(More Bible Studies Available At www.marktabata.com)
“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.” (John 3:16)
Our Calvinist friends, in accordance with their teaching of unconditional election, claim that God predestined the vast majority of mankind to Hell before they were even conceived, and that this decree of God is unalterable. We have seen numerous Scriptures which teach that this doctrine is not true, even while having seen the passages of Scripture which they use to try and justify their position are taken horribly out of context.
Calvinists further maintain, according to their doctrine of unconditional election, that God does not love every sinner. Indeed, we are told that God hates sinners, and wants them all to be dammed.
In sharp contrast to this, the words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:16 clearly teach that God loves all sinners.
Let’s take a careful look at this passage.
The word “loved” used here is an interesting word in the Greek New Testament.
“”AGAPAO” speaks of a love which is awakened by a sense of value in an object which causes one to prize it. It springs from an apprehension of the preciousness of an object. It is a love of esteem and approbation. The quality of this love is determined by the character of the one who loves, and that of the object loved. Agapao is used in John 3:16. God’s love for a sinful and lost race springs from His heart in response to the high value He places upon each human soul. Every sinner is exceedingly precious in His sight….This preciousness of each member of the human race to the heart of God is the constituent element of the love that gave His Son to die on the Cross. The degree of the preciousness is measured by the infinite sacrifice which God made. The love in John 3: 16 therefore is a love whose essence is that of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one loved, this love based upon an evaluation of the preciousness of the one loved.” (Kenneth S. Wuest, Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament, 52-53 (Kindle Edition); Pioneer Library)
The next interesting element is the word “world” used in the passage. The Greek word used in the passage is said by Calvinists to mean only “the elect,” since the word “world” can sometimes be used in a limited sense (such as in Luke 2:1-3).
What shall we say to this?
First, it is clear that the overall context of a passage must play a vital role in helping us to understand the definition of words. The word “world” can, therefore, have a limited meaning. Fortunately, the context of passages help us to see this is the case.
Second, what therefore is the context of the word “world” used in John 3?
John 3:14-15, 19-21-And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life….And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the WORLD, and MEN LOVED DARKNESS rather than light, because THEIR DEEDS WERE EVIL. 20 For EVERYONE PRACTICING EVIL HATES the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Obviously, the word “world” in John 3:16 includes whoever among lost mankind that would love darkness because their deeds are evil, and who practice evil as they hate the light.
In other words, God so loved every sinner that He gave Jesus to die for them and to pay for their sins.
God was willing to give Jesus so that whoever believes in Him would be saved. The word “believe” in the Greek implies not only mental acceptance and trust, but also obedience.
“Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives this definition of pisteuo when used of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus: “A conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah-the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, CONJOINED WITH OBEDIENCE to Christ.”… James M. Whiton abridged Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, and under pisteuo gives these possible meanings: “To believe, trust in, put faith in, confide in, rely on a person or thing.-2. To believe, COMPLY, OBEY.” Bultmann has the article on pisteuo in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament. After giving a history of the use of the word in the Old Testament, he outlines its use in the New Testament. “II. General Usage: 1. The Continuation of the Old Testament and Jewish Tradition: a. pisteuo as to Believe; b. as to OBEY; C. as to Trust; d. as to Hope; e. as Faithfulness.”… The Lexicons reflect the idea advanced earlier in this study that any of the elements of pisteuo (knowledge, assent, confidence, obedience) may be emphasized, and that the context or the construction (certain prepositional phrases) in which it appears will often determine the exact meaning.” (Gareth Reese, Acts: New Testament History, 600-601 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, Missouri; College Press)
This is made especially clear in verse 36 of John 3.
John 3:36-He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not BELIEVE the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Notice the word “believe” in this passage. In several translations of the Bible, they render this slightly different:
John 3:36 (ASV)-He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that OBEYETH not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.
John 3:36 (ERV)-Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. But those who DO NOT OBEY the Son will never have that life. They cannot get away from God’s anger.”
John 3:36 (ISV)-The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who DISOBEYS the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God remains on him.
These translations are pointing out an important fact that we sometimes miss in our study of the Word of God: the Bible often uses the ideas of ‘belief” and “obedience” interchangeably. Specifically, in John 3:36, the Word interchanges pisteuo with apeitheō. Notice how this word is often translated in other passages in the NKJV:
Romans 2:8-but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth (apeitheō), but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
Romans 10:21-But to Israel he says: “ALL DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS TO A DISOBEDIENT (apeitheō) AND CONTRARY PEOPLE.”
1 Peter 2:7-8-7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient (apeitheō“), THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE,”. 8 and “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.” They stumble, being DISOBEDIENT (apeitheōto) to the word, to which they also were appointed.
1 Peter 3:1-Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey (apeitheōto) the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,
1 Peter 3:20-who formerly were disobedient (apeitheōto), when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Speaking of the specific meaning of this word especially in the context of John 3:36, one author has well noted:
“The echo of 3:16 continues, as John puts before his disciples the same stark alternatives Jesus had offered Nicodemus and his companions: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Jesus’ positive intention “that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life” (v. 16) comes to realization in the first clause, yet the dualism of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is maintained. As the reader has known from the start (see 1:11), not everyone will believe and not everyone will have eternal life. Verse 36 echoes verse 18, except that the common Johannine expression, “whoever does not believe” (v. 18b), gives way to “whoever disobeys the Son” (v. 36b), a phrase found nowhere else in John’s Gospel. While the contrast with “whoever believes in the Son” (v. 36a) makes clear that the meaning is the same, the CHANGE OF VERB HELPS DEFINE “BELIEVING” AS OBEDIENCE, OR “COMING TO THE LIGHT” (J. Ramsey Michaels, The New International Commentary On The New Testament: The Gospel Of John, 4527-4541 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
The doctrine of unconditional election is once again powerfully refuted by the Scriptures.
My friends, the God of Heaven sent His Son to die for every sinner. What an amazing gift!
Will you not today accept that gift by “believing” in Jesus, i.e., by obeying Him and His plan of salvation (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 2:37-47)?
We stand ready to assist you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.