This entry is part 56 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.
What is meant by ‘the world’?
(a) Some think that ‘the world’ here means all of God’s elect:-
Hutcheson – ‘The world, whereby we are not to understand all and every man…but only his own in the world among lost mankind.’
John Flavel – ‘This must respect the elect of God in the world; such as do or shall actually believe, as it is exegetically expressed in the next words, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” Those whom he calls the world in that, he styles believers in this expression; these are the objects of his love.’
Gill – ‘not every man in the world is here meant, or all the individuals of human nature; for all are not the objects of God’s special love, which is here designed, as appears from the instance and evidence of it, the gift of his Son: nor is Christ God’s gift to every one; for to whomsoever he gives his Son, he gives all things freely with him; which is not the case of every man.
Turretin – ‘The love treated of in John 3:16. .. cannot be universal towards all and every one, but special towards a few… because the end of that love which God intends is the salvation of those whom He pursues with such love.. . If therefore God sent Christ for that end, that through Him the world might be saved, He must either have failed of His end, or the world must necessarily be saved in fact. But it is certain that not the whole world, but only those chosen out of the world are saved; therefore, to them properly has this love reference… Why then should not the world here be taken not universally for individuals, but indefinitely for anyone, Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition. that He may be said to have loved the human race, inasmuch as He was unwilling to destroy it entirely but decreed to save some certain persons Out of it, not only from one people as before, but from all indiscriminately, although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones, viz, those chosen out of the world?’ (Theological Institutes)
(b) Others think that ‘the world’ here means ‘everyone without distinction‘:-
Calvin – ‘The outstanding thing about faith is that it delivers us from eternal destruction. For He especially wanted to say that although we seem to have been born for death sure deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ so that we must not fear the death which otherwise threatens us. And he has used a general term, both to invite indiscriminately all to share in life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also significant in the term ‘world’ which he had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God’s favour, he nevertheless shows he is favourable to the whole world when he calls all without exception to the faith of Christ, which is indeed an entry into life.’
Matthew Henry – ‘Behold, and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! That the holy God should love such a wicked world with a love of good will, when he could not look upon it with any complacency. This was a time of love indeed, Eze. 16:6, 8. The Jews vainly conceited that the Messiah should be sent only in love to their nation, and to advance them upon the ruins of their neighbours; but Christ tells them that he came in love to the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews, 1 Jn. 2:2. Though many of the world of mankind perish, yet God’s giving his only-begotten Son was an instance of his love to the whole world, because through him there is a general offer of life and salvation made to all. It is love to the revolted rebellious province to issue out a proclamation of pardon and indemnity to all that will come in, plead it upon their knees, and return to their allegiance. So far God loved the apostate lapsed world that he sent his Son with this fair proposal, that whosoever believes in him, one or other, shall not perish’
Ryle – ‘The “world” means the whole race of mankind, both saints and sinners, without any exception. The word, in my opinion, is so used in John 1:10, 29; 6:33, 51; 8:12.—Rom. 3:19.—2 Cor. 5:19.—1 John 2:2; 4:14. The “love” spoken of is that love of pity and compassion with which God regards all His creatures, and specially regards mankind. It is the same feeling of “love” which appears in Psalm 145:9.—Ezek. 33:11.—John 6:32.—Titus.3:4.—1 John 4:10.—2 Pet. 3:9.—1 Tim. 2:4. It is a love unquestionably distinct and separate from the special love with which God regards His saints. It is a love of pity and not of approbation or complaisance. But it is not the less a real love. It is a love which clears God of injustice in judging the world.’
Hendriksen – ‘The term world, as here used, must mean mankind which, though sin-laden, exposed to the judgment, and in need of salvation (see verse 16b and verse 17), is still the object of his care.’ Hendriksen adds that the expression also includes the idea of ‘Gentiles’ as well as ‘Jews’.
John Piper – ‘It is the great mass of fallen humanity that needs salvation. It’s the countless number of perishing people from whom the “whoevers” come in the second part of the verse: “. . . that whoever believes in him should not perish.”’
D.A. Carson – ‘I know that some try to take kosmos (world) here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John’s gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such a wicked people. ..On the axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.’ (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p17)
Milne – ‘John’s readers would have been familiar with the thought of God’s special love for Israel, but in truth his love is (and always was) indiscriminate, embracing every man, woman and child. However astonishing this scope, John’s primary wonder is probably the gracious embrace of God’s love, for its object is the world, which John consistently sees as fallen and organized in rebellion against God. It is against the background of the wickedness of the world, even more than its vastness, that God’s love shines out most gloriously.’
I have little hesitation in supporting the second of these alternatives.