Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Term 'World' in the Johannine Corpus

This was in the comment box over at this Triablogue post:

G said, "All individuals would still be included. We need to suppress the next steps of logic so that you can say "all men", without reaching the more desired Calvinistic ending of "some men"."

Me:
Actually, it wouldn't. "All men without exception" would necessarily entail "all men without distinction" but not the other way around.

The word, "world," as it is often used in the Gospel and Epistles of John, has reference to quality, not quantity.

Sometimes it has reference to the evil nature of human society. John 3:16 does not mean that God had so much love that He loved every single last human being, but rather, it means that God had so much love that He loved humans (but not necessarily every single human) in spite of their sinfulness. The quantity of that group can only be determined by the context.

Sometimes (as in 1 John 2:2), it has reference to all people groups (a universal of qualities), i.e. both Jews and Gentiles, and is used to oppose the 1st century Jewish idea that God would only bless the Jews, Gentiles were sub-humans, and other assorted racist ideas.

Thus, God chooses men out of *every* (universal) tribe, tongue, people, and nation, but *not* *everyone in* every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

It is all men without distinction (i.e. *some* from *every* people group), not all men without exception (i.e. *everyone in* every people group).

7 comments:

Persiflage said...

Here's my article on "Limited Atonement" when you have the time - I am interested in your thoughts. I've been trying to engage Paul Manata on the subject over at Triablogue, but he seems to take a lot of comments really personally. So far, your response seems fairly unemotional, so I respect that.

http://persiflagethis.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-i-am-not-reformed-part-three.html

As far as defining world, all, etc. to only mean "all kinds" "all races" or "all nations", what is exactly the rationale for doing this? I understand that sometimes they are making the point that salvation is for both the Jews and the Gentiles, but all of time? Particularly when contrasted with by one man (Adam) all were dead in their sins, and then there's salvation for all by the death of one man (Jesus)? What is the Scriptural basis for the "all kinds" interpretation?

arminianperspectives said...

S&S,

I left this response at Triablogue. Perhaps you missed it. I would like to hear your thoughts on it. Here is what I wrote:

then *all people groups* are represented and He would have died for "the world" and "all men" in the sense John and Paul mean it, a first-century, Palestinian, culture-specific sense.

S&S, this has always seemed a strange way for the Calvinist to argue as it seems to undercut another favorite C argument for unconditional election. Many Calvinists point to unreached natives hidden in the jungle somehwere who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel as an indictment against the A belief that God desires all to be saved. They further see this as evidence for unconditional election since they can just say that such tribes are full of reprobates that God has not elected.

But now enter your "all people groups" argument above. Are not these unreached tribesman a "people group"? Do they not represent a "type" or "race" or "tribe" (as in your reference to Rev.)?? I think if the Calvinist wants to force this line of reasoning then he is left to explain why these people are unreached in the same way Arminians might try to explain it, or drop the "all men without distinction" argument you are suggesting we adopt and maybe go with "some men" among "most" types, groups, tribes, races, etc., or something cute like that.

God Bless,
Ben

Saint and Sinner said...

Hi Ben,

Sorry that I'm just now getting to responding to your comment.

Scripture nowhere says that "all men" must mean all people groups at the time of Paul's or John's writing.

If they do use it that way (please provide an example), then they are using hyperbole similar to Paul's statement that at the time of his writing, the gospel had gone out into all the world (i.e. the Roman Empire and beyond).

The gospel will eventually reach all people groups before Christ's return.

arminianperspectives said...

S&S,

This...

Scripture nowhere says that "all men" must mean all people groups at the time of Paul's or John's writing.

If they do use it that way (please provide an example), then they are using hyperbole similar to Paul's statement that at the time of his writing, the gospel had gone out into all the world (i.e. the Roman Empire and beyond).

The gospel will eventually reach all people groups before Christ's return.


...response seems a little inconsistent with what your wrote in your post here:

Thus, God chooses men out of *every* (universal) tribe, tongue, people, and nation, but *not* *everyone in* every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

It is all men without distinction (i.e. *some* from *every* people group), not all men without exception (i.e. *everyone in* every people group).


God Bless,
Ben

Saint and Sinner said...

The emphasis is on "at the time that they were writing."

This was a specific response to what you wrote:
"I think if the Calvinist wants to force this line of reasoning then he is left to explain why these people are unreached in the same way Arminians might try to explain it"

The point is that God does want "all men" (i.e. people from every people group) to be saved in that the gospel will eventually reach those groups and God will call them to faith.

However, God does not want every single individual to be saved, and Limited Atonement is a great explanation (though I don't think that I'd use it as an argument against universal atonement) for the problem: what happens to those who have not heard the gospel? Doesn't God want them to have a choice? Etc.

To the Calvinist, the answers to those questions are easy:
No, because
No

arminianperspectives said...

S&S,

So you do not believe that there were ever any "tribes" or "people groups" that existed and eventually ceased to exist that were not reached with the gospel? And do you not see how much further you are forced to qualify "all" and "world" here? So when Scripture says that God desires all men to be saved it is really saying "God desires some men to be saved from among all people groups at some point in history." If this is what was meant then the Holy Spirit sure went about communicating it in a strange way.

And you are still left to explain how you get "some" out of "all" in this passage. Just appealing to "all men without distinction" still does not get you to "some men among all men." All men without distinction fits nicely with all men without exception so you must further qualify "all" to "some". Even John Calvin seemed to not limit "all men without distinction (or "all classes of men") to only some among all. I would like to know how you find justification for this "some among all" interp. in the texts themselves.

Thanks,
Ben

Persiflage said...

you know, I just read this again and something about it struck me -

You said - "Sometimes (as in 1 John 2:2), it has reference to all people groups (a universal of qualities), i.e. both Jews and Gentiles, and is used to oppose the 1st century Jewish idea that God would only bless the Jews, Gentiles were sub-humans, and other assorted racist ideas."

Hold on ... where the hell in the entire book of I John, let alone in chapter 2, is John addressing the Jew/Gentile question? I can't find him mentioning the question of Jews and Gentiles near I John 2:2, neither can I find him mentioning it in the whole entire book. It's not even an issue. In fact, isn't the book of I John first written primarily to Gentile churches in the region surrounding Ephesus (in western Turkey) as a response to Gnosticism?

So why the flat out insistence that simply because John used the words "ours only" and "the whole world" that John MUST have been talking about the fact that Gentiles, or other "kinds" of people, can be Christians too? This is the sort of interpretation that I just don't understand. It's not here, and it's not in the context, and it's not a necessary logical inference from the passage.