“The Whole World”

Recently, SBF blogger Nathan White has begun a much-anticipated series [at least by me!] on the Regulative Principle of Worship, demonstrating a Reformed understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning how we praise the Lord, give for His kingdom, learn from His Word, and serve on another to the glory of God in a corporate setting. Previous to this post, Nathan had written an article on the practical ramifications of limited atonement– how what a Reformed understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning the perfect work of Christ on our behalf affects our daily Christian walk. Thinking on what the Bible says about the death of Christ on our behalf, I was driven once again to think about Dr. Jerry Vines’ sermon from last year at First Baptist Church Woodstock in which he, among other things, tried to refute the doctrine of limited atonement. Having dealt briefly with how Dr. Vines’ handled the Scripture in an earlier post, I wanted to take this opportunity to address one of his statements, one which I didn’t sufficiently address before, and the like of which I hear over and over again from the anti-Reformed faction of the Southern Baptist Convention:

There’s no way you can monkey with the text and play exegetical games and get around the fact that the Bible teaches when Jesus died on the Cross, He died for the sins of the whole world. [Jerry Vines, “Calvinism– A Baptist and his election” (sermon, First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA, 8 October 2006), download.]

Reading the quote above, my first thought is, ‘Amen, Dr. Vines! Jesus is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ (John 1:29) Regarding the way in which Dr. Vines utilizes this statement, however– in its context– I am considerably less enthusiastic about what Dr. Vines is actually saying. And so, by the observation just given, my first point is made, namely, that when evaluating a statement, attention must be given to the author’s intent, as discovered through examination of the context. For, as Robert Plant once sang, “You know sometimes words have two meanings.” When the context of words or phrases under consideration is ignored, then one often is guilty of equivocation– the fallacy Dr. Vines makes in the quote above.

Dr. Vines speaks the sentence under examination in the context of a section in his sermon wherein he attempts to disprove the doctrine of particular redemption, or limited atonement. Other than giving an analogy concerning a man who pays for the meals of an entire group, only to have some people insist on paying for their own meals (which I would argue is a very weak analogy, but that is not the passage currently being considered), Dr. Vines’ entire argument rests upon quoting passages wherein Jesus is said to die for “all” or “the world,” concluding with the sentence already quoted. For this line of argumentation to accomplish its goal, the word “world” must be understood according to the theology of general atonement– that is, “world” must be taken to mean “every single individual to ever live throughout human history,” specifically in the passages concerning the sacrifice of Christ cited by Dr. Vines: John 1:29, 1 John 2:2, and John 3:16. Vines’ assumed definition of world is extremely difficult to prove from the text, however, as it is obvious that John often uses the term “world” to mean something other than “every single individual to ever live throughout human history.” To give a few examples, in 1 John 5:19, John writes that the whole world lies in wickedness, in opposition to those who are ‘of God.’ Similarly, John records a prayer of Jesus in John 17 in which Jesus prays for those given to him out of “the world” (v. 6), specifically stating that He is not praying for “the world” (v.9). Conversely, John records the statement of the Pharisees that “the world” has gone after Jesus (John 12:19), indicating the majority population of Israel, excluding themselves, is following Him. In each of these references, John uses the word “world” to indicate masses of people, and yet particular individuals are excluded from the designation of “world.” For Dr. Vines’ argument to be effective, he must demonstrate why “world” in the passages he cites must mean “every single individual to ever live throughout human history.” Otherwise, it would seem more consistent with John’s use of “world” (and with John’s quotes from Jesus concerning the intention of His death specifically for His sheep, recorded in John 10), if we understand “world” simply to mean masses of people, as John writes, “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). To go beyond this into the general atonement definition, without further proof, certainly seems to be equivocation.

Explore posts in the same categories: Other Anti-Calvinism

18 Comments on ““The Whole World””

  1. Garrett Says:

    Good thoughts here Andrew. I’ve often wondered if some of those “world” passages aren’t just a reference to the “world” as in “creation” or “created order”. In that sense, Christ being the “Saviour of the world” would mean that, because of the work of Christ, the created order truly will one day be “set free from it’s bondage to decay”, and there will be a new creation and a new humanity, with all of the effects of sin on the world as we know it being finally obliterated. I certainly don’t think this idea accounts for all of the “world” passages, but it seems like it may fit for at least a few of them.

    Did you have any further thoughts on this?


  2. Andrew Says:


    I greatly appreciate your comment. I strongly agree with your thought that the word translated “world” (Gk. “kosmos”) normally means “created order” or ‘creation.’ Thank you for articulating this so well.


  3. Garrett Says:

    Thanks Andrew. I guess it’s just good to be reminded that the work of Christ has reference, not only to humanity, but to the whole created order. I think sometimes we can be guilty (myself included) of truncating the work of Christ and forgetting about the bigger picture. His death and resurrection is about more than just “saving people” (though that is certainly the keynote), but has a cosmic reference as well (“the summing up of ALL THINGS in Christ”). This should give us even greater cause to cry “Worthy is the lamb that was slain!”


  4. Trevin Says:

    Thanks, Andrew, for your insights here. I think there is something to be said for understanding the “world” passages as referring to something more than individual human beings.

    I do believe, though, that once the atonement is seen in its cosmic dimensions, the debates about limited or unlimited seem rather insignificant. I have written on my blog about how the debates “miss the point,” because they put our individual salvation at the center of the picture, rather than God’s glory and He being “All in All.”

  5. Garrett Says:


    Thanks for your comment. I can sympathize with what you are saying here:

    I do believe, though, that once the atonement is seen in its cosmic dimensions, the debates about limited or unlimited seem rather insignificant. I have written on my blog about how the debates “miss the point,” because they put our individual salvation at the center of the picture, rather than God’s glory and He being “All in All.”

    Nevertheless, we need to remember that God has ordained that the way in which He would be most glorified is “through the church” (see Eph. 3:8-12), a church composed of individuals who were individually “predestined unto adoption as sons” and individually “purchased” by the Son of God “who loved ME and gave himself up for ME”. So ultimately, it seems like God’s glory and the salvation of individuals end up coalescing at the center of the picture.

    I’m guessing that you would probably agree with this, I just thought I would throw it out there for the sake of balance.


  6. Arthur Sido Says:

    Jerry Falwell says the doctrine of limited atonement is heresy and that is good enough for me.

  7. Nathan White Says:

    Just in case some reading this thread isn’t familar with it, John Murray’s book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied is one of the very best treatments of this subject, and of the atonment in general. Whether you agree with the ‘L’ or not, the books is a must-read for any true student of this topic.


  8. Jerry Falwell says the doctrine of limited atonement is heresy and that is good enough for me.

    After spitting my tea all over my monitor, I just gotta say one thing: WHY are we still taking Falwell seriously? Aside, of course, from the fact that he is purposely leading people into what I consider sinful division.

  9. Gordan Says:

    Stephen, Falwell exposed the gay agenda of the Tella-tubbies, and thus has proven his worth for all time.

  10. Trevin:
    I’ve read your blogposts on this subject in the past. While I do think you offer some helpful insight into the all-too-much-overlooked teaching of Christ’s work effecting cosmic redemption, which set the stage for the new heavens and new earth, which shall come about at His return, my overall reaction was very much like what Garrett wrote above. While traveling down the theological highway, we do not want to be so careful in avoiding one ditch (in this case, minimizing Christ’s work by focusing only on individual salvation), just to wander across the street to fall in the other ditch (in this case, minimizing Christ’s work by overlooking His very specific love for His people, for whom He made personal substitution on the Cross).

    Arthur Sido:
    Sadly, I’ve heard people around me at the annual Southern Baptist Convention make similar statements. Even Baptists must be careful not to establish popes to do all our Bible interpretation for us.

    Thanks for plugging Murray’s book! I actually have that book sitting on my coffee table right now and I plan to look over it more carefully after the semester.

    I understand your frustration concerning Falwell. We have to take him seriously, though, as his words directly influence tens of thousands of students through the mandatory chapel services of Liberty University.

  11. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Good note on not watering down the particularity of the atonement by distractions on the various applications of Christ’s Mediatorial work. When the Scripture says that Christ was in the world reconciling the world to himself we can understand it in its general application.

    One of those applications is what Jesus had to say about judgement; John 5.22, 27, 30; 8.16; 9.39; 12.31. In Christ’s rconciling the world to himself we often jump over the offices to which Christ was called by the Father because we love John 3.16 to the exclusion of the balance of the meanings of words. World must have its own applications just as the “finished” work of Christ, must also have it good and perfect work. One of those works was to judge the world. Therefore, world in John 3.16 cannot mean the entirety of the world. Jesus himself makes a distinction between his own in the world and those of the world. Of his own he says they are not from below, meaning the world of men under the judgement, but are as 3.3 makes evident, in the world but not of it, but were born from above, “anothen.”

    We forget that Christ has gathered all thing in himself as the heir and mediator of the covenant of his kingdom, (Isaiah 9 speaks of the Holy One coming to execute judgement) expressed in Genesis 3. We love the first half of Isaiah 9, but not the rest and it is curious how it follows the pattern of John, is it not? Genesis three tells us specifically that there are two seed. The elect are account in the Seed, but the seed of the wicked one will be crushed. Both are in the world, both come forth from the woman, but one is Abel, the other is Cain and eve is the mother of all who live in the world. One of these though is spoken of as the “righteous blood.” They are not, being of Adam righteous in and of themselves. The promise, however, cannot be without its fulfillment. There are two reasons that Christ came into the world in respect to the application of his blood. To Judas his blood meant judgement, to the eleven, the promise of eternal life. The sword cuts both ways at the gate of Eden. Both branches must be cut off, one is cast out and burned up, the other is brought in. And, while they all have the same root in the beginning, the branch that is engrafted is brought in because of the root that it is grafted to.

    We can follow this revelation thoughout Scripture. It is so abundantly clear. The problem with those who would deny it is found in the parabolic statements of Christ. “To you it has been given to understand the mystery of the kingdom. To them it has not.” This is what makes the enemies of particular atonement angry, and just as those who turned back from following Christ, his blood and his body to them is a common thing that is too much for them to swallow.

    Pray for Falwell. It does not bode well for him that he rejects the very revelation that saves him, Heb 10.

  12. Arthur Sido Says:

    All kidding about Falwell aside, he does lead and direct one of the biggest Christian universities around. Plus he is still portrayed as a representative of evangelical faction in America by the media, so when he flies off half-cocked about something, it is important that we point it out and contrast his statements (or Pat Robertson or Joel Osteen etc.) with the truth of God’w Word.

  13. Nathan White Says:

    Gordan said: Falwell exposed the gay agenda of the Tella-tubbies, and thus has proven his worth for all time.

    Seriously, what would the church do without this kind of discernment?? He also said that gays and feminists caused 9/11, –so original and profound, and yet, people actually accused him of ‘hate’.

  14. Without that kind of discernment, we’d probably spend more time attempting to learn and practice true discernment while also attempting to spread the gospel and disciple the people. More importantly, we’d spend more time actually speaking truth in love.

  15. OK, guys, I’m going to have to call a halt to the comments on Falwell for now. Unless we want to turn the conversation back to his specific statement against particular redemption, we’ve definitely wandered off-topic.

  16. Robert Says:

    I hope you don’t mind me adding what I think is relevant to this discussion. It’s a link to a blog article and a video from http://www.oldtruth.com

    Very good stuff and it sheds a lot of light on the seemingly arminian verses in the scriptures.


  17. Chuck Says:

    Regarding the concept of Jesus dying on our behalf, I always thought the reason Jesus died was because he was executed. As a believer in free will, I presume the crucification was carried out by people who could have chosen to have done otherwise. They were not players carrying out their roles in a pre-written script.

  18. Chuck,

    “The reason Jesus died” is such a rich biblical topic that no one sentence can do justice to the material we find in Scripture. (This is why John Piper could write a book titled “The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die,” found here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/1597_The_Passion_of_Jesus_Christ/ )

    There is a sense in which the writers of this blog would heartily affirm that those who executed our Lord were acting in accordance with their own free-will. Their desires were not neutral in their sin, nor did they act contrary to their desires, rather when they abused and unjustly executed Jesus, they were doing just as they pleased- whether it was due to cowardly political expediency, as on the part of Pilate, due to envy, as on the part of the religious leaders, due to perverse pleasure in violence as on the part of the soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on Christ’s head, or due to love for money, as on the part of Judas who betrayed him. These all did as they wished, and yet Acts 4:28 informs us that all these evil actions were performed according to what God’s “plan had predestined to take place.” For as Isaiah 53 declares, “it was the will of the LORD to crush him” and “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.”

    Like those who physically crucified Christ, we too have sinned against God. We have loved things of this world- whether money, position, or comfort- rather than Christ. We have acted unjustly toward others and have abused the blessings God has given us. If we are to be saved, it must be by the grace of our sovereign God, through the death of Jesus Christ.

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