“World” (kosmos) in the Johannine Tradition
Number of Hits: 102
1 John: 23
2 John: 1
John’s usage of kosmos is mixed. Much of it has a negative connotation: the “world” “hates” Jesus and his followers, who “do not belong” to the world but are sent into it. Why are they sent? Because, on the positive side, we are also told that God loved the world precisely by sending the Son to save it, not judge it (John 3:16-17); and the Son, after being lifted up on the cross in ascension to the Father, breathes his Spirit on his followers and leaves them the ongoing “work” (14:12) of saving the world.
In a sense, then, God’s relationship to the world in John is the epitome of loving an enemy. The world rejects and hates the One God sends into the world in order to save it. But God is love, and so all of God’s actions toward the world are done in love.
And love is all about life. John frames everything with the Word, the Logos: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4). René Girard has brilliantly brought out the contrasting background on Logos from Greco-Roman culture in a way that sheds light on why the “world” ends up being against God’s Logos of love (see Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Part II, Chapter 4, “The Logos of Heraclitus and the Logos of John”). I believe the frame of Logos helps us to understand how John uses the word world.
What is the Logos? In Greek philosophy, Girard describes the role of Logos as “the divine, rational and logical principle according to which the world is organized” (Things Hidden, 263). An organizing principle for the world. For Heraclitus that organizing principle is polemos — war, conflict, sacred violence. “Polemos is the father of all and the king of all” (Heraclitus, Fragment 53). The Logos of the world, in short, is the opposite of being about love and life. Polemos is the enemy of love, but Love, being what it is, works to save it, precisely by letting itself be expelled by the sacred violence of polemos.
Jesus comes from a different world, one organized by love creating life. His coming into a world organized by polemos must lead to the world’s continual attempts to expel it. But it is love manifested in this way which shines the light in the darkness and reveals the truth. Like Jesus, those who follow in the way of this Logos of love cannot belong to the world, organized by the Logos of polemos, but they are continually sent into the world to reveal what truly makes for life. The world continues to wield death; those sent into the world from love are unfolding God’s age of life (zōēn aiōnion, “eternal life”).
Now read the instances of world in John with this frame in mind.
Gospel of John
John 1:9-10 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
John 4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
John 6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
John 6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
John 7:4 for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
John 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
John 8:23 He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.
John 8:26 I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
John 9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John 9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
John 10:36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
John 11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.
John 11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
John 12:19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
John 12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
John 12:46-47 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
John 13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
John 14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
John 14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
John 14:22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
John 14:30-31 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.
John 15:18-19 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you.
John 16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
John 16:11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
John 16:20-21 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.
John 16:28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”
John 16:33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
John 17:5-6 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
John 17:9-26 “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
John 18:20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.
John 18:36-37 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 21:25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Letters of John
1 John 2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 3:13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you.
1 John 3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 4:1-5 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them.
1 John 4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.
1 John 4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
1 John 5:4-5 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 John 5:19 We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
2 John 1:7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!