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Answers from Studies in the Atonement

John 3:16   |   By Dr. Morey

For God so loved the world, that He gave his unique Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

  • What is the nature of the love spoken  of in the text?  Answer: It has clear reference to redemptive love.
  • According   to  the  rest  of  the  New  Testament,   who  are  the objects  of  God's redemptive  love
    • Answer:  The elect  or  the people of God considered as believers.
  • Given the evidence from the entire New Testament, what would the  natural  reading  of the  text  tell  us?  (a) The  word  "world" must  refer to the elect  or to the people  of God.  (b) The word cannot  refer to all men for this would contradict the rest of the New  Testament   in its  teaching   concerning  the  nature  and objects of redemptive love.
  • Does  John  use  the  word  "world" elsewhere  in his  writings?
    • Yes. John uses the word 112 times in his Gospel and Epistles.
  • What is the meaning of the word throughout his writings? There are several different meanings of the word in John's writings.

1.   The entire universe of created reality (John 15:5).

2.   The planet earth (John 21:25).

3.   The general public or a crowd of men (John 7:4, 14:22).

4.   The ethical sense of sinners under the wrath of God and in the control of Satan (1 John 5:19).

5.   The ethnic  sense  of  sinners  from  all ranks  and  races  of mankind, not  just Jews  but  also Gentiles  (John 1:29,  4:42 cf. 11:52, 12:32).

6.   The realm  of  all  evil opposition to  God  (John 7:7; 1 John
2:15, 16).

7.   The realm of fallen mankind (John 9:5).

8.   The body of God's elect (John 1:29, 4:42, 6:33; 51).

9.   What is the exact meaning of the word in 3:16? Clearly not 1, 2, 3, 6, or 7.
The reference  has to do  with human  beings  as seen from  the reference to believers in vv. 15, 16, 18 and to men in vv. 20, 21.

The emphasis  in  John 3  is  upon  men  who  are  in  danger  of perishing  (16}, who need eternal life (15, 16}, who need to be saved (15, 16,  18}, who  are condemned (18}, who  love darkness  rather than light  (19}, who hate the light  and refuse to  be exposed  by  it (20). In short, the "world" refers to sinners who are under the wrath of God (3:36). This is clearly indicated  (Warfield}.

Throughout the writings of John, there is an emphasis  upon the Gentile  entrance  into salvation.  It cannot  be doubted  but  that  the "world" which  is  the  object  of  God's  love must  be  the  "world" whose sins have been completely  removed  by Christ (1:29}, and to whom  spiritual  life has been imparted  (6:33, 51}, and for whom full propitiation  has  
been   completed  (1 John   2:2).  This   salvation extends  to  the  Gentile  as  well  as  to  the Jew.  Since  Christ  was dealing  with  a  Pharisee,  He  was  emphasizing   the  ethnic universalism  of the Gospel.  (Turrettin,  Owen,  Hutchenson, Brown, A. Hodge, Gill, Smeaton, Pink, Lange, Godet, Hendriksen, Henry.)

There is a clear  parallel  construction between  vs. 15-18 and within  v. 16 itself  which reveals that  the equivalent  expression  for "world" is "all who believe," i.e. all believers.
Examine the following  parallel construction within the passage.




v. 15 all who believe

have eternal life


v. 16 the world



may not perish


     all who believe




v. 17 the world

have eternal life




should be saved



   the world


v. 18 he who believes

is not condemned


As all of column  B refers to salvation, so all of column  A refers to  believers  who  are the only  ones  who  receive  salvation  (Calvin, Poole, Flavel}.

All of the above  interpretations should  be viewed  as valid, for when put together  they present  a beautiful  picture  which  does full justice   to   the   word   "world"  in   John 3:16.  
This   is  the   best interpretation possible  which is consistent  with the New Testament understanding of  the  nature  and  objects  of  God's  love  and  the nature and extent of the death of Christ.

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