Is John 3:16 The Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible?

Well, apparently so according to a post I recently came across (see source below). A comment I wrote in response wasn’t accepted and so I thought it okay to share my $0.02 here. 

What was initially blogged:

“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)

This is perhaps the most oft-quoted, and least understood verse in the Bible.

This verse is used by many to teach that God loves all men the same, has provided salvation for all men the same, and it is up to man to do something with it.

This verse teaches no such thing!

The emphasis in this verse is not the quantity of God’s love, but the quality!

Whether the whosoever refers to one man, or one billion men, it has no bearing on the meaning.

If only one person was converted by this Gospel, it would not be any less glorious than if one billion people were converted by it.

The point of wonder is “God so loved the world…..that He gave…..His only Begotten Son…..that whosoever…..believeth in Him…..should not perish.”

My Response:

I don’t disagree that there is any sort of numerical value placed upon or within this verse such that the “whoever” refers to one person or all of the world’s population since the beginning of time – or for that matter any number in between.

However, it’s with interest that the definition of “whoever” in (what is for me) my trusty Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary actually means, “whatever person: no matter who”. With respect, I can’t help but sense that the plain text language of John 3:16 really does mean that God so loved the world that whatever person (i.e. no matter who) believes will have eternal life. To infer anything else here is, I believe, beyond the plain text of this verse and, I think, the context of this passage. To that end, if John 3:16 was the only verse in the Bible, I’m hard-pressed to believe that there would sufficient evidence to support the doctrine of election. This to me, then, is a reasonable indication that this verse doesn’t necessarily support the doctrine of unconditional election. As a non-Calvinist, I struggle with a lot of other verses regarding things such as predestination and election. However, John 3:16 isn’t one of those verses.



It’s a John 3:16 Mud Fight!

I made a feeble attempt in my previous post to incorporate some simple algebraic logic to help understand the wording of John 3:16 and whether or not Jesus is directing his words to “whoever” i.e. everybody or only those chosen by God for salvation (the elect). It seems more plausible (at least in my own understanding) that Jesus is inferring everybody and to that end I readily admit I’m biased against the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. 

Trying to dig up some additional information, I looked through my copy of, Debating Calvinism {five points, two views} by Dave Hunt & James White and was surprised to not find any references to John 3:16. Unfortunately, there are no scriptural references listed at the back of the book. So, if the verse is somewhere in the book, I missed it. Anyway, I did a Google search using [John 3:16 “Dave Hunt” “James White”]. Lo and behold, the first two links provide piles of ammunition for both sides of the argument which in some way only seems to add to the confusion rather than sort out, as it were, the wheat from the chaff. It’s also apparent that Hunt and White have been arguing back and forth for quite some time and there appears to be no love lost between them. In any event, it’ll take me some time to work through each of their letters – particularly James White’s as his delves deep into the Greek. If others are so inclined, below are URLs and a “teaser” paragraph.

From Dave Hunt: You go to great lengths to explain John 3:16 as no child could ever understand it. By your standard, not until they become “scholars” expert in Greek (or take some Calvinist’s word for it) will they recognize that Christ didn’t die for the whole world, but that salvation is offered only to an exclusive elect to which, by overwhelming odds, they most likely do not belong, being part of the vast multitude of the damned on the “broad road to destruction.” Eternal doom awaits them simply because the God who “is love,” from eternity past before they were born was “pleased” to predestine them to everlasting suffering with no hope of escape even though the merit of Christ’s shed blood is infinite.

From James White: It is your tradition to interpret John 3:16 in a particular fashion. That tradition includes two very important elements: 1) the idea that “world” means every single individual person, so that God loves each person equally (resulting in a denial of any particularity in God’s love, even in His redemptive love), and 2) that the term “whosoever” includes within its meaning a denial of particularity or election.

John 3:16 doesn’t say “whoever believes”?

I was referred to this video for a Calvinist perspective that John 3:16 is more accurately interpreted “all who believe” instead of “whoever believes”.

After watching the video, I’m not so sure that John 3:16 is best translated “all who believe”.  I’m certainly not a linguist – and, for better or worse, have no interest in incorporating Greek or Hebrew into my own Bible study.  However, at some point we have to trust that those who put together the various translations we have at our disposal did so with honesty, integrity and a keen awareness of language and culture.  In doing a quick comparison of some versions, not one of them infer “all who believe”.

NIV – whoever believes

NASB – whoever believes

NLT – everyone who believes

KJ – whosoever believeth

NCV – whoever believes

ASV – whosoever believeth

ESV – whoever believes

Why is this?  How is it that so many biblical translators over the course of centuries have determined that the best wording or phrase for John 3:16 is ‘whoever’ and not ‘all who believe’?

Dr. White referred to John 6:44 as justification for an ‘all who believe’ interpretation for John 3:16.  From a non-Calvinist perspective, I admit to finding the wording in John 6:44 a little troubling.  Moreover, I can certainly understand Calvinist thought that due to being dead to sin, no one can bring himself to God unless God first gives His grace to whose whom he’s elected.  However, in John chapter six – a little before and a little after verse 44 (i.e. vs 40, 45, 47 & 51 in particular) it seems apparent that ANYONE who believes shall be saved.  Jesus makes no distinction as to the elect and the non-elect.  Wouldn’t this have been an opportune time for Jesus to explain TULIP?  But so far as I read here, he doesn’t.  John 6:25-59 is a discussion between Jesus and unbelieving Jews who happen to know of Jesus (vs 42) and who were struggling to understand how this “boy” they knew is now the messiah.  To that end, those unbelieving Jews were perhaps troubled with previous statements Jesus had made with regard to not having the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42).  Jesus continued in John 5:43 that [the Jews] did not accept [Christ].  I presume this to mean that many (but certainly not all) Jews had rejected Christ’s offer of forgiveness through faith and instead were holding on tight to the law for their justification.  Again, Jesus did not explain TULIP and tell the elect to rejoice and explain to the non-elect that their eternal destiny is sealed and too bad.  The overriding principle that I see from verses such as John 3:16 & 2 Pet 3:9 is that God indeed reaches out to everyone and desires that everyone be saved and no one to perish.  Yes, we’re dead in our sins and without Christ’s forgiveness – which must be individually received, we’re toast.  To their eternal peril, the majority of people have chosen to reject Christ.  And that’s the point – they have made a choice.  So, in the middle of all this is John 6:44 – no one comes to [Jesus] unless he’s “drawn” by God?  Again, I admit to finding this phrase a little troubling.  But could it be that there are some translational aspects involved in which a Greek to English translation doesn’t accurately convey the thought that the Holy Spirit is moving within people and works to bring about a desire to seek forgiveness of sins?  Hmmm, perhaps that concept is elsewhere in scripture?  Still, for the aforementioned reasons, I’m not convinced that John 3:16 states ‘all who believe’ and I don’t see that John 6:44 is as solid of a foundation for unconditional election as Calvinists would believe.