Let’s Talk About John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most quoted and most beloved verses in all of Scripture. It is a defining verse that gives hope for humanity. Whoever believes in Christ will not perish. This is an amazing verse of strength, glory, and victory. But this verse is also misused regularly.

It is often stated that John 3:16 is definitive proof that God loves everyone equally and wants to save every individual. Further, it is argued that it means Christ died for the sins of every individual. However, none of these assertions are reality.

First, John 3:16 does not actually address who Christ died for directly. It only says that Christ came because of God’s love for the world and that those who believe in him will not perish. It states nothing about the extent of the atonement other than that those who believe will receive it.

But does John 3:16 say that God loves all with a “saving” love? I do not see how one can argue that from this text. Verses 17 and 18 negate this idea. They state that those who do not believe have been condemned already. They already stand condemned. They will not be saved. God has not chosen them to be saved. If God had a “saving” love for every individual, every individual would be saved. To believe otherwise would say that God cannot accomplish His will.

The idea that there is no predestination, that there is no election, is to say that God leaves everything to chance. We do not find that anywhere in Scripture. No, God chose and will save those who he has chosen. There are others that He has chosen not to save. That is what Scripture teaches.

Is this a hard pill to swallow? In some ways, yes. But in other ways it should be extremely comforting to know that God is saving anyone at all when we all deserve Hell fire.

8 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About John 3:16

  1. tasdgs March 26, 2022 / 12:23 pm

    David, I have a question for you. How do you know, for sure, that you are part of the Elect and not a member of the damned?

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    • David Taylor March 26, 2022 / 2:14 pm

      The Bible clearly addresses how to know if we are saved. So I’m not sure why this is a question. If you are saved, you are elect.

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  2. Nelson banuchi April 23, 2022 / 6:35 pm

    Eisegesis will get it wrong all the time. The argument is rather silly as the clear reading of the text and, of course, context suggests that the intended meaning refers to all men without exception.

    First of all, I am glad to know that there are Reformed scholars despite my disagreements with their theology, who read, at least, John 3:16 and not their theology into the text; see: https://barrywallace.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/calvin-carson-and-piper-on-john-316/

    Second, the objection is made that John 3:16 “does not actually address who Christ died for directly.”

    Well, actually, along with vs.14-15, it does. And who is it directly referencing: the world, that is, everybody, all men as sinners. God’s love is directed to the “world” and it is not qualified. In the NIDNTT, p.524, we read, “As early as Paul, the term kosmos is given a typically anthropological and historical stamp,” while having become guilty before God is, nevertheless, “the place and object of God’s saving activity.” God cannot love or have a relationship with inanimate objects. In the TDNT abridged, of kosmos, we read that it refers to “the theatre of human life,” and (as with Thayer) the “inhabited world,” which, in “divine love he has come to save (John 3:16); therefore, John 3:16 must necessarily refer to all men as sinners without exception.

    Vs.14-15 read that any person of the nation of Israel who looks upon the serpent will live; and the OT reads that all Israel is invited to look upon the serpent. Having extended salvation further out from the Jews to the Gentiles, God has extended it to the world, Jew and Gentile alike. God always loved the humanity, which is why He chose a nation so that He could, through him, reach out to the world with blessing according to His promise to Abraham; it wasn’t just for the sake of Abraham or the Jews that they were chosen.

    Third, the fact that the condition for salvation is to believe necessarily renders v.16 as having reference to humanity and not any portion of inanimate Creation. Besides, it seems God will not restore Creation until He first restores humanity. As we read in Romans, it is Creation that waits for God’s sons to be revealed. Christ died for the sake of humanity; He did not take upon himself the sins of inanimate Creation, like rocks or trees.

    Fourth, while God gave His Son for the world, humanity, nevertheless, it is true that not all humanity may be saved since they must believe in order to obtain eternal life. But those who believe are not limited to a specific chosen who are, thereby enabled to believe by virtue of a divine decree and predestination to salvation. Those who are saved are “whoever” from the world is believing in Him: “πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων this construction has a generalizing tendency… ‘anyone who believes’.” (Linguistic & Exegetical Greek Key to the NT).

    Fifth, while it is admitted that there are certain nuances in the meaning of κόσμον/”kosmos,” which always means the created order (except in 1 Peter 3:3), one meaning is “the sphere of human life and humanity itself (Mt. 4:8; Mk 8:36; Jn 3:19; 2 Cor 5:19)… In this sense kosmos often has a negative connotation… equated with this passing evil age” (Mounce). There is nowhere in the Bible where kosmos refers to the elect, to believers but rather refers to men in rebellion with God.

    Sixth, as far as vs. 18-19, those who are condemned are those who maintain their position of unbelief. It is “he who is not believing” [present active participle] who has been judged. The one who “refuses to place his trust in the Son, being of such a nature that he refuses to be persuaded,” as long as he remains in that state of hostility towards God, it is he who “shall not see life, but the wrath of God is abiding on him” (Wuest). That is, it is not speaking necessarily of final judgment but of the unbelievers present state before God while he maintains unbelief.

    Seventh, as such, v.17 is not speaking of specific persons chosen unalterably by divine decree but of the divine intent for the giving of the Son, that is, not to judge humanity (world/kosmos) “but that [humanity] might not perish but have eternal life.”

    Lastly, of John 3:18, Nicoll comments, “John repeats the word κόσμος three times in this verse that there may be no possibility of missing his point, that, so far as God’s purpose is concerned, it was one of unmixed love, that all men might be saved. The emphasis was due to the ordinary expectation which limited and misrepresented the love of God” (Expositor’s Greek NT, vol.1, p.717).

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    • David Taylor April 25, 2022 / 3:28 pm

      First, you may want to read about the differences between all men without exception and all men without distinction. Those are not the same thing.

      Second, you have a long way to go to saying that world is talking about individuals and not humanity in general (which supports the argument all men without exception.)

      There is no amount of twisting that makes world equal individuals. It is humanity and creation in general.

      And yes, verse 17, humanity does not perish because he saves some. Just as in the days of Noah.

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  3. Robert Anderson April 24, 2022 / 5:59 am

    David, you said, “But does John 3:16 say that God loves all with a “saving” love?” I am not sure I understand your statement.

    Are you suggesting that there is a type of love where, if you saw someone you “loved” perishing and were able to help them, you would NOT save them? How would you classify this as love?

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    • David Taylor April 25, 2022 / 3:22 pm

      Hey Robert, thanks for writing. There are people who argue that the love God has for the world in John 3:16 is a saving love. What they mean when they say this is that He literally wants to save every person who ever lived. However, I don’t see kosmos in John 3:16 referring to individuals, rather creation in general. People in general. He loves humanity in general.

      But we try to attach human emotion to salvation and damnation without looking at it from God’s perspective. To God, we all deserve damnation because we have all broken his law and deserve punishment, namely, death. The fact that he saves anyone at all shows great mercy and compassion. Agape in verse 16 is used for love and it has the sense of high esteem for, satisfaction with, high regard. So it is talking about he loves humanity, in general, with a high regard. He did not want to wipe out all of humanity, which he would be just in doing. Rather, he saves some of humanity, just like he saved some, not all, of humanity in the days of Noah.

      I hope this helps.

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  4. swordman53 April 24, 2022 / 12:05 pm

    Let me ask a question here. You asked, “But does John 3:16 say that God loves all with a “saving” love?”

    What kind of love would it be that does not want to save those who you claim to love? That is, if you really loved someone and you could save them, why would you not want to save them?

    Like

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