John 3:16 (NASB)
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
These words from Christ are frequently quoted out of the greater context of the entirety of scripture. This statement tends to be used as a proof-text of the following claims, among others:
1. God loves every single human being individually.
2. God desperately wants every single human being to be in heaven.
3. Humans have free-will.
4. God has done everything possible, short of overthrowing human free-will, to enable every human being to go to heaven.
We will see in the analysis below that this verse does not necessarily teach any of these four claims. Further, we will show that each of these four claims seems to go against the clear teachings of the Bible.
1A. Does John 3:16 clearly teach that God loves every single human being individually?
John 3:16 claims that "God so loved the world". But what is here meant by the word "world" (Greek - kosmos)?
Those who claim that John 3:16 teaches that God loves every single human being individually interpret the word "world" to mean "every single human being".
But why should "world" be assigned so limited a meaning?
Why not include every single animal, plant, gas, mineral, thought, word, and deed? Why should we believe that when the word "world" is used, it does not include sinful actions (also known as "worldly" actions - 2 Timothy 2:16; Titus 2:12)? In other words, why would we take "world" to NOT mean "world"?
The claim that "world" really only means "every single human being" insists that "world" does not really mean "world". It limits the word and reinterprets it to mean what the reader thinks the author really meant.
It is not my claim that Jesus DID MEAN that God loves every animal, plant, and evil deed when He said that God loves the world. However, it was necessary for me to point out that the idea that the word "world" means "every single human" is only based on the reader's presuppositions, not based on the verse itself. In other words, that particular meaning for the word "world" is read INTO the verse (not extracted FROM it) in order to come to the conclusion that God loves every single human being.
It could be that God loves all the believers of the world. It could be that God loves believers throughout the world. It could be that there are people throughout the world that God loves. The "world" could be referring to all nations rather than all individual humans (in opposition to the concept that He is only the God of the Jews).
It is my personal belief that "world" here means "the generality of God's creation", or perhaps "humanity in general", and not "every individual human being".
By way of example, a person may say that they love food, and they love to eat. However, this in no way implies or suggests they would specifically love to eat chocolate cake with ketchup on it, stuffed with jalapenos.
Someone else may love books and love to read, but that doesn't necessarily mean they love Hitler's "Mein Kampf".
In other words, God likes the general results of His own creativity and specifically, God likes the concept of people. Therefore, even though every person (apart from Christ) has become corrupt, He chose to redeem some of them.
So, it seems to me that the statement "God so loved the world" is essentially equivalent to the statement "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). However, because of sin, it would all need to be condemned like an old house in the projects unless He chose to redeem something from it, which He did.
Whether or not you agree with my interpretation of the verse is not really relevant to the issue at hand. The question here dealt with is "Does John 3:16 CLEARLY teach that God loves every single human being individually?", and I think we have conclusively shown that it does not "clearly" teach that. It may simply be saying that God loves humanity generally, rather than each human specifically.
God loving "the world" clearly does not necessarily mean God loves every individual human.
1B. What does the Bible teach elsewhere about God loving every single human being individually?
Simply because John 3:16 doesn't HAVE to mean that God loves every human individually -- that doesn't mean that it DOESN'T mean that. And even if it definitely didn't mean that, that still doesn't necessarily mean that God DOES NOT love every human individually. We will now examine other scripture to see if any light is shed on this subject elsewhere.
Deuteronomy 18:12 (NASB)
For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.
Psalm 5:5 (NASB)
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
Psalm 11:5 (NASB)
The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Romans 9:10-13 (NASB)
There was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."
From these scriptures, we see that the unchanging and eternal God hates certain people, and that certain people are detestable to Him.
If we take John 3:16 to mean that God loves every single human individually, then we must throw out the rest of scripture. But, as we have already seen in 1A, there is no need to take John 3:16 to mean that.
2A. Does John 3:16 clearly teach that God desperately wants every single human being to be in heaven?
Once we disregard the possibility that God so loves every human individually, claim number 2 and claim number 4 collapse like a house of cards. If God hates certain people, as the Bible informs us, why would we think that He wants them in heaven?
If John 3:16 means that God has chosen to redeem a select few because He so loves humanity in general, why would we come to the conclusion that what He REALLY wants is to redeem every single individual? That now seems to run contrary to the meaning of the text.
Going back to our analogies, if I loved books and literature, and I had to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, but I could bring with me all the books I wanted, it does not follow that I would necessarily want to bring every single copy in existence of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" with me, or any copy of it at all, for that matter.
2B. What does the Bible teach elsewhere about God desperately wanting every single human being to be in heaven?
Again, just because we have shown that John 3:16 does not HAVE to be read to mean that God desperately wants every single human to be in heaven, that doesn't mean that it CAN'T mean that, right? Further, even if this particular verse definitely didn't mean that, that still wouldn't necessarily mean that it isn't true, right?
Psalm 135:6 (NASB)
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
Isaiah 10:12-15 (NASB)
So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, "I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness." For he has said, "By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples And plundered their treasures, And like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants, And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened its beak or chirped." Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood.
Romans 9:15-16 (NASB)
For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Romans 9:18 (NASB)
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Romans 9:20-21 (NASB)
The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Luke 13:23-28 (NASB)
And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out."
Very clearly, there will be certain people who do not go to heaven, and very clearly, God does whatever He wants, including molding people like clay and causing them to do whatever He wills. Thus, we can only conclude that God wants certain people to not go to heaven.
Scripture therefore prohibits this interpretation of John 3:16, an interpretation that is not by any means necessary anyway.
3A. Does John 3:16 clearly teach that humans have free-will?
Free-will will be here defined as "The ability to choose, or to choose otherwise".
John 3:16 states that those who believe "shall not perish, but have eternal life". To believe is an act of choice, an act of the will. Many therefore conclude that humans get to freely choose whether or not they will go to heaven. Free-will is the scape-goat used to explain why God supposedly wants everyone in heaven, but not everyone makes it there. It isn't up to God -- it's up to us. But is free-will necessarily what John 3:16 teaches?
If God foreordains who will believe, John 3:16 still makes perfect sense. If God has predetermined that Billy and Pam and Janet will believe, but Harold and Joanie and Frank will not, then when they do choose to believe, it was not because they really could have done otherwise, but rather because they were foreordained to do as they each did.
So we see that John 3:16 does not "clearly" teach free-will, as the verse in question is perfectly compatible with divine determinism as well.
3B. What does the Bible teach elsewhere about whether or not humans have free-will?
As the Bible teaches that God knows all things (Colossians 2:3; John 14:6; Deuteronomy 18:22; 1 Samuel 2:3; Isaiah 42:9, 43:9-12, 44:7, 48:5; Acts 1:24), it seems to me that the most revealing way to look at this issue is to ask ourselves:
"Is it possible for us to do OTHER THAN that which God knows we are going to do?"
The Biblical answer, I think, is obvious, and therefore human free-will is a logically incoherent concept, given the God of the Bible.
Thus we see that John 3:16 cannot possibly be proclaiming human free-will.
4A. Does John 3:16 clearly teach that God has done everything possible, short of overthrowing human free-will, to enable every human being to go to heaven?
At this point in our discussion, if you don't find the question posed to be patently absurd and logically ridiculous, if you really need me to answer it, I have obviously failed in my tasks above.
Nonetheless, I will sum up thus far what we have demonstrated.
God does whatever He wants. Humans do not have free will. God does not want every human to go to heaven.
And so we see that not only is it possible that John 3:16 does not "clearly" teach this logical absurdity, it is in fact impossible that it does.
4B. What does the Bible teach elsewhere about whether or not God has done everything possible, short of overthrowing human free-will, to enable every human being to go to heaven?
See 1B, 2B, and 3B above.
So, getting back to the original question, how can I dare say that God wouldn't want everyone saved?
I can dare to say it because the scriptures proclaim it. See above.
If God doesn't want everyone saved, why create and sustain them?
The book of Romans gives us a possible answer to this question.
Romans 9:22-24 (NASB)
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
Wouldn't he want them to receive EVERLASTING LIFE?
No -- He wants to condemn many people to the everlasting fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The crimes of the condemned are all the greater for God's blessings in His creation of them and His mercies in their continued sustenance.
Thanks for the question. God bless.