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A good word study by John Samson

The word “world” (Greek: Kosmos) appears 185 times in the New Testament: 78 times in John, 8 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, and 3 also in Luke. The vast majority of its occurrences are therefore in John’s writings, as it is also found 24 times in John’s three epistles, and just three times in Peter.

John uses the word “world” in ten different ways in his Gospel.

1. The Entire Universe – John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5

2. The Physical Earth – John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25

3. The World System – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 (see also similar usage in Gal 1:4 – Paul)

4. All humanity minus believers – John 7:7; 15:18

5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere – John 12:19

6. The Elect Only – John 3:17

7. The Non-Elect Only – John 17:9

8. The Realm of Mankind – John 1:10; (this is very probably the best understanding of the word “world” in John 3:16 also)

9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) – John 4:42

10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) – not those in small private groups – John 7:4

Seeing this list can be very helpful – especially when traditions reign supreme in some people’s minds that “world” always means all people everywhere. Sometimes it does, but most of the time, it does not. It is a tradition that is very strong but one that cannot survive biblical scrutiny. It is the context that always establishes the meaning of words and their usage.
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