Many, if not most, universalists will immediately quote John 3:16 when told that Jesus Christ did not come to save everyone in the world:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The Greek word here translated in English as “world” is:
Strong’s G2889 – kosmos κόσμος
which in its primary definition simply means “harmonious arrangement, order, ornament, arrangement, government.”
A good translation might be “Society” or system.
We use terms like “He lives in his own little world.” and “she lives in another world.”
The Greek word kosmos rarely means the physical globe or planet we live on.
It does mean the system or arrangement man has built up around himself that he inhabits or dwells within.
Let’s look at a few other occurrences where the Greek word kosmos is used in Scripture:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Surely, the entire globe is not what Paul had in mind when he said the faith of those who resided in Rome was talked about throughout the entire globe. Their faith was not spoken of all across China, Africa, down to Australia and across to North America.
No, Paul meant the world known and inhabited by the Greeks and the Romans – essentially the Society built up around the Mediterranean Sea area, the same area within which Paul made his missionary journeys.
I Corinthians 4:
9For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Surely, Paul is not saying here that everyone in the world saw or could see Paul, as if he was on stage, performing in a theatrical production, as that is what spectacle means, “a theater, a place in which games and dramatic spectacles are exhibited.”
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
Did the devil take the Lord up to a literal exceeding high mountain and show him all the kingdoms of the world?
Surely the scope was limited, for one can not see all the kingdoms of the world from any single mountain on the earth, no matter how high.
Getting back to John 3:16: the entire world or all the people of the world was/is not what was/is being referred to.
It was the System, or the Society that needed saving; the system that Adamic man, specifically the world the Israelites, found themselves in that needed saving.
There are many other passages we could examine to get a better understanding of what is meant by the word “world,” but let’s take one last look at the kosmos in I John 2:15:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
How can John 3:16 say “For God so loved the world” but here in I John (same author by the way) say: “Love not the world?” And that if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us?
Surely, discretion, discernment and consideration of the entire biblical context is needed when attempting to ascertain the meaning of Scripture.
This is true of all Scripture, including John 3:16.