Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

What is “the world”?

In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle delivers a clear warning to Christians about loving the world and the things of the world: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This makes it very tempting for well-meaning believers to compile a list of things that are “worldly” and to exercise great care to avoid such things. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And just like the Pharisees we can scrupulously avoid things and still be motivated by lust and pride. We may be able to hide that from ourselves, but not from others.

The many repetitions of “world” in the above passage all translate the Greek word “kosmos”, which refers to the physical world and the physical things in it. There are many other passages in the New Testament that speak of the “world” where the Greek word is “aion.” This word has a wide range of meaning, but when it is translated “world” it refers not to physical things, but to spirits and attitudes that prevail at a certain era and place. French Bibles usually use a word that means “age” or “this present age”.

This brings us much closer to the root of what we call worldliness. There is no inherent evil in a physical object, but many of the ideas that seem to be in the air we breathe convey attitudes that are directly contrary to the way of Christ.

Romans 12:2 is an example of such Scripture passages and the inference to our way of thinking is often missed.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” “This world” is translated “the present age” in French Bibles. Even in English, the meaning should be clear if we would stop and consider the whole verse. We are not to pattern our way of thinking after the prevailing ideas of the age we live in, but allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to know what is truly meaningful and important.

There are many other verses where aion is translated world in English and age or present age in French. Here are a few: Matthew 13:22  – “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world  and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 – “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Galatians 1:4 – “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”

I think zeitgeist might be better understood than world in these passages.” Zeitgeist: a pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.” It comes from German words meaning spirit of the times. This is the “world” that is most dangerous and deceptive for one who wants to follow Christ.

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