The Evangelical Universalist Forum

John 3:16

I have always had trouble with this verse concerning Universalism. Yes, it says God so loved the world, but then it kind of contradicts that with that His love only affects those who believe in Him? I’ve never really gotten a great response to this verse in terms of Universal Salvation. Can someone try to explain it better to me than what I have previously heard? Thanks!

As I see it, it’s true that God’s universal love for mankind affects only those who submit to Him.
Eventually, however all shall, of their own free will, submit to Him, and then all people will be affected.

As I see it the rain falls on the just and the unjust- as Jesus said. As the Psalmist says, “His mercies are new every morning”. Even the wicked awaken to the blessing of sunshine and good things- harvest and new wine and beautiful days.

As Paul said to the pagan assembly at Mars Hill,

"From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

But the security and grace that comes from knowing Jesus comes only from knowing Him- as Savior(Christ crucified) and Lord(Christ resurrected). It exceeds the elementary principles of this age, within which the children of this age- altho ignorant of it- receive mercy and blessing everyday. It includes the blessing of passing from death unto life, the good word of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and even, at times, the powers of the age to come. Aionian zoe- the life of the world/age to come.

As Shepherd, as Friend, as Champion, as Deliverer…

As Paidon said, and as the Scriptures re-affirm in many places, eventually every knee shall bow(Phil 2)), evry thing in heaven and earth will be reconciled by the blood of His cross(Col 1), everything in heaven and earth will be gathered into one in Christ(Eph 1), every adversary will be subjected and returned to God so that God will be all in all(1 Cor 15), For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things(Ro 11), to whom be the glory forever

Thanks to both of you. It was kinda funny. Today as I was listening to my personal pastor he described it pretty much the same way as both of you. He said those who believed in Christ that John was talking to in THAT age could experience everlasting ( aionios/eternal) life in the very life they were living in that moment in time, which makes a lot more sense. Thanks to you both for answering.

G’day Andrew… I also have some thoughts on this over HERE.

The verb translated “perish” is a middle voice form of the common verb {apol-}, to kill or destroy or lose. The middle voice means the subject is doing the action with some effect for the subject, even if the subject is doing the verb to a direct object.

Normally in classical Greek, there would be a special version of the pronoun {aut-} with a {be-} prefix, as a reflexive pronoun like our English “himself” or “herself” or “myself” or “yourself” or “themselves” (the differences in gender, number, and/or person being designated by the suffix of {aut-} as usual). But that word fell out of usage in whatever more popular form of Greek the NT authors prefer to use (with variations of course), and appears only once or twice in the NT. So whether the doer of the verb is doing the verb to himself or to someone else comes down to whether there are objects of the middle-voice verb. Which there isn’t, for John 3:16.

Consequently, the English translations tend to obscure John’s Greek grammar there. It ought to read something like, “…so that all (everyone, singular “all” in Greek) that trusts in Him does not kill / destroy / lose himself but (future tense passive voice) shall be receiving eonian life.”

Since I’m talking about obscure Greek verb forms compared to English, the {apol-} verb is also in subjunctive mood, which would normally indicate mere possibility or potentiality; but when combined with the {hina} “so that” purpose/goal explanation, the subjunctive is a formal somewhat archaic command. No Christian anywhere thinks that those who actively believe or trust in God might only possibly perhaps not die! – even hardcore Arminians who think it’s possible for legitimate Christians to lose their salvation and be permadamned after all, don’t think this happens while such backsliders are still trusting in God to save them from their sins!

I mention this, because I’ve had people try to get around Jesus’ statement in John 5:23 (and nearby context) explaining that the purpose of the Father giving all judgment to the Son, which necessarily includes raising to a resurrection of judgment all those who are doing the evil things and not already honoring the Son and the Father, is so that all may be coming to honor the Son and the Father.

The rebuttal depends on the verb for honor being in subjunctive mood, so the rebuttal states that this is only potentially possible – although that would still mean post-mortem salvation is potentially possible! But with the {hina} purpose/goal conjunction, the subjunctive mood becomes a formal command in a ‘royal announcement’ tone.

Which I then point back to John 3:16 as a parallel example, on counter-rebuttal. :slight_smile: But John 5:23 (and immediate contexts) shows that those who die without eonian life, and who are even raised without eonian life yet, are still intended by God to properly honor the Son and the Father and so receive eonian life, coming out of the death and into eonian life.

Anyway. I often snort when people, most of whom are not in fact universalists, try to get out of the idea of God actively punishing people by saying people punish themselves or lock the doors to hell from the inside or things of that sort. I do think they’re wrong, and that they’re just going completely around utter tons of scriptural testimony in favor of God actively punishing people. Even in GosJohn, when Jesus routinely says (like around John 3:16 and John 5:23) that God doesn’t judge or punish people, He tends to affirm that God is in fact judging and punishing people after all. A good resolution to that old theological riddle, would be that God isn’t hopelessly punishing people; in other words, not punishing people the way Jesus’ audience was expecting!

But I do want to be fair that the destroy-yourself school does have some grammar on their side occasionally, and John 3:16 (although this isn’t commonly known) is one such place. I think it can be reconciled with the vast amounts of direct action punitive judgment language without any trouble: the impenitent sinner effectively insists that God punish them, when God would otherwise prefer not to, and so the sinner has personal responsibility in the destruction that happens to them. But of course sin also destroys ourselves. Rebelling against the continuing ground of our existence would result immediately in annihilating ourselves out of existence, except that the Life Himself keeps acting (mercifully!) to keep us in existence anyway.

I Like that!

The gospel of Jesus saves. It saves from perishing(being lost, experiencing futility and hopeless sorrow) in this age through an infusion of the life that is in Jesus Christ- a life that sustains all things and will eventually swallow all things as death is swallowed up by immortality.

Living without that life has actual consequences that are real, and difficult to go through in the utmost, and for the impenitent sinner will extend into the world to come- but not forever :slight_smile: Thank God!

Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord- but each in their own order. Some after a few stripes, some after many. Some have already entered that life but they are receiving their stripes now, already, because He disciplines every son whom He receives, and the child without that discipline is in fact- illegitimate.

For all those who have received that life and have given Him glory when disciplined for the purpose of learning righteousness- their are also very real, actual, consequences- and they are glorious, for if we suffer with Him we will also reign with Him, and reigning with Him is being poured out with Him in the gathering together of all things into one in Christ Jesus, the reconciliation of all things and the restoration of all things.

Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I don’t think God punishes us directly. I believe He made the world in such a way that if we go against Him, things won’t work out so great. I’d say that God gave man all that is necessary in order to judge for ourselves. If we judge correctly then all will be well, and if not, we suffer the consequences.

Qaz, I think the universalistic argument from GosJohn is very strong, starting from Jesus’ explanation for the purpose of raising those who dishonor the Father and the Son (by doing “the bad things”) to a resurrection of judgment. I’ve even made it my preferred starting argument for an exegetical systematic soteriology case, although I realize many different people will start in many different places (so I do my best to evaluate those areas on their own merits, too, without necessarily slotting them into a developing systematic case.)

Consequently, I think it’s also a reasonable solution (though perhaps not the only valid solution) to the Johannine riddle about whether God does or doesn’t judge anyone.

The systematic argument starting from GosJohn actually includes evidence of postmortem salvation prophecy from Jesus at 8:53 and its immediate contexts. I’m surprised I haven’t posted this in an ExCom entry yet! – I’ll try to rectify that this morning. The overly quick version is that Jesus actually says those people will both die in their sins AND ALSO come to properly honor Him; which fits an argument from chapter 5 about the purpose of God’s post-mortem judgment being purely remedial in its goal and result (and several other related GosJohn things.)

Qaz, okay now with now with an ExCom entry from my notes. Previously I included the same material in the TEUS Season One videos: Ep 2, on the GosJohn intention argument, and Ep 6 the summary systematic argument putting the pieces together rather than standalone.

If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me John 12:32

Here is my explanation

A few more verses to support that all will be saved. Some of these are not obviously about universal redemption, but I think one can follow the thread of thought to there. Excuse me if I repeated something someone else already posted.

…28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20: 28 - 29 ( Jesus speaking to Thomas, after he saw his body, after the Resurrection, with the scars from his death.)

Psalm 138:8
The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever-- do not abandon the works of your hands.

6For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

8 Love never fails. 1Corinthians 13:8

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 1Timothy 4:10

…37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37 - 39


My translation of John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever shall believe in Him should not be lost [living aimlessly, losing sight of what life is about, walking in darkness], but have quality life [living for a real purpose, living for God, living upright, knowing the Father]

I personally believe this to be a more accurate representation of the verse and more what Jesus intended than what we have today. Remember, the only time eternal life is defined in the Bible (by Jesus himself) is in John 17:3 and therefore, in my opinion, can only be assumed to be what Jesus meant in John 3:16.

This verse, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the modern Christian idea of salvation and everything to do with what I believe is the Biblical definition of salvation (living free from sin).

Totally agree, thanks Gabe Grinstead! John 10:10 within the same book and context repeats the meaning of John 3, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Greek studies show that ‘aionian’ can mean ‘age’, ‘eon’, ‘life’, and ‘entire’ or ‘complete’.

Jesus was sent to Israel, not to the world. New identity is the identity in the last Adam, not the identity in Adam, in rebellion.

And while Jesus was in Jerusalem, at the feast of the Passover, many believed in him, because they saw the miracles which he did; and there was a man of the Pharisees there, whose name was Nicodemus, a ruler of the Israelites; and he came to Jesus by night, and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God; for no man can do these miracles that you are doing, unless God is with him.”

Jesus replied, saying to him, “Truly I say to you, that, unless a man be born anew, he cannot behold the kingdom of Yahweh.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can an old man be born? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus replied, saying to him, “Truly I say to you, that, unless a man be born of water and new identity, he cannot enter the kingdom of Yahweh.

That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of new identity, is new identity. Be not surprised that I said to you, you must be born of new identity.” Nicodemus answered, saying to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered, saying to him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

What was this teacher suppose to understand? The Israelites are promised to eat of the Tree of Life! The drama of Adam and Eve’s life should revolve not around the search for eternal life, nor preoccupation with immortality; it was not in Yahweh’s design for this kind of drama. It was Yahweh’s design for the tree of life to have been eaten of, there was no danger to Adam and Eve going on eternally, being immortal. When Adam forfeited his inheritance; and the promise of a coming Deliverer and Redeemer was given.

God has to modify his plan, by barring access to the tree of life; that was not something presumably God planned to do. Adam and Eve had access to this tree up to that point, as long as their will conformed to the will of God, there was no danger to their going on eternally, being immortal. Once they discovered their moral freedom, once they discovered that they could thwart God and work evil in the world, and abuse and corrupt all that God had created, then God could not afford to allow them access to the tree of life.

That would be tantamount to creating divine enemies, immortal enemies. So God must maintain the upper hand in his struggle with these humans who have learned to defy him. And God maintains the upper hand in this, the fact that humans eventually must die. God stations the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword to guard the way back to the tree of life, once Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. The tree of life is now inaccessible; no humans have access to immortality, and the pursuit of immortality is futile.

In John 10:10 that life is eternal life. This is who Jesus Christ himself is. Let’s start with the one thing that will define who God really is? What is eternal life? John 5:26b…For as the Father HAS LIFE IN HIMSELF; so has he given to the son TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF. The life Jesus referred to is eternal or everlasting life.

By his declaration and definition, he declared that he himself did not have eternal life at the time he was walking the earth or he was a complete liar! If you truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then you have to believe that Jesus Christ spoke the truth. If so, from his own mouth, he declared that only God had eternal life. Christ himself only had the promise of eternal life!

Perish for how long & in what way? The same Greek word for “perish” is used of the prodigal son who was “lost” but later found. He was ruined, not annihilated, yet still quite able to be saved by Love Omnipotent.

More literal versions say:

16 For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life eonian. (CLV)

16 for God did so love the world, that His Son—the only begotten—He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during. (YLT)

16 For God, so loved, the world, that, his Only Begotten Son, he gave,—that, whosoever believeth on him, might not perish, but have life age-abiding. (Ro)

16 Thus for loved the God the world, so that the son of himself the only-begotten he gave, that every one who believing into him, not may be destroyed, but may have life age-lasting. (Diaglott)

Not everyone will get EONIAN life, which pro Endless Hell club, anti universalist, versions mistranslate as “eternal life”. Those who believe before they die get EONIAN life. They will live & reign with Christ for the 1000 years of the millennial EON (Rev.20). Unbelievers will not. They get saved later since God becomes “all in ALL” (1 Cor.15:22-28). For Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn.1:29), “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42), Who will draw all to Himself (John 12:32).

John 3:16 says unbelievers “perish”, not that they perish endlessly. If Jesus had wanted to say “perish endlessly” there was a Greek word for “endless” He could have used (aperantos, 1 Tim.1:4). He could have also used the words “no end” (Lk.1:33) of perishing. Clearly endless punishment is not the teaching of the Word of God.

If Jesus wished to express endless punishment, then He would have used expressions such as “endless”, “no end” & “never be saved” as per:

Jesus didn’t use the best words & expressions to describe endlessness in regards to punishment, because He didn’t believe in endless punishment.

Examples of aionios as a finite duration in Koine Greek:

“But there are those who find this an intolerable state of affairs, sometimes because of an earnest if misguided devotion to what they believe Scripture or tradition demands, sometimes because the idea of the eternal torment of the derelict appeals to some unpleasantly obvious emotional pathologies on their parts.”