It was in response to this posting.
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.