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HOW TO PROPERLY INTREPRET JOHN 3:16
December 21, 2014
John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible. Many hang their entire faith and spiritual life on this one verse alone. It is perhaps the most memorized verse in the Bible. "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." (John 3:16). But, as is the case with many passages,it is also one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. Since it is a verse that is essential to our souls' eternal salvation, it is crucial that we interpret it properly. Our salvation hangs on what Jesus is actually saying here, not on what we think He is saying! So, what is the proper interpretation John 3:16?
As Dave Miller writes, "The Bible is it's own best interpreter" (Apologetics Press). So we need to see what the Bible says on the passage that we are studying. The rest of the Bible will not contradict Jesus in John 3:16. Rather, we can learn what Jesus means by His words in John 3:16 by studying other passages on the same subject, namely, salvation.
We must first look at the immediate context of Jesus' words, that is, what he says in the verses before and after the words in this verse. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:14, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." Why "must the Son of man be lifted up?" Jesus answers in John "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." He explains that answer in the verse under consideration: John 3:16, "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." Notice that He repeats the phrase, "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Further, he says that again in different words in John 3:17. So, we learn that what Jesus is saying in John 3:16 is that He was sent into the world by the Father so "that the world through Him might be saved."
So, the immediate context tells us that Jesus is stating in John 3:16 why He came - that those who believe in Him might be saved. But, is He saying here that believing in Him is all that a person has to do to be saved? And is He saying that once one is saved He can never so sin as to be lost? We need to see how the remainder of the New Testament writers answer these two questions. Remember as we do that, the writers whose statements we will be examining will not contradict what Jesus says here. Neither must we interepret these writer's statements so as to accomodate our pre-conceived interpretation of what Jesus says! What these writers say will help us to properly interpret what He says. These writers will give us an inspired interpretation of Jesus' words!
Jesus tells an audience who thought they were better than those who had been killed, Luke 13:3, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." He repeats that in Luke 13:5. So Jesus says here that one must repent to saved. Jesus does not here contradict what He said in John 3:16. Rather, He is saying here that "whosoever believeth in Him" (John 3:16) and repents (Luke 13:3, 5) of His sins "shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). See also Matthew 4:17; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21.
Jesus says in Luke 12:8-9, "Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God." Jesus is not here contradicting what He said in John 3:16. Rather He is saying that "whosoever believeth in Him" (John 3:16) and "shall confess me before men" (Luke 12:8) "shall be saved" (John 3:16). See also Romans 10:9-10.
In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus commissions the apostles to, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." So, Jesus says that one must believe and be baptized to be saved. Jesus does here not contradict what He said in John 3:16. Rather, He says here that "Whosoever believeth" (John 3:16) and is baptized (Mark 16:16) shall "have everlasting life" (John 3:16). See also Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27.
So Jesus, Peter, Ananias, and Paul all teach that, to be saved, one must believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. These verses do not contradict what Jesus is saying in John 3:16. Rather, they contradict the pre-conceived interpretation that a person is saved by faith alone. Is Jesus saying in John 3:16 that, once a person is saved, he cannot so sin as to be lost?
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