THE TERM "WORLD" IS USED IN VARIOUS SENSES
L Boettner Reformed Doctrine
When it is said that Christ died "not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world," 1 John 2:2, or that He came to "save the world," John 12:47, the meaning is that not merely Jews but Gentiles also are included in His saving work; the world as a world or the race as a race is to be redeemed. When John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" he was not giving a theological discourse to saints, but preaching to sinners; and the unnatural thing then would have been for him to have discussed Limited Atonement or any other doctrine which could have been misunderstood only by saints. We are told that John the Baptist "came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe trough him," John 1:7. But to say the John's ministry afforded an opportunity for every human being to have faith in Christ would be unreasonable. John never preached to the Gentiles. His mission was to make Christ "manifest to Israel," John 1:31; and in the nature of the case only a limited number of Jews could be brought to hear him.
Sometimes the term "world" is used when only a large part of the world is meant, as when it is said that the Devil is "the deceiver of the whole world," or that "the whole earth" wonders after the beast, Rev 13:3. If in 1 John 5:19. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one," the author meant every individual of mankind, then he and those to whom he wrote were also in the evil one, and he contradicted himself in saying that they were of God. Sometimes this term means only a relatively small part of the world, as when Paul wrote to the new Christian Church at Rome that their faith was "proclaimed throughout the whole world." Rom 1:8. None but believers would praise those Romans for their faith in Christ, and in fact the world at large did not even know that such a Church existed in Rome. Hence Paul meant only the believing world or the Christian Church, which was a comparatively insignificant part of the real world. Shortly before Jesus was born, "There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled,"...."and all went to enrol themselves," Luke 2:1,3; yet we know that the writer had in mind only that comparatively small part of the world which was controlled by Rome. When it was said that on the day of Pentecost, "there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven," Acts 2:5, only those nations which were immediately known to the Jews were intended, for verses 9-11 list those which were represented. Paul says that the Gospel was "preached in all creation under heaven." Col 1:23. The goddess Diana of the Ephesians was said to have been worshipped by "all Asia and the world," Acts 19:27. We are told that the famine which came over Egypt in Joseph's time extended to "all the earth," and that "all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy grain," Gen 41:57.
In ordinary conversation we often speak of the business world, the educational world, the political world, etc., but we do not mean that every person in the world is a business man, or educated, or a politician. When we say that a certain automobile manufacturer sells automobiles to everybody, we do not mean that he actually sells to every individual, but that he sells to every one who is willing to pay his price. We may say of one lone teacher of literature in a city that he teaches everybody, - not that everybody studies under him, but that all of those who study at all study under him. The Bible is written in plain language of the people and must be understood in that way.
Verses like John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life," give abundant proof that the redemption which the Jews though to monopolize is universal as to space. God so loved the world, not a little portion of it, but the world as a whole, that He gave His only begotten Son for its redemption. And not only the extensity, but the intensity of God's love is made plain by the little adverb "so," - God so loved the world, in spite of its wickedness, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for it. But where is the oft - boasted proof of its universality as to individuals? This verse is sometimes pressed to such an extreme that God is represented as too loving to punish anybody, and so full of mercy that He will not deal with men according to any rigid standard of justice regardless of their deserts. The attentive reader, by comparing this verse with other Scripture, will see that some restriction is to be placed on the word "world." One writer has asked, "Did God love Pharaoh? (Rom 9:17). Did He love the Amalekites? (Exo 17:14). Did He love the Canaanites, whom he commanded to be exterminated without mercy? (Deu 20:16). Did He love the Ammonites and Moabites whom He commanded not to be received into the congregation forever? (Deu 23:3). Does He love the workers of iniquity? (Psa 5:5). Does He love the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, which He endures with much long - suffering? (Rom 9:22). Did He love Esau? (Rom 9:13.)"
L Berkhof Systematic Theology
There are passages which teach that Christ died for the world, John 1:29; 3:16; 6:33,51; Rom 11:12,15; 2Co 5:19; ! John 2:2. The objection based on these passages proceeds on the unwarranted assumption that the word "world" as used in them means "all individuals that constitute the human race." If this were not so, the objection based on them would have no point. But it is perfectly evident from Scripture that the term "world" has a variety of meanings, as a mere reading of the following passages will prove conclusively, Luke 2:2; John 1:10; Acts 11:28; 19:27; 24:5; Rom 1:8; Col 1:6. It also appears that, when it is used of men, it does not always include all men, John 7:4; 12:19; 14:22; 18:20; Rom 11:12,15; in some of these passages it cannot possibly denote all men. If it had that meaning in John 6:33,51, it would follow that Christ actually gives life to all men, that is, saves them all. This is more than the opponents themselves believe. In Rom 11:12,15 the word "world" cannot be all-inclusive, since the context clearly excludes Israel; and because on that supposition these passages too would prove more than is intended, namely, that the fruits of the atoning work of Christ are actually applied to all. We do find in these passages, however, an indication of the fact that the word "world" is sometimes used to indicate that the Old Testament particularism belongs to the past, and made way for New Testament universalism. The blessings of the gospel were extended to all nations, Mat 23:14; Mark 16:16; Rom 1:5; 10:18. This is probably the key to the interpretation of the word "world" in such passages as John 1:29; 6:33,51; 2Co 5:19; 1 John 2:2. Dr. Shedd assumes that the word means "all nations" in such passages as Mat 26:13; John 3:16; 1Co 1:21; 2Co 5:19; and 1 John 2:2; but holds that in other passages it denotes the world of believers, or the Church, John 6:33,51; Rom 4:13; 11:12,15. Kuyper and Van Andel also assume that this is the meaning of the word in some passages.
John OWEN Death of Death
First, then, for the word "world", which in the New Testament is called KOSMOS (for there is another word sometimes translated world, namely, AION, that belongs not to this matter, noting rather the duration of time than the thing in that space continuing). I shall briefly give you so many various significations of it as shall make it apparent that from the bare usage of a word so exceedingly equivocal no argument can be taken, until it be distinguished, and the meaning thereof in that particular place evinced from whence the argument is taken.
The World is taken,
B. Partially; for
1. The visible heaven.
2. The habitable earth.
II. Adjunctively, in respect of,
A. The inhabitants, and that,
1. Collectively for the whole.
2. Distributively; for,--
(1.) The good, or elect.
(2.) The wicked, or reprobate.
4. Indifferently, or in common.
5. Restrictively, or synecdochically; for,--
(1.) The chief.
(2.) The Romans.
B. The accidents;
1. Of corruption.
(1.) Corruption itself.
(2.) The seat of corruption.
(3.) The earthly condition.
2. Of the curse.
All these distinctions of the use of the word are made out in the following observations:--
The word, world in the Scripture is in general taken five ways:
First, Pro mundo continente; and that,--First, generally, holos for the whole fabric of heaven and earth, with all things in them contained, which in the beginning were created of God: so Job 34:13; Acts 17:24; Eph 1:4, and in very many other places. Secondly, Distinctively, first, for the heavens, and all things belonging to them, distinguished from the earth, Psa 90:2; secondly, The habitable earth, and this very frequently, as Psa 24:1; 98:7; Mat 13:38; John 1:9; 3:17,19; 4:14; 17:11; 1Ti 1:15; 6:7.
Secondly, For the world contained, especially men in the world; and that either,--First, universally for all and every one, Rom 3:6,19; 5:12. Secondly, Indefinitely for men, without restriction or enlargement, John 7:4; Isa 13:11. Thirdly, Exegetically, for many, which is the most usual acceptation of the word, Mat 18:7; John 4:42; 12:19; 16:8; 17:21; 1Co 4:9; Rev 13:3. Fourthly, Comparatively, for a great part of the world, Rom 1:8; Mat 24:14; 26:13; Rom 10:18. Fifthly, Restrictively, for the inhabitants of the Roman empire, Luke 2:1. Sixthly, For men distinguished in their several qualifications as,--1st, For the good, God's people, either in designation or on possession, Psa 22:27; John 3:16; 6:33,51; Rom 4:13; 11:12,15; 2Co 5:19; Col 1:6; 1 John 2:2. 2dly, For the evil, wicked, rejected men of the world, Isa 53:11; John 7:7; 14:17,22; 15:19; 17:25; 1Co 6:2; 11:32; 2Pe 2:5; 1 John 5:19; Rev 13:3.
Thirdly, For the world corrupted, or that universal corruption which is in all things in it, as Gal 1:4; 6:14; Eph 2:2; James 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; 1Co 7:31,33; Col 2:8; 2Ti 4:10; Rom 12:2; 1Co 1:20,21; 3:18,19.
Fourthly, For a terrene worldly estate or condition of men or things, Psa 73:12; Luke 16:8; John 18:36; 1 John 4:5, and very many other places.
Fifthly, For the world accursed, as under the power of Satan, John 7:7; 14:30; 16:11,33; 1Co 2:12; 2Co 4:4; Eph 6:12. And divers other significations hath this word in holy writ, which are needless to recount.
These I have rehearsed to show the vanity of that clamour wherewith some men fill their months, and frighten unstable souls with the Scripture mentioning world so often in the business of redemption, as though some strength might be taken thence for the upholding of the general ransom. "Parvas habet spes Troja, si tales habet." If their greatest strength be but sophistical craft, taken from the ambiguity of an equivocal word, their whole endeavour is like to prove fruitless. Now, as I have declared that it hath divers other acceptations in the Scripture, so when I come to a consideration of their objections that use the word for this purpose, I hope, by God's assistance, to show that in no one place wherein it is used in this business of redemption, it is or can be taken for all and every man in the world, as, indeed, it is in very few places besides. So that forasmuch as concerning this word our way will be clear, if to what hath been said ye add these observations,--
First, That as in other words, so in these, the same word is ingeminated in a different sense and acceptation. So Mat 8:22, "Let the dead bury their dead;"--dead in the first place denoting them that are spiritually dead in sin; in the next, those that are naturally dead by a dissolution of soul and body. So John 1:11, He came EIS IDIOS, "to his own," even all things that he had made; KAI IDIOS, "his own," that is, the greatest part of the people, "received him not." So, again, John 3:6, " That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Spirit in the first place is the almighty Spirit of God; in the latter, a spiritual life of grace received from him. Now, in such places as these, to argue that as such is the signification of the word in one place, therefore in the other, were violently to pervert the mind of the Holy Ghost. Thus also is the word world usually changed in the meaning thereof. So John 1:10, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not!" He that should force the same signification upon the world in that triple mention of it would be an egregious glosser: for in the first, it plainly signifieth some part of the habitable earth, and is taken subjective "partially" in the second, the whole frame of heaven and earth, and is taken subjective "universally" and, in the third, for some men living in the earth,--namely, unbelievers, who may be said to be the world adjunctive. So, again, John 3:17, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved;" where, by the world in the first, is necessarily to be understood that part of the habitable world wherein our Saviour conversed; in the second, all men in the world, as some suppose (so also there is a truth in it, for our Saviour came not to condemn all men in the world: for, first, condemnation of any was not the prime aim of his coming; secondly, he came to save his own people, and so not to condemn all); in the third, God's elect, or believers living in the world, in their several generations, who were they whom he intended to save, and none else, or he faileth of his purpose, and the endeavour of Christ is insufficient for the accomplishment of that whereunto it is designed.
Secondly, That no argument can be taken from a phrase of speech in the Scripture, in any particular place, if in other places thereof where it is used the signification pressed from that place is evidently denied, unless the scope of the place or subject-matter do enforce it. For instance: God is said to love the world, and send his Son; to be in Christ reconciling the world, to himself; and Christ to be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. If the scope of the places where these assertions are, or the subject-matter of which they treat, will enforce a universality of all persons to be meant by the word world, so let it be, without control. But if not, if there be no enforcement of any such interpretation from the places themselves, why should the world there signify all and every one, more than in John 1:10, "The world knew him not," which, if it be meant of all without exception, then no one did believe in Christ, which is contrary to verse 12; or in Luke 2:1, "That all the world should be taxed," where none but the chief inhabitants of the Roman empire can be understood; or in John 8:26, "I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him understanding the Jews to whom he spake, who then lived in the world, and not every one, to whom he was not sent; or in John 12:19, "Behold, the world is gone after him!" which world was nothing but a great multitude of one small nation; or in 1 John 5:19, "The whole world lieth in wickedness," from which, notwithstanding, all believers are to be understood as exempted; or in Rev 13:3, "All the world wondered after the beast," which, whether it be affirmed of the whole universality of individuals in the world, let all judge?
That all nations, an expression of equal extent with that of the world, is in like manner to be understood, is apparent, Rom 1:5; Rev 18:3,23; Psa 118:10; 1 Chronicles 14:17; Jer 27:7. It being evident that the words world, all the world, the whole world, do, where taken adjunctively for men in the world, usually and almost always denote only some or many men in the world, distinguished into good or bad, believers or unbelievers, elect or reprobate, by what is immediately in the several places affirmed of them, I see no reason in the world why they should be wrested to any other meaning or sense in the places that are in controversy between us and our opponents.