1 John 2:2
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.
A W Pink Sovereignty of God
THERE is one passage more than any other which is appealed to by those who believe in universal redemption, and which at first sight appears to teach that Christ died for the whole human race. We have therefore decided to give it a detailed examination and exposition.
"And He .... whole world." (1 John 2:2). This is the passage, which, apparently, most favors the Arminian view of the Atonement, yet if it be considered attentively it will be seen that it does so only in appearance, and not in reality. Below we offer a number of conclusive proofs to show that this verse does not teach that Christ has propitiated God on behalf of all the sins of all men.
In the first place, the fact that this verse opened with "and" necessarily links it with what has gone before. We, therefore, give a literal word for word translation of 1 John 2:1 from Bagster's Interlinear: "Little children my, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin; and if any one would sin, a Paraclete we have with the Father, Jesus Christ (the) righteous". It will thus be seen that the apostle John is here writing to and about the saints of God. His immediate purpose was two-fold:
first, to communicate a message that would keep God's children from sinning; second, to supply comfort and assurance to those who might sin, and, in consequence, be cast down and fearful that the issue would prove fatal. He, therefore, makes known to them the provision, which God has made for just such an emergency. This we find at the end of vs. 1 and throughout vs. 2. The ground of comfort is twofold: let the downcast and repentant believer (1 John 1:9) be assured that, first, he has an "Advocate with the Father"; second, that this Advocate is "the propitiation for our sins". Now believers only may take comfort from this, for they alone have an "Advocate", for them alone is Christ the propitiation, as is proven by linking the Propitiation ("and") with "the Advocate"!
In the second place, if other passages in the New Testament which speak of "propitiation," be compared with 1 John 2:2, it will be found that it is strictly limited in its scope. For example, in Rom 3:25 we read that God set forth Christ "a propitiation through faith in His blood". If Christ is a propitiation "through faith", then He is not a "propitiation" to those who have no faith! Again, in Heb 2:17 we read, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).
In the third place, who are meant when John says, "He is the propitiation for our sins"? We answer, Jewish believers. And a part of the proof on which we base this assertion we now submit to the careful attention of the reader.
In Gal 2:9 we are told that John, together with James and Cephas, were apostles "unto the circumcision" (i.e. Israel). In keeping with this, the Epistle of James is addressed to "the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad" (1:1). So, the first Epistle of James is addressed to "the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion" (1Pe 1:1). And John also is writing to saved Israelites, but for saved Jews and saved Gentiles.
Some of the evidences that John is writing to saved Jews are as follows.
(a) In the opening verse he says of Christ, "Which we have seen with our eyes and our hands have handled". How impossible it would have been for the Apostle Paul to have commenced any of his epistles to Gentile saints with such language!
(b) "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning" (1 John 2:7). The "beginning" here referred to is the beginning of the public manifestation of Christ - in proof compare 1:1; 2:13, etc. Now these believers, the apostle tells us, had the "old commandment from the beginning. This was true of Jewish believers, but it was not true of Gentile believers.
(c) "I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him from the beginning" (2:13). Here, again, it is evident that it is Jewish believers that are in view.
(d) "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that the Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us" (2:18,19). These brethren to whom John wrote had "heard" from Christ Himself that Antichrist should come (see Mat 24). The "many antichrists" whom John declares, "went out from us" were all Jews, for during the first century none but a Jew posed as the Messiah. Therefore, when John says "He is the propitiation for our sins" he can only mean for the sins of Jewish believers.
In the fourth place, when John added, "and not for ours only, but also for the whole world", he signified that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of Gentile believers too, for, as previously shown "the world" is a term contrasted from Israel. This interpretation is unequivocally established by a careful comparison of 1 John 2:2 with John 11:51,52, which is a strictly parallel passage: "And this spake....scattered abroad". Here Caiaphas (Joh 11:49), under inspiration, made known for whom Jesus should "die". Notice now the correspondence of his prophecy with this declaration of John's:
"He is the propitiation for our (believing Israelites) sins"
"He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation".
"And not for ours only"
"And not for that nation only".
"But also for the whole world"- That is, Gentile believers scattered throughout the earth
"He should gather in one the children of God that were scattered abroad".
In the fifth place, the above interpretation is confirmed by the fact that no other is consistent or intelligible. If the "whole world" signifies the whole human race, then the first clause and the "also" in the second clause are absolutely meaningless. If Christ is the propitiation for everybody, it would be idle tautology to say, first, "He is the propitiation for our sins and also for everybody". There could be no "also" if He is the propitiation for the entire human family. Had the apostle meant to affirm that Christ is a universal propitiation he had omitted the first clause of vs. 2, and simply said "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." Confirmatory of "not for ours (Jewish believers) only, but also for the whole world" - Gentile believers, too; compare John 10:16; 17:20.
In the sixth place, our definition of "the whole world" is in perfect accord with other passages in the New Testament. For example: "Whereof ye....all the world" (Col 1:5,6). Does "all the world" here mean, absolutely and unqualifiedly, all mankind? Had all the human family heard the Gospel? No; the apostle's obvious meaning is that, the Gospel, instead of being confined to the land of Judea, had gone abroad, without restraint, into Gentile lands. So in Rom 1:8: "First, I....the whole world". The apostle is here referring to the faith of these Roman saints being spoken of in a way of commendation. But certainly all mankind did not so speak of their faith! It was the whole world of believers that he was referring to! In Rev 12:9 we read of Satan "which deceiveth the whole world". but again this expression cannot be understood as a universal one, for Mat 24:24 tells us that Satan does not and cannot "deceive" God's elect. Here it is "the whole world" of unbelievers.
In the seventh place, to insist that "the whole world" in 1 John 2:2 signifies the entire human race is to undermine the very foundations of our faith. If Christ is the propitiation for those that are lost equally as much as for those that are saved, then what assurance have we that believers too may not be lost? If Christ is the propitiation for those now in hell, what guarantee have I that I may not end in hell? The blood-shedding of the incarnate Son of God is the only thing which can keep any one out of hell, and if many for whom that precious blood made propitiation are now in the awful place of the damned, then may not that blood prove inefficacious for me! Away with such a God dishonouring thought.
However men may quibble and wrest the Scriptures, one thing is certain: The Atonement is no failure. God will not allow that precious and costly sacrifice to fail in accomplishing, completely, that which it was designed to effect. Not a drop of that holy blood was shed in vain. In the last great Day there shall stand forth no disappointed and defeated Saviour, but One who "shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied" (Isa 53:11). These are not our words, but the infallible assertion of him who declares, "My counsel....pleasure" (Isa 64:10). Upon this impregnable rock we take our stand. Let others rest on the sands of human speculation and twentieth-century theorizing if they wish. That is their business. But to God they will yet have to render an account. For our part we had rather be railed at as a narrow-minded, out-of-date, hyper-Calvinist, thAn be found repudiating God's truth by reducing the Divinely-efficacious atonement to a mere fiction.
John Gill Expositor
And he is the propitiation for our sins. For the sins of us who now believe, and are Jews:
and not for ours only; but for the sins of Old Testament saints, and of those who shall hereafter believe in Christ, and of the Gentiles also, signified in the next clause:
but also for [the sins] of the whole world; the Syriac version renders it, "not for us only, but also for the whole world"; that is, not for the Jews only, for John was a Jew, and so were those he wrote unto, but for the Gentiles also. Nothing is more common in Jewish writings than to call the Gentiles "the world"; and "the whole world"; and "the nations of the world; and the word "world" is so used in Scripture; see Joh 3:16; 4:42; Rom 11:12,15; and stands opposed to a notion the Jews have of the Gentiles, that "there is no propitiation for them": and it is easy to observe, that when this phrase is not used of the Gentiles, it is to be understood in a limited and restrained sense; as when they say,
"it happened to a certain high priest, that when he went out of the sanctuary, "the whole world" went after him;"
which could only design the people in the temple. And elsewhere it is said,
the "whole world" has left the Misna, and gone after the "Gemara";"
which at most can only intend the Jews; and indeed only a majority of their doctors, who were conversant with these writings: and in another place,
"the whole world" fell on their faces, but Raf did not fall on his face;"
where it means no more than the congregation. Once more, it is said, when
"R. Simeon ben Gamaliel entered (the synagogue), "the whole world" stood up before him;"
that is, the people in the synagogue: to which may be added,
"when a great man makes a mourning, "the whole world" come to honour him;"
i.e. a great number of persons attend the funeral pomp.
These phrases, "the whole world" is not divided, or does not dissent; "the whole world" are of opinion, are frequently met with in the Talmud, by which, an agreement among the Rabbins, in certain points, is designed; yea, sometimes the phrase, "all the men of the world", only intend the inhabitants of a city where a synagogue was, and, at most, only the Jews: and so this phrase, "all the world", or "the whole world", in Scripture, unless when it signifies the whole universe, or the habitable earth, is always used in a limited sense, either for the Roman empire, or the churches of Christ in the world, or believers, or the present inhabitants of the world, or a part of them only, Luk 2:1; Rom 1:8; 3:19; Col 1:6; Rev 3:10; 12:9; 13:3; and so it is in this epistle, 1Jo 5:19; where the whole world lying in wickedness is manifestly distinguished from the saints, who are of God, and belong not to the world; and therefore cannot be understood of all the individuals in the world; and the like distinction is in this text itself, for "the sins of the whole world" are opposed to "our sins", the sins of the apostle and others to whom he joins himself; who therefore belonged not to, nor were a part of the whole world, for whose sins Christ is a propitiation as for theirs: so that this passage cannot furnish out any argument for universal redemption; for besides these things, it may be further observed, that for whose sins Christ is a propitiation, their sins are atoned for and pardoned, and their persons justified from all sin, and so shall certainly be glorified, which is not true of the whole world, and every man and woman in it,
Moreover, Christ is a propitiation through faith in his blood, the benefit of his propitiatory sacrifice is only received and enjoyed through faith; so that in the event it appears that Christ is a propitiation only for believers, a character which does not agree with all mankind; add to this, that for whom Christ is a propitiation he is also an advocate, 1Jo 2:1; but he is not an advocate for every individual person in the world; yea, there is a world he will not pray for Joh 17:9, and consequently is not a propitiation for them.
Once more, the design of the apostle in these words is to comfort his "little children" with the advocacy and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who might fall into sin through weakness and inadvertency; but what comfort would it yield to a distressed mind, to be told that Christ was a propitiation not only for the sins of the apostles and other saints, but for the sins of every individual in the world, even of these that are in hell? Would it not be natural for persons in such circumstances to argue rather against, than for themselves, and conclude that seeing persons might be damned notwithstanding the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, that this might, and would be their case. The Jews have no notion of the Messiah as a propitiation or atonement; sometimes they say repentance atones for all sin; sometimes the death of the righteous; sometimes incense; sometimes the priestsí garments; sometimes it is the day of atonement; and indeed they are in the utmost puzzle about atonement; and they even confess in their prayers, that they have now neither altar nor priest to atone for them.