“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.”
I posted recently on a common misunderstanding with respect to John 3:16, explaining that the word “so” did not relate to how much God loved the world, but rather “how” it was that God loved the world – lit. “in this way.”
Another common area of confusion is the words “God…loved the world.” How is this to be understood? Does God’s love of all the world translate into salvation for all? Does this prove universalism?
There is a limiting factor, however. In “whoever believes” the original Greek – pas ho pisteuon, lit., “all the believing ones” clearly restricts the scope of Christ’s atonement to those who will eventually believe in Him for salvation.
To believe otherwise would render vast portions of the Bible confusing and inconsistent.
Also, in this particular case, it is important to interpret John 3:16 relative to its context. Here, Christ is talking to Nicodemus, who, as a Jew, is convinced that salvation is exclusive to Jews. Christ, in His discourse about salvation, is also explaining that redemption is available to non-Jews also. “The world” then, includes both Jews and non-Jews, a new revelation to Nicodemus. In addition to context, this has a historical implication.
It is not uncommon for false doctrines to exist in isolation to a specific Biblical verse.
There are ways to correctly understand what otherwise could be misunderstood. Of course, the most critical factor is that since the word is spiritually appraised, that the reader is saved (1 Cor 2:14). Additionally, it is helpful to:
- Understand the original word meanings,
- Read the verse within the context of the surrounding verses,
- Seek out the history surrounding the time and events,
- Look for intra-biblical support or contradictions, and
- Be careful about reading into passages that are clearly “narrative” such as much of the Old Testament and Acts.
False doctrines, and even false religions, are built upon a foundation of isolated verses incorrectly interpreted.
The Bible, however, is internally consistent. Two mutually exclusive truths cannot co-exist. All are saved and only some are saved, proffers two contradicting truths, of which there is only one that is correct.