Friday, February 21, 2014

The savior of the world

Exegeting 1 Jn 2:2 in her recent commentary on 1 John, Karen Jobes says:

If here it is a reference to the whole planet, consideration of the historical context in which John wrote makes a more likely interpretation to be the universal scope of Christ's sacrifice in the sense that no one's race, nationality, or any other trait will keep that person from receiving the full benefit of Christ's sacrifice if and when they come to faith. 
In the ancient world, the gods were parochial and had geographically limited jurisdictions. In the mountnains, one sought the favor of the mountain gods; on the sea, of the sea gods. Ancient warfare was waged in the belief that the gods of the opposing nations were fighting as well, and the outcome would be determined by whose god was strongest. Against that kind of pagan mentality, John asserts the efficacy of Jesus Christ's sacrifice is valid everywhere, for people everywhere, that is "the whole world." 
But "world" in John's writings is often used to refer not to the planet or all its inhabitants, but to the system of fallen human culture, with its values, morals, and ethics as a whole. Lieu explains it as that which  is totally opposed to God and all the belongs to him. It is almost always associated with the side of darkness in the Johannine duality, and people are characterized in John's writings as being either "of God" or "of the world" (Jn 8:23; 15:19; 176,14,16; 18:36; 1 Jn 2:16; 4:5). Those who have been born of God are taken out of that spiritual sphere, though not out of the geographical place or physical population that is concurrent with it (Jn 13:1; 17:15: see "In Depth: The "world" in John's Letters" at 2:16). 
Rather than teaching universalism, John here instead announces the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. Since Christ's atonement is efficacious for the "whole world," there is no other form of atonement available to other peoples, cultures, and religions apart from Jesus Christ. 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan 2014), 80.


  1. A comment only tangentially related to the post- Steve, do you agree with the complementarian position that women should not preach in church? If so, do you believe that there is a principled distinction between that and reading books by women expositing a passage? I ask because accusations of inconsistency are sometimes leveled at complementarians on that basis.

    1. I'll answer your question directly later on. For now, here's a useful discussion by a distinguished conservative NT scholar:

    2. Good question, but a question with many permutations:

      i) I don't think there's a principled distinction between the spoken word and the written word.

      ii) Some complementarians think the act of publicly expounding Scripture in preaching or teaching is an authoritative exercise. I don't think that's logically or exegetically sustainable. It's not the preacher that's authoritative, but the truth of the message–assuming the exegesis/application is accurate. Who says it isn't what makes it authoritative. It's authoritative (or not) independent of the speaker.

      iii) Authority has a coercive element. The authority to compel behavior or punish noncompliance. But I don't put myself in a submissive position by merely listening to someone expound the Bible. I might be very critical of what is said. A preacher or Bible teacher has no authority over me simply by expounding the Bible in my presence.

      iv) To the extent that a preacher has authority, that has to do with what authority church polity assigns to the pastor, and the degree to which members agree to the accountability structure of the church. And that varies.

      v) In terms of the Pastoral Epistles, I think this probably envisions a situation in which upperclass women were hosting church services in their home. House-churches. They had authority over men and women lower down the social ladder. And, as hostess, they had authority over when transpired under their roof. Especially single women. As singles or widows, they were head of the household.

      I don't think it was teaching, per se, that's an authoritative exercise, but teaching by a women who was in a position of authority over her social inferiors. Greco-Roman cultural was hierarchical, with different social strata. Some women were above some men in the pecking order.

      vi) A more analogous situation would be a classroom setting, involving a female prof. and male students. The teacher has authority over students insofar as the teacher can downgrade insubordinate students. Likewise, if the student needs a letter of reference to get into a degree program, the student needs to be in the good graces of the prof.

      Even in that situation, the student is voluntarily putting himself in that subordinate role by signing up for that class. He's not generally compelled to attend that college or seminary.

    3. So do you think 1 Tim 2:12 should be understood as "authoritatively teach a man"? I know some commentators (Stott, if memory serves) read it that way. Or should it be neither teaching nor having authority in any other way?

    4. i) I think that given what I take to be the likely background for Paul's prohibition, authority and teaching are indirectly linked to each other because they are linked to an individual in authority. In principle, authority and teaching are separable. But if Paul is alluding to upperclass women who host Christian gatherings in their home, then the hostess is in a position of authority over her guests–not to mention her domestic servants. And that, in turn, puts her in a position to abuse her authority.

      ii) I doubt Paul objected to the mere idea of males learning from females. He commends the mother and grandmother of Timothy for instructing him in the faith. Of course, that might be qualified by the parent/child relation and/or the adult/minor relation.

      Likewise, when I read Mary's Magnificat, I'm learning theology from a woman, but I don't think Paul would object to that.

      To take a comparison, if I read an essay by Elizabeth Anscombe, I'm not putting myself under her authority. If, however, I were to take a class from her, I would be putting myself under her authority.

      To take another comparison, a general can learn from a private and a private can learn from a general. In theory, the content of the instruction could be the same. But what the genera says is authoritative in a way that what the private says is not by virtue of where the general is in the chain-of-command.

      iii) In 1 Tim 2, there's the principle of male headship, grounded in the creation order. That's transcultural.

      In addition is the stratified nature of Greco-Roman society. That's cultural. But that can transgress the transcultural principle.

      Moreover, although the social order in the 1C Roman Empire is culturebound, it's not entirely timebound. For there are analogous situations in different times and places.

      The social position of women hosting these events, which sometimes led to their abusing that position, is probably what occasioned Paul's strictures. That's my best guess.

      The underlying principle transcends that particular situation, and situations like that can resurface in modern times.