And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
The question which I deal with in this article reads: "Regarding the doctrine of limited atonement, could you please tell me who the "whole world" is in I John 2:2, and why it is only "world" in John 3:16? Could you please expound on "world" in John 3:16 and "whole world" in I John 2:2. Also, who is John referring to in I John 2:2 when he says, "our sins?"
I think Spurgeon says somewhere that the word "world" in Scripture never once means every man head for head.
It is striking that both passages referred to by the questioner are to be found in John. John's gospel message in the gospel narrative and in his letters is the message of a universal salvation. This great and glorious truth is stressed again and again in John.
But a universal salvation through the death of Christ does not mean, in John's thinking, that Christ died for everyone, and that everyone is saved. Not only John himself, but the whole of Scripture militates against that.
Let us take a rather quick look at the two passages which the questioner refers to.
I John 2:2 is one of those beautiful texts which emphasize so strongly that Christ is, in His death, a catholic Christ Who died for a catholic church. By "our sins" John refers to the sins of himself and those to whom he writes. In fact, we may even broaden this out a bit and say that John may very well refer to the sins of all the saints who were living at the time when this epistle was written.
But John looks beyond his own era and sees a church, redeemed in the blood of Christ, which is gathered from the whole world; i.e., from every nation and tribe and tongue. And that is because Christ shed His blood for a church that will be gathered from the nations throughout the entire new dispensation.
This is a glorious thought. The doctrine of the catholicity of the church is one of the most beautiful doctrines to be found in Scripture. Write to me sometime, and we will spend a bit more time discussing it.
The passage in John 3:16 is very similar, but has a slightly different emphasis. In the first place, it is obvious that the word "world" in this passage refers to the world of God's elect. For the text says that Christ died for those who believe in Him. And those who believe in Him are the elect. And so Christ died for the elect, and for them only.
But the word "world" in John 3:16 refers to the whole creation. The word "world" is "cosmos." And here John teaches that the love of God extends to the whole cosmos besides the world of the elect. God loves His world. He created it. Fallen man tries to steal it from God, and in the process wrecks God's world. But God loves it and has also redeemed it in the blood of Christ. So the whole cosmos will be saved when Christ comes again and makes this world into the new and heavenly creation.
These differences in meaning probably explain why John speaks of the "whole world" in his epistle, and of the "world" in his gospel
Two things yet. If Christ died for every man head for head, then one of two things must be true: 1) every man is saved; or, 2) Christ's death does not actually save, but salvation rests upon the free will of man. It has been well said, "A Christ for all is a Christ for no one."
The second remark is this. The "world" of the elect people of God is the true world. It is the world of eternal election. It is the world of God's unchangeable purpose in Christ. It is the world which is the object of God's love, for which Christ died, and which will be taken to glory to be with God forever. The true world is saved. Think of a beautiful temple. The finished temple is the fulfillment of the plan and purpose of the architect. The scaffolding is only for the building of the temple and is burned when the temple is finished. The reprobate are the "scaffolding" in the erection of the temple of the elect. When they have served their purpose, they are destroyed. God loves His temple.
Calvin speaks eloquently on I John 2:2. "Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretence extend salvation to all the reprobate.... Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect.... Though ... I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word "all" or "whole", he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world."
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 7
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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