by Murray J. Harris
Whether vv. 16–21 are Jesus’ words or are John’s inspired reflection on Jesus’ words (see above on 3:1–21), they are equally authoritative. But along with the majority of recent EVV (NASB, NAB, NEB, REB, JB, NJB, NIV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB), we believe Jesus’ words end after v. 21. Verses 16–21 contain Jesus’ exposition of the universal implications of his conversation with Nicodemus, especially vv. 13–15 (cf. Köstenberger 113–14).
3:16 This verse, which supplies “the background of the canvas on which the rest of the gospel is painted” (Beasley-Murray 51), explains (γάρ) why v. 15 is true. The aor. ἠγάπησεν matches the following aor. ἔδωκεν, showing that God the Father’s love for the world of human beings (κόσμος) was once expressed in giving (cf. Rom 5:8), yet that love continues (16:27, αὐτὸς γάρ ὁ πατὴρ φιλεῖ ὑμᾶς; cf. ἠγαπημένοι in Col 3:12; 2 Thess 2:13). The Father’s giving was his sending his Son into the world (v. 17; 1 John 4:9; Schnackenburg 1:399; McHugh 239; E. Schweizer, TDNT 9.374– 75, 375 n. 292) but also his giving him over to death (cf. Isa 53:12, LXX; Brown 134, 149; Beasley-Murray 51): both the incarnation and the crucifixion are in John’s mind. Οὕτως here means “to such an extent” or “so dearly” (Moffatt). If ὥστε introduces an independent clause, it means “therefore/so” (e.g., 1 Cor 15:58), but if it introduces a dependent clause and is followed by the infinitive (as commonly in the NT), it expresses a potential or actual outcome; if followed, as here, by the indic. (ὥστε . . . ἔδωκεν), the actual result is emphasized (cf. Z §350; Burton §§236, 371), elevating the effect over the cause. The alternative possible construction, ὥστε . . . δοῦναι (“so greatly as to give”), would have emphasized “the connexion between the love and the gift” (Moulton 210), between the cause and the effect, and “would have subordinated the effect to the cause” (Turner, Insights 143). In the only other NT use of ὥστε + indic. in a dependent clause (Gal 2:13), the sense is “so that (remarkably) even Barnabas was led astray.”
On μονογενής, see 1:18. Ἵνα (also implied after ἀλλ ̓—R 1413) expresses a purpose but implies a result; in God’s economy a purpose is always realized. On πιστεύω εἰς, see Harris 236–37. As in v. 15, the phrase πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων could be rendered “everyone who at any time believes” (cf. ὁ ερχόμενος [6:35, 37] and ὁ λαμβάνων [13:20]); the promise remains valid for all time. If “perishing” (ἀπόληται 3rd sg. aor. mid. subj. of ἀπόλλυμι, “destroy,” [mid.] “perish”) involves “being lost” (cf. TCNT, Goodspeed), “having eternal life” involves “being saved” (cf. σωθῇ, v. 17b). There is the clear implication that not to believe is to perish; 8:24 indicates that refusal to believe leads to “dying in your sins” = “dying with your sins upon you.” For more details on this verse, see Murray J. Harris, John 3:16: What’s It All About? (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015).
This crucially important verse that sums up the message of the Fourth Gospel may be paraphrased as follows:
God the Father loved all human beings to such an extent that he actually sent his one and only Son into the world and then gave him over to death, so that everyone without distinction or exception who places trust in Jesus may now and in the hereafter experience eternal life and so not suffer God’s wrath and thus be lost.
On the Jewish background, see A. J. Köstenberger, “Lifting Up the Son of Man and God’s Love for the World: John 3:16 in Its Historical, Literary, and Theological Contexts,” in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, edited by A. J. Köstenberger and R. W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 141–59.
3:17 This verse restates (note γάρ) v. 16. God the Father’s purpose in the incarnation of Christ was not to pass condemnatory judgment on humankind but to achieve the opposite, to bring them salvation—through him. Ἀπέστειλεν 3rd sg. aor. act. indic. of ἀποστέλλω “send” (here, as in 10:36, send as an authorized and authoritative agent). Κρίνῃ 3rd sg. aor. (pres. is the same form) act. subj. of κρίνω “pronounce judgment on.” For κρίνω and κρίσις in the FG, see Brown 345.
John 9:39 (cf. 5:22) seems to contradict 3:17 and 12:47 in asserting that Jesus did come into the world for judgment (εἰς κρίμα). But it was his very presence in the world that created division (7:43; 9:16; 10:19), forcing people to accept or reject him. Those who reject him are “judged already” (3:18), having passed judgment on themselves (cf. 8:15–16). Σωθῇ, 3rd sg. aor. pass. subj. of σῴζω “render safe and sound (σῶς)”; “deliver”; “save (of Christian salvation)”; repeated action is here viewed unitarily (cf. Fanning 395).
3:18 Κρίνεται (3rd sg. pres. pass. indic. of κρίνω) is not a futuristic pres. in the sense “will not come under condemnation” (true though that is), but is gnomic, “is not (now) under a sentence of condemnation,” “does not have sentence pronounced” (McHugh 218). Κέκριται 3rd sg. pf. pass. indic. of κρίνω: “(already) stands condemned,” “is already sentenced” (McHugh 218). Ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν (3rd sg. pf. act. indic. of πιστεύω), “for refusing to believe” (Brown 129), “by the very fact of not having believed” (McHugh 218). Both κέκριται and πεπίστευκεν are gnomic pfs., describing customary truths (R 897; cf. Fanning 304). On εἰς after πιστεύω see Harris 236–37.
Μή with the indic. is irregular in not following the general rule for NT Gk., viz: “οὐ negates the indicative, μή the remaining moods including the infinitive and participle” (BDF §426; cf. Z §440). Various explanations have been given: μή introduces a more subjective element (R 963; ZG 293) or a hypothetical case; μή points to the charge (“because he will not have believed”) rather than the simple fact (as in 1 John 5:10; “because he did not believe”; Moulton 171); the preceding (regular) ὁ . . . μὴ πιστεύων has influenced the use (cf. Moule 155). The judgment of the Last Day (5:26–29) will not initiate judgment but will confirm a verdict of self-judgment already passed.
3:19 Αὕτη (nom. sg. fem. of οὗτος, αὕτη, τοῦτο, demonstrative pron. and adj., “this”; “he/she/it”) anticipates ἡ κρίσις, while ὅτι here is not causal (“because”) but explanatory (“namely that”; cf. R 964): “And this is the verdict/ground for condemnation—that . . . ” Ἐλήλυθεν 3rd sg. pf. act. indic. of ἔρχομαι. Καί, “and yet” (R 426; cf. Z §455a). Ἠγάπησαν (a constative aor.; or possibly a gnomic aor. [“have loved/ love”]) . . . μᾶλλον . . . ἢ, “(people) loved . . . rather than . . .” (KJV) = “they preferred . . . to/over . . .” ; or, reflecting Semitic idiom, “they loved . . . and not . . . ” (ZG 293). Σκότος, -ους, τό, “darkness.” Ἦν is sg. in agreement with a neut. pl. subj. (BDF §133; R 403–404; T 312–13).
3:20 Γάρ, “Indeed.” Ὁ φαῦλα (acc. pl. neut. of φαῦλος, -η, -ον, “evil,” “vile”; see LN 88.116) πράσσων describes habitual bad or worthless behavior, “everyone who (πᾶς ὁ) perpetually does evil/what is bad.” Ἐλεγχθῇ 3rd sg. (neut. pl. subj.) aor. pass. subj. of ἐλέγχω, “bring to light,” “expose,” “convict” (of error or sin); thus, “lest his actions be exposed/for fear that his deeds might be exposed to view” (Cassirer).
3:21 “The person who does the truth” (gnomic pres., Fanning 183, 209, 216) = “. . . lives by the truth” (NIV)/“acts in truth” (Brown 129)/“acts in conformity with what is true” (ZG 293)/“is a disciple of the Truth” (Turner, Insights 11)/“lives faithfully” (cf. Neh 9:33). Φανερωθῇ 3rd sg. (neut. pl. subj.) aor. pass. subj. of φανερόω, “make evident,” “reveal”; (pass.) “be evident/revealed.” Εἰργασμένα nom. pl. neut. (agreeing with τὰ ἔργα) of pf. pass. ptc. of ἐργάζομαι, (intrans.) “work”; (trans.) “carry out,” “perform.” “So that his deeds may be plainly seen to have been carried out by God’s power.” Ἐν θεῷ may mean “through God” (Beasley-Murray 44), “in accordance with God’s will” (Schnackenburg 1:408; McHugh 218, 242), “in oneness with God” (Cassirer), or “by God’s power.”
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Caird, G. B. New Testament Theology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994:40–51, 74–344.
Farris, T. V. Mighty to Save: A Study in Old Testament Soteriology. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993.
Foerster, W., and G. Fohrer, TDNT 7.965–1024.
Green, E. M. B. The Meaning of Salvation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965.
Grogan, G. W. “The Experience of Salvation in the Old and New Testaments.” Vox Evangelica 5 (1967): 4–26.
*Harris, M. J. “Salvation.” Pages 762–67 in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner. Leicester/Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000.
Haughton, R. The Drama of Salvation. London: SPCK, 1976.
Lee, E. K. The Religious Thought of St. John. London: SPCK, 1950:157–90.
Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and former warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, England.
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