"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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:16, 17.
This verse is often used to deny the clear doctrines of election and particular redemption. Most Christians today use this verse to teach that God loves every individual without exception and has provided a means whereby everyone could be saved if they would only choose to believe in the Son of God.
Their underlying theology can be expressed in this way.
* God loves all men without exception, with a love that gives His only begotten Son for their salvation, that is, with the saving love that desires their salvation from sin and their eternal life in heaven.
* God gave His only begotten Son for all men without exception, that is, Jesus died for all men without exception.
* Nevertheless, many people whom God loves, whom God desires to save, and for whom Jesus died perish in hell, unsaved.
* Therefore, 1) many persons are separated from the love of God; 2) God’s desire to save is frustrated in the case of many persons; and 3) the death of Jesus failed to save many for whom the Son of God, in fact, died.
* The reason for this sad state of affairs is that those persons refused to believe in Jesus, although they were able to do so by virtue of their free will.
* On the other hand, the reason why the others are saved is not that God loved them, desired their salvation, and gave His Son to die for them (for He also loved those who perish, desired their salvation, and gave His Son for them), but that they, by their free will, chose to believe.
* In conclusion, the damnation of the wicked is the defeat and disappointment of God, whereas the salvation of the believers is their own work. It was their part - their "free will choice" - that made all the difference between them and the ones that perish in their sins.
When the "all men without exception" people quote John 3:16, this is how they are reading it: "For God so loved all men without exception, that he gave his only begotten Son to die for all men without exception, with the desire that all men without exception be saved, so that whosoever believeth in him, of his own free will, should not perish, but have everlasting life."
An Interesting Word Study of “the World”
Let’s go ahead and take the typical definition of the word “the world” and see how it plays out in the gospel of John. Does the definition of “every single person without exception” fit? What do you think?
In John's Gospel, the term "world" must always refer to every single person without exception. Therefore:
1. Every single person without exception followed Jesus
John 12:19 -”The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him....”
2. Every single person without exception is unable to receive the Holy Spirit
John 14:17 - “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”
3. Every single person without exception hated the disciples
John 15:19 - “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
John 17:14 - “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
4. Every single person without exception rejoiced at the death of Jesus
John 16:20 - “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
5. The Father is unknown by every single person without exception
John 17:25 - “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.”
6. Jesus spoke to every single person without exception
John 18:20 - “Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.”
THE WORLD = the physical creation, the earth where man lives.
Or how about these verses. Do they refer to the physical creation we call the world or to every person without exception?
John 1:9 "every man that cometh into the world",
John 1:10 "He was in the world and the world was made by him",
John 3:17 "God sent not his Son into the world",
John 3:19 "light is come into the world",
John 8:23 "ye are of this world, I am not of this world",
John 9:5 "As long as I am in the world",
John 9:39 "I am come into this world",
John 10:36 "him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world",
John 12:25 "he that hateth his life in this world",
John 12:46 "I am come a light into the world",
John 13:1 "his hour was come that he should depart out of this world",
13:1 "having loved his own which were in the world",
John 16:21 "for joy that a man is born into the world",
John 16:28 "I am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father",
John 17:11 "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world",
John 17:12 "I was with them in the world",
John 17:13 "these things I speak in the world",
John 17:18 "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world",
John 17:24 "Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world",
John 18:36 "My kingdom is not of this world",
John 18:37 "for this cause came I into the world"
and finally John 21:25 "I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
Let's examine the Scriptures more closely to see how the Bible itself defines the word "world".
We also need to see if the concept of "free will" is the determining factor of who is saved and who is not, and WHY it is that some believe and others do not.
The word "world" has at least 4 different meanings in the New Testament.
# 1. The most common meaning of the word "world" is the physical planet which God created and on which we live. "from the foundation of the world", "if he shall gain the whole world", "do the nations of the world seek", "whom the Father sent into the world", "the world was made by him".
One understanding held by some, including William Tyndale, is that this physical world is what is in view in John 3:16. God will restore his original creation to its pristine purity through the redemptive death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tyndale's views on this can be seen here;
#2. A second meaning is "a whole lot of people, but not every individual".
John 12:19 "The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, THE WORLD is gone after him", John 18:20 "Jesus answered him, I spake openly to THE WORLD: I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort: and in secret have I said nothing."
Is should be apparent that not every individual in the whole wide world heard Jesus speak his sermons and parables.
#3. The "world" frequently means those who are hostile towards God and His people.
"THE WORLD cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil", "If ye were of THE WORLD, THE WORLD would love his own: but because ye are not of THE WORLD, but I have chosen you out of THE WORLD, therefore THE WORLD hateth you", "THE WORLD shall rejoice, but ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy", "I have given them thy word: and THE WORLD hath hated them, because they are not of THE WORLD, even as I am not of THE WORLD", "I pray not for THE WORLD, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine."
#4. "World" is also used to denote all the nations of this earth, both Jew and Gentile. The Jews considered themselves to be the only nation whose God was the LORD, and there is much scriptural testimony to this effect in the Old Testament. But now the gospel is going out to include the Gentile nations as well.
"What then? are we (the Jews) better than they? (the Gentiles). No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the WORLD may become guilty before God." Romans 3:9,19.
"World" is also used to denote the Gentile nations in contrast to the Jewish nation. "I say then, Have they (the Jews) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them (the Jews) be the riches of the WORLD (the Gentiles), and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness. For if the casting away of them (the Jews) be the reconciling of the WORLD (the Gentiles), what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead." Romans 11:11,12, 15.
Again it should be noted that not every individual Jew fell, many believed, and not every individual of the "world", the Gentiles, was reconciled; most were not.
The word "world" signifies a general category of men, not every individual within that category. The same is true of the word Israel. "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel...That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." Romans 9:6-8.
In John chapter three Jesus Christ is speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews. The Lord tells him "Ye must be born again" and relates how Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that the Israelites who looked in faith could be healed of their plague. So too must the Son of man be lifted up on a cross, but this time the salvation extends to the "world" and is not limited to the nation of Israel only.
The word, world, in the gospel of John does not mean ‘all men without exception.’ Proof:
John 1:29: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of THE WORLD." Did Christ by His death take away the sin of all men without exception? If He did, all men without exception are saved.
John 6:33: "For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto THE WORLD." Does Jesus give life (not, ineffectually offer life, but, efficaciously give life) to all men without exception? If He does, all men without exception have eternal life.
John 17:9: "I (Jesus) pray not for THE WORLD." Does Jesus refuse to pray for all men without exception?
This last text points out that the word "world" in the gospel of John does not always have the same meaning. In John 3:16, the world is loved by God, with a love that gives the Son of God for its sake; in John 17:9, the Son of God refuses to pray for the world. The saints must not come to an understanding of the world of John 3:16 by a quick assumption, but by careful interpretation of the passage in the light of the rest of Scripture.
God's redemptive plan began with a single individual, Abraham, who is the father of us all. It then extended to his family, then to the nation of Israel. When Moses went to Pharaoh, six times he refers to God " The Lord God of the Hebrews" Some of the most common names of God in the Old Testament are "The God of Israel" and "the Holy One of Israel".
God tells His people in the O.T. "the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth",
"Only the LORD had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day",
"the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth",
"He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD"
and "Ye only have I known of all the families of the earth". Deut. 7:6; 10:15; 14:2; Psalm 147:19, 20; and Amos 3:2.
Yet there are many prophecies that show the salvation of God would eventually extend to the whole world and include the Gentile nations.
Psalm 22 which predicts the sufferings of Christ on the cross also mentions the seed that shall serve him, and that "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee."
Isaiah 52 and 53 likewise predict the sufferings of Christ and God tells us "for the transgressions of MY PEOPLE was he stricken".
There we are told that "He shall sprinkle many nations" and "the LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations: and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."
Isaiah 54 is quoted in the book of Galatians to show the fulfillment of the promised salvation of the Gentiles, "for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife" and "thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles", and the Holy One of Israel shall be called "the God of the whole earth", not just the God of Israel. Isaiah 54:1, 3, 5.
Obviously not every individual of "the nations", "the Gentiles", "the ends of the world", nor "all the families of the earth" are redeemed and have eternal life. Many people will finally be lost for ever. But these terms express general categories of men that will be saved in addition to the spiritual seed of the children of Israel.
"God did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name" Acts. 15:14, and "I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes...and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb", and "for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation: And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9,10 and 7:9, 10.
Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction 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 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. They lived here "having no hope and without God in the world," and therefore passed out into eternity of woe. If God "loved" them, where is the slightest proof of this?
Finally it should first be noted that Scriptures teach that the new birth and salvation are not determined by the will of man. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, nor of the will of man, BUT OF GOD." John 1:12, 13.
"So then IT IS NOT OF HIM THAT WILLETH, nor of him that runneth, BUT OF GOD that sheweth mercy." Romans 9:16
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Phil. 2:13
"Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power" Psalm 110:3
"And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Rev. 22:17.
One cannot hear unless God opens his ears (Deut.29:4; John 12:39, 40; Rom. 11:8), nor can one come unless it has been given to him by God (John 6:37, 44, 65), nor does a dead man thirst for God for there is none that seeketh after God in his natural state (Rom. 3:11) and "whosoever will" means that it is not limited to Jews only but also Gentiles and if a man is willing it is proof that God has given him a new heart and a new spirit and made him willing to come.
Secondly, Why do we believe the gospel and others do not? Simply put, we believe because God Himself gives us faith to believe the gospel.
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as GOD HATH DEALT to every man THE MEASURE OF FAITH." Romans 12:3.
"For unto you IT IS GIVEN in the behalf of Christ, not only TO BELIEVE ON HIM, but also to suffer for his sake." Phil. 1:29
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" Hebrews 12:2.
Others do not believe because they are not His sheep. In John 10:26 Jesus says to the Pharisees: "But ye believe not, BECAUSE ye are not my sheep, as I said unto you."
Please note that He doesn't say You are not my sheep because you do not believe, as though by believing they would become His sheep, but rather, the reason they do not believe is because they are not His sheep.
Then the Lord continues to tell us that His sheep do hear His voice and He gives unto them eternal life. They are His sheep before they hear His voice and they were given to the Son by the Father and are His even before He gathers them into the fold.
These are the clear teachings of the Holy Bible. God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He loves His people and they are found not only in the nation of Israel but also in the world and among the nations in general. He has redeemed us unto Himself by the precious blood of the Son of God and we are eternally His. None can boast in himself in any way at all. All the glory belongs to God alone. "Salvation is of the LORD" .
See also "Does God Love Everybody?"
Does the Bible tell us that God HATES anybody? It most certainly does, in several places. So, if God hates some people or even just one person, then the Bible cannot rightly contradict itself (as free will theology always ends up doing) if "the world" means every human being without exception.
If your theology ends up contradicting making the Bible contradict itself, then it is your theology that is wrong, not the Bible.
Two short (4 minutes) "cartoon" videos about John 3:16. This is good stuff.
Office Theology 101 - John 3:16 and the atonement
the gospel according to Southern Baptist Seminary
Tim Conway's NeoCalvinism Examined
38 minute video exposing the theological errors of most modern Neo Calvinists like John MacArthur and Tim Conway.
Notes from the Internet.
Christopher B. posts: " In your article, you say the following:
World means 1 of 4 things...
“# 1. The most common meaning of the word "world" is the physical planet which God created and on which we live.
#2. A second meaning is "a whole lot of people, but not every individual".
#3. The "world" frequently means those who are hostile towards God and His people.
#4. "World" is also used to denote all the nations of this earth, both Jew and Gentile.”
Now in this post I am commenting on, you say the word “world” means ethnos? The root word for our English word ethnicity.
Are there 5 meanings to the word “World” now and one of them is Gentile (ethnos)?
Let me look at your article a bit deeper and I’ll get back to you, thank you sir!"
Hi Christopher. I think the word "the world" in Romans 11:11-15 refers to the Gentiles as a group or category, not every individual Gentile.
See Calvin on these passages.
Romans 11:12-15 - For if the casting away of them (the Jews) be the reconciling of THE WORLD (the Gentiles), what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead.”
Commentaries on Romans 11:15
Adam Clarke - The riches of the world - If, in consequence of their unbelief, the riches of God's grace and goodness be poured out on the whole Gentile world, how much more shall that dispensation of grace and mercy enrich and aggrandize the Gentiles, which shall bring the whole body of the Jews to the faith of the Gospel! Here the apostle supposes, or rather predicts, that such a dispensation shall take place; and that, therefore, the Jews have not so stumbled as to be finally irrecoverable.
Expositor’s Greek Testament - a world’s reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 the world’s reconciliation is the act of God in Christ; but it was an act which for the mass of mankind only took effect when Jewish unbelief diverted the Gospel to the Gentiles
John Gill Bible Commentary - For if the casting away of them,.... This argument, as before, in Romans 11:12, is from the lesser to the greater, showing that as the Gentiles received present advantage through the rejection of the Jews, they would receive far greater at their future recovery, and which proves that their rejection is not final; for by "the casting away of them", is meant the rejection of the Jews, and refers to God's writing a "Lo-ammi", Hosea 1:9, upon them, and his taking away the Gospel from them, and which were the occasion of the reconciling of the world, the Gentiles
Jamieson, Faussett and Brown - Now if the fall of them ('their lapse') be the riches of the (Gentile) world - as being the occasion of their accession to Christ, And the diminishing of them - that is, the reduction of the true Israel to so small a remnant;
The riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness! - their full recovery (see the note at Romans 11:26): q.d., 'If an event so untoward as Israel's fall was the occasion of such unspeakable good to the Gentile world, of how much greater good may we expect an event so blessed as their full recovery to be productive?'
Matthew Poole - Be the reconciling of the world; i.e. an occasion of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, by means of which they were reconciled to God. The gospel is the ministry of reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.