Saturday, February 2, 2013

St. Augustine on 2 Corinthians 5:19

Ever since I came across this interpretation a couple of months ago, I've been skeptical of it. According to St. Augustine, the "world" in 2 Corinthians 5:19 is referring only to the Church. I've been hesitant to use this example in UOJ debates for fear of being accused of advocating a limited atonement. But according to the grammar as shown by the passage itself, coupled with Pr. Rydecki's orthodox explanation of it, and along with the interpretation of other Fathers in the faith (particularly LutherMelanchthon, and the Confessions), it seems that Augustine might not be too far off. If God was in Christ "reconciling" (-ing; an ongoing process) sinners by faith through the Ministry of the Word, then it follows that He was and is only reconciling those who have and will have faith -- those who are of the universal, invisible Church. Those whom He elected from eternity after He foresaw would, in time on earth, have faith in Christ (N. Hunnius explains election in view of the gift of faith). I also find Augustine's interpretation interesting when compared to what Luther says in the Confessions: "But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness [CJS - or reconciliation of the sinner], as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]."  But before I definitively make up my mind about Augustine's interpretation, I'd like to hear from you, dear reader, as to what you think of Augustine's approach. As follows is the quote in the context of his exposition of John 15: 17-19:

"2. But alongside of this love we ought also patiently to endure the hatred of the world. For it must of necessity hate those whom it perceives recoiling from that which is loved by itself. But the Lord supplies us with special consolation from His own case, when, after saying, These things I command you, that you love one another, He added, If the world hate you, know that it hated me before [it hated] you. Why then should the member exalt itself above the head? Thou refusest to be in the body if you are unwilling to endure the hatred of the world along with the Head. If you were of the world, He says, the world would love its own. He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19 And this also: The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17 And John says in his epistle:We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hates the Church. The world therefore hates the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.

3. But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled. For out of that mass, which has all perished in Adam, are formed the vessels of mercy, whereof that world of reconciliation is composed, that is hated by the world which belongs to the vessels of wrath that are formed out of the same mass and fitted to destruction. Finally, after saying, If you were of the world, the world would love its own, He immediately added, But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. And so these men were themselves also of that world, and, that they might no longer be of it, were chosen out of it, through no merit of their own, for no good works of theirs had preceded; and not by nature, which through free-will had become totally corrupted at its source: but gratuitously, that is, of actual grace. For He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose: for there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace, he adds, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. Romans 11:5-6"

Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.


  1. I must have not been paying attention as I just discovered your wonderful website! It was linked to the website I visit and with which I have registered some comments. It is refreshing these days to witness another source which also trumpets the central teaching of Christianity, "justification by faith alone."

    Regarding your short specific article:

    I like your distinction of pointing out that Christ chose his own "out of the world."

    Furthermore - even with wrongly translating 2 Corinthians 5:19; that, in itself is no reason to promulgate the false teaching of "universal objective justification."

    The practice of proper hermeneutics can curb even some poor translation work. But, many Christians and (so-called) "Christians" don't care to apply the principal of comparing Scripture with Scripture and taking the clear passages first, to formulate correct doctrine.

    Myself, coming from a rich Lutheran background and heritage, I find it most unfortunate and sad, that this 2 Corinthians 5 Scripture is now cherished by Lutheran bellwethers to the detriment of their synods' congregational flocks.

    Nathan M. Bickel

  2. According to St. Augustine, the "world" in 2 Corinthians 5:19 is referring only to the Church

    I disagree that world is restricted to the Church but instead it references all of humanity. In harmony with what Rev. Bickel stated, 2 Cor. 5:19 doesn't teach that the whole unbelieving world has been reconciled with God when Christians interpret Scripture with Scripture. Reconciling is understood to be Reconciled only when individuals depart from God's Word, subject Scripture to human reason with a goal of establishing their rationalistic doctrine.

    God has also graciously provided a proven faithful explanation of Scripture in the Christian Book of Concord which clearly states reconciliation with God is only through the gracious gift of faith, Christ's righteousness, worked solely by the Means of Grace.

    John 3:17, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." World in this verse is the whole of humanity as the following verse clarifies those who believe in Christ are not condemend but those who don't believe are condemned already. Clearly there are no unbelievers in the Church (capital 'C' - invisible) as there are in the church (lower case 'c' - visible).

    1 John 2:1-2 is also referring to the world as all of humanity. The Word teaches that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world and in Romans clarifies that He is the world's propitiation through faith alone.
    Romans 3:25, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood..."

    World in 2 Cor. 5:19 doesn't have to refer to the Church for Scripture and the central article of one Justification solely by Faith Alone to be upheld.

  3. It is the False Theology of Glory that people have a lust for and that is the reason they like false teaching like UOJ. UOJ is evil on many levels, why should one tell another about Christ when all have been justified by Christ's Resurrection rather than by faith which is required to take hold of the promises of God. This leads to a flourishing of the false teaching of felt needs and works based righteousness replacing Christ for sinners and the Means of Grace.

    It is because of the perpetuation of UOJ that we have had to deal with false teaching and METHOBAPTOCOSTAL heresy invading our ranks. It is good to have fellow Lutherans yelling about this falsehood.

    1. Northwest -

      The UOJ enthusiasts as you well observe, lack a crucial part of God's calling. I believe that their molestation of Scripture's "justification by faith alone" inherently makes them poor witnesses as Christ would have His disciples be.

      I've thought for many years now, that the 3 major "ingredients" for faithful disciples of Christ, are as follows:

      1) Keeping God's Word - John 14:21;23 ; 2 Timothy 1:13-14

      2) Defending God's Word - Jude 3

      3) Sowing God's Word - Matthew 28:18-20

      These 3 major endeavors for Christ's disciples can be likened to a 3 legged chair. Take one of them away and the chair becomes disfunctional.

      If one does not keep God's Word; live it and treasure it in his very life; he becomes dysfunctional. The same holds true of the two others. If one doesn't defend God's Word; it is a clear indication that he does not treasure and keep God's Word. If one fails to sow God's Word; he becomes stagnant as a pool of water with no spring or outlet.

      I suppose, what I just described could indict many professing Christians, including many Lutherans who want to mimic flamboyant segments of professing Christianity. WELS, Rev. Mark Jeske comes to mind with his "mini me" Lutheran version of Billy Graham "decision theology." This website has done a good job of exposing that:

      Nathan M. Bickel