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.