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The "World" According to Jesus


This article examines those texts in which Jesus and other biblical writers used the word “world” to describe the scope of God's love as it pertains to the gospel. The preponderance of  biblical evidence demonstrates that “world” is meant to be all-inclusive (without distinction, without exception) when used by biblical writers. Again, we are not trying to be exhaustive, but sufficiently selective to make the truth obvious. If just one of the many instances of “world” where it impacts the death of Christ for sinners signifies the totality of humanity, the entire system of Reformed Theology is defunct and falls flat on its face. Perhaps that explains the absurd (and intellectually dishonest) lengths to which Calvinists will go in their efforts to prove a limited atonement and strip the scriptures of any and all objective evidence of a universal gospel.

OT Background

The Old Testament is critical in this inquiry inasmuch as Jesus, Paul, John and other New Testament authors would have spoken and written with an Old Testament mindset. Calvinists claim to know what Jesus, for example, had in mind when he told Nicodemus, “God so loved the world.” They tell us that “world” in John 3:16 CANNOT mean what it says, or taken at face value, but rather as the world of the elect, some number less than the total number of earth's human inhabitants. But the Old Testament refutes such a baseless notion. 

Many Old Testament usages of the word “world” make clear reference to the physical world without regard its inhabitants. But there are many passages where “world” as defined by the context is unmistakably a reference to humanity, and in some case ALL of humanity. In Psalm 9:8, we find these words: “And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.” Here the words “world” and “people” are virtually interchangeable. David could have just as easily written that God shall judge the people in righteousness and minister judgment to the world in uprightness. The scripture says “the people” as opposed to “his people”, which would have given “the world” to mean the world of Israel. But no such limitation is stated or implied. The ”world” here is clearly ALL the people of the world, ALL of whom shall one day be recipients of God's righteous judgment. 

In Psalm 33:8, we read: “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. Again, Psalm 49:1: “Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world.” In Psalm 98:7, the Psalmist declares: “Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” In these three passages, the scripture clearly identifies the world as consisting of ALL of its inhabitants without distinction or exception. Psalm 96:13 and 98:9 both speak of the Lord's coming, and use the words “earth”, “world” and “people” as interchangeable terms. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote in similar terms. We find phrases like “all ye inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth” (18:3); “all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth” (23:17); “the inhabitants of the world” (26:9,18; 38:11). The prophet Jeremiah also wrote of “all the inhabitants of the world” (Lamentations 4:12). Finally, the prophet Nahum spoke of judgment upon a burning earth, the “world, and all that dwell therein” (Nahum 1:5). All of these Old Testament mentions of the word “world” in their respective contexts give a meaning that is inclusive of EVERY inhabitant of the earth without distinction or exception. It carries with it the normal, natural meaning that the average man or woman in the pew or on the street can understand. 

NT Usages

As we move into the New Testament, we find an expected consistency with the Old Testament understanding of “world.” Matthew 13 records several kingdom-related parables that Jesus taught to the people. In 13:24-30, we find the parable of the good seed and the tares sown by the enemy.  At a later time, his disciples asked him to declare its meaning (13:36).  Jesus said: “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one” (13:38). The “world” according to Jesus consisted of both good seed (wheat) and bad seed (tares). Every soul on the face of the earth fits into one of these two categories. When Jesus therefore told his disciples to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”, there is no doubt whatsoever that by “world” he meant every man and woman, every inhabitant of the world. The same is true of his use of the word “world” in his one-on-one dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3.  

John and Jesus

With these many clear instances of the universal scope of “world” as a foundation, we move into the Gospel of John, where some Calvinists go ballistic trying to put into the mind and mouth of Jesus what they think he couldn't possibly have meant or did not mean when he used the word “world” in his conversations. But before John gets to our Lord's encounter with Nicodemus, he uses the word “world” five times himself. He tells us that Jesus was “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). By “every man”, did John mean to say every “elect” man? In addition, Jesus was “in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). The “world” here contemplates the physical world that Jesus created, which served as his temporary habitation and that contained humankind with the cognitive ability to know things. The world at large, in its unregenerate state, did not know its Creator. 

Moreover, John the Baptist made this proclamation upon seeing Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It's perfectly reasonable to assume that John the Baptist used the word “world” in the same way the Old Testament prophets did – all the inhabitants thereof. Like the Old Testament scapegoat, which symbolically took away the sins of Israel into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement, the Lord Jesus would do the same for Jew and Gentile alike, for the good seed as well as the tares, for all the inhabitants of the earth, whether past, present or future. 

We now come to the familiar passage that records the after-dark dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Jewish scholar who was insatiably curious about the teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth, a teacher come from God. This is where Calvinists circle the wagons. To a man, they will argue that the “world” of John 3:16 CANNOT mean every soul on the planet. Along with several philosophical arguments as to why this meaning cannot be, they proceed in typical fashion to cite other Calvinists that agree with them. They have to argue this, else their entire system of philosophical speculation falls apart. 

The biggest problem with this baseless contention is a total disregard for the context. In this private meeting are the Son of God and Nicodemus. When the latter asked, “How can these things be?” with reference to the new birth, you have to believe he was both serious and sincere. Likewise you must believe that Jesus was also serious in his response, and attempted to enlighten Nicodemus' mind. This is obvious by our Lord's reference to the brazen serpent in the wilderness. There was nothing enigmatic in Jesus' words. If Jesus meant “world of the elect” when he said “world” (a meaning Nicodemus would have NEVER arrived at on his own), then the Calvinist must cede that Jesus purposefully muddled the issue for him. In the context, there is NO way Nicodemus took the Lord's use of “world” to mean anything less than the totally of both Jews AND Gentiles. This is the Achilles Heel of Calvinism – context bastardization. The system of Calvinism cannot survive without it. 

In the course of their conversation, Jesus likened the means of the new birth, a concept with which Nicodemus was struggling, to what was certainly a very familiar story to Nicodemus – the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14-15; Numbers 21). Life was given for a look of faith. Jesus then expands on the analogy. Even as God's love for a snake-bitten Israel moved him to provide a remedy for fiery serpents and their deadly venom, even so he loved the world to such an extent as to provide a remedy for sin and spiritual death through his only begotten Son through a look of faith (John 3:16). 

This where intellectual honesty comes into play. In the context, Jesus moves from Israel as the object of God's love to the world. Isn't it reasonable to conclude that Jesus had in mind the same “world” of which the prophets spoke, the same “world” he cited in his own parable, which included both tares and wheat? Of course it does! Then there's Nicodemus, who's listening to what Jesus is saying. When the word “world” registered in his brain, what do you think Nicodemus understood the “world” to mean? The world of the elect? No, he took it to mean exactly what Jesus meant with both Jesus and Nicodemus having the same basis of understanding established in the Old Testament. It's eminently obvious to any intellectually honest individual that Nicodemus took “world” to mean exactly what Jesus meant – the entirety of humanity, including Gentiles along with the Jews. If one believes Jesus meant the 'world of the elect', then one must also concede that Jesus had no real desire to be understood by Nicodemus, who, being on the receiving end of our Lord's teaching, would have NEVER arrived at that meaning based on what Jesus said. So again, we see that the entire system of Calvinistic speculation is made to rest upon the argument that the word “world” as used by Jesus in John 3:16-17 CANNOT mean what Jesus said it meant – the entirety of humanity. 

In John 3:17, Jesus proceeds to use “world” twice more. Any rational individual would cede that Jesus had the same world in mind with all three usages. Where the Calvinist makes his stand here is with the purpose clause in the subjunctive mode at the close of 3:17: “...that the world through him might be saved.” It's the 'adversative hina clause' argument: that is, the clause expresses certainty of purpose, no doubts, no contingencies. Since no purpose of God can EVER fail fulfillment, the “world” of which Jesus speaks, every member of which will be saved according to God's purpose, MUST mean the 'world of the elect' and CANNOT mean every member of humanity. This argument by the Calvinist is bogus, intended to bamboozle and hoodwink those with no knowledge of the original languages.  

The subjunctive mode, according to any standard Greek grammar, is the mode of doubtful assertion, of hesitant affirmation. The adversative hina clause in subjunctive mode is used by Jesus in other places where his stated purpose is clearly in doubt. John 5:34; ”But I receive not testimony from man: but [adversative] these things I say, that [hina clause] ye might be saved [subjunctive].” Was every hostile Jew within hearing range of that statement certainly saved? Doubtful! Consider the raising of Lazarus in John 11:24, where Jesus prayed: “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but [adversative] because of the people which stand by I said it, that [hina clause] they may believe [subjunctive] that thou hast sent me.” Does this mean that every bystander within the sound of Jesus' voice believed after they saw the miracle? Maybe, but it's doubtful, just as the subjunctive suggests. For a more exhaustive analysis of the misleading and bogus 'adversative hina clause certainty' argument, please refer to the article entitled: “James White on John 3:14-18 – An Examination”, Note 21. Suffice it to say at this point that NO argument offered by the Calvinist to make “world” mean something other than “all humanity” can hold so much as a single drop of water. The simple truth is this. God loves EVERY sinner, and sent his Son to die for EVERY sinner. God's desire is that EVERY sinner be saved. The fact that all for whom Jesus died are NOT saved can be attributed solely to the failure of lost men to appropriate what God has provided. 

In John 12:47-49, Jesus said: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but [adversative] to save [hina clause with subjunctive] the world. He that  rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him.” Again the Calvinist is faced with another passage that completely destroys in three succinct verses the entire system of Calvinism. While the Calvinist would insist that the two mentions of “world” here combined with the 'adversative hina clause', expressive of certain fulfillment of purpose, CANNOT mean every man (else his purpose would fail), Jesus included in that world he came to save ANY and EVERY man that hears his words and rejects them in unbelief. When Jesus spoke of the world, he meant every man on the planet, past, present and future. 

There are two classic texts that illustrate the Lord's love for sinners, that ultimately reject him. The first is found in Mark 10:17-27. A man with “great possessions” came running to Jesus, and asked: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” After reminding the man that the word “good” applied to God alone, the scripture says, “Jesus beholding him loved him.” Then Jesus instructed him, “Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up thy cross, and follow me.” The man's response was one of sadness, and he went away grieved. The fact that Jesus loved him proves beyond doubt that the rich man was part of the world of John 3:16. The fact that he rejected the words of Jesus proves he was part of the world of John 12:47-49. In order to defend the limited theory of the John 3:16 world, the Calvinist is forced to argue for another theory, that the rich man, because he was loved of Christ, eventually became a believer. But there is absolutely no biblical evidence to support such conjecture just as there is no biblical evidence to support a limited world in John 3:16. It is impossible to prove a theory with another theory.

The second passage is Genesis 4:3-7. It's the familiar story of Cain and Abel and the offerings that each brought to the Lord. The Lord had respect unto Abel's blood offering and rejected Cain and his offering. Cain was “very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Then the Lord loved Cain. No, the scripture does not use the word “love” in describing the Lord's reasoned approach to Cain. But in the question, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” we find a God more than willing to accept Cain and warn him against sin that was lying at his heart's door. That's love! This encounter, this dialogue, between the Lord and spiritually dead Cain destroys the first point of Calvinism, that of Total Depravity or Inability. For Cain actually carried on a conversation with God, understood what God said and rejected the Lord's counsel anyway, making him part of both the John 3:16 and John 12:47-49 worlds.

Now back to John 3. Jesus continued his instruction to Nicodemus, saying: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (3:19). Is Jesus speaking about the same world? Of course he is. The problem for the Calvinist is the “world” that MUST mean the 'world of the elect' just three verses earlier is now a world consisting of evil men who loved darkness rather than light. In order to be consistent, the Calvinist must now argue that God is going to save all the lovers of darkness who are condemned already inasmuch as they are the same world. That pesky little matter of intellectual honesty hamstrings the Calvinist every time. 

In John 4, after Jesus had spoken to the Samaritan woman of Sychar at Jacob's well, after she went to town announcing to the men of the city that she had found Messiah, and after the men came out to see Jesus for themselves, they affirmed to her: “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (4:42). What did these men have in mind when they mentioned “Saviour” and “world” in the same breath? It goes to the point of understanding what these Samaritan men of mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage envisioned when they said “world.” It is certain THEY considered themselves to be part of that world and that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed THEIR Saviour as well as THE Saviour!

The Lord's Prayer (John 17)

Now to a passage which the Calvinist will cite in yet another vain attempt to prove that the “world” of John 3:16 simply CANNOT refer to every man because Jesus did not pray for them. Our Lord prayed: “I pray for them [my disciples]: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). This is clearly an intercessory prayer in which the disciples are the singular target. His prayer is for believers, his own. The world of unbelievers is NOT within the scope of this particular prayer. Jesus is in his 'Advocate' role, NOT his 'Saviour of the world' role. The fact that Jesus is praying for his own does NOT preclude his love for ALL men without exception or distinction. Jesus later added: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (17:20). It takes no genius to deduce that these future believers were part of the present world at the time of his intercession. So much for the 'Jesus didn't pray for the world' argument.

The Great Commission

Let us consider perhaps the last usage of the word “world” by the Lord Jesus before his ascension to the Father's right hand. In what has been called The Great Commission, Jesus said: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Here's another passage where intellectual honesty comes into play with a modicum of exegesis. First, the command in our English translation is an aorist (past) participle. The literal translation is: “having gone.” It's as if Jesus assumed the power of the Holy Ghost would drive the apostles and the church into the world. So “having gone” into the all the world, they are commanded to preach (herald) the gospel. 

It is not just the world to whom Jesus commanded them to preach, but “all” the world. The additional modifier means Jesus wanted no nation, no people and no individual left out. In a stroke of redundancy, Jesus added “to every creature.” The word “creature” (creation) is modified by the word “every” – an all-inclusive reference. No intellectually honest person would argue that Jesus had in mind anything less than the totality of humanity. The linkage of “world”, “all” and “every” by our Lord is clear evidence that when Jesus said “world” he meant every single individual on the planet. That's consistent with what he told Nicodemus.

They (the church) were to preach the gospel to all. What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus has done something about our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). If Jesus died for some, but not all, then there is no gospel for those for whom Jesus did not die. This is a seminal fact where the gospel is concerned. The reason Jesus could command the gospel (sin solution) be preached to all is because he provided in his death a sin solution, an atonement, for all. Otherwise his command is meaningless.

Let's suppose for the sake of argument that the atonement of Jesus was limited in scope. If so, there is not a gospel for every creature. But to obey the Lord Jesus, the Calvinist must tell all the world, every creature, that Christ died for their sins. If a Calvinist tells a lost man that Christ died for his sins when in fact that lost man was not included in the atonement, then that Calvinist is a liar. It follows then that because Jesus told him to preach the gospel to all when there is in fact no gospel for the non-elect, he implicates Christ in his lie. Here's the bottom line. If you cannot look a lost man in the eye and assure him that Christ died for his sins, you cannot preach the gospel to that man. This why a true Calvinist is incapable of true evangelism! One cannot embrace limited atonement and preach the gospel to every creature! Reformed Theology is therefore gospel deficient!

This is where the Calvinist will break out the stale old argument that Jesus told us to preach the gospel to all without telling us who the elect are. It's our responsibility to tell the story and God's responsibility to awaken his elect. But awaken them with what? If you cannot appeal to a lost man based the work of Christ on the cross, what is the fallback message? Once again the gospel deficiency of Reformed Theology comes to the surface. For the Calvinist will argue that the gospel is the promise that if one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall be saved (Acts 16:31). But that's only half of the gospel message – the appropriation part. The other half is the provision part – Christ died for our sins. The Calvinist, by preaching the appropriation part, thinks he is preaching the gospel. But in truth he is preaching only half the gospel. If he preaches the whole gospel, which consists of an appeal to appropriate the person of Christ based on the work of Christ, he must of necessity, as a matter of intellectual honesty, disavow the entire system of Calvinism.


The failure to preach the provision for sin (the atonement for sins through the death of Christ) as the basis for an appropriation of the sin remedy (forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ) is symptomatic of gospel deficiency, which is endemic to Calvinism. It is an utter impossibility for a sinner to appropriate what God has not provided. For a Calvinist to argue that non-elect men, for whom Christ did not die, can be saved from their sins if they believe on Jesus is a lie of the first order. No provision for sin means no forgiveness for sin is possible! The 'sovereign' God of Calvinism cannot save a single sinner for whom Christ, his Son, did not die. An appeal directed at sinners to appropriate what God has not provided in the death of his Son is the epitome of folly, the grossest of hypocrisy and flagrant intellectual dishonesty. But that's exactly what the Calvinist signs on to when he embraces a limited (particular) atonement and all the other speculative theological postulations that accompany it. 


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