I’m DONE with John 3:16!

Originally published May 18, 2011. I’m republishing this since the topic came up due to yesterday’s post on the Top 5 Bible Verses of 2011. Please note Stan’s comments at the end of the post.

This is what I told my congregation on Sunday night. Not that I don’t love the verse. What I do not like is the abuse of the verse, as if the verse comes along in a vacuum without the preceding 15 verses or the following 4 verses. So many know this verse without accepting the context of the verse that it is actually abused and twisted to mean whatever we want it to mean.

  • To the liberal, it expresses God’s love, therefore, there is no judgment or consequences to rejecting the Son. Since God so loved the world, He must love everyone equally and without exception. Never mind the fact that 2 verses later, Jesus tells us that to reject Christ stands condemned already.
  • To the Armenian, it expresses their view of free will, and places salvation completely on us. In other words, our salvation is all up to us, our wills are free and all we have to do is exercise our wills in order to force God to save us. Never mind that this verse is in the context of being “born again,” which is something that we cannot bring about or make happen in and of ourselves.
  • To the theologically dim, it’s the answer to every theological problem. Election? God so loved the world… Justification? God so loved the world… etc.

What this verse does cover is the gospel. It is simply a statement that God does indeed love what He created and provided the means for salvation to those whom He has chosen. This does not mean that all those who hear of God’s rich love do not have the responsibility to believe and be saved. They simply lack the ability. All of us lack the ability. This is why Jesus stresses the fact that we must be born again before He bring up the Father’s love. Being born again implies a work of God’s Spirit on and in us. Actually, it is more than implied: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We do not control the Holy Spirit. He moves when and where and how He pleases and not at the beck and call of man (John 1:12-13). The point is that John 3:16 is not an open statement removing God’s hand in our salvation. It is confirming God’s hand. His Spirit MUST move in us, for us to be born again, so that we do believe and NOT perish.

Do I love John 3:16? Absolutely. It is a statement of God’s love for His people. But is it the end all and be all of our theology? In no way. Jesus gets onto Nicodemus for his limited capacity in understanding these truths, and He will do the same for us. We cannot just rest on John 3:16. We must understand John 1:1 through John 3:15, as well as John 3:17-John 21:25.

The following is the other problem I have with this. As Gunny once pointed out to me, that before he was a believer, he would see the sign of John 3:16 at a football game and thought they were calling a play. As believers, we are to preach the gospel, not sign it! Remember that the Apostle Paul labored to teach and preach the full counsel of God, not just John 3:16.

If you would like to listen to Sunday night’s sermon, go here.

Also, I wanted to pull Stan’s comment from the comments section and add it here:

I’m with you on the abuse of this verse … from Christians. Interestingly, they’re mistaken on the language. The word “so” in that verse is not a “so” of magnitude — “God loved the world so much” — but of type. It is not a quantity, but a quality. We use the word that way when we say, “You have to do this job just so.” Jesus said, “God loved the world in this manner …” In what manner did God love the world? He provided His Son for those who would believe. That falls far short of “God loves everybody so very much!” Indeed, it only says with certainty “God loves those who believe.”

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6 thoughts on “I’m DONE with John 3:16!

  1. I’m with you on the abuse of this verse … from Christians. Interestingly, they’re mistaken on the language. The word “so” in that verse is not a “so” of magnitude — “God loved the world so much” — but of type. It is not a quantity, but a quality. We use the word that way when we say, “You have to do this job just so.” Jesus said, “God loved the world in this manner …” In what manner did God love the world? He provided His Son for those who would believe. That falls far short of “God loves everybody so very much!” Indeed, it only says with certainty “God loves those who believe.”

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  2. Pingback: Top 5 Abused Bible Verses | Timothy J. Hammons

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  4. M

    Not to get into too big an argument, but I’m really not sure Stan is right in his reading of John 3:16. For convenience, I quote the NASB, so as to be sure that we are looking at the same text: ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’

    It is in principle true, as you have said, Stan, that the Greek ‘so’ (Οὕτως) used here does not, of itself, imply the extent of God’s love–it is etymologically a qualitative, not a quantitative word. Nevertheless, Greek is not, any more than English, always so precise with its ‘thusses’ and ‘soes’ (think of the (highly colloquial) ‘I so wanted to do that!’)–indeed, the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon (s.v. Οὕτως III) records numerous instances, as far back as Homer, of Οὕτως meaning ‘so much.’ Whether or not we read it as ‘so much’ or simply as ‘in such a way,’ however, I do not think that the meaning of Οὕτως makes any difference to the interpretation of the passage. What indicates the extent of God’s love is, by either interpretation, the clause that follows, which says ‘that [God] gave His only begotten Son.’ The clause that follows that is a statement of purpose and does not directly depend on Οὕτως. What Jesus is saying, therefore, if I may paraphrase so as to make the syntax explicit, is that God loved the world in such a way or to such a degree (both, I reiterate, are possible interpretations of Οὕτως) that he, as a result, gave his only begotten Son, with the purpose that anyone who believes in that Son should not perish but live eternally.

    Note well: Jesus does not say what you have interpreted him as saying, that God ‘provided His Son for those who would believe.’ The clause about those believing being saved expresses God’s purpose in sending his Son; it says nothing about whether (and in what wise) God purposes to save more than are saved or not. That is a difficult question, on which there are far more opinions than just ‘Calvinist’, ‘Arminian’–not Armenian, by the way, which is the name applied to a people group in the Caucasus–and ‘liberal’ (for the record, I am myself none of the above, nor do I believe that human choice is what saves us, but only the grace of God, freely and genuinely extend to all who hear the proclamation of the Gospel). What Jesus actually says militates against so strongly Calvinist a reading: he affirms that God loved the world–the kosmos, in Greek, which, as in English, can signify not just the human world but the whole of creation–such that he gave his Son to the world–for who else can be the recipient of that gift save those who are loved, which are here not said to be the believers but ‘the world’?

    Only by a flight of hermeneutical gymnastics can one argue that ‘the world’ is in this verse to be reduced to a pre-determined set of people within the world (ordinarily defined as human society or all creation) who can never know that they are part of that pre-determined set until the day of judgment. Perhaps one can read that understanding in from other parts of Scripture; it cannot be gotten out of this passage by itself and, I suspect, if Jesus had meant that, he would have said ‘God so loved the elect’ or even ‘God so loved his people.’ He did not say so, but said ‘the world,’ signifying both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman, all who, being unrighteous, may yet be justified by God’s grace (or why else would John elsewhere call Christ the propitiation for our sins and not ours only, but those of the whole world?). To reduce ‘the world’ to a hidden number of true elect is to deny the force of Jesus’ words. John’s Gospel, I believe, is much simpler and far more profound: God really did love the world, the whole world, so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, the eternally pre-existent and co-equal Word of the Almighty Father, to that World that he, becoming the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, might die, rise again, be seated in glory at his right hand, and, at the end of days, return to judge both those who, by his grace and Spirit (and only by his grace given by the Spirit!), have believed the Gospel and those who, in their sinful resistance to that gracious Spirit, have not, heaping yet more guilt upon their heads for their refusal of grace so lavishly and *actually* extended toward them.

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