An Exegetical Look at John 3:16 - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Calvinistic Articles on the Christian Faith

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Do you know of any other Bible verse more quoted than John 3:16? And yet, even though this verse is known by everyone, it is often the most misunderstood verse in the Bible.

Check out my book: John 3:16 – by C. Matthew McMahon

John 3:16 is often utilized out of the context of Jesus’ didactic teaching to Nicodemas, and employed as a proof text for God’s saving love to the entire world.1 Some Calvinists believe that God is not saving all men here, but does intend a general “saving” love to all men. Some attempt to force John 3:16 within a context of a “general love.” Neither the context, nor the grammar, or the specific use of the words “so” and “gave,” allow for a general love to all men.2 As Hugh Latimer has stated, “God is not only a private Father, but a common Father unto the whole world, unto all the faithful, be they never so poor and miserable.”3 As will be demonstrated, the world of the faithful, and they alone, have God as their Father.

First, the text reads, “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.”4 The article, gar (gar, for) denotes the information previous in the conversation which Jesus is expounding to Nicodemas. The immediate context is taken from the Old Testament passage of the brass serpent in the wilderness for those who would look upon it.5 The larger context is on regeneration and Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemas—how the Spirit, Son and Father accomplish redemption. The “for” is immediately connected with the objects of the last verse instrumentally; everyone who believers should not perish because God sent his son to those who believe. The “for” of the verse links the thought in the previous verse, 3:15, to verse 16. The “for” is transitive. It is also to be noted that John 3:16 recalls the promise of the prologue seen in 1:12-13 and prepares the reader of the Gospel to encounter God’s expanded realm of salvation, not only for the Jews, but also for the Samaritans and Gentiles in John 4:1-54.6

The author of this love is God. The grammar is literally, “so loved God…”7 The word, “Outws” (houtos) is the emphatically8 used “so” of the verse.9 It is not a general love, but an emphatic love10, of which there is none higher than this.11 The “so” stresses12 the aorist tense of the verb “hugaphsen.” “So” acts as an adverb in this instance, connected vitally as a preceding intensive particle to the verb “love”. As an adverb, it denotes the “degree of intensity” of the verb to be stated. As is often noted, the phrase as a whole (“For, God so loved the world”) is a clause attached to a subordinate result clause (“that He gave…”). This is important since it causes the phrase to stand on its own, except for the connection between the last verse and the word “for.” As with most constructions in the Greek language, the sentence could literally be ripped apart and the words themselves strewn upon the floor. But because word endings are the key to helping us understand the construction, even if we did jumble the words around, the meaning would still be the same. The meaning, then, is quite straight forward in the Greek – not only did God love the world, but He intensely loved the world which is emphatically seen in use of the often neglected adverb Outwv.

The particular use of the word “hugaphsen” (love), is to love something in particular or to “delight in the object”.13 The “love” spoken of here by the Saviour cannot be a lesser love than that which God loves his elect. The aorist active indicative of “agapao” is the word so common in the Gospels for the highest form of love. It is used here as often in the writings of John (14:23; 17:23; 1 John 3:1; 4:10). It is used of God’s love for his elect (2 Thess. 2:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4).14 If this love in John 3:16 is “so” great as to be towards the whole world, this would cause the love of God to the whole world to be greater than the love He has for His elect. But the Savior states, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) If this is true, then the love which is spoken of in John 3:16 is the greatest love.15 Thus, if this is true, and no greater love can be exemplified than this love which causes one to lay one’s life down for his friends, then the “world,” of necessity, is universally saved since God “so loves” it. This is certainly not true. It is true, though, that the love which is stated here is the greatest love God ever had, but it is for His elect.16

Turretin rightly states:

The love treated in John 3:16 when it is said that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” cannot be universal towards each and every one, but special towards a few. (1) It treats of the supreme and immense love of God17 (a greater than which is not and cannot be conceived) to those he gave his only begotten. This is evident both from the intensive (epitatike) particle houtos (which has great weight here) and from the thing itself. For no one can have a greater love than to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13), so no greater love can be found than that by which God (when men were yet enemies) delivered his own Son to death for them. And as Abraham could not more evidently prove his piety to God than by offering up his son as a sacrifice, so God could not more illustriously demonstrate his love to men than by giving up his Son to them as a propitiatory victim (hilastiken). (2) The love by which God gave his Son draws after itself all other things necessary to salvation: “For he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). But not upon each and every one, rather upon the elect alone, he bestows all things with Christ. (3) Therefore the end of that love which God intends is the salvation of those whom he pursues with such love; hence he adds, “For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). If therefore God sent Christ for that end (that through him the world might be saved) , he must either have failed of his end or the world must be necessarily saved in fact. However it is certain that not the whole world, but only the chosen out of the world are saved; therefore to them properly this love has reference. Nor can it be conceived if a universal love is here under stood, how such and so great love (which is by far the cause of the greatest and most excellent good, viz., the mission of Christ) can consist with the hatred of innumerable persons whom he willed to pass by and ordain to damnation (to whom he never has revealed either his Son or willed to bestow faith, without which it is set forth in vain). Nor can it be conceived how this love of God can be so greatly commended here which yet remains void and inefficacious on account of the defect of subjective grace, which God has determined to deny.18

The object of the love is “ton kosmon” (ton cosmon, the world).19 John Gill states that the Persic version translates the word “world” as “men”, which, in this case may be fitting though not necessary.20 John Flavel rightly states, “The objects of this love, or the persons to whom the eternal Lord delivered Christ, and that is the World. This must respect the elect of God in the world, such as do, or shall actually believe, as it is exegetically expressed in the next words, “That whosoever believes in him should not perish.”21 As Owen states, God of his free grace, has prepared a way to redeem and save his elect (John 3:16; Isaiah 53:6).22 I believe it is difficult to translate the verse in any other fashion without entering into theological problems.23

The word “world” cannot be loosely translated as meaning every one for all time, including those who have already perished. No one would grant that it includes all men in hell, or those who had previously been in hell at the time of the crucifixion. But by not granting this, the scope of those for whom God “so loves” is already limited. I quote John Owen at length, “First…Now, this love we say to be that, greater than which there is none. Secondly, by the “world,” we understand the elect of God only, though not considered in this place as such, but under such a notion as, being true of them, serves for the farther exaltation of God’s love towards them, which is the end here designed; and this is, as they are poor, miserable, lost creatures in the world, of the world, scattered abroad in all places of the world, not tied to Jews or Greeks, but dispersed in any nation, kindred, and language under heaven. Thirdly, “ina pajo` pisteuwn” “in order that every believer,” is to us, and is declarative of the intention of God in sending or giving his Son, containing no distribution of the world beloved but a direction to the person whose good was intended, that love being an unchangeable intention of the chiefest good. Fourthly, “Should not perish, but have life everlasting,” contains an expression of the particular aim and intention of God in this business; which is, the certain salvation of believers by Christ. And this, in general, is the interpretation of the words which we adhere unto, which will yield us sundry arguments, efficient each of them to evert the general ransom; which, that they may be the better bottomed, and the more clearly convincing, we will lay down and compare the several words and expression of this place, about whose interpretation we digress, with the reason of our rejecting the one sense and embracing the other: The first difference in the interpretation of this place is about the cause of sending Christ; called here love. The second, about the object of this love; called here the world. Thirdly, Concerning the intention of God in sending his Son; said to be that believers might be saved.24 As Owen again states, “It is the special love of God to his elect, as we affirm, and so, consequently, not any such thing as our adversaries suppose to be intended by it, – namely, a velleity or natural inclination to the good of all.”25 It must be kept in mind that Owen did believe God gave good things to lost men, but it does not argue a natural disposition in Him to do so in this saving sense.

Turretin explains at length what the word “world” refers to. I quote him in brief here and in length in the footnote, “It is true of the elect alone that they are actually reconciled to God and that their sins will not be imputed unto them. Why then should “the world” not be taken universally for individuals, but indefinitely for anyone (Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition) that he may be said to have loved the human race inasmuch as he was unwilling to destroy it entirely, but decreed to save some certain person out of it; not only from one people as before, but from all indiscriminately although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones (viz., those chosen out of the world)! And nothing is more frequent in common conversation than to attribute to a community something with respect to some certain individual, not to all.”26

In dealing fairly with John we must look through his Gospel and letters on the use of the word “world.”27 26 times he uses the word to refer to the earth.28 3 times he uses the word to refer to Jews and Gentiles specifically.29 12 times he uses the word to refer to believers and unbelievers in the world, or all humanity.30 3 times he uses the word to refer to the world system in particular.31 31 times he uses the word to refer to the wicked, without including believers, which is his most common use.32 And finally, he uses the word for the world of the elect 11 times.33 Seeing the varied usage of the word, the context and thought of each passage is critical, or the meaning of the word would enter into absurdity. For instance, if we were to use the same logic that the Remonstrance or Arminians34 use in their use of the word “world” in John 3:16 as “everyone for all time”, what says we cannot use that same word in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” This would make absolutely no sense. Or what of Revelation 12:9, “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Is this all of humanity as they would purport in John 3:16? Why do they read it into John 3:16 without considering to the context of the “so” and the “gave”, including the previous verse and the latter verse?

Arthur W. Pink also helps us further consider the word “world” in its context. “But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world”. True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said, “Shew Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind? When the Pharisees said, “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the apostle wrote, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on the earth? When Rev. 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast”, are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? What of the godly Jewish Remnant, who will be slain (Rev. 20:4) rather than submit? These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force.”35 I do believe that the word is relative depending upon the context. In almost every instance it is used in the Bible it is relative. It almost always has connotations to specific groups of people.

Pink goes on to say, “in 2 Cor. 5:19 we read:

To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following “not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Here again, “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly for their trespasses are “imputed” to them, as the judgment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Cor. 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled”, reconciled unto God, because their trespasses are not ‘ reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible-the world of God’s people! In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis refer to the world of God’s people. “Must” we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people-search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.

I admit that my interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented on my own, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.”36

The Westminster Assembly also has some contentions concerning the idea of the word “world” due to the theological positions of the Amyraldians in their meetings (such as Davenant). Rutherford, Seaman, and Gillespie contended for the word “world” as meaning “the elect” and presented the idea to the Assembly and the Assembly accepted their proposition concerning God loving the “world” as God loving the “elect”. This was noted in detail in their Minutes.37 The consensus of the Assembly was to abandon the Amyraldian notion that God loves all men generally38 and moved forward with the meaning of John 3:16 as particular for the elect only.

The words, “He gave his only begotten Son” rest on the idea presented – the giving act of the Father.39 The word “eidwken” (3rd person aorist active indicative of didwmi, “gave”) is crucial to understanding God’s intention in the passage. The Greek construction puts some stress on the actuality of the gift: it is not “God loved so as to give”, but “God loved so that He gave.” His love is not a vaguely sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to Him.40 This is the “love” which is stated as “for us” in Romans 8:31-32, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” 1 John 4:9-10, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 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.” Propitiation, God’s love and His giving are all intrinsically linked together here and paralleled as in John 3:16.

What does it mean to “give” the Son? It is nothing less than the entirety of the oblation of Christ in his incarnation, work, death, resurrection and intercession.41 In speaking of the giving, it points to the design and intention of God. As John Flavel states, “You have heard of the gracious purpose and design of God, to recover poor sinners to himself by Jesus Christ, and how this design of love was laid and contrived in the covenant of redemption, whereof we last spake. Now, according to the terms of that covenant, you shall hear from this scripture, how that design was by one degree advanced towards its accomplishment, in God’s actual giving or parting with his own Son for us: “God so loved the world, that he gave,” etc. The whole precedent context is spent in discovering the nature and necessity of regeneration, and the necessity thereof is in this text urged and inferred from the peculiar respect and eye God had upon believers, in giving Christ for them; they only reaping all the special and saving benefits and advantages of that gift: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.”42

The same remarks made by those who create a double will in God in John 3:16 cannot be linked to John 6:33, though if they were consistent in their hermeneutic, it should be. The passages states, “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” If this is true, and we were to use the same interpretive tools the some have used on John 3:16, then, as Jesus gives life to the world, they all, by necessity, must have life and are alive. But we know the “world is condemned already” if they remain in unbelief. How could we interpret John 6:33 to mean “all men for all time?” We cannot, just as we cannot say He loved “all men for all time” in John 3:16. Who are these which are given life? We know the whole world is not given life or they would be alive. If they eat of the bread of life, then they have life. Jesus is not saying that He is the bread of life which every man for all time is regenerated. He is saying that all men, Jews and Gentiles, may eat of Him. Not every individual man, but all kinds of men, which would have been foreign to His Jewish listeners. As a matter of fact, in John 6:41 the Jews murmured at His teaching, saying that Jesus could not have “come down from heaven” since he is “Joseph’s son.” But Jesus then remarks to them in 6:43-44 with these words, “Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” This shows the intention of God towards the Jews, and towards the world. He raises up only those that the Father gives Him. The Father, if He were savingly interested in all men, would have given all men to Christ. But God is not interested in all men in this way, but only some men—those Jesus will raise up at the last day.

The “giving” of Christ is of intense theological importance. Even the Greek construction given to these words shows us the rarity and exclamational intent of the writer. The words “That He gave” is the usual classical construction of the grammar with “hoste” and the indicative (first aorist active) entail a practical result; that God did do such a thing as give His Son, truly. The only other example of this in the New Testament is in Gal. 2:13 where Paul is shocked that even Barnabas was “carried away” with the hypocrisy of the Jews which seemed unthinkable.43

Why did God do all this giving? John Owen states, “The whole Scripture constantly assigneth this sole end of that effect of divine goodness and wisdom; yea, asserts it as the only foundation of the Gospel, John 3:16.”44 God gave because of His goodness to the elect and His goodness is seen in the Gospel itself, not specifically to all men in general. The divine goodness and wisdom of God has given Christ as an oblation to “whosoever believes.” Those (ho pisteuow) believing ones partake of what God gave in His love, “His only begotten Son.” To “believe” is immediately linked to Jesus’ instruction in verse 3, those who are “born again” and who “perceive” the things of the Kingdom. Those believing are those sovereignly regenerated by the Spirit who gives birth to spirit. The construction here is considered a “purpose clause” in the Greek. It is impossible to break the line of Christ’s thought and attribute the special and purposeful love of God which gives His only begotten Son to the entirety of mankind without distinction, where Jesus has, in verse 3 and following, already made the distinction.45 It is true that Reformed Calvinists, such as Murray and Dabney, do not believe God is “attempting” to save the world. However, the theological position to attribute John 3:16 to all men generally is contextually deviant. John Owen rightly states, “Nor is there any mention of any special love or grace of God unto sinners, but with respect unto the satisfaction of Christ46 as the means of the communication of all its effects unto them.”47 John Gerstner states, “John 3:16 says more clearly than probably any verse in Scripture that the atonement was made for believers only. God so loved the world He gave His Son that believers should have eternal life.”48 Even John Newton must state that God in John 3:16 “opened the Kingdom of God to all believers.”49 The Kingdom of God is open to every believer, but that is a limited number – those whom God regenerates and endows with faith. It is the intention of God towards “whosoever believes” that determines the “world” of the verse, and the direction of His goodness and His love.

The objection is often stated as such, “God’s love is infinite, and it cannot be limited to only a few.” God’s saving love is not indiscriminate as His providence is. Samuel Rutherford answers well for us if the former is true; “This should conclude, that there be an infinite number of men and angels to whom God’s salvation is betrothed in affection; but His love is infinite in its act, not in its object; the way of carrying on His love is infinite.”50 But the idea continues into the concept that because God is love, then God must, out of necessity to His nature, love. This love then encompasses all of creation in one form or another. But this is an exegetical strain. There must be a distinction between love ad infra and ad extra. Within the nature of the Trinity, there is a pure love communicated to each of the persons of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and this love is communicated between them through the working of the Spirit of love. This love is the inner Trinitarian love which is ad infra, a love without restriction. God, communicating love in this way, holds a pure and unrestricted love. Yet, there is also a pouring out of His love in and through Christ, which is restricted to those elected in Christ. This pouring out of redemptive love on His creatures is ad extra, outside Himself in the Beloved.51 As finite creatures it would be impossible to receive the saving love of God in any other form except through the mediation of Christ since the love which God pours out is infinite. Finitum non capax infinitum52 is the general rule which must always be attended to the understanding of the communication of God’s attributes to His people. We cannot contain the love which God shares ad infra. We obtain and enjoy through God’s gift that which is in Christ ad extra.

John Owen speaks about the love of God in this manner when he states, “He is love eternally and necessarily in this love of the Son; all other workings of love are but acts of His will, whereby somewhat of it is outwardly expressed.”53 Here Owen states that God necessarily loves in Christ but those acts of love externally upon men are those which He wills, which as we have discussed is a “love of the creature” or “love of men” but not savingly. God, then, will savingly love upon men in wisdom. He uses His goodness and love wisely in specific acts of His will upon His creation. Owen continues to explain that God’s love is experienced by us in the “person of Christ…the first recipient subject of all that divine love which extends itself unto the church. It is all, the whole of it, in the first place fixed upon him, and by and through him is communicated unto the church.”54 God does not use His saving love unwisely, or irrespective of Christ. Turretin states this same thought, “Hence although love is considered affectively and on the part of the internal act is equal in God (because it does not admit of increase or diminution), yet regarded effectively (or in the part which He wills to anyone) it is unequal because some effects of love are greater than others.” Calvin states, “Since our hearts cannot, in God’s mercy, either seize upon life ardently enough or accept it with the gratefulness we owe, unless our minds are first struck and overwhelmed by fear of God’s wrath and by dread of eternal death, we are taught by Scripture to perceive that apart from Christ, God is, so to speak, hostile to us, and his hand is armed for our destruction; to embrace his benevolence and fatherly love in Christ alone.”55 Here Calvin also states that this kind of benevolence is found in Christ alone. He says “until Christ succours us by his death, the unrighteousness that deserves God’s indignation remains in us, and is accursed and condemned before Him.”56 Calvin speaks here in a compound sense. God loves Himself in us. God loves Christ in us. He does not love the marred image of Himself, or the wicked intents and thoughts of our hearts. He loves Christ, and when we are in Christ He loves us ad extra.57

It is also important to make note of the word “whosoever” in the Greek. The text is often rendered, “that whosoever believes shall have everlasting life.” Appeal is made to the “whosoever” and not commonly to “whosoever believes.” The Gospel is certainly a “whosoever believes” Gospel, but there is a more important note to make on this word than stressing the obvious fact that the “whosoever” is linked with “belief.” John 3:16 in the Greek is fully quoted concerning the “whosoever believes” idea:

Οὕτω γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (Joh. 3:16).

The word in bold type is a verb which is a participle. It is the present active nominative masculine singular verb which determines our English rendering “whosoever believes”. The problem here is the word “whosoever”. There is no word “whosoever” in the Greek text. Literally the section reads “the believing ones into Him.” God so loved the world that the ones who believed into Christ may not perish but have everlasting life. Oftentimes Pelagian and Arminian advocates stress the word “whosoever” where the word does not even exist. The Gospel here is directed to those who believe, and to no more. Even if we were to take liberty in rendering the English as “whosoever believes”, it still ends up meaning the same thing: that those believing – whosoever they may be – are the ones actually saved.58

In summary, John 3:16 is not directed towards the entirety of mankind with no exceptions. Calvinists sometimes refuse this for an interpretation which views this as a general saving love. However, those suffering in hell, or who will suffer in hell, are not the recipients of the cross of Christ and the benefits of the redeeming love of God towards the elect, but would be considered part of the whole world. If these Calvinists are merely stating that God has an eye, now, towards all nations instead of simply to Israel, then such an interpretation would still warrant the specific aspect I am proving by the text. God’s love in John 3:16 is the highest form of love, as the Greek shows us, and that love cannot be towards the whole world indiscriminately with a lesser love to the elect. Nor can this love be both for the whole world and the elect, for then we would wonder why the whole world is not saved. Its context, nor its use of the Greek, allows its use to aid in propagating a general love for all men; that is not the point of the passage. I do not believe this love to be extended to all without distinction, but to all kinds (both Jew and Gentile) from all ages with the distinct and particular love of God in Christ to His elect in those masses.59 Thus, Jesus is teaching Nicodemas, a Jewish ruler, that his narrow interpretation of God’s love is incorrect. The saving love of God in Christ does not simply fall upon the Jew, but all kinds of men, the Gentiles included. Jesus is not saying that God’s love is a general saving love for all men indiscriminately, but it reaches to all nations indiscriminately under the new covenant. However, even though Calvinists rest on this interpretation, they must at the very least agree with me that the elect of Christ are those which this saving love shall be ultimately applied. This does not destroy the message of John 3:16, but rather enforces it.

Others may attempt to create a duality in the will of God from this verse. God not only elects and reprobates, but also loves everyone equally in some type of general saving manner. This is a fallacious and irresponsible exegetical work. The will of God here, I believe, is expressed in the divided sense. Jesus had been teaching Nicodemas in John 3:1-10 that the Spirit of God blows and regenerates whom He will. This is God’s eternal decree realized in the lives of men. It is the compound sense translated into the divided sense for us. In verse 16, He stresses this divided sense. God reaches out into all the world to gather His elect. His elect do not only reside in the physical covenant community of Israel any longer, but through the farthest reaches of the whole world.

[1] The word “world” is, for proponents of common grace and the love of God to all men, to mean “all people for all time”. It would have to be. Would this then include those already assigned to hell?[2] In his book No Place for Sovereignty, R.K. McGregor Wright states, “If the verse is disputed, its meaning is no longer obvious, and it is probably time to do some homework. As we discovered with the well-known verse John 3:16, a brief look at the Greek instantly destroyed the apparently obvious Arminian meaning.” (Inter varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 1996. Page 167) Hopefully this brief look at the verse will, in hand, prove Wright as right.[3] Latimer’s Sermons, Volume 1 page 332; quoted in The Works of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA: 1987, page 142. Latimer also states that, “Now it would both impeach the wisdom, and affront the dignity of Christ, as well as infinitely depreciate the value of His sacrifice to suppose that he could possibly shed his blood on the cross, for those very souls which were, at that very time, suffering for their own sins in hell.” Ibid., page 142.[4] Ou[twj ga.r hvga,phsen o` qeo.j to.n ko,smon( w[ste to.n ui`o.n to.n monogenh/ e;dwken( i[na pa/j o` pisteu,wn eivj auvto.n mh. avpo,lhtai avllV e;ch| zwh.n aivw,nion.[5] Numbers 21:8, “Then The Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”[6] Franncis J. Moloney, Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: 1946. Page 96.[7] Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament, John, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI: 1989. Page 229, This is the first use of agapaow, used 36 more times through John’s Gospel.[8] John Owen, Works, Volume 1, Communion with God, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1994. Page 28. John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave,” etc.; that is, with the love of his purpose and good pleasure, his determinate will of doing good. This is distinctly ascribed to him, being laid down as the cause of sending his Son. So Romans 9:11, 12; Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2 These 2:13, 14; 1 John 4:8, 9.[9] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Master Christian Library, Ages Software, P(1), Q(37), A(1). Page 421. Now, that the Son of God took to Himself flesh from the Virgin’s womb was due to the exceeding love of God: wherefore it is said (John 3:16): “God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son.”[10] Even the Arminian, R.C.H. Lenski states in his commentary on John (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN: 1943. Page 259-260), that Ou[twj denotes manner and degree, stressing the word “love” which is in the aorist tense attesting to an accomplished fact. He says on page 262, that the “so…that” construction with the indicative expresses the attained actual result. It is not something hypothetical but real and actual. The degree is the greatest love of God, and the result is the redemption of all those who believe. Even the word “gave” (page 264), is in the aorist tense denoting a historical past action of the Father for us.[11] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 242. Turretin states that God, in John 3:16 is electing the church. He makes the distinction between the effect and cause saying, “the effect of election cannot be called it cause,” Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 352. “The love treated in John 3:16 when it is said that “God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son,” cannot be universal towards each and every one, but special towards a few. 1) It treats of the supreme and intense love of God (a greater than which cannot be conceived) towards those for whom he gave his only begotten. This is evident both from the intensive (epitakite) particle houtos (which has great weight here) and from the thing itself. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 405; Turretin was aware of Calvin’s interpretation of this passage – he makes this note on Page 405 section 30.[12] Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1932. Section on Contradicts Universalistic Passages, Pages 293-294. He believes the verse pertains to all men of all kinds (Jews and Gentiles), “…the intensity of God’s love is made plain by the little adverb “so”. But where is the oft-boasted proof of it universality as to individuals?” Boettner goes on to prove that it is not to the whole world but to the elect in the whole world.”[13] Spiros Zhodiates states that the word “love” in the Greek in these, and many other instances, refers to a “delighting” in the object of the love. Spiros Zhodiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, IA: 1992. Page 65.[14] Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 5, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1960. Page 50.[15] D. A. Carson rightly points out that the Greek construction behind “so loved that he gave his only begotten son” (houtos plus hoste plus the indicative instead of the infinitive) emphasizes the intensity of that love. (The Gospel According to John, Wm B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI: 1991. Page 204.)[16] Some say that stating God’s love here is towards the “elect” ruins the force of the sentence. Yet, it seems that the construction in the Greek not only does not ruin it for the elect, but amply strengthens it. The Rev. John Howe states, “could the love of God be under restraint? And I say, no it could not.” (The Works of Rev. John Howe, Frederick Wesley and A.H. Davis, London England: 1832. Page 94.)[17] Raymond E. Brown states, “the classical use of this construction is for the purpose of stressing the reality of the result.” (The Gospel According to John, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York: 1966. Page 134.)[18] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 405.[19] Instances of this can be found in the following set Puritan Sermons 1659-1689, Richard Owen Roberts Publishers, Wheaton IL: 1981. William Whitaker, Puritan Sermons, Volume 1, Page 513; Page 213, Volume 5; Thomas Vincent, Puritan Sermons, Volume 2, Page 630; Thomas Doolittle, Puritan Sermons, Volume 4, Page 8. “The Spirit of God doth sanctify some that they may be partakers of the eternal inheritance of the saints in light.”; Samuel Annesley, Puritan Sermons, Volume 5, Page 187. He places John 3:16 as the covenant of grace made with sinners”; John Gibbon, Puritan Sermons, Volume 5, Page 323. He sees John 3:16 as “Jesus given to believers.” Richard Fairclough, Puritan Sermons, Volume 6, Page 386. He links John 3:16 with Ephesians 2:8-10 inseparably together as to the elect.[20] John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Volume 7, Baptist Standard Bearer, Paris AR, 1989. Page 772-773. “For God so loved the world…” The Persic version reads “men”: but not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God’s special love, which is here designed, as appears from the instance and evidence of it, the gift of his Son: nor is Christ God’s gift to every one; for to whomsoever he gives his Son, he gives all things freely with him; which is not the case of every man. Nor is human nature here intended, in opposition to, and distinction from, the angelic nature; for though God has showed a regard to fallen men, and not to fallen angels, and has provided a Savior for the one, and not for the other; and Christ has assumed the nature of men, and not angels; yet not for the sake of all men, but the spiritual seed of Abraham; and besides, it will not be easily proved, that human nature is ever called the world: nor is the whole body of the chosen ones, as consisting of Jews and Gentiles, here designed; for though these are called the world, (John 6:33, 51); and are the objects of God’s special love, and to them Christ is given, and they are brought to believe in him, and shall never perish, but shall be saved with an everlasting salvation; yet rather the Gentiles particularly, and God’s elect among them, are meant; who are often called “the world”, and “the whole world”, and “the nations of the world”, as distinct from the Jews; see Romans 11:12, 15; 1 John 2:2; Luke 12:30. compared with Matthew 6:32. The Jews had the same distinction we have now, the church and the world; the former they took to themselves, and the latter they gave to all the nations around: hence we often meet with this distinction, Israel, and the nations of the world; on those words, ““let them bring forth their witness”, that they may be justified, Isaiah 43:9 (say (F2) the doctors) these are Israel; “or let them hear and say it is truth”, these are “the nations of the world”.”

 

And again (F2), “the holy, blessed God said to Israel, when I judge Israel, I do not judge them as “the nations of the world”, and so in a multitude of places: and it should be observed, that our Lord was now discoursing with a Jewish Rabbi, and that he is opposing a commonly received notion of theirs, that when the Messiah came, the Gentiles should have no benefit or advantage by him, only the Israelites; so far should they be from it, that, according to their sense, the most dreadful judgments, calamities, and curses, should befall them; yea, hell and eternal damnation.

“There is a place (they say (F4)) the name of which is “Hadrach”, Zechariah 9:1. This is the King Messiah, who is, (Krw and dx) , “sharp and tender”; sharp to “the nations”, and tender to “Israel.”

And so of the “sun of righteousness”, in Malachi 4:2, they say (F5), “there is healing for the Israelites in it: but the idolatrous nations shall be burnt by it.” And that (F6) “there is mercy for Israel, but judgment for the rest of the nations.” And on those words in Isaiah 21:12, “the morning cometh”, and also the night, they observe (7), “the morning is for the righteous, and the night for the wicked; the morning is for Israel, and the night for “the nations of the world”.” And again (8), “in the time to come, (the times of the Messiah,) the holy, blessed God will bring “darkness” upon “the nations”, and will enlighten Israel, as it is said, Isaiah 60:2” Once more (F9), “in the time to come, the holy, blessed God will bring the nations of the world, and will cast them into the midst of hell under the Israelites, as it is said, Isaiah 43:3.”

To which may be added that denunciation of theirs (F11) “woe to the nations of the world, who perish, and they know not that they perish: in the time that the sanctuary was standing, the altar atoned for them; but now who shall atone for them?”

Now, in opposition to such a notion, our Lord addresses this Jew; and it is as if he had said, you Rabbins say, that when the Messiah comes, only the Israelites, the peculiar favorites of God, shall share in the blessings that come by, and with him; and that the Gentiles shall reap no advantage by him, being hated of God, and rejected of him: but I tell you, God has so loved the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, that he gave his only begotten Son; to, and for them, as well as for the Jews; to be a covenant of the people, the Gentiles, the Savior of them, and a sacrifice for them; a gift which is a sufficient evidence of his love to them; it being a large and comprehensive one, an irreversible and unspeakable one; no other than his own Son by nature, of the same essence, perfections, and glory with him; begotten by him in a way inconceivable and expressible by mortals; and his only begotten one; the object of his love and delight, and in whom he is ever well pleased; and yet, such is his love to the Gentiles, as well as Jews, that he has given him, in human nature, up, into the hands of men, and of justice, and to death itself: that whosoever believeth in him, whether Jew or Gentile.”

Gills Footnotes:
F2 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 2. 1.
F3 Ib. fol. 4. 1. Vid. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 91. 2. & Bereshit Rabba, fol. 11. 3.
F4 Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 24. 1. Jarchi & Kimchi in Zech. ix. 1.
F5 Zohar in Gen. fol. 112. 2.
F6 Zohar in Exod. fol. 15. 1, 2.
F7 T. Hieros. Taaniot, fol. 64. 1.
F8 Shemot Rabba, sect. 14. fol. 99. 4.
F9 Ib sect. 11. fol. 98. 3.
F11 T. Bab. Succa, fol. 55. 2.

[21] John Flavel, John Flavel Volume 1, Sermon 4, The Fountain of Life, Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA, 1968. Page 63-64, “The objects of this love, or the persons to whom the eternal Lord delivered Christ, and that is the [World.] This must respect the elect of God in the world, such as do, or shall actually believe, as it is exegetically expressed in the next words, “That whosoever believes in him should not perish.” Those whom he calls the world in that he stiles believers in this expression; and the word “World” is put to signify the elect, because they are scattered through all parts, and are among all ranks of men in the world; these are the objects of this love; it is not angels, but men, that were so loved; he is called flanqropos, a Lover, a Friend of Men, but never filangellos, or filoklisos, the Lover or Friend of Angels, or creatures of another species.

 

Also, Flavel states on page 66 of Volume 1, “God’s giving of Christ, implies his application of him, with all the purchase of his blood, and setting all this upon us, as an inheritance and portion.”

[22] John Owen, chapter 9, Page 34, Catechism: Of the incarnation of Christ, Master Christian Library Volume 5, Ages Software.[23] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 407. “The universal particles which often occur here are not always employed in their whole extent, but sometimes more broadly, sometimes more strictly, according to the subject matter Sometimes they denote the whole of the nations in distinction to the Old Testament economy where salvation was only of the Jews. Thus the passage of Paul must be explained when he says that “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). This ought not to be referred to each and every one, but only to the peo ples of whom he treats-to teach that the Jews as well as Gentiles were concluded in unbelief that the mercy of God might be exercised towards both distributively, Jews as well as Gentiles. This is evident from the very connection of the words (Rom. 11:30, 31). Thus we understand his words, “Whosoever be lieveth shall not be ashamed, for there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all, is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:11, 12). Here also belongs the passage: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34, 35). (2) Sometimes the universality of conditions and states is designated in opposition to worldly polities. Thus distinctions are made between slaves and the free, the poor and the rich, men and women, the noble and the ignoble. But in the dispensation of grace, God attends to no such thing, nor accepts the person, but calls to communion with him indiscriminately all of whatever state and condition and sex. Thus we understand the place where “the grace that bringeth salvation” is said to “have appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11, 12), i.e., to everyone of whatever condition they may be, whether masters or servants. For of these he was speaking in the preceding verse, and after having exhorted masters to treat their servants kindly, he immediately adds “For the grace that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all,” i.e., to them as well as to you. Also “in Christ there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, bond nor free, Barbarian nor Scythian; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11)-not in each and every individual, but in all indiscriminately of whatever order, sex, nation and condition. (3) Sometimes the whole of believers and the world of the elect (as opposed to the world of the reprobate and unbelievers) is understood. Thus all are said “to live in Christ just as in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Not that there is the same latitude of those living as those dying, for many more die in Adam than are saved in Christ. With regard to the whole of believers, as many as perish and die, die in Adam; so as many as are made alive, are made alive in Christ. For these two heads are compared with each other, not as co amplitude of object, but as to analogy of the mode of communication. As Adam communicates sin to all his posterity and death through sin, so Christ bestows righteousness upon all his members and life through righteousness. So Rom. 5:18, 19 is to be explained where a comparison is made between Adam and Christ, not as to extent, but as to similarity of operation. Thus the world is taken for the whole of the elect and believers (2 Cor. 5:19). In this sense, Augustine places two words in the world. “The whole world,” says he, “is the church, and the whole world hates the church: the world therefore hates the world, the enemy the reconciled, the damned the saved” (“Tractate 87” On the Gospel of John [NPNFI, 7:355; PL 35.1853]; cf. also Prosper The Call of the Nations 1.3 [ACW 14:28]).[24] “John Owen, Works, Volume 10, Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1993. Pages 319ff (see whole discourse). Quote cited from Page 321.[25] Ibid, Page 323.[26] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992. Page 405-407. “The word “world” does not prove this love to be universal. Although it may be taken in common and indefinitely for the human race (as our Calvin, the Belgic commentators and others interpret it), it does not follow that this love is to be referred to each and every one, but only that a peculiar privilege was bestowed upon the human race with respect to some particular part so that the entire species should not wholly perish. Indeed this is in opposition: (1) to the family of angels to whom, in like sin, he did not grant like grace. Hence he is called indeed philanthropist (philanthropos), but not philangelist (philangelos). If a prince of two rebellious states would utterly destroy the one sparing nobody, but so far spare the other as to rescue some certain ones from the common punishment destined to the others, he would be said co have entirely loved the one above the other although he might not have loved all the members of the latter equally because the good of the part resounds to the whole, and the denomination is made from the better. (2) It is in opposition to the economy of the Old Testament where salvation was given not to the world but to the Jewish nation alone to intimate that it was not sent for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles indiscriminately. This would beautifully fall in with the design of Christ to take away from Nicodemus the empty boastings in which the Jews were accustomed to indulge (and with which he also undoubtedly was fascinated), as if the Messiah had been promised and sent to his nation alone, and the other nations were either to be brought into subjection to them or to be cut off. In order, therefore, to meet the opinion of that nation (itself implanted and ready now to unfold the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles), he said that God loved the world, not only one nation or people. In this sense, he is called by the Samaritans “the Saviour of the “world” (John 4:42), i.e., not only of the Jews (as under the Old Testament when sal vation was only of the Jews, as Christ testifies, John 4:22), but also of the Gentiles. Thus the worship of God would no longer be restricted as before to the temple of Jerusalem, but the true worshippers might everywhere worship in Spirit and in truth. Nor otherwise is Christ called by John the Baptist “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and by the evangelist “the propitiation not for our sins only” (i.e., the Jews) “but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John. 2:2), i.e. of the other nations. Thus he would accomplish a com mon good to the whole church and designate those who at the same time were about to believe and who were scattered over various regions of the world (as Calvin explains it). Nor is it a new and unusual thing for “the world” to be taken not always in its whole latitude, but to be restricted to some certain ones out of the world: as when it is put for the Gentiles in opposition to the Jews, “if the fall of them be the riches of the world” (Rom. 11:12); for the world of the wicked, of which Christ says, “I pray not for the world” (]n. 17:9) and “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19); for the world of believers when Christ says, “I will give my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51), not indeed of the world of the reprobate (who remain always in death), but of the elect (who are made alive through Christ); and “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). It is true of the elect alone that they are actually reconciled to God and that their sins will not be imputed unto them. Why then should “the world” not be taken universally for individu als, but indefinitely for anyone (Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition) that he may be said to have loved the human race inasmuch as he was unwilling to destroy it entirely, but decreed to save some certain person out of it; not only from one people as before, but from all indis criminately although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones (viz., those chosen out of the world)I And nothing is more frequent in common conversation than to attribute to a community something with respect to some certain individual, not to all.”[27] Each instance in the writings of John for the word “world” are as follows: John 1:9, 1:10, 1:29, 3:16, 3:17, 3:19, 4:42, 6:14, 6:33, 6:51, 7:4, 7:7, 8:12, 8:23, 8:26, 9:5, 9:32, 9:39, 10:36, 11:9, 11:27, 12:19, 12:25, 12:31, 12:46, 12:47, 13:1, 14:17, 14:19, 14:22, 14:27, 14:30, 14:31, 15:18, 15:19, 16:8, 16:11, 16:20, 16:21, 16:28, 16:33, 17:5, 17:6, 17:9, 17:11, 17:12, 17:13, 17:14, 17:15, 17:16, 17:18, 17:21, 17:23, 17:24, 17:25, 18:20, 18:36, 18:37, 21:25, 1 John 2:2, 2:15, 2:16, 2:17, 3:1, 3:13, 4:1, 4:3, 4:4, 4:5, 4:9, 4:14, 4:17, 5:4, 5:5, 5:19, 2 John 1:7, Rev. 3:10, 11:15, 12:9, 13:3, 13:8, 16:14, 17:8.[28] The earth: John 13:1; 6:14; 9:5a; 9:32; 9:39; 10:36; 11:27; 16:21; 16:28; 17:5; 17:11a; 17:12; 17:23; 17:24; 18:36; 18:37; 21:25; 1John 4:1; 4:9; 2 John 1:7; Rev. 11:15; 13:8; 17:8.[29] Jews and Gentiles: John 4:39; 18:20; Revelation 16:14.[30] John 1:9-10; 3:17; 3:19; 7:4; 8:26; 9:5b; 12:19; 12:25; 14:30; 14:19; 16:11; Rev. 3:10.[31] John 12:31; 1 John 5:19; 4:3-4.[32] John 5:24; 7:7; 8:23; 12:31; 13:1; 14:17; 14:22; 14:31; 15:18-19; 16:8; 16:20; 17:6; 17:9; 17:11b; 17:15-16; 17:17; 17:21; 17:23; 17:25; 1 John 2:15-17; 3:1; 3:13; 4:5; 4:17; 5:4-5; Rev. 12:9; 13:3.[33] John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17c; 6:33; 12:46-47; 6:51; 8:12; 11:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14.[34] The Five Arminian Articles of the Remonstrance, Article 2, “That agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16…”[35] See also Pink’s further treatment of John 3:16 in Appendix 3, Page 253 in The Sovereignty of God, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1999.[36] Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1999. Page 200-203. I quote Pink further and at length, “Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted, that this verse will not bear the con struction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world”. Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race,” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of the earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Saviour came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world”, and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares, “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pen tecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not con venient” (Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of a11 the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages, who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same ap plies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgments which will yet be poured out from heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the 20th chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgment, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love.

 

But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world”. True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the breth ren of Christ said, “Shew Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind When the Pharisees said, “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the apostle wrote, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on the earth? When Rev. 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast”, are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? What of the godly Jewish Remnant, who will be slain (Rev. 20:4) rather than sub mit? These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force.

Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:I6 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus-a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond”. In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world”, then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.

In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly”. If then, there is a world of the ungodly there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider. “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offereth life unto the world”, but “giveth”. What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused, but a thing “given”, necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted, it is not “given’, it is simply proffered. Here, then, is a scrip ture that positively states Christ giveth life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they : do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly”, i.e., God’s own people.

Also in one other: in 2 Cor. 5:19 we read, “To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”. What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following “not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Here again, “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly for their trespasses are “imputed” to them, as the judg ment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Cor. 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “recon ciled”, reconciled unto God, because their trespasses are not ‘ reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible-the world of God’s people! In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis refer to the world of God’s people. “Must” we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people-search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end”. We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puri tans, and many others since them.”

[37] Gillespie, “In answer to the two arguments, one from the John 3:16. The brother [a Mr. John Goodwin] takes for granted that by the world is meant the whole world. It is a point much controverted. Our divines do deny that the word world must in some places be taken in another sense…For that of philanthropy it makes much against it…I cannot understand how there can be such a universal love of God to mankind as is maintained. Those that will say it must needs deny the absolute repro bation; then alone to those whom God hath absolutely reprobated both from salvation and the means of salvation…For the next argument from Mark 16…He con ceives the ground of this universal offer is the institution of Christ in dying…For that of the truth…There is a truth in it: the connection of those two extremes must ever hold true faith and salvation. But what is that to a reprobate ? Here is the mistake. The voluntas decreti and mandati are not distinguished…A man is bound to believe that he ought to believe, and that by faith he shall be saved. It is his duty. The command doth not hold out God’s intentions; otherwise God’s command to Abraham concerning sacrificing of his son…Said I can not say so to a devil…True; but reason is, that it is the revealed will of God that devils are absolutely excluded, but not so any man known to me.” Samuel Rutherford stated, “For the two scriptures alleged yesterday desire when I give a reason of the denial of a pro position…For that of John 3:16, three grounds of an argument taken from this place: 1. From the word loved; a general love to elect and reprobate. 2. From the word world, generally taken, because distributive afterwards. 3. Grounded upon God’s intention upon condition of faith…For the first Christ speaks of a particular special love…This all one with those places…This love is parallel, with that expressed in those three places…The love of one giving his life for his friends…the love that moved Him to send His only-begotten Son…If the love in John 3 be the same with those, as in those places is meant the special particular love of God commensurable with election…not one scripture in all the New Testa ment where it can be expounded for the general…2. The love in the John 3 is restricted to the Church; Eph. 5:25, restricted to a Church…so Gal. 2:20, loved me; the apostle who lives the life of God by faith…Rom. 5:8, the sinners and ungodly are set down to be the justified by faith…Such a love as moved the husband Christ to give His life for His spouse, such as moved…such as God commends, for the highest love is a restricted special love…3. It is an actual saving love, and there fore not a general love.” The Minutes of the Sessions of the Assembly of Divines, reprinted by SWRB, Edmunton, ND: 19**. Page 155.[38] The Amyraldian concept derives from the order of decrees and the way the Amyraldian would think about how and when God would love men. They believed that God loved all men prior to the fall and then particularly after the fall. There is a great error created in that the decree to love does not come to pass. God’s first decree (that he loved all men savingly) is thwarted by His second decree as a result of the fall. But even in this notion, the Amyraldian is inconsistent – for why would John 3:16, considered relevant after the fall, be speaking of God’s love for all men before the fall? I believe the Amyraldian concept fails on its own.[39] Bunyan stresses the idea of the richness of God’s love in His giving us His Son, John Bunyan, Saved by Grace, Master Christian Library Volume 5, Ages Software. Page 23. “The Father’s grace ordaineth, and giveth the Son to undertake for us, our redemption. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness to usward through Christ Jesus,” 1 John 4:14; Ephesians 1:7, 2:7; John 3:16, 6:32, 33, 12:47.”[40] Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament, John, WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI: 1989. Pages 229-230.[41] John Owen, Page 43, Catechism: Of the incarnation of Christ, Ages Software, Master Christian Library Volume 5, Q. 4. What is the oblation of Christ? A. The offering up of himself Isaiah 53:10,12; John 3:16, upon the altar of the cross, 11:51, 17:19; Hebrews 9:13, 14. an holy propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of all the elect throughout the world; as also, the presentation of Hebrews 9:24. himself for us in heaven, sprinkled with the blood of the covenant.”[42] John Flavel, John Flavel Volume 1, Sermon: Opens the Admirable love of God in Giving His Own Son for Us, Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 1968.[43] Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1960. Page 50.[44] John Owen, Christologia, Ages Software, Master Christian Library 5. Page 242.[45] This distinction is already present in the idea of “whoever believes”.[46] John Owen, Christologia, Ages Software, Master Christian Library 5, Page 242. Q. 2. Died he for no other? A. None, in respect of his Acts 20:28; Matthew 20:28, 26:28; Father’s eternal purpose, and Hebrews 9:28; John 11:51, 52; his own intention of removing Isaiah 53:12; John 3:16, wrath from them, and 10:11-13,15; Ephesians 5:25; Romans procuring grace and glory for 8:32, 34; Galatians 3:13; them. John 6:37, 39; Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20.[47] John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification, Ages Software, Master Christian Library 5. Page 92. See John 3:16; Romans 3:23-25; 8:30-33; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Ephesians 1:7; etc.[48] John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 2nd Edition, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, PA, 2000. Pages 139-140, “We first consider the very common misunderstanding of John 3:16. It is supposed to teach that God so loved everyone in the world that He gave His only Son to provide them an opportunity to be saved by faith. What is wrong with this interpretation? First, such a “love” on God’s part, so far from being love, would be the refinement of cruelty. As we have already seen, offering a gift of life to a spiritual corpse, a bril liant sunset to a blind man, and a reward to a legless cripple if only he will come and get it, are horrible mockeries. The reason the dispensationalists do not see this is because, though they profess to believe in total depravity, they are in fact Arminian. Second, the verse clearly states for whom this love gift was given. “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish.” John 3:16 says more clearly than probably any verse in Scripture that the atone­ment was made for believers only. God so loved the world He gave His Son that believers should have eternal life. Third, since even Arminians admit that believers are elect, even Arminians should see that John 3:16 has in plainest possible language said that God gave His only chat the elect (whoever believes) “should not perish have everlasting life.”[49] John Newton, Works of John Newton, Volume 2, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1988. Page 285-286.[50] Samuel Rutherford, Trial and Triumph of Faith, Pilgrim Book House, London, 1645, reprinted Carmichael, CA: 1991. Page 16.[51] Ephesians 1:6 speaks about the elects acceptance “in the Beloved.”[52] The finite cannot contain the infinite.[53] John Owen, Works, Volume 1, Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 1992. Page 144.[54] Ibid, page 146. See also John 3:35; John 5:20; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5.[55] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA: 1960. Page 505. (2.16.3)[56] Ibid, Page 506. (2.16.3)[57] See also Augustine on this in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Volume 7, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA: 1995. Page 411. Here Augustine treats the love of God in Christ and then in us as he expounds John 17. This can be found in Tractate 110. Augustine states, “For He could not but love the members of His Son seeing that He loveth the Son Himself; nor is there any reason for loving His members, save that He loveth Himself.” Augustine will show how God loves the Son from all eternity as the Son, then Christ as Christ, and then us in Him as Christ is in us. God loves in us that which is Himself.[58] R.K. McGregor Wright states, “The passage states that as a result of his loving the world, God gave his Son, which is usually understood to be a reference to the incarnation and atonement. Then the Greek says “in order that every one believing in him may not perish.” There is no word for “whosoever” in the original. On the contrary, far from God’s giving his Son to provide a generalized atonement for everyone who exists, the verse states that he gave his Son for the express purpose of saving a special group. Since this group excludes all unbelievers and is less than all existing human beings, John 3:16 states explicitly that the purpose of God in sending his Son to die was limited to atoning for believers only, that they “should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is what Calvinists call a limited atonement, in answer to the general or universal atonement taught by the Arminian, Catholic and Lutheran systems.” R.K. McGregor Wright No Place for Sovereignty, Inter varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: 1996. Page 159.[59] Here is a small list of Calvinist writers who believe John 3:16 is to the elect world: Augustine, Francis Turretin, Martin Bucer, John Flavel, Augustus Toplady, Jerome Zanchius, Robert Haldane, John Knox, Martin Luther, Christopher Love, Jonathan Edwards, John Gerstner, John Owen, Lorraine Boettner, John Newton, John Bunyan, William Whittaker, Thomas Doolittle, Samuel Annesley, Thomas Vincent, R.C. Sproul, and R. K. McGregor Wright. The following are those Calvinists who do no believe John 3:16 as special love to the elect: Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, John Murray, Ezekiel Hopkins, J.C. Ryle, R.L. Dabney. (John Calvin will be treated in a section later all His own due to his controversial views both seemingly for and against John 3:16 being for the elect.)

 

 

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