Category Archives: First John

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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