Home > Theology > A Brief Exposition of John 3:16

A Brief Exposition of John 3:16

As a rider to my series on Limited Atonement (see sidebar for links), I thought it might be a good idea to examine John 3:16 in light of the recent (silly) debate in the blogosphere as to whether this passage supports limited or unlimited atonement.

Let us see the verse as it stands in the ESV:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Now, let’s examine the Greek right quick. Since I’m not too sure how to mess with a Greek font in Blogger, I’ll transliterate, so pull out your Greek New Testaments:

“Houtos gar egapesen ho theos ton kosmon, hoste ton huion ton monogene edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton me apoletai all’ eche zoen aionion.”

What the Greek comes out to is this: “For in this manner God loved the world, that he gave the only begotten son, so that all (or “the entirety of”) those who put their faith in him (or “the believing ones,”) are not lost, but they have life eternal.”

Okay, firstly we have the phrase everyone knows, God loved the world. It is modified by “for in this manner.” So we know that God loved the world, BUT God loved the world in a certain way.

How did God love the world? He gave the only begotten Son. There’s no possessive “his” in the Greek text, but I think it’s pretty clear we’re talking about “his” son. So we know that the particular way that God loved the world was that He sent the only begotten Son.

What was the reason for giving the only begotten Son? To give eternal life to all who put their faith in the only begotten Son. That’s pretty explicit – Jesus is the only way to have eternal life.

So what John 3:16 teaches is simple. God loved the world in such a way that He sent His only begotten Son for the purpose of giving eternal life to the entire group of people who put their faith in the only begotten Son. It doesn’t say Jesus died only for those people. It doesn’t say Jesus died for people who do not put their faith in Him. It simply says eternal life is given only to those who believe.

I want to draw our attention to the first part of the verse. “For God loved the world.” World in Greek denotes the entirety of mankind in this context, so there is no doubt here that God loves all of mankind. To say otherwise is unbiblical.

However, the verse teaches that God’s love is manifested in a certain way, and that is through Jesus. This makes it explicitly clear that only those who believe in Jesus are actually able to experience God’s love for all mankind. So, when Arthur Pink says “God does not love everybody,” I believe him to be speaking in this sense, simply that God does not manifest His love to every human in the way that is specifically stated in John 3:16.

So while God’s love is universal, the experience of that love is not universal. It is reserved only for a select few.

Why is that so hard for some people to grasp? Each of you have a love for the entirety of brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of you have a love for each one of your family members. But not every single one of them experience your love in the same way that you direct it towards particular flesh and spiritual relatives. Think about that a moment. If someone says, “I love you,” but you do not have an intimate connection with them; doesn’t that, while making you feel good, not really penetrate to your heart? Aren’t you more inclined to experience the love of someone to whom you are intimately connected?

For those of you who’ve followed the debate between Fide-O and the IMonk, I’m coming out and saying IMonk is wrong. God doesn’t love everybody, IMonk. Get used to it.

Now, I do not think this view supports limited atonement. I think it supports, rather, election. Election says only the chosen have that intimate connection that God’s irresistible grace gives. Only when one has been given that intimate relationship can love be experienced.

My view says that God’s love is extended to all, but experienced only by the elect. This brings up the universal and particular aspects of the atonement, which I am increasingly coming to wonder if this is what the debate is really about. Monergism.com has some good articles by John Piper that explores these aspects.

Well, I continue to study the atonement, and I welcome any insights you may have, gentle readers, that will deepen my understanding of these issues!

Categories: Theology
  1. April 17, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    God loves everyone, but not in the same way.

    Common grace is given to all, even the reprobate. This is an expression of love for them. But salvation is given only to the elect.

    If we restrict “God’s love” to salvation only, then we can say that God only loves the elect. However, I think this is too narrow an understanding of God’s love.

  2. April 18, 2006 at 11:52 am

    How about a little more commentary on: αποληται (apolletai). Parse it and you’ll see that it is 2nd Aorist, Middle Voice, Subjunctive Mode, Third Person, Singular.

    Middle voice from απολλυμι which has a connotation of not only “lose” but, more fully, utter destruction.

    It is also reasonable to render it: “…he might not destroy himself…”

    I will be posting a translation of this verse tomorrow (04/19/2006).

  3. April 19, 2006 at 6:24 am

    CraigS,

    I did not restrict God’s love to salvation. All I did here was restrict the experience of God’s love to those who believe. Only those who believe have the kind of relationship with God that allows them to experience His love. Surely you can understand this from interaction with your own extended family – you love them, but they do not really experience your love until they come to know you personally. John 3:16 limits the experience of that love, not its extent.

    JHearne,

    Hey bro! I’m looking forward to your post. I’m thinking of doing a study of the “world” passages as I continue digging through this stuff. I think you may have hit on an intriguing word there, I may post on that first. But I’ll wait til you get at it before I do anything.

  4. Thomas Twitchell
    April 20, 2007 at 11:00 am

    kosmos- means exclusively the entirety of mankind? Prove it. Cannot kosmos mean the creation in general? And if that is the case then the love that is spoken about is God general attitude or inclination towards his creation and not a particular one. Particularity is expressed in the second object “the believing ones.” John begins even in Chapter one making a delineation between two distinct and discrete groups following the theme of Genesis-Relations. So, that out of this creation, even if it means the entirety of the exclusivity called mankind to which his love is generally expressed as being its creator, a marked particularity is expressed by the “limiting in advance,” or proorizo, of “the believing ones.” And is correctly rendered, “God gave his only Son for the ones believing” and not for the unbelieving. So often is the case that John 3 in its entirety in set aside for this one verse. 3.17 uses the same terminology. But if it is the case that the love of God expressed in 3.16 is indiscriminate, then the entirety of the world in 3.17 is not condemned. Without making a distinction in what the term love means in 3.16 lead inexorably to universalism. But 3.18 will not allow the generalization of love in 3.16 to be extended to kosmos without discrimnation where the love spoken of in 3.16 includes condemantion. So, the salvation that is spoken of in 3.17 is a discrinate loving of a particular group and this love is not the same as that in 3.16. This particular love is latter spoken about in 17.9 where a clear delineation is made concerning who it was that Jesus was given for. If the love of God is not particular when applied to the elect, Jesus’ prayer makes no sense. John 3.16 cannot be disjointed from the discussion with Nicodemus where Christ makes it abundantly clear that the discriminating love of God is a matter of the working of God in secret. Jesus finishes this discourse with the caveate that the ones upon whom his favor rests are those who come into the light that it may be made manifest that God has had special love these being “wrought” by God.

    The exclusive nature of the phrase “all the believing ones” seem quite clear. And since it is not an action that will happen but one that is happening, it can hardly refer to those “who would put their faith in” but rather those who are in present possession of a faith put in them. Those who come into the light are born of the light. In Gensis we see this special revelation of the sovereignty of God who calls out of darkness light. His affections are set upon the sons of light, and not the sons of darkness.

    The love of God then cannot simply be dismissed as “agape,” a generic love. God’s is love and his love is express as a love that hates unrighteousness and a love that loves righteousness. Jesus expressed the highest kind of love in this that a man lay down his life for his friend. This is not “agape” but “phileo” and a peculiar kind because it is not extended to a “good man.” It is extended in this, not that we love God but he loves us and not that we are deserving, but while we were yet dead in trespasses God sent his only Son to be a propitiation for us. Not them. But, his friends only.

    Falwell rejects this “particular” love. He rejects the particular love of God towards his own. It is his own alone who hear his voice and they alone follow him. Those who do not know his particular love will never follow him. Those who hate him will follow any love that extended. The particular love of Christ though is food that is not afforded to those who by their own will eat. It is rather as Christ said, food that they know not. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” And as Christ said of his followers, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” His followers are born from above, anothen. As John says in 1.13, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers, even friends, for as he was sent into the world, so he who does only what he sees the Father doing, sends his sheep. He does not send the goats, nor can they hearken to his voice, for these things have been given only to the disciples to understand.

    It is a grave mistake not to discriminate between the varying nuances of the terms for love in Scripture. Falwell needs to attend his own school. He is a little old, but starting out as a freshman would do him a “world” of good.

  5. April 20, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Good try. Maybe you can go back and read what I actually wrote. But I do agree, Falwell does need to go back to school.

  6. Daniel
    May 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Excellence am inspire thank u.

  1. April 14, 2007 at 1:33 pm

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