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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. In OT . In general it may be said that the normal expression for such conception of the Universe as the Hebrews had reached is ‘the heavens and the earth’ ( Genesis 1:1 , Psalms 89:11 , 1 Chronicles 16:31 ), and that ‘world’ is an equivalent expression for ‘ earth. ’ So far as there is a difference, the ‘world’ is rather the fruitful, habitable earth, e.g. , ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein’ ( Psalms 24:1; cf. Psalms 50:12; Psalms 90:2 , Isaiah 34:1 ). The religious sentiments awakened by the contemplation of Nature appear also in references to the heavens and the sea ( e.g. Psalms 8:1-9; Psalms 19:1-14 , Job 38:1-41; Job 39:1-30 ). But of the ethical depreciation of the world, so prominent in some NT writings, there are in the OT few traces. The ‘world’ is to be judged in righteousness ( Psalms 9:8; Psalms 96:13; Psalms 98:9 ), and punished for its evil ( Isaiah 13:11 ). The transient character of its riches and pleasures, with the consequent folly of absorption in them, is perhaps indicated by another Hebrew word (meaning ‘duration‘; cf. ‘ æon ’ below) rendered ‘world’ at Psalms 17:14 (‘men of the world, whose portion is in this life,’ cf. RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ); also by the same word at Psalms 49:1 (see the whole Psalm). A word of similar meaning is rendered ‘world’ in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] at Psalms 73:12 , Ecclesiastes 3:11 , but RV [Note: Revised Version.] retains ‘world’ only in the latter passage, and gives quite another turn to the sense.

The ethical aspect of the ‘world’ does not receive any fresh emphasis in the Apocrypha, though in the Book of Wisdom both the scientific interest in regard to the world and the impulses of natural religion are notably quickened ( Wis 7:17-22; Wis 9:9; Wis 11:17; Wis 11:22; Wis 13:1-9 , cf. Sir 17:1-32; Sir 18:1-33 ). There is ample contrast between the stability of the righteous and the vanity of ungodly prosperity ( e.g. Wis 1:1-16; Wis 2:1-24; Wis 3:1-19; Wis 4:1-20; Wis 5:1-23 ), but the latter is not identified with the ‘world.’ It is, noticeable that in the Apocrypha the word kosmos , which in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] means ‘adornment,’ has reached its sense of ‘world,’ conceived as a beautiful order; in the NT this becomes the prevalent word.

2. In NT . (1) aiôn (¿on) , ‘ age ,’ is used of the world in its time-aspect: human history is conceived as made up of ages, successive and contemporaneous, converging to and consummated in the Christ. These in their sum constitute the ‘world’: God is their Maker ( Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 11:3 [AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘worlds,’ but ‘world’ better represents the thought]) and their King ( 1 Timothy 1:17 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] , Revelation 15:3 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Hence the phrases ‘since the world began,’ lit . ‘from the age’ ( Luke 1:70 , John 9:32 , Acts 15:18 ); and ‘the end of the world,’ lit . the ‘consummation of the age’ ( Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20 ) or ‘of the ages’ ( Hebrews 9:26 ). All the ‘ends of the world’ so conceived meet in the Christian era ( 1 Corinthians 10:11 [RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ages’], cf. Hebrews 11:39-40 ). Under this time-aspect, also, the NT writers identify their own age with the ‘world,’ and this, as not merely actual but as typical, is set in new lights. As ‘this world,’ ‘this present world,’ it is contrasted explicitly or implicitly with ‘the world to come’ ( Matthew 12:32 , Mark 10:30 , Luke 18:30; Luke 20:34-35 , Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 2:7 , 2 Timothy 4:10 , Titus 2:12 , Hebrews 6:5 ).

In some of these passages there is implied a moral condemnation of this world; elsewhere this receives deeper emphasis. ‘The cares of the world choke the word’ (Matthew 13:22 , Mark 4:19 ): the ‘sons of this world’ are contrasted with the ‘sons of light’ ( Luke 16:8; cf. Romans 12:2 , Ephesians 2:2 ‘according to the transient fashion [ æon ] of this material world [ kosmos ]’). This world is evil ( Galatians 1:4 ), its wisdom is naught ( 1Co 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 3:18 ), its rulers crucified the Lord of glory ( 1 Corinthians 2:8 ); finally, it is the ‘god of this world’ that has blinded the minds of the unhelieving ( 2 Corinthians 4:4 ). This ethical use of æon = ‘world’ is not found in the Johannine writings.

(2) But the most frequent term for ‘world’ is kosmos , which is sometimes extended in meaning to the material universe, as in the phrases ‘from the beginning (‘foundation,’ ‘creation’) of the world’ ( e.g. Matthew 24:21; Matthew 25:34 , Hebrews 4:6 , Romans 1:20; for the implied thought of Divine creation cf. Acts 14:17; Acts 17:24 ). More commonly, however, the word is used of the earth, and especially the earth as the abode of man. To ‘gain the whole world’ is to become possessed of all possible material wealth and earthly power ( Matthew 16:26 , Mark 8:36 , Luke 9:25 ). Because ‘sin entered into the world’ ( Romans 5:12 ), it is become the scene of the Incarnation and the object of Redemption ( 2 Corinthians 5:19 , 1 Timothy 1:15 , Hebrews 10:5 , John 1:9-10; John 1:29; John 3:16-17; John 12:47 ), the scene also, alien but inevitable, of the Christian disciple’s life and discipline, mission and victory ( Matthew 5:14; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 26:13 , John 17:16 , Romans 1:8 , 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1Co 4:9; 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:31 , 2 Corinthians 1:12 , Philippians 2:16 , Col 1:8 , 1 Peter 5:9 , Revelation 11:15 ). From this virtual identification of the ‘world’ with mankind, and mankind as separated from and hostile to God, there comes the ethical signification of the word specially developed in the writings of St. Paul and St. John.

( a ) The Epp. of St. Paul . To the Galatians St. Paul describes the pre-Christian life as slavery to ‘the rudiments of the world’ ( Galatians 4:3 , cf. Galatians 4:9 ); through Christ the world is crucified to him and he to the world ( Galatians 6:14 ). Both thoughts recur in Colossians ( Galatians 2:8; Galatians 2:20 ). In writing to the Corinthians he condemns the wisdom, the passing fashion, the care, the sorrow of the world ( 1 Corinthians 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 Corinthians 7:33-34 , 2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. aiôn above), and declares the Divine choice to rest upon all that the world least esteems ( 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 , cf. James 2:5 ). This perception of the true worth of things is granted to those who ‘received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God’ ( 1 Corinthians 2:12 ); hence ‘the saints shall judge the world’ ( 1 Corinthians 6:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:32 ). In the argument of Romans the thought of the Divine judgment of the ‘world’ has incidental place, but in the climax St. Paul conceives of the ‘fall’ of Israel as leading to ‘the riches of the world,’ and of the ‘casting away’ of them as the ‘reconciling of the world’ ( 1 Corinthians 11:12; 1 Corinthians 11:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:32 and 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 ). What. St. Paul condemns, then, is hardly the world as essentially evil, but the world-spirit which leads to evil by its neglect of the unseen and eternal, and by its blindness to the true scale of values revealed in the gospel of Christ crucified.

( b ) The Gospel and First Ep. of St. John . In these two writings occur more than half the NT instances of the word we are considering. That is, the term kosmos is characteristic of St. John, and, setting aside his frequent use of it in the non-ethical sense, especially as the sphere of the incarnation and saving work of Christ, we find an ethical conception of the ‘world’ deeper in its shadows than that of St. Paul. It is true that Jesus is the Light of the world ( John 1:9; John 3:19; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:46 ), its Life-giver ( John 6:33; John 6:51 ), its Saviour ( John 3:17 , John 4:42 , John 12:47 ); yet ‘the world knew him not’ ( John 1:10 ), and the Fourth Gospel sets out its story of His persistent rejection by the world, in language which at times seems to pass beyond a mere record of contemporary unbelief, and almost to assert an essential dualism of good and evil ( John 7:7 , John 8:23 , John 9:39 , John 12:31 , John 14:17; John 14:30 , John 16:11; John 16:20 ). Here the ‘world’ is not simply the worldly spirit, but the great mass of mankind in deadly hostility to Christ and His teaching. In contrast stand His disciples, his own which were in the world’ ( John 13:1 ), chosen out of the world ( John 15:18 , cf. John 17:6 ), but not of it, and therefore hated as He was hated ( John 15:18-19 , John 17:14; John 17:16 ). For them He intercedes as He does not for the world ( John 17:8 ). In the 1st Ep. of St. John the same sharp contrasts meet us. The world lies within the scope of God’s redemptive purpose in Jesus Christ ( John 2:2 , John 4:14 ), yet it stands opposed to His followers as a thing wholly evil, with which they may hold no traffic ( John 2:15-17 , cf. James 4:4 ), knowing them not and hating them ( James 3:1; James 3:13 ). It is conceived as under the sway of a power essentially hostile to God, the antichrist ( James 2:18; James 2:22 , James 4:3; cf. ‘the prince of this world’ John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 ) and is therefore not to be entreated and persuaded, but fought and overcome by the ‘greater one’ who is in the disciple of Christ ( John 4:4 , John 5:4-5 ). Faith ‘overcometh the world,’ but St. John reserves for his closing words his darkest expression of a persistent dualism of good and evil, light and darkness: ‘We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one’ ( John 5:19 ).

The idiomatic uses of the term ‘world’ in John 7:4; John 12:19 , 1 John 3:17 are sufficiently obvious. For the difficult expression ‘the world of iniquity’ applied to the tongue ( James 3:6 ), see the Commentaries.

S. W. Green.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'World'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​w/world.html. 1909.
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