Particular Redemption and John 3:16 & 1 John 2:2

Do John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 challenge the doctrine of definite atonement because the wrath-bearing nature of the atonement is extended to the world? It appears as if the atonement-bearing is not just given on behalf of the elect.

“For this is the way  God loved the world: He gave his one and only  Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish  but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) and “He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

On 1 John 2:2, I think it is a more natural reading of the context to understand Jesus being the propitiation for our sins and also the whole world to mean that he is the propitiation not only for the Christians John is writing to but also others around the whole world. Or even, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (early, believers) but also the sins of the whole world (Christians throughout time which was Luther’s view). I think this is a natural reading because of how the word “propitiation” is used elsewhere. Christ’s death is propitiatory means it sates and appeases the wrath of God making Him glad toward the sinner (Erickson, 827-829). Rom. 3:25-26 uses the word propitiation concerning the sacrifice of Jesus. This is how God can be pleasant to sinners and also not be charged with “passing over” or being weak on sin. His justice is reconciled, his anger sated, and the righteous requirement of the law were met via the putting forth of Jesus as this wrath-bearing sacrifice. Though the Romans passage is using hilasterion whereas the 1 John passage is using hilasmos (4:10), the same basic idea is present in both contexts (Both I. Howard Marshall and Robert Yarbrough argue this in their commentaries). If that is the case, how exactly can all the world be beneficiaries of this appeasement and still then be punished under the same weight of debt paid by the appeasement? Could the sacrifice be fully pleasing turning God’s righteous indignation in full for the Church but only partially for rest of humanity leaving them to still suffer under the wrath that was already spent? Yarbrough says, “His death should rather be seen as for ‘the whole world’ in the sense that it provides the basis throughout all human history for God the Father to extend patience and forbearance to those who merit his rejection until the day Christ appears.” (Commentary, 79)

On John 3:16, I think D.A. Carson has some good ideas worth offering. He said “True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.” (Difficult Doctrine, 17). I am not limiting the meaning of the word “world” to the elect in John 3:16. I know B.B. Warfield argues very persuasively also against such a reading (here). But, I recognize the many ways John uses the word “world” within his gospel. Regardless, the point of the passage in John 3 is that God loves not a positive group of people known as humanity or the “good” creation. Again Carson notes “God loves the created order (especially of human beings and human affairs) in rebellion against its Maker (John 1:10, 7:7, 14:17, 22, 27, 30, 15:18-19, 16:8, 20). Therefore when John tells us that God loves the world, far from being an endorsement of the world, it is a testimony to the character of God.” (Commentary on John, 123). The burden of the text is to show the badness, not the number of bad people.

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One response to “Particular Redemption and John 3:16 & 1 John 2:2

  1. Pingback: What Does Kosmos Mean in John 3:16? | Austin's Blog·

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