The same proper exegesis that establishes important Christian doctrines such as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification through faith alone, etc. establishes definite atonement (along with all the doctrines of grace).     

Yet ironically, I continue to see far too many ‘Calvinists’ use the same practices as that of the followers of Arminius at Dort when addressing Arminianism—namely, providing bucket loads of refutations, but then being absent (and/or very sloppy) in presenting positive exegetical affirmations from the text of Scripture.

Even worst is when misguided “Calvinistic” apologists rely on and employ philosophical apologetics and erroneously use Matthew 23 as a hermeneutic to evangelize and thunderbolt their typical myopic agenda in refuting the false system of Arminian autosoteric.

In fact, Arminianism promotes several unbiblical views including universal atonement, conditional election, and, with some, partial depravity. However, we as Christians, who correctly understand and embrace the doctrines of grace should (as mandated) confront these errors appropriately and out of love using the exegesis of Scripture to both affirm important biblical doctrines and refute any false doctrines whether essential or tangential.

                                          

             Scripture is sufficient to affirm and refute false doctrines.    

John 3:16

Universal Invitation or Promise to the Elect?

 

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Problem: Although John 3:16 is arguably one of the most frequently quoted passages in the Bible, it is one of the most misapplied and misinterpreted passages in the NT. Basically, the problem is two-fold: 1- Coming to the text with the presupposition of universal atonement (i.e., Jesus’ atoning cross work was for every single person, but for no one in particular). Thus, many “traditionally” quote the KJV mistranslation of the Greek adjective pas (“all/every,” which the KJV renders as “whosoever”). 2- Along with pas, a universal meaning is also imposed on the term kosmos (“world”).

 

The following are some main features of John 3:16 and the surrounding context, which are key in attaining a correct understanding of the passage.     

 

  • Greek rendering. Houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon hōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken, hina pas ho pisteuōn eis auton mē apolētai all’ echē zōēn aiōnion – literal rendering: “To this extent, indeed, loved the God the world, that the Son, the one and only, He gave, in order that every one believing in Him not should perish, but shall have life eternal.”

 

  • The context actually starts in vv. 14-15 dealing with the snake in the wilderness (cf. Num. 21:6-9) with which Nicodemus would have been familiar. The particularities of the event are contextually interrelated with John 3:15-16. Note a few contextual facts: I, the bronze serpent was the only means of healing/deliverance for “only” God’s people (the Israelites), which relates to trusting in the Son as the only means of salvation, II, verses 14-15 read, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Verse 15 contains the Greek conjunction hina (“that”) signifying a purpose and result clause. Thus, the purpose of the Son’s cross work (being “lifted up”) was for the result of every one believing in Him will have eternal life.

 

  • The affirmation of God’s redemptive love to everyone believing. The extent of God’s love is shown by His sending His Son into the world, to the ones believing, and give them eternal life.

 

  • Houtōs. Although most translations translate the Greek adverb as “so,” a literal and more accurate translation would be, “in this way, in this manner, in such a condition, to this extent”—to express the actual result. Hence, the love of God is demonstrated in the giving of His Son in order to bring about the eternal life of believers.

 

  • Kosmos (“world”). Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by Arminians, kosmos is presumed to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of a universal atonement.However, many who misinterpret kosmos are unaware that in the NT, kosmos has over a half of dozen clearly defined meanings. It can denote every single person (cf. Rom. 3:19); non-believers (cf. John 1:10; 15:18); believers (cf. John 1:29; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Cor. 4:9); Gentiles, in contrast from Jews (cf. Rom. 11:12); the world system (cf. John 12:31); the earth (cf. John 13:1; Eph. 1:4); the universe as a whole (cf. Acts 17:24); the known world (i.e., not everyone inclusively [cf. John 12:9; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:5-6])—the point is this: only context determines the meaning of kosmos.

    Although kosmos can have various meanings, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning. For example, we know that the “world” in verse 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love. In first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles—as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19). Contextually, then, in verses 16 and 17, kosmos (and the adjective pas, “all/every” as discussed below) is clearly comprised of all or every one believing, both Jews and Gentiles (same as John 1:29; 12:47; etc.).

 

Again, the Arminian universal understanding of “world” and “all” in verse 16 would make verse 17 endorse universalism (i.e., all of humanity [world] will be saved). It is true that God intends to save the “world” through His Son, but it is the “world” of the believing ones that He saves—namely, “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Eph. 1:4-5); men “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); “all that the Father gives” to the Son (John 6:37-40, 44); it is the world for whom the Son dies and “gives life” (John 6:33) and “takes away” their sin (John 1:29)—as the surrounding context (vv. 14-15 and vv. 17-19) indicates. It would be biblically untrue to read into kosmos a universal (all of humanity) meaning.

 

  • Pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing”). As mentioned, many use the mistranslation of the KJV (“whosoever”) to assert the view of a universal non-definite atonement. However, the phrase in Greek teaches no such thing. Rather, it is a promise of eternal life to all the ones doing the action of the present active participle, pisteuōn, “believing”—“Everyone now believing” has eternal life.

 

  • The Greek adjective pas (as in pas ho pisteuōn) means “all/every.” First, there is no idea here that indicates a universal undefined invitation to salvation, as many assume. Second, it is incorrect to translate pas as equaling “whosoever”— as in “whosoever will believe,” rather than what is stated in the original: “all, everyone who/whoever is now believing.” In fact, most modern translations accurately render the phrase pas ho pisteuōn as “whoever believes” (NKJV, NASB, NIV); “everyone who believes” (NLT, Holman, NET); or, and most literal, “every one who is believing” (Young’s lit.).

 

  • Pisteuōn (lit., “believing”). The verb here is a present active participle—denoting a present ongoing action—“believing.” In John’s literature, present active participles (on-going actions) are normally used in soteriological (salvation) contexts to denote the life of a true Christian (e.g., John 5:24; 6:35, 47, 54; 1 John 5:1, 5). Grammatically, the adjective pas (“all/every”) modifies the participial phrase ho pisteuōn (“the one believing”). As noted, both verses 15 and 16 contain the same participial phrase: pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing” or “all the believing ones”).

 

Verse 17- Hina- (“that”). “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If one were to stay consistent in maintaining the notion that “world” in verse 16 refers to a universal “all” without exception, then he would have to accept a notion of universal salvation in verse 17.

 

Syntactically, the sentence starts with the postpositive conjunction (gar, “for”- “For God so loved the world”), which carries an explicative force to the continuation in the previous verse (hina, “so that”). The postpositive carries the meaning of “truly therefore, the fact is, indeed.” It is a “particle of affirmation and conclusion” (Thayer). Next, notice the adversative conjunction (alla, “but”) and a purpose and result conjunction (hina, “that”). The adversative conjunction demonstrates a contrast (“but, rather”) or an opposing idea. The postpositive clearly conjoins the contextual meaning of “world” in verses 16 and 17—it cannot be semantically divided.

In fact, the postpositive (“for”), the adversative conjunction (“but”), and the purpose and result conjunction (hina, “that”- lit., “in order that”) appear in verse 16.[1] Hence, the literal rendering would be, “Therefore, the fact is, God did not send the Son into the world for the purpose of judgment (condemnation), rather, for the result of saving the world.”  

 

In 1 John 4:7-10, John himself provides an excellent commentary of John 3:16:

 Both (John 3:16 and 1 John 4:7-10) speak of God’s love, the sending of His Son, and how the sending of His Son is a manifestation of God’s love, specifically in verse 9:

  • John 3:16: “For God so loved the world.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “By this the love of God was manifested in us.”

 

  • John 3:16: “He gave His only begotten Son.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.”

 

  • John 3:16: “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • 1 John 4:9-10: “so that we might live through Him. . . . but that He loved us and sent His Son to bethe propitiation for our sins.”

As mentioned, the term “world” in 3:16 (meaning the world of Jews and Gentiles) is not a universal statement. 1 John 4:9 clearly affirms this meaning: “The love of God was manifested in us.” The “us” to John is identified in verse 7: “Beloved, let us love one another” – (Christians, both Jews and Gentiles).

 Summary:  

  1. The meaning of kosmos (“world”) in verses 16 and 17 is defined by the context: “all the ones” doing the action of the verb (“believing”)—i.e., both Jews and Gentiles. To suggest that “world” in verse 16 carries the meaning of “every single person,” would necessarily imply universalism or inclusivism in verse 17.  

 

  1. The KJV rendering, “whosoever” is an inaccurate translation of the Greek phrase, pas ho pisteuōn (lit., every one believing”).

 

  1. The adjective pas (“all/every”) grammatically modifies the verb (“believing”), all, without limit, the ones believing. Thus, in biblical contrast to the Arminian traditional understanding of verse 16 (viz. a universal atonement), verses 15-17 is God’s infallible promise, through the cross work of His Son—to provide eternal life to all the ones believing in Him. To them alone, He manifests His love by saving them.

 

  1. The Arminian interpretation of John 3:16 is generally based on a traditional understanding and not an exegetical one.Notes 

[1] “For [gar] God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that [hina] whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but [alla] have eternal life.”

The vicarious life and cross-work of Jesus Christ does not put the elect in a potentially saved state; rather it secured salvation for the ones that the Father gave to Christ (esp. John 6:37-40, 44).

Christ’s death also secured reconciliation for His elect (cf. Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:21-22; Heb. 9:12). He voluntarily gave Himself as a ransom for His chosen, on their behalf (cf. Mark 10:45; Rom. 8:32; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 5:25-26; 1 Thess. 5.9-10; 1 Tim. 2:6): “For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1.68).

Note the usage of the Greek preposition huper (“on behalf of,” “instead of”) to describe the actual and literal substitutionary death of Christ: “[the Father] delivered [paredōken; i.e., delivered up for sacrifice] Him over for [huper, lit., “on behalf of”] us all” (Rom. 8:32; emphasis added); “who gave Himself for [huper] our sins” (Gal. 1:4; emphasis added; cf. 3:13); “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for [heauton paredōken huper] her” (Eph. 5.25).

Further, to emphasize the nature of the substitutionary work of Christ on the behalf of His elect, the preposition anti is utilized in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for [lutron anti] many” and Matthew 20:28, which reads identically. After careful lexical and linguistic study, Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, concludes:

In summery, the evidence appears to be overwhelmingly in favor of viewing anti in Matt. 20:28/Mark 10:45 as meaning in the place of and very possibly with the secondary meaning in exchange for. . . . (GGBB, 367).

In 1 Timothy 2:6, Paul combines the compound antilutron and huper to clearly denote what Jesus Christ literally did for His people—a ransom in their place: “who gave Himself as a ransom for [antilutron huper] all.” But because of His great love and mercy for His chosen, He not only invites them, but infallibly deliverers them: “you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

As Paul rightly says, “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1.30). He literally substituted Himself on behalf of His people absorbing the wrath that was due to our account because of sin. His cross-work satisfied the requirements of God’s law.

It was the perfect justice of God, which required that the perfect demands of the law should be met (cf. Rom. 3:25-27). Christ Jesus perfectly met those requirements by His active (preceptive) and passive (penal) obedience whereby substituting Himself (both in perfect His life and death) in our place.  

I just read an article on the SBC Today site entitled: Is Calvinism Spiritual Racism?—by Dr. Michael A Cox—Pastor, FBC Pryor, OK (http://sbctoday.com/is-calvinism-spiritual-racism). Dr. Cox, as with others in the SBC, is now participating in the newest wrinkle of the SBC against Calvinism. Like the many others who have attempted to promote a patently synergistic soteriology, Cox takes it to an unusual level of mischaracterization and irresponsible scholarship.

First, it is not my intention here to provide a point by point exegetically refutation the passages that Dr. Cox misapplies (esp. John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9). This has been countless times by myself and by many others. My intention is to provide some clarity and accuracy pertaining to Calvinism in light of Dr. Cox’s inaccurate depiction and maltreatment of it. And hopefully cause folks that read his article to invest in a more scholarly examination of it from qualified sources.

In the beginning of his article, Dr. Cox’s likens Calvinism with Hinduism when he states at the outset: “I will contend that Hinduism, Racism, and Calvinism have many things in common.” This kind of argument is, of course, logically invalid, as is the argument “all Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Arminians all have many things in common such as conditional election; salvation being left in the hands of the unregenerate; faith and some kind of work(s) being required for salvation (regeneration); God cannot overpower man’s untouchable ‘free-will’ in salvation; etc.”

However, there is a rudimentary defect that is quite apparent throughout the content of his article. Dr. Cox’s assertions are grounded on mistaken views of what Calvinism (that is, the “doctrines of grace”) actually teaches. For example, Dr. Cox uses terms such as “spiritual determinism,” “spiritual caste,” “spiritual bigotry,” “spiritual prejudice,” etc. in his portrayal of Calvinism demonstrating his vast misunderstanding of it. This causes me to wonder if Dr. Cox has read even the most basic works on Calvinism and/or read any of the standard Calvinistic/Reformed confessions.

Next Dr. Cox asserts: “It would be interesting to know how many non-Caucasians actually embrace five-point Calvinism as a genuine Bible doctrine.” Really? So here Dr. Cox uses an ad populum argument (fallacy) to validate biblical truth. Did Cox do any research at all on this? Is he aware of the Dutch Reformed movement in Africa, which is one of the largest movements in Africa? The Dutch Reformed are a part of the World Fellowship of Reformed Churches—, which is one of the largest “Christian” international communions in the world. Embarrassingly, Dr. Cox is not well educated on religious demography—thus, he should not make these obtuse implications about how many non-Caucasians embrace Calvinism.

Further, in his effort to show that Calvinism is spiritually racist, Dr. Cox asserts: “Calvinism is nothing short of baptized racism, advocating the dogma that one group, the non-elect, is condemned by God to spiritual inferiority and another group, the elect, is destined to spiritual superiority.” Again, statements such as these only show his lack of knowledge on Calvinism. I wonder if Dr. Cox would see Paul’s statement in Rom. 9:21 regarding the Potter (God) having the right (exousian) to make (poiew) from the same lump (all men) one person/vessel for honor (timēn) and another for no honor (atimian), “nothing short of baptized racism, advocating the dogma that one group, the non-elect, is condemned by God . . . and another group, the elect, is destined to spiritual superiority”?

Apparently, Dr. Cox just cannot accept a God that would do this. Nor can Dr. Cox accept Paul’s presentation of vessels/men of wrath that God prepared (note the perfect passive form of katartizw) for destruction. To be sure, the God that Paul speaks of is not the God that Dr. Cox imagines.

Dr. Cox represents Calvinism as “nothing short of promoting a prideful theology of supposed spiritual superiority, due to election.” However, in Acts 16:6ff., we read that the Holy Spirit stopped Paul and Timothy from preaching the gospel in Asia in which many people died without ever hearing the gospel. So would Dr. Cox also charge the Holy Spirit with having a “prideful theology” of election and “baptized racism” since it was the Holy Spirit who chose to prevent some from hearing the gospel? (as the Father does, cf. Luke 10:20-22).

But what I find most befuddling is that Dr. Cox holds a DMin. with (as his bio states) an emphasis on biblical hermeneutics. However, Dr. Cox fast-ball pitches the big three Arminian passages (viz., John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:9) into his article presupposing they support his views (with no hint of exegetical verification). It is evident to me that Dr. Cox does not apply the same hermeneutical (and exegetical) emphasis to these three passages that he does to passages he would use to affirm, say, justification by faith alone or the deity of Christ. For Dr. Cox, it seems that “tradition” and his devotion to synergism dictates his so-called hermeneutical method.

Does Dr. Cox suppose that no one who reads his article, which is circulated outside the safety of his church bulletin, has (or will) meaningfully interacted with these three (and other) passages on a basic exegetical level arriving at an interpretation in opposition to his view? The fact that Dr. Cox casually tosses them into the mix in an attempt to prove his position shows that his interpretation of these three passages is really established by the removal of single passages out of their entire context and pre-assigning a universal meaning to pas (“all”) and kosmos (“world”). This, to be sure, is in no way an “emphasis on biblical hermeneutics.” Rather, it is an emphasis on tradition and high emotion—thus, not on the actual exegesis of the passages.

Next Dr. Cox says, “God has demonstrated his love for all people many times over. He did so by promising to make Abraham, a.k.a. Abram, from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen. 11:31), a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3).” It is amazing to me that Dr. Cox would make this kind of hermeneutic mistake—applying a universal meaning to the phrase in Gen. 12:3, “all the families of the earth,” when the Apostle Paul tells us what is meant here: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you’” (Gal. 3:8). Hence according to Paul, “all the nations” (note Paul’s usage of ethnē, “nations/Gentiles” and not phulai [LXX] to explicate his point) refers to God’s eternal purpose in justifying (note the present indic. dikaioi, “justifies”) the Gentiles by faith (that which was foreseen in Gen. 12). In Acts 13:48, the Gentiles rejoiced at the fact that salvation was brought also to them: “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed [note the plu-perf. part, tetagmenoi] to eternal life believed.”

Virtually every time ethnē/ethnos is used in the NT, it referred to unbelieving Gentiles/heathens, and at times, believing Gentles, and only rarely was it used to denote “people” in a general sense. Dr. Cox seems oblivious to the apostle’s own interpretation of Gen. 12:3 overlooking the exegetical points and Paul’s defining context of the entire chapter of Gal. 3. Even more, in Gal. 3:29, Paul defines as to what nations are blessed (and thus, the promise of Gen 12): “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” Thus, the ones who “belong to Christ” are the heirs according to the promise or blessing of Abraham. In the same sense, Rev. 5:9 states of the Son: “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation [ethnos].” Does Dr. Cox realize that God loving all of His people/family and sending His Son to die for them is consistent with Calvinism?

As seen, Dr. Cox’s conclusions about Calvinism (as “spiritual racism,” etc.) are built on faulty presuppositions. I do not think Dr. Cox would charge Calvinism with “spiritual racism” likening it to Hinduism and assert many other mischaracterizations if Dr. Cox reached at least an elementary level of understanding as to what Calvinism actually affirms.

Lastly, as with so many Christians who are so antagonistic to Calvinism, Dr. Cox 1) holds to a crass and mistaken understanding of Calvinism, 2) does not engage in proper exegesis on the passages he uses to endorse conditional election and universal atonement, which is especially seen when he applies a universal meaning to various OT passages and Greek terms such as pas and kosmos when they are contextually unwarranted, and 3) seems to have a disjointed view of the love of God limiting it to a universal redemptive love for every single person, which results in a view where God keeps waiting for and wanting all men to respond to His “great” plan of redemption, but He keeps failing in His effort to save all men every time someone dies in unbelief.

As a Christian apologist (and esp. for pastors), truth and providing an accurate representation of both biblical doctrine and other religious systems (Christian or non-Christian) is first and foremost. Dr. Cox presents in his article his “personal” views of Calvinism in which, in my assessment, are very misleading and inaccurate showing his lack of scholarship and basic understanding of Calvinism. As seen, he has fallen prey to the traditional ruse and pride of the autosoteric (self-salvation) system of Arminianism in which prompted him to launch an unreasonable and very haphazard attack on Calvinism.

Because Dr. Cox’s knowledge of Calvinism is apparently vacuous, he sees it as, among other things, a “prideful theology.” However, if he would ever take the time to do a scholarly study and educate himself on what it actually teaches he would understand that Calvinism, that is, the doctrines of grace, exalts and recognizes God as the sovereign God in and of all things (cf. Eph. 1:1) including the eternal destiny of all men—hence, salvation is of God alone! In contrast, Arminian soteriology sees man as sovereign over his own eternal destiny—thus, it is man’s so-called righteous “ability” cooperating with God’s plan (just as Rome teaches), not God’s grace alone. Hence, the Arminian system is a man-centered system (which we call pride), it is a “I did it” scheme in which the ultimate decision of choosing Christ is essentially placed in the hands of the unregenerate sinner (in the face of opposing biblical passages, such as John 6:44; 63; 8:43-44, 47; Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; etc.)

Calvinism is called the “doctrines of grace” for the simple reason that Scripture presents that by God’s grace alone, He gave to Christ those whom He chose for Himself to deliver and set them free from the bondage of sin. He chose these in love, before the foundation of the world, not on the basis of a foreknowledge response to their works, but according to the kind intention of His will. These He made alive granting them faith justifying them in which He adopted them as sons when He was not obligated to do so—but by His grace alone: “So then, He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” And, “By His doing,” not our doing, we “are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:3-31; cf. Rom. 8:28-30; 9:16, 21-23; Eph. 1:4-5; 2:8-10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Thess. 2:13; etc.).

– Dr. Edward Dalcour