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Stephen Garrett

Dear Peter:

Does "whole world" include those who died lost in the old testament times? Does "whole world" include those who died in infancy?



peter lumpkins

Dear Stephen,

No. The "whole world" obviously means only the elect.

With that, I am...

Tony Byrne

Since this is something I shared with Dr. Allen, I thought I would chime in here and talk about the identity of the "whole world" in 1 John 2:2. It's helpful, I think, to keep in mind the needful hermeneutical distinction between meaning and application. The meaning of "whole world" in 1 John 2:2 is the same as the "whole world" of 1 John 5:19.

NKJ 1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

Who are the people John has in mind in 5:19? First, they are existing/living people in his day who were then 1) "under the sway of the wicked one," and 2) distinct people from those who are "of God," "born of God" (5:18), who "have an understanding," who "know Him," and are "in Him" (5:20), i.e. believers. In other words, the meaning of "whole world" in 5:19 is living apostate humanity in John's day. By way of application of the text to all generations, even to our own, we may say that the "whole world" is living apostate humanity in every age. Believers were once a part of this group who were "under the sway of the wicked one" and those for whom Jesus is "the propitiation for their sins" (2:2); but now, through grace and faith, they have come out of this "whole world," and are set off and distinguished from them by John in 5:19 and throughout his epistle.

The "whole world" of 1 John 2:2 and 5:19 is the same "world" in John 3:16 (living apostate humanity). Technically, then, the meaning is not either 1) the elect exclusively (believing or not yet believing) or 2) every human being who will ever live (including believers). That's a common false either/or dilemma, when considering meaning. Rather, the "world" is all living apostate humanity at the time in which these verses were written; and then, by way of application, we may say the "whole world" are all the unbelievers of every age, whether they died in unbelief in the OT, or those now living in unbelief among us today.

The question of those who die in infancy is difficult (as the age issue is vague), seeing they have only original sin and not actual sin, and yet neither are they believers (capable of assenting to Gospel truths). We can distinguish between 1) those infants who die in infancy (some say these are all elect infants) and 2) all other infants that eventually go on to mature.

Certainly, under my atonement view, Jesus "is the propitiation for their sins" (whether they are those who die in that stage of life or not); but I think John, when he speaks of those "under the sway of the wicked one," primarily has actual sinners in view (i.e. people manifesting their enmity to God and His people), even though unregenerate infants that have only original sin are unconsciously in the kingdom of darkness as well. So, while all infants are included among those from whom Jesus in the propitiation, the Apostle primarily has actual sinners in view by "whole world," who can then be distinguished throughout his epistle from believers in terms of the difference in their thinking and behavior.

My own answer with respect to infants falling under the category of "whole world," then, is a qualified "yes." While unregenerate, they are in that group, but they are not those John primarily has in mind throughout his Gospel and first epistle. The "whole world" of 5:19 are those manifesting the fact that they are controlled by the "wicked one" in terms of their response to the light, God's people, and God's word as given through the Apostles and Prophets. Their thinking and behavior can be distinguished from those people who are walking in the light, loving God's people, and heeding the words of the Apostles.


Thank you Peter for your clear exegesis of 1 John 2:2 and related passages. I continue to be amazed and extremely concerned that anyone would hold a contrary view about the atonement of Christ so clearly presented in the whole of Scripture. I agonize that there are those who must interpret “world” as “the elect” in order to sustain the theological position of mere men. To acknowledge what this single passage truly says would bring an end to the hermeneutical folly regarding the finished work of the Cross.

Thank you Jesus for tasting death for me … and for my neighbor … for my neighbor’s neighbor … for the whole world. Let us all Praise God that there is unlimited entrance His way and not according to the opinions of men.

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