Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Calvinism and John 3:16

Some years ago, a friend of mine gave me a pencil drawing of the bust of Jacob Arminius. Under the picture is the caption "I don't care what you say, I still believe in John 3:16." Ah! The magic bullet! John 3:16. The instant slayer of everything Calvinistic. Whenever a Calvinist mentions the doctrine of election, the opponent simply pulls out John 3:16 and says "See? It says 'whosoever'" and sends the defeated Calvinist to lick his wounds in some deserted dark corner.

But does John 3:16 really support an anti-calvinistic position? Certainly some inside the SBC seem to think so. When the big names in the SBC leadership gathered together to attack Calvinism in the Convention, they called their conference the "John 3:16 Conference" or the "J3:16C" for short.

But I don't think that John 3:16 supports an anti-calvinistic position. Of course, that is not a surprise to my readers. You know I am a Calvinist, so of course I am going to say that. But if John 3:16 does not deny God's election of certain individuals to salvation, then what does it say? Let us look closely at the passage and see ...

The verse opens with the word "For." This word connects the content of John 3:16 with the preceding passage. John 3 opens with Jesus speaking to Nicodemus of the new birth and it's necessity for salvation. Jesus mentions the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit as he moves through the world touching people (verse 8). Then Jesus chides Nicodemus for being a master of Israel and not knowing of the things of which Jesus spoke. Jesus then tells Nicodemus that people speak of what they know and that no one knows the Father except the one who comes down from heaven. In verse 14, Jesus comes to the crux of the matter. He says that even as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness by Moses, so also the Son of Man (a favorite name Jesus used for himself) must also be lifted up "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (verse 15). In this context, verse 16 gives the reason why verses 14 and 15 are true.

"For God so loved the world ..." "For" means "because." Verse 16 is going to show why everything before it is true. Because God "so loved the world ..." Most people read this as "God loved the world so much ..." but this would be wrong. A better reading would be "For God loved the world in this way." Well, in what way did God love the world? The answer is that "he gave his only begotten Son." God's sacrifice of His One and Only Begotten Son is his demonstration of love for the world.

But that begs the question ... what do we mean by "world"? Is it every single human being as our Arminian opponents believe? No, it is not. Why? Because Jesus did not die for the sins of those people who were already in hell at the time of his death(for example). Just excluding that one group demonstrates that Jesus' death was not for every single human. So, you ask, who was it for? "World" in this verse is best seen as "Jews and Gentiles." Let me paraphrase John 3:16 in a way that will show you what I am saying. "For God loved not only the Jews but also the Gentiles in this way, that He gave His only Begotten Son ..." This paraphrase accurately captures the meaning of the verse without doing violence at all to the context.

What happens because God gave his only begotten Son? "So that whosoever believeth ..." Most opponents to Calvinism believe that one word, "whosoever" defeats the entire system of Calvinistic theology. But does it? Strong's Concordance defines "whosoever" as meaning 1. individually as "each, every, all, any, the whole, everyone," 2. collectively as "some of all types." Now that begs the question, each and every who? The answer ... each and every one who believes. The promise of everlasting life is to the believers and not to each and every human on earth. No ... only to believers.

So then John 3:16 can be paraphrased and read like this ...

"Because God loved not only the Jews but also the Gentiles in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son so that all the ones who believe (or each and every one who believes), whether Jew or Gentile, will not perish but have everlasting life."

And this agrees perfectly with verse 15, and also lines up perfectly with all other scriptural verses dealing with who God saves. The passage has nothing at all to do with the doctrine of election, whether for or against. It is simply a promise of God that all those who believe in Jesus as savior, no matter what "tongue, tribe, nation or people" will find eternal life.

So, going back to my cartoon drawing of Jacob Arminius, the caption read "I don't care what you say, I still believe in John 3:16." And you know what? I do too.

5 Comments:

Blogger Greg Alford said...

John,

Excellent post on this very important issue…

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have the Anti-Calvinist take John 3:16 out of context as if it was all that needed to be said to prove Calvinism wrong.

Grace Always,

3:37 PM  
Blogger john said...

Brother Greg,

I admit I only recently found your blog. I have enjoyed reading it very much. You have brought up some issues that need to be discussed in the light of day (and of scripture). I am pleased that you find some worthwhile things in my own blog. One day, perhaps God will be good and have us meet. (Since I can't stand the taste of coffee), the hot chocolates are on me.

John

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JOHN,
I enjoyed you handling of John 3;16. My good friend Greg Alford had you listed as one of the blogs he reads.
i have 4 blogs which you can reach at
freegracepreacher@blogspot.com

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

5:45 PM  
Blogger Greg Alford said...

John,

My fierce allegiance to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture has meant that I have never been one to shy away from those issues which others in the SBC are reluctant to discus. Well, that and the fact that I never expect, nor do I desire, to be anything in the SBC but a local church pastor.

I would be honored to set down and share a good cup of coffee or coco with you and if you are ever in North, West Florida or South Alabama let me know and I will buy.

Grace Always,

4:04 PM  
Blogger john said...

Drs. Alford and Foltz,

I appreciate the kind comments of both of you. I am honored to find men such as yourself take an interest in my "meanderings."

Greg, I am with you on the fact that my highest aspiration is to pastor a local church. And it was a very high view of scripture and a desire to see God glorfied AS God in every area of the church and life that led me to see Reformed theology does that best.

God bless you both.

John

8:10 AM  

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