Word Study: WORLD



According to the NIV Exhaustive Concordance, The word “WORLD” occurs in the whole Bible for 261 times, including “WORLD’S” and “WORLDLY”. This word has triggered a lot of arguments and debates not only among the theologians, but also among the lay believers. The theologians might argued whether the “World” in John 3:16 refers to the whole human race, or just the chosen believers. As for the lay believers, many husbands feel unfair to be described as “one loves the world” by their wives simply because of buying a new IPhone.

Occurrences in Paul’s Letters

Paul uses this word (including “world’s” and “worldly”) frequently in his letters. There are totally about 60+ explicit usages and 2 more implicit references to this word. The meaning of this word according to context can be categorized into 5 meanings: the world of space (the cosmos), the creation by God, this age, and the coming age.

The World of Space is a geographic usage of the Greek word kosmos. It can be translated to “the earth” or “the universe”. In Romans 10:18, when Paul quotes Ps 19:4 that “to the ends of the world”, he is indicating the earth. In some cases this word might mean the Promised Land instead of the planet earth.

God’s creation is a generic usage of this word. While the word is used in this way, it’s talking about the creation of the God. “The World” then is a neutral word as the object of God’s divine creation. Such usage can be found in Romans 1:20, 25, 4:17; 1 Cor 1:28, etc.

This Age is mostly referring to things in this temporal world with negative and evil meaning. According to Gal 1:4, the present age is evil and ruled by the “elemental spirits of the world”. Since this age is ruled by “spirit now working in the sons of disobedience”, it’s against God and influences believers with evil. It’s the fallen world. This usage introduces the negative side of the creation and the consequence of sin.

The Coming Age is explicitly expressed in Ephesians 1:21 that Christ will rule “not only in this age but also in the one to come.” This expression can also be found in 2:7, and implicit in Romans 8:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

All occurrences of the word in Pauline literature can be found in the following table:

Meaning of the word

The source of the text

The World of Space, the planet earth

Ro 1:8, 4:13, 9:17, 10:18;

Col 1:6;

God’s Creation

Ro 1:20, 3:6, 4:17, 3:19, 5:12/13;

1Co 3:22, 6:2, 8:4;

2Co 5:19;

Gal 3:22;

Eph 1:4;

1Ti 1:15;

This Age

Ro 11:12, 11:15, 12:2;

1Co 1:20, 1:21, 1:27-28, 2:12, 3:1, 3:3, 3:19; 4:13, 5:10, 7:31, 7:33-34, 11:32, 14:10;

2Co 1:12, 1:17, 5:16, 7:10, 10:2-4, 11:18;

Gal 4:3, 6:14;

Eph 2:2, 2:12, 6:12;

Col 2:8, 2:20;

1Ti 3:16, 6:7, 6:17;

2Ti 4:10;

The Age to come

Eph 1:21, 2:7, 8:18-25;

1Co 15:20-28;

Col 1:16, 20;

Word Study in Galatians 6:14

Paul says following in Galatians 6:14: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (ESV). This verse is often quoted in the teaching of “not love the world” to Christians. I would like to study the meaning of “world” here in this specific context to ensure that we understand Paul’s exact meaning while he says this sentence.

First of all, it’s obvious that the two usage of the word “world” should have the same meaning. “The world…to me” and “I to the world” is most probably a rhetoric usage to emphasize the mood and tone of this sentence. If we look to the previous verses (6:11-13), we can find that Paul is trying to blame the false teachers who “make a good showing in the flesh”. Paul blames them because they want to boast by persuading Galatians to have circumcision, so that they don’t need to “be persecuted for the cross of Christ” and they can “boast in their flesh”. The focus of vv.11-13 is not to criticize the circumcision itself, but to criticize the intention of those teachers. Paul is saying that the false teachers encourage circumcision not for the benefit of the Galatians, but for the benefit of themselves because by this they can make good showing in the flesh, they can escape the persecution, and they can boast their work. The focus of Paul’s criticize is a value system from this age, a value system that hold high human’s work and neglect the doctrine of grace.

Understanding of what Paul is criticizing here can help us to understand the “world” mentioned in 6:14 because Paul is trying to make a contrast, a contrast of his intention and the false teacher’s intension. While the false teacher is trying to make a gain for themselves according to the value of the present age, Paul’s intention is to “boast … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Paul’s “boast” is not based on the value of the present age, but based on Christ because his value is all on the cross and accomplished by the cross.

Thus we can say that the “world” used by Paul in Galatians 6:14 is referring to the value system of the present age. While the present age is ruled by “spirit now working in the sons of disobedience,” it’s a fallen value system and therefore it is against God.