Does John 3:16 Prove Jesus Died For All?

One of the most controversial subjects in all of theology is the subject of the atonement. For whom did Christ die? Did Jesus die for every person who ever lived or did He only die for those who would place their trust in Him?

One verse that those against the doctrine of limited atonement point to is John 3:16.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 3:16.

The argument is that because of the use of the word world we see that Christ died for every individual who ever lived.

But there is a problem with this assertion. John 3:16 does not say that Jesus died for the entire world. What does the verse actually say? It says God loved the world. But what does world mean?

The Greek word, κόσμον (kosmos) does mean world. And in the context of John 3:16 it is referring to creation. The argument can be made, legitimately, that it is also referring specifically to people of the world. I agree with this assessment. However, that still does not say that Jesus died for every individual.

The next part of the verse says that God gave His only Son. God loved the world and, as a result, He gave his Son up. But for what purpose did He give Christ? It was not to pay for the sins of every individual. At the end of the day, if you argue for Christ dying for all individuals that is your logical conclusion, that He paid for the sins of everyone. No, it says that whoever believes.

Now, I will say that I do not believe that this verse actually deals with the question people try to make it answer. I do not believe it deals with who Christ died for. But we know from other passages, which will not be dealt with in this article, that He laid His life down for the sheep (John 10:15). The only thing John 3:16 tells us is that Christ, at minimum, died for those who would believe in Him.

Christ Did Not Die For All Sins: A Look At Limited Atonement

One of the things we hear most in Christianity is the idea that Christ died for every sin that was ever committed. But is that accurate? Did Christ truly die for all sins or did he only die for the sins of those who would believe in Him?

The question comes down to what you believe about the atonement. Was the atonement limited or was it universal? Limited Atonement, of course, is one of the five points of a theological viewpoint called Calvinism. Some people refer to this doctrine as definite atonement since limited can be misleading.

The controversy comes when people misunderstand definite atonement. They tend to believe that this means Christ’s sacrifice was not good enough to save everyone. On the contrary, it was sufficient for all, but not meant for all.

You run into a major problem if Christ died for the sin of every man. Some will not be saved, we know this from many passages of Scripture. If some are not saved then Christ’s atonement was not good enough. Some of Christ’s atonement was wasted. He was powerless over them. You also run into the issue of double jeopardy which causes God to be unjust.

People try to overcome this last point by saying, but salvation is a gift that must be accepted. That is not how justice works. Imagine this, you are convicted of a crime and are ordered to pay a penalty. If the penalty is paid for you, it does not matter if you wanted to accept it or not. The price has been paid. You are free to go. You would not be punished for a crime that has already had the punishment fulfilled.

So the plain fact is that Christ did not die for every sin that has ever been committed. No, He died only for the sins of those who would believe in Him.