Doesn't John 3:16 mean that anyone can freely believe?


Question: John 3:16 as I read it says "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, the WHOSOEVER believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life." This tells me that anyone who hears the gospel and believes, shall live forever in heaven. Does this not give the opportunity to everyone, instead of just a select few?

Answer: John 3:16 does not say that unbelievers have the ability of their own sinful free will, to receive Christ. Since God is the one who grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29), grants us repentance (2 Tim. 2:25), and works belief in us (John 6:28-29), then we realize that the "whosoever" are those that God has granted the act of believing. Some may not like this explanation, but it is consistent with Scripture. Consider Acts 13:48 which says, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Notice that God is the one who appoints people to eternal life and, according to the text, this is why they believe. Also let's not forget 2 Thess. 2:13 which says, "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." It is God who chooses us for salvation and appoints us to eternal life. That is why they believe. Therefore, whosoever believes, has eternal life.

Furthermore, John 3:16 does not have the Greek word for "whosoever." That Greek word is 'hos.' It is not there - though it does appear in other verses in the New Testament. What the text actually says in the Greek in John 3:16 is, 'pas ho pistuon.' This is literally translated as 'all the believing one."

Technically speaking, John 3:16 does give the opportunity for everyone to receive Christ. However, the unbelievers will act in a manner consistent with their sinful natures and reject Christ. The Bible tells us that no one can come to the Lord Jesus unless it is been granted him by the Father, (John 6:65). Also we know that God is one who grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) and grants that people believe (Phil. 1:29). We do not know the means by which God chooses who gets saved, but he does choose (Eph. 1:4-5). But, we can trust that God uses us, our prayers, and our preaching in his divine and sovereign plan to bring into the kingdom of God those whom he has chosen (2 Thess. 2:13). I like to say that God has ordained from all eternity that we pray in order to bring about his will. We have not been granted the information we need to understand how it all works. As Christians, we are to believe that whosoever receives Christ does so because of the work of God. Furthermore, we are to preach the gospel to everyone because it is the means by which God draws out of the world his elect.





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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2022
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