Archive for the ‘John 3’ Category

Deflating Assumptions Regarding Free Will – A Response to Ben Witherington

June 10, 2008

Ben Witherington has written an interesting post on the freedom of God. It actually meshes somewhat with my ongoing discussing with Godismyjudge (Dan) in other posts, and so it is fitting that I respond to some of the issues Ben raises in his article (link to article).

Ben writes: “I take it that the primary attribute of God is not God’s will but rather God’s love, which is a holy love.”

I respond:

The primary attribute of God is being. God is the I AM. All other attributes of God are predicated (logically) on his being. Foremost among God’s attributes are his primary attributes. Among God’s primary attributes are his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Love is not properly a primary attribute of God. God is Love, Scripture tells us, but Love is God acting. Love is transitive, it requires an object. Therefore, Love cannot be a primary attribute of God, with (perhaps) one exception. In God’s wisdom, God loves Himself with a perfect, eternal love. The persons of the Trinity love one another, and have always loved one another. God’s love can be viewed as a secondary attribute of God, proceeding from his wisdom, holiness, goodness, justice, and truth. God deserves His own love, and He properly loves Himself.

Ben states: “I say this because God’s will has primarily to do with his doing, but what is prior to that is God’s being or character, and in my view God’s willing is dependent on his character.”

I don’t have any particular problem with God’s will being viewed as subservient to his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. We can even say that, at least in some instances, God’s love logically precedes an act of God’s will. Thus, for example, our election is motivated by God’s love.

Ben states: “There are certain things which, while theoretically God might be able to do, God would never do because it would be ‘out of character’. For example God is light, and in God is no darkness at all. This I take to mean that God would never do evil nor commit sin. “

Again, this is not particularly objectionable, except for the underlying idea that “theoretically God might be able” to act out of character. I’m not sure what Ben’s trying to do there … perhaps he’s just trying to speak loosely.

Ben continues: “There is supposed to be a reflection of the divine character in us, and indeed in all of creation. This in turn means that God, having set up the universe in a particular way, is not free to be capricious and redefine the meaning of holy in the middle of the game.”

I think this is intended to simply be supporting proof for the idea that God’s nature is holy in a fixed way, and not in a “whatever I happen to do is holy” way. As such, it would not be objectionable. If Ben is trying to suggest that God is stuck with a free choice to create, and that he cannot change the rules of the created order mid-game, then Ben would seem to have a problem with special miracles.

Ben continues: “God has chosen to express the divine nature in a particular way and has chosen to limit himself such that God as well as all of his creation is subject to certain standards of truth, holiness, love, and so on.”

This claim seems to suggest that Ben believes God’s standard of truth, holiness, love, and so on is not intrinsic but voluntary. God chose to define “truth” this way, and now he is stuck with it. This is out of accord with conventional Christian thought on the matter. God’s primary attributes are intrinsic, not voluntary. God is true, because he is God, not because He chooses to be true, or because He has defined truth a certain way. That is not to suggest that there is a category of “truth” that is logically precedent to God, but rather that our very idea of truth comes from God’s own character.

Ben states: “This is a complicated matter, but the bottom line is that once God set up a universe with other free agents other than himself, God is not free to do just anything without violating his revealed character and will.”

Here Ben seems to assume that created agents are “free” in some similar sense to that in which God is free. There is no particular basis for that assumption. Man is (and angels and the animal creation are) “free” in some sense, but calling them “other free agents” raises a number of serious problems, foremost among them being: God is other. God is not a man. God is not part of creation, and although man bears the image of God, God is infinite where man is finite.

Ben states: “This is not an absolute limitation. I am assume God could set up a definition of sin and could violate it, but if God did, he would cease to be the good God of the Bible.”

Unless God’s character is voluntary, or God’s character is not holy, it is an absolute limitation. God cannot sin. That’s intrinsic to God. God would cease to exist if he sinned – therefore God absolutely cannot sin. Also, a just and truthful God cannot call sin good

Ben continues: “[I]t is terribly false to predicate of God sins that he prohibits us from doing, say for example destroying innocent human lives for no good or appropriate reason.”

Our relationship to other humans is necessarily different from God’s relationship to human beings. Thus, it is incorrect to make the comparison between God doing something to His creation and us doing something to God’s creation. God has an owner-chattel relationship to the world (the cattle on a thousand hills are his), whereas we have more of a fraternal relationship – our fellow man is not our creation, but God’s creation: he does not bear our image but God’s image (I am of course leaving out certain human relationships like father-son, master-slave, husband-wife, or king-subject).

Ben continues: “I assume that when human beings were created in the image of God this meant, among other things that Adam had libertarian freedom to either obey God or not.”

This assumption cannot be justified exegetically. Exegetically, the primary characteristic of man that is God’s image is dominion over God’s creation. One might argue that a will is necessary to that end, or even that a free will was part of the package (included with rational thought) that God’s image entails. There is, however, no Scriptural reason to step beyond that and make it a libertarian free will rather than a compatible free will.

Ben states: “It is not appropriate to judge this matter on the basis of the attributes of fallen human beings who indeed in various ways can be said to be in bondage to sin or addicted to sinful behaviors. No the question is, how did God make us in the first place, and how in Christ does God restore us in Christ as we are renewed in the image of Christ? Does grace restore the power of contrary choice in redemption or not?”

Ben here seems to be confused about his categories. The distinction between the will bound by sin and the will freed by grace is not the difference between no free will and free will. It is, instead, a change in the character of the man. A fallen man sins constantly, but freely. He sins in accordance with his fallen nature. A regenerate man does good freely.

Suggesting that the ability to do both good and evil is what characterizes free will creates some serious problems. First, it creates the problem that fallen man would not have a free will. This would tend to wreak havoc on libertarian views of the responsibility of fallen man. If man has no free will, he would seem to be unable to sin (if, as it is claimed, sin requires a free will). On the other hand, and secondly, God is unable to sin. Thus, if free will requires the ability both to sin and to do good, God does not have free will, in which case the “image of God ” assumption (made without warrant by Ben above) is logically inconsistent.

Ben: “Of course much depends on one’s view of grace. Some people think grace works rather like an escalator– it does all the heavy lifting and we are just along for the ride. I disagree with this. Grace is not irresistible, it is rather a form of enablement from a gracious God which gives us a further chance to freely love and obey God. In other words, we must indeed work out our salvation with fear and trembling, God’s grace does not do it all for us and in spite of us.”

Of course, we would reject the elevator analogy in favor of the Lazarus analogy. Grace is irresistible because, well, how is a dead man going to fight resuscitation? It’s irresistible because it circumvents man’s will – not because it drags man kicking and screaming up to heaven.

Ben: “Another of the major issues which affects this discussion is the nature of love. Now I understand love to be something that is the most personal act of either God or human beings.”

It is interesting that Hen here seems to acknowledge love is action. As such, it is not a primary attribute of God, just as “willing” (being an action) is not a primary attribute of God. I, of course, would not limit love to God and man, but extend it to other creatures at least including angels, and more than likely including animals. Numerous dog owners can testify to the apparent love of their pets. Furthermore, mother birds and bears are notorious for their love for their offspring and their zeal in sacrificing themselves for them. But that is tangential.

Calling something the “most personal act” is a bit vacuous. How does one compare the personality of actions? The words seem to be designed to laud love (and who but the strongest cynics among us could oppose the praise of love), but the words don’t seem to convey anything particular.

Furthermore, love can be totally impersonal. In fact, sadly, the love of God as portrayed in the popular media these days is mostly impersonal: “God loves you,” we read, and maybe even, “You are special to God,” but the same is true (according to these sources) of each and every person. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this converts to “God loves everybody,” and “you are as special to God as the next person.” This sort of promiscuous love is the kind of love we often have to our neighbors in the next country. We do not know any of them personally, but we love them all and wish them well.

Ben states: “And furthermore it is the most free and freeing act of all beings.”

If it is free in the sense of voluntary, then the will takes logical precedence over love, which seems contrary to Ben’s thesis. If it is free in some other sense, then the connection to the rest of the post doesn’t seem very clear.

Furthermore, we can say from experience and Scripture that human love is not free, in the sense of voluntary. Men and women fall in love – often without any apparent control over their love. Furthermore, trying to make oneself love something one detests is, at least for most, a hopeless task. Finally, getting back to Scripture, we find that human love has causes: for example, we love God because He first loved us.

Calling love “freeing” is also somewhat odd. Love unites. It united David and Jonathon. It united John and Jesus. Love unites us to Christ. It is binding. A man’s love for his wife binds him to a life of her service. A woman’s love for her husband binds her to a life of obedience. A dog’s love of his master binds him to the household more tightly than any chain.

Ben continues: “It must be freely given and freely received.”

As to “received” this is plainly wrong. We can love our enemies, and they will receive our love either passively or with hostility. If one imagines the non-Calvinist view of salvation, God’s love for mankind is likewise not always freely received, but received either passively or hostilely.

To suggest that love must be “freely” given is a bit misleading. One cannot coerce love – because that is not how love works. On the other hand, love can be obtained: it can be caused. Heroes like David earn the love of the nation. Young men attempt to perform their own heroics, whether it be flowers, poetry, or athletic feats of prowess to win the love of their heart’s desire.

Love has to come from the heart to be love, but the heart can be changed. God himself declares:

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Ben states: “It cannot be coerced, co-opted, manipulated, and it most certainly does not work in an impersonal manner, like say the way iron filings are attracted to a magnet.”

Ah, but – in some senses – love does work that way. One need only look to Holywood for examples. Physical beauty (found so abundantly there) is one of the principle causes for people falling in love. The number of beloved stars in Hollywood, drawing adorers like so many iron filings is numerous. That is not to say that it is mechanical – surely not. Each person reacts differently to different stars – and some are hardly influenced at all by a pretty face or well-developed musculature.

Now, again, love must come from the heart. Man has little ability to influence the heart. Nevertheless, the common wisdom: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” applies to love as well. That is one reason you see so many followers of preachers of joviality: preachers who do not present the uncomfortable truth of sin and coming judgment to their hearers. People have itching ears: scratch them and you will win their hearts.

Advertisers are well aware of this. Look at so many ad campaigns. Normally they will not tell you directly that men who refuse to wear their perfume du jour are simpleminded losers, but rather that those who use their products are sophisticated chick-magnets. They do not wish to offend but woo their listenres.

Those who love the products because of the advertising have been successfully manipulated, perhaps for their own good – but certainly for the financial benefit of the company who paid for the advertising.

Successful advertising, however, knows its limitations. It cannot directly change man’s hearts: it can only act on what exists there. Thus, knowledge of human nature is key to the success of advertising.

God is not limited to these crude tricks and external manipulations. God is able to change the heart. In regeneration, by grace God changes the character of man, from one who loves sin to one who loves God. This fundamental change in man’s nature produces his love of God and trust in Christ.

Ben: “God is not a magnet, and he does not treat his creatures in an impersonal way that makes their behavior inevitable, and if he did, it would cease to be personal and loving behavior on our part for sure.”

First, such a picture is a non-Calvinist picture we frequently see. We hear the verse about Jesus drawing all men to himself portrayed as though he drew each and every man to himself impersonally. We reject this as clearly improper.

Second, nevertheless God does draw men to himself. They are actually drawn. God draws certain men (by the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts) from all nations to himself. These surely come. That’s deeply personal: it’s targeted, individual, and done with the eternal good of the person in mind.

The idea that it ceases to be personal and loving behavior on our part “for sure” seems simply to be Ben’s own view, motivated by his philosophical assumptions. It would not be loving behavior if it did not come from the heart: but it does. It comes from a changed heart. Thus, we reject Ben’s criticism as unfounded.

Ben finally concludes with a point that is, intellectually speaking, suicide to his position:

Ethics in the Bible are largely what are called virtue ethics. … Now virtue ethics require that a person has the capacity to be virtuous, by which I mean, the person has the capacity to either freely behave in this way or not. Otherwise there is nothing virtuous about the behavior. The flight or flight pure instinct of a deer, for example, is not an example of making a conscious choice to “do the right thing”. I am utterly convinced that the Bible calls us to be virtuous beings, or as Paul suggests in Phil. 4 to be creatures who can not merely reflect on what is noble and excellent, but seek and attempt to do it. The commands to love as we are loved, to forgive as we are forgiven, and so on, presuppose that grace actually enables us to freely attempt to imitate Christ and do what he commands us to do, at least approximately. God is an ethical being and he wants Christians to reflect the highest and best behavior a human being can muster. Indeed, he commands us to do it, but as Augustine says, God gives what he commands, he enables us to believe and behave as we ought to do.

The intellectually suicidal aspect of this argument may not be immediately apparent. The problem is that if “virtue” required the ability to do the unvirtuous, then God’s sinless perfection is not virtuous, because it is impossible for God to lie, impossible for him to sin, and so forth. Furthermore, likewise assuming that Ben acknowledges that there will naturally be no sin in heaven, such sinless perfection again would not be “virtuous” because there would no longer be the ability to sin. This is enough to sink the “virtue ethics” battleship.

But not only is this absurd as to its consequence with respect to God, it is absurd in application. We view God as more virtuous than any of his creation, and he is the least able to sin. We view those in whose hearts God has greatly worked, who strongly hate sin, and yet who may nevertheless occasionally sin to be more virtuous than those who are relatively indifferent to God’s law, but do the same sins. Therefore, our intuition and common sense weigh in against the idea of “virtue” ethics as framed by the libertarian free will advocate. So, along with the battleship, a libertarian free will advocate loses his entire armada when he seeks to argue for “virtue ethics.”

The issue of whether a “conscious choice” is made to do right or wrong is certainly an aggravating factor, but perhaps it is not the only factor. Recall that Jesus said that lusting after a woman is sinful, and yet many will confess that such lust springs forth unconsciously.

Ben states: “I[n] short, the discussion of the freedom of human beings should never be undertaken in isolation from the discussion of the freedom of God, and the ways God has chosen to limit himself in order to allow us to be beings with a limited measure of freedom, and so a small reflection of the divine character.”

But recall above, that the idea that libertarian free will is a “reflection of the divine character” was simply Ben’s assumption above. One does not get that from the Creation account or from the banishment of Cain. One simply does not get that from Scripture. One brings it in eisegetically from one’s philosophical attachment to the idea.

It then displays a most turgescent attitude to demand that such an idea be constantly brought into the discussion of the freedom of human beings. Surely we would agree that man’s freedom must be understood in the context of God’s freedom, but we must not confuse the Potter with the clay. He does whatsoever He pleases: we must do as He pleases. We serve Him and exist at his whim, as it were. If God did not will our continued existence, we would vanish.

Ben claims: “Here we must return at the end of this discussion to the matter of God’s will and knowledge. Notice how in Rom. 9-11 God foreknows things that he did not will, for example the apostasy of Israel and the rejection of its savior by most early Jews. God not only did not will this, it breaks his heart in the same way it breaks Paul.”

But this claim is not exegetically supported. In that very passage God affirms that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. There is no mention of God being broken hearted, and not the least reason to suppose that the apostasy of Israel and rejection of the savior was not in God’s will. Indeed, to the contrary, Scripture explains that it was God’s will:

Romans 11:8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

Ben concludes: “What this tells me is that Calvin was wrong about the relationship between God’s will and God’s knowledge. God does not merely know it because he wills it.”

Ben really hasn’t made a connection in his post to support that conclusion.

Ben continues: “There is some other relationship between knowing and willing in God and they are not inexorably linked.”

Again, Ben has not made the necessary connection to support this claim.

Ben states: “At the end of the day I believe whole heartedly in what John 3.16-17 says, God loves the whole fallen world, and Jesus died for the sins of all human beings as 1 Tim. 2 also says.”

Neither of those is actually what the verses say. John 3:16-17 displays God’s love for “the world” by pointing to his action for “all the believers” (John 3:16). In the unrelated passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts Timothy to pray for “all men” (listing various categories of men) because this is agreeable with God’s will, which we understand to mean that men of all sorts (even politicians) will be saved.

Ben claims: “This in turn means there are other agents in play in the matter of redemption, human agents who can either positively or negatively respond to the Gospel, and the eternal lostness of some is in no way willed or destined by God.”

Ben’s argument, however, is contradicted by the plain assertion of God’s monergistic role in Scripture. God claims that salvation is of the Lord, and that those whom the Father has given to the Son will come to him. Furthermore, God declares that he will both have mercy on whom he will, but also that God will harden whom he will. God does not have to wait at man’s beck and call. Rather, the Shepherd calls his sheep, and the sheep hear his voice.

Furthermore, it should be plain that is only by converting the personal love of God into an impersonal love (by misapplication of John 3:16-17 and 1 Timothy 2) and by forcing his assumption of libertarian free will into the discussion that Ben arrives at this conclusion in the first place. Since he’s not obtained his conclusions from Scripture but by imposition on Scripture, we don’t have any reason to accept his conclusions. They are warrantless, and do not commend themselves to our belief.

Ben continues: “Were the matter otherwise, our God cease to be a good God, by God’s own definition of goodness.”

Ben makes that claim, but he has not given any reason for us to accept that claim. In fact, Scripture contradicts it. Doesn’t the potter have power over the clay to make of the lump a vessel for destruction? Can we really try to claim that a potter has that power, but God (our creator) does not have a similar power over us? If we do, we simply find ourselves arguing with Scripture: which is never a good place to be.

Ben wraps up with two parting sentences: “One final reminder– as the prophets told us God requires of us that we reflect the divine character– to do justice to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”

This, of course, is a red herring. The verse says:

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

We all accept this to be true. Furthermore, we acknowledge that in doing so we are being good, and goodness is a primary attribute of God. From none of that do the conclusions claimed above by Ben follow.

Ben finally states: “What God requires of us, he enables us to do, so that in small measure we may reflect the virtuous and free character of our God.”

It’s unclear whether Ben here refers to regenerated man or unregenerate man. Regardless, it is not a general proposition that God enables man to do as God requires of man. In fact, there is a clear and indisputable testimony to the contrary: Pharaoh. God commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

Exodus 7:13 And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

That should give us pause. God is just and God is merciful. God is not only just, and God is not only merciful. God is the Most Exalted, He is the Almighty.

As Scripture says:

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Psalm 115:3)

Let us praise him saying, “But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the LORD.” (Psalm 115:18)


Matthew Poole on John 3:16

February 19, 2008

In the following passage, extracted from the abbreviated form of his exhaustive commentaries, the noted commentator Matthew Poole expounds on John 3:16.

John 3:16
For God the Father, who is the Lord of all, debtor to none, sufficient to himself, so loved the world, that is, Gentiles as well as Jews. There is a great contest about the signification of the term, betwixt those who contend for or against the point of universal redemption; but certain it is, that from this term no more can be solidly concluded, than from the terms all and every, which in multitudes of places are taken in a restrained sense for many, or all of such a nation or kind. As this term sometimes signifies all persons, so, in 1 John 2:21, the Gentiles in opposition to the Jews. Nor, admitting that the world should signify here every living soul in the place called the world, will any thing follow from it. It is proper enough to say, A man loved such a family to such a degree that he gave his estate to it, though he never intended such a thing to every child or branch of it. So as what is truth in that so vexed a question cannot be determined from any of these universal terms; which must, when all is said that can be said, be expounded by what follows them, and by their reconcilableness to other doctrines of faith. God so loved the world that he gave his Son to die for a sacrifice for their sins, to die in their stead, and give a satisfaction for them to his justice. And this Son was not any of his sons by adoption, but his only begotten Son; not so called (as Socinians would have it) because of his singular generation of the virgin without help of man, but from his eternal generation, in whom the Gentiles should trust, Psalm 2:12, which none ought to do, but in God alone, Deuteronomy 6:13; Jeremiah 17:5. That whosoever, etc.: the term all is spoken to above; these words restrain the universal term world, and all, to let us know that Christ only died for some in the world, viz. such as should believe in him. Some judge, not improbably, that Christ useth the term world in this verse in the same sense as in 1 John 2:2. Our evangelist useth to take down the pride of the Jews, who dreamed that the Messiah came only for the benefit of the seed of Abraham, not for the nations of the world, he only came to destroy them; which notion also very well fitteth what we have in the next verse.


UPDATE: Andrew Meyers informs us that the above passage, while in Poole’s commentary, is actually a posthumous addition by Collinges. Mr. Meyers is associated with (part of?) the Matthew Poole Project, so we’re willing to take his word for it.

Response to McBee on John 3:16

November 17, 2007

With respect, I think that Mr. McBee (aka “SDM”) seems to have misidentified the point I was trying to make. Perhaps this is because I was too brief. I certainly do not believe, and do not wish to suggest, that Mr. McBee intentionally misrepresented me. On the other hand, each time Mr. McBee wrote “Turretinfan’s position is,” I think he missed the position. Allow me to elaborate.

The Point Restated
Christ died for the express purpose of saving the elect. The point of citing John 3:16 was to point out the third phrase, “ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται,” that is in Latin “ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat” fairly literally rendered “so-that-would all the believing-ones (in him) not perish,” more casually “so that all who believe in him would not perish” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.”

The rest, the question of what does the word kosmos mean, and so forth is all secondary. It is important, but it is secondary. The first thing to understand from the phrase is that God is explaining purpose. The phrase is a so-called “hina” phrase, called because it is introduced by “ινα” (typically pronounced “hina”) as can be seen above.

In this case, the hina phrase is connected to and is explained by the preceding phrase. The preceding phrase is “ωστε τον υιον αυτου τον μονογενη εδωκεν” in Latin “ut Filium suum unigenitum daret” fairly literally rendered “so (the-[one-who-is]) son his (the-[one-who-is]) onlybegotton he-gave” or more casually “so he gave up his onlybegotten son,” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “that he gave his only begotten Son.”

In other words, grammatically, the feature of all the believers being saved is linked to the feature of God giving His only begotten Son. From the structure of the sentence we can see that the reason why God gave his Son, was to save all the believers.

Finally, of course, the “hoste” (ωστε) similarly connects to the phrase that goes before it. The phrase before it is “ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον” which in Latin is “sic enim dilexit Deus mundum” and can be fairly literally translated “in-this-way for he-loved (the) God (the) world” or more casually “for God loved the world thus” or as the KJV so memorably translates it “For God so loved the world.”

This starts the thought, while showing that the thought is providing an illustration of the thought that precedes it. The “For … God loved the world” connects to the preceding thought, while the “thus” tells us that an explanation follows. As seen above, this explanation is two-fold. First, God gave his onlybegotten Son. And Second, God gave him for the purpose of saving all the believers.

It’s not particularly important to my argument to define the word “world.” Does it mean “the world of the elect” as some have said, or just “men” or perhaps “the natural/created order”? It doesn’t particularly matter for the argument that I’m making positively.

The point is that the verse makes the gift’s purpose clear: to save believers. My point is that this verse is evidence of the fact that such was Christ’s purpose. His purpose always to save the believers, all of the believers, and – while the verse does not say so explicitly – only the believers.

If we had only John 3:17’s comment: “but that the world through him might be saved,” the question would be open, and we’d have to really dig in to figure out what “world” means. Not so with verse 16. Verse 16 is specific. And we have verse 18 as well, which explains that the “believers-in-him” are not condemned, whereas the “unbelievers-in-him” are already condemned.

Now, I would not take the position “God so loved the world, that is, the elect of the world, that He sent His Son.” Why not? There are two reasons: (1) it uses the word “world” equivocally, and (2) the point of the verse is simply: God so loved the kosmos, that He sent His Son to save the elect.

Ok, but what does “Kosmos” mean?
SDM noted that kosmos has a variety of meaning. I would respectfully disagree with one of his claims. He cited Mark 16:15 as being a case of when kosmos means “all of humanity.” Mark 16:15 uses kosmos to mean the actual earth (geo-politically). In fact, with respect, I think SDM would be hard pressed in any of the about 150 verses (or about 180 uses) that use the word kosmos in the New Testament to come up with even one that clearly uses the word to mean all humanity, and not simply the actual world, or the natural/created (sometimes considered as fallen) order generally. Even if SDM could come up with a few such examples, I think SDM would have to admit that the dominant usage in the New Testament and in other ancient philosophical material is of the actual world or the created/natural order.

In other words, I would respectfully submit that using the word as SDM does is mostly based on a philosophical presupposition that SDM brings with him to the text, not based on something in the word itself.

I would expand on what SDM said. In Scripture, kosmos ordinarily is a broad term that conveys a sense of expansiveness. It ordinarily does not carry an exhaustive sense. We use “all” this way frequently (and “world” sometimes) in common parlance. It’s a form of hyperbole. The statement: “He has traveled through the whole world (or all over the world),” means he is a globe-trotter, not that there is no stone his soles have not touched. This too will be significant as we proceed.

SDM, however, wrote: “Turretinfan’s position is that this term, world or “kosmos”, means “elect”.” That’s not quite an accurate representation. I don’t take the position that the word means that, but I think that the word – in context – does refer primarily to the elect as a global group. In other words, the “world” contrasted with just the Jews like Nicodemeus the Pharisee to whom Jesus was speaking. We’ll see how this is true, as we proceed. But this misunderstanding (I assume it is not an intentional straw man), leads to most of SDM’s counter-arguments being irrelevant.

Unraveling SDM’s Counter-Presentation
SDM’s position is fairly clear: to SDM “the world” is composed of two groups: those who will believe and those who won’t. SDM states this position, but I think if we examine his explanation closely we’ll see he hasn’t actually establish this position with exegesis.

SDM indicates that in his view the verse starts by treating one group, each and every person, in the phrase “God so loved the world.” SDM claims that John then turns to another group “those believing will not perish.” SDM correctly notes that this term is implies that there is another group, the unbelievers who will perish. SDM then asserts that those two groups make up the original group of the world.

Based on those premises, SDM concludes that to make “the world” = “the elect” would create a problem, because some of the elect would be unbelievers that perish. The problem, of course, is not in the logic, but in the premises. Specifically, the problem is in assuming that “the believing ones who will not perish” i.e. the elect, is intended to be a sub-category of “world.”

From the grammatical/exegetical analysis we saw above, there is no particular need to make the believing ones a sub-category of the “world.” In fact, it would be more natural to assume that “the believing ones” is a more precise way of expressing the same thing as what is intended by “the world.” Alternatively, we may simply conclude that “world” is a reference to the Creation generally (the natural/created order), and that the phrase about God’s love for what he made is to be understood specifically by his expression of that love: giving his Son for the elect.

To borrow SDM’s Texas analogy, it would be a bit like saying: “I love Texas; so, I moved to Texas and married a lass from Galveston.” Such a comment would not suggest that the speaker plans to play the field with other Texan women, or that his love for Texan women generally is equal to that of his bride. Furthermore, if the same man said that “I didn’t come to Texas to visit, but to live there,” no one would suppose that the speaker meant that he was going to live in every town in Texas, or that he might not visit Dallas or Houston from time to time, but would understand that he lives in Texas by living in a particular town in Texas, and is wed to Texas by his marriage to the particular Galveston gal, not to every woman who lives there. We also wouldn’t assume from his “I love Texas,” that he necessarily likes the desert, the beach, the Rio Grande river, Dallas Fort-Worth airport, or Dr. Pepper, whether or not those are a part of Texas. We let people speak in general terms, and we should give Scripture the same flexibility.

Yes, but what about John 12:47?
SDM appeals to John 12:47, which – of course – is not part of the immediate context. Nevertheless, it uses some similar terms, so we should examine it, as well as the other corresponding Johanine passages.

John 12:47 has its own context, which I’ll show below:
John 12:46-50
46I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. 47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

It seems to me that if “the world” just means the created order generally, and not all men exhaustively, then the passage makes more sense. Specifically, verse 46 would seem to be a bit odd, for it appears to refer to Christ’s incarnation: his coming into the world, not his coming into the hearts of each and every person.

On the other hand, if we view the word “world” the same way in verse 46 and verse 47, then Christ’s statement is easily understood: he’s here to save the created order not to judge it. That is to say, He’s here as a Savior, not a Judge. He immediately points out, though, that his words do judge those who reject them, because he speaks the words of the Father who sent him, namely the commandments of eternal life.

And John 12:47/John 3:17 is not the only place to find this concept. The same concept also can be found in the fist chapter of John:

John 1:9-14
9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Now, unlike John 12, John 1 is the preceding context (even if somewhat removed) of John 3. A reader who is reading John’s gospel (or hearing it read) will have heard this by the time he gets to John 3. How does John 1 use the term “world.” It uses it in the sense of the created order, but it also uses it as a broader term to another group: “his own,” which the reader will soon discover are the Jews.

Indeed, we see this same theme in John 3:10-11, repeated just before the verses we are discussing:
John 3:10-11
10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

Notice the switch in address from simply Nicodemus (thou … knowest not) to Israel generally or especially the Jewish leaders (ye receive not). “Thou” is singular, but “ye” is plural. Thus, as promised above, we can see that the use of the word “world” as a broad term to indicate more-than-just-Jewish-people is both supported by the precedent set in chapter 1, and the confirming context in verses 10-11.

It’s worth pointing out that Jesus makes similar claims to be the light of the world and the Savior of those who follow him (the light), several times before John 12:

John 8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

(the precipitates an argument with the Pharisees over whether this is just Jesus’ say-so, which Jesus denies, saying that the Father bears witness to the truth of his testimony, but then turns the tables on them, explaining why they do not understand and follow him, that is to say, why they do not see the light, compare Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 4:4)

Or again:

John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

(this context is pretty interesting, because Jesus demonstrates how people see the light by curing the blindness of the man born blind, which is a picture of our spiritual blindness before regeneration)

And again:

John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

(this context is interesting too, because Jesus immediately goes and raises Lazarus from the dead, which is another picture of our spiritual deadness before regeneration)

So also, even if we simply go beyond John 3:18, and get the further explanation in the subsequent verses, we see:

John 3:19-21
19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

In other words, the light shining in the world condemns (demonstrates the guilt of) those who hide, but justifies (demonstrates the righteousness of) those who come. It’s an amazing light: first we see our sin, then we see our Savior, and then we come to God in our Savior’s righteousness.

Christ is that light. He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to raise the spiritually dead, and to save them from their sins through faith in himself. He came to save them, he did not come to save the reprobate.

Yes, but what about the Brass Serpent?
The serpent is not quite the analogy that SDM was looking for. Let’s look quickly at the entire original account, since it is short:

Numbers 21:4-9
4And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

SDM claims that this is “a direct parallel … [if] you looked, you were saved, if you didn’t look, you died.” Actually, though, the original passage doesn’t make any mention of anyone not looking and dying. That’s not really the parallel at all.

The parallel is two-fold. First, like the serpent, Jesus will be crucified (“as Moses lifted up the serpent … so must the Son of man be lifted up” – see also John 8:28 and John 12:32-33). Second, the point is that in crucifixion, Christ will save those he is intended to save.

I think SDM misreads Numbers 21:8. That verse says: “every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live.” And then the next verse explains, “If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” Now, there clearly are some translational differences between SDM’s and mine, but the point of the passage is actually that God is providing salvation to the people who repented of their grumbling against God and prayed to Him. The sense is “everyone who is bitten will live, when he sees the brass serpent,” and “when anyone got bit by a serpent, he looked to the brass serpent, and lived.” There’s really nothing here about a foolish group of Israelites that refused to look at the brass serpent, and consequently died.

Instead, the point is that for those upon whom God had mercy, he provided a serpent, and they looked (everyone and “any man” “if a serpent had bitten” him) and lived.

There’s also no discussion about the serpent being a provision for anyone’s idolatry (after all, they were being punished for grumbling not idolatry), nor being a provision either generally for a particular category of sin, or for the specific sins of the people. Instead, the serpent pictured the punishment, not the crime. Even so, Christ died for our sins, on the cross. On the cross he was punished in our place. Our sins were nailed to the cross, and taken away. We can see from the rest of the law, that atonement was not simply made for categories of sins, but I fear that such a discussion will get us away from the text we are currently debating, and this post is long enough as it is.

Yes, but what about Calvin, Davenport, Ryle, and Dabney?
For now, I’m going to stick with what the text of Scripture says, not the meta-debate about whether Calvin (or the others) was a Calvinist as defined by Article 21 of Belgic Confession; the Second Main Pint of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordt; or Chapter 8, paragraph 8, of both the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646.

The point is that God provided salvation for his people: that is the gem of his love for the Creation. Thus, Christ is the savior of Creation, or to put it more specifically, the elect. That’s what Scripture says, and that’s what we believe.

N.B. I believe this post has already been published elsewhere as part of a debate that was, at the time, on-going with SDM. I have republished it here, simply for convenience.

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