So far in this series, we've addressed John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10, and both I Timothy 2:3-4 and II Peter 3:9. These verses are often used to support Arminian positions. My goal is to look at each text carefully and give it a fair reading. My desire is to determine what the bible writers actually meant, and not to bring any outside influences (Arminian or Calvinistic) to the interpretation (I know this is difficult, but I'll give it a try).
Today we move on to both I John 2:2 and I John 4:14.
I John 2:2 "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (ESV)
I John 4:14 "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." (ESV)
Both of these verses are very similar in all of the various English translations (ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, YLT). Also, the original language (Greek) is basically the same as the English rendering.
In this discussion, the key is the meaning of one word. It is the same word in both verses. That word is kosmos (in Greek) or world (in English). So, what did John mean when he wrote kosmos/world?
It seems that there are two possible answers to this question. The first possibility is that world refers to every individual on the earth. The second possibility is that world refers to mankind in general.
So which is the better answer? When John writes world in 2:2 and 4:14, does he mean every individual in the world, or is he referring to mankind in general?
One basic rule of good biblical interpretation is that we should use scripture to interpret scripture. That said, let's look back at all of 2:2, for this has significant bearing on the meaning of world. Earlier in 2:2, John uses the word "propitiation." That word refers to the appeasement, exhaustion, or satisfaction of God's wrath. So Christ's death satisfied God's wrath. But, God's wrath was satisfied toward what individuals?
If world in 2:2 refers to all individuals, then this means that God's wrath has been satisfied toward all individuals. However, if this is the case, then no one would be sent to hell (this is Universalism - all people everywhere being saved no matter what). But we know that some people do, in fact, go to hell; therefore, God's wrath cannot be appeased toward all people. There must be a better answer.
If world refers to mankind in general, then God's wrath has been satisfied toward some of mankind. This verse does not, therefore, suggest Universalism. This verse, also, does not indicate, specifically, who Christ's propitiation would be applied to. In other words, it does not inform the reader of the text who God's wrath is no longer aroused against.
Based on the fair reading of 2:2, then, world must refer to mankind in general. I am purposefully avoiding getting into the argument of General Atonement (Arminian position) versus Particular or Limited Atonement (Calvinistic position). I just want to let the verse speak for itself.
That said, what is John saying in I John 2:2? John seems to telling us that Christ's sacrifice has exhausted God's wrath against John's sins, the recipients of the letter's sins, and the sins of mankind in general. Therefore, Jesus' death has gained for mankind all around the world the gift of freedom from the wrath of God.
What of 4:14? What does John mean here? John is witnessing to the fact that he has seen Jesus Christ, and he knows that the Father God has sent to earth His Son (Jesus) for a purpose. What was that purpose? It was for His Son to be the Savior of mankind in general. There is one Savior available by which man can be saved. His name is Jesus.
In summary, once the decision is made about the accurate meaning of world, the overall meaning of the verses is fairly straightforward. As we have seen, world must refer to mankind in general. If it meant every individual, then this would lead to Universalism. I John 2:2, then, tells the reader that Jesus' death has satisfied the wrath of God against mankind in general. I John 4:14 informs us that God sent Christ to be Savior for mankind in general, all around the world.
What we have learned are great truths. We should cherish these as primary to the Christian faith. Let us not add more to these verses than John intended. Let us allow the verses to speak for themselves.