Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Response to James White on 1 John 2:2

Last week James White had a radio debate with Arminian Pentecostal scholar Dr. Michael Brown over the subject of Calvinism. Through out most of the debate, I found myself cheering on Dr. White. However, when Dr. Brown presented a couple of texts, 1 John 2:2 "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." and 2 Peter 2:1 "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves."

Dr. Brown brought up the point that the term world never means "the elect" in the many times John uses the word through out this epistle. While I don't think Dr. White was saying that world means specifically "the elect" Dr. Brown made a good argument. Through out the epistle, the word "world" means either the sin of the present age, the present evil age itself, or the people belonging to this evil age. Thus, why, in this one place would John mean "all ethnicities" or "many people through out all time?"

When presented with this argument, Dr. White said that the definition of the word "world" was irrelevant for his argument. This is because the term propitiation means the turning away of wrath, thus it must refer only to specific people, or else God has no wrath toward anyone and ultimately everyone will be saved.

I was disappointed that Dr. White did not deal with the term "world." I do not believe it is irrelevant to the argument, and I would like to hear how he, in the context, would interpret this term as meaning only some people of all ethnicities. In the text, "world" is contrasted with "us." Thus, the "world" must be different from the "us." So who is John writing to? One argument says to Jews. Thus, John would be saying that Christ died not only for the sins of Jews, but for the sins of gentiles. However, there is no evidence in the text that John was writing to only Jews. This is why it is considered one of the "catholic epistles." David Wells argues that "world" means "Christians of all times." However, I see no evidence that kosmos could have this type of meaning. If this is really a catholic epistle, the "us" must refer to all believers, thus "world" must refer to unbelievers.

As for Dr. White's argument for the term propitiation; I do not believe that it would necessitate universalism. Can one have Christ as their propitiator and yet be under the wrath of God? I would argue yes, and that Dr. White believes this as well. I would like to ask Dr. White, before the Spirit created saving faith in his heart, was he under the wrath and curse of God? Unless he believed in eternal justification, which he does not, he must admit that he was at one time under God's wrath. Was God's wrath against him propitiated? If he is one of the elect, then he must answer in the affirmative. I would ask Dr. White, how can Christ propitiate the wrath of God for you if you were at some point still under the wrath of God? Is this just because you did not have faith? But isn't unbelief one of the sins that Christ died for?
My point is, even Dr. White must admit that the redemption accomplished by Christ must be applied through faith before it benefits the one for whom it was paid. Thus, in the same way, Christ propitiated the wrath of God for the sins of all men. However, the benefit of that must be received by faith. Thus, if one does not have Spirit created faith, he does not benefit from the work of Christ, though it may have been given for him.

Think about the sacrifices of the old covenant. The sacrifices were given for the nation as a whole. However, only those who drew near would benefit from its blessings. It was objectively given for the entire nation, however, it had to be received subjectively for one to receive the benefits. Now, with the death and resurrection of Christ, the objective work he performed on earth is given for all people of all nations objectively. However, as in the old covenant, one must draw near to God through faith to receive its benefits.


Anonymous said...

Can you provide some of those old testament verses that talk about sacrifices for all of Israel. It would be very helpful. Thanks

Jordan Cooper said...

"He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull's blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel." (Leviticus 16:15-17)

This whole chapter regarding the day of atonement shows the offerings to be made for the nation of Israel as a whole.

Jeff Williams said...

Jordan in your last paragraph you make mention of the old covenant. You said, "The sacrifices were given for the nation as a whole." I would agree with what you said but my question is what about the rest of the world outside of the nation of Israel? Wasn't the atonement limited to just the people of God? Wasn't it a type and shadow of what was to come in Christ? What are your thoughts.

DrOakley said...


I'm sorry you did not listen closely to my comments. I said the "world" meant the gospel is meant for every tribe, tongue, people and nation, and hence gives us warrant to preach forgiveness in all contexts, across all geographical boundaries, to all people.

The fact remains that ἱλασμός has meaning, and to rob it of its central affirmation (the turning away of wrath through sacrifice) by the subtle shift to "the potential turning away of wrath" is eisegetical and driven by an external tradition. If ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου is to be taken individualistically, it leads inevitably to universalism; the fact that ὅλου is in contrast to ἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον (ἀλλὰ being adversative) must be allowed in the interpretation of the text.


Jordan Cooper said...

Dr. White, thanks for your response. I appreciate much of the work you have done.
Where do you get the idea that John here is speaking of the warrant to preach the forgiveness of sins to all people? That does not seem to be anywhere in the context. The "world" are those for whom propitiation is made. Who are the "us" and who are the "world?" What is the contrast John is making here if this is a catholic epistle?
Also, I still have not heard a response as to how you could be under the wrath of God as an elect believer whom Christ died for before you ha faith with your interpretation of this text. I have asked this question to a few different Reformed scholars and have not gotten an answer.
It's not my tradition that is guiding my exegesis. I in fact left my theological tradition (PCA) because I did not find such exegesis adequate. I then became a Lutheran. My study of these texts was done as a Calvinist.

Jordan Cooper said...


Yes, I do recognize the typological significance of Israel. Thus, it is hard to draw exact conclusions from Old Covenant parallels. However, the main point I was making was that there is a concept according to the Old Testament of a sacrifice being given which does not ultimately benefit all for whom it was given (the unbelievers in Israel.) Thus, one cannot make the argument that the meaning of "propitiation" in the Old Testament negates a universal atonement. The difference is (apart from the most important fact that Christ's death actually took care of sin, unlike the type), is that the sacrifice of the New Covenant was given for all nations.

Dorian of the Cross said...

Bro. Jordan.
If you concider the immediate context of the passage, John is adressing My Little children. Perhaps when he is refering to "US" in verse 2, he is not refering to all christians, but is refering to the imediate hearers of the epistle, and the "Whole world" Refers to all other Christians dwelling in the known world. This would line up with the other two verses usuing the word "propitiation," where it refers only to believers.

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" Romans 3:24-25

Propitiation is only for those who excercise faith

Somtimes comparison is as important as context.
All verses on a given subject should be concidered before forming doctrine.

Jordan Cooper said...

Is not John's epistle a "catholic" epistle, thus addressed to the church as a whole? Also, you should look at how John uses the term "world" through out this epistle. It always refers to an aspect of the sinful world. It would seem odd that only in this one place does John use the term to refer to something quite the opposite, Christians around the globe.
The verses you quote in Romans 3 only serve to defend the point I am making. The propitiation made by Christ does not immediately effect those for whom it was given. Its benefits must be received by faith. This is precisely the point I am making. Though Christ's sacrifice was given for all, its benefits are only gained one one has faith.

Jeff Williams said...

You still have a people group outside of the Old covenant administration whose sins were not atoned for. Those outside of Israel. It shows Limited Atonement in the OT as well as the NT. The bible is consistent from the Old to New.

Was faith for the NT believer secured thru the atonement of Christ?

Jordan Cooper said...

Yes it was limited to the typological kingdom. However, this is not a clear parallel as I said. It was limited to Israel, however, salvation has been extended through out all of the earth.
Was faith secured by the atonement? Scripture never says this. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but I see no evidence that it was infallibly secured by the atonement.

Julie said...

Enjoying your blog, and the broadcast from Issues, Etc. I'm also a former Calvinist, it helps me tremendously to see the journey of other people.

Anonymous said...

You should read James White's book, "The Potter's Freedom" for a look at all the Bible passages that describe the extent of the atonement. In particular, regarding I John 2, you'll find an excellent examination of the word "world" on pages 276 and 277 of this book. More importantly, the entire book should be read -- yes, there's an abundance of Scripture in the book, Jordan, not "just arguments from rationality" and the writing style is crystal clear. I believe this doctrine based on a close examination of each and every one of the Scriptures that bear on this topic. Regards!

Jordan Cooper said...

I read James White's book as a Calvinist. Actually that is one of the reasons I came to reject limited atonement. Dr. White probably has the best exegetical arguments for the doctrine. However, I still found them unconvincing.

Anonymous said...

Wow. If you read Dr. White's book and are familiar with it, how could you then possibly write in your original post this comment: "I was disappointed that Dr. White did not deal with the term 'world.' I do not believe it is irrelevant to the argument, and I would like to hear how he, in the context, would interpret this term as meaning only some people of all ethnicities."

Ask any honest reader of your website if they think by that quote that you are familiar with how Dr. White handled this in print form and also ask them if they are left with the impression that you really want to know how Dr. White handles the word 'world.'

You say you read the book so presumably you know that Dr. White addresses the topic more fully in writing (you say you read the book) and you also know how he would handle it, given the I John 2:2 context. I'm amazed now by two things you've written that really come across as disingenuous:

1) Dr. White said you didn't listen to him closely --which you do not deny.

2) Your blog post gives your readers the impression that you are unaware of Dr. White's handling of the word 'world' in this particular Scriptural passage because he did not explain it in the audio you cite, but you never tell you readers, "But elsewhere, Dr. White's argument on this issue is found in his book X, and my argument against it is Y.'"

Jason, you are not the careful apologist for Lutheranism that you make yourself out to be and it's no wonder Dr. White did not respond to you a second time.

It's one thing to say you don't agree -- it's another to misrepresent Dr. White and then not be fully forthcoming with your readers until someone responds to your post -- and even then you don't present any arguments about the book you supposedly read, but simply state you didn't find it convincing. You can say you're unconvinced until you're blue in the face, but until you honestly and thoroughly deal with the man's arguments, instead of taking a drive-by shot at him, then you are far from accomplishing your mission, to be taken as a serious sophisticated debater on these matters.

"Oh, yes, I read that book and I know his position on this even though I said in my post I would like to hear his position --- and the book was unconvincing. At best, this is inexperience debating. At worst, it's sloppy thinking.

Jordan Cooper said...

Anonymous, there is no need for anyone to get nasty here. This is a blog which I hope will facilitate good Biblical discussion. If you resort to insulting me or anyone else on here in the future, I will not post your response. When things reach that level they are no longer helpful.

This post was meant to comment upon Dr. White's debate, not his book. Thus it was not necessary for me at this point to address the arguments that he makes there. Perhaps I will do so in the future. I have been planning on doing this eventually.
Honestly, I don't even remember everything he said in the book. I do not remember an in-depth discussion of the term world. I read it about 3 years ago. So if I fail to bring something that he says in that book it is a result of my faulty memory, not that I am afraid that people will discover what Dr. White actually said, or something like that. I have no desire to misrepresent people and try as hard as I can to present my opponents in as positive of a light as I can. If you really want me to give a response to this, instead of telling me that I won't, why don't you just give me the page numbers and ask me to respond? I would be happy to do so.
Your comments that I am not a good debater and sloppy thinker, etc. are silly. My response to you was not meant to be an in-depth answer. It was just a blog comment after all. This is not meant to be a "debate." If I were engaged in a formal debate, I would be much more careful.

And by the way, speaking of being careful, my name is not Jason.