Sunday, August 15, 2010

Calvinism and Limited Atonement, 1 John 2:2 disproves both: A response to the Calvinist rebuttal

Calvinism and Limited Atonement, 1 John 2:2 disproves both: A response to the Calvinist rebuttal

Calvinists hold to the TULIP--the L signifying “limited atonement.” People unfamiliar with Calvinism are often shocked to learn they do not hold that Christ died for the every person- as the Scriptures stsate many times. One of the most damaging Scripture passages to Calvinism is 1 John 2:2 which states:

and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

Calvinists  commonly explain this verse with something along the lines that the Greek word here for world is Kosmos, which does not always mean the world and in this verse it should be understood to mean "all the elect" or the "elected gentiles" and that Luke 2:1 is an example of how 'world' does not mean everyone in the world! 
There are flaws to this claim. While, it is true that the Kosmos in Greek does not always mean the world or everyman, there is no reason to doubt St John's intention was to say Jesus was the propition for every human being (as I will show shortly).  Now what about this Luke 2:1 claim?  Luke 2:1 reads:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. (ESV)

What Calvinists do not say is that Luke 2:1 does not even use the word Greek word KOSMOS, which is used in 1 John 2:2. The Greek word translated world in the ESV and the KJV (as well as many other older editions) is οἰκουμένην (oikoumeneen)! In fact, newer translations like the NASB translate Luke 2:1 as :

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

The NASB notes say the inhabited earth refers to the “Roman Empire.”

Since Luke 2:1 does not even use the same word was 1 John 2 arguing from Luke 2:1 is futile on behalf of the Calvinists.  Furthermore, even if Luke 2:1 hypothetically were to use kosmos, it would not affect 1 John, since it is a different sacred writer, people do not always use the same word in the same sense and the word should be read in light of how St John uses it throughout his epistle.

Let’s go back to 1 John. Now here is 1 John 2:2 in English and I will provide the Greek, kosmos/world will be in bold.

καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου.
The English (which will be from the Calvinist preferred ESV):
and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

To understand how St John uses the word kosmos let’s look at the other instances in 1 John in which the word Kosmos is used:
μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον μηδὲ τὰ ἐν τῶ κόσμ. ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον, οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν αὐτῶ·. ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἐν τῶ κόσμ, ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἐστίν. καὶ ὁ κόσμος παράγεται καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία αὐτοῦ, ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. - 1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world [κόσμον] or the things in the world [κόσμ]. If anyone loves the world [κόσμον], the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world [κόσμ]— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world [κόσμου]. And the world [κόσμος] is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. -1 John 2:15-17
Before continuing, do you see any reason why Kosmos should be rendered in any of these verses as referring to the gentiles who are the elect, or the elect at large? If we were substitute the word 'elect' in for 'world' as Calvinists sometimes do with 1 John 2:2, the previous passage would be understood to say:
Do not love the elect [κόσμον] or the things in the elect [κόσμ]. If anyone loves the elect [κόσμον], the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the elect [κόσμ]— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the elect [κόσμου]. And the elect [κόσμος] is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – Theoretical Calvinist rendering of 1 John 2:15-17
So obviously, we should not read kosmos in verses 15-17 as referring to the elect.

Now let’s go on with the occurrences of kosmos in 1 John:
ἴδετε ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τέκνα θεοῦ κληθῶμεν· καὶ ἐσμέν. διὰ τοῦτο ὁ κόσμος οὐ γινώσκει ἡμᾶς ὅτι οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτόν-1 John 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world [κόσμος] does not know us is that it did not know him.
Obviously, the kosmos is not the elect here either, in fact the elect ie “children of God” are contrasted with the Kosmos which do not know the world.

Moving along:
[καὶ] μὴ θαυμάζετε, ἀδελφοί, * εἰ μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κόσμος-1 John 3:13 *Many texts have the word mou here, but this does not affect the reading really.
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world [κόσμος] hates you.-1 John 3:13
Again, Kosmos does not mean the elect, unless the gentile elect hates the Jewish elect, which would be ridiculous.

ὃς δ᾽ ἂν ἔχῃ τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου καὶ θεωρῇ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχοντα καὶ κλείσῃ τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ, πῶς ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐν αὐτῶ;- 1John 3:17
But) if anyone has the world’s [κόσμου] goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not.
Again Kosmos could not be stretched to say the elect, or the elected gentiles.

Another clear case where Kosmos does not mean the elect, if anything it is the opposite of the elect! Here is 1 John 4:1-6 (they will be posted like an interlinear since it is a length section).
1. ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε, ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
1. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world [κόσμον].
2. ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ ἰησοῦν χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν,
2. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
3 καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῶ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.
3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world [κόσμῳ] already.
4 ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστε, τεκνία, καὶ νενικήκατε αὐτούς, ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν ἢ ὁ ἐν τῶ κόσμῳ.
4Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world [κόσμῳ].
5 αὐτοὶ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου εἰσίν· διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν ἀκούει.
5.They are from the world [κόσμου]; therefore they speak from the world [κόσμου], and the world [κόσμος] listens to them.
6 ἡμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν· ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεὸν ἀκούει ἡμῶν, ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἀκούει ἡμῶν. ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομεν τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης.
6. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Notice verse 5 states “they are the world,” which is then contrasted with verse 6 “we are from God.” This passage of John treats being “of the world” as being a bad thing, as he does even in his other writings.

Now here are the last verse verses using Kosmos in 1 John 4:
ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν, ὅτι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἀπέσταλκεν ὁ θεὸς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα ζήσωμεν δι᾽ αὐτοῦ.-1 John 4:9
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world [κόσμον], so that we might live through him.-1 John 4:9
καὶ ἡμεῖς τεθεάμεθα καὶ μαρτυροῦμεν ὅτι ὁ πατὴρ ἀπέσταλκεν τὸν υἱὸν σωτῆρα τοῦ κόσμου.- 1 John 4:14
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world [κόσμου].- 1 John 4:14
ἐν τούτῳ τετελείωται ἡ ἀγάπη μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν, ἵνα παρρησίαν ἔχωμεν ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς κρίσεως, ὅτι καθὼς ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐσμεν ἐν τῶ κόσμ τούτῳ.—1 John 4:19
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world [κόσμῳ].—1 John 4:19
Notice the elect are in the world, but are not the world. Sometimes Calvinists will point to verse 14 to show “world” equates to the elect since the Son is the Savior, however it simply means Christ is the only means of salvation for the world, none other. Of course to equate the two would require a flagrant ignoring of the rest of 1 John 4.

Now to go on to chapter 5:
ὅτι πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ νικᾷ τὸν κόσμον· καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ νίκη ἡ νικήσασα τὸν κόσμον, ἡ πίστις ἡμῶν. τίς [δέ] ἐστιν ὁ νικῶν τὸν κόσμον εἰ μὴ ὁ πιστεύων ὅτι ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ;—1 John 5:4-5
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world [κόσμον]. And this is the victory that has overcome the world [κόσμον]— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world [κόσμον] except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.—1 John 5:4-5
Again the word kosmos does not equate to the elect, or the gentiles that are the elect. You must overcome the world to be saved.
Now to finish off St John’s 1st epistle:
οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος ὅλος ἐν τῶ πονηρῶ κεῖται.—1 John 5:19
We know that we are from God, and the whole world [κόσμος] lies in the power of the evil one.—1 John 5:19
Is this verse saying the elect are in the power of the Devil? No, because Kosmos is not referring to the elect. What is also interesting about this verse (the last verse of 1 John) is that it also says “whole world” just like 1 John 2:2 says. This verse clearly shows a contrast between being of God and of the “world” yet Christ died as a propitiation for the κόσμος ὅλος, that is- whole world!


The Calvinist rebuttal to 1 John 2:1 which claims world does not refer to the non-elect, but refers to the elect or gentile elect, or is ambiguous, is baseless and cannot be supported by 1 John, in fact 1st John is clear Kosmos does not mean the elect!


  1. Catholic Teaching and Limited Atonement

    I don't think there's any point getting into another Limited vs Unlimited Atonement debate, so I'll just say quickly what Scripture and Tradition have to say on the matter:


    St. John says: "he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

    The issue here is the use of the 2 phrase "not for ours only" and "sins of the whole world".

    This is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of limited atonement.

    It reminds me of the doctrine of sola fide where Calvinists interpret "not by faith alone" as "by faith alone", and "wills that all men be saved" as "doesn't will that all men be saved".

    (Kind of like the Catholic case: "A bishop should be the husband of one wife" interpretted "A bishop shouldn't be the husband of one wife" - but we don't believe in sola scriptura so we at least have a reason)


    In any case, I think the whole thing is just another great example of the failure of the Reformation doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture.

    As Calvinists and Arminians prove by their continued existence, Scripture does need an interpreter, Moses' seat must be replaced with the chair of St. Peter.

    The Patristic evidence is also in complete opposition to the doctrine, as the classic formulation was that Christ died for those whose nature he assumed, meaning all of humanity.

    "Christ Jesus our Lord, as no man who is or has been or ever will be whose nature will not have been assumed in Him, so there is, has been, or will be no man, for whom He has not suffered-although not all will be saved by the mystery of His passion.

    But because all are not redeemed by the mystery of His passion, He does not regard the greatness and the fullness of the price, but He regards the part of the unfaithful ones and those not believing in faith those things which He has worked the rough love (Galatians 5:6), because the drink of human safety, which has been prepared by our infirmity and by divine strength, has indeed in itself that it may be beneficial to all; but if it is not drunk, it does not heal."
    - Council of Quiercy 853 CE

  2. O yes, I agree, there are many verses that discredit the limited atonement and there are church fathers that deny it directly. My objective in this articl was not to refute limited atonement as much as expose the poor logic in saying Kosmos means the elect.

    When ST Paul says be the husband of one wife, he means one as opposed to two, three & etc. Similar to how God discouraged leaderds in the Torah to be monogamists

  3. SUPERB Apologetics argument! Hat tip to you.