home
RSS
January 10th, 2012
02:36 PM ET

Explain it to me: John 3:16

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – When quarterback Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass Sunday to secure an overtime victory for his Denver Broncos over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers, some saw a biblical connection.

The completion gave Tebow, an outspoken evangelical Christian whose penchant for last-minute heroics have given him a reputation as a miracle worker,  316 passing yards for the game. His ten completions averaged 31.6 yards a piece.

Those figures inspired plenty of conversation and debate about a connection some saw to one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16.

The New Testament verse is held up by Christians around the globe because it neatly summarizes some key points of Christianity:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)

In the third chapter in the Gospel of John, Jesus is having a late night discussion with a Pharisee, one of the Jewish teachers of the law, named Nicodemus. The chapter is also where the expression "born again" originates.

Jesus tells Nicodemus: "...no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." In his longer explanation of that idea, Jesus gets to the core of his message in verse 3:16.

The verse is popular with Christians looking to share their faith because it's short and information-packed: God loves humankind, man has sinned and is destined for eternal punishment, but eternal live awaits all who believe in God's son, Jesus.

John 3:16 also has a long history with football and pop culture.

During last year's Super Bowl, the Fixed Point Foundation, which promotes Christianity in the public square, tried to buy an advertisement pushing people to a website to learn about John 3:16 but the ad was was rejected.

The spot showed people watching a football game noticing the phrase John 3:16 on a player's eye black - a sticker or grease that players wear under the eyes to reduce glare from the sun. A man in the ad says he's going to look up the verse, while the ad directed viewers to www.lookup316.com.

At the time, Fixed Point Executive Director Larry Taunton told CNN that Fox Sports said it rejected his commercial because it contained "religious doctrine," though Taunton said the ad avoided featuring the actual words of the verse.

“Increasingly religion and Christianity is treated like smoking – you can do it but only in designated areas,” Taunton said. “They were saying there’s no place for (faith) in the public square. There’s a place for the soft core porn of Go-Daddy, violent movie trailers, and irresponsible drinking, but not for faith."

As a workaround, the Fixed Point Foundation ran its ad on Fox stations locally in Birmingham, Alabama and Washington, DC during the Super Bowl.

Tebow wore Bible verses on his eye black when he quarterbacked the Florida Gators in college.  In the 2009 BCS championship game, he wrote John 3:16 on his eye black. After he left college football for the NFL in 2010, the NCAA banned players from writing on their eye black, which some have called the "Tebow rule."

John 3:16 came into the pop culture view in the late 1970s and early 1980s at sporting events, when a man named Rollen Stewart would don a rainbow colored afro wig and a John 3:16 T-shirt. He was especially good at getting himself in front of the cameras at sporting and big cultural events, including the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Stewart grew increasingly fanatical about his crusade. In 1992 he took a maid hostage with a loaded gun at a Los Angeles hotel, demanding a national press conference to proclaim his new message that the end of the world was near.

He plastered John 3:16 on hotel windows.  CNN reported at the time that it took a SWAT team nine hours to free the woman.

At his sentencing hearing Stewart had to be removed from court when he would not let the judge speak.  As deputies were dragging him out of the courtroom he screamed, "Don't take me out, I said.  God sends love to the world.  Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they're doing.  They know not what they're doing, Lord."

That last phrase is also biblical, attributed to Jesus while he was praying for his executioners as he hung on the cross.

Stewart was convicted and sent to prison in 1993 on three counts of hostage taking and is currently serving three life sentences at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California.

Despite Stewart's story, many sports fans continue the tradition of evangelizing at sports games by holding up John 3:16 on placards.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Sports

soundoff (2,029 Responses)
  1. Maddison

    God is so good and desires for everyone to be saved! No matter where you are at, Jesus can save you. He brings peace, hope, joy, and confidence. All of your sins can be forgiven through Him. Praise the Lord!

    God bless

    January 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Frances

      No. No he doesn't . He's a man who lived and died and has no control over your life . You do. Take accountability for yourself and your actions and you can make the world a better place.

      January 29, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • MrDune

      *maddison* You people really freak me out.

      January 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  2. Jokesterer

    Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the Tebow. His number is three hundred ten and six.

    January 28, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  3. Alan Stoddard

    And your point was what exactly?

    January 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  4. MrDune

    Why is it that no two people can read a single passage from the bible and get the same meaning from it? I mean if it's the word of god then you would think that it would be a little more straight forward.

    January 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Frances

      I've heard it said that Satan sows the seeds of dissention. The bible itself has many verses on how utterly wrong it is for people to stir up dissention with each other. Then, as you point out, why in the hell do bibles disagree with each other, and people even reading the same bible disagree with each other? Sounds like a faulty god who can't control how his own word is printed, distributed and interpreted. Give up the myth, people! I know it was hard when your parents told you the truth about Santa. Let that guide you to the truth now. There. is. no. god.

      January 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • MrDune

      My thoughts exactly.

      January 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  5. 1word

    Love John 3:16 it speaks the truth to eternal life. If you don't believe in God you're going to experience the 2nd death and it will not feel good!

    January 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Frances

      Hey, thanks for the threat! No better way to draw people to a god than by threatening eternal hellfire and damnation. What kind of loving god would do that to a person who feeds the poor, takes care of the widow,and raises the orphans but won't bow down in worship? Sick. Guess that's why we need the word psychophant.

      January 29, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Well, I certainly feel uplifted by that.

      January 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  6. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYDFutp5ZxE&w=640&h=390]

    January 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  7. Donah

    iIts all nice ´n dandy... convenient for mankind... but how about the poor critters... teh animals nd insects and fish and fauna !!! They hva all been "created"by God... not Man....
    ANSWER !! you freaks... WHO do you think you are...?? GOD HIMSELF ??? Donah..//

    PS:- "John" would never have used those words unless he was in love with himself...
    Anything goes with mankind... The Germans also put themselves over mankind... or don´t we remember...

    January 28, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  8. Josh

    THis article was really good....until it started talking about Rollen Stewart. What does Tebow's message and the commercial have ANYTHING to do with a fanatic that took a woman hostage? The last few sentences make it sound like Tebow is somehow carrying on the tradition of Stewart when any sound-minded Christian would gladly disassociate themselves from Stewart's words and actions.

    January 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Mikes

      That's exactly what this article is doing, and it's so obvious. Why doesn't CNN come out and tell us what they believe in the "belief blog" rather than trying to be sneaky and taking unnecessary low blows at Tebow. I'm glad CNN is fair and balanced! Not that we can't mention the crazy rainbow guy, but the most translated sentence in all history has a little bit more significance than any individual's efforts.

      January 28, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  9. Rachel L

    I think it is interesting that there is no mention in the article made that speaks to the point that 316 is a pivotal number in Judaism, which is the foundation for Christianity. The number 316 is the number of commandments or "mitzvot" that are present in the Torah, or the Old Testament. While some might be referring to the verse 3:16, I find it really interesting that Tebow seems to achieve different numbers all consisting of the similar patter "316." Not really suggesting this means anything in particular, I just thought it would be an interesting fact to add.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Lubiana

      Wow, I didn't know that! Thanks for the info

      January 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • DocG

      Actually, Maimonides counted 613 commandments in the Torah, not 316.

      January 28, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Todd B.

      Are you serious? The Bible didn't have chapters and verse numbers added until centuries after being written. There is no significance to them whatsoever.

      January 28, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  10. CoCoDol52

    RD, yes I call YHWH Father but we know He is our only Creator Redeemer and Savior as He tells us in Isaiah 44v24,25 that He alone created it all son of man and earth and heavens and water by himself. So this is why I call Him Father He made us did he not? But it is YHWH and too He calls His chosen 'children' doesn't He? So, this is mine my Father if its ok with you. He is the Almighty Creator YHWH. And He taught us in His book that He left that He is the only Savior in Isaiah 49v26 and 60v16 and there is no one else in Isaiah 43v3,11. No one can die for anyone else Sins as He taught us in Jeremiah 31v30 and in Ezekiel 14v14 that even Noah Daniel and Job have to live by their own righteousness and in Ezekiel 18. Also YHWH says that all souls is His in Ezekiel 18v4. Therefore many need the truth and it is in Genesis – Malachi of YHWH for as He says in Malachi 3v6 He changes NOT. This means not any of His Word or Law. So you better get out of that NT it changes everything take heed. The New Covenant with YHWH is in Jeremiah 31v31-40 that is to come people (Future) In Malachi 2 and in Jeremiah 23v1-3 YHWH lets us know that these priest and pastors will be dealt with in the Day of YHWH for their misleading the flocks as also said in Ezekiel 34. The only son and firstborn that YHWH(God) has is in Exodus 4v22,23 and it is ISRAEL THE CHOSEN there cannot be two firstborn sons. jesus is not ever mentioned by YHWH in the OT never not even jc story.

    January 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Wayne dunham

      Deuteronomy 6:25 (New Living Translation)

      25 For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’

      The Tenach (OT) clarifies your question, "are we not all righteous?" The answer is clearly ...NO! We are only counted as "righteous" if we obey the commandment required by God! And we know for a fact that none of us are able to do that.
      That is why God sent His only Son to atone for our sins...For All, who believe in Him and receive Him as Lord!
      Think about it...do you know of anyone who has kept all of GOD'S commandments? I sure don't! And that is why the bible tells us that there is NONE who is rightness. That we all have sinned by disobeyingn GOD'S commandments....and I have no doubt that includes you too brother!

      February 1, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  11. creepycoolpriest

    Man oh man, I love that Rollen Stewart, he is just such a good example for our youth. God bless.

    January 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Martin

      if a person can't see the HUGE moral disconnect in the idea of a God having his son murdered, ...oh well, they deserve bronze age religion

      January 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  12. Believer in the Lord

    Ran- I could not have said it any better. Praise God!

    January 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  13. VBinNC

    The Ravens didn't make it to the Superbowl b/c Terrell Suggs made a rude comment about Tebow's praying and said the Ravens didn't need God to help them win. I hope the Ravens trade Suggs to Canada!!

    January 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Yeah

      And the Broncos didn't make it to the superbowl because...?

      January 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  14. Agent Rasputin

    Rasputin 3:16
    Many things will be sent to test you. These tests are called TESTS OF FAITH. All of these tests are REAL.
    If you pass these tests then you PASS. If you fail these tests then you FAIL.
    Nothing could be simpler.

    January 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  15. jke

    Tebow will have an uninspiring 2012-2013 season. The Broncos will trade him post-season to Dallas. Tebow will play that season in Jerry Jones' Purgatory.

    January 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  16. CoCoDol52

    Well according to the book of life the OT the only begotton Son of the Father YHWH is mentioned in Exodus 4v22,23 of His son and firstborn the chosen Israel, so there cannot be two firstborn sons. And everlasting life well again the Creator YHWH teaches us that we can have a prolonged life in Deut.32v45-47 and all through the OT it says prolonged for in Isaiah 36 the king Hezekiah was sick but prayed to YHWH and YHWH told Isaiah to go in and talk to the king and let him know that he will live another 15 years but then he will die our SEEDS live on not son of man flesh and blood, for if everyone else lives forever then YHWH has to move out of His spot as the first the last and there is no one else before or after Him right? See people a spirit can do this. Many of you can remain on the good ship jesus (the first slave ship) but it is not of the Father YHWH this was prophesied by Moses in Deut.32v17, about the newly strange gods that will come in the latter days, of christianity and islam and rule over many in the vision of Daniel 11v36-45 the full vision is Daniel 11v36-12v10 of the end times. YHWH the Father is our only Savior and Redeemer said in Isaiah 60v16 and Isaiah 49v26 and in Isaiah 43v13 no man can be delivered out of the Father YHWH hands people and the Truth is in Genesis – Malachi the book of remembrance in Malachi 3v16.

    January 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • RD

      Show me where Israel calls YHWY, "father".

      January 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • The Woof

      John 3: 16 is very easy to explain. When Adam & Eve sinned by disobeying God, mankind lost perfection. To regain this perfection and a chance to again be close to God, a sacrifice of equal measure had to be made. But with the loss of perfection there could be no sacrifice of equal measure made. Our Heavenly Father in His infinite wisdom had already put into play a plan in which such a sacrifice could be made. That sacrifice was by sending His First Creation, Jesus, on a voluntary basis to Earth not only to be the perfect sacrifice but to also show that an earthly man could live and resist the evils of the world by faithfully serving our Heavenly Father and not falling into the temptations of Satan. With that sacrifice mankind was given the ability to once again approach God in prayer and have a chance for redemption.

      January 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • creepycoolpriest

      What in heaven (see what I did there?) did you just say?

      January 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • John 16

      Woof,
      Where does the scripture say that Jesus was created.
      "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God....and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
      Jesus Himself said "I Am" saying by this that He was God in the flesh. He was in the beginning ( the Alpha) and He is the end (the Omega). "If you've seen me you have seen the Father."

      January 27, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • Drenp

      " John 3: 16 is very easy to explain. When Adam & Eve sinned by disobeying God, mankind lost perfection. To regain this perfection and a chance to again be close to God, a sacrifice of equal measure had to be made. But with the loss of perfection there could be no sacrifice of equal measure made. Our Heavenly Father in His infinite wisdom had already put into play a plan in which such a sacrifice could be made. That sacrifice was by sending His First Creation, Jesus, on a voluntary basis to Earth not only to be the perfect sacrifice but to also show that an earthly man could live and resist the evils of the world by faithfully serving our Heavenly Father and not falling into the temptations of Satan. With that sacrifice mankind was given the ability to once again approach God in prayer and have a chance for redemption. "

      SERIOUSLY?? You people believe this rubbish? Pretty sad this is what millions believe.

      January 28, 2012 at 4:33 am |
  17. RD

    Explain it to me: John 3:16...
    A football player does his job and wants to send people to the Bible. A guy wanted to proclaim the end of the world based off of something other than John 3:16...
    How is this journalism?

    January 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  18. GregH

    Most stories in the Bible are borrowed from popular myths and folk tales of that era in the Mideast. The story about a god sacrificing his son to save humankind was a very familiar one and involved many different deities, as was the story of Gilgamesh, on which the story of Noah was based. All these tales are good fun and perhaps even inspirational, but they were only legends that people told around the campfire at night. They should not be taken literally today - doing so can be extremely harmful, especially to children.

    January 25, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Paul

      What were the time frames for these other stories of a sacrificed Son, Greg? Before the Book of Genesis was written? And how can Bible stories be harmful to children? I think the lyrics of most Hip Hop and Pop Culture songs are something that is truly hurtful to children these days!

      January 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Ran

      Greg, do you have children? I think your views are harmful to kids. The Bible is true. It's too bad that you are not willing to open up your heart to this truth. Unfortunately not believing in something is not going to prevent it from being true. For example me denying the fact that the sun comes out in the morning is going to prevent it from rising in the East wherever I live. See some people think that just because they don't believe in this whole God thing, they won't be judged or there won't be an afterlife, that they would simply disappear into nothingness once dead. Untrue. Open your heart. Ask God to show you if He really exists. I know that this comment may irritate you, but it may save your life for eternity. Just give it a try, even if there is a one percent of this person who you don't know and doesn't know you being right, wouldn't it be worth a try?

      January 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • theolo149

      I'd love to hear where you got that information. Because I hear it all the time, yet no one provides very good evidence for it. For example I hear people claim that the Genesis account is based off of the Enuma-Elish a Babylonian creation myth. Most historians who specialize in the ancient near east will tell you this claim is totally baseless, the only similarity between the two is the order of creation. Kennith A. Kitchen would be a good expert to look into on this subject.

      January 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • J.W

      Someone brought up this point a while back that I agree with. Most atheists on here say that many of the Bible writers, as well as Jesus and the apostles, were all illiterate and uneducated, but they also say that they stole all of the stories in the Bible from other religions. It doesn't make sense that all these illiterate, uneducated people had such a vast knowledge of world religions

      January 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • creepycoolpriest

      I love how the author points out the 2 types of people sporting the 3:16. but everyone ignores the "crazy" guy and jumps on Tebows bandwagon. THEY BOTH REPRESENT YOU. silly wabbits.

      January 26, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Yeah

      Paul – when was the book of Genesis written? Gilgamesh was written around 2,500 BCE. Regarding how bible stories can be harmful, many people take the phrase,, "Spare the rod and spoil the child" to mean to beat your children. I don't believe that's what it means, but others do and act on that because god told them to.

      J.W – illiterate people can still hear stories told in the oral tradition, modify and repeat them (orally), and eventually someone in the future writes them down. There is good evidence that none of the gospels were written by any of the apostles and that they were written afterwards.

      January 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Lorraine

      GregH, as you are saying this story of a son jesus is a myth, now this is true, the made up story is not found nowhere in the OT, and the NT should fulfill the OT. But what about the book of Daniel as he prophesied in Daniel 2v1-49, of the many rulers in government, of the 10 horns, they all were from Augustus Caesar, to Constantine, and the others of our history,Julius Caesar, all history sir, and who were not all romans, and in Daniel 11v36v12v10, we are now in the 4th kingdom in Daniel 2v40, that there will be strange gods of christianity vs.36, and islam vs.43, that will rule over many for gain, as you are stating in your post, idols that the forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, knew not. And in Daniel 12v4, of the end times, when many will run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased, isn't this happening today?

      March 2, 2012 at 4:46 am |
  19. GeorgeH

    Most stories in the Bible are borrowed from popular myths and folk tales of that era in the Mideast. The story about a god sacrificing his son to save humankind was a very familiar one and involved many different deities, as was the story of Gilgamesh, on which the story of Noah was based. All these tales are good fun and perhaps even inspirational, but they were only legends that people told around the campfire at night. They should not be taken literally today - doing so can be extremely harmful, especially to children.

    January 25, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Ran

      GeorgeH, do you have children? I think your views are harmful to kids. The Bible is true. It's too bad that you are not willing to open up your heart to this truth. Unfortunately not believing in something is not going to prevent it from being true. For example me denying the fact that the sun comes out in the morning is going to prevent it from rising in the East wherever I live. See some people think that just because they don't believe in this whole God thing, they won't be judged or there won't be an afterlife, that they would simply disappear into nothingness once dead. Untrue. Open your heart. Ask God to show you if He really exists. I know that this comment may irritate you, but it may save your life for eternity. Just give it a try, even if there is a one percent of this person who you don't know and doesn't know you being right, wouldn't it be worth a try?

      January 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Frances

      Ran

      GeorgeH, do you have children? I think your views are harmful to kids. (Nice way to attack and judge some you don't know.)be judged or there won't be an afterlife, that they would simply disappear into nothingness once dead. Untrue. Open your heart. Ask God to show you if He really exists. I know that this comment may irritate you, but it may save your life for eternity. Just give it a try, even if there is a one percent of this person who you don't know and doesn't know you being right, wouldn't it be worth a try?
      Wow. Personally, I received my degree in bible and pastoral ministries, have read the bible in its entirety several times, studied it, studied apologetics, lived a life of faith, obedience and prayer. Guess what. God is not real. Be a seeker of truth. The bible, like a broken clock, can sometimes be right. The truth WILL set you free.

      January 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  20. A Hermit

    Are we sure it wasn't supposed to be a reference to Proverbs 31:6 – "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts." ...?

    January 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.