23 April 2013

What in the "world"?

by Dan Phillips

In my review of the new EEC volume on the letters of John, I remarked on the author's selective lack of curiosity as to John's meaning in using "world" (kosmos) in 1 John 2:2. I noted that Derickson was forced to admit and consider other senses in later passages, though he had treated 2:2 as if the term could only be univocal, and only naked and baseless dogmatism could ever move one to another view.

My aim here is not to solve the difficulties in understanding 1 John 2:2 (on which I've shared a thought or two in the past). Rather, it is to open some minds — pause, to allow gales of laughter and tear-wiping to die down — of those who imagine that Bible readers who affirm Scripture's teachings about God's sovereignty in grace (i.e. "Calvinists") simply make up the notion that "world" could ever mean anything other than "every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born."

I'd just like to observe that it is not only impossible to imagine that the word always has that meaning — it is, in fact, questionable whether it ever has that meaning.

My favorite example is John 1:10, which saith: "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him."

Can we say, "World just means world," and be saying anything meaningful about that passage?

That is, is John really saying, "In the incarnation, the Logos was in the presence of every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born, and every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born was made through him, yet every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born did not know him"?

Unlikely.

Rather, is not John saying "Jesus came to be in the society of mankind [Sense 1], and though the entire physical universe [Sense 2] had been made through him [cf. v. 3], yet the anti-God Satanic system within it [Sense 3] did not know him"? If so, then, do we not have three senses of the same word, kosmos, in a single verse?

Or how about John 3:17, the verse after the Arminians' favorite (imagined) trump-card verse? It reads, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Again, a threefold use of kosmos. Does John really mean, "For God did not send his Son in the Incarnation to every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born to condemn every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born but in order that every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born will be saved through him"? If so, how come most of the world never got a glimpse of Jesus or heard a word He said (and still haven't), and how come so many people are in fact and will in fact remain lost?


Or take 1 John 5:19, which has virtually the same wording as 2:2 — "We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." So, really? Is John actually saying that "every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born lies in the power of the evil one"? What about John himself, and the believers to whom he wrote? John certainly didn't think they all lay under the power of Satan (cf. 2:13-14). As for Paul, he thought he was (and we are) "in Christ," not in the evil one.

We shall come to real misery when we try to apply this to John 17:9, where our Lord prays, "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." Is He saying, " I am praying for them. I am not praying for every last man, woman and child who ever has been born or ever will be born but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." But aren't "those whom you have given me" people who have been born?

I could easily go on, and on, and on and on and on. Of course, no human power can dislodge dogma from the grips of its worshipers, but one may dare to hope that all fair-minded readers will grant the one point I'm making: the word kosmos is not univocal, and it does not "just mean 'world,' period." It means different things in different contexts.

What that specific meaning is must be determined by serious exegesis, and not by bilious assertion and airy, impatient dismissal.

Dan Phillips's signature


39 comments:

Michael Coughlin said...

Thanks, Dan! This is on my heart lately.

Sheldon Clowdus said...

It is a lot easier to just make up my mind what the Bible says before I read it though.

Your way takes, like, effort and stuff.

Daryl said...

See...your brain works better than mine.

Why did I never think of simply asking "Can you point me to another verse in John where world means every last....?"

I'll put that question away for future referral.

DJP said...

Daryl, FWIW, this is of the species of "Karate exegesis".

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

I remember your post on Karate Exegesis (at least I THINK that's the title) where you approach 1 John 2:2 with the same thought. At the least, although we're supposing what sense "world" could mean in those verses, we know it isn't THAT.

I've talked with some folks who believe that if you arrive at a truth systematically then it's not real, bonafide, solid Biblical truth, but rather your systematic interpretation of it; so your post today on common sense reading and considering that words mean things in context is a welcome post for the morning.

Good post!

donsands said...

Well done. Thanks for your hard work in the Word.
May our Lord raise up many more teachers who are devoutly dedicated to study and teach the Holy Writ as you do Dan. Amen.

There are so many shallow teachings going about throughout the Church, and it grieves me.

I was just listening to RC Sproul teach on Romans 1:20-23

"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the WORLD, in the things that have been made.
So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."-Paul

Frank Turk said...

Until someone can explain to me the difference between "Wide World of Sports," "World Wrestling Federation," "World News Tonight," "Wayne's World," and "World Traveller," ...


... CALVINISM IS JUST WRONG!

David Jacks said...

J.I. Packer shares with us in his wonderful little book "God's Words" that "world" in the Apostle John's writings never means "every individual person". Always good to know you are in company with Packer!

DJP said...

It's taken awhile to get used to him following on, picking up my stuff and using it, but... well, there y'go.

(c;

Solameanie said...

Word!

Robert Warren said...

You mean I can't just say WORLD! real loud and that's that?

Tom Chantry said...

Well, if saying "world" loud isn't enough, I'm just going to scream "WHOSOEVER!!!!!"

Kerry James Allen said...

"All means all, and that's all all means."

:-}

DJP said...

Yeah. Everyone in the world knows that.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

My question has been to Arminians: So long as it's man's choice to reject God, that's ok. But when God only saves some, and not everyone, it suddenly becomes evil? That thinking has been behind the justification of many I've talked to regarding this issue.

DJP said...

Yes. A Biblically sane conversation should go:

A: So, given our sin and God's holy justice, I assume He saves nobody.

B: Oh, no. He saves.

A: He does? That's amazing. Like, one, or two or three?

B: No no, countless multitudes from every nation.

A: Get out of town.

B: No I swear, it's true. In fact, He's already accomplished their salvation.

A: Who?

B: "Many."

A: Can... can it be me?

B: Beyond doubt, if you call on Him in repentant faith.

A: Are you serious? I'm in!

Daryl said...

Chantry,

Will you be screaming that while standing on top of your hands, standing on your feet or standing on a stump?

Inquiring minds want to know...

Larry Geiger said...

"bilious assertion" Ok, my week is totally edified and it's only Tuesday. Thank you Dan.






(can't wait to use that somewhere...)

Aaron Snell said...

Will you be screaming that while standing on top of your hands, standing on your feet or standing on a stump

Every time I hear that I get the funniest mental image.

Paul Reed said...

@DJP

A Biblically sane conversation. Talk about rare. In most conversations I have with unbelievers and professing Christians, no one takes sin seriously.
Sin is something that you drink down like water and breathe like it's air. And so everyone becomes either a theoretical or practical universalist.
Sin's not really a concern, and so Hell's not really a concern.
Here's a sample of some of the tidbits I get when talking to them:

A: God didn't have to provide a way for sinner's to be reconciled to Himself, but in His love, He has, and that is available to you.

B: So God made hell, and God saves me from hell. It sounds like God is the solution to his own problem. We're created imperfect, yet commanded to be perfect.
Shouldn't we blame the architect and not the product?

A: Any Just God must take sin seriously. Suppose a Judge just let the Boston Marathon bomber go without any punishment. What would you say about that judge?

B: My mother recently died and she never accepted Jesus. Is she in hell? If she's not in hell, why worry about me?

Tom Chantry said...

Will you be screaming that while standing on top of your hands, standing on your feet or standing on a stump

Every time I hear that I get the funniest mental image.


Hey, the modern, American Evangelical Arminian is already a mental contortionist. Why not be a real contortionist?

Kerry James Allen said...

Restaurant greeter seeking to seat a group of contortionists attending their annual meeting and breaking for lunch:

Greeter: "Are all contortionists?"

Contortionist: "Yes ma'am."

Greeter: "Including Tom Chantry?"

DJP said...

Frank comments on-topic.

Meta derails, anyway.

Is there a causal relation regardless?

trogdor said...

Maybe Frank just means Frank, period.

Aaron Snell said...

For the record, I think it was actually Chantry's fault this time.

Tom Chantry said...

That's Frankly insulting.

Peter said...

Thanks Dan - great post. Although I take the "Arminian" view on I John 2:2, ("ours" and the "whole world" - saved & unsaved - all sins are propitiated)... I absolutely agree on the multiple meanings of the word. In my opinion, Marvin Vincent gives the best explanation of its usages -

word (kosmos)

(a) ornament, arrangement, order (I Peter 3:3)

(b) the sum-total of the material universe considered as a system (Mat 13:35; John 17:5; Acts 17:24; Phi 2:15)

(c) That universe as the abode of man (John 16:21; 1 John 3:17)

(d) The sum-total of humanity in the world; the human race (John 1:29, 4:42)

(e) In the ethical sense, the sum-total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God. (John 7:7, 15:18, 17:9, 17:14, 1 Cor 1:20, 1:21; 2 Cor 7:10; James 4:4)

Morris Brooks said...

Chantry, don't forget the "WILL"

Solameanie said...

Dan, just wanted you to know . . . five stars.

Robert Warren said...

"Will you be screaming that while standing on top of your hands, standing on your feet or standing on a stump?
Every time I hear that I get the funniest mental image."

Is
it anything like this?

Robert Warren said...

Peter:
What do you believe "propitiation" means?

Phil said...

I used to be what you would call an Arminian, but after reading this I think I'm sold. This is so iron-clad, so water tight, I see no other possibility of escaping it's logic.
Dan, you must be some kind of genius to think this stuff up, it's seriously so amazing.

Peter said...

Hi Robert,

To propitiate = to appease or satisfy, hence Christ by His death and shed blood satisfied the righteous demands of God against man for breaking His Law (from 'hilasmos' &'hilasterion' - the mercy seat and the atoning blood on the mercy seat)

That's my understanding. Am I on the right track?

Robert said...

One would wonder how people would react if we took the words they said and interpreted them the way they do with the Bible. Context is always required to properly interpret/understand any form of communication.

Robert Warren said...

"To propitiate = to appease or satisfy, hence Christ by His death and shed blood satisfied the righteous demands of God against man for breaking His Law (from 'hilasmos' &'hilasterion' - the mercy seat and the atoning blood on the mercy seat)
That's my understanding. Am I on the right track?"

Close enough for me (I'm no authority).
I have 2 points, 1 of which you've certainly heard and considered (but one for which I've not heard a satisfactory answer), namely, if Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God for unbelievers as well, why will they spend eternity under God's wrath?
2 - Does Jesus advocate (verse 1) for the unbelievers that you indicate verse 2 covers? If not, why not? The high priesthood, which was a type of Christ, made sacrifice and advocated for the same group. If so, is there disagreement between Persons of the Trinity, whereby Jesus advocates for those on whom God is pouring out eternal wrath?

Peter said...

1) Short answer - I don't know why. (Sorry)

2) No He does not Advocate for unbelievers. I take the "we" in verse 1 to refer to Believers. The High Priest in the OT made atonement for the whole Nation - but did that atonement take effect for every individual? That is, was every OT Israelite saved?

The High Priest made propitiation for all on the Day of Atonement (typically of course), but it was only effective for those who believed in the LORD. That to me, perfectly pictures the work of Christ.

Not sure if that answers your questions.

Robert Warren said...

Peter:
Thanks for your straightforward follow-up. The distinction that I had in mind with the OT high priest was God's people (Israelites & proselytes) vs everyone else, whereas your point was to the elect in Israel vs. the non-elect.

Aaron Snell said...

Robert Warren:

HAHAHA! Exactly!!

Man, that was a much needed laugh tonight. Thank you, sir.

Michael Coughlin said...

Are we allowed to 5 star something twice?