Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lamb of God, Sin, and World

John 1:29 says, "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (Read John 1:19-34 by clicking here.)

This verse recounts John the Baptist's famous reaction upon seeing Jesus near the Jordan River. In reading this verse, it is clear that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus takes away sin. What is not immediately clear is what John means by "world."

Many people read this verse and immediately assume that "world" refers to all individual people on the globe. If that is the case, then the verse is telling us that Jesus takes away the sin of every individual on earth.

The obvious problem with this interpretation is that if Jesus did, in fact, take away the sin of every individual on earth, then all sin of all time would have been paid for on the cross. If this is the case, then all people will be saved because there is no more sin to be paid for. This, then, means that no one will end up in Hell. However, we know based on various parts of scripture that many people will end up spending eternity in Hell.

So in John 1:29 what does "world" mean?

I believe that when John the Baptist says "world" he is referring to people all over the globe. John was making the point that Jesus would be THE sacrifice for sin that would save people from all over the earth. Jesus was to be more than the Jewish Messiah; He would also be the Savior for people all over the world.

If "world" does refer to people all over the globe, then the verse makes perfect sense in light of what we see in the rest of scripture. Jesus takes away sin of some people. This is what we see when some people go to Heaven and some go to Hell. Jesus takes away sin of some people all over the world. This is what we see in scripture as both Jews and Gentiles repent and believe in Christ. Even some people as far away as Rome trust in Jesus for salvation.

We must be careful when we read scripture. We must interpret bible passages in light of other passages. This verse is one of many that shows us that Jesus died for the sins of His followers - the elect. He did not die for the sins of the entire world; if this was the case then everyone would be saved.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus takes away sin. Jesus takes away the sin of some people all over the globe.


Les Puryear said...


I am a Calvinist as you are. I understand your explanation of this verse, however, I wonder if we are trying to make this verse fit into our system of theology rather than taking it for what it says?

Is it not possible to hold this verse and other "world" verses such as 1 John 2:2 in tension with the more clearly limited atonement verses?

Is it necessary to explain away all of the verses that seem to be in tension to our Reformed beliefs? I'm not sure that it is.

What is your view on the meaning of 1 John 2:2?


Eric said...


Thank you for your comment and for your words of caution. I agree that it is dangerous to force any scripture into a theological system.

I really do think that in John 1:29 the word "world" refers to people all over the world. Although many people would say otherwise, I see no reason to assume that "world" must mean "all individuals." If it does mean all individuals, then it leads to all sorts of theological problems about the atonement not being sufficient (because we know that many people do go to Hell.)

As for I John 2:2, that is a difficult one. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, and I'll readily admit that I can be wrong (and many times am). That said, if the cross provided an actual atonement as opposed to a potential one, then I John 2:2 must refer to people all around the world. If it refers to all individuals, then some people whose sins have already been paid for will still be going to Hell. I can't see a just God punishing the same sins twice.

I'm sure I haven't said anything novel in this response. My desire is to interpret scripture correctly as opposed to forcing a comfortable, if incorrect, interpretation.

Thanks again, Eric

Minicks said...

I find it interesting that when Jesus entered Jerusalem for His last earthly Passover, the Pharisees, concerned by the excitement of the crowds, exclaimed that it appears that the "whole world" believes Him.

Eric said...


Thanks for pointing that out. That is just one of many places scripturally where "world" does not mean every individual. It shows us just how important context is, and how important it is to interpret less clear passages with clearer passages.



Les Puryear said...


Thanks for tackling my question. You did a very good job.

I have difficulty with 1 John 2:2 so it's interesting to your perspective.



Eric said...


Thank you.

I John 4:14 seems to fall into the same category.


Anonymous said...

to limit the term "world" here to "the elect only" in light of "interpretation of other passages" does force the above into a theological system that requires more than the simplest interpretation of the passage. such reasoning renders passages such as ISA.53:6, I JOHN 1:22, I TIM. 2:1-6, 4:10, and HEB. 2:4 as forced into a senseless meaning.
in John the word "world" is used 78 times and in no place does John or any other writer in the New Testament use "world " as a term for "the church" or "the elect".
to say that universal atonement judges sin twice and to say that Christ died exclusively for the elect are the opinions of human reason. and no matter how well intentioned the effort, human reason must remain where it belongs. . .set apart from scriptural truth.
your view on John 1:29 goes against the majority view of historic Christianity before and after the reformation. the Synod of Dort 1618-19 said that Christ's death was "sufficient for all but efficient for the elect." even calvin wrote on Col.1:14 "all the sins of the world have been expiated" and he wrote on Mark 14:24 the word "many" means not a part of the world but the whole human race.
nowhere does the bible say that christ died only for the sins of the elect. the bible does say that God sincerely offers the gospel to everyone to believe not just the elect. how can God offer this if
Christ died only for some? Even Berkhoff admits "a real difficulty at this point."
the fact is that the sin of the world was put on Christ at the cross and the offer of salvation is made to all and all are accountable based on their decision. Christ said that his death would draw "all men" unto Him.
I would rather leave it to God as to how he worked out paying the sin debt of the whole world and still allows some who refuse salvation to go into hell for eternity. there is no justification to force the meaning of one passage upon another just to make human logical sense of it because the verse simply interpeted causes a problem to a particular doctrinal viewpoint.
perhaps here our father God allowed the apparent paradox for the purpose of humbling
theologians. . .we do agree on more than we disagree on. and maybe better time would be spent praying for the lost. i appreciate your zeal for "getting it right"
though. i too want to get it right.
kind regards

Eric said...


I appreciate that you put your name at the end of your comments. Most people who disagree with me just remain anonymous (I'm not sure why).

I'm not really sure where to begin. I'm afraid this string of comments could sound acrimonious. I hope that is not the case. I like that you said, "We do agree on more than we disagree on." I agree.

I do need to now address several of the things we disagree on.

You wrote, "to limit the term 'world' here to 'the elect only' in light of 'interpretation of other passages' does force the above into a theological system." I simply disagree. I'm not forcing any verse into any system. I'm simply saying that "world" does not have to mean every single individual in the world. Where does the bible automatically give this definition for "world"?

The meaning for "world" must come from the context. John can use different meanings for "world" in different places in the same book. Context is the key.

So what did John mean when he wrote it in John 1:29? That is the point of this post. I'm not going to address the historical quotes (although I appreciate the work you did in finding them.) I want to focus on that verse. What did John mean?

The key is this: was the atonement actual or potential? If it was actual (which I believe), then John absolutely cannot have been referring to all individuals in the world. If he was, then all sin would be covered and no one would be guilty. If, however, the atonement was potential, then John could have been referring to all individuals.

When I read the bible, I read of an actual atonement that does not hinge upon man's response. It comes down to who ultimately chooses. Does God choose who will be saved or does man? Man certainly has the responsibility to repent and believe. But who ultimately selects?

I'll admit that I'm a Calvinist. However, many people who disagree with me also hold to a theological system but won't admit to it. They make claims that sound Arminian, but then say that they are just trying to be biblical. That's all I'm trying to do also.

You also wrote, "to say that universal atonement judges sin twice and to say that Christ died exclusively for the elect are the opinions of human reason." I disagree. I believe scripture spells these out. Reasoning from scripture in light of what scripture says is a good thing. I'm not making it say anything it doesn't.

Paul, the reality is that you and I agree on most. However, we disagree along the typical Calvinism-Arminianism debate. We can throw scripture at each other all day long but that won't accomplish much.

I think we see the atonement in two similar, but different lights. We also see God's election of man in two different ways.

I doubt we'll convince each other of much. I appreciate your desire to be biblical; I just disagree with many of your conclusions.