tasted death as a work of God’s grace done on behalf of everyone (i.e., all who follow him; Heb. 9:15, 28; 10:39). Jesus. This is the first mention of Jesus’ name in Hebrews (see 3:1; 4:14; etc.; “Christ” first appears in 3:6). “Crowned with glory and honor” echoes the same phrase used in 2:7. Though the human race generally did not fulfill God’s plan to put everything on earth under man’s feet (vv. 6–8), there is one man who is fulfilling God’s great plan for human beings, and that is Jesus.1
taste death for everyone. Here, “everyone” must be understood in the light of the context and of the results of Jesus’ death described elsewhere in Hebrews. It refers to the “many sons” whom God brings to glory (v. 10), whom Jesus calls “brothers” (v. 11). Those for whom Jesus tasted death were made holy and perfect once for all by His sacrifice (10:10, 14), their consciences cleansed from acts that lead to death (9:14), so they are freed from the fear of death (2:14, 15). By contrast, there are those (even within Christian congregations) who do not trust the Son but subject Him to ridicule (6:6). For them, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment” (10:26, 27). Thus “everyone” here includes all those (but only those) who persevere in trusting Jesus (3:6, 14).2
that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man; that is, Christ was made a little lower than the angels by becoming man, and assuming a body frail and mortal, that he might die for his church and people: to “taste death”, is a Jewish phrase, often to be met with in Rabbinical writings; [See comments on Mt 16:28] and signifies the truth and reality of his death, and the experience he had of the bitterness of it, it being attended with the wrath of God, and curse of the law; though he continued under it but for a little while, it was but a taste; and it includes all kinds of death, he tasted of the death of afflictions, being a man of sorrows all his days, and a corporeal death, and what was equivalent to an eternal one; and so some think the words will bear to be rendered, “that he by the grace of God might taste of every death”; which rendering of the words, if it could be established, as it is agreeable to the context, and to the analogy of faith, would remove all pretence of an argument from this place, in favour of the universal scheme: what moved God to make him lower than the angels, and deliver him up to death, was not any anger towards him, any disregard to him, or because he deserved it, but his “grace”, free favour, and love to men; this moved him to provide him as a ransom; to preordain him to be the Lamb slain; to send him in the fulness of time, and give him up to justice and death: the Syriac version reads, “for God himself through his own grace tasted death for all”; Christ died, not merely as an example, or barely for the good of men, but as a surety, in their room and stead, and that not for every individual of mankind; for there are some he knows not; for some he does not pray; and there are some who will not be saved: the word “man” is not in the original text, it is only υπερ παντος, which may be taken either collectively, and be rendered “for the whole”; that is, the whole body, the church for whom Christ gave himself, and is the Saviour of; or distributively, and be translated, “for everyone”; for everyone of the sons God brings to glory, Heb 2:10 for everyone of the “brethren”, whom Christ sanctifies, and he is not ashamed to own, and to whom he declares the name of God, Heb 2:11 for everyone of the members of the “church”, in the midst of which he sung praise, Heb 2:12 for every one of the “children” God has given him, and for whose sake he took part of flesh and blood, Heb 2:13 and for everyone of the “seed” of Abraham, in a spiritual sense, whose nature he assumed, Heb 2:16.3