Did Christ die for all men without exception? — John 3:16

Arminian Claim: Calvinism teaches that Christ only died for the elect, and that he did not die for all men. This is in contrast to the Biblical teaching of John 3:16 that “…God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life…”. Here, the verse plainly states that God gave his son to die for the world (everyone in the world) so that whosoever chooses to believe would not perish. Calvinism is easily disproven by this verse, by first stating the universal extent of the cross to every man in the world, and second, the application only to those who by free-will choose to believe.

Introduction:

Universal atonement advocates often claim that the words of John 3:16 most clearly prove their belief that Christ died for both the elect and non-elect. In fact, it is by far the most appealed to verse by them. Even the original followers of Jacob Arminius appealed to this verse as a justification of their belief. In article two of their protesting document against the teaching of the Dutch Reformed Churches, called the Five articles of Remonstrance they argued that:

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ And in the First Epistle of 1 John 2:2: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The remonstrants argued that Christ’s death merely purchased redemption and forgiveness of sins but did not actually redeem or forgive any sins on its own. They argued that the first part of the statement of John 3:16 showed that Christ died for all men without exception, but that the third part restrained the application of the effects of that death to whosoever believeth in him by free will.

There are two logical claims that need to be proven true in order for this justification to hold any weight:

  1. By the word “world” is meant “all human beings contained in the worldwho God gave his son to die for.
  2. “Whosoever believeth” is a universal invitation to the non-believer to use their libertarian free-will to believe.

Who is the “world” whom Christ died for?

One clear assumption of the Arminian argument is that the word “world” means all men without exception. The plain reading of the text, they say, is that Christ died for all men. They assume that here the word “world” (gk. κόσμος) means all men without exception but give us no reason to believe this. They assume this without giving any prior justification for this belief. In Scripture, there are many ways in which the word “world” (gk. κόσμος) is used, not always referring to all men in mankind. I briefly covered this in my article responding to free-willers on 1 John 2:2. Both Paul and John use this word in many senses. For example, John often uses the word “world” to mean unbelieving people in John 15 where he quotes Jesus as saying:

John 15:16–19 (KJV 1900) — 16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17 These things I command you, that ye love one another. 18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Here Jesus inarguably is using the word “world” to mean non-believers in contrast to the elect believers of verse 16. This, without a doubt, proves that the word “world” does not automatically denote all men indiscriminately. This is the same sense of the word used in John 16:20 and 17:9. It is quite clear that “world” does not always mean all men indiscriminately. In these texts, for example, “world” means unbelievers. This is obviously not the case in John 3:16, however. The meaning of the word in John 3:16 is the same as the meaning of the word in passages such as John 1:29:

John 1:29 (KJV 1900) — 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

Here, John the Baptist stated that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb that would take away the sin of the world. Did John the Baptist seriously mean that Jesus would sacrificially take away the sin of everyone without exception? If Christ took away the sin of the elect and non-elect, then there is no sin left for the non-elect to be condemned for. All men would be going to heaven. But this is clearly not the case, according to the teachings of numerous other passages that teach that the non-believing will be forever damned to hell. The only way in which this passage would not be teaching universal salvation is if “world” is to be taken as meaning believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, the elect. This is one of the more obvious passages in which the “world” is used in this sense. Another passage in which the word “world” is used in this sense is found in John 6.

John 6:30–37 (KJV 1900) — 30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? 31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

In this passage, Jesus claims to be the true bread of God that came down from heaven and gives life to the world. Am I to understand this as Jesus saying that he gives eternal life to all men without exception because the passage says he gives life to the world? Of course not! God only gives eternal life to those who believe in him, the elect. So then, the “world” in this passage is to be understood as believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, who are also called the elect of God, or in John 6, the ones who are drawn by the Father to come to Jesus.

This is the same sense in which the “world” of John 3:16 is to be understood, believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, the elect of God. Unlike the free-willers who use this passage, I will vindicate my claim concerning this word with two evidences.

Firstly, the sentence structure plainly seems to connect the word “world” to “whosoever believeth” in such a way that seems to convey that the “world” in view is those who believe in contrast to those who are unbelieving to death. Let’s quickly look over John 3:16 again:

John 3:16 (KJV 1900) — 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I have bolded certain words in this sentence, because they are vital to our understanding of this verse.

For starters, the word “so” is translated from the Greek word “οὕτω” which means “in this way”. That is, when the KJV says “For God so loved the world” it means to say, “For God, in this way, loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”.

Furthermore, the “that” found in the “…that whosoever believeth…” part of this verse is translated from the Greek word “ἵνα”, which is a word that is meant to express the purpose for something being done. In other words, “that” means “in order that”, which is meant to express the purpose for which God gave the Son to die on the cross.

With these clarifications in mind, let us use this wordy translation of our own to demonstrate some points that the average reader might be missing if they did not have the lengthy meaning of the words of the KJV in mind:

For God, in this way, loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, in order that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

If we carefully read this verse, you will notice that it is stating the way in which God loved the “world”. He loved the world by giving his only begotten Son, in order that whosoever believeth in him would not perish but have eternal life.

It would make sense that the “world” in view is believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, because John seems to connect God’s love towards the “world” to God giving the Son so that whosoever believeth would not perish but have life eternal. John says that God gives the Son for believing men and women and says this is the way in which he loved the “world”.

One reason why free-willers fail to see this in the text is because they view the words “whosoever believeth” as some sort of conditional statement in which God gives his son for all men without exception so that those who use their free-will to believe would be saved. However, the text does not actually say this. It says that God loved the “world” group by giving his son for “whosoever believeth” to receive eternal life. It would be weird for John to mean, “God loved all men without exception, in this way, in that he gave his only begotten Son so that a specific group (whosoever believes) would not perish but have everlasting life”.

John 3:16 expresses the manner in which God loved the “world” group. He loved it, in that he gave his Son, that the believing world would not perish but have everlasting life. How does it make sense to say that God loved all men without exception by giving his Son forth for the eternal life of a specific group (whosoever believes; the believing)?

So then, it is made clear to me by the plain reading of the text that the “world” in view is “whosoever believeth”, believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations. This is the first of two evidences for why “world” is to be understood in such a way.

The second reason that we are to understand “world” to mean believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, is because of the surrounding context and verses. John 3:16–17 reads:

John 3:16–17 (KJV 1900) — 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17 elaborates on the former verse by using the conjunction “for”. It is meant to explain the former verse logically. God loved the “world” by giving his Son forth that the believing would not perish but have eternal life, for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. What was God’s intention for giving the Son forth? To save the world!

The Bible teaches that if God intends to do something, he actually accomplishes what he desires to do, and man can do nothing to stop God from accomplishing it. Take Job 23:13 for example:

Job 23:13 (KJV 1900) — 13 But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.

No man can turn the mind of the Lord, and what he desires to do, he does that very thing! If God desires in his mind to save the “world”, he will indeed do it. If “world” is to be taken as every individual on earth without exception, God must have desired in his mind to save the “world” through the Son but failed to do so. This is blasphemy! So then, if God desired to save this “world” and he cannot fail to accomplish his desires, we must recognize that the “world” is saved individuals, namely the elect, those who believe. We know that the very next verses teach that those who do not believe unto death are condemned, and will not be saved:

John 3:18 (KJV 1900) 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

The world, then, is most clearly those who are saved, believing men and woman dispersed throughout the world, if it is true God cannot fail to accomplish his desires as seen in Daniel 4:34–35; Job 23:13; Isaiah 46:9–11; Psalm 135:6; Isaiah 14:24–27, etc.

These two evidences most clearly demonstrate that the “world” in view in John 3:16–21 are believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations.

Does the phrase “whosoever believeth” invite the non-believer to use their libertarian free-will to believe.

As we saw in the introduction section of this article, even the Arminian remonstrants used John 3:16 to justify their assertion that Christ died for all men without exception. Both modern and historical free-willers have and continue to cling to the words “whosoever believeth” as if it were some sort of proof of their argument. However, these words provide no such refuge for them. They try to argue from these words as if it were saying that even the unbeliever is invited to believe by free-will.

An article from sharperiron.org attempts to present the argument that “whosoever believeth” should be interpreted as a universal invitation to the unbeliever to believe, if he so chooses by his libertarian free-will to do so. Let us examine the reasoning given:

When I inform my five children at the dinner table, ‘Children, Daddy bought a gallon of ‘Moose Tracks’ ice-cream so that all those who finish their supper might enjoy a tasty dessert,’ I’m not simply stating a fact or describing a (potential) state of affairs. Actually, my remark is rhetorical. There’s an illocutionary intent behind it designed to solicit their compliance and to promote their happiness. My announcement at the dinner table would be semantically equivalent to the following: ‘Children, I want you to finish your dinner and in order to motivate you to do so I’ve purchased a gallon of your favorite ice-cream as a reward for those who comply with my wish.

The author argues that though the grammar and plain meaning of the words in Greek underlying “whosoever believeth” do not necessarily denote any invitation, the phrase itself works as if it were in invitation by incentivizing belief to unbelieving people.

The problem is that the example sentence he writes is already aimed at people who may or might not eat their supper. As we have already covered, the people to whom John is writing this statement about is the “world”, which we have defended above as being believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations. If the “world” meant all men without exception, this example sentence might hold some weight, however we cannot think this phrase is an invitation if it is stating a fact about people who will already believe.

If the sentence was, “In this way, God loved all men in the world, that he gave his Son for them, in order that whosoever believeth should not perish but have life eternal…” then the author might have a point, however this is already assuming that God gave his Son for all men without exception, something that we do not grant. We do not grant that the “world” is everyone in existence. This has been thoroughly covered in the section above. Does it make much sense for this sentence to be an invitation to the unbelieving:

For God so loved believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations, that he gave his only Son for them, in order that all the men and women believing would not perish but have life eternal.

Of course not, their argument is nonsense if the group called the “world” is simply believing men and woman dispersed throughout all nations.

Another reason why the example sentence used doesn’t work is that it doesn’t compare to the sentence in John 3:16. Here are the two sentences side by side:

Article: “Children, Daddy bought a gallon of ‘Moose Tracks’ ice-cream so that all those who finish their supper might enjoy a tasty dessert

John 3:16 (KJV 1900):— 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Do you notice the difference in these two sentences? The example sentence is simply stating an action and the reason why it happened while John 3:16 includes an action, the reason why it happened, as well as the motivation for the action. The focus is not to motivate an action from someone else like the example, but rather to explain the way in which God loved the world, by talking about an action that God did for that “world” and the purpose for that action. John 3:16 is not a bargain, it is a statement of explanation of the way in which God the loved the world.

This was the best possible defense I could find on the internet that the words “whosoever believeth” entails that everyone either has the ability to believe, or that all men without exception are invited to believe by John 3:16, and yet it is a very shallow and lousy defense. As we have shown, this example does not actually prove that John 3:16 contains a universal invitation to unbelievers to believe the Gospel by free-will. John 3:16 is one coherent statement of information, not an invitation or provision of a condition by which we are saved.

The words of John 3:16 are simple- not an invitation and certainly not a conditional statement. It is a statement that tells us about the way in which God loved the world, namely by him giving his Son to die on the cross so that all men without distinction who believe would be saved. Not just the Jewish kindred, but believing people of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. This is why John states that God loved the “world” in this way. This is to stress the extent of the cross to all believing men and women without distinction. Moreover, this is why John mentions that the Son was given so that whosoever believeth would not perish but have life eternal.

Conclusion

Free-willers wish to put forth John 3:16 as a defeater of the Doctrines of Grace, however they achieve no such thing. John 3:16 speaks of the special love of God towards believers in Christ dying for them so that they would not perish but obtain life eternal. The sacrifice of Christ for his people is sufficient for their salvation, however, universal atonement puts forth a failure, not a powerful savior. Free-willers are effectively arguing that the Father put forth his Son to shed precious blood for people whom he foreknew would never be saved and ransomed by that very blood. What a waste that is! This is a disgusting misuse of John 3:16 and those who propagate such an interpretation of the text should repent immediately.

For more information on this subject of John 3:16, I recommend these two resources:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen, Book 4, Chapter 2.

John 3:16 & God’s Love for the World by 𝕽𝖊𝖋𝖔𝖗𝖒𝖊𝖉 𝕭𝖞 𝕳𝖎𝖘 𝕲𝖗𝖆𝖈𝖊.

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