Nov 15, 2012

Definite Atonement XIV

In this posting we will look at some of those passages which speak of Christ's death being for the "world" and the "whole world."  We will not take time to look at all the passages brought forward by the advocates of universal atonement, but will look at a few of the most often cited verses and see if they teach that Christ redeemed, atoned, propitiated, or reconciled every man.

Savior of the World (kosmos)

The Greek word kosmos (cosmos) is used in various ways in Scripture and the person who thinks that it must always refer to the totality of men simply has not done sufficient study of the word.  The advocates of universal atonement often cite verses where Christ is said to love, die for, and save the world and affirm that its plain and ordinary meaning is that the word denotes the totality of human beings.  But, if anyone looks at all the instances of the use of kosmos in the new testament he will see that this is a false supposition and that it is not plain that it always carries that connotation.

 In the previous posting I showed how the promise that Christ will save the world, by taking away the sin of the world, and giving his life for the world, is no failure.  Christ has indeed saved the world by saving the elect (believers).

Not only in Scripture, but in every day language, the word "world" is used to denote what is generally, though not universally, true.  Notice these words:

"The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him."  (John 12: 19)

Surely the Pharisees did not mean that every human being on the planet had "gone after him."  What they intend is that men of all sorts, men of all nations and languages, were going after him in great numbers.  They are stating what is generally true, not what is universally true of every human being.  Could it not be that Jesus used the term "world" in the same sense as did the Pharisees on this occasion?  Again, we note these verses:

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world."  (Rom. 1: 8)

"Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth." (Col. 1: 6)

Who will affirm that the terms "world" and "whole world," in these passages, are to be understood in a universal sense, as applicable to every person on the planet?  Was the faith of Christians spoken of in the Americas?  Did the Gospel bring forth fruit in China at the time Paul wrote to the Colossians?  It seems best to interpret the above verses as applicable to the Roman Empire or to the known Gentile world in general. 

I could well say that the whole world knows this or that when it is clear that I do not mean that every person in the world but simply mean that such knowledge is wide and extensive, or what is generally known. 

It is also clear, as other able scholars have shown, that it was a common Jewish manner of speaking to refer to "the nations" as "the world."  They would use the term "kosmos" as applicable to the Gentile world in general.  Paul does the same when he writes:

"Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?...For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?"  (Rom. 11: 12, 15)

It is obvious that "the world" is identified with "the Gentiles" in these words.  When Jesus said "For all these things do the nations of the world seek after" (Luke 12: 30), he doubtless was referring to the world of the Gentiles to the exclusion of Israel. 

"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."  (I John 2: 2)

The advocates of universal atonement insist that by "whole world" is meant either the entire human race without exception, or else the totality of unbelievers.  Clearly it cannot mean the former, for those denominated by the pronoun "our" is viewed as a separate class from the "whole world."  It is important to ascertain first who is intended by the pronoun "our."  There are two possible answers.  First, John could be referring to believers, both Jews and Gentiles.  Second, he could be referring to Jewish believers.

If the pronoun refers to believers, then "whole world" must refer to the class of unbelievers.  But, such a view is not tenable.  What could be John's purpose in affirming that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of unbelievers exactly as he is the propitiation for the sins of believers?  He could not be affirming such for he would be affirming what is clearly not true.  Now, some may argue that John simply affirms that Christ is actually or effectually the propitiation for the sins of believers but only hypothetically or potentially the propitiation for the sins of unbelievers.  But, again, this is not tenable, for clearly John is affirming that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the "whole world" in exactly the same sense in which he is the propitiation for the sins of the apostle and those he addresses.  What does John mean when he says "he is the propitiation for our sins"?  Does he not mean that they had been saved from their sins?  And, since that is his clear meaning, then when he says "and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world," he must mean "the whole world is also saved from sins."  But, is this true in regard to every person in the world?  Whoever is included in the term "whole world" is viewed as enjoying propitiation in the same way as do those included in the pronoun "our." 

Thus, it is not likely that Christians in general are referred to by the pronoun "our," but rather Jewish Christians.  If this is so, it is obvious that John means to say that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of Jewish believers and for the sins of Gentile believers as well.  It is very probable that John is restating what he wrote in John 11: 51-52 where he wrote the following about the words of Caiaphas the high priest.

"And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." 

Thus, John is saying that Christ died for, was the propitiation for, the sins of the Jewish Christians as well as the sins of Christians from among "the nations," or of the Gentile world. 

Further, though it is sometimes denied by advocates of the universal atonement view, yet it is clear that John, like Peter, wrote to Jewish believers.

"But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter...And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision."  (Gal. 2: 7, 9)

Thus, it is clear that the epistles of John were addressed to Jewish converts.  Thus, the "our" of the verse in question would refer to Jewish Christians.  And, lest some think that Christ excluded the Gentiles in his atoning work, John says "and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole (Gentile) world." 

Also, it is clear that by "whole world" John does not include people like Cain, Pharoah, Cora, or Baalim, men who died before Christ and who were in Hell when Christ made propitiation. 

Besides, John is not contradicting the many verses that speak of Christ dying for his people, the sheep, the church, etc.  Further, since there is mention made of the "world of the ungodly" (II Peter 2: 5), a world that does not include the godly, so there is a world of the godly that excludes the ungodly.

All said, it is not a clear proof of universal atonement to cite I John 2: 2. 

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