(1 Jn. 2:2) Does this passage support unlimited atonement?

CLAIM: John writes, “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). However, regarding 1 John 2:2, Calvinist James Montgomery Boice writes,

John may be stressing the universal application of Christ’s work. Since ‘sacrifice of atonement’ is a strongly Jewish term and something associated in Jewish minds with the propitiation made at the temple on the Day of Atonement, John may be saying, ‘Jesus made propitiation for our sins; but not just the sins of us who are Jews, which we might think since atonement is a Jewish tradition, but for all the peoples of the world. In that sense, he is a universal Savior.’[1]

Steele and Thomas write,

One reason for the use of these expressions was to correct the false notion that salvation was for the Jews alone… These expressions are intended to show that Christ died for all men without distinction (i.e., He died for Jews and Gentiles alike) but they are not intended to indicate that Christ died for all men without exception (i.e., He did not die for the purpose of saving each and every last sinner).[2]

John Piper writes,

The ‘whole world’ refers to the children of God scattered throughout the whole world.[3]

Thus five point Calvinists argue that this passage refers to ethnic universality—not individual universality.

RESPONSE: The context of this passage is not Jewish ethnicity. The context is universal sin. Moreover, this explanation doesn’t fit with the term “world” (Greek kosmos). John uses the word kosmos a number of times in his gospel (Jn. 1:9; 1:10; 1:29; 3:16; 3:17; 3:19; 4:42; 6:14; 6:33; 6:51; 7:4; 7:7; 8:12; 8:23; 8:26; 9:5; 9:39; 10:36; 11:9; 11:27; 12:19; 12:25; 12:31; 12:47; 13:1; 14:17; 14:19; 14:22; 14:27; 14:30; 14:31; 15:18; 15:19; 16:8; 16:11; 16:20; 16:21; 16:28; 16:33; 17:5; 17:6; 17:11; 17:13-16; 17:18; 17:21; 17:23-25; 18:20; 18:36; 21:25). However, as we read through his use of kosmos in these various passages, it never once specifically refers to the church or to the elect. In fact, his consistent use of this word kosmos refers to the world in general or the hostile world in rebellion to God. Even in the same letter, John writes that “the whole world (kosmos) lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). For more on this topic, see our earlier article “Limited Atonement: A Critique.”

[1] Boice, James Montgomery, and Philip Graham Ryken. The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002. 130-131.

[2] Steele, David N., and Curtis C. Thomas. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1963. 39. Cited in Olson, Roger E. Against Calvinism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. 140.

[3] John Piper “What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism” Revised March, 1998.