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Definite Atonement in John: World & All

Of all the Gospels, Johné─˘s gospel is the most theological, and presents the doctrines of grace in stark relief. John also poses a challenge to interpreters with his extensive use of the word world (kosmos), which appears in his gospel seventy-eight times, compared to fourteen times in the synoptics combined. John uses world in several different ways, and the student must be careful to understand each use correctly in its context. Steve Lawson lists ten different uses:*

  1. Entire Universe (John 1:9, 10; 17:5).
  2. Physical Earth (John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25).
  3. World System (John 1:10; 12:31; 14:30; 15:18é─ý21; 16:11; 17:14).
  4. Humanity Minus Believers (John 7:7; 15:18).
  5. Large Group (John 12:19).
  6. General Public (John 7:4; 14:22).
  7. Jews and Gentiles, all groups of people, as opposed to the Jewish people only (John 1:29; 4:42).
  8. Human Realm, contrasted with the realm of heaven and angelic beings (John 1:10; 3:12é─ý16).
  9. Non-Elect (John 17:9).
  10. Elect Only (John 3:17; 6:33; 12:47).

Lawson summarizes:

imageIt is clear that world has many shades of meaning in the gospel of John. This diversity must be kept in mind when studying this fourth gospel. Great care and skillful precision must be exercised in assigning a proper meaning to the word kosmos in each context. The apostle John himself moves freely from one meaning to another, sometimes even within the same verse. An investigation of these many verses and the multiple meanings of world reveals that one cannot automatically assume that the word always means every living person. Such would be a too-simplistic approach bordering on naivet?ę.

Likewise, the word all (pas) has multiple meanings. Lawson lists three:

  1. All without Exception (John 1:3).
  2. All without Distinction, that is, all kinds or categories of people (John 12:32).
  3. All the Elect (John 6:45).

Whether or not you agree with each of these definitions, it should be obvious that correct interpretation is not as simple as é─˙all means all.é─¨ Lawson writes:

Now that we have considered the various meanings of world and all in the gospel of John, it should be apparent that the extent of the atonementé─ţwhether Christ died for every person or only the electé─ţcannot be determined by assuming that the widest possible meaning must be intended. Instead, the entirety of Jesusé─˘ teaching about the scope of His death must be examined.

* Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 281é─ý286.

Posted 2012·10·12 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Foundations of Grace · Gospel of John · Steve Lawson
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