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. AvdBerg

    This seems to develop into a story of a football player, who desires personal attention by genuflecting before a false god (false Christ), and in return is being worshipped like an idol, while the country is not only morally and financially bankrupt but more importantly spiritually bankrupt.

    When CNN asks the question: Explain it to me: John 3:16? it confirms their spiritual blindness and don’t know what spirit Tim Tebow is of (Luke 9:55).

    The above article by Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, is misleading in every sense. God has nothing to do with football as His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). This is one of the reasons Christ did not even pray for this world (John 17:9).

    The whole article is silly and his references to God, evangelical Christian, Christianity and born-again are a lie and falsehood and void of any spiritual understanding. In fact he cannot understand them as they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).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 is not a follower of God and he 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

    Tim Tebow’s talents are not God-blessed but are his natural talents that by nature he was born with through the sinful seed of his natural father (1 Peter 1:23). It has nothing to do with God. 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 is a sad reflection how sick it is and how the people love to worship their idols and heroes 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) and applies to all unbelievers.

    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).

    Like Tim Tebow, when you read the Bible:

    – 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 one 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 are not the one that has 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 spirit of the world but you are a friend thereof, which is enmity with God (James 4:4).

    All of the above Satan and the spirit of this world has accomplished through the doctrines of religion, his 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 articles ‘Can Christianity or any Other Religion Save You?’ and ‘Born of God’ 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 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Matt

      What a boring wind bag you are!

      January 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      I listed the wrong website, make sure to visit us at http://www.gaychristrian101.com.

      January 17, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Wow

      "The whole article is silly and his references to God, evangelical Christian, Christianity and born-again are a lie and falsehood and void of any spiritual understanding."

      Yo moron, you LIED again, pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  2. bdl

    Before you self righteous, bigoted Christians dismiss the possibility of other gods existing, maybe you should consider the fact that the possibility of one god existing is just as implausible as the possibility of any other god existing. But I wouldn't expect you to question anything that you have been taught. Obey your masters

    January 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Paula

      Wow! Your anger is quite palpable in all your posts. You seem genuinely filled with rage. The target you've chosen to vent your anger at is believers. I wonder why that is?

      January 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Paula

    I thought this was the "Belief" blog! Why are there so many, and I would say the majority of bloggers, atheists on here?

    January 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Danielle

      You do realize atheism is a belief too... "belief" does not refer only to those who believe there is a god.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  4. paladin66

    According to the NIV version, the word "begotten" has been expunged from the verse. So the true word of GOD can be changed, have words expunged, and reworded as needed. How convinient? All this is conjecture, and conjecture has no standing against real truth. Where is the true GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST (PBUH)?

    January 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Stephen Warsh

    Tebow has a kind, sweet spirit and is humble. As a Christian, I like listening to him as he givens interviews; not egoistic. Notice that he does not just give credit to Christ but also to his team members and coach. His faith will allow him to accept his loss and keep his hope of the future.

    HIs detractors would do well to consider the Christ who he believes in.

    January 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Matt

      Muhammad Ali used to gloat that he was the greatest of all time, and he is a black Muslim. So what's your point?

      January 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • bdl

      yeah his faith will allow him to accept his loss because like every other christian he subscribes to the copout "god works in mysterious ways" when he doesnt answer one of your prayers. You don't blame him but you are quick to thank him when something goes your way. America is a brainwashed society. religion is the cancer of society. Faith does not equal fact. educate yourselves before you form an opinion.

      January 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • turtlemom

      I think if he wasn't a Christian, he would still be able to "Accept his loss and keep his hope for the future", after all it is JUST football, and we all deal with disappointment and move on with our lives, everyday. Most of us with much bigger losses than a sports game. Come down to earth.

      January 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  6. bdl

    well said. but see god has his priorities in the minds of millions of american retards who think football has signifance in the large scheme of things. That is why we pay them so much because they are playing for the greater good see. You just don't get it man, football is what Jesus played as a child and therefore being americans, the nation blessed by god because america is great and all other countries are not, we feel obligated to carry on the holy tradition of pigskin tossed around in the mud. Also god bless america because jesus was born in bethleham and we slaughtered the native americans and stole their land because that is what Jesus wanted us to do because it is the american way and god bless the usa. land of hypocracy, home of the delusional.

    January 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  7. bdl

    Now I realize why foreigners hate Americans. Because it full of narrow minded fools. People thinking that religion has something to do with football is the dumbest thing ever. writing 3:16 under his eyes makes him the epitome of stupid.

    January 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Seer

    Let me explain the real significance behind John 3:16. It's a secret Vatican plot to hide the truth and take over the world. You see the name John represents the beloved disciple – aka Jesus' lover. If you multiply 3 x 16 you get 48. Well, there are 618 steps in the Papal Palace. So add 48 + 618 and you On December 10, 1948—63 years ago today—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted; 48 nations voted in favor, 8 abstained, and none dissented. The Declaration proclaimed a simple idea: that all human beings are born equal and free in dignity and rights. The Declaration also made it clear that rights are not conferred by governments. They are the birthright of every human being regardless of where they were born, what the color of their skin is, or what religion they practice. These rights include the right to freedom of expression and opinion, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Declaration. . . . Continue Reading »

    January 15, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • GAW

      Walmart does sell tin foil hats. Just letting you know.

      January 15, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • turtlemom

      Im sorry, Im still pondering why "618 steps in the papal palace" has anything to with .... well, anything.

      January 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  9. Derek

    The question is: Who does that magical fairy in the sky want to win the Superbowl?

    January 15, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  10. albert

    God must like Brady more than Tebow. Brady walked all over Tebow Final score 45 to 10! It's funny, when The Broncos win it's because Tebow is a Christian. So according to all of you make pretend Christians logic. When Broncos lose it's because they have somehow lost favor with God. You make pretend Christians crack me up!

    January 15, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Zornfelcher

      Someone on the Broncos must be an atheist. THATS why they lost.

      January 15, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  11. CSX

    CNN explaining 3 16 is like a cow explaining an iPOD.

    January 15, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Beth

      "Okay, Stupid People, here's how it works: John 3:16 has it's roots in the bible, but let's not get into that too much. It spent some time on a t-shirt, and what's I'd really like to stress for over half of this article is that at one point has been used by a mentally unstable man. So, remember: John 3:16=Some crazy guy." Great recap Marrapodi, really balanced, informative article.

      January 15, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  12. achepotle

    My Christian Youth platoon will be meeting later on today to discuss why
    Jesus hates Tebow. Some say it is because he wears mixed fibers and ate
    shellfish..I suspect they are wrong...I believe he wore lipstick and
    danced. I will report back after we ask God just wft happened.

    January 15, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Zornfelcher

      Jesus is a Fighting Irish fan. Period.

      January 15, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  13. askduane

    Football is played on Sunday's, it's one of America most popular religions (gladiator sports). Not one person will get saved by the painting on the eyes quoting scripture in the devils main room, the stadium. True Christianity is (John 17:3) This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.
    And learn to be separate from this world system of things.

    January 15, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Zornfelcher

      You citing that verse from John 17 as the heart if the Christian message is proof that you are not a true believer, not a real Christian! Everyone knows that the most important verse in all of scripture is Luke 14:7.

      January 15, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Jack spratz

      What a joke! old jesus plays football and lets tebow win. What about when he loses? old jesus is mad; npln.

      January 15, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • GAW

      You talk like a Jehovah's Witness.

      January 15, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  14. Zornfelcher

    Exhibit A: They taunted Jesus at the foot of the cross, "If you are the son of God, come down off that cross," and he didn't!

    Exhibit B: Tebow and the Bronco's lose.

    What more proof do you need?

    January 15, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • askduane

      Jesus doesn't answer to haters of the Good News. He had an assignment to fulfill and he completed the assignment from Jehovah our Father. Jesus saved his self by staying on the torture stake for all mankind.

      January 15, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • Zornfelcher

      "Jesus saved himself"??? That's the first time I've heard that. What did he need saving from? Did he believe in himself as his personal lord and savior? Did he say the Sinner's Prayer?

      January 15, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  15. Rationalist

    Tebow is having a new one torn for him tonight. 3rd quarter just started and they're being trounced 7-42!!! This is beyond embarrassing. How does Tebow explain this? How do Jesus freaks explain this? Is Brady praying to a more powerful god? Or is Tebow's god just more fond of Brady and giving Tebow the shaft? Or could it be that god is just an invention of tiny, feeble, fearful minds?

    January 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  16. John the Boy

    I've been saying this for years. The more Jupiter strays from its orbit and the more the oligarchical muslim underground continues to subliminally influence our purchasing habits things like this are going to keep happening. The answers are out there you just have to read between the lines, use numerology as your key, and refrain from listening to the radio in your shower!

    January 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • askduane

      The key to understanding is an accurate discerning of the Bible. Learning who Babylon the Great really is.

      January 15, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  17. albert

    This article is a complete mockery of God. You should be ashamed. You do realize that Football is considered a violent sport right? You make pretend Christians will be dealt with in due time.

    January 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • askduane


      January 15, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  18. Joe Ogorek

    Millions of refugees around the world, starvation, brutal regimes and people subject to all kinds of murderous injustice in the world (not to mention kids in cancer wards) but Hashem responds to the felicitations of a multi millionaire traveling acrobat with dirt under his eyes and sportswear contracts. Jesus Chrlst!

    January 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Credenza

      I hate to rain on your parade , Joe but I remember recently the dreadful refugee problem in Africa which was brought on by murderous army thugs during a famine.
      I also remember American comments on the CNN forum 90% saying they refused to help – it was the Africans own fault for having children!!!!!!

      The only people who cared enough were the ones who remeber the teachings of Jesus when he said we must help the poor, sick, widows, orphans and prisoners. He gave us God's commandment.
      If you're looking for blme – look at yourself and your fellow Americans. What are YOU doing? Not a lot as far as I can see BUT you resent it when others do?????? Strange!

      January 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • askduane

      Jehovah God has given mankind this much time to prove they can't run the earth on there own. Mankind is ruining the earth and mankind. The Bible gives a time window when Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords will step in with his heavenly army and take over on earth before mankind destroys mankind on his own. The problems and suffering we see and have seen are a result of man playing God to man to his own shame. The Bible says it's not up to man to direct his own steps but be guided by every word out of the mouth of Jehovah God.

      January 15, 2012 at 7:09 am |
    • Bizarre


      The Bible says to cure leprosy: kill a bird, then dip a live bird in its blood and let it fly around. Oh, and some magic oil on the sufferer's left big toe is a sure cure too... Praise Jehovah.

      "Jehovah" is imaginary.

      January 15, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • bdl

      well said. but see god has his priorities in the minds of millions of american retards who think football has signifance in the large scheme of things. That is why we pay them so much because they are playing for the greater good see. You just don't get it man, football is what Jesus played as a child and therefore being americans, the nation blessed by god because america is great and all other countries are not, we feel obligated to carry on the holy tradition of pigskin tossed around in the mud. Also god bless america because jesus was born in bethleham and we slaughtered the native americans and stole their land because that is what Jesus wanted us to do because it is the american way and god bless the usa. land of hypocracy, home of the delusional.

      January 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  19. jay

    Good luck to Tebow and Broncos vs Pats.

    January 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Credenza

      YAY !!!!!!!!! God Bless'em!

      January 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  20. CRC

    The Stewart story above is used by the devil in this article to help eliminate John 3:16 from public view; don't be sucked in by his strategy. The world is full of criminals some "religious" and some not; God judges the heart and knows who His true followers are. If you are playing "religion" it will eventually catch up to you. Jesus came to bring life to all who will, if you will not, that's your problem.

    January 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • GAW

      There's nothing wrong in showing everyone how NOT to 'play the game' once in a while.

      January 15, 2012 at 10:51 am |
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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.