Friday, April 4, 2008

Does John 3:16 mean what it says?

by Herbert E. Douglass

Probably the best known text in the Scriptures is also probably the most misunderstood! The Grecian world who read John’s Gospel got the point immediately. However, for most of the world since, this text has contributed to a gross misunderstanding of the gospel.

First, it contributes to a misunderstanding of the character of God, and secondly, it turns upside down God’s salvation plan.

Here is a literal translation of verses 15 and 16 (note the difference between KJV in verse 15): “That everyone who continues to have faith in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved [agape] the world that He gave once and for all His one and only Son that whoever continues to have faith in Him shall not commit spiritual suicide [that is, destroy himself] but have everlasting life.”

My translation of “shall not commit suicide” is based on John’s use of the second aorist middle voice of the verb, apollumi. The Greek middle voice, in contrast to the active voice, describes the subject as participating in the results of the action. While the active voice emphasizes the action taken, the middle voice stresses the agent; it refers back to the one who does the action. Thus, he who does not make a habit of trusting God will destroy himself.

In other words, God is willing, sad to say, to give everyone exactly what he or she wants! It is God’s plaintive cry in Hosea 11:8: “How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” And Paul’s laser grasp of this basic truth: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:24, NKJV).

The thrust of John 3:16 is on the character of God, on His fairness as well as His mercy. Note the simple steps in God’s Plan of Salvation:

  1. The Godhead gave Jesus to this rebellious Planet, He did not merely give Him to us for 33 years! That is, Jesus will be forever a human being, even as He is now our wonderful High Priest in the Heavenly Sanctuary (Hebrews 2:17. 3:1; 4:14-16).
  2. Jesus was given to the whole world, to the good and the bad, not only to those who would choose to accept His gift (Romans 5:18; John 17:4; John 4:42).
  3. God continues to reach out to every person ever born, telling us that He does not condemn us for being sinners (John 3:18-21). His condemnation rests on those who resist the light of truth that lights “every man [or woman] coming in the world” (John 1:9).
  4. He is the Shepherd who makes the first move to find His lost sheep; He does not wait for the sheep to find Him. His front door is always open, forever standing with His arms wide open. It is this “goodness” that draws us to “repentance,” not the other way around. In other words, God doesn’t wait for our repentance before He opens the front door!