1 John 2:2 - Does Grace Extend to Everyone? (Part 2)


Read Part 1.

An Exegesis of 1 John 2:2

To adequately handle any passage we must work through some important exegetical steps. We need to (1) verify the text and translation, (2) identify background and context, (3) identify structural keys, (4) identify grammatical and syntactical keys, (5) identify lexical keys, (6) address Biblical context, and (7) consider theological context. Then we would verify our work, put it into practice in our own lives as appropriate, and communicate it with others as God gives us opportunity.1

(1) Text and Translation

καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασµός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁµαρτιῶν ἡµῶν, οὐ περὶ τῶν ἡµετέρων δὲ µόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσµου.2 A literal translation would read, “And He a propitiation He is for the sins of us, not for those of us only, but also for those of the whole world.” The NASB translates the concluding phrase as “but also for those of the whole world.” The ESV renders it, “but also for the sins of the whole world.” The NASB italicizes the phrase for those of, in acknowledgment that the phrase is not actually in the Greek, but the genitive tou kosmou implies the phrase, so it is a sound rendering. The implication of the translation is that the propitiation is for the sins of the whole world, rather than being for the whole world itself.

There are a couple of minor textual variants that do not affect the meaning of the words individually or the passage as a whole. A few manuscripts read huper ton, rather than peri ton. A few spell monon with the omega rather than the omicron (the omega indicates the genitive plural, the omicron indicates the adverb or adjective). We can be confident that the English translations above are good representations of the Greek text.

(2) Background and Context

John’s first epistle functions as a sequel to his Gospel. It is closely related in terminology and in thought. John addresses his letter to those he calls his little children (2:1), beloved (2:7), fathers (2:13), young men (2:13), and brethren (3:13). John writes his Gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn 20:31). In his first follow-up letter, John has several purposes in mind. He proclaims “what was” so that believers might have horizontal and vertical fellowship (1:3), he writes so that his joy might be complete (1 Jn 1:4), so that his little children might not sin (1 Jn 2:1), and so that those who believe can know that they have eternal life (1 Jn 5:13). His last stated purpose builds on the purpose of John’s Gospel, written so that people might believe, whereas his letter was written so that those who believe might know. In the letter, John concentrates on the vertical relationship with God, through Christ, in chapters one through three, specifically focusing on the fruit of salvation: love (2:9-10). In chapters four and five he discusses the horizontal relationship of believers to each other and underscores success in those relationships as further practical evidence of the positional reality of salvation.

(3) Structural Keys

As John’s is a very personal letter, it is not structured as identifiably as is his Gospel. The thought transitions are often represented by personal address (such as in 2:1, 7, 12, 4:7, 5:13). Other times we recognize the theme shifts by transitional terms, such as for (hoti, 3:11), and thematic chiasm (as in 1:6-7, 2:9-10). John also uses imperatives to move from one theme to the next (as in 2:15, 24, 3:1, 4:1). Sometimes the topic changes are thematically self-explanatory. In any case, considering these structural keys, the letter can be outlined as follows:

1-3 Vertical Fellowship

1:1-4 The Basis: The Word of Life
1:5-10 The Conditions
2:1-2 The Advocate: Jesus Christ
2:3-6 The Obedience
2:7-11 The Commandment: Love
2:12-14 The Maturity
2:15-17 The Warning of Worldliness
2:18-23 The Lie vs. The Truth
2:24-29 The Promise: Eternal Life
3:1-10 The Righteousness
3:11-18 The Love Needed

4-5 Horizontal Fellowship

4:1-6 The Discernment
4:7-18 The Love Explained
4:19-21 The Basis of Love
5:1-5 The Belief
5:6-12 The Witness
5:13-15 The Assurance
5:16-21 The Sin

(4) Grammatical and Syntactical Keys

The subject is He (autos), the verb is is (estin), the object is propitiation (hilasmos). The third person singular pronoun (autos) along with the third person singular verb (estin) emphasize that it is Christ Himself who is the propitiation. The remainder of the verse modifies or qualifies the term hilasmos. It is for our sins (ton hamartion, in the genitive), but not the sins of us (ton hemeteron) only, but those of the whole world. Of the whole world (holou tou kosmou) is genitive, thus the three terms are linked: whole modifies the world. The differences in interpretation are not due to grammar and syntax, but rather to how two key words or phrases are defined.

(5) Lexical Keys

There are two key concepts in 1 John 2:2 that help us understand the author’s intended meaning, and which are disputed: propitiation (hilasmos), and the whole world (holou tou kosmou). The Greek hilasmos is employed in its masculine form also in 1 John 4:10, and in neuter form (hilasterion) in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5. The term is translated by the KJV, NASB, and the ESV as propitiation, which could be understood as the place or means by which the price of sin is satisfied. The disagreement is not on the lexical definition of the word, but on the timing of when the propitiation is applied to the individual.

Romans 3:25 identifies Jesus as publicly portrayed as a propitiation. Hebrews 9:5 refers to the mercy seat, the place where the price was paid and the forgiveness was rendered.3 1 John 4:10 reiterates that Jesus was sent to be a propitiation for our sins. It is important to note that the mercy seat itself did not guarantee the forgiveness of sins—the blood had to be applied properly, according to the laws pertaining to the sacrifices.

The need for proper application is foreshadowed in Exodus 12:7, 13 at the first Passover. The shedding of blood paid the price for redemption, but the application of the blood was a separate event, even if separated by only a little time. That separate event resulted in the completion of the redemption process. In the same way, Jesus could serve as a propitiation paying completely for sin, but unless His sacrifice is applied as required (through belief in Him), that price paid is not applied, and therefore sin is not forgiven. This understanding differs from the Reformed view, which does not distinguish as separate events the price paid and the application to the elect.

The second key lexical component is the phrase the whole world (holou tou kosmou). The question is whether or not whole is qualified or unqualified. For example, Sproul suggests—correctly, I believe—that 2 Peter 3:8-9 qualifies all (pantes) as all of a specific group. He observes, “The immediate antecedent of the word any in this passage is the word us, and I think it’s perfectly clear that Peter is saying that God is not willing that any of us should perish, but that all of us should come to salvation. He’s not speaking of all mankind indiscriminately; the us is a reference to the believing people to whom Peter is speaking.”4 Similarly, Matthew 2:2 uses the word all (pas) to say that all Jerusalem was troubled along with Herod. Does the all include the houses themselves in Jerusalem? The word would not require that, but seems to be making a clear reference to the people of Jerusalem—those who could be troubled. Likewise, Matthew 11:13 describes all (pantes) the prophets as prophesying until John, yet there were clearly prophets that came after John (see Acts 21:10). The all is referring to a specific group.

Thus it is not uncommon to see a contextual qualification of universal terms. But while examples of such qualification can readily be identified, it is important to recognize that qualification should only be inferred when the context directly calls for it. There is no textual argument—grammatical or lexical—to be made that whole does not mean whole. The only arguments offered by those holding the qualified view are theological. There is nothing in 1 John 2:2 that suggests that whole is qualified, nor any other passage that would demand that we understand the whole of 1 John 2:2 as qualified.

(Coming soon: Biblical and Theological Context, Conclusions and Implications.)


1 More detail is offered on these steps, and two additional steps for Bible study (secondary verification, and exposition) in Christopher Cone, Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning (Fort Worth, TX: Exegetica Publications, 2015).

2 Barbara Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 1 Jn 2:2.

3 The LXX translates the Hebrew kapporeth in Ex 25:17 as the Greek, neuter, hilasterion.

4 Sproul, “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement.”

Christopher Cone 2015 Bio

Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.


It’s worth noting that the context of 1 John 1 has nothing whatsoever to do with the extent of the atonement. The point, in context, is that Christians can be assured that they have a steadfast advocate with the Father. You can discuss the atonement issue from 1 John 2:2 if you want, but just know that wasn’t the issue John was addressing.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

I think John’s point is an argument from the greater to the lesser (in reverse order, however). Believers can be cleansed of sin because Jesus’ death did not only atone for those believers, but, extravagantly, for the whole world! This there is no shortage of cleansing power in the blood of the Lamb.

"The Midrash Detective"

I don’t think anyone denies the unlimited power of Christ’s death. Hence, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.” Calvinists believe that if there were 10,000 worlds, Christ’s death is sufficient to save them all. The question is not one of value (unlimited value), but of design or intent. God designed Christ’s atonement to satisfy the needs of His elect in regard to justification. When Christ died, did He intend to save everyone by His blood? No. Whom did He intend to save? The elect. His was a definite (or particular) atonement for those whom the Father had given to Him.

This shouldn’t be a problem for those who believe in unconditional election. If the Father chose His people, and gave them to the Son, then Jesus died to save those people, and the Holy Spirit applies the merits of Christ’s death to those same people. John Murray’s classic book, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” provides a good treatment of this subject.

G. N. Barkman

No Scripture says Jesus died only for the elect.

A number of Scriptures say or teach Jesus died for all.

Christ died for the ungodly. -Romans 5:6.
If One died for all, then all died; and He died for all…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. -2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 19.
Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. -1 Timothy 2:4.
Who gave Himself a ransom for all. -1 Timothy 2:6
Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. -1 Timothy 4:10.
[That Jesus] might taste death for everyone. -Hebrews 2:9.

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. -2 Peter 2:1
Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. -2 Peter 3:9.

He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. -1 John 2:2.

David R. Brumbelow

Dr. Cone’s focus on exegesis is very problematic to me and in my view is not the best way to discover meanings in God’s Word. Exegesis of course plays a part, just not to the extent to what Dr. Cone would have me believe.

His views are deficient in that he sees human response (application of the blood on doors and mercy seat) as key in redemption. I don’t believe they were the key thing the bible is teaching in these passages. The blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat every year yet there were “son’s of Belial” in the nation. The message of many of Israel’s Prophets was that rituals were not enough without a changed life.

I think Dr. Sproul is right seeing this as Jew/Gentile context. To see the situation as Cone does, ignores explicit statements of the personal nature of salvation and also the exceeding greatness of God’s design and operation. The Reformers were right in this case.

Cone’s position has John making an absurd statement that is unsupported from elsewhere in scripture. While Sproul recognizes the nuance of the Jew/Gentile issue. This is what vacuum exegesis misses.

Of course “whole” is qualified. We don’t leave our biblical understanding outside the door to operate in a vacuum. Cone’s broad and sweeping rules of biblical interpretation are unsupported from my perspective.

Yes, theology gained from explicit statements informs more obscure parts of scripture. This subject (propitiation) is not a minor or disputable point of theology.

The context and background section is particularly deficient as it really doesn’t fully appreciate historical studies to be able to ‘enter the reader’s world’. An interpreter needs to understand the full situation in which the writer and recipients dwelt. Without this Setz im Leben the danger is always misunderstanding.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord. B.B. Warfield


David, you might want to drop the II Corinthians 5:14,15 “proof text” from your list, as this one clearly teaches particular redemption. I had the privilege, years ago, of hearing C. Lewis Johnson, who taught Greek for years at Dallas Theological Seminary, explain how these verses compelled him to resign his teaching post. This text forced him to become a five-point Calvinist, which was in violation of DTS position of four-point Calvinism, required of all their professors.

Look at the text carefully to recognize what it actually says, which is not what you apparently think it says. “If One (Jesus) died for all, then all died.” (that is, died in Christ) This is not talking about “the wages of sin is death.” It’s talking about those who died in Christ and consequently now live in Christ. “One died for all.” And the “all” He died for all died in His death, and now live in Him. Plainly, “all” here does not mean all people without exception. It means all believers, all the elect. It is a wonderfully clear example of how “all” is very often used in the NT. With this clear example before us, we realize that many of the other “all” texts actually refer to “all the elect of God,” not every person in all the world.

G. N. Barkman

C.N. Barkman,

Where do Scriptures say that it was God’s intent that Jesus die only for the elect? How can we know God’s intent if His Word doesn’t reveal it? Or does it?

"The Midrash Detective"

Of this death the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore all are dead, and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” Thus all, without one exception, were dead in sins, whether original or voluntary sins, sins of ignorance, or sins committed against knowledge; and for all the dead there died the one only person who lived, that is, who had no sin whatever, in order that they who live by the remission of their sins should live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for all, … -Augustine, The City of God and Christian Doctrine.

Here it is evident that Augustine makes no use of the “all without distinction” concept, and in fact states clearly that the extent of Christ’s death extended to “all” who were dead in sins.

-David L. Allen, SWBTS


David R. Brumbelow

Ed, a good place to begin in answering your questions is John 10:11. “I am the good shepherd. The Good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

G. N. Barkman

David, I am glad to know that you consider Augustine’s viewpoint compelling. Can I assume that you will take Augustine’s understanding of other passages as the correct interpretation?

However, in II Corinthians 5:14,15, it appears that Augustine missed the meaning of the text. “…because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

1) The “all” who died, died as a consequence of Christ’s death. (not as a consequence of sin)

2) The “all” who died now have an obligation as a consequence of Christ’s death for them, namely to no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

3) Conclusion: The “all” for whom Christ died are those who believe (or will believe) on Him. Christ died for all the elect, and all for whom Christ died, died in Christ, which death results in their new life, and present obligation to serve Christ.

G. N. Barkman

Cone links John 20.30-31 purpose statement to John’s Epistle. The question of recipients in John is just as important as the recipients of the epistle. The Jews were the ones to look for “signs” (Gentiles were looking for wisdom). Pagan Gentiles would have no context reading either John or 1 John. The recipients either had to be Jews or “Converts to Judaism,” or at the very least “God Fearers.”

So the statement of John 20.30-31 was written primarily to Jews in John’s day because Jesus came to the lost of the house of Israel and they were to look for the “signs.” The Epistle of John functions the same way as contextually (spiritually) the readers wouldn’t have a clue what John was saying without the back-story of biblical redemptive themes. To understand what John means requires knowing his recipients. Today, most western Gentiles have a background of O.T. knowledge so the things John writes connect with us since know the context. Gentile Pagans in the first century would not have this background. The statement in 2.2 therefore needs to be seen from a Jew/world perspective.

As Aaron said in the other thread: the interpretive crux is identifying “our.” “Our” refers to Jews and “world” is non-Jews. It is clear in not every Jew was redeemed and clearly not everyone of the Gentiles will be saved either.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord. B.B. Warfield


“Ed, a good place to begin in answering your questions is John 10:11. “I am the good shepherd. The Good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

If the text said, “for my sheep ONLY” or “JUST” my sheep, you would have a point. No one denies that Jesus died for His sheep. John uses the term “our sins” referring to the sheep, but then extends it, “and not ours only,” referring logically to the non-sheep. I John 2:2 ESV:

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The undistributed middle is the first and foremost error of even the best interpreters. ” All women are human, therefore all humans are women.” Using John 10:11 to teach a limited atonement is a logical fallacy, IMO.

Do you have any verse that limits the atonement. For example, salvation is limited as through Christ alone by John 14:6 and Acts 4:12. Otherwise, because one can be saved through faith in Jesus would not preclude being saved another way. If I used John 3:16 to show there was no other way, that would be the undistributed middle. But John 14:6, on the other hand, teaches that He is the only way, which is why we may confidently assert it.

"The Midrash Detective"

It seems to me that Romans 5:8 onward speaks to a universal atonement…and maybe more…or to use the words of Paul …”much more..”.

It seems as if he is comparing Adam’s sin which brought universal condemnation and the Death and Grace of the Lord Jesus which brought universal atonement.

If the Work of Christ is limited to a few and Adam’s sin condemned all then sin becomes a greater power than Grace. Verse 18 says ” Therefore by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” The usage of “much more” in other verses when referring to Grace etc seem to indicate a greater power.

The Many by Christ must be equivalent to the Many in Adam. It is difficult to make their quantities different.

God bless you all as you seek to know the truth for the truth is what sanctifies and also along with spirit is the means of true worshipping of God… For such does the Father seek. Jn 4:23,24

“David, you might [also] want to drop the [2 Peter 3:9] “proof text” from your list, as this one clearly teaches particular redemption.” (taking the liberty of slightly misquoting Greg Barkman)

Follow the personal pronouns.

You have “us” and “they” in the chapter. The “us” are the beloved (v.1, 8), the “they” are the scoffers (v.3). Peter says that God is longsuffering to “us,” not the scoffers, and in the same sentence he uses the terms “any” and “all,” which must refer to those whom God is longsuffering towards.

If Peter had said that God is longsuffering to “all” not willing that any should perish, you would have a point, but Peter didn’t.

p.s. I can always distinguish the Calvinist from the other guys, cuz the Calvinist quotes the entire verse, while the other guys only quote the last half of the verse!

Here is an old thread on the verse

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Ed, it seems to me you are reading too much into Christ’s statement. I might expect Him to say, “The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep only” if He were debating with someone who was arguing for Universal Atonement. He was not. He was making a simple statement of purpose. This is the purpose for which He would die, namely to give His life for the sheep. That’s plan enough. It only becomes unclear when one reads something into the statement that is not there.

If I said, “I’m going to take money out of savings to buy a new suit,” I think everyone would understand my intent. No one would argue that I really intended to buy ten suits because I didn’t say, “one new suit only.”

G. N. Barkman