John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I originally believed the sentence above is like an offer. It's "open" to anyone to accept. But now that I follow Calvinist theology, it is different. The sentence is not an offer at all; it is simply information.

I now see it like this :
For God so loved His elected that He gave His one and only Son, in order that His elected shall not perish but have eternal life

Since I'm not originally a Calvinist, my question is this:
Do all Calvinists interpret John 3:16 as I do above? In other words, do Calvinists view John 3:16 as a plain statement of fact instead of Christ offering salvation? If not, how do Calvinists interpret this verse?

Thank you.

addition :

I would like to extend my "original" interpretation.
I do agree that the word "world" and "whoever" is not in the sense anyone ---> literally anyone (even babies, toddlers, etc) without condition, but anyone on a condition which is someone who is old enough, already able to understand and realize that he/she need a help from God as he/she realize that they can not help themselves.

My reason about this condition is because I compare the situation from the verse 14

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

My imagination, the situation in that time - it's the Israel who is bitten by the snake, realize that he/she needs a help, then there the offer which is to look at that snake pole.

In simple term, it's just like a doctor is for everyone - but of course this everyone is the one who realize that he/she needs help from the doctor.

But again, once I revert to Calvinist Theology - of course, the [realize that he/she needs a help from God] I will point it to "because they are elected, that's why God stir/control/make these elected ones (like on/off switch) to realize that they need a help" :).


2 Answers 2


From John Calvin's Commentary on John chapter 3

John Calvin made much about the love of God in John 3:16 arguing that the cause is the love of God for us, not any good in ourselves, or any quality that belongs to us, but the cause is God's love! Our believing then is a result of God's saving love being applied to our lives, through faith, which is itself a gift of God.

John Calvin also owned the world here and whosoever as terms that are universal arguing that they make it clear that despite the offer being open to all, though not all have believed and therefore stand justly condemned:

He had employed the universal term whosoever both to invite all indiscriminately to partake in life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world which he formally used, for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favour of God yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. Let us remember on the other hand that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all, for Christ has held out to the view of all that the elect are those whose eyes are opened.

Some other Reformed writers would point out that the world is more an acknowledgement that salvation is given to people from every tribe and tongue rather than literally the whole world as in universalism or the world as in a potentially universal response. They have argued that the world, is qualified biblically by the fact that it is those who believe, it is further qualified by John 3:18 which indicates that those who disbelieve stand already condemned because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only son.

John Calvin would agree that it is only the elect whose eyes are ultimately opened to the glory of God's one and only Son. Though he seems to allow for the offer being open to the world and whosoever if only to show that God is just in condemning them.

  • Thank you for the two answers from James Church and Nigel J. But to be honest, as my English is very limited - even I've tried to read the answers a few times, more slowly in order to understand it - I still fail to grasp the meaning of the answers ---> did John Calvin teach in his Calvinist Theology that the word "world" and "whoever" is limited to the elected only ? (in other words, it's not much differ to my interpretation when assuming that I'm a Calvinist) - or not ?
    – karma
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 17:51
  • 1
    No Calvin felt the words 'whosoever' and 'world' were addressed to everyone in the world, in this passage, but Calvin taught that only some would believe (because God would open their eyes to the truth) therefore for some the offer of salvation will only function to leave them with no excuse on the day of judgement. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 22:46
  • Thank you James for your further explanation. You wrote : [only some would believe (because God would open their eyes to the truth)]. I can not see the difference. To me, Calvin's view is just the same thing like mine (assuming I'm a Calvinist). Here is why it's not different ---> Why only some would believe ? Because this some were elected, that's why God would open their eyes to the truth. So, the verse is simply information :)
    – karma
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 15:58

I think that this extract from John Calvin's Commentary on the verse under consideration is so clear that I need not add my own comment :

Commentary on John 3:16,17

“For God so loved the world.” …So we must see from where Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish…

This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, to magnify the fervor of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son.

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