As I continued to think about 1 John 2:2 and my previous post, it occurred to me that a five-point Calvinist could try to avoid the problem of assuming a Jewish Christian audience for 1 John and argue that while John 11 and 1 John 2:2 are about different groups of people (Israel in the former and the recipient church in the latter), they nonetheless share the same pattern to teach that Jesus’ death is only for the elect. The pattern would look like this:
1. He won’t just die for the elect here (Israel).
2. He will also die to gather the elect scattered abroad (nations).
1. He didn’t just die for the elect here (the particular church).
2. He also died to gather the elect in the world (nations).
Still not looking at context
This attempt would be slightly better, but it still has several serious problems:
1. Going this route makes it even more dubious to assume that “world” means the same as “scattered children of God” since the elect in those passages, “our” and the nation of Israel, would have less correspondence. John 11 contrasts “scattered children” with Israel the nation, which is precisely why it is plausible that it is referring to other nations or places abroad. However, in 1 John, “world” is contrasted with “our.” If John means “not just this church I’m writing to, but other elect people around the world,” why would he use the first person plural when he is clearly not with that church? He seems to have no problem using the second person to address them specifically throughout the letter, but he also shows the use of the first person plural when he is speaking general truths about being a Christian or is speaking about himself and other apostolic witnesses. In fact, 1 John 2:1 shows both:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (ESV, emphasis mine)
John follows up a specific address to the church with a general truth about believers, which is why he uses the first person. Therefore, the contrast between “our” and “whole world” makes it more reasonable to conclude that “world” means something like “everyone else.” To conclude that it has to mean “people like us who are across the nations” is to, again, divorce the passage from its context and assume it has to mean something else based on bare appeals to parallelism.
2. This implants the purpose from a different text into 1 John 2:2 when we should be getting the purpose from the context itself. Piper argues that John has the idea of going out and finding God’s children among every tribe and tongue in both passages, but that simply does not fit into 1 John 2:2. The purpose of that passage is to clearly encourage the believers he is writing to that they can be confident that if they confess, God will forgive them because Jesus is the propitiation of not only their sins but the sins of the whole world. John is not focused on “gathering” anyone.
3. John uses “world” in several ways in his writings, but using “world” to mean “unknown elect among the nations” would be an utterly unique usage for him. Furthermore, the only other time the construction “whole world” is used in John’s writings is in this same epistle, 1 John 5:19, where it quite clearly contrasts the “whole world” with believers. In verses 18 and 19, it states:
18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (ESV)
Verse 18 makes clear that the evil one does not touch the one born of God, and verse 19 reiterates that those who are of God are contrasted with the “whole world,” which lies in the power of the evil one. It is far more preferable to follow the usages in the same letter than to skip over to John’s Gospel which is narrating something in a very different context and doesn’t even use the same construction.
4. How is the parallelism significant? As hinted above, it alerts us that we should pay close attention to the contrast between an exclusive group and something more inclusive. So Jesus died “not only” for this, “but also” for that, but that does not necessitate that the “this” and the “that” in both passages are the same. In John 11, Jesus’ death is for the nation of Israel but also serves the purpose of gathering dispersed Jews or perhaps Gentile believers abroad. In 1 John 2:2, Jesus death is not only the propitiation for the sins of believers but also for the whole world.
Thus, while this attempt would avoid historical and textual problems in assuming a Jewish audience for 1 John, it is still guilty of the same basic error: Ignoring context in favor of looking for patterns in sentence structure and then unjustifiably transferring meaning. However way one looks at it, the best interpretation of “whole world” is that it is contrasted with those who believe, so it cannot mean “elect among the nations.” The case for limited atonement still falls apart.