John Calvin in his own words, Article 3: John 3:16

By Ron F. Hale

He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, and Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.



Have you noticed that some theologians enjoy using the phrase, “On the other hand?”

I like my theologians to be “one-handed” and armed with a straightforward exegesis of the biblical text. I like my theologians to pull out of the text all that is duly and definitely there — no more and no less.

I have to “hand” it to him; John Calvin had a great theological and philosophical mind. He could pull out of scripture some simple and profound truths. Then he would say, “On the other hand,” and the philosophical side of Calvin would bring things out of the blue.

We shall look at Calvin’s treatment of the popular and well-loved John 3:16.

As Calvin addresses the phrase “… that whosoever believeth on him may not perish,” he states:

“It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance to life.”[i]

Calvin informs us that the universal term “whosoever” serves the two-fold purpose of inviting all sinners to partake of life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Calvin looks at the word “world” and handles it properly as he sees Christ reconciling the world unto himself and invites all men without exception to believe in Jesus Christ.

Amen, Brother! Most Southern Baptists could agree that God desires the salvation of all people (whosoever) and that Jesus was offered to all those in the world.

But, John Calvin doesn’t stop with his in-depth exegetical work; the philosophical side of him always seems to break the surface causing confusion. John Calvin goes on to say:

“Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.”[ii]

Hold your horses, John! Where did that come from? Do you have an axe to grind?

Did you see that phrase “on the other hand”? I think Calvin is bringing a second-handed Augustinian tidbit into the commentary of the Gospel of John. In one fell swoop, Calvin suddenly throws biblical exegesis to the wind and defaults to a personal position of reconciling scripture with preconceived philosophical constructs. Well, fiddle-dee-dee.

Even young theologs know that eternal life can’t be genuinely offered to those incapable of receiving it. Think about the character of the God of history; does he invite “all” indiscriminately to partake of life and cut off every excuse from unbelievers and … on the other hand …withhold eternal life from some (or many) by opening only the eyes of the elect to faith?

Dr. Calvin — does your left hand know what your right hand is doing? You can’t have it both ways. Are you a theologian or a philosopher? Are you going to be true to John’s Gospel or Augustine’s philosophical construals? When you make a clear biblical point in one paragraph, the content and context shouldn’t be construed in the next paragraph. You can’t read your personal views of election and predestination into the text; that becomes eisegesis.

Here is the bottom line for John 3:16:We have a God whose walk matches his talk. The Bible tells us God loves us. And, he made salvation possible for “all” through faith in his only begotten Son. On the cross, the soldiers stretched both hands out wide and nailed his hide, hair, and holiness to rough cut timber.

Jesus didn’t speak in terms of “on the other hand.”

His hands are still outstretched and he is saying, “Come to me … ALL … you who are weary!”


[i] John Calvin’s Commentary on John’s Gospel, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids and located online at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom34.ix.iii.html

[ii] Ibid.