The Apostle John’s World

, posted by A.M. Mallett

Recently, I have found myself focusing on the effects of a word or two, sovereignty and dominion being the last foray. Today the word world comes into play. It is a long disputed term, used in several contexts and has been at the heart of a dispute between most Christians and our Neo-Calvinist brethren for a long time. Where this conflict seems to generate the greatest angst is with the Apostle John’s usage of world or the phrase “whole world”. The great evangelical cry is found in John’s Gospel.

“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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Joh 3:16-21 AV)

There are two thoughts being expressed here, among others of course, that bring to light the context of John’s usage of world or kosmos in the Greek text. The first is salvation and what might be available through the propitiation and shedding of Christ’s blood for the world. The second is an expression of condemnation through what was brought into the world. Men are condemned for rejecting the light of Christ in favor of their love of darkness. This is the same world as that which might receive salvation but is comprised of two different groups of souls, those who might be saved through Christ and those who are already condemned for their rejection of the light of Christ. Both thoughts are contained in the same contextual usage of kosmos. When John wrote God so loved the world in his Gospel account, he did so in the same context by declaring Christ to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world as stated in his first pastoral epistle.

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.” (1Jo 2:1-2 AV)

Now, it might be disputed among some that whole world again refers to classes of people among the world but John provides the context of his usage of whole world in the same epistle and remains true to his Gospel declaration in doing so.

“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. [And] we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1Jo 5:18-21 AV)

In John’s mind, the whole world and God’s love for the world is expressed in a universal manner. He does not teach that God only loves a subset of the world or that Christ’s propitiation was only intended for the elect. Instead, the Apostle has expressed the very thoughts of Christ as seen in the synoptic Gospel accounts in encouraging those with the mind of Christ to love their enemies. This is not the filial love of men but love or agape of God.

Mt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Lu 6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,

Lu 6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

Unless the mind of Christ is diametrically opposed to the mind of the Father, we are to do as God in loving our enemies that constitute most of the whole world that God loves. There can be no other position we can scripturally take and be consistent with the whole witness of the New Testament of Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to be a propitiation not for our sins alone, but the sins of the whole world. It is a universal thought with the Apostle, one that even John Calvin, the namesake of the Neo-Calvinists of today, acknowledged. He viewed the atonement of Christ as a universal offer for all of mankind, indiscriminately (1). Such is the orthodox position of the church throughout its existence.

A couple thoughts come to mind regarding Calvinist thinking on this matter. Keep in mind the constraints our Neo-Calvinist brethren unwittingly place on God’s love. They read into the passage the meaning of world referring to classes of people from many nations. However, they all either knowingly overlook the obvious or are blindly following the poor instruction of their leadership. Calvinists, by default, define the extent of God’s love as that path of the obedient evangelical. If Calvinist thought is true, God’s love is limited to only those places in the world where men obedient to the commission of Christ have preached the cross of Christ. Think about this for a moment. The “whole world” of John’s day is redefined every time an evangelist steps into a new fertile evangelical field if Calvinism is true. The only place faith in Christ is found is where Christ has been preached and therefore the elect are only found in those places. Knowing this, the Calvinist should teach that John had no idea what “whole world” encompassed and of course it takes a Calvinist to help the church understand what “whole world” means here. Fortunately, most of the Body of Christ remains true to its orthodox foundation and the pastor of every church should find comfort in declaring the universal declarations of John the Beloved knowing he is in agreement with all of the Apostles, the early church leadership and every ecumenical body since.

(1) That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. – John Calvin, extract from his commentary on John 3:13-18.

A.M. Mallett