09 August 2007

The Plain-Sense Meaning of "World" in John 3:16

by Phil Johnson

     cannot tolerate endive or beetroot, but in general terms, I am an earnest veggie-lover.

Likewise, though God despises the wicked, He loves humanity—so much that He gave His Son to die for those who would believe.

Phil's signature

24 comments:

David said...

An apt comparison!

Should we anticipate Spurgeon getting in on the brevity?

-David

David Ponter said...

Hey Phil, Warfield does not find that sort of distinction meaningful:

Query: Is there any such thing as the “race” apart from the individuals which constitute the race? How could the Incarnation and Atonement affect the “race” and leave the individuals which constitute the race untouched?

David

Phil Johnson said...

David:

What "distinction"?

David Ponter said...

Hey Phil,

Phil: What "distinction"?

David: The distinction which tries to separate a class or species from the members of that class. Warfield finds that impossible.

If God says he loves a race, he has to love the members of that race. God does not just love an abstracted species, the kind of thing called human. I doubt that John the Apostle is using world to connote the kind of thing called human or humanity.

If you say you love veggies but hate beetroot, then what you are saying is that the proposition "I love veggies" entails no particular veggie, but only the kind of thing called veggie, but not any this or particular concretely.

Does that help?

David

Phil Johnson said...

David:

The illustration simply demonstrates why a particular hatred is not incompatible with general love. Remember, there's a 50-word limit, so I can't qualify every point every day. But since (all week, really) I've repeatedly made the point that God sincerely loves all men, I can't imagine why you would interpret this as if I were saying otherwise.

On the other hand, God does not love all men alike, nor does John 3:16 teach that He does—and that's the point here.

YnottonY said...

Hi Phil,

I doubt that David was arguing that you deny that God loves all mankind. I think he probably took your veggie analogy and John 3:16 reference as saying that God so loved the "race", without that love spoken of in this passage involving all the particulars within the race.

It sounds as if you're taking "world" in John 3:16 in an abstract sense, as if it is the form of humanity loved, and not each particular within the class of humanity. You would go to other passages to teach the general love of God for all (albeit an unequal love), but this verse is saying something different, as you seem to see it. Basically, you're reading of kosmos sounds rather Platonic, as if God loves the form of humanity, but not each particular of humanity with this love spoken of in 3:16.

The options seem to be these:

1) Kosmos in 3:16 connotes the elect.
2) Kosmos in 3:16 is the class of thing called humanity, without connoting any of them in particular.
3) Kosmos in 3:16 references all apostate humanity on earth at any given time.

Options 1 and 2 involve particulars, but option 2 has an abstract notion in view, devoid of the particulars which constitute the class, as Warfield talks about. Which option above represents your view? Or do you have another option?

YnottonY said...

Correction:

Options 1 and **3** involve particulars, but option 2 has an abstract notion in view, devoid of the particulars which constitute the class, as Warfield talks about.

ReformedMommy said...

I love my children.
I love my husband.
I love my husband's friend Jon.

Hopefully, this is a different way of reiterating Phil's post(the best one so far, IMHO). In English, the word "love" has a variety of very different objects anc associated actions or qualifiers that help further define the word "love." In Phil's example, the words around the object of his vegetal affection help clarify the boundaries of that affection. In mine, the differing nature of the objects, as well as their proximity, offer three separate distinctions.

And just so an email prayer chain doesn't get started, I've said all three things to both my husband and my friend Jon's wife, and both have understood me without the need to have me brought up on discipline. :)

Habitans in Sicco said...

B. B. Warfield:

"Persist in reading the text thus distributively, making 'the world' mean each and every man that lives on the earth, and what, after all, does it declare that the love of God has done for them? Just open a way of salvation before men, give them an opportunity to save themselves...

"Is this, then, the measure of the immeasurable love of God--that He barely opens a pathway to salvation before sinful men, and stops right there; does nothing further for them--leaving it to their own unassisted initiation whether they will walk in it or not?

"Surely this cannot be the teaching of the text; and that, for many reasons,--primary among which is this: that we all know the love of God has done much more than this for multitudes of the children of men, namely, has not merely opened a way of salvation before them, but has actually saved them...

God did not then only so love the world as to give it a bare chance of salvation: He so loved the world that He saved the world."

B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia 1968) pp. 507-508.

John H said...

This is a new meaning of the phrase "plain-sense meaning" with which I had previously been unfamiliar.

So "God so loved the world" means, in fact, "God so loved the world in general terms..."? Or, to extend your own analogy, "God so loved quite a lot of the world, but some of the world he pushed around his plate a bit before throwing it into the bin uneaten?"

centuri0n said...

Phil: I'm not commenting anymore this week. I'm suggesting you and Dan not comment either just to see what happens.

jsb said...

I usually like B. B. Warfield, but that must be one of the sloppiest things he ever wrote. In the grip of a system, sometimes the air of objectivity gets squeezed out.

donsands said...

"Likewise, though God despises the wicked, He loves humanity—so much that He gave His Son to die for those who would believe."

I like it. It's hard for us finite humans to grasp this 'ungraspable' truth of God loves, and this helps.

Thanks.

I think our problem with God despising the wicked, which He does, and that's all of us, is that we don't think we're wicked. Just a thought.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Phil:

I have just read some writings on this topic by Bunyan and Samuel Richardson. God loves all men generally but the elect specially.

"He is the Lord, Savior, Lover, etc., of all men, but specially to those who believe."

Stephen Garrett

James Kubecki said...

Personally, I just find it hard to believe that there are foods that Phil doesn't like.

Doug said...

long drawn-out sigh

Guys, Jesus is talking to a Jewish leader in John 3. Jewish leaders though God only loved Jews. Jesus' use of the word "world" in verse 16 is meant to indicate a universality to God's love. But this universality can only, in context, be in referring to the fact that Jesus meant God loved Gentiles as well as Jews. There is no indication that Jesus meant every single Gentile and every single Jew, just that God's love was not limited to Jews.

Phil Johnson said...

David Ponter: "The distinction which tries to separate a class or species from the members of that class. Warfield finds that impossible."

Of course it's impossible to "separate" humanity from individuals, but it's not impossible to speak of the larger mass of humanity general terms without specifically designating "each and every man and woman who ever lived upon the earth." My argument--and I believe it's Warfield's point as well--is that this is precisely what the apostle is doing in John 3:16.

In other words, "world" in John 3:16 does indeed mean world, rather than "the elect." That's true because the apostle is speaking of humanity in general terms (as opposed to one nation or a subset of individuals).

David Ponter said...

G’day Phil

Phil says:
The illustration simply demonstrates why a particular hatred is not incompatible with general love. Remember, there's a 50-word limit, so I can't qualify every point every day. But since (all week, really) I've repeatedly made the point that God sincerely loves all men,

David: Thanks for the clarification. But please be assured that I have never thought you had stopped believing in God’s love for all mankind. I think ynottony has captured what I was getting at.

Let me try and explain why I responded as I did.

You had said this:

“The Plain-Sense _Meaning_ of "_World_" in John 3:16"

I cannot tolerate endive or beetroot, but in general terms, I am an earnest veggie-lover.

_Likewise_, though God despises the wicked, He _loves_ _humanity_—so much that He gave His Son to die for those who would believe.


David: Now, it does appear to me that the logic you are expressing is something like this

God ==> Loves ==> World
Phil==> Loves==> Veggies

And relatedly:

Phil==>hates==>Beetroot
God==>hates==>the wicked (some men)

I take “hate” to entail the denial of “that sense of love” that is, the sense of love which I have for some is denied with regard to these others.

The sense then would be that there is a properly comparable correspondence of analogy here. And this is supported by your use of “likewise.”

Thus, what can be predicated of the one, can be likewise predicated of the other.

And so, just as I allegedly can say, by way of proposition: “I love veggies” and yet have a non-love (ie hate) for this particular veggie, God can be said to love the world and yet have a non-love (ie hate for this man or that man in particular).

I respond by saying, okay. Let’s look at the veggie proposition then.

I say I love veggies, but hate squash. Now to be kept in mind, in my head I may have specific veggies in mind, but the proposition is not what’s my head, but stands alone. What does the proposition reference? It cannot reference any particular veggie at all. For, you may direct me to Squash, and I say “don’t love that kind of veggie.” What is more, you may say, “but David, when you were here at my place years ago, you loved potatoes. I can agree, but that only lowers the problem down to a sub-class. I still have no particular spud in mind, for every tata you show me I can discount (for whatever reasons, its bad, too big, too green, too small, grown in China, on ad infinitum).

So now we come back the analogy. If the analogy holds good, then when _God_ _speaks_ that proposition, through Jesus, that proposition can have no particular man in reference. For it is simply a statement about the kind of thing called man.

To this:
Phil: I can't imagine why you would interpret this as if I were saying otherwise.

David: I can say this: I never thought you were saying that.

So to wrap this up, I was responding to what I saw as the analogical structure of the relationship you posited, between veggies and world. And then you asserted this analogical relationship made for a “plain sense” reading of the text. Whereas, I think the sort of empiricist way of reading universals makes more sense in these regards. I gather you may have intended something else, but that’s just how I read the logic of the alleged analogical relationship. Sorry if I gave the appearance of reading your intention in the worst kind of way, or it to foreign ends.

Does that make sense?

Now to the closing remark:

Phil: On the other hand, God does not love all men alike, nor does John 3:16 teach that He does—and that's the point here.

David: 1) I agree that God does not love all men alike. Hypercalvinists, in over-reacting to Arminianism think they have to table a complete category negation: ie, the non-elect are excluded from any love from God. Whereas, in historic Calvinism, all that was felt was the rejoinder to the Arminian idea (that God loves all men equally) is to cite examples of an unequal love. They never felt obliged to engage in a complete category negation.

2) Regarding this verse, I would say that the intent is that God loves all the world equally. I agree with Calvin’s insight on this verse completely. By world, let me clear, the world in John stands for mankind in apostacy and in opposition against God, alive at any given point of time after Christ’s “coming into the world”

Now the second reply:

Phil
Of course it's impossible to "separate" humanity from individuals, but it's not impossible to speak of the larger mass of humanity general terms without specifically designating "each and every man and woman who ever lived upon the earth."

David: there are a couple of things there. I will deal with the latter first. I am not saying that terms like “world” and “all” always means all who have lived, live and will live. This is so critical. It’s a false dysjunction for anyone to table the discussion like this: it is either A or B. A = all who have lived, live, and will live; B is all the elect (even some of all kinds of elect or cognate phrases). What a lot of modern Calvinists do is simply disqualify A and then claim the prize of B, failing to realise that there could be a tertius quid, a C. So I am not committed to A, if I reject B.

Now, to the first comment, and this is more tricky. Your argument as I see it has two problematics. 1) I say, and what I intend in my head are not always the same. And, 2) the problem of agnosia. I have dealt with 1) already to some degree. Let me address 2). I, me, David Ponter, can say something like this: I love Americans. I can say that with two extra supplemental ideas. I can have specific Americans in my head. Also, I can say it and not _know_ them or know of every American, either in the sense of every American who has lived, lives or shall live, or even in the sense, of every American alive right now, at this given point in time. So it is, for this reason, perfectly proper for me to say: “I love Americans, and not reference every single American who has lived, lives and shall live, or more simply alive right now. For if I was to try and make such an assertion–that I have to know or entail all Americans past, present and future–to do that, would be to commit in opposition direction the fallacy I tried pointing out last night. I call this the agnostic problem.

God however, does not suffer from any agnosis. It is impossible for him to assert predications to a class, and not have all the particulars of that class in cognition. So when God says “I loves Americans,” and when I say “I love Americans” they are not proper equivalents.

So, I would say, it is possible for God to speak of a class and have every member of that class in entailed, indeed, I would say it cannot be otherwise, given that he is God. And I could add, given that you know that at least the first part of that is true, you would have to prove that here in John 3:16, is not such a possible case. Right? You would have to prove, it seems to me, that the plain sense–that God does comprehend all particulars in a given class, in these sort of predications–is not the plain sense for 3:16. Make sense?

What really is the issue is defining the class. And here Owen is helpful, if one wants to go down that road. For him, world is formally Gentiles, but materially elect. The form of the expression, is general, but the material objects in view is a specific set: the elect. I believe Owen knew he could not try and have it both ways, because God suffers not from any agnosia.

If the class is all men who have lived, live and shall live, that’s easy to refute.

If the class is apostate humanity at any given point in time, then God can have all the particulars in mind, at every point in human history from the incarnation in mind.

So to wrap this up,

We know this: while its true that “world”–for both God and man–need not always everywhere and necessarily be maximally and numerically extended to include every single person (the widest possible class just about), it is still _not_ possible for God to speak of _a_ class, without referencing particulars of that class, indeed, all particulars of that class. You would need to prove that God can reference a class without all the particulars of that class entailed.

And we know this: the class in 3:16 is not all who have lived, live, and shall live, thus it has to be another class-type. If the other class is some undefined generality, then all the problems I have outlined hold. If the class is apostate humanity alive at any given time, then there is no problem.

Thanks for the discussion and I hope this is being perceived as proffered from a friendly intent.

Take care,
David

SolaMeanie said...

Reformed Mommy...

"brought up on discipline."

If this site was emoticon-enabled, I would have posted a huge LOL.

But you're probably more right than you realize. Sometimes outlandish rumors get spread due to a perfectly innocent joke. Especially when we have more than a few dour, joyless individuals out there who are offended by even the hint of a belly laugh.

centuri0n said...

I thought Calvinists were the dour ones until the ECM posters hit the bandwidth. Then I realized that there's nothing wrong with our sense of humor. We're actually the funny ones.

A. Berean said...

Mounce believes the verse should be understood to say. "God loved the world in this way, He sent His only begotten Son...."(1)

The verse is not a statement about how great God's love for the world is, but rather about how God demonstrated love to the world.

God showed loved to His enemies setting the example that He calls us to imitate. (Love yuor enemies...)

The "world" included everyone as we all were at one time "alientated and enemies in our mind by wicked works".

(1) Greek For The Rest of Us. Mounce

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Thanks! I've always wondered how a God who "would have only the elect be saved and come to knowledge of the truth" is likewise a God who loves the world. But that clears it up.

I mean, we're supposed to pray for those who persecute us--but if only we knew, we'd pray that God would use our kindness against them. Then we would be children of our Father in heaven who causes his rain to fall on the good so they would love him, and on the wicked so they would be hurt more.

God is the savior of all men, especially of those who believe, but He saves the reprobate by damning them? He loves all men, but has a special love for the elect? So he loves the reprobate by damning them, but in this was manifested the special love of God for the elect, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that the elect might live throug Him? Herein is special love, not that we loved God, but that He special loved the elect, and gave his son to be a propitiation for the elect's sins?

(If you completely swallow this, God is special love, and it gets you nowhere. "He that special loveth not knoweth not for God is special love.")

Call me silly, but I thought Christ was the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. Does that make me non-Christian?

John K said...

IOW, your exact analogy is this: you call yourself a veggie-lover, but you only love some veggies and not others.

God so loved some people in the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever He had decided beforehand would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. Those who He had decided beforehand would not believe, He predestined to perish anyway, even though He said He loved them.

philness said...

John K,

One, they were never meant to perish (they could only be so lucky) but they would burn eternally.
Two, they were going to burn eternally anyway, hence the reason for a savior.

The world is general.
The whosoever is the elect.