For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
NIV (New International Version)
For so greatly did God love the world that He gave His only Son, that every one who trusts in Him may not perish but may have the Life of Ages.
WNT (Weymouth New Testament)
for God did so love the world, that His Son -- the only begotten -- He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.
YLT (Young's Literal Translation)
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
NLT (New Living Translation)
CLV For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.
CLV (Concordant Literal Version)
For thus God loves the world (the universe; the ordered arrangement; the organized system [of life and society]; or: = all mankind), so that He gives His uniquely-born [with other MSS: the only-begotten] Son, (or, reading wste as an adverb: You see, in this manner God loves the sum total of created beings as being the Son: He gives the Only-begotten One; or: reading wV te: For you see, [it is] in this way [that] God loves the aggregate of humanity – even as it were His Son: He gives the uniquely-born One), to the end that all(or: everyone) – the one habitually believing, putting confidence and trusting into Him – would not lose or destroy himself, or cause himself to fall into ruin, but rather can continuously have (or: would habitually possess and hold) eonian life (age-durative life with qualities derived from the Age [of the Messiah]; living existence of and for the ages).
JMNT (Jonathan Mitchell New Testament)
For additional contextual help . . .
John 3:13 - 3:21 (CLV)
13 And no one has ascended into heaven except He Who descends out of heaven, the Son of Mankind Who is in heaven.
14 And, according as Moses exalts the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Mankind be exalted,
15 that everyone believing on Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.
16 For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian.
17 For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.
18 He who is believing in Him is not being judged; yet he who is not believing has been judged already, for he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
19 Now this is the judging: that the light has come into the world, and men love the darkness rather than the light, for their acts were wicked.
20 For everyone who is committing bad things is hating the light and is not coming to the light, lest his acts may be exposed.
21 Now he who is doing the truth is coming to the light that his acts may be made manifest, for they have been wrought in God.
Why include John 3:16 among the hell verses?
The English version of John 3:16 could, by default, be the single most influential passage of the English bible translations that promotes some idea of “hell” or the concept of endless punishment - whether it's perceived consciously or not.
This verse, as we commonly read it, seems to set out the great ultimatum:
"Believe or burn!" - The essence of many evangelical revivalists messages.
Yet, the words recorded immediately afterwards in John 3:17 seem to be in opposition to the common understanding of 3:16. We are told that Jesus came into the world so that the world would be saved. Likewise John the Baptist tells us that Jesus is the one who has come to remove the sins of the world. 1 John 2:2 declares that “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
As we proceed, perhaps we should consider these two questions:
Was Jesus successful? If so, then how should we understand the message of John 3:16?
Points to consider as you study John 3:16 . . .
Let’s start with the change from “whoever,” or “whosoever” in some versions, to “all.” A.P. Adams wrote: The word “whosoever” in the 15th and 16th verses . . . is rendered “all” in over nine hundred instances, and “whosoever” in only about forty; the rendering “all” then is plainly the usual one. This would result in this reading: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, all believing in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The verb “believing” is a present participle. The phrase, “believing in Him,” can now be taken as explanatory, rather than conditional. This is an important distinction as we will see later.
The second verb, “have,” is in the present tense, just as it is in verse 15.
Verse 15 is very similar to verse 16. The phrase in verse 15 in the KJV, “should not perish, but” is not in the original and has been eliminated in most modern translations. Verse 15 then becomes: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, that all, believing in Him, might have age-lasting life.
The verb in a related verse, 36, is in the present tense as well: He who believes in the Son has (present tense) age-lasting life. - This is critical if we are to gain a proper understanding. The common way this passage is used is: “Do this today (believe) and this (your eternal life in heaven) will occur in the future.”
With all these verbs in the present tense, the question becomes: How is it that believers have eternal life in the present, if death still reigns in the present? The answer is simple – Jesus is not talking about immortality here, he is speaking about something we have now - a life changing assurance regarding the future resurrection.
The assurance of God’s plan to resurrect is a joy that alters our outlook and the way we live today. Knowing that God is able and is planning to include you in the resurrection is present tense and a knowledge that adds to our life in this age. This aeon - ὁ αἰών (ho aion).
Considering that eternal is an incorrect translation scripture as well as its use in John 3:16, then where do we acquire the assurance that our lives are endless in Christ? - The most accurate way that we obtain our assurance of “eternal” life is by our understanding that we have been adopted into Christ’s lineage - as fellow heirs with Christ. Romans 5:18,19 and 1 Corinthians 15:22: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. Our new lineage in the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, is our assurance of immortality.
John 3:16 was Jesus speaking/ministering directly to Israel as a nation, offering them life (activity) in the coming age of grace. In verse 18, Jesus tells the Jewish nation they will not be judged if they believe in Him now. If they did not believe, they were already judged. How so? Well, the law had already condemned them because of their inability to keep it. So, if they stayed under the law, their "doom" was certain. [Not to be confused with some “hellish” concept of doom in the after-life] Jesus offered them a way out – grace, but they chose not to take it. Except for a few, the Jews did not choose life, and the nation perished in the devestating destruction of Jerusalem in 67-70 A.D.
With regards to the word “perish.” Lexicons parse it in the aorist tense, middle voice. Strong’s Concordance points out that the middle voice does not imply extinction, but a loss of well-being, and Dr. Daniel Wallace informs us that the aorist tense is only describing a snapshot in time; it is not intended to describe the duration of an event. “Outside the indicative and participle, time is not a feature of the aorist.” So, if Wallace is correct, treating “perish” in this verse as a once-and-for-all-time outcome, would be, to use his words, a “well-known gaffe.”
Preceding this passage, John records Jesus conversation with Nicodemus. In this writing, He compared spiritual birth to physical birth and the action of the Spirit in the process to the action of the wind. He reminded Nicodemus that man does not control the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from, or where it goes.” The obvious point (the elephant in the room) is that a child has no more control over his or her birth than a man has control over the wind. Both physical and spiritual births are a result of an act of love when a father plants a seed (His Word) by his own pleasure.
The birth of the child is not dependent on the actions or decisions of the child, but on the will of the Father. John 1:12-13 states the children of God were born, “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the (free) will of man, but of (the will of) God.” It could not have been stated more clearly.
It’s interesting to notice that Jesus tells him that we must be born again, yet never explains to anyone how to be born again. Perhaps this is because we have nothing to do with it. None of us had anything to do with our first birth, why should we assume that we are in charge of our second birth? Likewise, a child does not choose to be adopted.
This phrase i[na pa/j o` pisteu,wn seems to only occur in John’s Gospel. It has the ubiquitous pa/j in it. The UBS4 lexicon cites this phrase as being a conditional, “Everyone who believes” which is of course the way John 3:16 has always been understood. However, the correct translation is NOT conditional, but descriptive. This gives credibility and integrity to a reading more like, For God so loved the cosmos that He gave His only son so that those believing are enjoying life in this age. A simple declaration - not an ultimatum. (See APPENDIX “N”)
In 1972, Soichi Yokoi emerged from a cave in a remote area of Guam. He had been there since 1944, living on frogs, rats, and vermin. He only came out at night, for fear of the American armed forces. For 28 years, he lived in a dark hell hole, and for 27 years, the war had been over. What we believe affects our outlook and our very life. Whether Soichi believed the war was over or not - it was over. What he believed about this fact, or did not believe, greatly impacted his life. Belief does not make God’s love and mercy effective, it enables us to enjoy that fact.
This believing, perishing, judging and fear are all related in these passages of John 3:16, 17 and 18. Consider Peter Hiett’s invaluable comments and “wedgie wars” analogy: In I John 4:18, John writes, “Fear has to do with punishment.” Or more accurately, “Fear has punishment; Fear contains punishment in itself.” In the most respected dictionary of New Testament theology, J. Schneider writes, “This means that the man who lives in fear is already punished by this fear. His fear is punishment.” John 3:18 states that the unbeliever is condemned already. That is, trapped in a prison of fear already. Fear paralyzes the heart, traps you in yourself, keeps you from living now, and even motivates the self to self-destruction and all sorts of evil. "When I was a youth pastor 25 years ago, at the end of most youth meetings, all the guys would engage in rampant wedgie wars, where the goal was to rip another guy’s underwear over his head and right off his body, and then use the elastic strap for a head band like Johnny Rambo. I know … I should probably be in prison. - - - Well, I remember, one night, a wedgie war broke out in the church van. One of the guys started screaming in fear, and wedged himself. I watched as he literally ripped his underwear over his head and off his body, so no one else could do it for him. - - - - Fear does that. - - - - Over the years, I’ve counseled with folks who are tempted to suicide. I’m always amazed to discover that almost always; we’re tempted to kill ourselves because we’re so afraid to die. Like the fear of death is worse than death."
Jeff Martin adds, The one trusting Jesus HAS aionian life. The disobedient will not SEE life... until their eyes are opened to trust in Christ. So which valid denotation of 'aionian' is Jesus using in his conversation with Nicodemus? Jesus condemns no one and has forgiven everyone! Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly." (John 10:10b WEB). Friends, Jesus is not selling fire insurance here, but teaching us the truth about the change of heart needed to trust that Christ already loves and forgives us so that we can live a whole, unbroken, completely restored life, both now and forever!
In Number 21:8, God tells Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and EVERYONE, when he sees it, shall live” (ESV). Then we are told, “And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (vs. 9b). And so ends the narrative of that story. A happy ending, after the judgment. And Jesus uses this story as the backdrop for what He explains here to Nicodemus. So, His action in giving His Son to us, to deliver us from our dead and enslaved condition, echoes the Exodus story of God delivering His firstborn son, Israel (Ex. 4:22), out from the bondage in Egypt.
Jonathan Mitchell adds this: Going back to Jesus’ OT reference, the Israelites were causing themselves to fall into ruin (death) and were destroying themselves through their rebellion against God and Moses. That was the first Adam’s condition then, and so it is now. The judgment was to be bitten by a poisonous snake (quite another thing from being sent to some mythical, pagan eternal torment!), and then die (Nu. 21:6). God sent the Son to deliver us from the human condition of the exiled Adam, and from the continued exile of Israel (the Babylonians were now replaced by the Romans, as their masters and overlords). Humanity was dead, in trespasses and sins.
This is the dominant human condition that we witness all around us. If you want to see what “God’s wrath” looks like, just look around at the situation of pain, misery, hatred and death in the news every day. But notice the semantic range of the word orgē [wrath]: “teeming passion and swelling desire; mental bent; natural impulse; propensity and disposition; or: ire; anger; wrath; indignation.” Now this is mankind’s predicament. When we see our creator as sovereign and understand His wrath, it’s obvious that we’re in the midst of it. It need not be post-mortem. When we see God’s love through His Son, as we’re told in John 3:16 - we can escape the darkness, and this is life to see Him and His plan of redemption.
"Loves" - Not past tense loved. This is further impressed upon our hearts by the fact that, in the original, the verb is loves, not loved. God’s love to the world is not a matter of past history, but a present and a future fact. It is indeed true that He loved and gave, but it is infinitely more true that He loves and gives.
"The gift of God" - A.E. Knoch notes: Who shall define the meaning of a gift? But is not this very passage itself an exalted exposition of its truest significance? It is the chief activity and expression of love. Hate robs. Love gives.
"The only begotten" - Among westerners the firstborn of a family has little precedence over the rest. But in the Orient the firstborn son takes a place of privilege far above his brothers. When there is only one, he almost monopolizes his father’s heart, for a man’s present standing and future hopes for his family are all bound up in his heir. To the eastern mind there can be no more precious possession than an only son. He is the supreme joy of his father and the pride of his mother’s heart. He is more to them than all else besides. To give such a one is to give all
A.P. Adams summarizes all of this very well with these words: “Thus, truthfully translated, this passage is one of the grandest and most sweeping declarations of the final triumph of God’s grace in the salvation of the world contained in the Bible. It is positive, direct, and mighty enough, could they only appreciate it, to utterly silence all those narrow, shortsighted souls who think God will only gain a partial victory, that he will not save the world, but only a portion of it, a vast number being eternally lost. It is very plain why the translators of the common version handled this passage as they did. Their creed would not allow them to accept it as it reads; it required only a slight change to make it conform to their own idea.”
A few thoughts on “decisional regeneration”
or the notion that John 3:16 is an ultimatum.
If we are saved, redeemed, justified, etc. by making a decision, that makes our salvation a partnership. Jesus did His part, now I do must do my portion.
Some maintain that we must decide to accept Christ. His mercy and grace is a gift and it is essential that it be “accepted.” If this is true, then does that mean that the gift you left on the table at the last wedding you attended, was not the bride and grooms gift until they acknowledged or "accepted" it?
If I were mayor of a city, proclaiming that every citizen of that city would receive a tax reduction. Would it be appropriate to apply the reduced tax only to those who "asked" for the reduction?
If a large coast guard rescue boat came back from the site of a sinking ship with twenty three people while their were still seventy five people still in the freezing ocean - would that be considered a successful rescue mission? After all, the seventy five did not ask to be rescued?