1 John 2:2

Discussion in 'Calvinism/Arminianism Debate' started by JonC δοῦλος, Aug 7, 2013.

  1. JonC

    JonC
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    I noticed in a MacArthur commentary on 1 John that he (MacArthur) interprets “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 as actually implying the elect. I’ve also read commentaries that suggest the passage is describing Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (every person) inferring that He is the one and only acceptable and atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (the commentary maintained a Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement).

    My question is, for those who would interpret as MacArthur has, what is the justification for reading the “whole world” in 1 John 2:2 as the “elect”? It seems to me that it is an unnecessary stretch in interpretation, but perhaps (and very likely) I am unaware of a valid hermeneutical principle at work here.
     
  2. DrJamesAch

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    You are right, it is a "stretch" to assume this applies to only the elect because the verse itself separates the elect from the "whole world" with one little phrase that says "and not for OURS ONLY, but ALSO for the whole world".

    The Calvinist will attempt to accuse those who read this verse literally the way it was written, as being universalists, which means they have to redefine "propitiation" as being saved, when that's not what propitiation means. Propitiation (hilasterion) means that the payment necessary to appease God for sin was satisfied in Christ. The 'getting' of that propitiation is through faith:

    "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;" Romans 3:25

    John Calvin commented that the latter half of verse 1 John 2:2 was to the "dispersed of the elect" throughout the whole world, but that is in direct conflict with what the verse actually says. This would have the effect of making every single verse in the NT have a limited application to ONLY those people to whom it was written to, and only having an effect toward future readers if there were a qualifier (such as "and also the whole world") and thus there would never be any objective determination as to who the audience is.

    If the audience intended by John were all elect, then it can not be assumed that the latter half of verse 2 is some kind of different elect that has not yet been gathered because John himself does not make that kind of distinction. Such a distinction must be deliberately eisegeted into the text when the plain reading of the verse shows that the "US ONLY" and "ALSO for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD" are a different class of people, the latter of which are clearly ALL unsaved prospects without limitation.
     
  3. JonC

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    Thank you for your response.

    I suppose my real difficulty is in understanding why some Calvinists see a need for interpreting the passage in such a manner which (as you point out) does not seem warranted by the text. Your example of John Calvin highlights the issue. In his commentary he wrote that “all” and “world” referred to the dispersed elect. He also wrote:

    …this does not alter the fact that the reprobate are mixed up with the elect in the world. It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the world…the present question is not how great the power of Christ is or what efficacy it has in itself, but to whom he gives Himself to be enjoyed….[John] sets forth the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one. Hence we conclude that the reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. (Calvin: The Eternal Predestination of God)

    In the case of Calvin, it seems that he held it “incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the world,” but rejected that meaning for this particular passage (holding instead that John used the words to amplify the salvation of the elect).

    I don’t understand why the passage can’t be read literally (as you presented it) and still remain consistent with Calvinistic theology. Beyond that, I don’t understand how those who infer that the “world” here is the elect arrive at that position from the text.
     
  4. SolaSaint

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    Jon, I don't feel it is a stretch as you say. Looking at scripture as a whole and not looking at individual verses to make or break a doctrine is how we should approach our study.

    I have MacArthurs commentary and feel he states this as well. I also have Gill's commentary and he says the whole world is referring to the Gentiles as John's readers were mostly Jews.

    I will have to side with Johnny Mac, for I feel there is more evidence of limited atonement than there is unlimited. Anyway, have you ever read John Owen's "the Death of the death of Christ". He gives a good argument for limited atonement in that if Christ did die for all mankind, then it must have been an inferior atonement since we know not all are saved. It places the most emphasis one man's choosing than on Christ's payment. It makes Christ out to be less than all powerful. That isn't the God I read of in scripture, is it for you? I pray we all are revealed the truth on this and leave our presuppositions at the door. Amen
     
  5. Herald

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    JonC,

    John's audience in 1 John is believers (2:1 "little children"). That fact becomes important when understanding who the "whole world" is in 2:2.

    John writes that Jesus Christ is the satisfaction (propitiation) for "our sins" (himself and the believers he is writing to). He does not state that Jesus Christ is a possible satisfaction, but the (definite article) satisfaction. That means the object of Christ's satisfaction has most definitely had his sins atoned for. The object of Christ's satisfaction in 2:2 is "the whole world". If we take this passage in its plain normative meaning then we should conclude that the whole world has had its sins atoned for (satisfied). Well, unless a person has a bent towards Universalism we know that is not true. How could we say that a person who dies in their sins has had their sins atoned for apart from being born again?

    John MacArthur believes what the vast majority of Reformed theologians have taught; that "the whole world" is a reference to a sub group - the elect. They would support this interpretation by pointing out that nowhere in this, or preceding passages, does John reference unbelievers. In verse 3 John goes right back to addressing believers only, "By this we know that we have come to know Him...".
     
  6. JonC

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    I agree that we look at scripture as a whole and not interpret individual verses out of context from the entire passage – but I don’t think that we can necessarily take one truth and use it as a lens when examining other passages (this is part of the reason I have trouble accepting Dr. Mac’s interpretation – although for the most part I agree with the pastor). After all, we derive our doctrine from Scripture, not vice versa.

    The issue for me isn’t limited atonement insofar as Christ came to redeem the elect – or that his atoning death on the cross was intended to redeem only the elect. I just don’t see why “the whole world” must mean “the elect” in order to maintain Calvinistic theology. It simplifies the explanation, I suppose, but it does seem to me an unnatural, non-literal, out of context and unnecessary interpretation.

    Christ Himself being the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (literally) doesn’t, to my understanding, conflict with Christ being set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. The verse seems to have Christ as the subject (Christ Himself is the propitiation), which would seem to agree more with DrJamesAch’s comments.

    So, summarizing what’s been offered, the support for reading “whole world” in 1 John 2:2 is that the audience is comprised of believers (v. 2:1), it amplifies the doctrine of limited atonement, and it prevents an erroneous conclusion of universal salvation.

    My objection would be that the doctrine of limited atonement is not a necessary component of this passage, but rather something that we tend to bring into the interpretation. I also don’t see how a normative meaning necessitates a conclusion of universalism. I don’t know that the passage is restricted to only believers (but that is something that I will have to study).
     
  7. SolaSaint

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    As I usually say after going back and forth on these type of debates, we must leave this at the feet of the throne of God for it truly is a mystery. God elects only some and man must respond in faith.
     
  8. JonC

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    There is much that is beyond our understanding. I plan on picking up the Owens book - thanks for the suggestion.
     
  9. SolaSaint

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    John Owen is real hard to read, unless you are accustomed to reading the Puritans. He was definitely one of the most revered theologians from 400-500 years ago. Check out Monergism website.
     
  10. Herald

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    JonC,

    I can see the criticism against a Reformed hermeneutic being that it reads into the text what is not there. I would counter that the ramification of satisfaction being made for the sins of all men would, indeed, lead to a Universalist view. That said, I generally take from John 2:2 the efficacy of Christ's atonement for those who believe. I have never argued definite atonement from that verse, although my theological presupposition certainly leads me there.

    Peace.
     
  11. SolaSaint

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  12. JonC

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    I suppose that’s my problem with the passage. I don’t read 1 Jn 2:2 to say that Christ has made propitiation for the sins of the whole world, but rather that he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. (I don’t see this particular verse presenting satisfaction being made for the elect or for the sins of all men, but rather that Christ is the satisfaction for all sin - the "necessary payment" – in that, there is no other name by which our sins may be forgiven).
    Since I don’t understand the passage to counter other established doctrine, I just wondered if there was another reason for interpreting the passage as Dr. Mac did.
    (Thanks SoloSaint, for the link)
     
  13. Herald

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    JonC, fair enough. It certainly is an important doctrine and it deserves serious, prayerful consideration.

    Blessings.
     
  14. SolaSaint

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    It is just nice to have a civil discussion and not what we usually see in here.
     
  15. Squire Robertsson

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    Anbd let's keep it that way. :praying:
     
  16. webdog

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    Brother, you have no problems with that passage as that is exactly what is saying. Propitiation is the appeasement of God's wrath against sin, it is not automatic salvation for the elect. In the same way the Passover lambs slaughter appeased the requirement for the death Angel to pass over, its blood had to be applied to the door post in order to fulfill it happening.
     
    #16 webdog, Aug 9, 2013
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 9, 2013

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