Thursday, June 18, 2009

Augustine on 1 John 2:2 and "Whole World"

The fact that Augustine taught limited atonement is something that we occasionally hear disputed. Thus, from time to time, it is helpful to see what Augustine said about one of the key verses in that discussion, 1 John 2:2. Here are two places (the only two that have come to my attention) where Augustine address that verse:

In like manner it is said, on the one hand, "the whole world lies in wickedness," [1 John 5:19] because of the tares which are throughout the whole world; and, on the other hand, Christ "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world," [1 John 2:2] because of the wheat which is throughout the whole world.

- Augustine, Letter 93 to Vincentius (for more see Ancient Voices)

Therefore it is no marvel that he here goes on and shuts the mouths of them that divide the Church of God. For he that has said, "We have Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins:" having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, "Lo, here is Christ, lo, there;" and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he immediately goes on to say, "Not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world." What is this, brethren? Certainly "we have found it in the fields of the woods," we have found the Church in all nations. Behold, Christ "is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world." Behold, you have the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be in that mountain which has filled the whole earth: because "Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world," which He has bought with His blood.

- Augustine, Homily 1 on 1 John (for more see Ancient Voices)

As you can see, in both cases, Augustine views the reference to "whole world" to be the church throughout the world. This is very important to understanding not only the patristic interpretation of this verse, but also the semantic domain of that term "whole world" or even just "world" in the early centuries of the church. It is apparent from Augustine that he saw it as describe a vast geographical expanse rather than referring to each and every person.

Now, just because Augustine said it doesn't make it right. Augustine is not my rule of faith, Scripture is. The point I'm making here, though, is that viewing the expression "the whole world" as simply a broad geographic area and not "each and every person" is a fully reasonable understanding, and one that is consistent not only with Scripture, but with the writings of significant fathers, such as Augustine.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my opinion this verse spells out the whole world and reaches far beyond it:

Psa 89:11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.

It undoubtedly becomes a spurious argument when one tries to explain something beyond limited atonement.

It makes it easier to grasp, for me, when the argument is made, just what "spirit" is behind it. It would be the spirit that is against "limited atonement".

And who might that spirit be? Well none other than the god of this world.

The "devil" comes to kill, steal and destroy.

God comes to give life and give it more abundantly.

The devil comes to turn some away from God. Who? Those who have been given His Faith.

God comes to turn some to Christ. Who and how? By giving to those for Whom Christ died, His Faith.

How does all that focus the reader on "limited atonement" for some men and not to all men?

Consider what Paul is teaching here:

2Th 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,
2Th 3:2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.
2Th 3:3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

Here the Apostle, without coming out with a teaching on "limited atonement", is establishing it.

When you consider what Paul is teaching there with an emphasis I will make on this following verse, one of the most debated verses "for" unlimited and free atonement for all mankind, you might begin to settle your spirit down and begin to understand that limited atonement was pre-determined as were those Christ died for.

Here's that verse and then I will hopefully make plain the emphasis:

Joh 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God "so loved" the world, that He gave, by His Pre-deteminate Counsel and Foreknowledge, His Son Jesus to "live" in the world, to suffer in the world and to die in the world that is His, by the same Faith that God comes and gives to His Elect, the Called and Chosen Ones in the world, who are in the world but not of it.

The heavens are His. The earth is His. The world is His and everything in it, too. The devil doesn't need to come to those who do not have and have not been given His Faith! He comes to kill, steal and destroy those in the world who have been given His Faith.

It is His Faith that overcomes the world, devils full.

Let me add and enhance two realities now.

The Devil and his angels "existed" before the creation of these present heavens and earth. Eternal Damnation also existed before time began.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, kinda like Jesus was after the Holy Ghost overshadowed Mary and she became "alive" with Christ! Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was over the surface of the waters. The world began to form and come together into a natural order governed by natural Law, the Law of Righteousness. The darkness did not conform to either the form of the world or natural Law.

After fully six days and in the midst of the sixth day, Adam was formed out of the dust of the earth. Out of Adam God then fashioned Woman. All the time this darkness continued to reject God's plan. Once "woman" was formed out of Adam and she ate the forbidden fruit and Adam ate, darkness could come out into the "light" and be known for who and what darkness is.

Adam names woman Eve, that is, from "wife" to "life giver". Now both Adam and Eve are "alive" with darkness full!

Now the plan of Salvation has begun. Now darkness increases and abounds in this natural world.

God will bring to "fruition" an outcome for these heavens and earth, the world and all that is in it. Eternal damnation finishes off the devil and his angels and those whose names are not found written in the book of Life.