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. Doug

    For some clarity – you must accept it all – not just your favorite part.

    I displayed the entire Bible – every page and every word – for stimulating conversation.

    Check it out on YouTube and search: Doug and the Bible Project


    January 12, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  2. sockpuppet

    I am not putting that all on you hellbent, but just speaking generally about my frustration

    January 12, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • sockpuppet

      eh wrong place sorry

      January 12, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  3. back2basics

    Perhaps, the universe of physical matter that we exist in is actually of a unique dimension. The original and final dimension is one we can't enter or even comprehend while in the dimension of physical matter. From a scientific aspect, this would explain some things that have no explanation. Perhaps there has always been some type of link to this other dimension, but has been discounted because it could be classified as religion. Change the definition if you must, to better understand how you got here and where you'll finally wind up. It may be more important than you know.

    January 12, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • sockpuppet

      yes exactly I think there is a much more scientific explanation to God than atheists will allow, that it isn't all "imaginary" but rather exists in a very real, multi-dimensional way.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • HellBent

      If god exist in some other dimension, who created the dimensions?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Chad

      Sockpuppet, that's not actually remotely scientific, it's made-up. Science requires empiricism, peer review, predictability. What you suggest may be true (though I don't think it is), but it's definitely not scientific.

      January 12, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  4. AlternateView

    Drunk 24:7

    January 12, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  5. Jackson

    Y'all can say what you want about God/Religion/Jesus, etc...but I will tell you that my decision to follow Jesus Christ and accept him as my Lord and Savior is the single greatest decision I have ever made. It changed me for the better in so many ways! I now have compassion for people that I would have not given the time of day before. I love people! I live absolutely worry free and I'm loving it! I now love life! A life that before I accepted Christ was going nowhere. I had no hope, no future, and couldn't care less about anyone around me. Jesus Christ saved my life and I will forever worship him as Lord and Savior. Hope that some of you will come to find this peace and fullness that only He can provide! God Bless!

    January 12, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Chad

      Good for you, I guess, but that doesn't make your god any less imaginary. All human-created gods are equally make-believe.


      January 12, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • sockpuppet

      Chad you cannot prove that God is imaginary anymore than he can prove that God is real. Science has yet to DISPROVE God–I am not saying that is enough to PROVE God, only saying that you can't make your statement with any more factual basis than he can.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • HellBent

      One cannot disprove a god. However, current research has shown how man-made religion is evolutionarily necessary for primitive societies to form. That combined with a rigorous study of the text definitely provides evidence to the theory that at least the christian god is completely imaginary. Contrast that knowledge with the evidence supporting the existence of even ANY deity and you'll easily arrive at the conclusion that the christian god is man made.

      If the claim had been that Zeus was imaginary, would your reaction have been the same?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • miscreantsall

      Fantastic…………now just keep it to yourself and don't shove it in someone's face.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • sockpuppet

      exactly how is at least a Christian God disproven? That is all still conjecture. That is analysis and theory, it still isn't fact.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • sockpuppet

      misc how did he "shove it" in your face? He simply stated his own experience and very nicely, I might add. He didn't say, now do what I say or go to hell, did he? He has the right to free speech as you do, and there was nothing he said that was pushing it on you

      January 12, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • HellBent

      Where did I say disprove? Science hasn't disproven Zeus either. But no rational person believes in Zeus in modern times. It's only a matter of time before christianity reaches the same point.

      "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" -T. Jefferson

      January 12, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • fred

      God is very real and Jesus was the full representation of the Glory of God. The atheist cannot see or know God because they generally are materialists and only that which fits the material world makes sense. You are proff that we serve a living God that is with us. HellBent can also experience the wonder of God by simply seeking with an open mind. Sockpuppet I don't know you yet but I will also say a prayer for you. It is so sad to know what non believers are missing which is why I come out on occassion in the hopes to share what Jesus has given me.
      God bless you Jackson!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • HellBent


      Why do you as.sume that I haven't? Like nearly every atheist I know, I was an ardent believer once until I stepped back and independently examined my faith.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • fred

      How can that happen. When I suddenly saw what was in the Bible that I could not see there before I was blown away. I may have fallen away when non believers put pressure on me and made me feel a fool but, I kept going back to the day God saved my life, the days he then saved others that I shared the Gospel with. Some days that is all I have to hang onto but then my faith begins to build up again. I must admitt I need to always be praying and reading the Bible (15- 30 minutes a day) or I start to slip.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • fred

      Bonehead assumption on my part. That is very bothersome if more than just a few atheists were once solid believers. I have met with a few agnostics that were Catholic and after being burned and then not seeing prayer answered giving up. I am not aware of anyone that had a conversion experience such as mine going back to where they were.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • sockpuppet

      Well, every atheist I knew grew up in an oppressive religious household. We can all make generalizations. Listen, what I would really truly love to see, is first, for the extremist squeaky wheel Christians to learn about the love of Christ and to stop being so legalistic, and secondly, for atheists to learn not to return bigotry with bigotry. I am sick and tired of Christians embarrassing and co-opting my beliefs and twisting them until the world thinks we all think and behave the way they do. I am also sick and tired of being labeled as uneducated, brain malfunctioning, stupid, delusional, brainwashed, hateful, bigoted, etc. Is it not possible that an adult person of sound mind and even reasonable IQ could thoughtfully choose a spiritual path? Is it not possible that Christians don't all fit into your little box?

      January 12, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • sockpuppet

      I am not putting that all on you hellbent but speaking generally of my frustration....

      January 12, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • HellBent

      no worries – I can be plenty caustic, so some of it's deserved, but most of my friends, family, and coworkers are believers and they're all mostly decent, hardworking, smart people.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • sockpuppet

      I appreciate the acknowledgment of the existence of such Christians LOL thanks Actually it is disturbing to me the hostility and animosity that goes back and forth between both groups, not just allowing each other to make our own choices about what we believe or don't believe. I don't want to force my views on anyone any more than I want my atheist cousin to keep harassing me about how all religious people need to be wiped from the earth. Atheism is becoming as fanatical as any religion I've seen

      January 12, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • HellBent

      I think the interwebs just bring out the best in all of us 😉

      January 12, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • rick

      Jackson: I feel the same about people and I am an atheist.

      January 12, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  6. Reality

    And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

    "Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. "

    Then there is this:

    With respect to John's Gospel and John' epistles, from Professor/Father Raymond Brown in his book, An Introduction to the New Testament, (The book has both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur from the Catholic Church),

    John's Gospel, Date- 80-110 CE, Traditional Attribution, (2nd Century), St. John, one of the Twelve,

    Author Detectable from the Contents, One who regards himself in the tradition of the disciple.

    First Epistle of John, Authenticity- Certainly by a writer in the Johannine tradition, probably NOT by the one responsible for most of the Gospel.

    From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book, Rabbi Jesus,
    "Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in works of late date. John's Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a source......

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

    "Since "the higher criticism" of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4] "[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,"[5] and date it to 90-100."

    "The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle."

    January 12, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  7. mickey1313

    if jesus is the son of god, and god is real. If he is watching football and helping a talentless team like the denver donkys win, then he is no god i would worship. Any christians that do not see that this is at best blastphomy, at worst a hell worthy sin. I find it funny that the faithfull are so mad that people disaprove of the tebow crap. 60% of americans are not thiestic, when will the know nothing christians realize they are the minority.

    January 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • jenny

      Where do you get that 60% of Americans are not theistic, when every national poll - including Gallup, Fox News, CNN, USA Today, Pew Research Association, National Opinion Research Center - all say at least 80% believe in God.

      Just wondering, because it bothers me when people spout untrue statistics with such anger and supposed authority

      January 12, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Jenny..there is most likely a difference in the number of folks who claim to believe than actually do. Most folks have been told from childhood that god is real, and being children they tended to believe it.Thats why it is important to indoctrinate children and why emphasis is put on it in the religious community..How ever when examined there is no substance to the stories, but the fear of being ostracized is not worth it neither is upsetting those who do believe. So for some it is easier to conform than claim being atheist or agnostic.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • sockpuppet

      Evolved that is an argument made by atheists everywhere, and yet every church I have ever attended is just as much populated by later converts as it is by those who grew up with religion. For instance, I had one atheist, one Christian parent. My husband was raised by two atheists. Yet he became a Christian as an adult. The idea that Christians were all just brainwashed from childhood is absurd.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  8. JesusWins

    Yea, I don't think the stat sheet really connects with the Bible, but I do like the message Tebow is sending out to the world. I appreciate how he doesn't back down from spreading God's Word. I pray many souls will come to know the Lord through Tim Tebow's ministry. God bless him.

    January 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Chad

      What I guess I don't understand is why believing in something that doesn't exist - why having faith in a wholly imaginary being - is held up as a good thing, like some wonderful goal to which we should all aspire. It's deranged. The god of the bible is completely evil. Why do Christians overlook all the horrible things the bible says god has done? (Such as mass murder on a global scale, demanding animal and human sacrifice, killing children, urging his people to murder and destroy, endorsing and advocating slavery, marginalizing women to the point of abject misogyny, the list goes on and on...)

      Why would any sane human being want to worship such a god? And why do we, as a society, lionize those who publicly say they do? It's just completely bizarre... literally defies ALL logic.

      January 12, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • rick

      chad: i don't know that faith is bad in and of itself. what i think is toxic is when the faith is top down, meaning that someone else tells you what god is or isn't.

      January 12, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  9. Ed Zachary

    Ed 8:69

    January 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  10. ReligionIs4Dolts

    For god so loved the world that he created evil just to see if we humans would give into it....and then fry us all in h&|| after we inevitably fail the test since he's such a sadist and torturing souls was all he really wanted to do anyway!

    January 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • mickey1313

      exactly the god of the bible is not a being that deserves human worship. it is a monster.

      January 11, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  11. ReligionIs4Dolts

    I especially like the parts of the bible that tell us god created evil!

    (Isaiah 45:7, KJV) – "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, AND CREATE EVIL: I the LORD do all these things."

    (Amos 3:6) – "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be EVIL in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?"

    January 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  12. Linda

    But it wasn't John 3:16. It was 316 yards in ten plays. It is what it is–a football statistic. And like any statistic there's a margin of error since the measurement is made by human beings. It's scary that people see a "miracle" in a football game anyway.

    January 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Jimmy

      I wonder what they would have made of him making 66 yards in 6 plays?

      January 11, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  13. ReligionIs4Dolts

    God is so loving that he told the Jewish people in 1 Samuel 15:3:
    Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Now if "god" was so powerful and all, why did he need the Jewish people to do "his" dirty work?

    January 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  14. Don'tBelieveTheLiesOfReligion

    Religions are all fake – purely man-made for human purposes. Occasionally, they're based on an actual person that lived long ago and whom, if he lived today, would be regarded as insane and his ramblings discounted. We have much better explanations for reality now than in the pre-scientific age. Unfortunately, many still yearn for their sky-daddies and require emotional lollipops to sooth their existential fears. Such people are often dangerous and try to kill those that would challenge their fantasies. Again; purely human behavior.

    January 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Chad

      100% agree. All gods are imaginary.


      January 12, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • miscreantsall

      So true……..Religion was created by man to CONTROL others. Religion is about POWER and INFLUENCE! Religion has NOTHING to do with spirituality, NOTHING at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      January 12, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  15. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Gotta hand it to Jeebus though. At least he was trying to spread peace and love like a good little hippie.

    January 11, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Relictus

      I wish that they had known about marijuana, though. Can you imagine how nice the world would be if the Jeebus freaks were all mellowed out?

      January 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • mickey1313

      um, no he did not. Read the bible, he says IF you worship me (Jesus) then you will have love and peace. If you do not worship him, everlasting torment, not a being worthy of respect or worship.

      January 11, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Read the bible, he says IF you worship me (Jesus) then you will have love and peace. If you do not worship him, everlasting torment, not a being worthy of respect or worship."

      Sorry, men wrote those words, not jesus

      January 12, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  16. GhostColin

    worship your sky fairy all you want. just keep it out of government and the rule of law. thanks.

    January 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  17. MANDY

    NOTHING BUT TROLLS ON HERE......there can't be any kind of meaningful discussion. Moderators are badly needed....why is cnn allowing this? Every comment section I go to seems to be nothing but teenage trolls, many of
    them using the "N" word. This is the religion section....if you don't like religion don't come here. These trolls have nothing
    meaningful to say. Don't feed the trolls. Join me in boycotting CNN until they do something about this.

    January 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • sqeptiq


      January 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • K9zgirl

      @Mandy...agree. However, really is best to just skim over what you don't like!

      January 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Brent Slensker

      As a "Troll" I feel it is my Duty to remind religious people that the internet is NO safe haven, it is the instrument of the coming demise of religion...You will have to understand that your views if silly enough, will be shouted down, that Atheists have read the bible just as much or more than you have and REJECTED it at face value!

      January 11, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • mickey1313

      this is a cnn blog, not a christian blog. If you cannot take the opsite of your openion being put out for all to see, then DO NOT USE THE INTERNET.

      January 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • rick

      Mandy, it's a BELIEF section, not a RELIGION section.

      January 12, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  18. mandy


    January 11, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Get Over It

      Mandy - *You* are the moderator. Don't like a post... don't read it and don't respond. Grow up.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  19. ReligionIs4Dolts

    How arrogant for Jews to have called themselves "god's chosen people"! Gee, any tribe who came up with their own deity(ies) could have claimed they were their god(s)' chosen people too, but did they? No. I mean, how hard is it for an isolated group of people to say, "We are chosen by the 'god' that we alone made up and that we alone believe in"? DUH! And then to see how this has snowballed into the Big Three religions which have been and still are a catalyst for so much VIOLENCE throughout the world! PUKE!

    January 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  20. Tanya777

    U satan worshippers are pathetic. The devil has you all blinded. If you really took some time out of your devious lives to read the bible u may gain some of the knowledge you so greatly lack. GOd is love something you may never know unless you take time. God is real !!! I pray for your lost polluted souls!!!! I rebuke the devil that dwellls inside you ask GOD YHWH to reveal His face to all the non-believers. I pray for your souls in the name of YESHUA YHWH AMEN!!

    January 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      god is love? Like when Yahweh told the Jewish people in Numbers 31:17-18:
      Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • sybaris

      Years of studying the Bible and applying critical thinking is precisely why we no longer think like you dear Tanya.

      If you were born and raised in Thailand what religion would you most likely be practicing?

      Think about it. Your faith is as random as that.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Jimmy

      God is real !!!

      Do you have any evidence to support this belief?

      January 11, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • mickey1313

      the only people who think that the christian/jew/muslem god is good and loving have eather (A) not read the bible (B) are to stupid to understand what the bible is saying. It is a book filled with hate filth and terror. No good comes from thiesm.

      January 11, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • rick

      tanya: does your handheld jesus statue come with batteries, or do you have to buy them separately?

      January 12, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • claybigsby

      ". If you really took some time out of your devious lives to read the bible u may gain some of the knowledge you so greatly lack"

      Stories written by 30+ men over 1500+ years when many of the writers never saw anything they wrote about (especially the story of jesus) is hardly knowledge

      January 12, 2012 at 8:54 am |
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.