Wrestling with the Two Headed Monster of John 3.16


My name is Jeremy Shank.
I am pastor at Thornville UMC in the Foothills District.
I am currently blogging about and hoping to form ideas for a new book I’m working on.

“Inclusion/Exclusion – a look at how salvation works in the Bible” is the topic I am working with and I could use your thoughts on some things.  I was hoping you might weigh in on a couple of issues I am wrestling with right now. www.inclusionexclusion.wordpress.com

I am looking at John 3.16, probably the most well known verse concerning our salvation. I am weighing how much inclusion we see in this verse as well as the wording here that would suggest there is some exclusion to deal with, also. Some translations would put the entire conversation with Nicodemus as the words of Jesus (in red) all the way down to verse 21. (NKJV, CEB, NLT) Most notably, the NIV stops Jesus speaking (words in red) at verse 15. Which leaves the rest of the section looking like a re-capping of the conversation with Nicodemus by the author of the Gospel.

My wonderings….
1) a penny for your thoughts on John 3.16 and whether you feel more inclusive about the verse or exclusive as you read it.
2) does putting the actual words of John 3.16 into the hands of Jesus shape your feelings about how salvation works itself out in our lives.
3) any material you might suggest that I research that would help support your viewpoint and help me shape mine.

Blessings on your day

Thank you for your help

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18 Replies to “Wrestling with the Two Headed Monster of John 3.16”

  1. 1. I have always felt this passage was one that shows God’s love for everyone. God so loved the world that he gave his only son…The incredible gift of sacrifice and love for the world. It’s offered to all and for all, that anyone who accepts it gets to be a part of what God is doing to reconcile the world. The exclusive part is the last: that it is offered but that we as the objects of that love have to choose to accept it so that we can be born again (the phrase that he uses with Nicodemus). We must accept that freely offered gift and there is something different to being a Christian, the Church, part of the kingdom than just being a human created by God. It is in a sense exclusive because it can’t include everyone in the result because there is a requirement of action on the part of the chooser. God wants everyone to say yes, desires it, works toward it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone accepts it.
    2. Whether Jesus is speaking it or it summing up his thought doesn’t matter to me. I lean toward viewing it as him speaking it.
    Just some thoughts and reactions to your questions! thanks

  2. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God…20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

    Very confusing, but some personal questions I’d have. About where and when, from the original Greek?

    Verse 16 – what is the Greek word for “world” here? Does it apply to known Roman world, Israel Tribes, entire world? And what is the tense? “Whoever believes” seems to not put a past, present or future delimiter on the action. This implies potential universality (at least from the standpoint of anyone, at anytime in present or future, or even after they had died?), from anywhere in the world, can believe, and have eternal life).

    Verse 18 – “he who does not believe is condemned already” seems to imply present (and past “belief”) tense only, which would also have to imply the known Roman world as viewed from Israel only, since no one outside of there would have even heard of Jesus, let alone “believed” in him. This implies apocalyptic preaching for the known world only (which did not happen).

    Verse 20 – seems to switch back to present and future.

    I have no idea. But it seems to be written by at least two people, that can’t decide between future, potential universality in the whole world, or eminent apocalypse for the Eastern Mediterranean around 90 AD. I personally hope it’s option 1.

      1. That’s the problem.
        “the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world;”

        inclusion/exclusion statements from a 90 AD text only makes sense if “world” means “known world”, in 90 AD.

        Following John 5:28-29 “Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, 29and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”

        If you want to stretch it to modern times, then everyone, living or dead, living in New York or a mud hut in China, will get a second chance in judgement, based upon being good or evil, even if they rejected Christ previously, or never even heard of him.

        Thus, everyone gets a second chance of inclusion, even if previously excluded.

        Or, I can believe the text has been redacted so much, it doesn’t make any sense.

        1. well, there are some who would hold to the universalistic idea that “all” will be redeemed and only the Devil, himself, will experience true exclusion from the presence of God. However, that subject matter is a bit of a stretch contextually here, i think. While judgment is certainly on the plate of discussion in John 3.15-21 i don’t read anything that outlines how judgment will happen or how it will be played out. Only that there will be judgment.
          on to other matters…
          the idea of “world” as you explain it has to extend to our current world. To leave it in just “90 AD” and not allow the truth to come home to us in 2016 feels as if you are cutting off the work of the Holy Spirit to bring the truth of scripture to us. Just because the truth that God loves us is extended beyond 90 AD…how does the subject of judgment play into this? Human beings who are alive in this world get the chance to experience God’s love on a personal level. This is our one chance to get this. “It is appointed unto men once to die, then the judgment.” Judgment comes later after the chance to believe has passed.
          I feel like you are over thinking the process of salvation and trying to connect two ideas that need to be in separate arenas, yes, “excluded” from each other.

          1. If God wanted the “truth” to be non-debatable, He would have been less nebulous in the text.

            Unless, of course, the text is just a human’s interpretation of what the human author thought God’s position was.

          2. I like your thought process. Very good.
            SO, for you…does the idea of John 3.16 being Jesus’ actual words(NKJV, CEB, NLT) help formulate your thoughts on the matter? Is it important to you whether Jesus actually said those famous words? The NIV takes verse 16 and on out of his hands.

          3. Just my personal opinion… I don’t really like NIV.
            John 3:16, if not Jesus’ actual words, are probably close to it. Could well be Jesus’ actual words. It fits his overall persona.

            Assuming John authorship around 90 AD, I would tend to believe John 3:18 on, reflects the author’s rather dislike for Jewish authorities, not Jesus’ words. Because, “he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” I would say a well directed zinger, that does not fit well with “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The author of John is making it personal.

  3. KJV puts the whole verse in red. Whether they were Jesus’ words or John’s, the exclusion is not in the wording or intent. The exclusion lies only in the choice to believe, made by each of us. “…that whosoever believeth in Him…”. Our choice. If we are excluded it is not by flawed design or lack of correct sacrifice, or any other thing. It is by the choice that we make ourselves. Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection created the new covenant that allowed us to have that choice. He promised eternal life if only we believe. Therefore we can only exclude ourselves.

  4. I really like what Dave and Carrie had to say. Exclusive: Verse 18 KJV: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who DOES NOT believe is condemned already, because he HAS NOT believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

    Inclusive: In verse 15 and again in verse 16 he says “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal (15) everlasting (16) life.”.

    It is our choice/free will whether or not we choose to continue to live in sin (for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,) or we accept God’s gift of salvation and the forgiveness of our sins) so that we may have eternal, everlasting life in Christ Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, who died on the cross to take away our sins. Personally this makes me sad that this was necessary, but VERY thankful also.

  5. Inclusive God. Exclusive us. God has said yes and Amen. We have said no thank you. In John, especially, I see the Holy Spirit conveying the reality of God’s love to each heart and we either turn towards the Gift or away from Christ. Turning towards Christ is repentance, turning away is sin. God has chosen and now we are. The presence of the Spirit, brought along in the rest of the book (I’m preaching on JN 14 this week). God doesn’t exclude anyone. We exclude God, rather unsuccessfully.

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