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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
  • John Hendryx
  • Marco Gonzalez

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  • « I’d Rather Be an Arminian? | Main | Understanding 2 Peter 3:9 by Pastor John Samson »

    Understanding 1 John 2:2 by Pastor John Samson

    Those who have read my interview with John Hendryx (here) will know something of my struggle in coming to understand and appreciate the doctrines of grace. One of the biggest hurdles I encountered was my traditional understanding of 1 John 2:2. It acted much like a roadblock in my thinking, preventing me traveling along the road known as reformation highway for a long period of time. How are we to understand the verse then?

    Let me start by affirming that scripture is explicit in saying that Jesus died:

    for God's people ("He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people" - Isaiah 53:8; "He shall save His people from their sins" - Matt. 1:21);

    for His sheep ("I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." - John 10:11 - note that Jesus categorically states that some are not His sheep - "but you do not believe because you are not My sheep." - John 10:26)

    for His friends ("Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you." - John 15:13-14;

    for the Church ("... the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood." - Acts 20:28; "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her..." - Eph. 5:25, 26).

    Indeed, as God allows us to gain a glimpse into the future, Revelation 5:9 reveals the song of the throngs of heaven as they sing to the Lamb upon His throne, "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." Notice that it does not say that He ransomed everybody in every tribe, etc., but that He ransomed people for God from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.

    Yet at least at first glance, 1 John 2:2 seems to strongly deny this idea that Jesus' death was designed for a particular people. The verse states, "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

    I don't believe that scripture contradicts itself. That is in fact why we are told to study the word of God in order that we might rightly divide it (2 Tim. 2:15) rather than simply throw up our hands saying a particular verse contradicts others on the same subject. "All Scripture is God breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) and because there is one Divine Author of Scripture who does not contradict Himself, I am convinced that hard work and careful study will eliminate apparent contradictions.

    I have written elsewhere about the principles of correct interpretation of scripture. In my article entitled "Playing Marbles with Diamonds" (here) I refer to twelve principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). We start by affirming that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture. Though there may be many applications of a verse, it only means what it was intended to mean when it was written. With this as a foundation, two more principles would apply here:

    1. Consider the Author - who wrote the book? (what was his background, language, culture, vocation, concerns, education, circumstance, what stage of life?)

    2. Consider the Audience (why was the book written? who was the audience? what would these words have meant to its original recipients?)

    My friend, Dr. James White once wrote, "Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, "Well, I feel the author here means this." Yet, for some odd reason, this attitude is prevalent in Christian circles. Whether that feeling results in an interpretation that has anything at all to do with what the original author intended to convey is really not considered an important aspect. Everyone, seemingly, has the right to express their "feelings" about what they "think" the Bible is saying, as if those thoughts actually reflect what God inspired in His Word. While we would never let anyone get away with treating our writings like this, we seem to think God is not bothered, and what is worse, that our conclusions are somehow authoritative in their representation of His Word."

    With this in view, John writes of Jesus Christ being "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (Hebrews), but also for the whole world (the Gentiles)."

    A third principle I mentioned in the article relates to the concept of considering the author's context. This refers to looking at all of a person's writings - John's writings, Paul's writings, Luke's writings, etc. When we look elsewhere in John's writings we notice in his Gospel an exact parallel in John's use of words, which gives us a great deal of insight as to what he (John) was referring to.

    In John's Gospel, chapter 11, verses 51-52, John wrote these words, "he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."

    When we see this in chart form, the parallel with 1 John 2:2 is easy understood:

    Dr. Phil Johnson (who provided this helpful chart) writes, "There is little doubt that this is how John's initial audience would have understood this expression. "The whole world" means "people of all kinds, including Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, and whatnot" as opposed to "ours only" i.e., the Jewish nation. What the apostle John is saying in the John 11 passage is particularly significant: Christ died so that he might gather "the children of God" the elect, from the whole world."

    I believe therefore that rather than undermining the case for Christ's death for His elect sheep, 1 John 2:2 actually affirms it. When we understand the verse in its Johannine context (the writings of the Apostle John) then the correct interpretation becomes very clear.

    Posted by John Samson on October 28, 2005 01:48 PM

    Comments

    John,
    I really appreciate the teaching on 1 John 2:2 as it is one that I have struggled with as well. I wonder if you have any thoughts that you could share on a similar passage 2 Peter 3:9 where Peter writes that God 'is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.'
    Many Thanks.

    Hi David,

    Its great to hear that my article was in some way useful to you.

    Regarding 2 Peter 3:9, I've just finished an article on this verse which you can find on the main page. Again, I trust it will be of help.

    I'm just wondering if it's fair to assume 'world' means 'all sorts of people'. It seems fairer to me from other Johannine passages that across the board its a good rendering to assume 'world' to be 'unregenerate men'.

    For example, Judas in 14:22 asks how it's possible that Jesus would reveal himself to them but not to the 'world'. There is a distinction here between the regenerate man and the 'world'. I think this helps make sense of Romans 9, too. We were once all vessels of wrath (the world) but have since become vessels of mercy because of the enabling love of the Father.

    Does this seem a fair interpretation?

    No it isn't a fair interpretation. It isn't safe to assume that the Bible always means the same meaning for world in every place it is used for the simple reason that we don't use the word world the same every time we use it. The world may mean the planet. "He sailed around the world." It may mean every nation of the world. "He was set on world conquest." It may mean people from every nation. "He was world famous." And in the Biblical context it may mean the Roman world. "That all the world might be taxed." Just because world means one thing in one place doesn't mean that it means the same thing every place. We always have to look at the overall context to determine the meaning.

    I appreciate the reference to John 11:51-52 as a help to explain I John 2:2. I wonder if you also see a helpful connection with John's statement in 1 John 5:19 "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

    John's use of the term "whole world" is in a seperate category from "we are of God". This appears helpful in explaining the twofold distinction in 2:2.

    What do you think?
    Ron M

    My question is on 1 Timothy 4:10, which says that "God...is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." Biblically, how is God the Savior of those who do not believe?

    Thanks for your time,
    Tom

    Hi Tom,

    Yes, 1 Tim. 4:10 is a verse that has had many interpretations. Here are a few of them:

    (1) The idea that "God is the Savior of all men" means that all who have ever lived will be saved. This of course is contrary to all sound doctrine. If this was true, the rest of the verse would have no meaning when it says "especially of those who believe."

    (2) God wants to save everyone but His desire is many times thwarted by the obsinate free will of man (the Arminian view). Note though that the passage does not say He wants to save, but that He actually saves: He is actually the Savior (in some sense) of all men. Also, God's will is never frustrated (Isaiah 46:10).

    (3) God is able to save all men, but though all can be saved, only believers actually are. Again, this is not what the text says.

    (4) God is the Savior of all men (in one sense) and especially of those who believe (in another sense).

    I believe this is the biblical answer. As we study the terms "salvation" and "Savior" we find many nuances - many different ways God saves. The most important aspect of salvation is to be "saved" from the wrath of God (Romans 5:6-9), but salvation also includes the idea of rescue from enemy attack (Psalm 18:3); preservation (Matt. 8:25); physical healing (Matt. 9:22; James 5:15) etc. God "saved" not only Paul but everyone else on board ship with him in Acts 27:22, 31, 44. There are numerous ways that "salvation" takes place, but that's a complete Bible study all in itself.

    When we study the word Savior (Greek: soter) in the LXX version (Greek translation of the Old Testament) we see the word used in a way that is far less grandiose than that which we generally think of the word. One example is Judge Othniel is called a Soter (Savior) or deliverer because he delivered the children of Israel from the hands of the king of Mesopotamia (Jud. 3:9). 2 Kings 13:5 talks of God giving Israel a "Savior" so that they were delivered from the hands of the Syrians. The judges of Israel were "saviors" as Nehemiah 9:27 states, "in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies."(see also Psalm 36:6)

    A great deal more could be said to substantiate this idea of a savior, but I think the above would make the point. God provides food (Psalm 104:27, 28) sunlight and rainfall (Matt. 5:45), as well as life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25), for "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God preserves, delivers and supplies the needs of all who live in this world, and it is in this sense that He extends grace to them, saving them from destruction every day they live.

    God is also gracious in allowing many to hear the proclamation of the Gospel.

    All of these mercies are refered to as "common grace." It is common only in the sense that every living person gets it. This grace should actually amaze us because God is under no obligation whatsoever to give it to anyone. God sustains the lives of His sworn enemies, often for many decades! However, as wonderful as it is, it is only a temporal grace because all unregenerate people eventually die and will face the judgment (Heb. 9:27).

    I believe then that 1 Timothy 4:10 teaches that we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior (Soter - preserver, sustainer, deliverer) of all people (showing mercy to all each and every day they live), especially of those who believe (who receive full salvation from His wrath and everlasting life).

    I have a take on this. "God shows no partiallity to anyone." Grace was given to mankind because of His love for them. Saving grace is like a life-raft. A life-raft with a rope controlled by God. It was purchased by the blood of His Son. That life-raft was given to humanity who is drowning in a downstream river heading towards a fall. Many will try to save themselves by swimming upstream, but few will surrender their will to be saved by the life-raft.

    I've been in many debates over the Sovereignty of God versus the free will of man. What I've learned through these debates is the heart of the problem, God's character.

    The folks who err on Calvin are big on grace but lack God's justice and the folks who err on Armineaus are big on free-will but err on God's promises.

    Acts 10:34-35 "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."(KJV)

    I have another take. I believe you can learn alot about the cross by looking at the passover. An unblemish lamb was sacrificed, but just because the lamb was killed and blood was shed wasn't enough to save them until the Hebrews had taken the blood and covered their door post on their homes and consumed the lamb in order to be saved. In order for us to be saved we must cover ourselves with the blood of Jesus. We must surrender our free will in exchange for eternal life with the one who purchased us.

    I tim 4:10 means exactly what it says. Jesus is the Savior of all humanity[World] especially for those who believe[born-again Christians].

    Remember the Nation of Israel was chosen(set-apart) has God's People(Keeper's of His Word and Character) but not all of the individuals that were Israelites were saved.

    The Lord even bought the ones that deny Him and they are in the churches bringing about an air of lawlessness and have no love of God within them.

    2 Peter 2:1  ¶But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

    I believe this article at http://aomin.org/2PE21.html by Simon Escobedo III more than adequately deals with this text in 2 Peter 2. I hope you will check this out.

    Here are some interesting quotes from C. H. Spurgeon on this issue:

    "The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God's law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on the behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by his enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people." (Sermon 310 - "Christ our Substitute - New Park Street, Southwark)

    Elsewhere he preached, "I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than an universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it." (Sermon number 173 - Metropolitan Pulpit 4:121)

    "Once again, if it were Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own evidence that there is a lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit must be cast some of the very persons, who according to that theory, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a thousand times more frightful than any of those horrors, which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of particular redemption." (C. H. Spurgeon - Sermon 204 - New Park Street Pulpit 4:553)

    This was so helpful! As was the other post on II Peter 3:9. In fact, I'm going to print off this chart and put it in my Bible! As one who is new to a reformed understanding of scripture (less than a year) these kinds of things are exactly what I need, especially when discussing this with my family and friends. I also plan to read the suggested article on II Peter 2:1 which is often also a sticking point regarding election.

    I can see the reasoning in comparing the John 11:51-52 passage with 1 John 2:2. However I don't think this necessarily proves definite atonement. And here is why. In the same letter a few chapters over John uses the phrase "whole world" to refer unregenerate men. So, here are the two verses side by side.

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

    "19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. "
    1 John5:19

    So, rather than speaking of "whole world" in reference to Gentile believers as opposed to Jewish; Johh uses the 'we' as the church(composed of jews and gentiles) and 'whole world' as meaning unregenerate or those outside the church.

    Therefore, I think the passage plainly means, Jesus died for the sins of all men.

    John, what do you think?

    this is only theory i am new to the reformed arminian debate could it have been necessary for all sin to have been erradicated for both the elect and the damned so that creation could be restored.sin does not just effect humans but also creation for death to cease sin must be completely destroyed? only those to whom god gives the gift of repentance faith and confession see eternal life.i am new to this i am only searching for the truth> please post answere.

    I am leaning toward the straightforward simple honest reading of the text. It means what the author has stated. holos kosmos is the Greek for the "whole world." It means all of creation in its entirety. Much different terms are used when referring to Jew and Gentiles. The straight forward clear reading lines up closer to Atonement available for all, but only accepted by some.

    Steve - you wrote "holos kosmos is the Greek for the "whole world." It means all of creation in its entirety"

    How do you know that? John uses the word world at least ten different ways in his gospel. http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/world-john.html

    Yes Kosmos by itself can mean several different things. Kosmos with the addition of holos almost certainly means what the translation states. Contextually it works better than the Jew/Gentile or Elect/Nations arguments. Without holos either reading becomes a possibility, most definitely not a certainty for which understanding, but the addition of holos tips the scales away from a limited atonement understanding. It is similar to 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 4:10 when Paul adds pos (all) to anthropos (mankind); it expands the scope and clarifies the meaning. For an excellent analysis check the following link: http://www.theologyonline.org/blog/?p=472

    Either way I think this is a family argument and I’m neither a Calvinist or Arminian (I heartily reject both philosophies as they are understood today), simply a follower of Christ. I respect my reformed brother’s opinions and views. I believe the TULIP is a belief which would fit best into the open hand of ideas we are willing to disagree on but not divide over.

    I’m troubled that much of reformed theology supporters states this to be an open handed debatable topic but then in practice only supports or recognizes those who fall into a strict Calvinistic camp-5 pointers preferably, 4-pointers with a little shoving, and 3-pointers only with extreme protest.

    Steve,

    Of course, we all desire to be followers of Christ.. Spurgeon said it best perhaps, "There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer - I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it."

    The real issue in all this is whether we are monergists or synergists (I think thats more helpful than the Calvinist v. Arminian labels) - as it cuts to the heart of the issue. Do we believe God regenerates the stony heart by His own power alone; or does He needs man's cooperation and therefore faith is the product of the dead (hostile) human heart.

    You mentioned 1 Tim 4:10 - and I believe I deal with this here: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/1Tim410.html

    Regarding 1 Tim 2:4 - that is dealt with here: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/1Tim2-4.html

    I did not see "His ENEMIES" on that 1st list. We are all His enemies in some way or form. Dude, Get With It. God's AGAPE Love is the opposite of what you teach. Blindness covers those who don't have His LOVE. I'll pray for you.

    Rich,

    Actually its YOU who are not seeing the depth of God's love, unless your comment was an April Fool's joke.

    I am interested in understanding how the greek word Kosmos (the one used in this passage) can be explained to be different types of people?
    Especially in the context of John, seeing that Kosmos is used a lot, but never means types of people.

    Thanks John I hadn't read all the posts my apologies.
    I liked your list of 10 uses. In fact I'm going to save them as favorites.
    I do have an issue with the interpretation of the word still and I think Steve has a good point with the use of holos.
    I typically avoid conflict with these types of texts simply because I tend to be very aggressive. However, this tim, I'm hoping to come to a resolve for practical reasons. I have a personal conviction in my personal evangelism methods. I truly believe Christ atoned for the sins for all and because of this I believe it to be the greatest news to share. I believe I can walk up to a total stranger and say "Jesus died for your sins." Would I be wrong to assume that you would not say that as a result of your understanding for the scriptures?
    In Love

    Hi Matt,

    I believe that Christ's atonement was an actual propitiation rather than merely a potential one (if man would do something to activate it). God's wrath was ACTUALLY removed from people - which people? Those He redeemed out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. (Rev 5:9,10)

    Regarding the evangelistic strategy of saying to everyone "Jesus died for your sins," I would stick with biblical terms myself. Though the Apostles did declare Christ's death for sinners, "Christ came into the world to save sinners" - I don't see the Apostles (or anyone else in the New Testament) using the phrase you use or communicating that concept to all indiscriminantly. Therefore, though a popular expression, I would suggest it is another man made tradition.

    Hi Matt,

    I believe that Christ's atonement was an actual propitiation rather than merely a potential one (if man would do something to activate it). God's wrath was ACTUALLY removed from people - which people? Those He redeemed out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. (Rev 5:9,10)

    Regarding the evangelistic strategy of saying to everyone "Jesus died for your sins," I would stick with biblical terms myself. Though the Apostles did declare Christ's death for sinners, "Christ came into the world to save sinners" - I don't see the Apostles (or anyone else in the New Testament) using the phrase you use or communicating that concept to all indiscriminantly. Therefore, though a popular expression, I would suggest it is another man made tradition.

    John,
    Do you have any more information on the terms you used about synergists? I don't believe God needs our help, but I do believe their to be an action required on man's part, not for boasting but obedience. I hope that make some sort of sense.

    Hi Matt,

    There are plenty of articles over at the monergism.com website on the subject.

    This short article gives a brief description: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/Monergism.html

    Sorry but your explanation ignores the context of 'world' in 1 John 2 itself. Later in 1 John 2 the Apostle tells us that 'the world' is that, or those opposed to God - lust of the flesh. (v 15)

    We are also told "Do not love THE WORLD or anything in THE WORLD. If anyone loves THE WORLD, love for the Father[d] is not in them." (V 15.) If 'the whole world' is 'all kinds of people from the world I am curious why I am not supposed to love them? or the world?

    Josh,

    It does not ignore the context at all. John uses the word "world" (Greek kosmos) in at least 10 different ways just in his gospel alone. The meaning is determined each time by the immediate context. See http://www.reformationtheology.com/2009/04/world_johns_ten_uses_of_the_wo.php

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