22 June 2005

"For the sins of the whole world"

A friend who struggles with Calvinism writes:
Calvinists never seem to face 1 John 2:2 head on. It says, "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Calvinists always dismiss the plain meaning of the verse, saying that "whole world" can't possibly mean the whole world, because if it did, it would include trees and mountains and rivers and slugs and termites and other stuff.

Here's what a thoughtful Calvinist might say about 1 John 2:2, without resorting to the "slugs and termites" argument:

The apostle is writing to a primarily Jewish audience. He reminds them that Christ "is the propitiation for our sins; and not for [us Hebrews] only, but also for [the sins of Gentiles from every tongue and nation throughout] the whole world."

Notice, the phrasing of John 2:2 is an exact parallel of John 11:51-52: "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."


There is little doubt that this is how John's initial audience would have understood this expression. "The whole world" means "people of all kinds, including Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, and whatnot"—as opposed to "ours only"—i.e., the Jewish nation.

What the apostle John is saying in the John 11 passage is particularly significant: Christ died so that he might gather "the Children of God"—the elect—from the whole world. That is a very clear and explicit statement of so-called "limited atonement."

Understood in its Johannine context, then, a Calvinistic interpretation of 1 John 2:2 seems unavoidable. As one classic work on the atonement says,
The words plainly allude to the atonement as offered and applied—that is, to the actual expiation, which does not go beyond the number of believing recipients. It is a perversion of the language when this is made to teach the dogma of universal propitiation; or that atonement was equally offered for all, whether they receive it or not, whether they acknowledge its adaptation to their case or not. The passage does not teach that Christ's propitiation has removed the divine anger in such a sense from all and every man. Nothing betokens that the apostle had others in his eye than believers out of every tribe and nation.
(George Smeaton, The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement, 460).


Sven said...

But John's use of kosmos in 1 John 2:2 (and throughout the rest of the text) always refers to the whole world order, not a select part of it.

Calvin himself also taught that Jesus blood was spilled not for some only, but for the whole world:

"By the word many, he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race."

(Calvin on Mark 14:24)

Unknown said...

Probably safe to say, though, that Calvin *did* believe in the doctrine of election, and did *not* believe in some odd form of latent universalism. Hell won't be empty.

If Christ died for me in the same way that he died for someone who will eventually be damned, then what differs between us isn't Christ, it's me.

If you want to know "what maketh us to differ," you rule out the common denominator--and it's not Christ's blood, it's our total and equal depravity. What "maketh us to differ," is the free grace of God. He bought me, and he cannot lose me (John 6).

But don't think "what about them?" Think "why me? why anyone at all?" That's what makes grace so amazing--not a single one of us deserves it. We only get what we deserve, or eternally better. He is not unjust--he is good!

richard said...

I don't see how the doctrine of Limited Atonement gets past 2 Peter 2:1.

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves."

Are the false teachers saved? They don't appear to be. Did the Lord buy them? Yes He did. Does it not follow that there are some lost people for whom the Lord died?

Frank Martens said...

So here's a question that might be worth considering (in agreement with Phil)...

If Christ died for the whole world, doesn't that mean the whole world is saved?

I could clearly conclude that by looking at just that one verse, could I not?

Hmmm... Maybe it's more than just one verse and what it says... something to think about :)


Nathan White said...

Well, in a sense Christ did die for the whole world, as He temporarily satisfied God’s wrath until all of the elect come to repentance (as is discussed in 2Peter 3:5-9). So in a way unbelievers do benefit from the death of Christ, but only in a temporal sense as the wrath of God is held off of them for a time in order that the elect might repent. For if we say that Christ died for all in order to make salvation possible to all, we then deny the perfection of Christ’s work on the cross. Hebrews 10:14 says: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” So, Christ did not die for the whole world, otherwise the whole world would be perfected. Therefore, however you interpret John's use of kosmos is essentially a moot point.

Bill Combs said...

Your solution works very well if it could be proven, or even if there was good evidence of your statement: "The apostle is writing to a primarily Jewish audience." I recently finished teaching a class in John's gospel, and it certainly does look like John uses "world" on a number of occasions in contrast to Jews only. If it could be substantiated that "The apostle is writing to a primarily Jewish audience," in 1 John it would certainly make for an easly solution to a difficult problem. However, when I scanned a few commentaries on my shelf (Stott, BUrdick, Kruse, Smalley, Marshall, Akin), they all seem to argue that John was writing his epistles in his latter days from Ephesus--writing to house churches whose members were primarily Gentiles.

Bill Combs
Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

Frank Martens said...

Sorry, deleted the last one...


You are correct, but you had to get more verses! My point is simply this... by looking at just one verse, you can see how I could ask the wrong question or ask the wrong questions.

Nathan White said...

Whenever we have a question about the atonement we should always go to passages that specifically discuss the atonement right? How about Hebrews? It discusses Christ as our High Priest time and again. Is there any 'unlimited atonement' discussed? I have yet to see it...

Sled Dog said...

It is humbling to consider oneself part of the elect.

I've always struggled with the "L" of TULIP, not because it isn't true, but because it what it doesn't say. I believe that Christ's blood is able to save all, but that salvation will only be applied to the elect. As I said, this ought to be a very humbling thought, but often Calvinists seem to make this a point of pride and evangelistic laziness.

S. C. Mooney said...

Here is an interesting approach to the matter that is attributed to John Owen:

"The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either: All the sins of all men, All the sins of some men, or Some of the sins of all men; In which case it may be said: That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved; That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffereed for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth; But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, Because of unbelief. I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, then He did not die for all their sins!"

Efrayim said...

Sometimes it is helpful to remember what was spoken long ago concerning who would be gathered and how their sins would be treated.
From Yirmeyahu:

Jer 31:31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
Jer 31:32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.
Jer 31:33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Jer 31:34 "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

And who will "know" Him? The whole world or His chosen? The answer would seem obvious from this text as it is apparent that the "whole world", meaning everyone, does not know Him.
And so both houses will be united in Him through Messiah Yahshua by this covenant.


Matthew Hoover said...

When the Lord sovereignly elects to save one of us and begins the work of salvation, we understand that we will go through a process of death and resurrection where our old man is killed and a new spiritual man is raised up. The sin that remains within us is put to death throughout our earthly lives until the process is complete. Could it not be the same then with the entire world? The salvation of the entire world does not mean the salvation of every person, because the world is being saved from a good number of people living in it.

It seems like we may have trouble with this one because we can only think in terms of individuals. Can we talk about salvation in terms of a corporate whole without losing what is true for individuals?

P.S. I don't see why we can't include the slugs and termites either. Doesn't the whole creation groan, slugs especially?

Frank Martens said...


Yup exactly... I have a friend that likes to say the follow:

"Is everyone going to heaven? The answer: NO. So therefore, it's limited; meaning there's some finite value, unlimited meaning there's an infinite number. If we don't say they aren't elect and say that it's just because they didn't accept Christ, then fine. But the numbers are still limited (or of finite value)."


Phil Johnson said...

Bill Combs:

You make a good point, and I myself have wavered on the question of John's audience in the epistles and Revelation. Were they (as I'm inclined to think) mostly Jews in dispersion after the overthrow of Jerusalem, or were they mostly Gentiles?

I'm not prepared to argue dogmatically either way, actually. But the Jews-in-dispersion view fits well with what Eusebius recorded about John, and it would also explain the intimately personal tone of the Johannine epistles.

Anyway, what I should have said is: "The apostle is writing from a Jewish perspective. He reminds his readers..."

The point still stands, and regardless of who dominated the core of John's audience, the fact that he wrote from a Jewish perspective seems irrefutable.

Brian said...

Amen to all you brethren who are preaching the gospel and only the gospel.

Making assumptions that the whole world will not be saved = the world cannot possibly mean the world, is just that, assumptions, without any Scriptural support no less.

As Sven mentioned, even John Calvin himself did not believe in limited atonement (or so some experts say, not that it matters...only the Scripture matters).

People that jump headlong into limited atonement are no different than the arminians who believe that God cannot possibly be 100% Sovereign because the Scripture tells us to choose. Therefore, we must all have the ability to choose Salvation...bzzzt...wrong answer. Some things exist beyond humans being able to fully understand them and some answers may not be to your liking.

...let us look at the Romans for a second...If God's will is always done, then how can He find fault with us?...

Now we want to see an answer for this...and we basically get...

illegal question...who are you to question God? We are not able to fully understand the concept of predestination with 100% accountability. Part of this is because it is impossible for any human to ever understand not being bound by time. Everything and every thought we have is shrouded by time. Most of the Scripture is even written so we can understand it (in relation to time). The other part of that thinking is just our finite minds trying to fully fit God into our comprehension level.

I say, let the Scripture speak for itself and stop trying to make the Scripture conform to your logic.

Limited atonement is not taught in the Scripture, period.

Unknown said...

This just in: "Even John Calvin wasn't a calvinist!"

Give me a break, guys.


fred said...


Definately agree with your parallel in John 11:52. Given John's use of the phrase "the whole world" elswhere, it seems apparent that he does not intend it in an all-inclusive way in 1 John 2:2. For example, in 1 John 5:19 (same epistle) John says that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." Certainly, given what he has said already in his epistle, John does not mean that believers are in (or under) the power of the devil. Thus, we can say that John uses "the whole world" in a limited sense in 1 John 5:19. Why is it so difficult to see that he uses it in a limited sense in 1 John 2:2 too.

Also, if Christ atoned for all the sins of the whole (human) world (whoever would suggest plants, animals, etc. is just being rediculous) on what basis does God punish anyone for their sins in hell according to Rev. 20:12 ("according to their deeds"). If the punishment for their sins have already been paid at the cross, on what just basis can God therefore punish sinners in hell? You could imagine a person in hell pointed a finger at God and saying that his sinful deeds, for which he is being punished, have already been punished -- in Christ -- and God is therefore unjust.

Any comments?

Brian said...


seriously...do a little research on "calvinism"...I think you will find that many people even call the term "calvinism" a misnomer as what is being taught today is not from John Calvin.

"calvinism" (and calvinists) weren't even around when John Calvin was alive.

GeneMBridges said...

Sven wrote: But John's use of kosmos in 1 John 2:2 (and throughout the rest of the text) always refers to the whole world order, not a select part of it.

The issue of course here is that Jesus being a propitiatory sacrifice for the whole world, if it really satisfied God's wrath, means, if you are correct, sven, means the atonement is real for all people. Doesn't your take lead to either double jeopardy for sin, taught in no text of Scripture, or to universalism if you believe in an actual atonement. It strikes me that folks that try to reconcile penal satisfaction and general atonement end up either affirming an oxymoron, eg. an ineffective actual atonement or leaving themselves open to universalism or affirmations about God's justice that Scripture itself does not make. It is true that there are non-redemptive benefits (common grace, delayed judgment, etc) that come from the cross, but the issue in this text is the propitatory nature of the sacrifice itself. A qualitative definition can apply to all men without distinction or all men without exeption, so it seems to me, calling upon it only puts back the question of "scope" by one step.

If you affirm that the atonement is theoretical/potential based on the qualitative use of "kosmos" then is it safe to say that the whole world is only potentially/theoretically under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)? If it is really under the power of the evil one, then Jesus provided a real propitation for the sins of all the qualitatively evil world right? Such a view,however, leads directly to universalism unless you consider the scope of the term. At best, one can say that 1 John 2:2 doesn't address the scope of the atonement at all under such a view, because if it does, and the scope of the world order includes all men without exception, you end up with, as I noted, double jeopardy or universalism. Who among us will defend either? For this reason, I'm wary of those that appeal to it as a prooftext for general atonement, and I am equally wary of those that appeal to it to prove particular atonement, even though I am one of the latter.

I think the direct parallel to John 11 is compelling, especially when viewed visually as Phil has shown. I often find it rather interesting when discussing these issues to point to these grammatical parallels. For example 1 John 2:29, 4:7, and 5:1 are exactly parallel within 1 John and also to constructions like John 8:43, 47. My Arminian brethren will argue that regeneration is the result of believing but will then use 1 John 2:29 to affirm that works are a result of, not a cause of, regeneration and love for the brethren is a result of, not the cause of, regeneration. Those in the Amyraldian camp will, like me, point to these same parallels to affirm that regeneration precedes faith, but they will deny the parallel between John 11:51-52 and 1 John 2:2. To me, this makes for an inconsistent approach.

Did Jesus die for the whole world, the qualitative sinful world? Yes. Is He the propitatory sacrifice for the sins of that world, all without distinction? Yes. Is He the propitatory sacrifice for all the sins of the world, all without exception? No, and this text does not make the case for it. The best case it makes for general atonement would lead to a non-redemptive context, which is excluded by the specific use of the term "propitiation."

As for John's use of "kosmos" in 1 John, I would say that there are at least seven ways John uses "world" in any given context, and the context of the text, not the other uses of it within that text should determine which of those seven meanings we assign to it. Given the varigated definitions of the term in his gospel, is it too much of a stretch to think that he would use a similar approach in 1 John, even just once? Also, the assertion that John's use of "kosmos" is always the whole world order throughout the text is not universally accepted. I know of some who believe 1 John 3:17 can also mean "the earth in contrast with heaven."
puddleglum wrote: I don't see how the doctrine of Limited Atonement gets past 2 Peter 2:1.

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves."

Are the false teachers saved? They don't appear to be. Did the Lord buy them? Yes He did. Does it not follow that there are some lost people for whom the Lord died?

I see nothing in 2 Peter 2:1 that relates to the extent of the atonement. First, Peter is not addressing the extent of the atonement. If so, then this is the only instance in 2 Peter where this is true. He is discussing false teachers that will rise up.

In this epistle, Peter frequently alludes to OT history: fallen angels/the children of Cain (depending on how you take "sons of God in Gen. 6...I think it's Cain's line), judgment upon the ancient world at the time of Noah, and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is worth noting Deut. 32:5 -6:

They have acted corruptly toward Him, They are not His children, because of their defect; But are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.

God "bought" them from Egypt; made them; established them. Grudem: "Peter is drawing an analogy between the past false prophets who arose among the Jews and those who will be false teachers within the churches to which he writes…From the time of the exodus onward, any Jewish person would have considered himself or herself one who was ‘bought’ by God in the exodus and therefore a person of God’s own possession.45…So the text means not that Christ had redeemed these false prophets, but simply that they were rebellious Jewish people (or church attenders in the same position as rebellious Jews) who were rightly owned by God because they had been bought out of the land of Egypt (or their forefathers had), but they were ungrateful to him."

Notice that the text of 2 Peter continues: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Peter 2:1 is certainly a repetition of what he said in Acts 20:22-33, 2 Peter 1:14-15, Acts 20:29,30. There is nothing in 2 Peter 2:1 addressing the extent of atonement itself in the context. This is, contextually, a discourse about false teachers, and there are non-redemptive ways that Christ can be said to have "bought' all mankind.

It is also worth noting that the text, if proving general atonement, could also be construed to assert conditional security, and this, in my experience, is a far more tenuous argument, particularly among Baptists who more often than not affirm eternal security.

Escobedo writes, "It is inconsistent to say that the Master bought them, but does not own them in order to maintain the general atonement position. In fact, I would argue that this text is not a battleground between Reformed and non-Reformed over the extent of the atonement at all; rather, it is a battleground between those who believe in eternal security, and those who do not. If one desires to object to particular redemption, then one will have to appeal to another text, for one cannot consistently do so on the basis of 2 Peter 2:1.
Brian wrote:
Making assumptions that the whole world will not be saved = the world cannot possibly mean the world, is just that, assumptions, without any Scriptural support no less.

This reminds me of some of the writing I have seen at the Baptistboard in the past. First nobody says the world does not mean the world. That's absurd. "World" is a term used with varigated meanings in the Bible. The complete Johanine corpus shows at least seven different uses.

Thus assuming the whole world means all people without exception is also just that, an assumption. You seem have made no less an assumption than those of us that affirm particular atonement. It is up to those that affirm general atonement to reconcile each and every passage in Scripture where this issue is addressed to favor their view. Generally, those that try it are inconsistent in their approach (Amyraldians and Arminian dispensationists). This is why Arminians default to the governmental view of the atonement. If Jesus really satisfied God's wrath, and if you believe in real penal substitution, then how can you avoid double jeopardy or universalism. I've even seen writers say that Jesus paid for all the sins of mankind except the sin of unbelief. At the Baptistboard, there's a fellow who refuses to believe that rejecting Christ is even a sin, even though 1 John says that it is God's commandment to believe in Him.

You also wrote: If God's will is always done, then how can He find fault with us?..

Brian, honestly, you don't get told "it's an illegal question" and, if you do then you're right to point out the poor argumentation. However, you don't always get told that. In fact, most that I know reply that that God's will, his decree, is done, but He can find fault with us because our motives do not conform to His motives. Men do for evil reasons/motives what God has good, just, and right reasons/motives to do. He holds men responsible for the sin of betraying and crucifying the Lord Jesus, but the whole event is directly attributed by Scripture to God's sovereign predestination. The motive for the action is the determinating factor in that which makes us accountable to God for the morality of our actions. If Pharaoh had kept the Israelites in Egypt with the purpose of showing that God was supreme over the Egyptian gods and doing the revealed moral will of God, he would not have sinned. However, that was not the case, and God says He hardened Pharaoh's heart in order for this to happen.

If, Brian, you believe contrary to Phil's exegesis, then by all means give an exegesis establishing your own position. Telling us what the text does not say or what Calvin did or did not say does not a positive position make.

Aaron S said...

“Notice that ‘world’ occurs 28 times in 1 John, 26 of which are used either in a comprehensive sense (e.g., 2:17; 3:17; 4:1, 9) or more narrowly as the world of the unsaved (e.g., 2:15-16; 3:1, 13; 5:19). This makes doubtful that 2:2 and 4:14 refer to a world of the elect.” -Bruce Ware

Nathan White said...

Guys, who cares what 'world' means? We can see it used in scripture in a variety of ways. Come on now, deal with the whole of scripture and the real implications of what you believe instead of fighting over one simple word. Did Christ’s death actually save anyone or not? If you believe in a weak Christ who has to resort to means of wooing sinners rather than saving sinners…you can keep you atonement, I’ll keep the one spoken of in the Bible. How a sinner who has been condemned and is burning in Hell can cry out “I’ve been crucified with Christ” is bordering on the absurd.

Again I will quote a text that actually deals with the limit of the atonement: Hebrews 10:14 says: “For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified”.

Did Christ die for all? If so, then is everyone on earth being perfected and sanctified?

So it is as Christ said on the cross “it is finished”…it’s a done deal, He sanctified all who the Father gave to Him and nobody else… “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God”. –Heb 10:12

Unknown said...

I think William Barrick provides an excellent alternative in his booklet "The Extent of the Perfect Sacrifice of Christ." (I like it cuz it reinforces the results of my own studies!)

Luke said...

Puddleglum said...

I don't see how the doctrine of Limited Atonement gets past 2 Peter 2:1.

Puddleglum, I don't believe 2 Peter 2:1 is a redemptive context for the greek word agorazo.

Here is an excellent link to an exegesis of this text from James White's ministry.


Luke Woodward

Luthersrose said...

Dear Fellow-Pyro Aficionados:

1. In 1 John 2:2, John uses the Greek word wholos instead of pas when speaking of the "whole world." Pas refers more to the individual, something in specific and is all inclusive (every individual or thing). Wholos refers more to the universality of the message: in this case, an elect people gathered from every tribe, tongue and nation—not just for us.

2. The key word here though in 1 John 2:2 which really gives insight into this text is "propitiation" (see Rom. 3:24-25; Heb. 2:17). To propitiate, as you all know, means to avert wrath, satisfy anger. Christ's once for all sacrifice satisfied God's holiness, justice and wrath that burned against us and our sin (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; cp, John 3:36). Christ died for God; God was propitiated by His Son's perfect sacrifice (His righteous anger was fully quenched in Christ - Isaiah 53:3-8). This only refers to the elect; for if the wrath of God the Father was completely satisfied on behalf of every single person who was ever born, lived and died on earth, then all would be saved; but we know that not to be the truth (Matt. 7:21-23). The guilt of Adam's sin imputed to us (Rom. 5:12-18); the penalty of our sin; the sin itself and God's wrath that burned against us was completely meted out through the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary (Roms. 3:23-27). He was clothed with our sin, though sinless, perfect, holy, undefiled; we are clothed with His full righteousness (active and passive obedience), though we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3), and left to our own devices only sinners (Rom. 5:8) whose good works are nothing but filthy rags (Is. 64:6).

1 John 2:2 is a Christ exalting verse robbing man of any glory - amen? I hope this contributes to this discussion...

Phil is absolutely correct on this. John is not speaking here of numerics; but the breadth of the message in scope.

In closing, I have been at the Sothern Baptist Convention the last three days in Nashville walking through the exhibit hall and such--and it is so good to be dialoging with Reformed people who believe in the doctrines of grace and understand the gospel.

Oh, the sandy foundation of Arminianism--thank the Lord for the Founders movement within SBC circles.

As the Day draws near,
Steve Camp
2 Cor. 4:5-7

c.t. said...

Calvin was always intent to emphasize the indiscriminate call of the Gospel which gives his 'universal'-sounding statements that universalness, and these historically have been clipped by opponents of limited atonement and presented dishonestly as being evidence that Calvin didn't hold the position of limited atonement. To suggest this one has to basically pretend that the reality Calvin's writings exist in doesn't exist itself.

Calvin was also careful to couch - or keep, as Biblical warranted - the doctrine of election within the mystery that the Bible presents it in which basically has to do with points-of-view, God's and man's.

The basic fact is this: fallen man demands to be in control and his vanity, worldly pride, and self-will are ASSAULTED by limited atonement and predestination and the doctrine of election and reprobation. When these hard truths are accepted (when they CAN be due to regeneration) they effect an internal reorientation from being man-centered to being God-centered. Arminians and others similar demand the Bible remain comfortable to their man-centered demands. These are voices from hell, soft spoken, usually, who would affect to be more loving and more wise and more good and more just than God Himself. Don't heed them.

There will be nobody in hell who doesn't want to be there; and don't be surprised at the fact that the soft-spoken 'loving' types with a greater 'sense of justice' than God Himself will be right where their fallen, petulant, rebellious, carnal pride will have them to be.

Phil Johnson said...

To Aaron S. and others who want to debate the meaning of the word world: I think you have missed the point. No one here has suggested that the apostole John employs the term cosmos to mean anything like "the world of the elect."

The point of the original post was simply that the expression "the whole world" is in contradistinction to "Israel only," and that this same contrast is a repeated theme in John's writings. Yes, "the whole world" embraces "the whole human race"—in the sense of every tongue, tribe, and nation. But that still does not necessitate the view that Christ's death propitiates God's wrath on behalf of every individual alike. Such a view is manifestly untenable in light of the reality that people do, in fact, go to hell.

It's not a complex point, and certainly not worth the bandwidth that has been used here to debate it.

Furthermore, my post wasn't meant to spark an argument over "limited atonement"; it was only meant as a simple explanation of why Calvinists don't automatically run away and hide whenever 1 John 2:2 is cited. The fact is, that verse teaches nothing incompatible with the Calvinistic notion that Christ's aim in dying was the redemption of a particular people—the children of God whom He has chosen from among the whole world, and not from Israel only.

Brian said...


Long post...I will respond briefly as you directed some of your comments to me.

I do not believe in universalism (salvation of all men) and I have no problems reconciling the fact that Christ died for all but only the elect will be saved. It is a Scriptural position even if it seems illogical to you.

"Brian, honestly, you don't get told "it's an illegal question" and, if you do then you're right to point out the poor argumentation. However, you don't always get told that. In fact, most that I know reply that that God's will, his decree, is done, but He can find fault with us because our motives do not conform to His motives."

Sorry, I can't follow you on this one at all. First off, I was referring to a particular Scripture which is applicable to any discussion on God's will and man's will and the answer is basically, illegal question...or who are you to even ask that question...paraphrase how you like, the meaning is the same. In addition, God is God, and man is fallen. There is no thwarting of God's will taking place. God's will is done, period.

Romans 9:18-20 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" (ESV).

So, if you were to say to me something along the lines of, How can God fault me if I cannot resist His will (thus I am always doing His will). I would not go into some long discussion with you about how He can find fault and conforming of this and that and motives... I would simply put you in your place and say... who are you to question God?

That is God's answer to the question, like it or not. God doesn't answer to man's judgement, nor will He ever. I wrote a small piece about this whole "man judging God" thing that seems to be going on in Christendom.


Jeremy Weaver said...

1)It seems to me that the crux of the problem people have with Limited Atonement is not who benefits from the Atonement but God's intent of the Atonement. Along with the scripture that has been cited we can ascertain that the intent of God in election is to save a specific number of people out of all peoples who are all headed for eternal punishment. The intent of the Atonement then, is atonement for those people that God has chosen.

2) The Atonement in Calvin's Institutes is connected to God's purpose of election in this way. The difference in Calvin and modern calvinists at this point is historical context. The Catholic Church did not argue the point that Christ's atonement was for every single person, but only for those who were in mother church. Modern calvinists are attacked by a 'general' view of the atonement and so the doctrine of the Atonement has been emphasized more to the extent of hyperbole. The term, Limited Atonement is an overstatement of the Calvinistic view of the atonement. We do not believe that God's redemptive power is so weak that He can save only the elect, but that He can sufficiently save every person if that were His will. But it is clear that this is not in keeping with His purpose of election. We do believe that everyone who believes can and will be saved, but only those who believe, who in turn believe only because of God's electing love for them.

3) It is ridiculous to argue that since God has made salvation available for everyone who believes, that anyone can be saved, or that Christ died for every single one who does not believe. To argue this consistently leads to General Atonement, and to argue it inconsistently leads to a view of the Christ's death that says that He failed to do what He intended. In fact, we know that He cannot fail, did not fail, and therefore did accomplish the salvation of those He intended to be saved.

FX Turk said...

Oh boy. Defending Calvinism.

Phil: it is easier to defend Joel Osteen that it is top defend Calvinism. That doesn't make the former right and the latter wrong -- it will simply be an easier task.

Puddleglum -- the verse you cite actually supports a limited atonement model, but not the one Calvinists would affirm. The question, really, is what limits the extent of the atonement -- God's choice to save, of man's choice to be saved? When that question is answered, the whole rest of your theology is laid out.

Rob Wilkerson said...

If anyone cares to read it, I blogged sometime ago a series called, "The Particular Nature of the Atonement: A Thought on What It Meant and What It Means." (Gees I feel all icky inside for advertising in a comment section! But obviously not icky enough!)

Read all three posts at, Part one, Part Two, and Part Three. I'd be interested in the comments there as well as other comments at Musings on the Doctrines of Grace: Calvinism for the Rest of Us.

Thanks Phil for your usual exegetical defense of these powerful gospel-centered doctrines!

Sled Dog said...

More sled dog muckraking...

Let me start by saying I'm calvinistic in my theology. So I'm not arguing the content of this discussion. Although I don't understand all of how it works, God's word describes election clearly.

"What I don't understand are comments like Xeno's. It is full of divisiveness and contempt. Xeno, I have to know...are you able to have fellowship with another BELIEVER who sees this differently than you? Or do you question whether they are really saved. Although I can't imagine you mean it, your post implies that those who believe in free-will (or at least many) will occupy hell. Maybe your using hyperbole to express your passion, but it seems like you are intent on dividing the body of Christ...which cannot be divided.

Christ died for those who would receive Him. I didn't know a lick about election vs. free-will until 5 years after receiving Christ. Was I not saved because I didn't possess a knowledge of the workings of God in salvation?

And if I hear the term "man-centered" much more, I think I'm gonna get sick. Why is it that the those who bang the drum against any type of man-centeredness seem to draw the most attention to themselves? God WILL get HIS glory. Of that I am not worried.

Truth AND grace, truth AND grace...

aquascum said...

Hi Phil,

I just want to say that you've done some excellent work here. I could post a lot in support of your contentions, but I think this comments page is long enough :-)

Keep up the good work!

Sled Dog said...

Kind of following up my earlier post.

I just read Steve Camp's article on Joel Osteen. To me, this was a great example of how to write about a very concerning issue. Fantastic job, Steve.

Here's the address: http://a1m.org/index.php

When we write or speak about these types of issues, I believe we have to take on the attitude of a journalist, clearly stating the whole truth objectively, and not as if we're God's insider and favorite. I don't deserve salvation more than anyone else, and that understanding should promote great humility in my words and conduct. Smirking and berating others from our "high horse" only muddies our message. We need to be surgical in our analysis and commentary, otherwise we incur more damage than good.

Brian said...


Just wanted to say nice comment. It is funny that most Christians get saved through an "arminian channel" of some sort.

In fact, in my early years, I would definitely be considered an arminian...even though I didn't even know what that was. Almost all of my Christian friends started out as "arminians" and with study abandoned some of the things taught from that standpoint.

"arminians" aren't any less saved than "calvnists" or any other sect inside of Christendom. I think it is always important to keep that in mind.

As long as we agree on the essential doctrines...the rest is up for discussion.

c.t. said...

My contempt is for people who routinely lasso Calvin into their vain demands on God.

As for people getting saved via Arminianism...not me. I'd heard a zillion fuzz-brained (and worse) Arminian and Arminian-by-default Christians before I connected. I connected by hearing a person proclaiming the actual Word of God. The actual Word. Prior to that I can trace my being called to a person who sharply repuked me using Biblical language when I'd made fun of some aspect of Christianity. He didn't plead with me or try to beg me to see the light, he delivered a sharp rebuke via the actual Word of God. This is how Calvinists evangelize. We don't beg for God, we deliver the Word of God and the hard truth and the seed takes root or it doesn't. We can plant the seed, only God can make it grow.

My also perhaps negative attitude towards those who would so blithely 'teach' against Reformed and Calvinist doctrine is just the pure ignorance of it all. When you have the comfortable, easy position maybe don't assume that people who have the difficult, assualting-vanity-pride position are where they are because they somehow don't understand Arminianism.

An exact analogy is dumb liberals who aren't able to grasp the anti-intuitive workings of free markets and start preaching for soul-killing socialism. These types also take positions like: "We're for clean water!!" Very brave and intelligent, guys.

Calvinism presents the hard doctrine of the Bible itself. When you are arguing for a more 'logical' (by man's standards, "God's wisdom is foolishness to man") and more comfortable reading of the Bible then REALIZE THAT. Calvinists don't negotiate Biblical doctrine down to man's demands. We accept it at its level, and in the process, unlike Arminians, we don't affect to be more wise, more good, and more just than God Himself.

Another reason for my negativity towards Arminians is some of them aren't merely confused. Some of them are purposely misleading. I.e. they know the truth and they are intentionally distorting the truth for purposes of spreading confusion.

As for knowledge of doctrine vis-a-vis regeneration... No, people don't need to know doctrine to be regenerated. But you have to see that after regeneration comes actual conversion. Conversion involves faith and repentance, and at that point a person needs to know what they are to have faith in and what they are to repent of. This is where Biblical doctrine comes in.

If you never learn or never come to accept Biblical doctrine - the hard truths, not what man demands - you will never have real faith and repentance because you will never get out from under the tyranny of your vanity, worldly pride, and self-will and recognize that to which has to be the object of your faith and the reason for your repentance.

No human being who lectures to God and affects to be more 'just' than God knows or has experienced the first thing about faith and repentance.

Sled Dog said...

When the sled dog replies to Xeno, he often feels like he's chasing his own tail...going in circles.

Once again, I agree doctrinally, but sometimes(okay, a lot) wonder where the joy is in your Christianity? (Joy IS a fruit of the Spirit, no? Along with patience, self-control, love, yada, yada).

You keep excusing your negativity and contempt for others because of
your high view of calvinistic doctrine. But your negativity and contempt aren't necessary. They add nothing to the dialogue. Don't the scriptures tell us that our speech ought to be seasoned? I fear your approach to all of this is simply another side of man-centerdness.

c.t. said...

You don't know me. You read me write a comment against yet another expression of Arminianism. In the expression of Arminianism is yet more of the implicit accusations that Calvinists don't understand Arminianism, etc., etc. My impatience for that is what you are calling 'lack of joy'. Anyway, I defy anybody to be judged by a standard of "Where's your joy, man?"

What you encountered in me was an argument you couldn't deal with. You say you agree, yet you obviously don't. You obviously are resentful towards what I wrote. So you pull the only arrow your types have left. "You have no joy, man!"

Let's put a camera team on sleddog and see what kind of "joy" he's exibiting in his life, moment to moment, event to event.

Anyway, you can have your fake, for the masses 'joy'. "I'm a hearty laugher", said Andrew Sandlin, in a post he wrote in defense of his latest wrong views on justification, etc. OK, I guess all of us who see you as being doctrinally off-the-mark should just glower back to the dark caves we reside in...

I would say, practically speaking, joy in a Christian manifests in contentment. I am a content person. I don't envy anyone anything. I wish everyone good (including seeing the truth).

What you are demanding is I conpromise the truth, or not deliver it strongly, to "show joy" or "show love" to people. That would be the ultimate act of hate towards those people.

Sled Dog said...

"You don't know me" is a fair statement, as you obviously don't know me. Apologies for any assumptions or presumptions.

I am not arguing your content, I'm arguing your delivery...that's all. It just seems angry. (please note the word "seems")

c.t. said...

I do tend to demonize (or come across like that even when not specifically in my mind thinking the person is demon-ish).

I think it's the underlying mocking tone in most Arminian stuff. It reminds so much of the usual types you run into on liberal forums. When you hold positions that aren't easy to explain (Calvinism, free markets, the necessity for waging war at times, etc.) you can get worn down.

I mean, running into Janeane Garofalo on every forum and having her tell you just why you're an idiot can wear out your patience.

I guess regarding Christians I expect more. Afterall the average Arminian who is making his/her argument usually gives evidence that he's put in enough time with the material to either know that what Calvinists are saying isn't so easily written off, or to have actually studied that which they are so against (evidence that 90% of Arminians havn't even studied Calvinism is too prevalent to give them all the benefit of the doubt on that...a little impatience is going to be inevitable after awhile; obviously if somebody is young or totally new to it all that's a different story, but I wonder...do those types really spend alot of time on forums writing in a manner as if they've been saying the same things for decades...? No.)

Brian said...


I will have to second in saying your delivery is off.

Your assumptions are many too.

I would venture to say there are arminians that are leaps and bounds more versed in the Scripture than you are.

If you somehow think that because someone is "calvinistic" they are better, or more knowledgeable, or more experienced, than someone who is "arminian", you are way off base.

In addition, there are plenty of "fire" preachers (they aren't all fuzzy and nice about everything) that have an ariminian viewpoint....many great men of God (and teachers) have an arminian viewpoint.

It is the very reason I am not too hip on the whole arminian, calvinist label thing.

I would much rather just see a statement of faith than hear someone say they are a calvinist or an arminian. Not to mention the many divisions within calvinism.

But I digress....back to my point...I seriously think you should be more cautious in your sweeping accusations and generalizations towards certain groups within Christendom.

When you are able to weigh the hearts of men let me know (which basically means never).

c.t. said...

OK, Brian. I guess, by the way, the context of this comments thread means nothing.

And as to arminians knowing the Bible more than myself: if they think they can regenerate themselves they don't know the Bible.

And taking on a Christian in defense of individuals who affect to be more good and wise and just than God Himself itself is an act of a rather vain ignorance.

Don't like hearing that? So be it. You're in a rather large majority.

Affective said...

Getting back to the previous discussion, by the way Xeno I've never 'felt' anger (from someone) like I have reading your posts-- via an electronic medium--chill!!

Ok where was I, oh yeah, it seems to me that to assume that if one accepts I Jn 2:2 as speaking about "general redemption" leads "ipso facto" to universalism (i.e. the whole world is saved) is circular (i.e. begging the question "petitio principii"). In other words one must first assume that the "general redemptionist" accepts the premise of "U-nconditional election," which I don't--so it only follows that the "TULIP syllogism" is a non-starter for the general redemptionist.

By the way, have the neo-Calvinist's/or Arminians ever considered what anthropology they are operating from--I mean did you ever consider that you might be looking at "grace" (Calvinst's too)as a "created quality" (i.e. see Thomas Aquinas' view of grace in the "Summa", or for that matter Theodore Beza, or for that matter Francis Turriten, or Hodge, or maybe yourself); rather than the person of the Holy Spirit. There is a huge anthropological difference here--and it indeed has huge ramifications on whether or not you truly are operating within a biblical framework or a philosophical framework (you Thomist's out there--conscious or un-conscious).

I'd say you Calvinist's better check yourselves, and do a little more research, before claiming the "God-centered way."

c.t. said...

So, let me get this straight: the penalty I have to pay for holding to apostolic Biblical doctrine is to be told to "chill" by an Arminian...? Well, it's a tough life, but I have no choice...

"Peace", "love"...

I grew up in an area of 60s liberals. The most intensely moronic angry creeps this planet has ever seen...

The first thing they say when you oppose them or don't conform to their 'utopia' (death, darkness, tyranny, wherever they've actually gained real political power) is what these Arminians have been saying. They'll demand you be 'joyous' and say 'peace' and 'love' all the way down to hell with them. To each their own. Myself, I'll be judging them.

Michael Spencer said...

Now where did I hear that Calvinists will be a higher rank in the Kingdom than Armnians?

Who said that? Hmmmm.....

c.t. said...

You're right, that's the officer in me when I hear a conscript lecturing up the chain-of-command.

c.t. said...

Notice I'm not a cleric though. If I was a cleric talking like that then frag away.

Nathan White said...


Your claim of circular reasoning surrounding the ‘TULIP syllogism’ in 1 John 2:2 fails to comprehend the true nature and meaning of the word ‘propitiation’. For as Luthersrose pointed out above, propitiation means completely satisfying the wrath of God.

Luthersrose wrote:
“Christ's once for all sacrifice satisfied God's holiness, justice and wrath that burned against us and our sin (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; cp, John 3:36). Christ died for God; God was propitiated by His Son's perfect sacrifice (His righteous anger was fully quenched in Christ - Isaiah 53:3-8).”

Therefore, the argument of universalism that Calvinists use in regards to this text holds true. For if one properly understands what ‘propitiation’ actually means, then holding to universalism is the only consistent position.

So then, your denial of Unconditional election in no way negates the fact that the atonement is limited. In fact, I often wonder why there are so many ‘Christmas Calvinists’ (no-L), because to me that is the easiest one…

Sven said...

There's also the argument of course that 'hilasterion' can mean expiation, rather that propitiation, which is a whole new can of worms,but it is my preference.


You are right to say that there are many different meanings of kosmos, but you won't find one that fits the definition that Phil was trying to give.

Adrian Warnock said...

I thought I would highlight My response to this post here in the comments section. I dare to disagree with pyromaniac's view of this verse but judging by his reply we have a similar systematic theology.

Phil Johnson said...

Sven says, "there are many different meanings of kosmos, but you won't find one that fits the definition that Phil was trying to give."

...which is no doubt true, given the fact that I gave no definition of the word world. see my earlier comments (above) to "To Aaron S. and others."

(But please disregard my misspelling of "apostle" in that earlier comment. THAT'S why I reedit my posts so much, Challies! Unfortunately, I can't edit my comments after hitting the "publish" button.)

Brian said...

Nathan White,


Do you think that Christ bore our sicknesses and diseases on the cross?

Why is it that Christians still get sick?

Nathan White said...


In Matthew 15:17-20 Jesus states:
"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile a man..."

The necessity of the atonement arises because of the wicked position of the human heart, not because of anything temporal, or outside of us. Therefore Christ did not bare sickness or disease on the cross. Sickness is just part of the curse of living in a fallen world.

John Schroeder said...

I have posted on this here

Anonymous said...

Phil...just a quick commment as I was cruising through and happened to notice this entry. Of course this is an old FFF favorite!

Your comment that I John was directed towards a primarily Jewish audience-I'm not sure about. While I very much agree that the audience is highly significant in the exegesis, I'm not sure that it helps your case here.

John's epistles seem to be circular letters which went out to the Johannine Community-John had great influence as a spiritual father all across Asia Minor. I'm not finding any indication that would indicate that I John is directed to a primarily Jewish audience (ala the Sermon on the Mount or the Olivet Discourse), but on the contrary a very broad Greco-Roman audience-matter of fact "the whole world."

Also, the parallel in John 11, while interesting-rises and falls on the audience. While John was certainly speaking to Jews as well as others in the Johannine Community, I don't see it nearly as concentrated as three months before the Cross, following on the heels of Lazarus' resurrection.

SO with all respect-die you scum sucking Calvinist. :)

La Glorias to you my friend...Underwood says hello-we did a revival together last week.

G (Mark)

Mike said...

I have actually never heard the argument that the "world" can't be the "world" because that would include slugs and bugs or some nonsense like that. If Calvinists are really saying that then that is just fantastic *sarcasm*. No longer do Arminians have to concoct strawmen arguments.

Anyway, for the life of me I cannot understand why it is that Arminians are intent on making kosmos include every single man woman and child.

A bried sampling from the New Testament would render this verdict utterly impossible. Let us survey the text:
"Joh 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him." "

Wow Jesus must have been popular! He had every single person in the world following him briefly after beginning his ministry!

"'Rom 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. "

Here we even have the phrase "whole world". If we apply arminian logic here then we must say that by the time Romans was written the gospel had been preached to every person in the entire world.

Col 1:6 which [speaking of the gospel] has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;

Is anyone prepared to claim that the gospel had gone out to all people everywhere?

The Arminian paradigm which searches for the word "all" or "world" and then concludes that every single person everywhere must be included leads to irrenconcilable difficulties. Not the least of which is the fact that if Christ is the propitiation to the entire world then God would not be just in punishing anyone any further. We must either belive in particular atonement or universalism. One is biblical, the other is not, but both are consistent.

In either case, I think particular atonement has been made to be a bigger division than it needbe. Both the Arminian and the bible based Christian (lol :) just a little informal fallacy for you guys) agree that in the end, only the sins of the saved will be removed. In the end the wrath of God will only be sparred for the saved. The Calvinist simply states that it would be foolish, yea even impossible, for Jesus to attempt to save all men yet utterly fail. The Arminian, at the end of the day, must be willing to say that from the foundations of the world, God knew who would be saved. Yet, he wanted to die for all men, for some reason. At the end of the day the Calvinist has to be willing to say that not only is it morally impossible for the reprobate to be saved, it is also theoretically impossible. I am willing to make the latter statement, but I don't think I could ever be in the Arminian camp.

Solid Deo Gratia,