Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recently a dear brother asked me an excellent question at CFBC. I want to post my answer to this very good & important question. Here's what I said:

I want to take a minute and respond to your question you asked me about Christ dying for the "WORLD" in the book of 1 John.

John 3.17; 4:42; 6:33; 6:51; 12:47; cp. 17:9. See 1 John 2.2. All these references speak of Christ in some way "saving" or "dying for" the WORLD. The issue is this: what does John mean when he says that Christ died for 'the world' or 'for all'.

We need to be careful of what these texts do NOT mean.

1. They do NOT say that Christ died for ALL so that ALL men are saved. This is the error and heresy of Universalism --- all people everywhere are saved because Christ died for all & thus saves ALL.

2. This does NOT mean that Christ died for ALL men equally & as a result all men would be saved.

The key to interpreting ALL of these texts is to examine all of them in the immediate context. Thus, we cannot take the meaning of 'world' in every sense & insert ALL that meaning into 'every occurrence' of the word. That is the word-study fallacy. For example: the word "trunk" in English can mean different things in different contexts (= trunk of a car, trunk of an elephant, trunk of a tree, trunk where you carry things, trunk of your chest, etc.). The CONTEXT of that particular reference MUST be the factor that specifically determines the meaning of a word in a particular text.

A good example of this is Titus 2:11 where Paul says: "the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to ALL men" (Titus 2.11). Does that mean that ALL men will be saved?  NO! In the immediate context, Titus 2:1-10 talks about all kinds/groups of people --- old men, older women, young men, bondslaves, etc. God's grace brought salvation to all these kinds/groups of people!!

John 3.16 says that For God so loved the WORLD.  But does it mean that Christ died for THE WORLD?  Well, note the immediate context of John 3.15 - Whoever believes in him may have eternal life (so it is obviously LIMITED in some way to whoever believes).

John 3.17 says that Christ came into the world so that the WORLD might be saved through Him. Did John mean that the ENTIRE POPULATION of people would be saved?  No because 3.18 says whoever believes in HIM is not condemned (it's limited in some way).

**I believe that when John uses "WORLD" (Greek: kosmos) he USUALLY (depending on the immediate context of each) refers to the world referring to kinds of people --- that is, Jew & Greek.  Not all PEOPLE extensively but all KINDS of people (groups --> Jew & Gentile).

"ALL" and "WORLD" often refer to all of a particular class, but not to all people universally. Here's another way to view Jesus as the savior of the WORLD in John's texts. When John speaks of Jesus being the savior of the WORLD he means only that Jesus is the ONLY savior the world will ever have, not that he will save every individual in it (James Boice).

Limited atonement is sort of a bad way to term the view. It means that Christ's death is in some way 'limited' or 'insufficient.'  It actually speaks to the opposite. It's actually EFFICIENT and DEFINITE and PARTICULAR. For those whom Christ died, he actually died & absolutely & eternally secured their redemption -- forever.

If Christ died for some men who are now in hell, then we MUST be forced to say (logically & theologically) that his death was in some way insufficient and incomplete for those people.  No where do we find that in the Bible (see especially Heb 7.25 --- Christ saves forever).

Particular Redemption means that the INTENT of the atonement defines the EXTENT of the atonement. If God intended to actually save and actually redeem sinners by Christ's death, then that MUST mean that the EXTENT does not reach to ALL men (or else all would be saved) but its EXTENT must be particular/exclusive for SOME people (that is, the elect).

The question in this discussion is this: "what did Jesus actually ACCOMPLISH BY HIS DEATH?" If he actually came to save, redeem, propitiate the father's wrath, reconcile, etc. THEN his death must be actual & definite to save his people.

I think that James Boice says it well:
"Christ's work on the Cross was not a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, but a real and definite salvation for God's own chosen people. A redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation that does not propitiate, a reconciliation that does not reconcile, and an atonement that does not atone cannot help anybody. But a redemption that redeems, a propitiation that propitiates, a reconciliation that reconciles, and an atonement that atones reveal a most amazing grace on God's part an draw us to rest in HIM and in HIS completed work, rather than our own" (in his book The Doctrines of Grace, p.123).

So I believe that particular redemption/limited atonement is the most biblical view exegetically & theologically.

A very helpful text to show this is John 17. When Jesus prays the High Priestly prayer in John 17, he does NOT pray for the "WORLD". Note: the "world" is in contrast with "us/our" in his prayer in John 17. Christ laid down his life for HIS SHEEP (John 10).

For further study:

John Piper has an excellent article on: For Whom Did Christ Die.
James Montgomery Boice, The Doctrines of Grace.


Mike Riccardi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Riccardi said...

Well done, Geoff. A phrase that has stuck with me regarding this discussion is that "all" often means "all without distinction," and not "all without exception."

I really appreciated J. I. Packer's understanding on how to translate (or even not translate) one's view of the atonement in evangelism. Would love to hear if you have any thoughts specifically on how to apply belief in particular redemption to a faithful Gospel presentation.

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