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The Meaning of the Term Kingdom (κόσμος) in John's Gospel
A Greek word study to identify the lexical range and usage to better understand what John, and by extension Jesus, had in mind when he spoke about the "World."
I. Range of Meaning and Classification (W. Bauer et al. Greek-English Lexion of the New Testament).
There are a wide range of meanings of the word “world” in the New Testament according to W. Bauer some with sub classifications, but few with further areas of categorization. John's 79 uses of “world” fit under four meanings (though some could be argued to fit some of the others). It is clear that favored three major categories for them: world as the earth, world as mankind, and world as estranged. Each occurrence of the term, and a snippet of the phrase in which it occurs (ESV), appears below (some repeat since they fit multiple categories).
1. Adornment, Adorning
2. Philosophical Sum total of everything here and now
1. 17:5 - Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
2. 17:24 - because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
3. The world, as the sum total of all beings above the level of animals
4. The world, as the earth, the planet upon which we live
(b) habitation of mankind
1. 1:10b - , and the world was made through him
2. 11:9 - If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (Double meaning)
3. 12:25 - Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
4. 16:21 - for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
5. 21:25 - Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
(c) earth, world in contrast to heaven
1. 1:10a - He was in the world, and the world was made through him, world didn't know him
2. 6:14 - "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!"
3. 9:39 - For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."
4. 11:9 - If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (Double meaning)
5. 11:27 - She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."
6. 16:28a - I came from the Father and have come into the world,
7. 18:37 - For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.
come into world as light
8. 1:9 - The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
9. 3:19 - the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
10. 12:46 - I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
sending of Jesus into the world
11. 3:17a - For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
12. 10:36 - 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'?
13. 9:5a - As long as I am in the world,
14. 13:1 - having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
15. 16:28b - and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father."
16. 17:18a - As you sent me into the world
17. 18:36a - "My kingdom is not of this world.
(d) the world outside, in contrast to one's home
5. the world as mankind
1. 1:10c - yet the world did not know him
2. 1:29 - "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
3. 3:17b - For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world
4. 4:42 - and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.
5. 7:4 - “For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
6. 8:12 - "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
7. 8:26 - he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him."
8. 9:5 - As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
9. 12:19 - "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him."
10. 14:19 - Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.
11. 14:22 - "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?"
12. 14:31 - I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
13. 17:6 - I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.
14. 17:9 - I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me,
15. 17:11a - And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,
16. (17:12) - While I was with them in the world
17. 17:13 - these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
18. 17:21 - Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
19. 17:23 - I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
20. 18:20 - "I have spoken openly to the world.
(b) of all mankind, but especially believers, as the object of God's love
1. 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,...”
2. 3:17c - but in order that the world might be saved through him
3. 6:33 - For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
4. 6:51 - And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
5. 12:47 - for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
6. the world, as the scene of earthly, joys, possessions, areas, suffering
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.
1. 8:23 - You are of this world; I am not of this world.
2. 12:25 - Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
3. 12:31a - Now is the judgment of this world;
4. 13:1 - having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
5. 14:17 - even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
6. 16:8 - he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
7. 16:11 - because the ruler of this world is judged.
8. 16:20 - you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice
9. 18:36 - "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
prince of this world
10. 12:31b - now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
11. 14:30 - I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.
12. 16:11 - because the ruler of this world is judged.
hated by world
13. 15:18 - "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
14. 15:19a - If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own;
15. 17:14a - I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them,
16. 7:7 - The world cannot hate you, but it hates me bc I testify about it that its works are evil.
world crucified to God, unable to know
17. 14:27 - my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.
18. 15:19b+c - but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you
19. 16:33a - In the world you will have tribulation.
20. 16:33b - But take heart; I have overcome the world.
21. 17:11b - And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,
22. 17:14b+c - because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world
23. 17:15 - I do not ask that you take them out of the world,
24. 17:16a+b - They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world
25. 17:18b - so I have sent them into the world.
26. 17:25 - O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you,
8. Totality, sum, total
*Preliminary summary of John's usage:
Following Bauer's basic classification of John's usage of the term “wolrd,” these are initial observations that can be drawn:
(1) John clearly sees the world as a place, primarily as the planet earth, but it can be extended to mean all existence.
(2) John's favored use of the term applies to mankind, and half the time as a opposed, or in conflict (or distraction from) to God
(3) John's usage at times appears to be purposefully ambiguous or with dual meanings to blur who is or is not included in his meaning of the world as it interacts with a certain level of the world.
II. Historical Background (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], III:868-895)
1. Non Biblical Usage: Established in Greek vocabulary from time of Homer, but etymology is uncertain. However, it originally seemed to have to do with the assembly or construction of something, including mankind, which led to the general sense of "order" (868-9) Since order is inherently beautiful, the term could also be used of "adornment." The term took on the meaning of the "world" as the idea of order was applied to cosmic order of the universe or heaven (869). This led to four features of the the κόσμος: a) unity is its nature b) by virtue of the immanent norm which integrates individual things into a totality, c) which give in inherent beauty, and d) thus reveals the unique relation of man to the rest of the world (873-4). The philosophical ponderings of the nature of the universe and its beginning naturally raised the question of the divine, and the term came to also mean the world of God or heaven (874). In contrast to the world of God, came the understanding of the world of man to indicate the Earth or the world inhabited by humanity (880).
2. LXX Usage: Judaism readily adopted the term adding biblical concepts to philosophical ones. Hebrew concepts such as "hosts of heaven" used the world κόσμος to capture the idea of order. It was also used as a catch-all for the ideas of "adornmnet." (880-1) The Hebrew Old Testament actually has no word for universe, preferring "heaven" and "earth," but Hellenistic Jews must have liked the term and brought it into their religious and theological vocabulary (881). Thus, the term κόσμος really only took on the meaning "world" due to Jewish influence (882).
3. NT Usage: The NT writers never used the term to mean its original concept of "order" and use it to mean "adornment" only once (883). The primary usage comes straight from the Jewish usage of the term "world" to mean "heaven and earth." Due to creation presuppositions, the world was thought to be limited in duration like all created things. In order to keep these various meanings clear the κόσμος was thought of in various levels or spheres: earth, heaven, and the underworld (887). The earth came to be thought of as the abode of men or the "theatre of history," (888) where the Mission of God, or the plan of salvation played out, thus seeing the world the Fallen Creation in need of redemption (889). Since the world is estranged from God, the NT strives to never use the term of God or the future of the world, using different terms (886). Paul makes this distinction most clear using κόσμος to refer "this age" which is mutually exclsive from God himself and the future condition of believers (892). John fully develops Paul's thoughts into the most clear usage of the term, even though "all the meanings of κόσμος come together" (894). The world is seen as: the universe, the world, mankind, and the world as Christ's opponent (894).
III. Contribution to NT Theology
John's usage of the term reveals the "fruition" of New Testament thought on the κόσμος. In this, the entire Gospel message can be expressed by its spheres or levels of understanding.
The κόσμος is the orderly, harmonius, and beautiful universe, in both the physical and the spiritual realm, created by God. This includes earth, and the life that it contains, and the heavens, and the spirits that it contains. As mankind dominated the physical earth, κόσμος also now stands for the whole system of man. However, since man is Fallen, the κόσμος is estranged from its original Creator, and under the persuasion of Fallen spirits who now rule over this κόσμος.
Thus, God set his plan of redemption in motion, that is the Mission of God, to play out in the "theatre of history" as told in the Old Testament. As foretold in the Old Testament, Christ was sent from outside the κόσμοςinto the physical κόσμος of man, bringing the truth (shedding light on the situation) and salvation by ushering in his kingdom, which transcends the κόσμος through the Christ event surrounding the cross. This message of salvation is a beacon of light to a world lost in darkness, and the church is commissioned to continue carrying the message of light into the dark.
However, the κόσμος of mankind, as it is still ruled by the evil one and those who love the darkness for what it conceals, oppose Christ and his message of light. Thus, Christ elects or calls followers out of the κόσμος in order to reach the κόσμος with message of the cross so that they will be ushered into a future restored κόσμος when the fallen κόσμος is judged for its opposition.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.