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... he is a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world, [Young's Literal, 1862, 1 John 2:2]

ου .. περι.. των.. ημετερων.. δε μονον.. αλλα και περι ολου του κοσμου [TR undisputed, Stephens, Beza, Elzevir and Scrivener are identical]

not.. for those.. of ours.. but only .. but also .. for whole .. of the cosmos [Literal, partially from The Englishman's Greek New Testament, 1870

There is an interpretation of this text which implies that the sins of the whole of humanity are involved in the second half of the text. With respect, this question does not assume that interpretation and examines the literal wording for another meaning.

Initially, 'propitiation' is applied to the sins of what John calls 'us'.

Thereafter 'propitiation' is applied to 'whole of the cosmos'.

Not only is Jesus Christ the propitiation for the sins of us, but as well as that (plural) which is of us, also he is the propitiation for the whole of the cosmos.

Why does the 'whole of the cosmos' require a propitiation ?

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5 Answers 5

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The World
The only two New Testament uses of ἱλασμός, propitiation are in First John.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (2:2)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (4:10)

In both ἱλασμός is without the article, meaning Jesus Christ is propitiation for sins, ours and the world's. There is one propitiation for all sins.

World, κόσμος is used 186 times in the New Testament. 1 It is predominantly Johannine as 54% occur in this letter (23) and John's Gospel (78). According to the BDAG Lexicon the meaning in verse 2:2 is humanity in general, the world. 2 John also uses the term with the meaning the system of human existence in its many aspects, the world and in particular, "the world, and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God." 3

1 John 5:19

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

John addressed those who are no longer enemies of God yet live in a world which for remains hostile to God and hate Christ and His followers (cf. John 15:18-19).

Propitiation
Georg Strecker gives this explanation of verse 2:2 (emphasis added):

The author uses primitive Christian concepts here. ἱλασμός can be translated either as "expiation" or "propitiary sacrifice." The word occurs also at 4:10, but nowhere else in the NT. The idea of the ἱλαστήριον (Romans 3:25, probably a baptismal tradition) is related, as is the ἱλάσκεσθαι of the "faithful high priest" who "atones" for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17)... The author is using the same idea of atonement already introduced in 1:7c with the term αἷμα Ἰησοῦ. The advocacy that the exalted Christ exercises for the community before the Father is based on the atonement for sins accomplished in Jesus Christ's redeeming sacrifice. Christ's standing before God as δίκαιος and acting as advocate for the community is founded on his atoning death. Because he, who is sinless, has made atonement on the cross, he can stand before God's throne in the present as the trustworthy Paraklete and perform effective intercession for those who are his own. But his atonement is not esoterically restricted to the community; it has a universal application. Jesus' atoning act is "for the whole world (περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου). Thus it can be said in 4:14 that the Father sent the Son as "savior of the world" (σωτῆρα τοῦ κόσμου cf. 4:), and even in the Fourth Gospel the world is the object of atoning and saving action of Christ (John 1:29: the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; cf John 3:16) 4

Jesus Christ made propitiation for all sins because propitiation for all sins was needed. This act was done before anyone believed.

Romans 5:8

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:10

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Conclusion
When Christ died, the world was at war with God.

A distinction between our sins and the sins of the whole world exists in the present only because some responded to what Christ did. However, one would be mistaken to conclude those who have not responded now define a new group.

The world is no different than before those who responded. In other words, when Christ died, all sins were included in the sins of the world.

Like the Fourth Gospel, 1 John testifies to a tension between God's compassion toward the world in the Son and the negative qualification of the world. On the one hand, the false teachers are from the world, and the world listens to them (4:5); on the other hand, the believers are "from God' and thus separated from the world (5:4-5; cf. 3 John 11). The world's hatred pursues the community (1 John 3:1, 13; cf. 4:17), and the antichrist is in the world (4:3-4). This negative judgment culminates in the statement that "the whole world lies under the power of the evil one" (5:19). The world is thus within the realm of evil power, and the evil one is in the world. Nevertheless, these statements do not negate the truth that God's atoning action is intended precisely for the world, that is human beings. The message of God's forgiving action in the Christ-event promises human beings the opportunity to regard themselves either as belonging to the world or as having their human existence derived "from God," to have faith in this offer and thus overcome the world (5:4: "Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith." 5

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. Is simply reminding the community, that Christ's death had universal effect and remains as effective now for those who are still in the world as it was for those who no longer are in the world.


1. mGNT Greek text
2. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 562
3. Ibid.
4. Georg Strecker, The Johannine Letters, A Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John, translation by Linda M. Maloney, edited by Harold Attridge, Fortress Press, 1966, pp. 39-40.
5. Ibid., p. 40

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  • Yes, but what about Rom 3:25 and Heb 9:5
    – Dottard
    Mar 6 at 20:57
  • So, does this mean that the physical world is excluded from the plan of salvation and thus, that heaven will be in the same fallen world?
    – Dottard
    Mar 6 at 21:22
  • @Dottard It means John has written about one aspect of the plan of salvation, atonement for sins. As I stated in comments to your answer, everything you say is correct in the big picture, but very little of what you say is applicable to the specifics of this letter. Mar 6 at 23:25
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The answer to this question about the need for propitiation/expiation as suggested in 1 John 2:2 is found in the original curse as recorded in Genesis

Gen 3:17, 18 - And to Adam He said: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat, cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

Paul takes up this same theme in Romans:

Rom 8:19-22 - The creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time.

Thus, the problem of sin is far greater than humans disobeying God - it involves the whole creation being under a curse and "groaning" under that curse. Exactly what this means is debated but the point is clear which is why when the redemption of all things is complete, we read that:

2 Peter 3:11-13 - Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness as you anticipate and hasten the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

John looks forward to a time when this will be fulfilled:

Rev 21:1 - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

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  • Thank you. Much appreciated. Up-voted and accepted.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 3 at 20:01
  • Upvoted here too... but see my answer for additional focus on the redemption of creation in Rom 8 Mar 3 at 20:06
  • @RevelationLad - what of Rev 22:3 - "there will be no more curse". See also Zech 14:11
    – Dottard
    Mar 4 at 5:59
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    @RevelationLad - this is not the place for debate. Let me offer just two final comments: (1) propitiation does not end sin - it expiates sin not ends sin (2) the curse on nature came as a result of sin as per the texts quoted above. The problem will only be fixed when the propitiation is complete and restoration is complete. Atonement was finalized at the cross and according to Rev 22, restoration will only be complete with the New Jerusalem. However, the second id contingent upon the first.
    – Dottard
    Mar 4 at 8:23
  • -1 This answer is correct only if one ignores the context of the letter. 1) Nowhere does John use κόσμου to mean creation. According to BDAG the use here means humanity in general. 2) True sin has wide ranging affect, but not true ἱλασμός describes anything more than atonement. It says nothing about taking away the sin of the world, for instance. 3) Without further explanation your use of the curse in Genesis to illustrate ἱλασμός is at odds with Romans 5:11 and Galatians 3:13. Jesus did not make atonement, ἱλασμός, for the curse, He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us, Mar 5 at 1:04
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This answer will focus on the idea of the redemption of creation in the Book of Romans, also mentioned by @Dottard:

Romans 8

19 For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the sons of God; 20 for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Paul sees the creation as sharing in the penalty of sin, and thus it will also share in the benefits of redemption. This may be due to the curse given to the ground by God in Genesis, but it may also be due to the fact that humans were given the responsibility of dominion over the creation. Once the sons and daughters of God are redeemed, so too the creation will be be redeemed from the slavery a satanic dominion and come under the restored dominion of the "second Adam" (Christ) and his spiritual offspring.

Conclusion: Why does the 'whole of the cosmos' require a propitiation? Answer: Because it fell under the dominion of evil, just as mankind did. John does not imply that the creation itself sinned. Rather, he agreed with Paul in teaching that the creation needed to be redeemed from its "slavery" by Christ's atonement for the sin of Adam and the revealing of the "sons of God."

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  • Yes, I strongly agree. +1.
    – Dottard
    Mar 3 at 20:46
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Adam originated from the dust of the ground. ( Gen. 2:7 & Gen. 3:19 ). Therefore the curse of God directed toward Adam was poured out on the earth.

Gen. 3:17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, which I commanded the, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake;....

Conclusion: God is longsuffering and does not want any to perish, according to 2 Pet.3:9, but God's plan to remove the curse that the original "sin" brought on mankind and the earth involves a process of redemption. Jesus paid the price on the cross for that propitiation. But amazingly mankind has a chance to participate in that process via the great commission. The final removal of the curse brought about by the original sin is ongoing for now. The new Jerusalem will come!

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Outline of Biblical Usage

  1. an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order, government

  2. ornament, decoration, adornment, i.e. the arrangement of the stars, 'the heavenly hosts', as the ornament of the heavens. 1 Pet. 3:3

  3. the world, the universe

  4. the circle of the earth, the earth

  5. the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family

  6. the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ

  7. world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly

    the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages,
    pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir
    desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ

  8. any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort

    the Gentiles as contrasted to the Jews (Rom. 11:12 etc)

Complete Redemption: The concept of "cosmos" (Greek: κόσμος) in this particular situation refers to the entire created order or world system. This encompasses not just human beings, but also the wider scope of creation impacted by sin and its aftermath (Romans 8:19-22). Therefore, the atonement offered by Jesus Christ focuses on the complete redemption and renewal of the cosmos, leading to reconciliation and healing across all facets of creation.

Universal: The repercussions of sin are not limited to individual actions but affect the entire universe. When humans defied God, it caused a disruption in the once harmonious relationship between God, humans, and nature. Consequently, the effects of sin, such as decay, suffering, and death, are felt throughout creation (Romans 8:19-22). Thus, the necessity for atonement goes beyond just humans to include all of creation.

Romans 8:19-22 NKJV

19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together

Reconciliation: The Bible teaches about God's intention to bring reconciliation to everything through Christ (Colossians 1:20). This encompasses not only humanity but also the entire universe. Jesus Christ's sacrifice is not solely for personal salvation, but also for the rejuvenation and restoration of the entire created world. Through His death and resurrection, Christ is reconciling all things to Himself, establishing peace through the shedding of His blood (Colossians 1:19-20).

Colossians 1:19-20 NKJV

19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

Expectation for Creation: The idea that appeasement is needed for the "whole of the cosmos" brings hope for the eventual redemption and rejuvenation of creation. As 2 Peter says, we look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God's kingdom, and envision a new heavens and earth where righteousness is present (2 Peter 3:13).

2 Peter 3:13 NKJV

13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

In this renewed creation, the consequences of sin will be entirely eliminated, and the whole cosmos will undergo complete restoration and reconciliation with God.

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  • @Austin Yes, thank you. I have edited it using that wording!
    – Jason_
    Mar 3 at 18:34

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