Episode 7: What does John 3:16 Really Mean?
Today’s Question: What does John 3:16 REALLY MEAN? Are we wrong about the most famous verse in the Bible?.
John 3:16 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.– for most of my life it has been the most famous verse in the Bible. It’s only rival today is ‘Judge not that ye not be judged’. More on that soon.
Spurgeon: OF all the stars in the sky the pole-star is the most useful to the mariner. This text is a pole-star, for it has guided more souls to salvation than any other Scripture. It is among promises what the Great Bear is among constellations.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith
John 3:16 Guy: Rollen Fredrick Stewart (born February 23, 1944), also known as Rock’n Rollen and Rainbow Man, is a man who was a fixture in American sports culture best known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and, later, holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at stadium sporting events around the United States and overseas in the 1970s and 1980s. He is serving three life sentences in a California prison after being convicted of multiple kidnapping charges after a 1992 incident. Stewart was arrested in 1992 after a standoff in a California hotel during which he entered a vacant room with two men whom he tried to recruit for a job, who later fled the scene after he attempted to kidnap a surprised maid who then locked herself in the bathroom. Reportedly, Stewart believed that the Rapture was due to arrive in six days. During the standoff, he threatened to shoot at airplanes taking off from nearby Los Angeles International Airport, and covered the hotel room windows with “John 3:16” placards. Stewart was married four times, most notably to Margaret Hockridge. The two met at a church in Virginia in 1984. They began traveling across the country together in 1985. While on the road, they married in St. Louis in 1986. During the 1986 World Series, Hockridge said that Stewart tried to choke her for standing in the wrong spot with a John 3:16 sign.
So – what does John 3:16 mean?? Most people would say that it has to do with the AMOUNT of Love God has for us. That He loves us SOOOOOOO much, that He sent His son. Now – that is a TRUE Statement. The Love of God was indeed SOOO deep for people, that He sent His son, but, shocker of shockers…That is NOT what John 3:16 is talking about. Now, I realize I sound like one of those Fedora wearing, neck-bearded internet guys that go around correcting everybody – WELL, ACSHUALLY… But, two things: One, I don’t own a fedora and 2- I actually do shave my neck.
Let’s go to the expert:
Bill MOUNCE, AKA Captain Biblical Greek, : The problem, if you are unaware, is that when the KJV says “For God so loved the world,” everyone I have ever asked what “so” meant responded “so much.” If you check BDAG, you will see that this is a rare and not possible meaning of οὕτως in this context. But you’d better be careful if you change people’s favorite Bible verse.
Here are BDAG’s first three definitions of HOUTOS οὕτως.
1. “referring to what precedes, in this manner, thus, so.”
2. “pert. to what follows in discourse material, in this way, as follows” (which is where BDAG places John 3:16)
BDAG – Bauer’s Lexicon. Bauer’s Lexicon is among the most highly respected dictionaries of Biblical Greek. Bauer–Arndt–Gingrich–Danker
HOUTOS οὕτως in John 3:16 clearly has the meaning conveyed by the NLT (“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son”), the CSB (“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son”), and the NET (“For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son,”).
I am playing with this as an option: “For God loved the world so he gave.” What do you think?
Holman/CSB: 16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Did the King James Version Get it wrong? I don’t think so – the fact is that the particle ‘So’ in the English language is very flexible, and it is proper English, when explaining how somebody expressed their love, to say, “They so loved so and so, that they did this.” However, that language is imprecise, and open to misinterpretation in a way that the Greek original text of John 3:16 is not. That text, quite clearly, is speaking of the MANNER in which God loves His people, not the MAGNITUDE of how MUCH He loves His people.
This is a Scripture about the specific WAY God loves us – not the MEASURE of His love. We don’t lose anything here, though, because we have dozens, if not hundreds, of Scriptures on the vastness of God’s Love:
1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Ephesians 2:4-5 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Romans 8:37-39 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:17-19 I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, 19 and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
So – Spurgeon explains it this way:
See clearly that you have to trust your soul with Christ by faith. Perceive that it is vast love which sets before you such a way of salvation in which the only thing required of you is that you be nothing, and trust Christ to be everything, and even that faith He gives you as a gift of his Spirit, so that the plan of salvation is all of love. If you want to repent, do not so much consider your sin as the love of Jesus in suffering for your sin. If you desire to believe, do not so much study the doctrine as study the person of Jesus Christ on the cross. If you desire to love, think over perpetually, until it breaks your heart, the great love of Jesus Christ in laying down His life for His worthless foes. The love of God is the birthplace of holy love. It is not there in your hearts where you are attempting an absurdly impossible feat, namely, to create love in the carnal mind that cannot be reconciled to God, but love must be born in the heart of Jesus and then it shall come down to you.
Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: 1 John, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
John 3:16 then, is a Gospel verse…much like: Romans 5:8 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!
It is not a verse focused on the amount of God’s love for us, but how He has expressed that love…and how He has expressed that love is the Gospel – the good news of the Bible, which is this:
God showed His love for people by sending His son to live the perfect life we couldn’t live, to die the death we deserved for our sins, so that all who LOOK to Him in wholehearted faith, believing in His death and resurrection, will be saved. Not saved by our righteous acts, but saved by HIS SACRIFICE.