Between the Lines: John 3:16

John 3:16 is probably the most well-known verse in the Bible. It is succinct and easy to understand, and many consider it to be a complete encapsulation of the Christian message. But it occurs to me that the words of this verse are just ambiguous enough to carry a wide variety of meanings and presuppositions, and so I present a small thought experiment.

Which of these two expansions of John 3:16 best matches your own presuppositions about Christianity? Which fits better in the context of John’s gospel and the New Testament in general? Which sounds more like “good news”? Consider:

1. “For God so loved the world [with an offended love that is expressed as wrath against sinners] that He sent His only Son [to die for some as a legally substitutionary human sacrifice], that whosoever believes in him [and holds to the correct doctrine and theory of atonement] will not perish [in hell according to God’s justice] but have everlasting life [up in heaven with the elect after they die].”


2. “For God so loved the world [the whole world, with an unfailing and indiscriminate love] that He sent His only Son [to show us the way of peace and empathy, to suffer and die in solidarity with sinners, and to be peacefully vindicated in resurrection], that whosoever believes in him [and trusts in his way and recognizes his spirit] will not perish [as the inevitable consequence of their self-destructive interests] but have everlasting life [that starts now and overflows and transforms the whole world forever].”

There was a time when I would have fought to preserve the first reading. Today I’m alive and happy inside the second one.


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  • jesuswithoutbaggage

    Interesting! I wrote a blog along very similar lines: God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life.

    I challenged and corrected that understanding, but I did not produce a revised text with additions as you did. I liked your second rendition very much.

  • RkyMtnHootOwl

    The Gospel of John was written to believers, not as an evangelistic text, but to encourage Believers, to keep believing with the understanding of what The Fathers was doing, in sending the Son.