Posts Tagged ‘John 3:16’

In this post, Pastor John Samson asks one of the most vital issues concerning the much loved verse – John 3:16. He then refers his reader to a separate article which I havfe appended herebelow. The original article at the Reformation Study Center website can be accessed here.

Question #5: Can you explain John 3:16? Doesn’t this imply no election, but rather free choice?

Exposing our Traditions (John 3:16)


14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.  16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:14-17
Traditions – we all have them. In fact, those with the most traditions are those who don’t think they have any.
We would be horrified to hear of a surgeon who had just 2 weeks of training operating on someone’s brain. As important as brain surgery is, I believe the job of the preacher is far more important. Eternal souls hang in the balance, and great care and attention is needed to ensure that a teaching is sound, healthy and accurate. A teacher of the Bible needs rigorous training in the science of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). But that’s not just true for the preacher; every one of us needs to know how to gain an accurate knowledge of the Word of God.
Some people think that if God wants you to know something about the Bible, He will just reveal it to you supernaturally. Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of cults get started. 1 Tim 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Correct interpretation requires work; sometimes, a great deal of hard work.
We are also told to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15). Without diligent study, it is easy to wrongly divide the word; to believe and to teach error. The main way this takes place is because we draw illegitimate inferences from the text – when we read into the text things that are not actually said by the text, and draw out of the text things that are actually not there. Sadly, this happens all too frequently. Though there may be many applications of a text or passage of Scripture, there is only ONE correct interpretation. In other words, it doesn’t mean one thing and the exact opposite thing at the same time. Scripture is consistent. Scripture was written down by men, but in reality, there is only one Author, God Himself. God does not contradict Himself; He is not the author of confusion. Though, at times, we may be confused about what a passage means, God is never confused, and it is precisely because the Bible has a God inspired consistency that we can study it to find out what it means.
Because Scripture has only one correct interpretation, we can learn to be consistent in our interpretation of biblical texts by following some basic rules. These include reading any text in its context, finding out the meaning of the original words and grammar, and following the basic rules of English – verbs always stay as verbs, nouns as nouns, etc,.
The law in this country gives us the right to interpret the Bible as we want to, without any fear of prosecution. Thank God that we don’t have to go to jail or be burnt at the stake if our interpretation is wrong (as in former eras). Yet we should always remember that God never gives us the right to interpret His word incorrectly.
Let us dispense with our traditions whenever we encounter them. What matters is not what we have assumed that a text says, but what it actually says. When the plain meaning of the text says something that challenges our traditional assumptions, we have a choice. We can say “it can’t mean that because of” (and we immediately take refuge in our traditional assumptions about what Scripture says), or we can be willing to bow the knee to God and His Word. Obviously, we should do the latter. The Word of God is right, when our traditional assumptions about it are wrong.  As someone rightly said, “When the Judge comes into the courtroom, don’t be found sitting in his chair!” We must allow the Word of God to sit in judgment on us, rather than for us to sit in judgment on the Word of God.
The most famous verse in the entire Bible is John 3:16. Here Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
For the understanding of a text in the New Testament, we need to become familiar with the original language in which it was written, namely Koine Greek.
It may come as a surprise to learn that in the original Greek of John 3:16, there is no word “whoever.” The word “whoever” is expressing a phrase in Greek which is difficult to express smoothly in English.
Literally, the text reads
“in order that every the one believing in Him,
not to perish, but have everlasting life.”
It says “every” or “all the one believing”.
That’s hard to express in English, but in essence, it is saying “all the ones believing.” That’s what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes.
Though our English translation says “whoever believes” the literal rendering is accurately translated as “every believing one” and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the “whosoever” but on the belief. The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.
Why? Because of the main verb – because God GAVE His Son.
God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.
When hearing the biblical teaching on the subject of election, some have immediately gone to a traditional understanding of this verse, John 3:16, to say “God can’t elect certain ones to salvation because John 3:16 tells us each person has the ability to believe – God gave His Son so that WHOEVER believes would have eternal life. Therefore, God has done His part in offering the gift of salvation in His Son and  just leaves it up to us to receive the gift through faith.”
Though this is a very common tradition, and one I held to myself before I exposed the tradition to the study of the Scripture. It is simply a statement of fact to say that the text does not discuss who or who does not have the ability to believe. It is not addressed in the text. To say that it does do this (talk about our ability to come to Christ in faith as a fallen humanity) would be saying something that is not even addressed. You might as well quote John 3:16 to suggest that all churches need to have red carpets in their sanctuaries! Why? Because that also is not a topic addressed in the text. You could quote the verse, but actually it has no relevance to the subject of the ability or inability to believe.
So, what John 3:16 teaches is:
ALL who do A   (believe in Him)
will not B         (perish)
but will have C    (everlasting life)
What does this text tell us about who WILL believe or who CAN believe?
The answer is: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The text does not address the issue of who WILL believe or who CAN believe.
However, if you do want to know John’s view on who CAN exercise faith, he does deal with that question – just not in this text. If you go back a few verses in the chapter to John 3:3, John quotes Jesus as saying “unless a man is born again he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.” That’s clear isn’t it?
Jesus said that a pre-requisite, a necessary condition, that must be met before someone can enter the kingdom of God is that they are born again. We enter the kingdom of God through faith, but in order to enter the kingdom, we must first be born again, or made spiritually alive. If we are not FIRST born again, we CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.
This same issue is certainly addressed by Jesus 3 chapters further on in John 6:44, when He said,  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…. (we should note that the one drawn by the Father to the Son is also raised up on the last day to eternal life). (John 6:39, 40)
In John 6:65, Jesus said,  “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
In Romans 8: 7, 8, Paul stated “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Of course, all who exercise true faith will certainly be saved. John 3:16 teaches clearly that anyone believing in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. But what we need to ask is “who WILL have faith?”
The Augustinian, and I believe biblical view, is that only the elect will be brought to faith. No one can come to Christ unless God does something to enable that person to come.
The same Apostle John confirms what he has made clear in his Gospel, when in 1 John 5:1 he writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
The verb tenses are very revealing. As Dr. John Piper points out, a literal translation reads: “Everyone who goes on believing (pisteuon, present, continuous action) that Jesus is the Christ has been born (gennesanta, perfect, completed action with abiding effects) of God.” Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it. Since both repentance and faith are possible only because of the regenerating work of God, both are called the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim 2:24-26).  Acts 18:27 says, “When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.”
When Paul writes about our salvation in Christ, He gives God all the credit for our salvation. Salvation is the work of God. Even though it was our faith that was exercised for salvation, even that was God’s gift.
Hear the Apostle Paul afresh in Ephesians 2:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,  2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Jesus said, in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” and as Acts 13:48 says, in referring to those who came to Christ under the preaching of the apostles, it simply states that “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
So why do people miss what John 3:16 teaches or read into it (eisegesis) what is not actually in the text?
That’s easy. It is because of how they have heard John 3:16 used over and over and over again. They have an ingrained, preconceived notion of what the verse says, and fail to question that assumption and read the text for what it actually says.
It’s a TRADITION and if you dare question it, you might be accused of questioning the very word of God, rather than their traditional interpretation of the word of God, and that can create a whole lot of emotion.
The text (John 3:16) tells us that there is a limitation – the Father gave His Son for the purpose of those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but opposite to that, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.
This text, of course, is just one example of many that could be quoted, but it does show us how powerful our traditions can be. We need to continuously expose our traditions to the light of God’s Word. If they can be confirmed by detailed study of the text of Scripture, we can be sure that the traditions are valid. If not, then we need to dispense with them. Let God be true and every man a liar… even if the “man” here refers to our own firmly held beliefs, but not the testimony of Scripture itself.

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