John Calvin on John 3:16

Here’s a gem I ran across recently while reading the excellent book, Whosoever Will.

And indeed our Lord Jesus was offered to the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: “God so loved the world, that He spared not His only Son.” But yet we must notice what the Evangelist adds in this passage: “That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain to eternal life.” Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable, for how will excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith.
John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ (London: James Clark, [1559] 1956), 141

A couple of observations here:

Calvin did not feel the need to restrict “world” to “the world of the elect”. In fact, Calvin appears to take great pains to maximize the scope here since it is apparent that He believes that the scope of the atonement has a direct bearing on the scope of the Gospel message.

Calvin curiously cited unbelievers who reject the Gospel as “doubly culpable”. This is a clear indication that Calvin believed satisfaction for sins to have been made for all persons otherwise one could not be “doubly culpable”.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16, NIV


71 responses to “John Calvin on John 3:16

  1. Eh? What's this? Have you tried Calvin on Jn 3:16 proper? Here's a few snippets:

    "16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. …"

  2. You probably shouldn't jump too quickly to this,
    "This is a clear indication that Calvin believed satisfaction for sins to have been made for all persons otherwise one could not be “doubly culpable”."
    It's not quite as clear as you seem to think, as probably more likely (due to other comments he has made on verses that obviously speak of the extent of the atonement) that he means that those who reject a clear offer of the gospel are "doubly culpable" because they have heard the truth and refused it, trather than those who have never heard the Gospel so as to reject it. Kind of like the parable of the two servants, the one knew more and received more stripes for disobedience, the other knew less and received less stripes for disobedience.

  3. However, Calvin does say, "Our Lord Jesus suffered for all…." This doesn't necessarily have to be interpreted as "each and every" in this context (though I suppose that could be his meaning) as he goes on to say, "…there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today…" placing the word all in the context of categories.

    I still wonder why you throw this quote out with a tone of vindication.

  4. In Calvin's comment on I John 2:2 he writes,
    "He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.
    Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate…"

    That's why I think Calvin can't mean actually that "satisfaction for sins to have been made for all persons" as he writes explicitly here that the reprobate are not included under the propitiation of Christ.

  5. Slow it down there. I didn't say those things, Calvin did. That's why they are in quotes. I am not going to try to defend all of *his* comments when the only reason I posted them was to shed some light on the things he wrote in the quote you posted above. Please read more carefully.

    I have posted several quotes from Calvin himself to help put the quote you have found in more light. I have not given any position of my own. You have no reason to be attacking me here on any theological grounds. If you have any reason that you can give for how Calvin's words ought to be interpreted differently, that's fine, but I had hoped to provide more context from Calvin's theological system so that you don't go making him say things he may not have meant.

    As for all the accusations you have applied, golly, man. I have shown many times that my interpretation of the word "world" in John 3:16 is very, very, very far from "world of the elect." I will not defend that non-sense. I have also shown that the idea of a "divine lottery" is a horrendous misrepresentation of my theology as I do believe that God is ultimate personality. I certainly do not view God as a "vindictive monster," And have no idea where you bring that picture from. Certainly God is no "overgrown child" in my view either, but far from it; he is completely other than us. I can't understand what part of my theology this resembles either.

    I had hoped that by posting several quotes from Calvin himself, which I basically agree with, you might be able to more accurately interpret the quote you had posted, which I basically agree with.

    It seems that you disagree more with what you think I believe than what I really do believe.

    I perfectly agree, God is love. Just so, God loves the world. By that I mean that world inhabited by men, or that is made up of inhabited men. I have not jumped through any exegetical hoops to get here other than a couple of lexicons and basic Greek grammar.

  6. "By that you show that you really mean "world of the elect" and yes, you are stretching/butchering the text to uphold your man-made theological system. '

    Sorry, man, but how? Seriously. "…that world inhabited by men, or that is made up of inhabited men." sounds pretty inclusive to me. Really, I am quite amazed. I can't find any notion of "world of elect" in the words or my own mind.

    God's choice is "capricious?" That is to say, " a sudden, impulsive, and seemingly unmotivated notion or action b : a sudden usually unpredictable condition, change, or series of changes?"

    That is polar opposite of my personal position and Reformed in general. God, being ultimate personality governs all things by his own reasoning, not 'chance.' Proverbs tells us that even the lot cast in the lap is governed by him, quite opposite of God being governed by the lot cast in the lap. As Calvin points out in his comment on John 3:16, "And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when he declares the cause to be in the love of God."

    I don't think that the sentiment that God loves the world is detestable. And, again, by world, I mean the world or universe. Just like "kosmos" means. Check a lexicon; in the "Little Liddell" its definition 3. John 3:16 says he does. God proclaimed that the whole world was "very good" immediately after creation. He sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Etc. Far from my system making it impossible that God should love the world, rather it establishes it.

    Destroyed language itself? I looked up "kosmos" in a lexicon. (Actually I was quite liberal in my interpretation, oikoumene is actually the proper word for inhabited world.) Vine agrees with me (rather I agree with Vine) that the word "kosmos" means by metonymy "the human race, or mankind." That is also the way Calvin seems to read it, if I read his commentary right.

    As it stands, I do agree basically with Calvin in the comments listed above, but as I have furnished a greater theological context from which to interpret Calvin, I would hope you might stop assuming he applies the atonement to those who are reprobate.

    "Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate…" –John Calvin on I John 2:2

  7. Apparently you know far better what my own mind than I do myself (I Cor 2:11). So tell me, What am I thinking right now? Your accusations have become so very wild that there really isn't much of a way to respond aside from simple derrision. I have never heard of Derrida before, but I have been reading dictionaries and lexicons. However as far as deconstruction goes, I find it hard to believe that you actually find all of these propositions in my words. They are quite far from my mind, and nearly impossible to deduce from my words. Try reading the 1689 London Baptist Confession; try to get an idea for it's historical context (it helps in interpretation) and then you will have a basic framework for my theology. All the junk you have been asserting doesn't resemble it well enough for me to recognise it as anything other than a forced misunderstanding of 1689 LBC theology. I don't know what to say, dude, If I say anything you will reinterpret it to include malicious motives.

  8. "Calvin's commentary on 1 John 2:2 was specifically in regards to universalism. Not the extent of the atonement"

    What is universalism but an answer to the question of the extent of the atonement? Atonement is reconciliation with God. If all men are atoned for, then all men are reconciled. If all are reconciled to God, then God is unjust sending any man at all to Hell.

    Wes, are you okay?

  9. No, universalism is a possible conclusion given an unlimited atonement. As Calvin noted above, we can resist the free offer of grace, of a debt having already been paid, and if we do we are "doubly culpable". Thus, if the atonement is limited then those for whom Christ did not die are not culpable for accepting a gift that was neither offered to them nor are they in error for not recognizing a debt that was not paid on their behalf.

    For a good construction of how we can affirm both a monergistic view of salvation along with a libertarian view of man's freedom and responsibility to accept Christ I will use an illustration from Richard Cross (from his book Anti-Pelagianism and the Resistibility of Grace):

    Imagine waking up to find you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the services of the ambulance.

    Another good resource on the subject can be found here:

  10. "Imagine waking up to find you…"

    Okay. Good. Help me square that with passages like:
    "Ah, Lord GOD! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?…And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God."

    and "no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,"

    and "All that the Father gives me will come to me…" and "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—"

    and " I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

    and "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,"

  11. Well, your system requires that it be in man's nature to choose to resist or to not resist. Yet, Jesus still says, for example, "All that the Father gives me will come to me." He never says "except those the Father gave who don't want to. "

    And when He says of His sheep, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." It's after saying that some disbelieve because they "are not part of my flock"; not that they're not his flock because of disbelief.

    Shouldn't it rather say "All who come to me, my Father gives to me." And, "You're not of my flock because you do not believe. If you believed, no one could snatch you out of my Father's hand." ?

    And, if we can resist or not resist, how can it still say that He is "able to keep you from stumbling"?

    In a separate vein, how does your system deal with people who never hear the Gospel?

  12. I thought that this blog post was about John Calvin's views on the extent of the atonement. That's why I was providing more quotes from his works on pertinent texts to add more theological context. I didn't know that this was actually about the conclusions you render from isolated Calvinistic doctrines. (By isolated I mean isolated from the rest of Calvinistic and generally Christian doctrines.) A lot of the problems you bring up come from such isolations, such as, if we are all predestined then we have no freedom at all. I think that the bible explains both God's absolute sovereignty and man's responsibility to choose well enough for all intents and purposes. (Please don't begin supplying a theology for me here. If you want to hash that out a better place would be where the subject is at hand; there I will supply my own theology without your help.)

    Identifying what you perceive to be the logical conclusions of certain points of my theology and what my actual theology is is a very useless practice. It is an untrue assumption on your part, and very confusing to me when you don't let on that that is what you are doing. Case in point: I labored to show that "world of elect" cannot be what "kosmos" means in the context of John 3:16. Immediately after I establish that you tell me that I believe that "kosmos" means "world of the elect," when in fact I don't. You may think that some other portion of my theology negates the way I understand the word "kosmos" in John 3:16, but that doesn't mean I actually think that "kosmos" means something other than I have said I believe it to mean. To say otherwise is only to accuse me of being a foul liar on no other authority but your own.

    I am quite aware of where you think my thoughts ultimately lead, but I don't think they do lead there ultimately. I have good reason to not think so. I will readily admit that if some points of my theology were isolated from all other doctrines then those points would run straight into those logical conclusions you have presented. But the absolute sovereignty of God is not a doctrine held apart from the free choice of man, and I don't explain them by presenting the word "mystery" for your consideration. (Certainly, the definitions of 'absolute' and 'free' not exactly the same as yours, but those definitions can also be accounted for.)

    The reason why here I have not done more than bare denials of your bare assertions is that they are entirely off the subject of what Calvin thought (which is what I thought you were blogging about). As well I have in other places at length shown that I do believe that "kosmos" doesn't mean "world of the elect," why then explain it again? After every time I have shown it, and from dictionaries, you have accused me of deconstructionism and told me that I believe that it means "world of the elect." It seems futile, when you won't acknowledge the words that I wrote anyhow, and off subject.

    So, really it wasn't so much the nominal fallacy, as it was trying to dismiss it and get back on the subject of understanding Calvin. If you want to nit pick on where my theology leads, try making that the subject of your blog. If that's really where you want this one to go here, then pick one thing at a time and we can work slowly through them. It never helps to scatter many premises into the ether, many of which are question beggers and false dilemmas, and then think you have won when your 'opponent' doesn't feel like wearing himself out after a long day at work by writing a systematic that you won't read anyhow.
    And concerning predestination and assurance, this is another case where predestination actually establishes the ability to have assurance. For extensive dealings on this matter Goodwin is excellent. Also Thomas Watson deals with assurance well and how it interacts with working out our own salvation with fear and trembling: . I would also highly recommend the book "The Genius of Puritanism" by Peter Lewis… It's a short book and shows the thoughts of the the Calvinistic Puritans on preaching, hearing, closet duties, and ends with their dealings with cases of assurance and spiritual depression, especially what was termed then as spiritual desertion.

  13. Define 'atonement.' The original meaning in the English language was kind of like "reconciliation." Though some are obviously not reconciled. The Greek "katellage" often translated "atonement" meant "exchange, profit made on exchange" or " a change from enmity to friendship, reonciliation." (from Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon)

    I understand this word to actually effect something, not merely create potential. If that be so, then unlimited atonement = unlimited salvation. If atonement means something other than an actual effect, then I suppose unlimited salvation can be only one of many logical conclusions from the doctrine of unlimited atonement.

  14. How is it hard for you to accept that God loves all men and that through conscious rejection of God, we may merit His wrath? I find your use of a free-will based arguement here also to be quite odd. Are you now accepting a libertarian position or are you only using it when it is convenient?

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