Agonizomai: It Meant the World to Them

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It Meant the World to Them

Understanding the Jewish roots of the Christian faith helps to put the New Testament concept of "the world" into a proper context.

So often in this day and age, when we hear reference to "the world" in the gospel or the epistles our modern understanding takes over and we automatically think of the total envelope of humanity, including every individual human being. But the word is often employed by the original Jewish writers (John, Peter, Paul) to convey not the global totality of individual humankind, but the Gentiles over and against the Jews, or the inclusion of both Gentiles and Jews.

When a Jew referred to the good news as being for "the world", the underlying thought was often that it was not solely for the Jews, but also for those unclean dogs who had not been born Israelites - a heretofore unthinkable proposition for orthodox Judaism.

This seems like a subtle distinction to some people today. But many draw from the use of the word "world" that these writers are always referring to all men without exception as individuals, rather than simply making a point about different classes of humanity (Jews and non-Jews). And getting this emphasis wrong can have a devastating effect on your doctrine.

I won't pull out verses and point to the ones commonly misrepresented in the way described. Anybody with a concordance, an open mind and a willingness to investigate can find verses containing the phrase "the world" and prayerfully check their own assumptions and conclusions. In fact it's better if it happens that way because you will own whatever results from such testing.

But for myself I have found it has helped to understand something about the culture, the ethos and the mindset of the Jews who wrote the scriptures (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). And making right distinctions about phrases and words based on these factors has removed not a few barriers to me accepting God's way of dealing with mankind.


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