Banner

"...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)

Contributors

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

    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

    top250.jpg

    Community Websites

    Monergism Books on Facebook

    Blogroll

    Latest Posts

    Categories

    Archives

    Ministry Links

  • « Scratching the surface | Main | Growth Update »

    Understanding 1 John 2:2

    From the archives on this blog (from October 2005) by Rev. John Samson

    Many of you 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. For a long time, it acted much like a roadblock in my thinking, preventing me from believing what I now consider to be the clear and consistent teaching of scripture.

    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 a number of 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. Authorship - 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?)

    I quote again Dr. James White, when he 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.”

    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 see how he views the redemptive work of Christ. We read in Revelation (written by the same John) that by means of His substitutionary death, Jesus actually “redeemed people for God out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation and made them a kingdom of priests…” (Rev 5:9, 10) Here John tells us of no mere potential atonement for everyone, but a specific atonement where Jesus actually redeemed certain people – not all without exception, but all without distinction.

    We also notice in his Gospel an exact parallel in John’s use of words, which give us a great deal of insight as to what he (John) was referring to.

    In his 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.”

    In chart form, the parallel with 1 John 2:2 becomes clear:

    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."

    Another very important insight is gained when we see the many uses of the word “world” found in John’s writing. There are at least ten different uses of the word found in John’s Gospel alone.

    In Hebrew culture, it is the father who chooses a bride for his son. In the same way, the bride of Christ was chosen by the Father, then given to the Son, and all in this number are without fail raised up to eternal life (John 6:37-39). The Son loses none of those given to Him by the Father.

    Finally, 1 John 2:2 tells us that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins as well as that of the whole world. If Jesus actually did propitiate (removed wrath by means of His sacrifice) everybody’s sins on planet earth, past, present and future, why would anyone ever be punished for their sins? That would mean double jeopardy with Jesus punished for the sin and then the sinner also bearing the punishment again in eternal judgment in hell. Such a thought is unthinkable.

    Instead, Jesus provided an actual rather than a merely hypothetical universal propitiation. He actually removed the wrath of God for His people throughout the whole world. In contrast, the wrath of God still remains (present tense) on the unbeliever. John makes it clear that, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)

    All who are particularists (who believe that not everyone will be saved – that some people will in fact spend eternity in hell) believe in some type of limitation to the atonement of Christ. The Arminian limits its power, for it only becomes effectual through man’s cooperation; the Reformed person limits its extent.

    Here’s a rather lengthy quote from C. H. Spurgeon on this theme:

    “The doctrine of Redemption is one of the most important doctrines of the system of faith. A mistake on this point will inevitably lead to a mistake through the entire system of our belief.

    Now, you are aware that there are different theories of Redemption. All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption. For instance, the Arminian holds that Christ, when he died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ’s death does not in itself secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man’s will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ’s atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in hell as for Peter who mounted to heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was as true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.

    Now, we believe no such thing. We hold that Christ, when he died, had an object in view, and that object will most assuredly, and beyond a doubt, be accomplished. We measure the design of Christ’s death by the effect of it. If any one asks us, “What did Christ design to do by his death?” we answer that question by asking him another — “What has Christ done, or what will Christ do by his death?” For we declare that the measure of the effect of Christ’s love, is the measure of the design of it. We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated, or that the design of so great a thing as the atonement, can by any way whatever, be missed of. We hold — we are not afraid to say what we believe — that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving “a multitude which no man can number;” and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom he died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father’s throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned, we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in hell when Christ, according to some men’s account, died to save them.” C. H. Spurgeon – Particular Redemption, 2/28/1858: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 4

    Elsewhere he said, “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)

    “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)

    In another sermon, Spurgeon said, “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)

    I believe Spurgeon’s words are accurate. I also believe 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 November 9, 2007 10:14 AM

    Comments

    All the verses you quote trying to define who Jesus died for define the positive, but not the negative. They all define who He died for, but none of them define who He did not die for.

    Jesus said He, the good shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. He never said He did not lay down for those who were not His sheep. That is something theologians have added through man's logic and reason. They have put words in the mouth of the Savior.

    Let me use a foolish example. Let's pretend I buy a watermelon for every person in the state of Oklahoma, where I live. Let's pretend that all my friends live in Oklahoma.

    One day I tell someone "I bought all these watermelons for everyone in Oklahoma!"

    The next day, I tell someone "I bought all these watermelons for all my friends!"

    Do these two statements contradict each other? No! One statement is all inclusive (like 1 John 2:2). The other statement addresses a specific sub-group (my friends) without explicitly excluding the larger group as a whole.

    This is how scripture treats the atoning work of Christ. It never specifically, explicitly excludes any man, woman or child. Only man's theology has done that.

    I challenge you. Show me one verse in the Bible that explicitly says Jesus did not die for a specific group of people. Find it and e-mail it to me. When you can't find it, repent and stop teaching this false doctrine of limited atonement!

    It is a dangerous thing to add to scripture, but that is exactly what you have done through man's logic and reason.

    Hi Josh,

    Your accusations carry little weight. You wish for me to find a scripture that says "Jesus did not die for the non elect" - or else you believe I add to scripture. Why would anyone wish to speak of the atonement in such language? Certainly not the authors of scripture. They do speak positively concerning what the work of Christ actually achieved and that He redeemed people OUT OF every tribe, tongue, people and nation, not that He redeemed everyone IN every tribe tongue people and nation. The people He dies for are actually saved.. actually redeemed, not merely potentially so. Jesus provided an actual atonement that atones, an actual propitiation that removes wrath for His people. The fact that you do not find this convincing is no refutation whatsoever.

    Hello my brothers, I too am on an amazing grace journey. It seems that God is continually peeling another layer of the law off of my soul so I can better see Him through the lenses of the New Covenant. I believe the underlying question that arises in hearts when the whole elect topic is brought up is: does everyone actually have a choice to receive Jesus or is it something God "rigged" (Did he rig the "election")? Without going into too much verbage, one thing I have noticed in Romans8 and 1Peter1 is that we were "predestined according to foreknowledge..." This means that although God foreknew us, He didn't "fore-control" our decision. Furthermore, Jesus never said "Go into some of the the world and preach the gospel to some creatures". My point is, lets let God be God and focus on the mission He gave us. Let us be like David and not concern ourselves with matters too great for us (Psalm 131). Lets manifest Christ for all the world to see and be faithful to what God has called us to do. We may not be able to control people's responses but we will rest assured in the peace and joy that come from doing His will. Peace

    John,

    Sure, Christians are predestined according to the foreknowledge of God, but what exactly does that mean? You assume it refers to knowledge of the future actions of people, but nowhere in Scripture is this stated, and Romans 9 in fact teaches clearly that election is not according to works whatsoever. For more on this subject see: http://www.reformationtheology.com/2005/11/foreknowledge_by_pastor_john_s.php

    "but nowhere in Scripture is this stated" - and, with equal force, "but nowhere in Scripture is this stated" that "the whole word" means only "the elect". A close reading of Romans 9-11 shows that the non-elect (specifically of Israel) have been hardened - but that one day they will be saved. God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on the all. Why do we insist on making things "clearer" than God has? (FYI - I am a former PCA minister and a graduate from Reformed Theological Seminary - which is not to say I am an expert - but I know, in a sense, where you are coming from....)

    Correction - In my post above, I meant "the whole WORLD" (not "word" -my apologies!)
    Calvin said concerning this issue (in his commentary on John): "And when he says the sin of the world, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not thing that he had been sent to them alone. But hense we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation and that as all men with out exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist, therefore, by speaking of the sin of the world, intended to express upon us the conviction of our own misery and exhort us to seek the remedy."

    In 1 John 2:2, John makes reference to two groups of people: The first group is "us" or "ours", meaning himself and the audience he is writing to (the church). The second group he references is the "whole world"(everybody else). He states that Christ's propitiation is applied to BOTH groups. How could John have stated it any more clearly? What verbiage/context is the Calvinist looking for other than what Scripture plainly states, to find a term that describes "every single person who ever lived"? If "the world" doesn't actually mean "the world", then are there other seemingly plain terms that Christians have been misinterpreting this entire time? I see a slippery slope of bad exegesis when theologians try to inject too much meaning into a simple term that one Biblical author uses over and over again, and has used consistently to mean the same thing.

    I am glad Mr. Samson brings up the fact that we need to look at the entire body of work regarding John's authorship. Because when we do that, we find that when John references "the world", he isn't talking about a select group, plucked from among every nation in the world. He actually means the WORLD. Mr. Samson quotes a passage from the 11th chapter of John, but conveniently omits other references to "the world" that John makes in his gospel. He fails to reference John 1:10; John 1:29; John 15:18,19; John 16:8; Sayings such as "the world hates you"; "the Spirit of truth which the world cannot receive." are never mentioned by the author of this post. 1 John 5:19: "The whole world lies under the power of the evil one."

    If Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world, then he is the propitiation for the whole world which lies under the power of the evil one, which hates Christ and his followers, and which cannot receive the Spirit of truth. Same author, same context (1 John 5:19).

    How can this be? Simple: Jesus, who "tasted death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9)(explain that away) "died for all" (2 Corinthians 5:15), which, as it turns out, actually means ALL. See a pattern here? Repeatedly, we find these all-inclusive terms in Scripture as it relates to the atonement: "WHOLE world", "all", and "every". What standard term of universality is the Calvinist using as a reference point to say that these words don't mean what they say?

    We can choose to reject the sacrifice Christ provided. This is why not everyone is saved. God is so sovereign and powerful that only he could have made beings that have free will, and yet STILL accomplish his perfect plan. That is true sovereignty.

    Wow!What a great explanation of God's Word. I thank God for giving us wise men learned in the scriptures, and I am ever more thankful when they proclaim the Doctrines of Grace in such a clear and concise way.

    I am curious if the thought ever crossed that the physical body of the non-elect needed raised too for eternal torment. If the sin of adam cursed soul and flesh why wouldn't the physical resurrection of Jesus also atone for the physical resurrection of the spiritually dead to join their souls at the great white throne for eternal physical judgment Mt. 25 & Luke 16? No flesh could rise for judgment whether saved or not. It doesn't negate saved and unsaved. My point is that even the creation itself groans for this in romans. Adam brought death on it also.

    Re-insert the Calvinists interpretation here to John 3:16 and watch the contradiction they create within the same author.

    See Spurgeons comment on the raising of all the dead physically and Christs atonement in his sermon February 17 1856. Every Calvinist should have to sit under this sermon. Really tired of the hairsplitting to get to the same points. Time to give up the intellectual self stimulation and win more souls. (was trained in the original language and this nauseates me)

    Mr. Samson, R C Sproul got his stuff from Calvin. I am of Paul and Apollos all over again. And Moses, David, Calvin, Augustine, Joseph Smith and Mohammad could never be wrong.

    Mark, There is no contradiction between John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 and I know of no Reformed individual who blindly follows John Calvin. As Spurgeon testified:

    "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." (C. H. Spurgeon, a Defense of Calvinism)

    Interesting discussion and arguments. Has the matter been considered from the perspective of God's justice? If Jesus died for all inclusively, then all will automatically receive eternal life, because it is only a person's sin that keeps him from inheriting eternal life. If his sin is already paid for, then there is not even any need for faith.
    But not all have inherited eternal life. Those who have not are paying for their own sins. And if they are, then Christ has not paid for them, for to take double payment would be a gross injustice. We may never accuse God of that.

    Interesting discussion and arguments. Has the matter been considered from the perspective of God's justice? If Jesus died for all inclusively, then all will automatically receive eternal life, because it is only a person's sin that keeps him from inheriting eternal life. If his sin is already paid for, then there is not even any need for faith.
    But not all have inherited eternal life. Those who have not are paying for their own sins. And if they are, then Christ has not paid for them, for to take double payment would be a gross injustice. We may never accuse God of that.

    Post a comment

    Please enter the letter "y" in the field below: