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An Out-of-this-World Experience: A Look at "κόσμος" in the Johannine Literature

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Introduction

Because of the breadth of meaning of the English word “world,” it is easy for those of us who are native English speakers to assume, whenever we encounter the Greek term κόσμος in its New Testament context, that we understand what the New Testament author meant. And since over half of the occurrences of κόσμος in the New Testament are found in only two books, the Gospel of John and First Letter of John, it is almost unavoidable that such assumed meaning should affect our exegesis of the Johannine literature.1 Because of the familiarity of the term in contemporary culture, it seemed to me to be an interesting exercise to start not with a survey of the ancient usage (as might be expected – and we will get to that shortly) but with an Internet search of the term “kosmos” in order to see what connotations it might have in popular culture today.2 This search returned approximately 17 million hits, the first of which was for Kosmos Journal, an online publication which (according to its website, www.kosmos.org) is “the leading international Journal for planetary citizens committed to the birth and emergence of a new planetary culture and civilization” and whose honorary chairperson is Mikhail Gorbachev.3 Among the remaining “top ten” hits were two software companies, a company (Thames & Kosmos) that manufactures science and technology related educational products, an article in a Buddhist online journal (Shambala Sun) by philosopher and psychologist Ken Wilber (“The Kosmos According to Ken Wilber”), and the homepage of Kosmos Rent a Car (based in Athens, Greece).

This brief survey testifies to the ubiquity of the term “kosmos” in twenty-first century culture.4 Of course it also shows what we should not bring to the exegesis of the Fourth Gospel, although interestingly enough it is possible (and has been suggested more than once) that the author of the Gospel of John used terms like logos, kosmos, light, and darkness in his own day to deliberately invoke broad cultural, philosophical, and religious associations for his readers which he could then define more specifically in his own terms in the contexts in which he used them.5 Thus one effect of the use of such broad terms is that they serve to bridge between the experience of the readers in their own culture and life-setting and the narrative as unfolded by the Fourth Evangelist, drawing the reader into the account by evoking a sense of familiarity and even reassurance, while allowing the author to lead the readers into new and previously unexplored territory using the familiar terms as a starting point.

Earliest Classical Usage and Later Greco-Roman Development

The earliest usage of the term κόσμος, going all the way back to Homer, is focused not on the universe as we know it, nor on the planet Earth with its political and social structures, but simply on order. In Odyssey 13.77, for example, the word is used in a phrase ( κόσμῳ καθίζειν, to sit in order) which refers to the seating order of rowers on board a ship. By the fifth century B.C. Hippocrates was using the term to describe things in the natural order (Prognostikon 20). At about the same time the philosophical usage began to develop, with κόσμος being used initially to describe the cosmic order (that is, orderliness within the κόσμος) and then to describe the universe (the spatial totality of everything that exists). Pythagoras is generally thought to be the first to use the term in this sense of “the total world” because of the order it exhibited.6 This broader spatial sense is certainly found in Plato (Gorgias 507e – 508a) although the older sense of world order is still present as well. At the end of the Timaeus (92c) Plato describes the κόσμος comprehensively as:

furnished and filled with mortal and immortal living creatures, this kosmos has become a visible living creature, embracing the visible, the reflection of that which can be known only by reason, a sensually perceptible God, the greatest and the best, the most beautiful and the most perfect, this one and only-begotten world ( οὐρανὸς…μονογενὴς).”

Perhaps the most striking thing in this passage is the use of οὐρανὸς and κόσμος in a way that is practically interchangeable, though the descriptive μονογενής is also interesting, given the several Johannine occurrences of this term (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).

The same equation of κόσμος and οὐρανὸς can be found in Aristotle.7 He apparently took over from Plato the concept of κόσμος as the spatial universe but adapted it to fit his own ideas. The end result was that for Aristotle the κόσμος was a spherical body with the earth, unmoved, at its center, surrounded by the spheres of the world and heaven. It had no beginning and no end, and encompassed everything connected to time and space. On Aristotle’s authority this “cosmological” concept of the κόσμος dominated Western thought for some 1800 years until it was overturned by the Copernican revolution.

The Septuagint and Intertestamental Background

The Greek philosophical concept of the kosmos ended up, like many other elements of Greek philosophy, in Alexandria, Egypt, where both term and concept were adopted by Judaism and carried over into the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible has no specific word for “the universe,” typically employing the standard merism “the heavens and the earth” instead. Even here in a few places κόσμος managed to intrude, as in Gen 2:1 συνετελέσθησαν ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ καὶ πᾶς ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν (“the heaven and the earth were finished and all the world of them”) where the term apparently refers to the “hosts” of heaven, although it may combine ideas of adornment, heaven, and stars arranged in order (recalling the basic and ancient classical meaning for κόσμος).8 On one occasion Symmachus uses κόσμος rather than γῆ for “earth” (Job 38:4). But it is not until the later writings of the Septuagint, with their higher degree of Greek influence, that κόσμος occurs with the sense “world.” In some instances usages similar to those found in the Johannine writings were already beginning to surface: “to come into the world” ( εἰς τὸν κόσμον) in Wis 2:24; 7:6; 14:14, and the “world of men” in Wis 10:1 in reference to Adam, who is called “the first-formed father of the world” ( πρωτόπλαστον πατέρα κόσμου). In fact, the term is so common by this time (19 times in Wisdom of Solomon, 5 times in 2 Maccabees, and 4 times in 4 Maccabees) that it seems to have been adopted readily by Hellenistic Judaism. This paved the way for the prolific use of κόσμος by Philo of Alexandria, who employed it more than any other writer in antiquity.

Earlier Greek philosophers had seen the κόσμος as the empirical world or the material world, but Philo, in keeping with the Platonic tradition, extended this to include the world of ideas. He distinguished between the “mental world” on the one hand and “this world,” the visible world which could be perceived through the senses, on the other.9

Kόσμος in the New Testament

The older general sense of “order” for κόσμος is not found at all in the New Testament. Only once is it used in the sense of “adornment” in 1 Pet 3:3 in reference to the hairstyle, jewelry, and dress of women.10 In all the other New Testament passages the term means “world” in some sense, though with significant variations. First, there are passages which use κόσμος to refer to the totality of creation, that is, everything created by God. A good example of this is Acts 17:24, where “the God who made the world [ κόσμος] and everything in it” is followed by the typical Hebrew merism from the Old Testament, found in the phrase “who is Lord of heaven and earth.” Similarly the “world” can be described as a “kingdom” in Rev 11:15: “the kingdom of the world [ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ κόσμου] has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” It may be that κόσμος in Phil 2:15, variously translated “lights in the world” (nasb) or “stars in the universe” (niv), approaches the meaning found in Gen 2:1 lxx mentioned earlier, although a more limited meaning referring to the “world of humanity” along the lines of Matt 5:14 (“you are the light of the world”) is also possible.

A number of New Testament passages emphasize that the κόσμος is established or created by God and thus has a beginning. Examples of this can be found in Matt 13:35; 25:34; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8; 17:8, all of which involve the phrase πρὸ (or ἀπὸ) καταβολῆς ( τοῦ) κόσμου; similar phrases are found in Matt 24:21 ( ἀπ ʼ ἀρχῆς κόσμου) and Rom 1:20 ( ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου). Similarly a few texts speak of the end of the world, or at least its transitory nature – an example is 1 Cor 7:31 where the “form” ( σχῆμα) of this world is said to be “passing away.”

Second, some passages are more narrowly focused: the κόσμος is the habitation of humanity, or the sum total of human interrelationships. In Rom 1:8, for example, where “your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world,” the expression ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ is virtually the equivalent of ἐφ ʼ ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην in Acts 11:28, the whole inhabited earth. Likewise in Mark 14:9 the gospel is to be proclaimed “to the whole world” ( εἰς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον, paralleled closely in Matt 26:13). Also similar are phrases like “all the nations of the world” ( τὰ ἔθνη τοῦ κόσμου, Luke 12:30) and “in all the world” ( ἐν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ, Col 1:6).

Third, there are instances where κόσμος refers to earthly possessions and values: In the well-known passage Mark 8:36 and parallels (Matt 16:26; Luke 9:25) where a person gains “the whole world” but forfeits his soul, the focus of κόσμος is primarily on material possessions, though power, prestige, and influence are not excluded. Along similar lines are the “wisdom of the world” in 1 Cor 1:20 which God has negated, the “foolish things” and “weak things” of the world in 1:27, and the “low” or “base” things of the world in 1:28. Each of these instances (wisdom, foolish, weak, and base) constitutes a metonymy for people characterized by these qualities, so that ultimately the usages of κόσμος in 1 Cor 1 could be considered merely references to “the inhabited world” or “the world of humanity,” although a more comprehensive notion of a “world system” of values is probably closer to the point here. In James 1:27, it is the duty of Christians to keep themselves “unstained by the world,” that is, the world system with its fallen values capable of defiling the Christian who succumbs to it. Finally, the statement in James 4:4 (“friendship with the world is hostility toward God”) clearly indicates the κόσμος consists of (or at least includes) a system of values and character qualities that are in opposition to God.11

Kόσμος in the Gospel of John

Some of the usages of κόσμος we have outlined above can also be found in the Gospel of John. In John 21:25 κόσμος is generally understood to refer to the totality of creation, all that exists (although in context this is obviously rhetorical hyperbole, since the idea of “filling up the universe with books” is clearly an exaggeration). Emphasis on the world as created can be found in 17:24 where the phrase πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου – the same phrase used in Eph 1:4 and 1 Pet 1:20 – occurs. Similarly John 17:5 alludes to the world as created; when Jesus prays to be glorified by the Father with “the glory I had with you before the world was,” the predicate “created” is implied, especially in light of the similarity with 1:3 which clearly speaks of the creation of “all things” ( πάντα) through the Logos. In these instances in the Fourth Gospel κόσμος refers to the totality of the world, the entire created order, and is morally neutral – neither good nor evil, neither opposed to God nor allied with him, but clearly separate from God and implicitly subordinate to him, because he (along with the participation of the preincarnate Logos, John 1:1-3) created it.

Second, and not surprisingly, κόσμος in John’s Gospel can be used to denote the world of humanity: 1:10, 29; 6:33, 51; 12:19; 14:17, 19; 16:20; 17:21. An example of this usage (and another instance of hyperbole) is 12:19, where the Pharisees say, “Look, the world has gone after him.” Particularly interesting is 1:10, where κόσμος occurs three times: the first and second refer to the created order (“he was in the world, and the world was created through him”), but the third instance (“the world did not know [i.e., recognize] him”) must refer to the world of humanity, since cognition is involved. Another special case involving the world of humanity is 4:42 where κόσμος on the lips of the Samaritan villagers at Sychar appears at first glance more neutral and implies “all humanity” in the context (as opposed to Jews only). This is a significant theological assertion as far as the Evangelist is concerned, because it marks the expansion of Jesus’ role as Savior to include non-Jews (mostly implicit during Jesus’ earthly ministry but very important later on as the early church extends beyond Judaism and reaches out to Gentiles). Implicit too, however, is the fallen condition of this world of humanity, since (although its lostness is not emphasized explicitly in 4:42) it does appear to be in need of a savior. This suggests that a similar concept lies behind occurrences in John 3:16, 17 (3x), and 19, where κόσμος does not merely refer to the world of humanity, but the world of humanity in its lost condition.12 Conceptually John 3:16 relates the gracious and unmerited intervention of God in response to humanity’s lost state in much the same way as Eph 2:4-5. The lost state of “the world” is emphasized even more in the next verse, John 3:17, where by implication (and by right) the Son could “judge” (i.e., condemn) the world, but this was not his mission; he was instead sent to “save” the world (see also John 12:47). A world not lost does not require saving. Finally, the κόσμος as “the world of humanity” is emphasized again in 3:19, where the Son came as “the light” into the world, but people ( οἱ ἄνθρωποι)13 loved the darkness rather than the light. Whatever else may be said, it is people – men and women, children and adults – who are lost, and who are confronted by Jesus as the Light who has come into the world, and who in this passage (John 3:16-21) are being forced to “choose sides” by either responding to the Light or choosing to remain in the darkness. Instead of the emphasis on earthly possessions and values that are opposed to God reflected in some occurrences of κόσμος in the synoptic gospels (e.g., Mark 8:36; Matt 16:26; Luke 9:25), in the Fourth Gospel the κόσμος itself is in opposition to God, a world of (lost) humanity which is characterized and identified with “darkness” rather than “light.” Sometimes the opposition of the world to God and his Son is emphasized by the inclusion of the qualifer “this”: Jesus says in John 9:39 that he came “into this world” ( εἰς τὸν κόσμον τοῦτον); in John 13:1 Jesus was about to pass over from “this world” ( τοῦ κόσμου τούτου) to the Father, and in both 12:31 and 16:11 the ruler of “this world” has been judged. In 18:36 Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” By implication there is “another” world, the world of the Father, the spiritual world “above,” although in John’s Gospel this “other world” is never referred to as “the world to come” in distinction to the present world,14 perhaps because for John this other world exists alongside the present one rather than following it in a temporal sequence. The two “worlds” can be clearly seen in John 8:23 where Jesus tells his opponents, “You are from below ( ἐκ τῶν κάτω), I am from above ( ἐκ τῶν ἄνω); you are of this world ( ἐκ τούτου τοῦ κόσμου), I am not of this world ( ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου). Here “below” and “above” are paralleled with “of this world” and “not of this world.”

Finally, and in keeping with the fallen state of “this world,” it has a ruler (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and it “hates” Jesus (7:7) and by extension it hates his disciples as well (15:18-19). Thus although in the Fourth Gospel some of the occurrences of κόσμος appear at first glance practically neutral, it becomes clear as the narrative unfolds that ultimately the κόσμος represents the world of humanity as lost, alienated and separated from its Creator and in opposition to him, under the control of the Enemy and to be overcome by the Christian just as it was overcome by Jesus himself (16:33).

Kόσμος in the Epistles of John

Turning to the 24 instances of κόσμος in the Johannine Letters, we find considerable overlap with the usage we have already encountered in the Fourth Gospel. The transitory nature of the created world and the desires associated with it is highlighted in 1 John 2:17 – “And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.” Although there is some debate over the specific function of the genitive pronoun αὐτοῦ which could be taken as either objective (the world is the object of desire) or subjective (the desires belonging to the world), the transitory nature of “the world” in this context is clear.15 There is a sense in which, at the end, both the world and its desires will have passed away. But there is another sense, for John, in which the process has already begun in the present. The author stated in 1 John 2:8 that “the darkness is passing away” using the same present tense verb ( παράγεται) as here. John’s eschatology at this point is (characteristically) realized; in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” the author consistently puts his emphasis on the “already.” Salvation and judgment, rather than being limited to the end times, are already operative in the present (cf. John 3:18-21). While it is true that the world and worldly desires will pass away at some point in the future, for John they have already begun to disappear from the scene in the present. By implication there is also a contrast: If the present world is transitory and already in the process of passing away, there must be another “world” which is not transitory and does not pass away. Though it is not specificially mentioned here this could only be the world “above,” the spiritual world, the world of the Father (compare John 13:1).

We also encounter κόσμος in the Epistles of John in the sense of “the world of humanity”: in 1 John 2:2 ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου (“the whole world”) is distinguished quite clearly from the author and his readers (“not only for our sins”). The usage of κόσμος here seems to fall easily in line with statements in the Gospel of John like 3:16-17 and 12:46-47 where the κόσμος as the world of humanity is the object of Jesus’ salvific mission. Without becoming sidetracked into discussions over the extent of the atonement, it is safe to say that κόσμος here encompasses the (unsaved) world in contrast to those who are already believers (“our sins”). Likewise in 1 John 3:1 the world of humanity is in view since recognition is involved, and in 3:13 hatred of “the world” for the readers of the letter, who are assumed to be believers, is mentioned, a theme we already encountered in John 15:18-19. The phrase “Savior of the world” is found in 1 John 4:14, clearly echoing John 4:42 with its emphasis on non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) as the objects of Jesus’ mission, but (as also in John 4:42) implying the lost condition of the “world” and the need of such people for a Savior.

Also as in the Fourth Gospel, κόσμος can be found in the Johannine Epistles in the sense of earthly possessions and values, generally in opposition to God: 1 John 4:5 refers to the author’s opponents (see 2:18-19) who have “gone out into the world (4:1) and can now be said to be “from the world” (4:5). They speak “from the world” (i.e., from the world’s perspective) and the “world” listens to them. This echoes John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.” Once again there is a clear distinction between the readers of the letter and those who are “from the world.” The hostility of “the world” for Jesus’ disciples is reflected in the present situation of the author’s opponents with their false christological teaching – they may be described as “hating” those believers in the congregation(s) John is writing to, and in fact this failure to show love to fellow members of the community is one of the chief complaints John has against his opponents (1 John 3:17).16

The central passage in the Johannine Epistles that deals with the believer’s relationship to the world, however, is undoubtedly 1 John 2:15-16. Here it seems clear from the context that the negative aspect of the term κόσμος is in view, since the readers are being warned not to “love the world” (this is in stark contrast to the author’s opponents, who apparently do “love the world”). In 2:15-16 the author presents his readers with only two alternatives: Either one loves “the Father” or one loves “the world,” in which case “the love of the Father is not in him.” This last expression is unique in the New Testament. The genitive τοῦ πατρὸς could be either subjective (“the love which the Father has is not in him”) or objective (“love for the Father is not in him”). I. H. Marshall argues for the objective sense, pointing out that love for the world and for the Father cannot coexist in a person.17 The preceding parallel phrases “Do not love the world” and “if anyone loves the world,” where in both cases κόσμος is the object of this person’s love, also suggest that the phrase τοῦ πατρὸς here should be understood as an objective genitive, where “the Father” is the object of an individual’s love. But perhaps both nuances are involved, and in the final analysis we should understand this as an example of M. Zerwick’s so-called «general» genitive (called by D. B. Wallace a “plenary” genitive).18 As S. Smalley observes, “both ideas are probably present (cf. v 5): love for the world inhibits a love for God which both answers his and derives from it (cf. 4:19; also John 17:26).”19 Regardless of the force of the genitive here, we are once again given polarized alternatives (as in the light – darkness imagery so prevalent in the Fourth Gospel) with no intermediate ground or gray areas in between.

In the following verse, 1 John 2:16, the author gives the reason love for the Father is not “in” the person who loves the world.20 Everything in the world, everything a person could desire at a purely human level, does not originate with the Father but with the world. Here the term κόσμος is at its most comprehensive in the Johannine literature of the New Testament, comprised of “all that is in the world” and then apparently spelled out in the following phrases in significant detail. The first two qualifying phrases, the “desire of the flesh” and the “desire of the eyes,” are probably best understood as subjective genitives, since while it is easy to see how the “flesh” could be the object of desire, it is hard to see the “eyes” as corresponding objects of desire in the parallel phrase. Having said this, the meaning of the term σάρξ is still a very complicated lexical problem; in general the Greek background of the term involved the most physical aspects of human existence like eating, drinking, and sexual activity. Although Epicurean philosophers spoke of the “pleasures of the flesh,” in the Hellenistic world in general the “desires of the flesh” would have been considered crudely carnal.

In contrast to this, the Hebrew concept of “flesh” was broader, taking into view the whole human being in his humanity and weakness. Emphasis was not on sensual experience or carnal behavior in particular, but with the merely “human” as opposed to the “spiritual” part of man which was associated with God. In the Qumran documents of the intertestamental period, sometimes the Hebrew concept is present, but sometimes there is also a connection with sin and evil – the “flesh” is associated with wickedness and sinfulness in some contexts.

When we turn to the New Testament, we find that for Paul, the “flesh” is a force or aspect of a person that struggles with the Spirit of God (Rom 7:5); in becoming a believer one is spiritually circumcised “by the removal of the fleshy body” (Col 2:11). Before conversion, believers “formerly lived out…[their] lives in the cravings of…[their] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind” (Eph 2:3). Other references in Paul suggest a more neutral sense, like “go on living in the body [ σάρξ]” (Phil 1:22), “destroyed…the hostility in his [Jesus’] flesh” (Eph 2:14), and “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50). For John, however, there is always John 1:14, “the Word became flesh,” where σάρξ must refer not just to physicality, but means something more like “human” (recalling the Hebrew emphasis on the whole person in his humanity and weakness). In John 3:6, again as in the Old Testament, it is the human as distinct from the divine: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Unless one is born of the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5, cf. 1 Cor 15:50).

In light of all this background the picture that emerges is that the expression ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς in 1 John 2:16 does not refer simply to carnal or sensual desire or behavior (lustfulness or promiscuity).21 More likely the term is related to the Jewish context that looks at the nature of the person as a whole.22 In other words, it refers to everything that human beings as human beings desire – all that meets their wants and needs. Some of these desires would be sensual, carnal, and vulgar, but others would be neutral, and some (from a purely human point of view) could even be considered noble. The characteristic that links them all together, however, is that they are purely human desires, desires characterized only by that which is “flesh” and nothing more. In Raymond Brown’s words, this describes “human nature incapable of attaining to God unless it is re-created by His Spirit.”23

In the third phrase in 1 John 2:16, ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου, the genitive again presents interpretive difficulties. Many understand it as an objective genitive, so that βίος (“material life”) becomes the object of ἀλαζονεία (one’s “pride” or “boastfulness”).24 Various interpretations along these lines refer to boasting about one’s wealth, showing off one’s possessions, or boasting of one’s social status or lifestyle. However, it is also possible to understand the genitive as subjective, in which case the βίος (“material possessions”) itself produces the ἀλαζονεία (“pride” or “boastfulness”).25 In this case, the material security of one’s life and possessions produces a boastful overconfidence. The person who thinks he has enough wealth and property to protect himself and ensure his security has no need for God (or anything else outside himself). This understanding better fits the context: we are dealing with people who operate purely on a human level and have no spiritual dimension to their existence. This is the person who loves the world, whose affections are all centered on the world, who has no love for God or spiritual things (“the love of the Father is not in him,” 1 John 2:15).26

Conclusions

What we have seen in this rather brief examination of the term κόσμος in the Johannine literature, and especially in the discussion of 1 John 2:16, is that the term has various meanings in the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles of John, but none of them seem to have very much to do with what we might call “culture,” contemporary or otherwise. Sometimes the term refers to the created universe, sometimes to the world of humanity (often by implication with emphasis on its lostness), and sometimes to earthly possessions and values, generally in opposition to God and to be avoided by Christians. There is a sense in which for John “the world” comes to epitomize all the persons, values, and forces in opposition to God and to his Son Jesus Christ. However, 1 John 5:4 strikes a positive note: “everyone who has been fathered by God conquers the world,” and this is an appropriate place to conclude.


1 The actual numbers are 78 occurrences in the Fourth Gospel, 23 in the First Letter, and 1 in the Second Letter, for a total of 102 out of 186 total for the entire New Testament.

2 I have sometimes wondered what the Apostle John as author of the Gospel bearing his name would have made of the Internet – not the technology which drives it, but the web of cultural and technical information ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous which it represents. But then I recall that first century Greco-Roman society had its own web of associations, ideas, philosophies, and concepts as well – only that they were widely circulated in the popular culture of the day, just not accessible with only a mouse click.

3 Presumably following in the tradition of retired U.S. presidents who embark on second careers.

4 Furthermore, this search involved only the term spelled with “k”; searching for “cosmos” returned another 2.5 million hits.

5 As R. P. Casey stated regarding the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, “…the principal difficulty lies neither in its style nor in its terminology but in the fact that its author has his feet planted firmly in two worlds: that of the Old Testament and that of Hellenistic philosophy and he allows his gaze to wander easily from one to the other. At every important point he has not only two thoughts instead of one, but two sets of allusions in mind” (JTS 9 [1958]: 270).

6 Pythagoras’ usage is asserted by Diogenes Laertius (vii.1.24) and Plutarch (De Placitis Philosophorum ii.1).

7 De Caelo III, 2, para. 301a, compare lines 17 and 19.

8 So also Isa 13:10 where πᾶς ὁ κόσμος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ occurs; other similar passages are Deut 4:19; 17:3; Isa 24:21; 40:26.

9 The world of ideas, the κόσμος νοητός, is mentioned in De Migratione Abrahami 103; this world ( κόσμος οὗτος) is found in Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres sit 75, also called “the sensible world” ( κόσμος αἰσθητός) in De Opificio Mundi 25 and “the visible world” ( κόσμος ὁρατός) in De Opificio Mundi 16.

10 Elsewhere in the NT, however, the derivative terms κοσμέω and κόσμιος are used in the sense of “adornment.”

11 Note in the immediately preceding context in James 4 (vv. 1-3) “conflicts…quarrels…desire…murder…envy,” etc., all of which reflect the individual’s selfish and self-serving behavior which makes a person “the world’s friend” and at the same time “God’s enemy” (v. 4).

12 This is not the place for an extended discussion of the extent of the atonement, but there is really not much by way of evidence in the immediate context of John 3:16 to suggest that κόσμος here means not “world of humanity in its lost condition” but instead should be limited to “world of the elect.” 1 John 2:2 certainly causes some difficulty for the latter view, but even within the Fourth Gospel itself such a limitation appears unlikely. For example, in John 13:1-17 there is evidence in the immediate context (lexical ties to the crucifixion, Peter’s protest at Jesus’ actions, etc.) that the footwashing does not refer merely to an example of humble service (as the passage is frequently understood) but to a symbolic enactment of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross on behalf of his disciples (who in the Fourth Gospel serve more of a representative role). Yet since there is no evidence that Judas was excluded from the footwashing, and since he did not depart the scene until 13:30, by implication Judas got his feet washed by Jesus as well as the rest of the disciples present. Participation in this symbolic event, however, did not place Judas among the saved, because in John’s theological framework Jesus’ sacrificial death is not efficacious unless it is met with a personal appropriation by faith within the individual in question. For Judas this was certainly not the case.

13 The term is used here in a generic sense to refer to persons of either gender (see BDAG 81 s.v. 1.b).

14 Compare, for example, Heb 2:5 ( τὴν οἰκουμένην τὴν μέλλουσαν), and synoptic passages like Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 (also Matt 12:32) where αἰὼν is used rather than κόσμος.

15 Stephen S. Smalley notes that while the genitive αὐτοῦ “is certainly subjective (the sinful desire which belongs to the world)…an objective sense (the desire which is directed toward worldly things) cannot be excluded completely” (1, 2, 3 John, WBC 51 [Waco, TX: Word, 1984], 87).

16 On the meaning of κόσμος here see further J. Guhrt, NIDNTT 1:525-26; for discussion of the evangelist’s attitude toward the world in the Gospel of John see Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 63-65; 143-44.

17 I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 143-44.

18 Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963), §§36-39, and Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 119-21.

19 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 83.

20 The ὅτι that introduces v. 16 is almost certainly to be understood as causal in force.

21 Thus C. H. Dodd’s suggestion that the background of the phrase is the sensual (pagan) environment typical of Asia Minor in the first century a.d. is probably too restrictive (The Johannine Epistles, Moffatt New Testament Commentary [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1946], 41-42). Similarly, the view of Noël Lazure, that all three phrases in v. 16 describe some sort of sexual sin, is unlikely (“La convoitise de la chair en I Jean, II,16, ” RB 76 [1969]: 161-205, esp. pp. 203-5). The final phrase of the three in 1 John 2:16, “the arrogance produced by material possessions” (literally “the pride of life”) much more likely refers to pride that comes from material possessions. However, Lazure provides a good description of the Jewish background of John’s thought as opposed to Greek background (177–90).

22 See Anthony C. Thiselton, NIDNTT 1:671–82.

23 Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John: Translated with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, AB 30 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 326.

24 Cf. niv “the boasting of what he has and does”; nlt “pride in our achievements and possessions”; nrsv “the pride in riches.”

25 A. E. Brooke understands βίος to refer to “life in its external aspect (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, ICC [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912], 48); Edward Malatesta notes that this is the third subjective genitive in this triad (Interiority and Covenant: A Study of εἰναι ἐν and μενειν ἐν in the First Letter of Saint John, Analecta biblica 69 [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978], 184). Raymond Brown sees the phrase as referring to an overconfidence that stems from one’s material possessions (The Epistles of John, 312).

26 For the author, all of vv. 15-16 constitutes a good description of his opponents (see especially 1 John 2:18-19; 4:5). The author again hints at the extent of their material possessions in 1 John 3:17.

Related Topics: Terms & Definitions