Monday, October 25, 2010

Does 1 John 2:2 contradict Calvinism?

"and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."- 1 John 2:2.

There have been many interpretations of this text throughout church history.  Some see this text as a basis for universalism, the idea that all men without exception will be saved.  Others see the "ours" in the "propitiation for our sins" as a reference to the Christians John was writing to, and the "those of the whole world" to refer to all of humanity.  This then is the basis for what is called universal atonement.  An interpretation strongly clutched by my Arminian/synergistic brethren.  Universal atonement says that the Cross of Christ did not secure the salvation for anyone in particular, and that it only made salvation possible for all men.  The Reformed see "those of the whole world" as a reference to Christians throughout the entire earth.  It is the position of this author that the Reformed stance is the most consistent.  In giving an apologetic for this interpretation it will be vital to define the word "propitiation", and to look at similar texts by the pen of John that are similar in context.

In 1 John 1, John is writing  about the Word of life which is Jesus, and that walking in the Light cleanses us from sin.   Then in 1 John 2:1-2"1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."   In V.1 we are told that "we" have an  advocate (gk. paracletos) with the Father.  Advocate means to come alongside in an intercessory manner.  "My little children" and "we" are references to Christians.  Only they have an advocate with the Father, that is what it means to be Christian.  Non-Christians don't have this privilege.  The propitiation is only for the ones that have an advocate with the Father.  This is what is meant by propitiation for "our" sins, the "our" refers to Christians, and "those of the whole world" refers to those who have an advocate with the Father throughout the entire earth.  Paul confirms that Christ's intercession and atonement is only for God's elect in Romans 8:33-34, V.33 "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?...V.34 "Christ Jesus is He who died...who also intercedes for us."  The "us" is God's elect.

"Propitiation: A sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in doing so changes God's wrath towards us into favor" (Grudem Systematic Theology, 1252).

A great many when reading 1 John 2:2 overlook the meaning of  "propitiation" (gk. hilasmos).  If the "world"(gk. kosmos) is universal here, then it means that God's wrath has been satisfied on behalf of the elect and non-elect.  Then the question must be asked: on what basis are the non-elect condemned?  The proponents of the universal atonement position will say "Well it is on the basis of their unbelief."  But such a response is unconvincing since God's wrath has been satisfied on their behalf, and their unbelief would be part of that satisfaction. "For the wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.  People are condemned ultimately based on their sin.  To say that people are condemned because of their unbelief misses the point, this is like saying a gunshot victim died because he didn't go the the hospital.  Although the victim might have survived if he went to the hospital, that isn't the cause of his death.  It was the gunshot, not his lack of hospital care.  If we take the universal position on 1 John 2:2 than we are left with the grim prospect of God demanding double payment for the sins of the non-elect.  After having the non-elect's sins payed for, they are then left in eternal condemnation to "repay", so to speak, for their sins again.  A grim prospect indeed, John must be using "world" in a different way than the universal atonement position assumes.

Scholars have identified about 14 different uses of the word "world" throughout John's writings.  A brief analysis reveals how John uses "world" in various ways.   It cannot be just assumed that "world" is universal, and that it always means the same thing whenever ever it is used.  In the same chapter as 1 John 2:2,  1 John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  If we take "world" to mean all of humanity here, this means that were not supposed to love them.  This is certainly not the case.  In context John is referring here to the "world" as a present evil system and not to all of fallen humanity.  John 17:9, In the glorious high priestly prayer of our Lord, Jesus says, ... I do not ask on behalf of the world..."  Why? because Christians are not of the "world"!  Words like "world" and "all" are often used in the New Testament to emphasize the fact that salvation has been brought to Jews and Gentiles.  They were used to correct the Jewish mindset that the Messiah would only come to save the Jewish nation.  To get a better insight into what is meant in 1 John 2:2 we must look at other texts that have been revealed by God through John.  The following two texts are significant because they both discuss the atonement and the objects of that atonement:

"And they sang a new song, saying,"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."-Revelation 5:9-10.
Notice that the scope of Christ's atonement here is specific, it is has purchased "men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  It doesn't say that Jesus purchased by His blood every man "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The specific objects of His atonement are then made "to be a kingdom and priests to our God," "You have made them," "them" refers to the ones He purchased by his blood "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."  The Reformed see "them" as a parallel concept to the "world" in 1 John 2:2.

"'But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all,
nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.  Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."-John 11:49-52.
Here we have Jesus' death bringing about a particular end.  The end being that He gathers the "children of God who are scattered abroad."  These are ones that have been given to the Son by the Father (John 6:37-44).  John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  Here Jesus' life is laid down for a specific people, His sheep.  The shepherd chooses the sheep, not the other way around.  Here again we find a parallel concept to the "world" found in 1 John 2:2, that is the "children of God who are scattered abroad."

This is why the Reformed position is the Biblical position, it is because the Bible presents the atonement as definite and not potential.  It is personal and not general.  Does God really only love those who love Him?  Is His love conditional?  No, He loves whom He chooses to love (Romans 9:11-13).  Can we really say that the precious Blood of Christ comes to no avail for some? Could He really be the propitiation and not the advocate.  No, He is the advocate for those whom propitiation is made.  Is it even possible that the wrath of God being poured out on His beloved Son would somehow, in any way not be effectual?   From all of eternity, the perfect unity in the One Triune God being broken in some sense at the Cross, only to be rendered non-redemptive by the sinner is absurd.  Will their be any condemned sinner in hell yelling "I have rendered Christs' Blood ineffective, He tried to save me but I wouldn't let Him."? Certainly not.  The incalculable cost of the Cross should make us all meditate about this doctrine deeply.  Our redemption is costly, may we never say that Christs' Blood is ineffective in any way.

15 comments:

Ron said...

Thanks for sharing your interpretation of this verse, Ivan. Is this the same way you would interpret John the Baptist's statement, "Behold,the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"? (John 1:29)

God bless,
Jane

Ivan Ortega said...

Thank you for reading , it's great to have some interaction on such important issues. I would make some similar points on John 1:29, I thought about including it in my last post, but didn't because I wanted to keep the length short. I would follow D.A. Carson's thought pretty closely,"This Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world- that is of all human beings without distinction, though not, as the Prologue has already made clear (1:11-12), of all with out exception"(PNTC The Gopsel according to John 151). World is often used to emphasize the fact that salvation has not only come to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. God Bless. Keep em' comin!

Ron said...

Thanks for your explanation, Ivan. I'm looking forward to your exegesis of 2Peter 2:1.
God bless,
Jane

Godismyjudge said...

Ivan,

Your right that it comes down to understanding the words "world" and "propitiation" - so if you don't mind, I would like to push back a little on your understanding of both words.

Regarding world you said: "the Reformed see "those of the whole world" as a reference to Christians throughout the entire earth." But the examples you give, Revelation 5:9-10, John 11:49-52, 1 John 2:15, and John 17:9 don't use the word world in that sense. Revelation 5 & John 11 don't even use the word world. Can you give one example (other than the passages in question which say God loves the world or Christ died for the world) in which you think the world world means Christians throughout the world?

Regarding propitiation, Grudem's definition isn't as clear as some I have seen, but it might suffice. Grudem said: A sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in doing so changes God's wrath towards us into favor.

Now I have seen many lexicons say a propitiation is the means by which God's wrath is satisfied, or that which can satisfy God's wrath. And Grudem's comment on a sacrifice may well share that instrumental sense. But there is a difference between a means of satisfying God's wrath and actually satisfying God's wrath. All your arguments assume God's wrath is actually satisfied. What do you make of the passages in the OT in which God does not accept certain sacrifices?

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

subscribing

Ivan Ortega said...

Dan I appreciate your interaction. I realize that Revelation 5:9-10, John 11:49-52, do not use the word world. I was making the connection between world, men from every tribe, and the children of God scattered abroad. I was making the point that these all refer to christians as defined by the context. I used 1 John 2:15 and John 17:9 to illustrate the point that world is defined by the context and is used in different ways. John 3:16 I think refers to the world as defined by whosoever believes, those that believe being christians. World here I think refers to God's love as reaching not only Jews but also gentiles. A notion that would have been radical to any Jew at that time. When the bible speaks of propitiation It always speaks of an actuality not potentiality. Hebrews chapters 7-10 speak of Jesus' atonement being perfect and better than old testament sacrifices. Heb 10:14"for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." God has accepted Jesus' sacrifice Hebrews 10:12 "sat down at the right hand of God." If I missed your point please feel free to reply. Thanks for reading. Happy Reformation day!

Anonymous said...

"All your arguments assume God's wrath is actually satisfied."

Jesus is not only the perfect sacrifice - the spotless Lamb of God - He is also the great High Priest. It seems that His Father would certainly accept His sacrifice for every one of those for whom He offered Himself - as stated in Heb10. (But not those "enemies" that He waits "to be made his footstool." These were not "perfected" or "atoned" by Jesus' sacrifice...)

Noncalvinists from C.S. Lewis to Adrian Rogers have conceded that the logical conclusion of universal atonement is that God is reconciled to the wicked to some extent...therefore, they taught that the wicked must eventually choose Hell for themselves while God - who has nothing against them - is saddened. But that doesn't fit with the biblical descriptions in Matt25:41; Rev20:15; Luke13:24-28; Mark9:45,47; Matt7:23 and so on...

Gal3:13
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree."

Matt25:41
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


-charles

Godismyjudge said...

Ivan,

Hope you had a nice Reformation day. Let’s see, I don’t think John 3:16 will work as an example as that use of the word world, since it’s one of the passages under dispute. My fear is that the definition of world as ‘believers throughout the world’ is simply made up to avoid unlimited atonement and the universal love of God. So referring to a passage that I think teaches both doesn’t resolve the matter. Do you have any other examples of the word world meaning believers throughout the world besides 1 John 2:1-2, John 1:29, 3:16, 3:17, 4:42, 6:33, 6:51, 12:47, 1 John 4:14, and 2 Corinthians 5:19 (the unlimited atonement passages with the word world)? If not, I hope you will at least see why I am highly suspicious of that definition.

As for John 3:16, I do think your definition goes against the grammar of the passage a bit. When Christ says …that whosoever believes will not perish… the implication is that unbelievers will perish. This implication is drawn out explicitly in verses 18 & 19. So the people in the world are either believers or not. Otherwise we would have to understand the passage as ‘for God so loved believers that whoever believes’… which doesn’t make much sense.

Likewise, what you say about Jews and Gentiles also doesn’t make sense, if you excluded unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, for the same reasons as stated above.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Ivan & Charles,

Regarding Hebrews 10:14, “has perfected” is in the past while “are being sanctified” is in the present. Have they been cleansed once and for all, or are they now being cleansed? We must resolve this somehow. One way to look at it would be that they are being cleansed now, but they don’t need to be re-cleansed for the same sins again. This perfect cleansing is based on Christ’s one time and completed sacrifice. The OT sacrifices could not perfect and had to be repeated (verse 1-3) and didn’t cleanse sins (verse 4). Thus Christ stands in contrast to the OT sacrifices in that His sacrifice does not have to be repeated and He does remove sin.

Now that the sacrifice is complete, Christ sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for believers (Romans 8), asking the Father to accept His sacrifice on their behalf, which applies His blood to the sinner and cleanses them.

The key is to keep distinct the sacrifice and the application of the blood. Just like in the Passover, the sacrifice can save; the application of the blood does save.

God be with you,
Dan

Ivan Ortega said...

Dan, I am not sure if you agree that Christ only intercedes for the elect. To separate the atonement and it's application is to say the Christ's blood is rendered ineffective for the non-believer after He died for their sins. Your interpretation has Jesus dying for people he knew would never come to Him. It also has people paying again for their sins in Hell. My arguments about 1 John 2:2 don't rest on another use of world as Christians. Rather they rest on the context of world in 1 John 2:2, namely that Christ is the advocate/intercessor for only believers, as you said Romans 8 mentions, and therefore he is the propitiation only for believers. If Jesus fails to perfect those for whom the sacrifice is made, then how is it better than OT sacrifices since they failed in the same way? I would also paraphrase John 3:16 to say, for God so loved sinners. God be with you Dan and the Cowboys, they need it!

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks. The Cowboys season is turning an all out freefall of expectations. Yes, I think Christ died for everyone but only intercedes for believers. As for 1 John 2:2, I don’t think you should infer that the scope of avocation and propitiation are co-extensive, given the phrase ‘not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world’. At a minimum, we should allow the rest of the context to determine if the extent of propitiation is greater than that of avocation.

As for John 3:16, again, if you mean all sinners, OK, but if you mean only believing sinners, then you have the same problem (i.e. God so loved believing sinners that whosoever believes…). Most of the rest of your objections here are theological rather than exegetical and while I would love to get into the questions of ‘does God fail’ and ‘does foreknowledge amount to the same thing’ and ‘double payments’, I think these topics would be tough to give justice to quickly and in a combox. It was a pleasure chatting with you and I will let you have the last word on this exchange. Nice blog you have here; I may show up to comment from time to time.

God be with you,
Dan

Ivan Ortega said...

Cool dano. I think it's obvious where we disagree, and that we both think the other is lacking exegesis. I will post an article about the testimony of Hebrews some time in the future. Theres always 2011 for the Cowboys!

Anonymous said...

"Have they been cleansed once and for all, or are they now being cleansed?"

yes. atonement/justification was accomplished at the cross for the bride of Christ. peace with God became a settled matter for every single one of the elect.

the elect are being sanctified in space and time. we are being conformed by the Spirit into the image of the Son.

but i'm not clear at all on your take on the passage - it says by one offering, He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. who is the object of His work? what did He accomplish in the past for them and what is He continuing to do now?

it makes sense to me that "those who are being sanctified" now - in a continuing sense - are the elect: those who come to saving belief in Jesus.

in what sense did Jesus "perfect" in the past or "is sanctifying" in a continuing sense the "unbelieving world." and the verse is clearly referring to a group of people who are the beneficiaries of His offering to the Father. who makes up that group? His enemies that He is waiting to be made his footstool? 1) that doesn't seem like what you would typically consider a loving posture (does it?) and 2) in what sense are you saying that His sacrifice perfected His enemies?

my justification/sanctification understanding might be wrong, but i need a better explanation that addresses the identity of the direct object in v14 (and how that group can possibly include those in v13)...

-charles

Anonymous said...

"As for 1 John 2:2, I don’t think you should infer that the scope of advocation and propitiation are co-extensive, given the phrase ‘not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world’."

When John was writing this about 2000 years ago, things were a little different: there was a division in the church. And the bible teaches us that John was sent specifically to the jews (Gal2:9).

James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

Are you a member of a jewish congregation? The necessity of continuing circumcision and jewish food laws was the biggest issue in the church two millennia ago – this is made clear in Acts15 and Galatians among many other texts…As an apostle to the jews, of course John would need to remind his congregations that Jesus died not only for the circumcised but also the uncircumcised. Even Peter needed reminding many times over. (Mark 7:19; Acts10; Gal2:14)

Seems logical enough that John was writing to one of the jewish congregations for which he was responsible - so "ours" referred to the sin of jewish christians like John, while the "whole world" reminded those jews that the dividing wall of hostility had been knocked down and the gentiles were being grafted in.

As referenced in the blogpost, John stated the exact same idea as 1John2:2 in John11:51-52 by saying that Jesus died not just for the believing jews but “for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one”...and this is the same unity Jesus prayed for His church in John 17 – for believers then and in the future (v.20) – but again, Jesus specifically refused to pray for the “world.” (v.9)

John is very consistent. But he ought to be read as a man of his time in the 1st century and as a man of his culture.

Again, if there were any plausible reason elsewhere in the bible to believe that the sins of unbelievers has been propitiated or atoned, you might have a point, but as John teaches elsewhere "the wrath of God remains on the unbeliever." (John3:36) Jesus did not become a curse for those who will later be cast out as "accursed."

You're simply losing something in the translation when you put too much emphasis on modern egalitarian notions of what the word "world" means.

-charles

Godismyjudge said...

Charles,

Believers, not Christ’s enemies, are the object of Christ’s perfecting work. My overall idea on that passage is that when Christ cleans a sin, it’s gone forever. In the past, when Christ started cleansing their sins, the sins He cleaned were completely removed. Now, as they sin, He continues to clean them and removes those sins too.
All this is based on His sacrifice. And based on His sacrifice, He could clean others sins to, but He doesn’t, since His blood is only applied to believers.

God be with you,
Dan