Thursday, December 11, 2008

John 3:16

Every Christian should know this verse (found on the title above) and also every Christian, young and old is well grounded in this beloved line in the Bible. But as we sometimes get so well accustomed with somethings that they become familiar and at time distorted, this is how we sometimes (or almost always treat this particular line).

John 3:16 reads

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)

On this particular reading I would like us to focus our attention on a particular word from the verse (the one in bold); world. It is most often taught that the particular word actually points its direction implying humans, and not the world in its literal sense.

This idea is brought to the picture because v.16b explains the word 'world' more clearly in that it means humans due to the fact that 'whoever believes' and 'shall not perish...have eternal life' points directly to people. It seems obvious that the benefactors of 'salvation' are people and that God's saving grace falls to them. With that the reading of the verse would go like this:

"For God so loved the world (humans/people) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

With this let me pose a critique to this particular reading of the text. I find it highly probable that we read John 3:16 in this manner because it is our theology that believes Jesus was sent by the Father, as a gift for humanity to die on their behalf so that they can receive God's salvation and ultimately the gift of eternal life. Basically we read and form theology into the verse or this particular verse.

This is good and valid according to theology, but not good in terms of how we appreciate the biblical narrative and theology based on the whole bible. Thus what we have constructed over time is the belief that God just cares for people and that the world is some sort of secondary object that He doesn't simply brushes aside. It sorts of shrinks our theology and giving us a malnutrition version of God's plan.

So with that, how then can we bring a more holistic/nourished approach of theology based on John 3:16 that is faithful to the biblical message?

Let me come with a proposal that I would deem faithful to a more holistic view of the mission of God and theology for understanding John 3:16.

We begin with Genesis. God said after creating his master piece (everything for that matter), Ge 1:31 "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good...". Reading the creation account in Genesis shows a God who was clearly pleased with what he created, and this encompasses Him just pleased with creating people.

But as we know humans were on a different pedestal then his other creations. Humans were created in God's image, His reflectors.

Ge 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

According to this humans were to be God's representative as it shows here it was humans that brought stability to the condition on the earth. As the story goes God's image bearers were deceived by the serpent (Satan) and things went down hill from there. But God didn't leave his creation to fend for themselves. The bible depicts a God who is constantly working to redeem back the world. The way he did this was through a man by the name of Abraham and through him a nation was born, Israel, who were known as the people of God. Israel represented God as bearing his name and his ways. Basically Israel was an alternative kind of society or nation. But Israel failed and were brought in captivity but were brought back to the land again only to be ruled again by a succession of powers of which we have Rome as the last to rule over them. Please note that I am just giving an overview here.

It is amidst this story which we place John 3:16. The other half of the story as we cram John 3:16 is Jesus dying on the cross and resurrected after that. This is where i believe where we have to wedge our theology and the grand biblical narrative.

God cares for the world and in his love for the world he gave his son. Jesus is the one who God sends to reconcile the world to himself. It is only fitting that God do the saving work starting with human beings because in Genesis it was the image bearer who was to account for adulterating their rights to satan. So it is only 'logical' that God pursue his redemptive plan through saving his image bearers. A good description of this can be found in the passage below:

Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Col 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Col 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
Col 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Another helpful passage is found in Romans:

Ro 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Ro 8:19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
Ro 8:20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it,in hope
Ro 8:21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Ro 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Ro 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

In view of the above we can conclude that in John 3:16 the meaning and understanding behind the word 'world' must not be narrowed to just human beings. God sent Jesus to and for the world. And God's plan in sending Jesus was to redeem back his image bearers and from then on the redemption on the world. I hope when we read John 3:16 we will have a more bigger picture in mind than just Jesus saving just human beings alone. There is a bigger picture at hand.


Kurt said...

This is an excellent post! The word "Cosmos" in the Koine Greek means what it says... World. God so loved the....? World! It is a shame that we have underemphasized this when we read the bible and present this as our 'token' verse.

Here's my paraphrase:

God so loved the whole of the creation project that he sent his Son to redeem the problem with it (humanity), so now whoever believes in him will not perish but experience eternal life (where? Here; the world!!!!)

Or perhaps we simply need to read on to the next verse:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3.17

Notice how the usage of the word “World” is concerned with a location in the above verse. Could God send his Son into the “humanity?” NO! He sent Jesus into the literal (I dont tend to throw this word around when it comes to the bible) world! To do what? Not to condemn the literal world, but to SAVE THE WORLD through him!!!!
Seems so straight forward... Carry on my friend!

Tremonti said...

I love your paraphrase!

"God so loved the whole of the creation project that he sent his Son to redeem the problem with it (humanity), so now whoever believes in him will not perish but experience eternal life (where? Here; the world!!!!)"

I guess I should have added verse 17 for that matter also as well. It does make things more clearer.

I just wished that more Christians would understand this. It took me some years to come to this understanding. It makes sense of the gospel message we have!

Thanks for broadening my understanding with your comments.

Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations