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. Neerav

    You know, as an outsider to Christianity (yes, I do believe in God, by the way), I don't see anything wrong with what Tebow is doing in terms of praying to God. However, I can see the flip side here and say that one's relationship with God should be kept between that person and God – bragging or boasting about one's faith or beliefs causes conflict and also causes one to become more distant from God. If Tebow can do his "Tebowing" in private" (such as in the locker room) or in a more muted fashion (without affecting the amount of thanks that he gives to God), then the issue here with regards to the expression of his faith in God by thanking Him would be adequetly resolved. I do hope that this is a sufficient compromise between being thankful to God and doing so without causing a controversey that he is somehow trying to be boastful about his belief/faith in God.

    As for God and football – God has a lot more important things to do than to care about the outcome of a sports/athletic event in one part of the world – and that is one of possibly countless worlds that God has created and governs. In fact, God does not take any positions or plays favorites whatsoever on ANY issue or anything else for that matter. Therefore, if you pray to God for any material thing such as money, a job, a cool car or even winning a sports/athletic event, instead of just praying to Him to get to know Him better (regardless of what religion you subscribe to), that is less than ideal – that is what my dad told me this morning, and what the Bible in Christianity says. I don't know the exact passage in the Christian Bible, but it exists.

    God is infinite and cares about all peoples equally – to think that he favors one person because he or she has a strong faith and therefore, a deeper connection to God is incorrect. The reason for Tebow's (and the Denver Bronco's) recent sucesses could mean other factors, but Tebow's deep faith in God is not that reason – as I said before, God does not play favorites or takes positions/sides, but is more global/universal.

    I hope I have addressed this subject enough for all of you. Enjoy the game.

    January 14, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Bill K

      I will enjoy the game.

      PATS 31:6 (FINAL SCORE)

      January 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Neerav

      @BillK: If that happens, I owe you a giant chocolate milkshake.......I am a bit of a chocaholic, but with my cough, I can't have chocolate. Oh well. Can't wait for tonight!

      January 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  2. checkyofacts

    My comment won't post. I think it's cuz I had the word "herpes" in it. Let's see.

    January 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • checkyofacts

      It wasn't the word "herpes". I think CNN just doesn't like me.

      January 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  3. Really-O?

    @Brian Zwart

    "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish." – Proverbs 31:6 NIV

    Seriously Brian...what's wrong with that one?

    January 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  4. Brian Zwart

    If I hear another quote from scripture I'm going to toss my cookies.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • gman

      the bible is for exorcism's. you might want to see a priest.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  5. Brian Zwart

    Hey Avdberg... got to admire men who speak for themselves.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  6. Sam 26:26

    My buddy Sam rose from his seat at Dodger Stadium with a beer in one hand and a Dodger dog in the other and said, "Take this and eat it, for this is my wiener." He was drunk. I thought we might die.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • gman

      then make sure your life insurance is paid up with " JESUS CHRIST MUTUAL LIFE "

      January 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Sam 26:26

      gman: You misunderstand – I wasn't afraid of Jesus, I was afraid of the crowd at Dodger Stadium...much more scary.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • gman

      i understand , i just like throwing the life insurance thing out there for other people. i heard an evangelist once
      preaching on joking about mutual of omaha. he said i've got the ultimate life insurance policy.

      JESUS CHRIST MUTAL LIFE. let all see who wish to, and all hear who wish to.

      thanks dude , and you lived to tell about it. Ha, Ha, Ha, good thing.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Sam 26:26

      Cheers gman! Enjoy your weekend.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • gman

      you too bro !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! enjoy the games.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  7. Jim

    This is such a red herring attack on the John 3:16 verse, I can't even imagine how this reporter sleeps at night. Attack a verse that hundreds of millions use as a symbol of their face based on one guy using it in a hostage situation. Great man. Real great.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  8. Barnez


    January 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • AvdBerg


      Unless you repent you have been judged (condemned) already as you follow after an image of a false god and false Christ (Matthew 24:24). Please study what it means as it is not what by nature you have been made to believe.

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Brian Zwart

      What does this Christ know about football anyway?

      January 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      Brain Zwart

      Christ does not concern himself with this world. He did not pray for this world (John 17:9) and His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  9. Barnez


    January 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  10. Brian Zwart

    Let this be a prophecy.... the Patriots will make mince-meat out of Tebow and the Bronco's tomorrow.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  11. AvdBerg

    The above article by Eric Marrapodi is silly as God does not involve Himself in football. It is a lie and a fabrication of the truth and the article is void of any spiritual truth.

    Before you read our posting, it should be understood that he that is spiritual judgeth (discerneth) all things, yet he himself is judged of no man (1 Cor. 2:15).

    Tim Tebow does not know what he worships as he worships after an image of a false God. He does not understand the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14) but rather follows after a false Christ and the spirit of this world in which there is no salvation (Matthew 24:24).

    The words John 3:16 he has painted on his face, he has stolen from the Bible (John 10:1-15) and unable to understand. He was born in sin and in his natural state is separated from God and unless he repents and turns from darkness to light and from the power of Satan (whose spirit he is of) unto God (Acts 26:18), he will remain spiritually blind. God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth (John 9:31). For a better understanding who Tim Tebow worships and what it means to be a sinner, we invite you to read the articles ‘Repent’, ‘What is Sin’ and ‘Victory over Sin’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All the hype involving Tim Tebow is indicative of the state of the country and confirms the words spoken in John 3:19 how mankind prefers darkness (Satan) over light (God), and also confirm the words spoken in Revelation 12:9 how this whole world has been deceived. Tim Tebow represents everything that is wrong with the United States of America and how sick it is by worshipping idols in the sports and entertainment industry that are unable to provide salvation.

    It is sad but true but Sports and Entertainment is a stronghold of Satan’s divided kingdom (Matthew 10:26-28; 2 Cor. 10:4) and any reference to Jesus Christ is falsehood. Tim Tebow’s prayers are all in vain as he follows after the teachings and the doctrines of men and the principalities and powers of this world (Matthew 15:9; Eph. 6:12). Any sports figure that claims himself/herself be a Christian is a deception as they follow after a false Christ and the god of this world. Their faith does not stand in Jesus Christ but rather they do service unto them which by nature are no gods (Gal. 4:8). As a result of their spiritual blindness they do not know that they are all of the same spirit as they prefer darkness over light (John 3:19).

    We will explain how the spirit of this world (Satan) has transformed himself into an angle of light and has Tim Tebow believe that he is a “so-called” Christian (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

    The Bible was written for the believers and they are the only ones that are able to understand it as it is spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

    When you read the Bible, including Tim Tebow, you are not:

    – The believer but the unbeliever (Romans 16:17; 2 Cor. 6:14).
    – You are not the light but darkness (John 3:19; Acts 26:18).
    – You are not the righteous but the unrighteous or self-righteous (Romans 10:3).
    – You are not born again but born of the corruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23).
    – You have not overcome the spirit of this world but are in bondage thereof (1 John 5:4).
    – You are not a child of God but a child of the devil (Acts 13:10).
    – You do not have the mind of Christ but a carnal mind, which is enmity with God (Romans 8:7).
    – You have not overcome the world but are a friend thereof, which is enmity with God (James 4:4).

    All of the above is accomplished through Religion, Satan’s number one stronghold (Matthew 10:26-28; 2 Cor. 10:4).

    Please study all of the scriptural references on our website as it is not us that speak but the Spirit of our Father.

    For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world (1 John 5:4).

    For a better understanding what it means to be a Christian we invite you to read the article ‘Can Christianity or any Other Religion Save You?’ listed on our website.

    Also, to give people a better understanding of the destructive forces (Eph. 6:12) behind the media, US Politics and the issues that divide this world, we invite you to read the article ‘CNN Belief Blog ~ Sign of the Times’.

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed by the Word of God in Revelation 12:9. The Bible is true in all things and is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12). The truth is that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). This is why we call all of mankind to repentance.

    Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7).


    January 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • ......

      Report abuse on all AvdBerg linkspam. It takes a while, but CNN admin will get rid of his posts if enough reports happen.

      January 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • AvdBerg


      John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

      The problem is that by nature you will not be able to understand it (1 Cor. 2:14). For this reason our message remains the same: Ye must repent and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan (whose spirit you are of) unto God (Acts 26:18). Without the Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1:4) you will remain spiritually blind and separated from God, this includes atheists, members of the gay and religious community.

      The Gospel we preach is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11,12).

      For a better understanding what mankind must do to be reunited with God, what it means to repent and to be a sinner, we invite you to read the articles ‘Repent’, 'What is Sin?' and 'Victory over Sin' listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • gman

      there is one problem with your interpretation of scripture, 1st John 4: says

      1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
      because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the
      Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3
      but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist,
      which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

      SALVATION IS THAT SIMPLE : If Tebow accepts this teaching and confesses it then the bible says in no
      uncertain terms that he is saved. Yes the world chases after the flesh but he is just a man who works hard
      where god has placed him & blessed him and uses him to glorify the work christ did on the cross. It's not of
      ourselves but the gift of god that we are saved. Jesus said : Go out into all the world and preach the Gospel.

      on the internet , on tv, in the sports arena, whereever you are. we are not bound by works as christians to
      change the world according to our own will, but to be a vessel for Jesus when we allow him to use us.
      He doesn't have to express his faith but he chooses to. Christ also said beware of the leven of the pharisees.
      That's when we become judgmental of others in their simplicity expressing their faith.

      January 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • AvdBerg


      No prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). In fact unless you repent you will not be able to understand it (1 Cor. 2:14). Please study what it means to repent as it means a lot more than what by nature you have been made to believe (Acts 26:18).

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • gman

      you haven't addressed the simplicity of what 1st John 4 says or John 3:16 and it sounds like Satan speaking
      through Peter when jesus turned asside and said " Get thee behind me Satan , for the things of God are not the
      things of man " ,

      how do you justify your stance when as 1 st John 4 says , Tebow confesses Jesus as the resurected christ ?

      Satan loves to put works on people , how about the scripture of the 2 thieves on the cross , it was as simple
      as one thief saying while hanging on the cross , Jesus remember me when you enter you kingdom. We all
      Know Jesus said " Surely you will be with me today in paradise " . What works did he perform or repent from.
      he had no time and simply asked christ to remember him..

      January 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • AvdBerg


      Hope you are able to read English! We will tell you for the last time. Jim Tebow does not confess Jesus as the resurected Christ and that He came in the flesh. Those are words you and Jim Tebow have stolen from the Bible (John 10:1-15) which you in your natural stated are unable to understand.

      Unless you repent and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan (whose spirit you are of) unto God (Acts 26:18) you and Tim Tebow will remain spiritually blind and separated from God. Without the Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1:4) you and Tim Tebow will continue to be in bondage to the religious doctrines that are after the wisdom of man and not after God (1 Cor. 2:4,5) and that cannot bring salvation.

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 14, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • AvdBerg


      Concerning the thief that was crucified with Christ. God searcheth the heart of a man. The thief feared God (Luke 23:40) and to fear God is only the beginning of knowledge, while fools like yourself and Tim Tebow despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). The malefactor had seen the Kingdom of God (Luke 23:42) and Christ judged him by his spirit.

      You and Tim Tebow do not know what spirit you are of (Luke 9:55). You are spiritually blind and your hearts are far removed from God. For this reason our message remains the same: Ye must repent and turn from darknesss to light and from the power of Satan (whose spirit you are of) unto God (Acts 26:18).

      Seek, and ye will find (Matthew 7:7).


      January 14, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • gman

      as i said JESUS rebuked peter for not wanting him to go to the cross .

      MATTHEW 16:23 , Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;
      you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

      Satan can confuse people and it does take discernment to correctly interpret scripture.

      ONCE AGAIN even as any other christian go through doubt and trials like thomas who had to feel the wounds
      in christ side before he believed it was the resurected christ,




      no man can confess christ as the risen lord except through the holy spirit. also anyone who changes the grace
      of god perverts the scripture as it says.

      GALATIONS 1-5 :

      1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as
      2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by
      believing what you heard?
      3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
      4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?
      5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or

      because you believe what you heard?

      there you have it. preaching works or salvation by obeying every commandment is from satan.
      if you fail in one of these daily you have failed in them all. and if you proess to be
      saved by keeping the commandments you are in danger of hell.

      January 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Michelle

    Despite John Hinckley, Jrs. story, movie buffs continue to watch Jodie Foster movies – including Taxi Driver.
    Come on, Mr. Marracodi, really what an ignorant closing line. John 3:16 is a verse that does mean a lot to a Christian and when we seek to teach other of God's love it is a great verse to use and to explain salvation. It is a simple and powerful promise. Because a mentally sick person chose to use it does not change it in any way.
    Christians are also taught to do everything for the glory of God. We are taught to be "fishers of men".
    I see young children showing their christianity all the time – crosses on helmets and other sports gear. And Tim Tebow is showing who he is and what he believes in as well which he has every right to do and it is what the Lord has asked us Christians to do.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  13. Whne he loses

    They will forget his name and all of his grandstanding!

    January 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  14. John the Baptist

    Out of all the things God should be doing, he is watching Tebag play football

    January 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Chloe

    It should be noted that if Tebow was say Muslim, he would not receive so much press for publicizing his faith.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • gman

      not true cloe, it might be before your time but when Lew Alcindor ( now know as Kareem Abdul Jabbar ) changed his
      name & also Cascius Clay to Muhamad Ali , the world took great notice at that time. It just so happens that a lot of
      christians follow football and it strikes a chord with them. You go back and research what it meant to Muslims world
      wide when the 2 atheletes i mentioned changed their name and you will see world wide acllaim back in that day.
      more so by far than Tebow gets in the world today.

      January 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  16. Kingfisher

    I don't think God cares who wins, I think he was just tailgating.

    "The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering, a pleasing aroma. All the fat is the LORD’s." ~ Leviticus 3:16

    January 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  17. atomD21

    I was wondering just the other day what happened to the guy that wore the rainbow wigs at games.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • fred

      In Jail, he lost it and kidnaped some people.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  18. Da King

    God is showing Christians Signs and Wonders through Tebow, by confirming his Word. How cool ! Thank you God! This is a special time. Though the world is falling apart, God is speaking to those who know Him. That is a very small percentage of the world population, but growing.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Amused

      If God actually existed, why in the world would he care about the useless, meaningless and pointless outcome of a silly game? Getting all worked up about a silly little game is totally contrary to everything that Jesus supposedly preached about! Can you not see how utterly ridiculous it is to try to involve religion in a sporting event?????

      January 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • gman

      @ amused , a very intelligent man & evangelist once said this along with George Burns !

      i'm sure god smokes a fine cigar & like a good horse race. gene scott ( god bless his soul )

      question asked to william Shatner on boston legal , what would you do if you had one day with god ?

      William Shatner : " I would take him fishing " until you believe you will never go where no man has
      gone before !

      January 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Da King

      AMUSED, the story it's not about the game it's about God using Tebow to spread the Gospel John 3:16 and God using signs to confirm his word, Mark 16:20. Strange as it may seem some will be saved through this.

      January 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  19. Boomer in Mo

    With all the horrible things going on in this world, why would God care about a football game?

    January 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Da King

      God is lifting up this disciple by confirming the Word with signs and wonders for spreading the Word of God. Mark 16:20
      Praise God. The Tebow numbers are a sign from God.

      January 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  20. ugh

    I love that cautionary tale bout "The Rainbow Man". Learn from it, kids. Religion will mess you up.

    January 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Da King

      Jesus is opposed to religion because it is of man. Gods will for you is in the Bible

      January 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jimmy

      Da King
      All we know of Jesus comes from the New Testament, which is a man-made religious text. Besides, if you think of him as a god then you cannot escape the religion label. Sorry!

      January 14, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Da King

      Jimmy you can believe what you are saying if you want to. I'll believe God.

      January 14, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Bizarre

      Da King: "Gods will for you is in the Bible"

      Your evidence for this is...?

      January 14, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • Da King


      January 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
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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.