2006-04-10

A comment on Limited Atonement I made at Fide-O

It was in response to this posting.

Text follows:

I spent quite a bit of time looking through a greek concordance the other day looking at every occurrence of kosmos (world) in the NT. I did this specifically for the issue of researching Limited Atonement and to answer the question "For whom did Christ die?"

A blogger friend of mine pretty much asked this question and came up with the two potential answers: a) The Elect, or b) The World. Based on John 3.16 he chose "the world" as his final answer - and this is a guy who firmly believes in Predestination.

His answer didn't sit right with me, thus being the motive for my research into kosmos. But the research was quite confusing and I'm still trying to nut it out in my head. Your posting has helped me to think about the issue further.

A few notes about your exegesis:

John 3.26 and 32 do not contain kosmos. Moreover they exist in a separate pericope: 3.16 is part of the Nicodemus narrative (which contains very complex theological points) while 3.26 and 32 exist in a section about John the Baptist. Although it is certainly important to emphasize context, I would argue that the context, in this case, is merely in terms of the narrative rather than in the meaning. To put it simply, the fact that 3.26 and 32 occur in chapter 3 is not enough to link them strongly to an understanding of what John's definition of kosmos is.

Let me explain my vague thoughts:

To interpret kosmos in John 3.16 as being "everyone in the world" would mean that the verse could be rendered "For God so loved everyone that he gave his only son...". However, this is one of those times where I think kosmos has been oversimplified. kosmos also refers to the created order; the earth in contrast to heaven; Gentiles as distinguished from Jews (Rom 11.12,15); the present condition of human affairs, in alienation from and opposition to God (John 7.7). It therefore stands to reason that you can't simply say that world=everyone. (note: much of this info on kosmos was a direct quote from Vine's Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)

I think Colossians 1.15-20 helps immeasurably in this. Although this passage does not contain kosmos it talks about Christ as being the firstborn of all creation (15); through whom the whole universe was created (16) including even "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" which can be taken to both mean world governments as well as the dark forces of evil (16); everything in all creation is held together by Christ (17); he is the head (kephale) of the body, the church (18); the firtborn from among the dead (18); the fullness of God dwells in him (19); and, finally, Christ existed "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.".

These are great verses because it puts the church in its context within the world. The church is part of the world, the kosmos that God has created through Christ. Moreover, verse 20 seems to indicate that "all things", (ie the world, but not "everyone", but all of creation) is reconciled by the blood of the cross which, of course, is an explicit mention of the atonement.

So these verses in Colossians could appear to support the anti-Limited Atonement view but in fact do not. Christ did die for the elect and he did die for the world - there is no scriptural support for "world" and "church" to be separated in this context.

This is certainly not a perfect understanding - I am still trying to struggle with how it is possible for Christ dying for the sins of the elect is the same as Christ dying for the sins of the world (John 1.29) when there are often other mentions of "the world" in scripture as being shorthand for those opposed to God. I suppose it is similar to the use of certain English words that can say two different things and require context to work it out.


5 comments:

CraigS said...

Yeah, some good points there. I think that is the usual line for Limited Atonement types - that world=elect in John 3:16.

I think that understanding is possible - but I don't feel it is a natural reading of the text.

I wonder if the debate is going to lose some of its sting soon? I notice that Limited Atonement types these days usually affirm the infinite value of Christ's death, while Unlimited Atonement types are strongly affirming that only the elect are actually saved. If we agree on both those points, there seems to be not much to be gained from arguing about the rest...

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I dunno. It makes a lot of difference to me whether or not I can walk by the average guy and say: "you know what? God loves you."

Personally, I just can't see "God is love" not meaning that "God, in some manner, wants everyone to go to Heaven--even if he knows or has foreordained that such won't happen." It's one of my biggest sticking point with hypercalvinists--because I just don't see what Christianity means if it doesn't mean that God loves everyone.

One Salient Oversight said...

...God our Saviour... desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.4)

There is no doubt that every second a person spends in existence is one second they owe to God for his choice to create them. I believe every need met and every joy experienced is a gift from God. "Common Grace" is the love that God lavishes on all mankind simply through their everyday life.

The inherent love that God has for all people is implicit in Matthew 28.18-20 where he directs his disciples to "Go and make disciples of all nations..."

Yet at the same time, paradoxically, God also hardens the hearts of those who rebel.

CraigS said...

Well, God gives common grace to all (food, air etc). But His special grace (ie. salvation) is only given to His elect.

Interesting discussion on LA over at Pyromaniacs.

Jason E. Robertson said...

Rambler, I believe that one can both believe in "L" and believe that God is the lover of His creatures at the same time. "L" is not an eradication of His love, but an extension of it towards the Bride of His son.

I love my neighbor and I love my wife. But I do love my wife in a different manner.

John 3:16, when read in its natural rendering (Greek), says that God loves the world in such a manner that He gave His son for it.

Like any verse, we must not remove it from the context. In this case the context is Jesus revealing to Nicodemus that being Jewish does not equal salvation.

The last point I would make concerning the above comments is that one must understand soteriology based on Theology Proper. What I mean by that is that you must consider the character of God when trying to discover what He is doing and how.

For example answer these questions: Does God try or does God accomplish?
Does God want something that He cannot or will not recieve?
Has God ever been sad in an ultimate sense?
Does God discover?
Is God suprised?

The answers to these questions will determine how much God is sovereign in salvation.

And remember, if God had never elected or sent His son to die for anyone, He would still be the God of perfect infinite love.

So do not be suprised that He did not die for someone, but that He did die for you.