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. al in memphis


    Enough of this madness. Can watch hardly anything without being bombarded with evangelical symbols and rhetoric. Give us some peace. Most of us have a spiritual relationship that we keep private because we don't want to draw attention to ourselves.


    Why don't we do the same for education, medical knowledge, and other things we think are critical to life?
    This life last about as long as a puff of vapor compared to eternity. I understand that one of the inconvenient things to talk to people about.I guess that means when you die, the message that all mean need salvation thru Christ will die too.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Then stop reading the Belief Blog. Dummy!

      January 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • GASocaler

      "Most of us have a spiritual relationship that we keep private because we don't want to draw attention to ourselves."
      - Oh ok, you keep it private, and you have your reason of why you do it. But then you want to tell the others they're wrong because of what, a straw man argument? Ever thought that Tebow doesn't want to draw attention to himself? That could be possible, but you don't see it that way because you hate what he stands for. If you do have a relationship with Jesus, shake your crust off and revive yourself out of your piousness and have a WONDERFULLY PUBLIC relationship with the true Living Christ. You don't have to, but I'd recommend it, it's much more enjoyable... ya old curmudgeon.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  2. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Go Pats!

    January 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  3. Doc Vestibule


    In the United States more women are battered on the day of the American football championship than on any other day of the year. This should not be taken as a characteristic of football itself, which has been an important and agreeable factor in stabilizing the gonadal energy of young men for more than a century.
    The Super Bowl is relatively typical of compet.ition used as a social value. Everyone, except the few who are best at the game, is reduced to the disembodied role of a spectator.
    Spectators do participate through some of their senses. Eyes, ears, mouths and emotions can be used to worship their subst.itutes. But in this process the seated are deprived of their existence as individuals capable of action. Instead, they become passive participants in the mythology of gladiatorial Heroism.
    The aim in football is to move the pigskin across the goal-line. This positive skill is unfortunately little more than the exotic sp.ice of the game. The central characteristic, involving most of the players on the field, is that the movement of the football is halted in each play by a physical assault on its carrier/ Spectators may well get excited about these repeated demonstrations of basic masculinity. The more excited they become through passive participation, the more their own active manhood may be put into doubt. In the final analysis, a guy’s got to prove his own worth by hitting someone himself.
    Or it may be that American women are unbearably slow fetchers of beer.

    – John Ralston Saul (Canadian philosopher)

    January 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      That's why the kegerator on wheels was invented. Just roll it into the living room during games. Poof* no more backhand corrections to the wife.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  4. Mike

    Ryan Fitzpatrick had 316 yards in week 15. Matt Ryan had 316 in week 11 and Rodgers, too, in week 6. Skelton and Vick had 315 in weeks 10 and 5 respectively, while Romo had 317 in week 6. So in other words, this happens every other week almost.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  5. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    "How stupid do you think people really are?" is that a rhetorical question? Because most people are generally pretty stupid.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Hmm... not sure why that didn't post where it was suppossed to go. but there you go, case in point. LOL!

      January 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  6. Slag

    Hey Cnn, why don't you do a story on all the tatoo'd players who choreograph dances everytime they think they have done something special. Or all the players that have been convicted of crimes.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • andboomgoesthedynamite

      just use the search button


      January 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Mike

    Maybe it is the one, and only, verse that most people know. Remember tim's dad...the guy with the rainbow Afro? Only kidding.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  8. Rob

    Like god gives a rat's ass about football. Shut the hell up already you stupid idiots! Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I can only say that the current mayor is liked about as much as Hitler. He is as stupid as Tebow.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Dangram

      I agree that God doesn't care about football but as for telling the rest of the country we all hate Luke as much as Hitler....that is going way too far. Luke may not be universally loved by everyone in the burg....but he certainly should not be compared to Hitler. .....you are acting like a gigantic jerk!

      January 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Pittsburgh likes Rob as much as Hitler

      January 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • ivy

      I have been there the burg is just a trash pile.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  9. Chris

    You could make the same argument if Tebow would have gone 3 for 16 for 31.6 yards, but I doubt that the story would have as much meaning....

    January 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  10. InFormed99

    This is just plain stupid. The numbers mean nothing, just typical religious propaganda trying to recruit more ignorants and the uninformed.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • John

      Are you serious? Sports stats used to "recruit?" Really? You believe someone sat in a room and thought that they should fabricate numbers into a recruitment tool? Sounds like you have some hate and are trying to blame it on someone else.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • theDude

      Yeah, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Berkeley, Erasmus, Locke, Kierkegaard....these are real bozos. Whose really uninformed? You don't know who these people are, no doubt, but surely you can use Google.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  11. bobby

    Just cause he has great success as a rookie doesen't mean he has the sense God gave a goat.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      He's not a rookie.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  12. Tr1Xen

    Tebow and the Broncos are going down on Saturday. GO PATS!!!

    January 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • theDude

      way to be on topic.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  13. pockets

    And Ralph so loved his only son that he gave him his 56 Chevy........ the christians are such a load of B

    January 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  14. bharat

    Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass

    January 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  15. wolfpackbob

    "NCAA banned players from writing on their eye black, which some have called the "Tebow rule."".... That's because the NCAA couldn't make a buck on it.

    January 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  16. SeanNJ

    This article lacks any reference to Austin 3:16. Sad Panda's Thumb's Down.

    January 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  17. josephz2va

    AUSTIN 3:16

    January 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  18. Nobody

    "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-6 RSV)

    January 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • KJC

      The passage you quote is really pointing out that God sees the heart of a person, and if they are being pious to receive acclamations from other people, they have already received the "reward" they want. God always knows if our hearts are in the right place, and He judges by the heart, not by how we appear to be in front of others.

      That said, Jesus sent his disciples to surrounding towns to "preach the good news." This is different than being "religious" in public to bring glory to yourself. He told his disciples to be "fishers of men" and said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

      Only God knows if the people we hear about in these stories are sharing their beliefs for His glory or for their own, and only He will judge in the end.

      January 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • gwf

      "Praise the Lord in song for He has done excellent things, let this be known throughout the earth" (Is 12:5)
      "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom 10:14)
      "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation' " (Mk 16:15).
      "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt 5:16).

      Anyway, that's enough to get the point across. There are many more such verses for those who are believers in Jesus to be bold in sharing the truth. To say others should not share their beliefs is basically telling them what to believe, or not to believe. The verse you provided is definitely Biblical – but the intent of that verse is to teach people that the righteousness and holiness that they live should not be done for other people (not an outward thing to make you look good or "holy"), but rather it should come from the heart and be sincere, not seeking praise. However, that verse does not say believers in Jesus should be shy or quiet about what they believe. That might be what you were saying anyway with sharing it, I'm not sure.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Tony

      @gfw you just proved that the bible is full of inconsistencies....

      January 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • gwf

      @Tony – There was no inconsistency with what I said or the Bible's teaching on either of these – please re-read. I said that we're not to live for the praise of other men, and that we're to be bold and honest with what we believe.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  19. Lou

    Number 10 completed 23 out of 34 for 234 yards and rushed 4 times for 11 yards. McCarron must love Jesus too. #John316

    January 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Bob A. Boohi

    Pittsburg lost & that's the best part. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

    January 10, 2012 at 3:50 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
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.