Dear Brethren,

     The doctrine that Christ puts an end to all sin for all time and eternity is a red thread throughout Scripture. Thus I feel that the recent discussion on the Symposium has chased a red herring rather than that red thread. I attach some thoughts on the subject as a reaction to a New Focus article by Jonathan Bayes under the title ‘Propitiation for the World: Some Thoughts on 1 John 2:2b.’

     In this article, the author does his best to explain away the meaning of ‘whole world’, and also the propitiation the world from sin. Indeed, he relates propitiation of sin merely to ‘ours only’ in the text and not to ‘world’s.’ The original is so long that I cannot possibly reproduce it but a number of you have the NF and might be able to help in eventual responses or may have a good scanner and be able to scan it in without much additional work.

     ‘Some Thoughts on 1 John 2:2b’ found me very interested until the author started to talk down to his readers. Surely to say, “If you do not know much about Greek, forgive me, etc.” is hardly advisable. If the writer assumes that his readers are ignorant of Greek, which surely need not reflect negatively on them, he could say, “Permit me to explain a little Greek, here,” rather than this patronising manner. Such an emphasis on the fact that Mr. Bayes knows Greek and his readers do not seems all the more daring when we look at his rejection of the AV translation, penned by real Greek scholars who corresponded with one another in Greek and wrote Greek poems for one another. I wonder if Mr. Bayes could do that? I am always suspicious of men such as Murray and MacLeod who back their private theologies on private interpretations and private translations. This is because the AV translators were sound to a man, were what some would call ‘High Calvinists’, were nearer to the Lambeth Articles than any Calmianism, lived almost unparalleled holy lives and were linguists the like of which have rarely re-appeared since.

     In robbing ‘the world’s ‘ of its attribute ‘sins,’ Bayes has presented us with a phrase whose meaning is now anyone’s guess. If you say to a fellow Director, “I am meeting our debts and those of the whole firm’s,” it is obvious that the thing possessed by both you and the entire firm is the same i.e. the debts which you have met. It is a reference to the debts of one group of people within and including the debts of a wider group with which you are also involved. You could have said, “I am meeting our debts and also the debts of the whole firm. The Greek of 1 John 2:2 says verbatim, “And He the propitiation is for the sins of ours, not for those of ours, however, alone, but rather also for the whole world’s.” The AV translators could have rendered this, “And He is the propitiation for our sins, however, not for ours alone, but for the whole world’s.” This, to a good grammarian, is not rounded off because some clever-dick who wants to catch his teacher out, or someone who cannot understand matters left out to be put in by mental action, will certainly ask “The world’s what?” So to serve a didactic function and make the translation complete, the AV translators rendered the passage, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

     If Bayes feels that 1 John 2:2 as per the AV is problematic, the solution being to believe another thing possessed by the world is meant other than sin, or no attribute of the world’s is meant at all, he must prove it. This he does not do but asks us to trust that he knows more Greek than we do and take his word for it. Actually, this is not a matter of Greek but plain grammatical, syntactical and semantic common-sense. We must ask, “If sins are not propitiated for the sake of the world, what are? Whatever interpretation Bayes gives us of the world, he must tell us how propitiation works without removing sin. He must answer the question, “What is the propitiation in relation to the world if propitiation from sin is not meant?”

     Bayes never really tackles this question. He is so bogged down with the two strands he finds to comment on, i.e. denying that sins are meant and in defining the world, that he has forgotten that the word dealing with the object and its attributes in view is the word ‘propitiation,’ a cognate of a phrasal verb governing the genitive which has a most specific theological meaning in that structure and that alone. As Bayes will know, in Greek phrasal verbs and their noun cognates, as in English, the meaning differs according to the preposition used. In Greek, as in relatively rarer cases in English, the verb also governs whether the object is to be in the accusative, dative or genitive. Bayes argues that though ‘world’ is in the genitive in the Greek text, we are not dealing with a true genitive case governed by the preposition ‘for) (GK. peri) but ought to translate ‘of the world’ or ‘the world’s` as being merely ‘the world.’ Thus Bayes makes John argue that Christ did two things, He propitiated our sins and He propitiated the world. Bayes argues that the AV translators were wrong in believing that propitiation must refer to sin in relationship to the world and that the word ‘propitiation’ though used once in the text, was used with two completely different meanings in its reference to two exclusive objects ‘us’ and ‘the world.’

     It is here that Bayes begins to argue in the very way he has condemned in the AV translators. He says that propitiation cannot mean the world meaning the world without end, but it must mean the world to be ended. He then begins to use genitives, speaking of the world’s temporary duration, preservation etc.. To be fair, he must thus translate 1 John 2:2, “And he is the propitiation of our sins: and not for ours only, but he also propitiates the whole natural world for the duration of its temporary existence.” Here Bayes in trying to avoid the AV frying-pan, has leaped into an italicised fire of his own making! (Italics drop out as e-mail)

     This novel but narrow translation, I suggest, brings with it far more problems than it solves. When man sinned, this world fell – because of man’s sin. Sin marred all, causing the whole visible world to groan. Is Bayes arguing that though there was one cause of the fall, there must be two separate solutions, one by propitiation from sin and one by a non-specified way dealing with the temporary world which does not relate to sin? Is Bayes also arguing that there are two different kinds of propitiation; one from sin which is eternal and another, unspecified, which is temporary until this world ends?

     Perhaps, after all, Jonathan Bayes’ Greek grammar is not quite up to the standard of the AV translators. The New Testament uses the transitive verb ‘to propitiate,’ with its noun cognates, as a phrasal verb or noun. This means that the verb or noun does not carry the meaning alone but its preposition belongs integrally to it and assists, even defines, its meaning. Being transitive, the phrase must have an object with any attributes it might carry. It is not like the verb to look in the sense of “He looks intelligent,” where ‘look’ is intransitive, i.e. needs no object, but ‘to look for’ in the sense, “She is looking for her grammar book.” Now Bayes argues that the construction ‘a propitiation for,’ though it governs the genitive, must be understood as an accusative. This is not the case at all. Where appeasement is caused without further reference to what lays behind the appeasement a direct accusative can be used without a preposition or, especially in the case of the noun, a different preposition could be used indicating a different meaning. (See Heb. 2:17. for the verb without a preposition and Rom. 3:25 for a cognate of the noun with a different preposition i.e. ‘through’ plus the genitive.) Where the genitive is used after ‘for’ this is used of sin or some such negative influence which has prevented appeasement. (See, for instance, 1 John 4:10, where this time the verb ‘to be’ is in italics). Furthermore, Bayes forgets that there are two identical genitive constructions with the very same prepositions in 1 John 2:2, indicating the very same meaning. After being told that Christ is set forth as the propitiation for our sins. The Greek gives “not FOR those of ours, however, alone, but rather also FOR the whole world’s.” In other words Christ has propitiated both elements in the same way. John has used the same phrase for both when he would have changed or dropped the preposition in the case of ‘the world’ if he had intended a different meaning. In the sense that John uses the phrase, there is no propitiation without the propitiation for sin. Therefore, however we thus interpret the word ‘world’ in 1 John 2:2, it must be with reference to a propitiation for sin. This is also supported by Chapter One and the succeeding chapters as sin and freedom from sin is the constant topic and a propitiation of the world apart from sin is nowhere referred to apart from in Mr. Bayes hunch. On the contrary, John’s highly negative reference to the temporal world in the same chapter, hardly suggests that he believes it to be a propitiated world.

     Mr. Bayes seems to imply that if we disagree with him we must accept a universal redemption and we miss a great blessing which he believes 1 John 2 cannot possibly give us as it stands in the King James Version. I must challenge Mr. Bayes’ logic here on both counts as he has not exhausted the meaning of I John 2 in any way but rather partly circumnavigated it and partly speculated loosely on it. Many of us neither believe in a universal propitiation nor in Mr. Bayes ‘proof’ against it, though we believe that the visible world also profits from Christ’s propitiating work. As to not receiving the blessing Mr. Bayes offers us if we reject his interpretation, 1 John 2 has been an equal blessing to believers since the beginning of the 17th century and it would be a most surprising thing indeed to believe that we have all been fooling ourselves all the time. Furthermore I fail to see what benefits or blessings Mr. Bayes’ new idea might bring. Ignoring the question of sin in relation to the world, can hardly help a saved sinner to grow in grace. Indeed, in arguing that the AV is problematic, Bayes meets this hypothetical problem with arguments that are so problematic in themselves, that the AV translators would have been ashamed to speculate in this way. This is why they kept to the plain and natural meaning of the Greek.

     Bayes bases his argument on the British King James Version alone. He ought to have compared this English rendering with other translations in other languages. If the AV was so badly translated, we might expect the Bible in other languages to show the same insight Bayes has. Being in possession of Bibles in numerous languages, I checked them all to find that the all agreed with the AV against Bayes. I am prepared to believe my own translation of the Greek wrong but not the translations of the multiple languages of several continents. Finally, I turned to John Gill on the matter. Gill points out that the Syriac has propitiation ‘for the whole world, ie. is a more or less exclusive example of dropping the genitive.’ Nevertheless, Gill argues that however we interpret ‘the world’ the reference is to a propitiation of its sin.

      A genuine problem that Arminians have is that we doctrines of grace people (in their eyes) do not see an end to sin. Only the sin of the elect is dealt with, they argue thus giving free rein to the sin of the whole world. Thus an exegesis of such texts as Dan. 9:24 and 1 John 2:2, in relation to bringing in everlasting righteousness, is useful. After all, if Christ did not put a final, once-and-for-all-time end to all sin, (however you relate this to time) sin still continues infinitely.

Yours in Grace,

George