Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Perfect Choice, Part 2

“Sorry, Mike, I used to be a 5 point Calvinist too, but consider 1 John 2:2, John 12:32, Joshua 24:15 etc.”

When considering any passage of scripture, it is imperative that we take into consideration a number of factors that go into its proper exegesis and understanding. As you can see by the quotation from our mystery commentator, many Christians (and I hasten to add that I was at one time among that number) tend to simply provide scripture references with little, if anything, more when attempting to prove a point. The late Dave Hunt was among the most egregious offenders on this point. You could often hear him say something like "there are hundreds of scriptures that prove otherwise" whenever he would face a challenge to his particular views. Somehow, the fact that there are "hundreds of scriptures" that speak to a particular subject, in and of itself, proves your point.

We, however, do not want to simply throw passages out and lead the reader to believe that we've proven our point. That may work with new Christians or with others who have little knowledge of proper biblical exegesis, but we're not out to score points or to pick the "low hanging" fruit as it were. As teachers and heralds of the Word of Truth, we are under obligation to do the hard work of studying, examining and explaining what the bible has to say, and to do so in the right way. If we do not, we would be less than honest and not imitators of our Father in Heaven.

In that light then, let's examine the second of the three passages that were proffered as "proof" that Calvinism is false, in this case 1 John 2:2: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." The first thing that we need to determine here is what the meaning of our terms is. We need to ensure that we're all speaking the same language and that our definitions are common. I'm sure you've encountered cultists who use the same words as Christians, but who mean something totally different when they use them. Take for example when Mormons speak of Jesus being God. They may use the same terminology orthodox Christians use, but they don't mean the same thing the orthodox believers mean when they talk to you about God. To them, Jesus is "a" god among many.

So, what exactly do we need to examine with this scripture? First of all, the context is essential. Notice that this passage comes right after John has discussed the belief of some in his day that people could be free of sin, i.e. lead a perfect and sinless life. It is important to note, that John here is refuting an early form of Gnosticism which believed that what man’s flesh did was of little consequence. It is the spirit, the heresy went, that matters, not the flesh. John has spent the first chapter refuting that claim and then begins the second chapter (remember that John didn't put the chapter divisions there) by reminding his readers that, if it is true that we all have and will sin, we should not make it a habit. He does tell us, however, that if and when we do sin, we have not been left to our own devices. Jesus has provided the propitiation for those sins. Not for ours only, though, but for those of the whole world.

It is in that last part of this verse where the issue comes in. Arminians insist on making that "world" all encompassing, that is, it means every single person in the world without exception. The problem with that approach is that, if that were the case, then that would mean that every single person in the world without exception would be saved. That is the meaning of the word propitiation: Jesus made the necessary payment to release those for whom He made that payment from their debt. If you insist on following this line of thought, you'll be forced to be a Universalist. Most believers, however, don't want to fall into that camp, therefore, they will try to limit the atonement somehow. And the way Arminians seek to do so is by claiming that, although Christ died for everyone, only those who believe will be saved. The problem with that approach is that the passage doesn't say any such thing, nor does it imply it. The passage clearly and unmistakably indicates that Christ has made the payment, the full payment, for "us" and the "world."

So how did John limit that atonement? First of all, we’re not trying to force the apostle into a position he did not take. It is obvious he did limit the atonement since, all throughout the book, he indicates that there are those who are of Christ and those who are not. He even goes as far as to point out those who, at one time claimed to belong to Christ, but who subsequently were found to be false professors. It would be rather nonsensical for him to say that many are without Christ in many places in his letter, only to contradict himself here and say that all will be saved. I don't believe the apostle was schizophrenic, do you? If that is not the answer, then the answer cannot be the simple one the Arminian tries to affix to the passage. 

I propose that the answer is simply to be found in the context of the passage together with the meaning of "us" and "world." Just who are the us that John is referring to? And what does he mean when he uses the term "world"? Therein lies the answer to this passage, and I would say that the same methodology should be applied to any passage of scripture. In the next article, we will examine the passage in detail and ascertain who the "us" and "world" are that John is setting forth. That will provide the answer to this interesting passage.


  1. very well said. Error often seems to come in via the "natural" understanding of "obvious" passages. For instance, adherents of modalism seize certain verses that taken alone might seem on the surface to mitigate against trinitarianism.

    Then there is the problem of "confirmation bias." We are all by nature Arminian.. We tend to be inclined to spiritual understandings most consistent with our non-Christian presuppositions. Thus, a universal atonement seems most "fair" and most consistent with what we naturally presume to be true. Certainly Christ died for Judas! Certainly Christ died for those who had were unrepentant in their sins hundreds of years before His death! Of course! Isn't it obvious??!!

    Spurgeon (and others) long ago noted that a universal atonement that doesn't save everyone (universalism) works out to be an atonement that saves only the elect. But for some, it's just too much to admit that openly. Better to pretend the atonement was universal, but horribly ineffectual than to believe the atonement was for the elect, and succeeds everywhere God intends it to.

  2. Thank you for some excellent points. It is certainly true that our natural inclination is to believe the universality of the atonement. But the more I think about it and the more I study, the more I come to the conclusion that such an idea is not only illogical, it is unscriptural. Blessings.