The Meaning of “World” in First John

The letter of First John makes several direct references to the universality of Jesus’ atonement.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 NIV – bold mine)

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. -1 John 4:14

In these passages John states that Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world, and  came to be Savior of the the world.  The Greek word for world is kosmos.  The English word “cosmos” is derived from this word.  Cosmos means the entire universe.

Calvinists sometimes assert that kosmos in the context of John’s letter is limite to “to elect individuals from all nations”. The problem is that this interpretation is applied inconsistently.  And it does not make sense in context of how John applies the word elsewhere in the letter.

For example, 1 John 5:19 states: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

In 1 John 5:19 “whole world” cannot refer to only the elect, because it is speaking of the present fallen world under the control of Satan. It is this same world that Jesus died for.

For the purpose of illustrating John’s consistent use of kosmos, here is every occurrence from First John. Note how often John makes reference to the present fallen world. There is no exegetical merit to change the meaning to “elect” in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:14.

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.

1 John 4:1-3 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1 John 4:4-5 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.

1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

1 John 4:13-18 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. [Notice how the Calvinist definition of world contradicts itself within this particular passage]

1 John 5:3-5 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

In summary, The terms “whole world” and “world” as used in First John apply to the entire world.  The same world that is under the control of Satan is the same world for which Jesus died.  The Calvinist interpretation is not viable.  The Arminian interpretation is consistent.  Jesus is Savior of the entire world.  His propitiation applies to the whole world.

 

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24 Comments

Filed under Arminianism, Calvinism, First John, limited atonement

24 responses to “The Meaning of “World” in First John

  1. Good thoughts brother. It is hard to ignore what John meant when he used the word “world” in 1 John and from his other writings as well. God bless you brother!

  2. Just a question: if Christ is the propitiation for the literal entire world, why are there men in hell?

    • His propitiation doesn’t make men believe.

      From First John:

      “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

      “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”

  3. But isn’t unbelief a sin?

    • And oops, didn’t realize you could reply directly to stuff in a conversation chain. Dang wordpress and their new layouts :)

    • Yeah, good old nested comments. :)

      Atonement is universal (covers all), and provisional (One must believe to be saved). If one does not believe, they are condemned.

      John 3:16-18

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

      For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

      Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

      • That’s my question, though – if unbelief is a sin, why doesn’t Christ, as the propitiation for sins, cover that specific sin? Even if we argue it is provisional, that is still provisional on a sin itself.

      • Sure, unbelief is a sin. As John 3:18 teaches, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

        Jesus died for the world, and those who don’t believe in him will perish. Salvation is provisional (available for all) and conditional (one must believe to be saved).

        Check out this article on the Arminian Perspectives blog. He addresses John Owen’s dilemma in depth there.

  4. Reading your verses it seems that “world” could be read “kingdom of the world”, ie contrasted with kingdom of God. It is specifically those who have not yet joined the kingdom that Jesus himself (also) died for.

    If the group “world” is to be limited, it is at the exclusion of the elect, not their inclusion.

  5. Why isn’t that sin forgiven?

  6. All right, that answered my question a bit more. Thank you :)

    • Dave

      I know I’m late to the party, but wanted to chime in.

      I think unbelief is like any other sin in that it is covered by Christ’s atonement. But you still have to accept Christ inorder for that covering to apply, just like any other sin.

      Otherwise, I think you would end up with universalism. If you were to claim that the sin of unbelief was automatically covered, it would then follow that all other sins would be covered in like manner.

      Not sure if that makes as much sense as it did in my head ;)

  7. Because “their citizenship is in Heaven” the brethren of The Messiah are but “aliens and pilgrims while on the earth”! So it is that they no longer have their portion with those who follow “the broad way that leads to destruction” because they have taken heed unto The Call to “Come Out of her, MY people”!

    They have “Come Out” of this wicked world and it’s systems of religion and have taken heed unto the exhortation to:

    “Love Not The World”

    ”For the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one”…….(I John 5:19)

    “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.”(IJohn2:15-17)

    “If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John15:19-20)

    “Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

    “The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

    The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

    John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James4:4)

    “Come Out of her, MY people”!

    Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease(no-peace),,etc,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” all of which fuel the fires of mankind’s “imag”ination ;-(

    “Come out from among them and be separate”!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……

    Truth IS, a lie never was and is not…….

    Abide in Truth……. francis

  8. Pingback: The Meaning of “World” in First John | Society of Evangelical Arminians

  9. Because the brethren of The Messiah have their “citizenship is in Heaven” they choose to be but “aliens and pilgrims while on the earth”! So it is that they no longer have their portion with those who follow “the broad way that leads to destruction” because they have taken heed unto The Call to “Come Out of her, MY people”!

    They have “Come Out” of this wicked world and it’s systems of religion and have taken heed unto the exhortation to:

    “Love Not The World”

    ”For the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one”…….(I John 5:19)

    “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.”(IJohn2:15-17)

    “If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John15:19-20)

    “Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

    “The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

    The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

    John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James4:4)

    “Come Out of her, MY people”!

    Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease(no-peace),,etc,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” all of which fuel the fires of mankind’s “imag”ination ;-(

    “Come out from among them and be separate”!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……

    Truth IS, a lie never was and is not…….

    Abide in Truth……. francis

  10. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | The Meaning of “World” in First John

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