One of the most controversial subjects in all of theology is the subject of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? Did Jesus die for every person who ever lived or did He only die for those who would place their trust in Him?
One verse that those against the doctrine of limited atonement point to is John 3:16.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 3:16.
The argument is that because of the use of the word world we see that Christ died for every individual who ever lived.
But there is a problem with this assertion. John 3:16 does not say that Jesus died for the entire world. What does the verse actually say? It says God loved the world. But what does world mean?
The Greek word, κόσμον (kosmos) does mean world. And in the context of John 3:16 it is referring to creation. The argument can be made, legitimately, that it is also referring specifically to people of the world. I agree with this assessment. However, that still does not say that Jesus died for every individual.
The next part of the verse says that God gave His only Son. God loved the world and, as a result, He gave his Son up. But for what purpose did He give Christ? It was not to pay for the sins of every individual. At the end of the day, if you argue for Christ dying for all individuals that is your logical conclusion, that He paid for the sins of everyone. No, it says that whoever believes.
Now, I will say that I do not believe that this verse actually deals with the question people try to make it answer. I do not believe it deals with who Christ died for. But we know from other passages, which will not be dealt with in this article, that He laid His life down for the sheep (John 10:15). The only thing John 3:16 tells us is that Christ, at minimum, died for those who would believe in Him.