Doesn't world mean everyone when it is used in the Word of God? This is often a debated topic among professing Christians, often the very famous John 3:16 is quoted as a go to passage to say, the reference to world means everyone. However, is that truly the case or could there be more to it. Let's start by looking at this passage in John chapter 3.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.-John 3:16
The Greek word used here for world is κοσμον. A noun - accusative singular masculine
kosmos kos'-mos: orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration; by implication, the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively (morally) -- adorning, world.
We can see by the understanding of this word that it can be used in a wide or narrow sense, which is important to note and we will see as we look at other passages of scriptures using the word world.
I want to start by looking at this word from the Gospel of John since that is where it comes into question the most for those who are advocating that world means everyone.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!-John 1:29
Ask yourself, does world here mean everyone? I don't want you to take that question lightly with this passage or any other passage we look at going forward in this article. If this literally means the world in the sense of everyone, then everyone has their sins taken away. Because the text literally says, "takes away the sin of the world!" If Jesus' death, burial and resurrection takes away every individuals sin, there would be no one who would be cast into the lake of fire because Jesus would have taken away their sin.
I honestly don't want to sound like I am continuing to make the same case or argument throughout this article but I do believe this is truly important in helping others see clearly in order to be consistent with the scriptures and not make the same arguments that say it means the entire world, meaning all people.
They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”-John 4:42
Here again we see the implication in this verse that Jesus is "the Savior of the world". Does that mean He saves everyone? No, there are many references in scriptures that speak of those who have not believed in Christ will face God's wrath. So the idea that this means everyone is reaching for something that just is not there.
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”-John 6:33
If world means every individual and you want to be consistent with that you will find yourself as a universalist, because there is no way then of arguing against universalism when the scripture above says about Jesus that he, "comes down from heaven and gives life to the world," this doesn't mean that I believe everyone who says that world means every individual is a universalist, however, I am only trying to demonstrate how you are being inconsistent by trying to apply that to the word when as mentioned already it can mean in a wide sense or in a narrow sense.
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”-John 12:19
Now this cannot clearly be meaning every individual has gone after following Christ.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.-John 12:47
Here is an example as to why context is key when it comes to interpretations of the scriptures. One who holds to a universal atonement could easily try to say this verse is teaching that Jesus doesn't judge anyone (the world) but saves everyone (the world).
Again, I don't want to come of sounding like a broken record but it seems that where we fail in understanding the text of scriptures is because we try to impose our own presuppositions onto the text, twist the text and misinterpret the passage.
Please consider that when reading the Word of God!
even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.-John 14:17
Thought this was an interesting verse to add, especially in light of this whole discussion comes about due to those who believe in a free will theology that limits the atonement of Christ in its effectiveness by saying it only makes it possible for man to be saved but ultimately comes down to mans free will choice. John 14:17 says the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit. Context is important brothers and sisters.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.-John 15:19
We see here the word world used five times in this one verse, now truly think about this passage because there is much to glean from it.
The obvious stand out here for one holding to the Doctrines of Grace is the fact that Jesus says, " but I chose you out of the world," clearly world there does mean out of all the world but the next line states, "therefore the world hates you." Which is not in the wide sense but a narrow sense, not every individual is an unbeliever, and we know that Jesus said, "they will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another."
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.-John 17:6
Let's really discuss this verse in the Gospel of John. Jesus says, "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world, " What a beautiful portion of scripture pointing to the fact that these individuals where given to Jesus by the Father and that it is they who keep His word. Ask yourself, if everyone in the whole world has been given to Jesus why do they not all keep the Father's word?
Let me just add some more scriptures here from Jesus' pray to His Father in John 17 to hopefully help you understand why it is so important to be consistent with how you interpret the scriptures.
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.-John 17:9
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.-John 17:11
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.-John 17:13-16
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.-John 17:18
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.-John 17:21
Now this last verse here (v.21) is another used to say that Jesus is speaking about the whole world again with the idea of including every individual. Which is way I put up so many verses from this chapter to give a better understanding of the context of John 17. Back in verse six Jesus tells us these are those whom the Father has given Him and that He is not praying for the world but for His own and those who will believe because of their preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not every individual on the entire world.
Which is further explained here in the next three verses.
I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.-John 17:23-25
Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.-John 18:20
Lastly in the Gospel of John we see Jesus say, "I have spoken openly to the world." The Mormons might like the idea of making that use of world to mean the entire world being as they believe Christ came to the Americas. However, that is not the meaning of the passage, Christ was using in the narrow sense.
I will leave you with one last passage of scripture from the Apostle Paul concerning the world. Which hopefully if you are consistent with the scriptures you will see how this is referring to the known world at that time and not to the very ends of all the earth.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”-Romans 10:18
Romans 10 is another section of scripture that gets thrown out there when those who want to argue against Calvinism speak about whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, which I would say, amen! The whosoever is the elect, but that would take us into a much longer article which might comes at a later time. However, in this verse, as stated above, Paul is saying that they have heard the and that their voice has gone out to all (side note there is that word all, which you could apply the same principles being used to understand the word world), the world. Clearly Paul who was the Apostle to the Gentiles did much of his missionary work in Asia Minor. Paul did not travel across the world neither did the other disciples at this time, he was speaking of the known world to them.
My prayer in this is that it would help you to understand and see the importance of rightly dividing the Word of God. Being consistent with the scriptures and doing our best to not be inconsistent. Honestly, there are some with good intentions and a desire to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ that may not fully grasp this but that doesn't give us the excuse to be sloppy with the scriptures and impose our traditions and/or presuppositions into the scriptures. We must look at the context of scripture and allow the scriptures to speak for themselves.
Yes, I am aware that man is fallible, which is why we must study hard the scriptures and dig deep into the passages and have good exegesis.
My prayer for you is that this will draw you closer to Christ, and that this would be encouraging and edifying to the body of Christ and help you answer some of those objections about John 3:16 referring to world as meaning every individual.
May the grace of God richly bless you and draw you even closer to Him in your walk.
Soli Deo Gloria
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