The Golden Text

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

  1. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”

The word “world” does not refer to this sphere on which we live, nor does it refer to this universe (though the term Kosmos is so used at times). The word “world” refers to the people (cf. Romans 5:8). This is a figure of speech, a metonymy, whereby the place is put for the people. Robert Taylor Jr. has written, “The world He loved embraced the lost in three dimensions – past, present, future.   He died for those prior to Calvary as well as those subsequent Golgotha” {Robert Taylor Jr., Studies in the Gospel of John, p. 44. [See Romans 3:25-26; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 9:15; 11:16; 11:39-40 (cf. 9:7-9, 13-14 cf. 10:1-4, 16-17, 22); Matthew 8:11; John 17:20]}.

The opportunity for salvation is due to God’s amazing love. “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Man in all his intellect, and might could not climb up to the glories of heaven. Man would stand hopeless, without the love of God. However, God, in His love, had a plan for man’s salvation, even before the foundation of this world (1 Peter 1:18-20).

God’s love is an acting love. “By this we know love, because He laid down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). He showed us how to love (1 John 4:19).

2.  “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”

The opportunity for salvation in universal, “whoever.” He does not want any to be lost (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23 cf. 33:11). Jesus tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

Salvation is conditional, “whoever believes.” Keep in mind the context: (a) Those in Moses’ day needed to look upon the bronze serpent which was lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14 cf. Numbers 21:4-9). Even so, today, man needs to believe in Jesus (John 3:14, 16 cf. 12:32-33). (b) The word believe sometimes carries the idea of “trust… conjoined with obedience” (Thayer, p. 511). Jesus had just told Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-5). Man needs to accept and obey what Jesus has instructed. He is “The author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9 cf. Matthew 7:24-27). [Note –  for those who object to baptism, because it is not specifically mentioned in this verse, consider Guy N. Woods comment: “If because John 3:16 does not mention water baptism it is to be rejected as a condition of pardon, by the same token we must reject repentance as well because there is as much said about baptism in it as there is of repentance” (Woods, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 67). Man needs to accept all that the Savior says is necessary for salvation].

Moreover, the term “believes” is present tense. It expresses continuous action. Wayne Jackson has commented, “The one who cultivates sustained belief (so the force of the verb) need not fear judgment” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary, p. 146). This is speaking, not of a one-time thing, but of a manner of life lived in trust of Him and His teachings.

Two destinies are mentioned. (1) Those who do not believe will “perish.” The idea is not extinction, but loss of well-being (Vine’s). (2) Eternal life is for those who believe. The phrase “eternal” or “everlasting life” does not refer to quantity of existence, but quality of life (Robert Morey, Death and the Afterlife, p. 97). The term “life” is not bios but zoe. It refers to high quality of life.

“Shall not” or “should not”? Some translations read, “shall not perish” (NIV, NASB), others read “should not” (KJV, NKJV, ESV). Which is correct? One writer has written, the words, “should not perish” and “have” are “in the subjunctive because they are in a purpose clause. God sent his Son for the purpose of saving them… because purpose is not a statement of reality (indicative), it must be moved into the subjective” ( “Should not” is the correct wording. However, I do not believe that this is expressing any doubt that one who keeps on believing will be saved. The Zondervan’s Parallel New Testament provides this literal rendering, “For thus loved God the world, so as the Son the only begotten he gave, that everyone believing in him may not perish but may have life eternal.”


“Eloquently embedded here is ‘The Stream of Divine Love’ as portrayed beautifully by the late, lamented Frank L. Cox in his valuable book, According to John (pp. 39-41). God’s love is the spring; His Son is the stream; our obedient faith is the pitcher, dipper by which we appropriate this redemptive blessing to our life; eternal life is the drink” (Robert Taylor Jr., Studies in the Gospel of John, p. 44).


About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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