“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).
From bumper stickers to big stadium posters, John 3:16 is, undoubtedly, a dearly and widely known verse of Scripture. Sadly, it is also a grossly misunderstood part of Scripture that has influenced the way churches conduct worship services and has shaped their theology.
We have all heard the argument that the world “all” and “world” mean every single human being that has ever existed, exists, and will ever exist. It is very likely that you, dear reader, also holds to this interpretation. But is it true that the words “whosoever…all…world” prove Christ died for all AND all therefore have the ability to come to Him out of their own “free” will?
Firstly, the word whosoever is not in the Bible. I can see the quizzical look on your face, reader, but allow me to explain. Advocates of this argument cleave to a translation of the Scriptures, not to the original words of it.
If you go to http://www.blueletterbible.org/ for example, and type in John 3:16 and look for Strong’s Greek word for “whosoever,” it will tell you that whosoever is translated as pas. When you look at the original text, however, the exact rendering goes like this: “…that all the ones that are believing in Him OR all the believing ones may not perish, but have life age-during.”
Let’s look at the Greek construction of this phrase: “whosoever believes”
Pas: 1) individually
a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything
a) some of all types
Pisteuō: 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in
a) of the thing believed
2) to credit, have confidence
b) in a moral or religious reference
3) used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
4) to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
5) mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith
6) to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity
a) to be intrusted with a thing
Most Bible translations have taken “ho” out of the sentence, leaving only “whosoever believes.” Why is this important? Because the translation can be very misleading. Even with that out of the way, the question still remains: who CAN believe? (due to shortage of time, I will get to that in another entry).
The focus of this entry is this: is John 3:16 speaking about ability to come to God?
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Now in the YLT version,
Are we to say that husbands commit adultery with their wives? If whosoever means “anyone” or “all,” then husbands should not be intimate with their wives nor have a passion for them because they would be guilty of having committed adultery in their hearts with their wives.
Let’s go with the KJV version first. Let’s assume that the original text is only “whosoever looketh.” Now, take out the word “looketh” and read the verse again,
“…whosoever (or all) on a woman to lust after her.”
That does not make sense, does it? This indicates that there must be a qualifier (modifier) that qualifies the meaning of what precedes it. In this case we have “whosoever looketh.” The word “looketh” works as the word that narrows down this action to those who do it. In other words, you have this: “that all those who look upon a woman to lust after her…” Do babies look upon women to lust after them? Do blind people use their eyes to lust after women? Clearly, the verse is not talking about ability to look upon a woman to lust after her, it is merely stating the sin that is committed when the action is made. To put it more simply, let’s say that you have ten children. Two of them are crippled and the rest are able to walk. You have one candy in your hand and you tell all ten children: “whosoever runneth here first will get the candy.” Are you talking about their ability to get the candy? What about the two crippled children? Are they able to come out of their own will and ability? Are you saying that all ten can get one candy? Or are you simply saying that the first to get to you will get the candy? So it is with this verse, if you look upon a woman to lust after her, you have committed adultery already with her in your heart. That’s the logical conclusion Christ made about sin.
“for God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.”
“Every one who is believing.” A present-tense verb. Those who are believing will not perish, but will have life age-during. If you believe in Christ, you won’t go to hell, you will receive eternal life. It’s logical to say so, isn’t it? That is exactly what John is doing in this verse.
The main question you must ask yourself is this: who CAN believe? (that’s for another entry, but it is a critical question and one that, contrary to popular thinking, John 3:16 does not address. It is addressed, however, by its immediate context).
If you wanna know when John does speak of man’s ability, one verse that quickly comes to mind is John 6:37-40 and 44,
Are all human beings drawn to Christ? You may be thinking of John 12:32 where we read,
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
However, a closer look at the context of this verse reveals that Christ is referring to all peoples without distinction, both Jews and Gentiles. Further proof of this is found in Revelation 5:9-10,
“And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.””
He actually ransomed or atoned for a specific people. He did not just “make it possible” or make them “salvable if only they use their “free” will and believe,” He actually took away the wrath of the Father on their behalf.
Just two more passages on man’s total inability to come to Christ in and of himself,
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV).
And of course, Romans 3:9-18,
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.””
I would go into more detail, but due to time, I will have to leave that for another entry. I will say this: you must be first given by the Father unto Christ. God must first call you (drag in the original Greek) (Romans 8:28-30; John 3:3-8) so that you may then behold Him and believe in Him. Wherever Jesus, John, Paul, or Peter do talk about the sinner’s ability to come to Christ, they always preach loud and clear that man is dead in trespasses and sins and that only God can initiate and finish the work of saving faith.
There’s so much more to be said, but let me close with this:
“Jesus answered and said to him, `Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God;’ Nicodemus saith unto him, `How is a man able to be born, being old? is he able into the womb of his mother a second time to enter, and to be born?’ Jesus answered, `Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born of water, and the Spirit, he is not able to enter into the reign of God; that which hath been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which hath been born of the Spirit is spirit. `Thou mayest not wonder that I said to thee, It behoveth you to be born from above; the Spirit where he willeth doth blow, and his voice thou dost hear, but thou hast not known whence he cometh, and whither he goeth; thus is every one who hath been born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8, YLT).
This is why I prefer versions like YLT because they render the text a lot more accurately than does the KJV. And the danger is that we often cling to words that are not even in the Bible and to interpretations that are not Scriptural.
By the way, you may find these videos very thought-provoking: