How do you reconcile world (κόσμος) in 1 John 2:15-17 with John 3:16-17?

κόσμος has obviously different meanings as used in the following two passages.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Keep this passage also in mind:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Here's the definitions minus the extensive references in BAG:

κόσμος, ου, ὁ (Hom.+; inscr., pap., LXX)—1. adornment, adorning (...). 2. in philosoph. usage the world as the sum total of everything here and now, the (orderly) universe ... 3. the world as the sum total of all beings above the level of the animals ... 4. the world as the earth, the planet upon which we live (...). a. gener. ... b. the world as the habitation of mankind ... c. earth, world in contrast to heaven ... d. the world outside in contrast to one’s home .... 5. the world as mankind ... 6. the world as the scene of earthly joys, possessions, cares, sufferings ... 7. the world, and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds w. anything divine, ruined and depraved ... 8. totality, sum total ...

Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (pp. 445–447). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I would post a quote of the following reference on κόσμος, but it's too much:

Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pp. 459–465). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

  • The test is self-explanatory: do not love the world or the things in the world [...] the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life. The first passage speaks of God's love for humans, not for worldly pleasures, which Christ Himself avoided completely during His incarnation.
    – Lucian
    Feb 12, 2018 at 1:55
  • But, how did you define worldly in worldly pleasures if not from verses like 1 John 2:15-17? That's why I said most people familiar with scripture would come up with a pretty good answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 12, 2018 at 9:46
  • 1
    John 3.16 is the posterboy of why you must not build theology around a single verse
    – Robert
    Aug 19, 2021 at 23:14

5 Answers 5


How to reconcile John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15?

The word in bold [humankind] inserted in the Vs by me.

John 3:16 NASB

16 “For God so loved the world,[of humankind] that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

In the above Vs John tells us that God loved the world of mankind, the imperfect human beings that are dying and are in desperate need of help. Then why did the apostle say?

1 John 2:15 NASB

Do Not Love the World

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

From the beginning of- "Adam "- Satan has alienated mankind from God, it is this human society that is opposed to God and is under the control of Satan, that John warns Christians to be separate.

John 2:16-17 NASB

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever.

James 1:27 NET

27 Pure and undefiled religion before[a] God the Father[b] is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity[c] and to keep oneself unstained by the world.


"Condemn" can only refer to moral agents capable of punishment-worthy acts or intents, and "but whoever believes" can only refer to creatures capable of understanding and accepting the revelation and commandments of Christ. God loved the world—but clearly the Son wasn't sent to die for plants or rocks (i.e. the whole world in some literal sense). (Eph 5:1-2—"gave Himself up for us" cf. "[for] the world" Jn 3:15-17)

Therefore, in John 3, 'world' has the same meaning as that of today when we say 'the world has gone astray.' That is, we are talking about the acts and morality of people in the world, not the earth itself (which κοσμος never refers to; correct me if I'm wrong). John 3 uses it in the same way—the world can 'believe' in Jesus (where 'world' stands in for 'all in the world').

And in 1 John 2 we have a similar situation, except 'the world' is used in its other sense, as referring to 'the ways of [those that are in] the world,' with a negative connotation, i.e. what the lifestlye of the Gentiles was to the Jews—that of unbelievers (e.g. Mt 18:17b), followers of their own ways, and not God's.

  • I think most people familiar with the Bible will come up with a pretty good answer. Is there a way to relate differences in the meaning of κόσμος to your answer based on the context of usage?
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 9, 2018 at 22:55
  • 1
    Are you asking for a profile of the different usages throughout the New Testament (or even LXX), or a more in-depty contextual reason the word κοσομς is used in different senses in seemingly opposite ways in these specific passages? Feb 9, 2018 at 23:41
  • In both cases κόσμος apparently references all the people in the world, but in a different sense. Do you see the sense of ornamental and adorning (cosmetic) coming out in 1 John 2:15-17? Maybe with some of the sense of 1 Samuel 16:7.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 10, 2018 at 0:51
  • Maybe also with some sense of Jeremiah 9:23-24.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 10, 2018 at 0:59
  • Your answer does match the definitions in BAG.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 10, 2018 at 13:15

It is true that both John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15 have the same operative word, κόσμος (kosmos) but the meaning is different in each case as shown by the various definitions given by BDAG. Here I will only quote two of the 8 listed meanings for this very common word from BDAG. 6. humanity in general, the world, of all humanity but especially believers as the special object of God's love, eg, John 3:16, 17c, 6:33, 51, 12:47b, etc 7. the system of human existence in its many aspects, the world, ... (b) the world , and all that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, ie, lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved, eg, Jojm 1:10, 8:23, 12:25, 31a, 13;1, 16:11, 18:36, 1 John 4:17, 1 Cor 3:19, 5:10a, 7:31b, Gal 4:3, Col 2:8, 20a, 1 John 5:4, 2:17, etc.

Thus, while these two verse use the same word, kosmos, it has a different meaning in each case. More specifically, using these meanings:

  • John 3:16 - God so loved the people of the world that He gave ...
  • 1 John 2:15 - Do not love worldly things and ways, or anything that comes from this worldly existence ...

Thus, there is no contradiction as the word means different things in different contexts.

APPENDIX - Words with more than one meaning

Here are some examples of words that have multiple meanings:

  • The boy with the fair hair at the fair was really fair.
  • The bandage was wound onto the wound.

The same is true in Greek as well.


All answers are pertinent, but I think timing is of the essence. Jesus created, loved, and died for the world. After that historical event, Christians are warned not to love the world or worldliness.

In the same way that the children of Israel desired the things left behind in Egypt. We are not to look back.

John 3:19 - And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.


In my view (and I realize I get little support from BDAG on this or anyone else for that matter) John uses KOSMOS in a somewhat peculiar sense to refer to the contemporary (to him) Jewish theocratic establishment. If I were pressed for a single word to render what John meant it would probably be "establishment" or "system". It isn't intrinsically negative though often used that way. John's usage can be neutral as referring to "our people" but he is often brutally negative. It is similar to his usage of "the Jews". In modern times that is how "hippies" and the oppressed tend to refer to the government and all of the ancillary systems such as self-serving religion, establishment-serving education, rigged economics, oppressive law enforcement, etc. In this video John Lennon can be seen denouncing the "system":


I believe that "John" that authored the 4th canonical gospel and John Lennon have a great deal in common in their use of the "system". And our John's "system" is the Jewish theocracy. Many are tempted to see it as Rome or humanity but I don't think a broader investigation of John's usages bears that out. A couple of good examples are:

Joh 12:19  The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him. 

Joh 6:14  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

Note that no one expected that the prophet to come would "come into the world" but rather into Judaism:

Deu 18:15  The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

Those are neutral usages. In John 8 he refers to "the Jews" as "the spawn of Satan". So too in 1 John "the whole establishment is under the control of the wicked one]":

NIV 1Jn_5:19  We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

KJV unless otherwise noted

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