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?
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!