Understanding the whoever of John 3:16

by Pastor John Samson

We need to continuously expose our traditions to the light of God’s Word. If they can be confirmed by detailed study of the text of Scripture, we can be sure that the traditions are valid. If not, then we need to dispense with them.

The most famous verse in the entire Bible is . Here Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

When hearing the biblical teaching on the subject of Divine election, some seek immediate refuge in a traditional and may I say, unbiblical understanding of this verse. They say this: “God can’t elect certain ones to salvation because says that God so loved the world that gave His Son so that WHOEVER believes in Christ would have eternal life. Therefore, God has done His part in offering the gift of salvation in His Son and just leaves it up to us to receive the gift through faith. Amen. Case closed!” (emphasis theirs)

Or so it might seem… Though this is a very common tradition, and one I held to myself for many a year, it needs to be pointed out that in spite of the emphasis made by many people here on the word “whoever”, the text does not actually discuss who does or who does not have the ability to believe. Someone might just as well be quoting to suggest that all churches need to have red carpets in their sanctuaries! Why? Because that also is not a topic addressed in the text. The verse is often quoted, but actually it has no relevance to the subject.

For the understanding of a text in the New Testament, we need to check the original language in which it was written, namely koine Greek. It may come as a big surprise to learn that in the original Greek of , there is no word “whoever.” The word “whoever” is expressing a phrase in Greek which is difficult to express smoothly in English.

Literally, the text reads “in order that every the one believing in Him, not to perish, but have everlasting life.” It says “every” or “all the one believing…” That’s hard to express in English, but in essence, it is saying “all the believing ones.” That’s what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes. Though our English translation says “whoever believes” the literal rendering is accurately translated as “every believing one” and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the “whosoever” but on the belief. The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.

Why? Because of the main verb – because God GAVE His Son. God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.

The text () actually speaks of a limitation of a particular rather than a universal redemption, for clearly, not everyone will be saved, but only those who believe in Christ. The Father gave His Son for the purpose of those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but opposite to that, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.

So, what teaches is:

ALL who do A (believe in Him)
will not B (perish)
but will have C (everlasting life)

What does this text tell us about who WILL believe or who CAN believe?

The answer is: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The text does not address the issue of who WILL believe or who CAN believe.

Read more here

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

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