John 3: 16, A Great Statement


      There are several profound and great verses in the Bible regarding God’s love for man. One is "…for God is love" (I Jn. 4: 8, see "The Love of God," click on Great Truths to visit). Another verse is John 3: 16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3: 16 is memorized, quoted, and referred to perhaps more than any verse in the entire Bible. Alas, John 3: 16 is also among the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. We shall now explore the verse to ascertain its meaning and why the verse contains such a great statement.

     Great because of the one who loved. GOD so loved! The eternal God, immutable, all knowing, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God who created all that is created – He loved (Deut. 33: 27, Heb. 6: 17, 18, Job 34: 21, Ps. 139, Lev. 11: 44, Gen. 1, 2).

    Great because of whom he loved. "For God so loved THE WORLD," we are told, all emphasis throughout mine, dm). The "world" (kosmos) is not the world John said to "love not," but mankind (I Jn. 2: 15, here cosmos is used for the baser elements, see verse 16). The greatness of God’s love for man is seen in the fact of the total unworthiness of man to be a recipient of God’s love: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5: 8). Christ died for the ungodly (vs. 6).

     Great because of how much he loved. "For God SO LOVED…," John wrote. There continues to be a debate among some scholars as to whether "so" (oste) means manner or degree. R.C.H. Lenski comments thus on "so," "in this way and to such an astounding degree" (Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, pg. 259). John later wrote, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us…" (I Jn. 3: 1).

     The extent of God’s love is seen in "that he gave his only begotten Son…." The love (agapao) of John 3: 16 is unselfish and seeks the well being of the one(s) so loved. Hence, "he gave." The Father loved so much that he gave his "only begotten Son." Jesus was unique (only begotten is from monogenes, which means one of a kind). Such an unselfish act for God to sacrifice ("gave") his one of a kind Son for sinful men!

     Great because of how many God loved. The universality of God’s love is seen in "that WHOSOEVER believeth…." The Pharisaic concept in John’s day limited God’s love to the Jews (Matt. 5: 43 ff.). The Augustinian view would seek to circumvent God’s love to the "elect," those who have been arbitrarily predestined to be saved (called Calvinism today). However, the scriptures teach, "…if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3: 20).

     Great because of the negative purpose of the statement. The verse says, "…that whosoever believeth in him SHOULD NOT PERISH…." "Perish" is an antonym for "everlasting life." The negation "should not perish (KJV, me apoletai) is literally translated "may not perish" (Marshall in Nestle’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). This lack of permission to perish, however, is conditional (see later).

     Great because of the positive purpose of the statement. The opposite of perish, as seen, is "HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE." There shall only be two classes of individuals, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25: 46). Jesus presents in detail the two classes (Matt. 25: 31-46). "Everlasting life" is indicative of the grandeur and bliss which awaits the saved (2 Cor. 5: 1-9, Rev. 20 – 22). "Everlasting life" is the inheritance which is reserved in heaven for the saved (I Pet. 1: 4, Tit. 1: 2).

     Last of all, John 3: 16 is great because of the condition upon which man can enjoy the benefits of God’s wonderful love. The condition is: "…that whosoever BELIEVETH IN HIM should not perish…." Let it be immediately understood, the contemplated "belief" is not a dead, inactive faith (Jas. 2: 14-26). The faith which avails is "faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5: 6, I Jn. 5: 3). "Faith only," as such, never saved anybody (Jas. 2: 19).

     "Believeth" is translated from pisteuon. The grammar of pisteuon ("believeth") is important: nominative case, singular in number, masculine in gender, participle, and present tense (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 326). The participle and present tense is describing on going, continuos action. One expanded translation renders it, "…whosoever believes in (trusts, clings to, relies on)…" (The Amplified New Testament). Marshall accents the participle, "everyone believing in him…" (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).

     Those who believe in him (present tense) are those who repent, confess Christ deity, and are baptized for the remission of sin (Acts 2: 38, Rom. 10: 9, 10, Acts 2: 38, see Acts 16: 30-34, please visit "Salvation," accessed from the home page). The Lord adds them to his church (Acts 2: 47, KJV, Gal. 3: 26, 27). These who believe will then add all the virtues (grow) and in so doing, "…if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Pet. 1: 5-10). However, one can elect to cease believing (Heb. 3: 12-19).

     Indeed, John 3: 16 contains a great statement. It is difficult to know why all men are not appropriating God’s love to themselves and reaping the rich benefits (Jude 21).