By Spencer D Gear
I was engaged in discussion on a Christian forum about the meaning of 1 John 2:2 , which states, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (ESV).
The issue at stake is the meaning of Jesus’ ‘propitiation for our sins’ (our, referring to believers), but also ‘for the sins of the whole world’. Calvinists do not want ‘the whole world’ to refer to the entire humanity in the past, present and future. For them, Jesus didn’t die an atoning death for the whole world but only for the elect.
A Calvinist responded,
[In 1 John] the scripture says no such thing about Him being a “provision” for sins! It says that He IS the propitiation for our (Jew’s) sins, and not for ours (Jews) only, but also for the sins of the whole world (Gentiles).” John was writing to Jews telling them that Christ was the propitiation for Gentiles also.
The scripture says, “He IS the propitiation for sins….”
The Arminian says, “He is the provision for sins….”
I responded, ‘Nowhere in 1 John 2:2 does it state what you said: “He IS the propitiation for our (Jew’s) sins”. Not a word about the Jews in that verse. That is your insertion’.
A Calvinist replied:
John was writing to Jewish Christians saying that Christ IS the propitiation for our (Jew’s) sins, and not for ours (Jews) only, but also for the sins of the whole world (Gentiles).
Paul said a similar thing in Romans chapter eight. In 7:1 He said that he was writing to them that “know the law” (Jews). He continues to address Jewish Christians specifically from 7:1 to 11:13 where he begins to address the Gentiles specifically. So he is addressing Jews throughout chapter eight. In verse verse 22 he says that the “whole creation” (Gentiles) groans with birth pangs. Then he says that we (Jews) ALSO groan within ourselves waiting for the redemption of the body.
John was speaking exactly in the same manner as Paul. For Paul the whole creation was the Gentiles. They groan in birth pangs, and we (Jews) also groan within ourselves. Likewise, for John the “whole world” was the Gentiles. John said that Christ IS the propitiation for our (Jew’s) sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (Gentiles).
John and Paul were NOT speaking about every human being. You should not give promises to those to whom God has made no promise.
The following was my response:
You provided not one reference from 1 John to demonstrate that John was writing to Jews. That does not leave a good impression with me when I’m addressing a verse in 1 John 2:2 and you go to Romans to try to demonstrate that both Paul and John were addressing Jewish ‘our (Jew’s) sins’ and Gentiles ‘the whole world’. That’s called eisegesis – bringing in a meaning that is not there in the text.
In fact, some who have written detailed commentaries on 1 John disagree with this poster on First John being written to Jewish Christians.
The ‘Introduction’ in the English Standard Version of the Bible to First John states that ‘John wrote this general letter to congregations across Asia Minor (now Turkey) in the late first century A.D.’ (p. 1127).
(Courtesy Augsburg Fortress)
R C H Lenski, in his commentary on 1 John, states that:
This letter is an encyclical that is intended for the congregations that were under John’s special care; it was occasioned by the antichristian teachings of Cerinthus and of his following. It is usually supposed that this letter was written only to congregations in the province of Asia (1966:363).
Calvinist commentator, Simon J Kistemaker, wrote of the ‘recipients of I John’ that
Tradition holds that John wrote his epistles during his ministry in Ephesus, and that his first epistle was addressed to a church or group of churches whom the author knew well. Succeeding Paul and Timothy, John was a pastor in Ephesus until his death in about A.D. 98. From Ephesus he wrote his epistles, presumable to Gentile audiences rather than to readers who were Jewish Christians (Kistemaker 1986:207-208, emphasis added)
These commentators also disagree with your Jewish audience: I Howard Marshall, F F Bruce, and James Montgomery Boice.
So this evidence points to a Gentile, not a Jewish, audience who received this letter of First John and it was written to churches in Asia Minor to correct the false doctrine of Cerinthus, opponent of St. John or an early form of Gnosticism.
Kistemaker S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (special permission of Augsburg Fortress).
 Ibid., OzSpen #611.
 Ibid., The Boxer #641 (emphasis in original).
 Ibid., OzSpen #649.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 March 2020.