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"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards

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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator - Commentary

...0, 11; 3:6). Romans 9:6 may also be added to the list.

The best interpreter of the word “world” is the context. We cannot simply apriori define the word, without looking at the context and what Scripture says. Owen says:

Secondly, That no argument can be taken from a phrase of speech in the Scripture, in any particular place, if in other places thereof where it is used the signification pressed from that place is evidently denied, unless the scope of the place or subject-matter do enforce it. For instance: God is said to love the world, and send his Son; to be in Christ reconciling the world to himself; and Christ to be a Propitiation For The Sins Of The Whole World. If the scope of the places where these assertions are, or the subject-matter of which they treat, will enforce a universality of all persons to be meant by the word world, so let it be, without control. But if not, if there be no enforcement of any such interpretation from the places themselves, why should the world there signify all and every one, more than in John i. 10, “The world knew him not,” which, if it be meant of all without exception, then no one did believe in Christ, which is contrary to verse 12; or in Luke 2:1, “That all the world should be taxed,” where none but the chief inhabitants of the Roman empire can be understood; or in John 8:26, “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him,” understanding the Jews to whom he spake, who then lived in the world, and not every one, to whom he was not sent; or in John 12:19, “Behold, the world is gone after him!” which world was nothing but a great multitude of one small nation; or in 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lieth in wickedness,” from which, notwithstanding, all believers are to be understood as exempted; or in Rev. 13:3, “All the world wondered after the beast,” which, whether it be affirmed of the whole universality of individuals in the world, let all judge? That all nations, an expression of equal extent with that of the world, is in like manner to be understood, is apparent, Rom. 1:5; Rev. 18:3, 23; Ps. 118:10; 1 Chron. 14:17; Jer. 27:7. It being evident that the words world, all the world, the whole world, do, where taken adjunctively for men in the world, usually and almost always denote only some or many men in the world, distinguished into good or bad, believers or unbelievers, elect or reprobate, by what is immediately in the several places affirmed of them, I see no reason in the world why they should be wrested to any other meaning or sense in the places that are in controversy between us and our opponents.[62] (Book IV, chapter 1)

There are places in Scripture where the word "world” definitely does not mean all without exception as in John 1:10; 7:4; 12:19; 14:17; Luke 2:1; Acts 19:27; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6; 1John 5:19; Rev. 12:9 (cf. Rev 13:3, 8). It is a simple denial of the fact that the word "world” is used in many ways to always take the references where it used to be speaking of all humanity without exception. The meaning must be determined by the context and exegesis.

In this way, Owen interprets "world” in John 3:16 to be speaking of the world of God's elect (see Book IV, chapter 2see also here). The first "world” in John 3:17 is the human realm into which Christ was sent; the second and the third are for God's elect (see Book IV, chapter 3). The expression "world" is used in these passages to denote the extent of God's grace to all who believe. It refutes that Je...


John Owen's Case For Particular Atonement

...; John 1:10, 11; 3:6). Romans 9:6 may also be added to the list.

The best interpreter of the word “world” is the context. We cannot simply apriori define the word, without looking at the context and what Scripture says. Owen says:

Secondly, That no argument can be taken from a phrase of speech in the Scripture, in any particular place, if in other places thereof where it is used the signification pressed from that place is evidently denied, unless the scope of the place or subject-matter do enforce it. For instance: God is said to love the world, and send his Son; to be in Christ reconciling the world to himself; and Christ to be a Propitiation For The Sins Of The Whole World. If the scope of the places where these assertions are, or the subject-matter of which they treat, will enforce a universality of all persons to be meant by the word world, so let it be, without control. But if not, if there be no enforcement of any such interpretation from the places themselves, why should the world there signify all and every one, more than in John i. 10, “The world knew him not,” which, if it be meant of all without exception, then no one did believe in Christ, which is contrary to verse 12; or in Luke 2:1, “That all the world should be taxed,” where none but the chief inhabitants of the Roman empire can be understood; or in John 8:26, “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him,” understanding the Jews to whom he spake, who then lived in the world, and not every one, to whom he was not sent; or in John 12:19, “Behold, the world is gone after him!” which world was nothing but a great multitude of one small nation; or in 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lieth in wickedness,” from which, notwithstanding, all believers are to be understood as exempted; or in Rev. 13:3, “All the world wondered after the beast,” which, whether it be affirmed of the whole universality of individuals in the world, let all judge? That all nations, an expression of equal extent with that of the world, is in like manner to be understood, is apparent, Rom. 1:5; Rev. 18:3, 23; Ps. 118:10; 1 Chron. 14:17; Jer. 27:7. It being evident that the words world, all the world, the whole world, do, where taken adjunctively for men in the world, usually and almost always denote only some or many men in the world, distinguished into good or bad, believers or unbelievers, elect or reprobate, by what is immediately in the several places affirmed of them, I see no reason in the world why they should be wrested to any other meaning or sense in the places that are in controversy between us and our opponents.[32] (Book IV, chapter 1)

There are places in Scripture where the word "world” definitely does not mean all without exception as in John 1:10; 7:4; 12:19; 14:17; Luke 2:1; Acts 19:27; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6; 1John 5:19; Rev. 12:9 (cf. Rev 13:3, 8). It is a simple denial of the fact that the word "world” is used in many ways to always take the references where it used to be speaking of all humanity without exception. The meaning must be determined by the context and exegesis.

In this way, Owen interprets "world” in John 3:16 to be speaking of the world of God's elect (see Book IV, chapter 2see also here). The first "world” in John 3:17 is the human realm into which Christ was sent; the second and the third are for God's elect (see Book IV, chapter 3). The expression "world" is used in these passages to denote the extent of God's grace to all who believe. ...


1 John 2:2, 'for the sins of the whole world'

1 John 2:2 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father,  Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 (ESV)

(For a better and more recent defense see here.)

The first word to examine is propitiation. Propitiation (ἱλασμός, G2434) means the appeasement of (divine wrath of) God. Thus it means the forgiveness of sins as seen for example in Rom 3:25, 1 Jn 4:10.  If we take the “sins of the world world” to mean the sins of every single individual who has ever lived, then we have Universalism on our hands, which is not consistent with the whole testimony of the Bible. Second, we know from the Bible that we have to believe to be saved, we need to have faith to be redeemed (Rom 10:9-10; c.f. “Repentance and faith are necessary for salvation”).

There is a passage in the Gospel according to John that is very similar to 1 Jn 2:2 and I believe it will help us understand what 1 Jn 2:2 is talking about. The passage is Jn 11:51-52.

1 John 2:2 John 11:51-52
He is the propitiation for our sins, …he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,
and not for ours only and not for the nation only,
but also for the sins of the whole world. but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

John, as a Jew apostle of Jesus was talking to fellow Jew believers and telling them that God not only has a special love for Israel, but also for people/nations outside of Israel. That, Jesus didn’t only die for His people according to the flesh, but also for those who were not Jews, which was shocking to the Jews. This is almost the same message of love that God has for people/nations other than Israel in Jn 3:16.

So, when we put 1 Jn 2:2 and Jn 11:51-52 together to understand 1 Jn 2:2 better, we see that the Apostle is using the word “the whole world” in 1 Jn 2:2 not as every individual who lives or has lived, but more as the “children of God who are scattered abroad.“ And those are the ones for whom Christ died, the Gentile elect and the Jew elect.

Commentaries

The ESV Study Bible explains: [1]

1 John 2:2 Propitiation (Gk.hilasmos) here means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor,” and that is also the meaning of the English word “propitiation.” (See note on Rom. 3:25.) As the perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus turns away God’s wrath (see also 1 John 4:10). For the sins of the whole world does not mean that every person will be saved, for John is clear that forgiveness of sins comes only to those who repent and believe the gospel (see 2:4, 23; 3:10; 5:12; cf.John 3:18; 5:24). But Jesus’ sacrifice is offered and made available to everyone in “the whole world,” not just to John and his current readers. 

The ESV MacArthur Study Bible explains:  [2]

Propitiation. C.f. 4:10. The word means “appeasement” or “satisfaction.” The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied the demands of God’s holiness for the punishment of sin (cf. Rom. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph 2:3). So Jesus propitiated or satisfied God. For the sins of the whole world. This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general. Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe. A number of Scripture i...