William Hendriksen (1900-1982) on John 3:16

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in John 3:16


16. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son, the only-begotten, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God’s infinite love made manifest in an infinitely glorious manner, this is the theme of the golden text which has endeared itself to the hearts of all God’s children. The verse sheds light on the following aspects of this love: 1. its character (so loved), 2. its Author (God), 3. its object (the world), 4. its Gift (his Son, the only-begotten), and 5. its purpose (that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life).

The conjunction for establishes a causal relation between this and the preceding verse. We might paraphrase as follows : the fact that it is only in connection with Christ that everlasting life is ever obtained (see verse 15) is clear from this, that it has pleased God to grant this supreme gift only to those who repose their trust in him (verse 16).

1. Its character.

The word so by reason of what follows must be interpreted as indicating: in such an infinite degree transcendently glorious manner. Great emphasis is placed on this thought and in such a.

So loved. The tense used in the original (the aorist egapmsen) shows that God’s love in action, reaching back to eternity and coming to fruition in Bethlehem and at Calvary, is viewed as one, great, central fact. That love was rich and true, full of understanding, tenderness, and majesty.80

2. Its Author.

So loved God (with the article in the original: ho theos, just as in 1:1 where, as has been shown, the Father is indicated). In order to gain some conception of the Deity it will never do to subtract from the popular concept every possible attribute until literally nothing is left. God is ever full of life and full of love.81 Take all human virtues; then raise them to the nth degree, and realize that no matter how grand and glorious a total picture is formed in the mind, even that is a mere shadow of the love-life which exists eternally in the heart of him whose very name is Love. And that love of God ever precedes our love (I John 4:9, 10, 19; d. Rom. 5:8-10), and makes the latter possible.

3. Its object.

Now the object of this love is the world. (See on 1:10 and note 26 where the various meanings have been summarized.) Just what is meant by this term here in 3: 16? We answer:

a. The words, “that whoever believes” clearly indicate that the reference is not to birds and trees but to mankind. Cf. also 4:42; 8: 12; 1 John 4: 14.

b. However, here mankind is not viewed as the realm of evil, breaking out into open hostility to God and Christ (meaning 6, in note 26), for God does not love evil.

c. 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. God’s image is still, to a degree, reflected in the children of men. Mankind is like a mirror. Originally this mirror was very beautiful, a work of art. But, through no fault of the Maker, it has become horribly blurred. Its creator, however, still recognizes his own work. .

d. By reason of the context and other passages in which a similar thought is expressed (see note 26, meaning 5), it is probable that also here in 3: 16 the term indicates fallen mankind in its international aspect: men from every tribe and nation; not only Jews but also Gentiles. This is in harmony with the thought expressed repeatedly in the Fourth Gospel (including this very chapter) to the effect that physical ancestry has nothing to do with entrance into the kingdom of heaven: 1:12, 13; 3:6; 8:31-39.

4, Its gift.

” . . . that he gave his Son, the only-begotten.” Literally the original reads, “that his Son, the only-begotten, he gave.” All the emphasis is on the astounding greatness of the gift; hence, in this clause the object precedes the verb. The verb he gave must be taken in the sense of he gave unto death as an offering for sin (d. 15:13; I John 3:16; especially 1 John 4:10; Rom. 8:32: John’s gave is Paul’s spared not). On the meaning of the only begotten, see on I: 14. Note that the article which precedes the word Son is repeated before only begotten. Thus both substantive and adjective receive emphasis.82 We hear, as it were, the echo of Gen. 22:2, “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac . . .” The gift of the Son is the climax of God’s love (d. Matt. 21: 33-39).

5. Its purpose.

. . . in order that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God does not leave mankind to itself. He so loved the world that his Son, the only begotten, he gave, with this purpose: that those who receive him with abiding trust and confidence83 may have everlasting life. Though the Gospel is proclaimed to men of every tribe and nation, not every one who hears it believes in the Son. But whoever believes–whether he be a Jew or a Gentile – has everlasting life.

The words “. . . should not perish” do not merely mean: should not lose physical existence; nor do they signify: should not be annihilated. As the context (verse 17) indicates, the perishing of which this verse speaks indicates divine condemnation, complete and everlasting, so that one is banished from the presence of the God of love and dwells forever in the presence of a God of wrath, a condition which, in principle, begins here and now but does not reach its full and terrible culmination for both soul and body until the day of the great consummation. Note that perishing is the antonym of having everlasting life.

“. . . but have everlasting life.” (On the meaning of life see on 1:4.) The life which pertains to the future age, to the realm of glory, becomes the possession of the believer here and now; that is, in principle. This life is salvation, and manifests itself in fellowship with God in Christ (17:3); in partaking of the love of God (5:42), of his peace (16:33), and of his joy (17:13). The adjective everlasting (aionois) occurs 17 times in the Fourth Gospel, 6 times in I John, always with the noun life. It indicates, as has been pointed out, a life that is different in quality from the life which characterizes the present age. However, the noun with its adjective (zoe aionois) as used here in 3: 16 has also a quantitative connotation: it is actually everlasting, never-ending life.

In order to receive this everlasting life one must believe in God’s only begotten Son. It is important, however, to take note of the fact that Jesus mentions the necessity of regeneration before he speaks about faith (d. 3:3,5 with 3:12, 14-16). The work of God within the soul ever precedes the work of God in which the soul cooperates (see especially 6:44). And because faith is, accordingly, the gift of God (not only with Paul, Eph. 2:8, but also in the Fourth Gospel), its fruit, everlasting life, is also God’s gift (10:28). God gave his Son; he gives us the faith to embrace the Son; he gives us everlasting life as a reward for the exercise of this faith. To him be the glory forever and ever!

17. In close connection with 3: 16, verse 17 continues, For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

As the Jews saw it, the Messiah at his coming would condemn the heathen. The Day of Jehovah would mean punishment for the nations which had oppressed Israel, but not for Israel. This misinterpretation of prophecy had been censured most severely by Amos (Amos 5: 18-20), but it never subsided. It is against this Jewish exclusivism that the words of Jesus are directed. Verse 17 clearly indicates:

a. That God’s redemptive purpose is not confined to the Jews but embraces the world (men from every tribe and nation, considered as a unit); that the primary object of Christ’s first coming was not to condemn but to save.

It is true that the verb which was translated to condemn (krine from krino) has a very wide meaning in the original. Our word to discriminate, which is derived from the same stem, points in the direction of the basic idea:, to separate. From this, in turn, came the idea of selecting one thing above another; hence, judging, deciding. Whereas in this sinful world to judge frequently means to condemn, the word employed in the original can also have that connotation, which is expressed more fully by the term katakrino. The fact that here, in 3:17, it actually has (or at least approaches) that meaning is shown by the antonym: to save. Salvation, in the fullest sense of the term (deliverance from punishment not only but from sin itself, and the bestowal of everlasting life) was what God had in store for the world into which he sent his Son; not condemnation but salvation. This raises the question: Shall we say, then, that the purpose of Christ’s first coming was to bring salvation, while the purpose of the second coming will be to bring condemnation (or judgment, at least)?

But the matter is not as simple as that, as verse 18 indicates. No one needs to wait for the day of the great consummation to receive his sentence. To be sure, on that great day something very important is going to take

place: the verdict will be publicly proclaimed (5:25-29). But the decision itself, which is basic to this public proclamation, has already been made long before:

William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 139-142. [Some reformatting; footnotes and values original; italics original; and underlining mine.]


80For difference between agapao and phileo see comments on 21: 15-17

81God is not an abstract; contentless essence, the Absolute of the philosophers. On the contrary, he is an infinite fullness of essence. On this subject see H. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1951, pp. 121-124.

82See Gram.N.T., p. 776.

83On pisteuo see 1.:8; 8:30, 31. The present participle of this verb eis = exercising living faith in the person of Christ. On pisteuo in the Fourth Gospel see W. F. Howard, Christianity According to St. John, Philadelphia, 1946, pp. 151-173.

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2 comments so far


Guys, couldn’t a high Calvinist affirm exactly what Hendriksen says here, with thw possible exception of point c? I see little unequivocal proof of moderate Calvinism in this quote.

January 24th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Hey Doug,

I would say a strict high like Owen could not. When a high Calvinist takes world as “all living mankind,” “fallen and apostate,” they have already compromised the Owenic system. Most, I think, simply have just not realized this. It primarily has to do with implications and entailments. Some like Hendriksen and Carson fail to see the necessary entailment of “world” denoting all mankind, in vs 3:16-17: for mankind is the object of “saving redemption,” which makes strict limited atonement with its single salvific intention impossible. Someone like Hendriksen has to begin importing some sort of dual aspect intentionality, however, that is the beginning of the ripple effect, which once started, cannot be stopped on rational grounds.

Thanks for stopping by,

January 24th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

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