"I pray for them, I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me for they are yours"
Calvinists claim here an allusion to Limited Atonement. They will say, "Look here, Jesus does not pray for the "world," he only prays for those the Father gave to him and these must be the elect God chose before the foundation of the world. Jesus only died for the sins of the elect.
Interestingly, Calvinists also forget these passages written by the very same person:
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:16)
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in him might not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16)."
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:16)
"We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." (John 4:42).
"I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. " (John 12:47).
"He is the propitation for our sins and not only for ours only but for the whole world." (1 John 2:2)
Now at this point, many Calvinists will tell you that "world" here means something different than it does at John 17:9. In fact, they might even tell you that the word here refers to "the elect." So in John 17:9, the word means "definitely not the elect," here they want it to mean "the elect," and give the very same word exactly opposite meanings. It is interesting that when Calvinists see the word "world" at John 17:9 they understand it like most of us do. But when they are confronted with John 1:29 and John 3:16, they suddenly decide to give it a different definition. Why do they decide to do this? The answer is obvious. They want to redefine the word "world" at John 1:29 and 3:16 because it does not fit their doctrine of Limited Atonement nor does it fit their interpretation of John 17:9 which they have just presented to you.
So, the first thing they will do is point to all the ways the word "world" is used by the apostle John thinking this somehow grants them a license to define the word "world" at John 1:29 and 3:16 however they like. The Greek word in question in all three passages is the word kosmos. It is the noun form of the verb kosmeo which means "to garnish or adorn." Note, the relationship between the noun form and verb form in 1 Peter:
"Let not yours be the outward adornment [kosmos] with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn [kosmeo] themselves and were submissive to their husbands"
(1 Peter 3:3-5).
So what is the connection here? Well, the ancients perceived the world and all the stars and planets to be the adornment of the universe. For this reason, ancient middle eastern women often adorned themselves with jewellry which resembled stars and moons and such things of the creation. The word kosmos most basically means "the created order."
So, the Calvinist will try to claim that that word "world" means different things so they he can define it how he likes at John 1:29 and 3:16. But this is not how we define words honestly. In order to define a word honestly we do not try to find a way to justify defining it how we like but to discover how the user of that word intends it. Now lest we be perceived to be missing something, let us look at every single occurrence of the world "world (kosmos) in John's gospel and letters. See how you think John uses the word "world."
- "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not." (John 1:10).
- Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29).
- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in him might not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.... and this is the judgment: Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of the light because their works were evil." (John 3:16-19).
- "We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." (John 4:42).
- "When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" (John 6:14).
- "For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world" (John 6:33).
- "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).
- For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." (John 7:4).
- "The world cannot hate you but it hates Me." (John 7:7).
- "I am the Light of the world. (John 8:12).
- "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world." (John 8:23).
- "I have much to say about you and much to judge; but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." (John 8:26).
- "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:5).
- "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." (John 9:39).
- "Do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming,' because I said, "I am the Son of God'?" (John 10:36).
- "If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world." (john 11:9; see 8:12, 9:5).
- "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world." (John 11:27).
- "Look, the world has gone after him." (John 12:19).
- He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25).
- "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out" (John 12:31).
- "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. " (John 12:46-47).
- "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1).
- "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you....Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also." (John 14:16-17,19).
- "Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" (John 14:22).
- "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27).
- "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." (John 14:30-31).
- "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19).
- "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. (John 16:20-21).
- "I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.... I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:28,33).
- Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gave me out of the world; thine they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept thy word." (John 17:5-6).
- "I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours; all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee.... But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also may be sancitifed in truth. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me." (John 17:9-25).
- "I have spoken openly to the world." (John 18:20).
- "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." 37 Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." (John 18:36-37).
- "He is the propitation for our sins and not only for ours only but for the whole world." (1 John 2:2)
- "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (1 John 2:15-17).
- "Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you ." (1 John 3:13).
- "But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17).
- "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:1-5).
- "In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world." (1 John 4:17).
- "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5).
- "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19).
- "For many deceivers have gone out into the world" (2 John 7).
Whew! John sure likes that word. Now it is rather obvious that the word does not mean "the elect." So in John 1:29 and 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 the Calvinist will try something else.
Not all Calvinists however will first bother to claim "world" means "the elect" at John 1:29 and 3:16. Others will get you to focus upon John 3:16 and then try to claim that it does indeed mean what it means everywhere else but now he tries to tell you that only the elect of the world will actually believe. These elect are in fact the "whosoever" who will believe he claims. See what he does here? He shifts the argument from a discussion on Limited Atonement to a discussion on Total Depravity and the ability to believe. In other words, he is saying nothing other than, "My theology says so" without regard for what John really intended. Now he will give you rounds of ammunition on the subject of Total Depravity and the discussion concering Limited Atonment and John 3:16 comes to an end. It is simply a distraction tactic. But we are not going to let him do this. First, we will prove his conjecture wrong and then defeat the Total Depravity argument as well.
First, let us see what Jesus intended. He says, "whoseover believes." He does not say, "so when the elect believe." The Calvinist has now granted himself a license to define "whosoever" here as "the elect." Where did he get this license? Secondly, let us go back to John 1:29. Here John the Baptist says Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world! Now the Calvinist is trapped. Having agreed "world" does indeed mean "all the world" or "all the people of the world" he is now trapped. John tells us that Jesus takes away all the sins of the world.
Now instead of accepting this passage, he will seek to nullify it for the sake of his tradition. He will argue, "Well, if that verse really means Jesus takes away the sins of all the world then everyone will be saved!" Now, he has just gotten himself even into deeper trouble. The Bible teaches that Jesus is in the process of taking away the sins of the world. He is putting all this under his feet. This process of taking away the sins of the world is why he forgives you after you commit a sin and repent of it. Matthew 13 also illuminates this passage:"The field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the consummation of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers." (Matthew 13:42).
Yep, that's right. When Jesus returns the "world" will finally be totally purged of sin by the fire of his truth. Jesus is already doing this. That is why Peter says judgment begins with the people of God. Christians are already in the process of being purged, cleansed, of their sins by the fire and our fiery trials.
Now, we are not here done yet. There is still 1 John 2:2 (not to mention the others). Here John tells us that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the "whole world." Now what more do we need? The Calvinist claims Jesus is the atoning sacrifice only for some people but not all people. John tells us otherwise. One wonders how much more plain it can be.
However, the Calvinist, seeking to preserve his beliefs will try something else. Here he will say that "our sins" refers to the Jews and "the whole world" refers to the rest of the nations of the world. Now, he claims that this verse does not mean that Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for all people but all nations of the world in which the elect might be living. See what he did there?
Now one wonders where he got this idea. Where is in the context? It is nowhere to be found. There is not even a hint of it in the whole letter. It is rather obvious to thinking people that John means "not only we Christians but all the people of the world."
Now if we are reasonable people, we can see what is going on here. It is blatently obvious to any thinking person the Calvinist is trying to avoid the truth of the matter. He does not want to find out what John 1:29 and 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 really mean. He only wants to concoct an interpretation which he feels allows him to continue following TULIP. These passages obvoiusly mean all people of the world. The Calvinist will deny it. If so, let him. You cannot force anyone to accept the truth. That's God's job and everyone will have to accept the truth sooner or later.
Now, we have taken a big detour from our original passage in question - John 17:9. Let us notice something very, very obvious. First, Jesus prays for his disciples whom he took out of the world. But notice verse 20 where Jesus says he is not only praying for his disciples but for all people who will come to believe in him. So, we can see clearly that first he is saying that he is praying for his disciples but now he is praying for everyone else that will come to believes in him. These are people of the "world." Jesus as the disciples were taken out of the world when they believed in Jesus, so now there will be others who will be taken out of the world when they believe in Jesus.
We must understand what the Calvinist is thinking when he reads these passages. First he wants to believe John 17:9 means Jesus is praying for ALL the elect. Then when you show him verse 20, he wants to believe that Jesus is only praying for some people God chose before the foundation of the world - the elect disciples. Then at 17:20 he wants to believe that Jesus is praying for the yet unsaved elect that will come to believe in him later. Therefore, Jesus is not praying for just anyone but is praying for all the elect in John 17. But wait minute. This does not make any sense.
If Jesus is not praying for all those God chose before the foundation of the world at verse 9, then he can only be praying for his disciples. Therefore, he is only praying for some of the elect and not all of the elect and the Calvinist can no longer claim this passage is a prayer for all the elect, saved and yet unsaved. Therefore, we can conclude that John 17:9 is not a prayer for all the elect, but for his disciples.
And we are not finished yet. There is more. If Jesus is praying for the yet unsaved elect at verse 20, the same is true. The Calvinist cannot claim that verse 9 is a prayer for all the elect if he is praying for the yet unsaved elect at verse 20. Therefore, Jesus is not praying for "the elect" at verse 9; he is praying for his disciples.
And there is even more. The Calvinist was once in the "world." Was Jesus not praying for him? Now the Calvinist has a real big problem on his hands. He is claiming that Jesus did not pray for the world but for the elect. But now he has to claim that verse 20 concerns the yet unsaved elect who are yet "in the world." Oh, oh, then that means Jesus was praying for the elect who are yet in the world. Therefore, Jesus was praying for those of the world who have yet not been taken out of the world. The only way out now is to claim the elect were never part of the world which of course is getting quite preposterous since the disciples themselves were taken out of the world.
It is plainly obvoius the Calvinist is trying to dream up ways to read his doctrines into John's words. It is also plainly obvious what these passages really mean. At John 17:9 Jesus is praying for his disciples and at John 17:20 he is praying for anyone who will later come to be his disciples. Thus, there is no hint of Limited Atonement here. And not only so, John tells us in several other passages that Jesus was the Lamb of God who is the atoning sacrifice for the "whole world." Thus, the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonment is shown to be a false doctrine.