How Does Your Theology Read John 3:16?

January 30, 2014

by Ron F. Hale

(comments pre-moderated)

“John 3:16, perhaps the best known verse in the Bible,” says Dr. Jerry Vines, “is also perhaps the first verse we learn and the last one we forget. This one verse has brought multitudes to Christ. Herschel Hobbs called it ‘the Gospel in superlatives.’ Martin Luther called it ‘the Bible in miniature.’ A.T. Robertson referred to it as ‘the Little Gospel.’ Others have called it the ‘Mount Everest of Holy Scripture.’ Still others have called it ‘the most exquisite flower in the Garden of Holy Scripture.’ I like to call it ‘the Gospel in a nutshell.’” [1]

This golden text is simple enough to speak to the head and heart of a child and demanding enough to woo a theologian to a cloistered calling studying the scope of God’s sacrifice and salvation.

However, the reader brings certain presuppositions to the text. These personal presumptions may be driven by biblical understanding, a system of theology, philosophy, logic, cultural mores, emotion, and a host of learning experiences.

Yet, these presuppositions lead us to draw conclusions on John 3:16 like:

  1. Christ’s atonement is universal in scope (He died for all persons made in God’s image) but applicable only to those who believe.
  2. Jesus died only for the elect.
  3.  Jesus died for everyone and all will be saved regardless of belief or behavior.[2]

Let us examine several possible translations of John 3:16 based on the presuppositions that one may bring to bear on the text.

The Arminian reading of John 3:16

Norman Geisler shares, “Arminians insist that the Bible uses belief in the present tense, not as a once-for-all completed act when we were first saved. For example, the famous verse in the gospel of John that promises eternal life for believing does so while speaking of belief (present tense) as a continual process. Hence, verses that call on us to believe can be translated, for example:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever continues to believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).[3]

The suggestion is obvious, when “believing” ceases or faith is abandoned — then salvation is lost. Geisler follows by saying, “Many Arminians contend that if we can exercise faith to “get in” Christ, then we can use the same free will to “get out” of Christ.

The Calvinist reading of John 3:16

John Owen (1616-1683) believes the word love speaks of the special love of God to his elect.[4] Owen pens the following retranslation reflecting his reformed theology:

God so loved his elect throughout the world, that he gave his Son with this intention, that by him believers might be saved (emphasis added).[5]

The Owen version of John 3:16 points to a belief that God in eternity, sovereignly chose certain ones (the elect) to be saved and to show forth his mercy, grace, and glory. God unconditionally elects these, draws the chosen ones by his grace, and regenerates them so they believe. Others do not receive the effectual call of God for salvation. The elect persevere to the end in their belief.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) said of this verse, “However it is certain that not the whole world, but only those chosen out of the world are saved; therefore to them properly this love has reference.”[6] The Westminster Confession says, “…some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.”[7]

John MacArthur cautions those newly infatuated with Reformed doctrine and quickly assuming the position that God doesn’t love everyone; he says:

The argument inevitably goes like this: Psalm 7:11 tells us “God is angry with the wicked every day.” It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect. Those who hold this view often go to great lengths to argue that John 3:16 cannot really mean God loves the whole world.

Perhaps the best-known argument for this view is found in the unabridged edition of an otherwise excellent book, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink. Pink wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word world in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.'”[8]

The Universalist reading of John 3:16

Regardless if one looks to Jesus in faith, there are some that believe everyone will eventfully enjoy heaven for all eternity; they may envision the verse to read:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all God’s children may come to believe that they will inherit everlasting life.

C.E. Autrey (1904-1993) says of the Universalist, “Some people contend that all men are children of God, and that the sole purpose of evangelism is to inform them that they are part of the family of God.”[9]

The “Traditional” Southern Baptist reading of John 3:16

Wheter young or old, many Southern Baptists first memorized John 3:16 in Sunday school, Bible drill, or VBS, in the King James Version (KJV)[10] of the Bible, and it says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Most Southern Baptists read the words “world” and “whosoever” without theological sophistication and deem that any sinner can be saved if they meet God’s biblical conditions. For instance, I came to Christ at 23 after being reared in a family that did not attend church or have family Bible readings. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit used verses like John 3:16 in drawing me to faith in Christ, I realized that I was a sinner and a “whosoever,” and Jesus would and could save me from my sins if I would turn from my sins (repentance) and look to him in faith by calling on Him to forgive me.

More than 35 years later, and after obtaining several educational degrees from Baptist institutions, I have not wavered from that basic belief that anyone and everyone (from the gutter-most to the utter-most) can be saved if they meet God’s biblical conditions.

I believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary was intended both to provide salvation for all and to procure salvation for all who believe (emphasis added).[11]

The Apostle Paul explains it best as he encouraged young Timothy with these words, “and from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).[12]

© Ron F. Hale, January 21, 2014


[1] Jerry Vines, “Sermon on John 3:16” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 13-14.

[2] This is not an exhaustive list of possible presuppositions.  

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, Third Edition, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2010), 324.

[4] William H. Gould, editor, The Works of John Owen, Volume X (reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 323.

[5] Ibid. 326.

[6] James T. Dennison, Jr., editor of the Institutes of Elenctic Theology – Volume One: First Through Tenth Topics by Francis Turretin, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 405.

[9] C.E. Autrey, The Theology of Evangelism, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966), 80.

[10] This statement is not to suggest that Southern Baptists should be KJV only. Until its recent changes, I used the NIV while preaching, and now I use the NKJV.

[11] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Volume Three, Sin & Salvation, (Bethany House: Minneapolis, 2004), 179.

[12] Holman Christian Standard Bible

Leave a Comment:

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Clay Gilbreath

If Jesus were a Calvinist, wouldn’t John 3:16 be a very misleading sentence? Calvinists jump through so many hoops to explain away this beautiful verse. Other places: the rich young ruler, weeping over Jerusalem because “they would not” repent, etc. etc. – it appears Jesus did not subscribe to the 5 points….

Rick Patrick

Ron,

Thanks for so clearly unpacking the theological presuppositions we all bring to John 3:16. The plain reading of the text clearly supports the Traditionalist view, while the other views require the insertion of certain “creative liberties” in order to make the text say what others wish that it said to confirm their presuppositions.

I am especially pleased that you included among the viewpoints in your article the Arminian interpretation I so strongly disaffirm. Since Arminians leave open the issue of losing one’s salvation, while Traditionalists are unwavering in our support for Perseverance, both positions deserve to be treated precisely as you have done here—as two distinct systems with their own labels, definitions and proponents. As usual, Ron, extremely well done.

Norm Miller

Thank you, Ron, for once again putting “all the cookies on the bottom shelf,” as Billy Sunday would say. Any writer worth his salt would recognize that a comment regarding the simplicity of his writing is a high one, indeed. With crystal clarity you made the case for a Baptist reading of John 3.16, and demonstrated the singular differences of all others outside the Traditional, Hobbs-Rogers understanding of the “gospel in a nutshell.”

Whereas I enjoyed the entire essay, I especially enjoyed the Geisler citation:
“I believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary was intended both to provide salvation for all and to procure salvation for all who believe” (emphasis added/Ron Hale).

Please keep the keys clacking! — Norm

David R. Brumbelow

Ron,
Great article. John 3:16 seems to sum it all up. And a simple reading, and believing of it, is the best. Just take it, and believe it, for what it says.
David R. Brumbelow

Stephen R. Jones

Thank you, Ron, for this very clear presentation of this sacred verse! I especially liked the line: “Most Southern Baptists read the words “world” and “whosoever” without theological sophistication and deem that any sinner can be saved if they meet God’s biblical conditions.” I’ve used John 3:16 with hundreds of children and didn’t have to dilute the message. And I have used it with countless adults and didn’t have to add “theological sophistication” either. Also, I was going to copy and paste Rick Patrick’s reply but I’ll leave it at “what Rick said”. This was a refreshing message to read this morning after a nice rain here in California!

Ben Simpson

To be honest, all of the viewpoints try to load John 3:16 with too much meaning. Some from the more Arminian/Traditionalist persuasion pour in extra meaning to use John 3:16 as a soteriological trump card, blowing away any and all viewpoints of particularity in election or atonement. Others from the more Calvinistic persuasion pour in extra meaning to try to make John 3:16 a verse fully heralding the particularity of election or atonement. How about we just let John 3:16 mean what it says and quit trying to pour our entire soteriology into it?!

1. God loves the world
2. God gave His Son Jesus to demonstrate His love for the world
3. Whoever believes on Jesus will have everlasting life

I know that Universalists won’t agree with those points because they reject that personal belief in Jesus is a prerequisite to salvation, but more Arminian and more Calvinistic Baptists certainly should agree and should leave it at that. Get your nuances of soteriological doctrine from somewhere else!

    Norm Miller

    I would object on three grounds to your take on this, Ben.

    1. Lumping Arminians and Traditionlists together is — albeit unintended, I am sure — an insult to Trads in that it portends that Trads believe one can lose his/her salvation. Such is not the case, as you know.
    2. Accusing Trads of eisegesis, when exegetically, the word ‘cosmos’ clearly means the world, and certainly does not mean ‘the elect,’ is an unfair characterization in this case.
    3. Excluding John 3.16 from one’s biblical, soteriological convictions is wrong-headed.

    I do agree with you, here: “How about we just let John 3:16 mean what it says”; but, I cannot cotton to the rest of that sentence as opined by you. — Norm

    Ben Simpson

    Norm,

    Thanks for the discussion.

    1. My intention for lumping “more Arminian/Traditionalist” together had nothing to do losing salvation. Perhaps I should should have put an “s” after “persuasion.”. My putting them together had to do with Arminians and Traditionalists both using John 3:16 as a trump card against particularism.

    2. I agree with you that “cosmos” means “world” and doesn’t mean “elect.”

    3. I’m not saying to ignore John 3:16 in formulating our soteriology. I’m simply encouraging us to not pour more meaning into it than is there, which I believe we all have a tendency to do.

      Norm Miller

      The verse is one of many that mitigates against Jesus dying only for the elect. I am not willing to excise it from a biblical position to which it is foundational. Others, however, seem willing to change it to fit their soteriology, as Ron so ably noted.

    Robert

    Ben you seem confused in two distinct areas. First you are confused regarding the concepts of “meaning” and “emphasis”. Meaning refers to what the text means. Emphasis refers to the way a person emphasizes the important of a particular bible verse. You wrote:

    “To be honest, all of the viewpoints try to load John 3:16 with too much meaning.”

    You cannot “load too much meaning” on a verse as meaning does not consist of degrees of meaning: a verse means what the author intended it to mean (no more no less). Ben you are confusing the word “meaning” with the word “emphasis”. So your claim ought to be that some emphasize this verse too much (your statement would have been better worded had it been “To be honest, all of the viewpoints try to load John 3:16 with too much emphasis.”)

    Ben you are also mistaken and confused when you ask others not to emphasize John 3:16 as much as they do:

    “Some from the more Arminian/Traditionalist persuasion pour in extra meaning to use John 3:16 as a soteriological trump card, blowing away any and all viewpoints of particularity in election or atonement.”

    The problem is that this verse when it is properly interpreted (i.e. we determine the proper meaning of the verse) *does* function as “a soteriological trump card” against the limited atonement view. This so because if it means what it says, then limited atonement is necessarily false. I will write a separate post to demonstrate why this is true.

    Robert

      Robert

      The simple logic that the vast majority of Christians have held to (including Protestants with the exception of those holding to limited atonement; Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, independents) is that if God loves the world (the verse says that explicitly) and God provides Jesus as an atonement for the world (this is inferred from the claim that God loves the world and gave the Son for the world), then the inescapable conclusion is that Jesus died for the world.

      And the critical point is that “world” includes both (1) those who eventually become believers, as well as (2) those who never become believers (i.e. not all of the world converts to Christ, but some of the world does). Advocates of limited atonement claim that Jesus died for group (1) but not for group (2). But this claim is completely refuted if “world” in John 3 includes both groups.

      So if “world” is correctly interpreted to mean both (1) and (2) then John 3:16 does in fact serve quite well as “a soteriological trump card” because it establishes that Jesus died not just for group 1/those who eventually become believers, but also for group 2/those who never become believers.

      It is easy to see why this verse is used as a trump card against limited atonement because this single verse correctly interpreted does in fact refute limited atonement.

      Ben you tell us:

      “How about we just let John 3:16 mean what it says and quit trying to pour our entire soteriology into it?!”

      But that is just it, if we “let John 3:16 mean what it says” then Jesus died for the world which includes both (1) and (2). If that is true, then limited atonement is necessarily false.

      Ben then provided three propositions:

      “1. God loves the world
      2. God gave His Son Jesus to demonstrate His love for the world
      3. Whoever believes on Jesus will have everlasting life”

      Put #3 aside as we all agree on this proposition and we all agree that John 3 correctly interpreted does present this proposition.

      The problem for limited atonement is propositions 1 and 2. This is true because if “world “ includes both those who end up becoming believers and those who never end up becoming believers: then the truth of 1 and 2 completely contradicts limited atonement. So it really comes down to the meaning of the word “world”. There is no evidence the word is restricted to mean only those who eventually become believers. The word includes both those who end up as believers and those who do not. For example: Judas and Peter at some point in their lives were both part of the “world”. Peter ended up as a believer while Judas never became a believer. Yet both were part of the “world” at some point in their lives. If as Ben says “God loves the world” and “God gave His Son Jesus to demonstrate His love for the world” then Jesus died for both Peter and Judas as both were part of the “world.”

      Ben you concluded with: “Get your nuances of soteriological doctrine from somewhere else!”

      John 3 is not about “nuances” it is about the fundamental claim that Jesus died for the world. If he did so, and if world includes more than just those who eventually become believers, then this single verse refutes the doctrine of limited atonement. Most Christians see this easily and clearly, it is only Calvinists who have to resort to eisegetical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of this text. And exhorting us to not emphasize the verse will not work as innumerable Christians have seen that this single verse refutes the false Calvinistic doctrine of limited atonement. Now if we go beyond the biblical texts and look at the Calvinist system then we understand why Calvinists hold to limited atonement (i.e. not because it is presented by biblical texts, it is not, there are no verses that say that Jesus died only for the elect, but because that interpretation is dictated by the system).

      Robert

        Ben Simpson

        Robert,

        With all due respect, your comments are a perfect example of what I was talking about when I mentioned loading too much meaning into John 3:16. Where does the text say that Jesus died for the world? It doesn’t say that at all. You’re loading that into the text.

          Ron Hale

          Ben, in your response to Robert, you said: “With all due respect, your comments are a perfect example of what I was talking about when I mentioned loading too much meaning into John 3:16. Where does the text say that Jesus died for the world? It doesn’t say that at all. You’re loading that into the text.”

          Dr. David Allen, in the book Whosoever Will (p. 103), gives a “hypothetical case” of a Pastor Search Committee asking potential candidates this question: “Do you believe Christ died for the world?”

          Dr. Allen qualifies this scenario by saying, “Oftentimes a pastor search committee is not theologically astute enough to ask the kinds of questions to determine what a potential pastor believes about Calvinism and particularly the extent of the atonement.”

          He notes that our laymen on the committee in asking the question – understands the word “world” to refer to all people without exception. The questioner also intends “died for” to mean “died for the sins of” the world.

          Then Dr. Allen states, “High-Calvinists believe Christ died for humanity in the sense that His death brings them common grace but not that Christ died for the sins of the world.”

          Also, Dr. Allen says, “No high-Calvinist can say, ‘Christ died for the sins of the world’ unless they understand the world ‘world’ to mean the elect.”

          Last, he says, “but this view is precisely how most high-Calvinists understand the word ‘world’ in passages like John 3:16; they interpret it to mean the world of the elect only and not every person individually. So, in our hypothetical case, when the candidate is asked the question, ‘Do you believe Christ died for the world?’ he can answer ‘yes’ to that question by his definition of ‘world’ only and not every person individually.”

          Ben … for whom did Jesus die?

          Ben Simpson

          Ron,

          1. John 3:16 doesn’t tell us whom Christ died for. It tells us that God gave Jesus to the world out of love, and it tells us who can be saved, namely “whoever believes” or more precisely from the Greek “the believing.”

          2. I like Dr. Allen a lot, but I think he missed something. In the quotes you offered, he created a false dilemma. He’s opining that one either has to understand “world” to mean “the elect” or “every single person.” He’s missing the options that “world” could simply mean the sphere of humanity without reference to individuals or groups. “World” could also mean “all groups of people,” a la Revelation 5:9-10, And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

          3. Christ died for all who will believe. I believe that both conditional and unconditional electionists should agree on that.

          Robert

          Ben your comments strike me as a case of special pleading. Your argument now appears to be that since the word atonement or cross is not explicitly present in 3:16, therefore we ought to conclude that the verse is not talking about the atonement of Christ at all.

          You wrote:

          “With all due respect, your comments are a perfect example of what I was talking about when I mentioned loading too much meaning into John 3:16. Where does the text say that Jesus died for the world? It doesn’t say that at all. You’re loading that into the text.”

          You ask “Where does the text say that Jesus died for the world?”

          You then claim that “You’re loading that into the text.”

          Hmm, the text explicitly says that “For God so loved the world” (which means that He loves the entire world, not just the part of it that ends up becoming a believer). And then the text gives us the reason why we know that God loves the world: “that he gave his only Son”.

          So the question is what does this giving of the Son refer to, what does it mean?

          Does it mean he just gave Jesus as an example of how people should live? No.

          Does it mean he gave Jesus as a good teacher so people could learn some things? No.

          What does this giving refer to?

          What does it mean?

          It seems that most believers (excepting you Calvinists whose interpretation is agenda driven: i.e. you must guard and protect your system of theology at all costs) have absolutely no difficulty determining the meaning of this “giving” of the Son. It means giving Him *on the cross*. That is the way everybody (except of course Calvinists who hold to limited atonement, again not driven by the text but by their theology) interprets this phrase.

          It is not just the Father giving the Son in a vacuum.

          In the context of the gospel of John the “giving” of Jesus refers to his being given ON THE CROSS. Ben you are correct the verse does not have the word “atonement” in it, nor does it have the word “cross”.

          But the issue is what does that phrase “that he gave his one and only Son” mean????

          Another clear textual indicator that the phrase refers to Jesus being given on the cross is the following phrase: “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This “believing” that results in salvation throughout both John and the New Testament is connected not to merely believing that Jesus existed, that he was a good teacher, that he did certain miracles, etc. This believing is repeatedly connected to his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. It is *believing* in those two realities that saves a person. This “believing” is not in a vacuum nor is the “giving” of the Son in a vacuum. In the gospel of John and throughout the New Testament both the giving and the believing are connected to Jesus death on the cross and His resurrection (e.g. when Jesus says in John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven: if anyone eats of this bread he shall live for ever and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh” is he talking about cannibalism or is he referring to the cross when he says “the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh”??? This giving of his flesh is it referring to communion or to the cross?)

          Ben you are playing a game with the text (similar to semantic game played by the cultists who argue “well I don’t see the word *trinity* anywhere in that text so there is no trinity . . .”) as its meaning is clear to the vast majority of Christians.
          The giving of Jesus by the Father refers to the cross.

          The believing mentioned in John 3:16 is in connection with Jesus’ death on the cross.

          Believing is also a strong theme in 3:17-18: and we have to ask believing in what? The answer is: believing in Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.

          Robert

dgsinclair

The other doctrinal item most people overlook in this passage is the view of hell implied here in the word ‘perish.’ The Conditionalist view of hell (elsewhere described as destruction and the second death) seems pretty plain here unless your doctrinal filter requires you to have a more complex and non-intuitive definition of ‘perish,’ i.e. eternal conscious torment.

Jonathan Carter

Bro. Ron–what a great article! What a clear and precise writing style you have used to unpack such a wonderful truth of scripture! Thanks brother!

Ron F. Hale

Thanks Gentlemen for your kind words. There is so much in this gospel gem — JN 3:16!

By far the most effective message that I’ve preached overseas is a simple message that tells the story of the bronze serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 (Look and Live) and how that points to John 3:14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up.” Then … sharing the great truths of John 3:16. Those who obeyed by looking at the serpent on the pole – lived. Those who didn’t look, did not live. Those who look to the Cross (His atoning sacrifice) by believing (trusting, faithing) Jesus will live. Those who do not look, do not live. May we share the Good News!

    Robert

    Ron you made a point that I think also needs to be added in showing that Ben’s claim that John 3:16 does not tell us for whom Christ died. You brought up John 3:14:

    “By far the most effective message that I’ve preached overseas is a simple message that tells the story of the bronze serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 (Look and Live) and how that points to John 3:14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up.” Then … sharing the great truths of John 3:16. Those who obeyed by looking at the serpent on the pole – lived. Those who didn’t look, did not live. Those who look to the Cross (His atoning sacrifice) by believing (trusting, faithing) Jesus will live. Those who do not look, do not live. May we share the Good News!”

    In 3:14 the “lifting” up of the Son of Man/Jesus is compared with the snake on the pole historical incident described in Numbers 21. In 3:14 the atonement of Jesus is clearly being referred to and is referred to as the “lifting” up of Jesus. Clearly the words “lifted up” is directly referring to the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion. 3:15 also has the theme of the importance of believing/faith. So we have the two themes of the atonement of Christ and believing present in 3:14-15.

    Isn’t it also true that John 3:14-16 serves as the *direct context* for John 3:16-18?

    If that is true, then we have yet another proof that John 3:16 is indeed referring to the atonement of Christ.

    While the atonement of Christ is referred to in 3:14 with the words “lifting up”: in 3:16 the atonement of Christ is referred to with the words “He *gave* His one and only Son”. This also connects well with the snake on the pole story in Numbers 21. In Numbers 21 God “gave” the snake on the pole as the way of deliverance. In John 3 God “gave” His Son, Jesus on the cross as the way of deliverance.

    Besides the correct meaning of the words “world” and “gave” in John 3:16, this combined with the contextual verses (i.e. John 3:14-15) gives further support that this whole section (John 3:14-18) is referring to the atonement of Christ. While the words “atonement” and “cross” are not explicitly mentioned in these verses: if we correctly interpret the terms that are present and combine this with the clear reference to Jesus’ atonement in 3:14, it is clear that the apostle John was talking about Jesus’ atonement throughout this section.

    It is not as if John is talking about the atonement of Jesus in 3:14-15 and then abruptly changes the subject and talks about something different in 3:16.

    No, he is talking about the atonement of Christ throughout this section.

    Robert

Robert

Ben you wrote:

“1. John 3:16 doesn’t tell us whom Christ died for. It tells us that God gave Jesus to the world out of love, and it tells us who can be saved, namely “whoever believes” or more precisely from the Greek “the believing.”

Those comments deserve a response because in my opinion this is just a bit misleading.

Ben you are correct that the text of John 3:16 does not explicitly refer to either the word “atonement” or “cross”.

It does however explicitly say two things: first, that God loves the world (so we need to determine the proper meaning of “world” in that text). And second that “He gave His one and only Son”(so we need to determine the proper meaning of “gave” in that text).

Ben you claim that “John 3:16 doesn’t tell us whom Christ died for”.

Actually it does.

It does if we *properly interpret* “world” and “gave”.

“World” in this context refers to humanity in opposition to God (e.g. Jesus says to his disciples that they are not of the world, meaning they are no longer part of that mass of humanity that is in opposition to God: John says in his first letter that genuine believers do not love the “world”, and we are told in other places that the “world” hated Christ and hates believers). So “world” in John 3:16 does not refer to the physical earth, but is a term referring to humanity in opposition to God. By the way, D. A. Carson, who is both an excellent exegete and a Calvinist takes this to be the meaning of world in John 3:16 in his commentary on John. So this is not just my idiosyncratic viewpoint. It is in fact the common view held by most Christians.
And then there is “gave” which I explained in my other post means the giving of the Son on the cross.

If we combine these two truths (the meaning of “world” in 3:16 and the meaning of “gave” in 3:16) then the text *does* tell us whom Christ died for: he died for the world.

We know that God loves the world by the fact that the Father gave the Son/Jesus on the cross for that world.

It is this giving of Jesus by the Father for the world that demonstrates God’s love for the world. So while the words “atonement” and “cross” are not present in 3:16: the concept of the atonement of Christ *is* there if the terms that are present in 3:16 are properly interpreted.

By the way the dead giveaway of false and mistaken interpretations of John 3:16 is that they incorrectly interpret “world” and “gave”. We should note that Ben provides mistaken interpretations of the word “world” and He does not provide us his interpretation of what the text means when it says the Father “gave” the Son. This giving refers to the cross and hence it refers to the atonement of Christ. That being true, we know for whom Christ: it was for the world just as John 3:16 makes clear.

Robert

Ben Simpson

Robert,

There’s a lot to respond to here. The main case that you tried to make in all you’ve written thus far today is that John 3:16 and the surrounding context tells us that Jesus died for every single individual. The text simply will not bear that out. I’m not saying that John 3:16 contradicts your viewpoint. I’m simply saying that John 3:16 doesn’t support your viewpoint. John 3:14-18 is telling us how we can be saved. We can be saved by believing on Jesus. You cannot say anything more from this text than God out of love for creation sacrificed Jesus so that those who believe on Jesus will be saved. Please argue your universal atonement from another text.

    Robert

    Well Ben since you are intentionally ignoring every point that I made let’s make this real simple for you: what does the text mean in 3:16 when it speaks of the Father *giving* the Son? What does that “giving” mean? You have completely neglected and ingored this point. So what does this “giving” mean Ben????

    Robert

      Norm Miller

      Ben: I don’t mean to pile on, here, but Robert has articulated my point as well. It is impossible to understand the meaning of “didomi” (GK.,’he gave’) if one ignores the “why” and the “what” of “he gave.” Necessarily, “for God so loved the world” is why he gave. God gave because he loved the world. Ben is spot-on to extrapolate universal atonement from that. “He gave” makes no sense unless the motivation, substance and object of the giving are understood. those are what defines the gift.
      When did the Father give the Son, and when was the giving over?
      Clearly, the verse points to universal atonement and the universal availability of the atonement to whosoever believes.
      You said some import too much meaning into this verse. In my view, you are ignoring the meaning that is there. We are acknowledging it.

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