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. noel

    GOD could give a rip about football or politics. He does, however, acknowledge his own and hears their prayers.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  2. Dave C

    How is there no mention of Stone Cold Steve Austin, he madec3:16 so big in pop culture!!!

    January 18, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • noel

      i don't know, maybe because fake wrestling is for MORONS!!! OBAMANOS!!!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Feather

    Not real interesting

    January 17, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  4. Feather


    January 17, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  5. Gnosis

    Being a good Christian, and all, I wonder if Tebow ever gives himself a special dispensation to rub one out?

    January 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  6. Mo Rage

    Apparently, Mr. Tebow isn't familiar with his own Bible: Matthew 6:5 ew International Version (©1984)

    "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

    By all means, Mr. Tebow, do your good works. Be a good Christian. Wonderful. Excellent. But end the obnoious showing off, please, for your own sake, the sake of your Bible, your fellow Christians and Christianity itself.

    Thank you, in advance,

    Mo Rage, the blog

    January 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Amy L.

      He is not praying, but witnessing.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • al

      Sorry you feel the way you do. Obviously you have missed the point of Tim. He's not showing off. Just living a real life in Jesus. Something we all need to do no matter if the cameras are rolling or not. The closet is for you and the Lord. The rest of our life is about sharing the Good News. Something you should consider.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • noel

      For the prayers of a righteous man availeth MUCH!!!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  7. Fred

    If Tebow were black or muslim, he would be hailed as a hero. Unfortunately for him, he is white and Christian. In today's America, it's okay to speak out against a white man, but politically incorrect and almost criminal to be criticizing any minority. Not only that, but it's okay to criticize Christians. If you speak out against Muslims or atheists, the American Criminal Lovers Union will file a lawsuit against you.

    January 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  8. ten

    Where was the outrage with the minister of defense? That's right he's white. He should know better. That is what I see from the backlash of the left. Get over your bitterness.

    January 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  9. SS

    What if he were a bad football player – would we blame God? Make you a deal – I promise not to throw a football in church if you promise to keep your faith off the field. Really, no one cares.

    January 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Fred

      If no one cares, then why did you feel the need to toss your two cents' worth in?
      Could be because atheists can't resist the urge to try to force their opinions on Christians.
      EPIC FAIL for you!

      January 18, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  10. yo mama

    God bless Tim Tebow , Rick Perry and George W Buffoon !

    January 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • ten

      nice open mind you have.

      January 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • noel

      yo mama has the iq of an ice cube...hehe

      January 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Rim

    You sit there and you thump your bible and you say your prayers and it didn't get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms talk about your John 3:16.......BRADY 3:16 SAYS I JUST WHOOPED YOUR A$$!!

    January 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • ten

      correct but brady is a bitter person.

      January 16, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • noel

      and how many folks has mr. brady helped out in his extended career? tim's real reward won't be measured among men!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  12. augustghost

    He's nuts

    January 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  13. VonDoom

    I can't wait until someone who is fervently Islamic, Jewish, Scientologist or even Atheist decides to show and put their faith in professional sports with this same "in your face" treatment. The Evangelicals will probably freak out to the point of giving themselves seizures.

    January 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mo Rage

      You are so right, VonDoom. Same with having other religious symbols on public property. These "Christians" will flip out.

      Mo Rage, the blog

      January 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • noel

      neah, those who are for real will simply pity the fools as i pity you now...

      January 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  14. Bobs Friend

    Good morning all you sinners and saints!
    I would be in the same boat with all you skeptics except for the fact that I prayed and Jesus Christ answered my prayer, "Took out my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh"
    I know you all enjoy patting yourselves on the back with all the high-minded "intellectual" conversation.. but "There is a way that seems right to a man, but ends in death"
    All the Christians on the board need to pray for all the obviously spiritually dead people here... It's like "Night of the Living Dead" in this place!!!
    God can change your heart and give you a deep desire for righteousness. .. but most of you know that already, which is why you hate and flee from the Cross. You're afraid of being called a "Goody two shoes"
    Have courage! ask God for His Gift.. Jesus Christ:'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will NOT PERISH, but have everlasting life"

    Wake up, you are perishing!!!

    January 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Jon

      Bob's Friend...I understand what your trying to do but the faith argument does not make any sense to me. Jesus, allegedly, 2000 years ago. You would think that in that time the holy creator would have sent at least one more miracle that could be captured on camera and then be talked about on social media sites and news networks. The only thing you have to go on is what other people have told you. Shouldn't we question the motives of religious figures and evangelists? Is it possible that their motives are not pure? Personally, If I was creator of the entire universe, I would not pay any attention to the Denver Broncos. Additionally, praying for the Broncos to win seems selfish to me. With all of the suffering, poverty, and other injustices going on simultaneously around the world, don't you think a football game is a lame thing to being praying about.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jon

      Also, everlasting life seems to be a sensory phrase that priests and pastors have been saying for years to control the masses. I'm pretty sure that if there is a creator, he (or she) would have made a better model for moving about the universe. I'm pretty sure that we are on a rock, floating through space, isolated from live in some form and when we die, brace yourself, nothing happens. Why do human beings think we're so special. Like god loved us so much that we are the only ones with souls. I'm pretty sure that god greatest creation, the one he loved the most would be the earth. And evangelicals support the Republican agenda of anti-environmentalism. Does that make any sense? If you want to be closer to god, protect his or her creations, all animals and the earth. And another thing, Christians act like their so sure of themselves. I have faith that a plumber can fix my leak faucet because he has done it before. If the creator of the universe wanted all of us to know about him or her, I feel like there would be a definitive answer. Not just "Well you gotta have faith".

      January 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Jon

      Also Bob, your Jesus quotes are probably a little bit off. The bible was written about 200 years after the alleged death of Christ. Through English translations, I'm sure he was misquoted somewhere. Also, King James probably just changed things that he didn't like anyway. But tell us all how it is....since your so sure

      January 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  15. Sally From Cape Cod

    This verse from the bible is another misquoted, inaccurate, if not plain fabricated one written almost a hundred years after Jesus death. Jesus was a very high divine being sent to this lowly planet by God to show us the way. If he was God's only begotten son, what would that make the rest of us?... a bunch of meatballs? We are ALL sons and daughters of God. Jesus did not die to take away our sins. He was sent here to show that life is truly eternal. God would never send this beautiful beomg here to be vilified and crucified by a bunch of barbaric, greedy, selfish sinners. His message was clear. He taught the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind through love.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Sally: you are saying Jesus' message was clear yet making an outright denial of his foundational claims.

      The primary message of Jesus was: "repent, the kingdom is at hand." (first & most repeated topic of his preaching) We are have broken ourselves & need a Savior.

      Secondly, the Bible makes it clear that no one is born a child a God. We only become one through adoption (through what Jesus did for us on the cross). And belief in Jesus is the clear sign of that. Notice the implicit negative of the verses below:

      "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (Jn.1:12-13)

      January 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Bobs Friend

      Sally, you profess all of these beliefs about Christ, which of course are derived from the very Scriptures which you say are not representative of the truth. Regarding all people being children of God, let me quote Jesus:

      Jn 8:44 "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
      Regarding your claim about the time when the Gospels were written, the Gospel of John claims firsthand witness:
      Jn 1:14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,d who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
      Also 2 Peter 1:16 "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."

      And Luke: 1:3"Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

      And in 1 Jn "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
      Just ask God.. He'll reveal the Truth about Jesus if you ask Him.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Sally From Cape Cod

      "Repent, the kingdom is at hand" isn't the only thing Jesus said. His main mission was to preach the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. At that point in history, human beings were only one cut above being animal. They were led by the hierarchy of the priests through fear and intimidation. He taught the average lowly person that they could attain the kingdom of God because he is their Father and is always loving and caring for them (meaning their souls, not bodies).

      I don't believe the Bible is the be all and end all of spiritual teaching. It's limited. There are certainly wonderful passages in it, but it falls short only because a lot of it is fabricated and/or misquoted through numerous translations of it. Everyone is most certainly a child of God regardless of what the Bible says. What Jesus did for us on the cross was to express forgiveness for the mistakes of the ones that killed him and to prove that life is eternal. He did not die to take away our sins... only we can do that by the self realization of what we do and ask Jesus/God for forgiveness.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Russ

      @Sally: can your God tell you things you don't want to hear? If not, how do you know you're not just self-projecting (Feuerbach's critique: 'all such theology is just anthropology')?

      If the Bible isn't the be all end all as God's Word (I'm assuming you would describe yourself as a Christian?), then what is? Does God speak or are we just filling in the blank (as atheists claim)?

      January 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Andrew

      @ Sally,

      Jesus did die for our sins. That is why he is called The Lamb. In the time of Jesus, to repent for their sins, Jews would sacrifice animals. Depending on the extent of the sin and the wealth of the person would determine what type of animal would be sacrificed. It could be anything from a pigeon to a bull. A lamb in the time of Jesus would be considered one of the best sacrifices. Even at the time of Jesus' death on the cross the Bible states that no bones were broken and the body of Jesus was unblemished. This is because the sacrifice that Jews had to make had to be a "perfect" sacrifice, i.e. no broken bones, ill animal... etc.

      Jesus himself probably did these things because he was the greatest Jew to ever live, and lived by the Jewish law perfectly and the way it was intended to be lived by.

      I don't want to get too theological, but just wanted to point out a misunderstanding you had! If you have any questions I'll do my best to answer them!

      January 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • derp

      And if you are really, really good, he will presents under the tree for you.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • noel

      obviously sally has never read much of the christ's teachings. you don't know him dear, please don't pretend that you do through blasphemy...><

      January 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  16. AGuest9

    Chapter 3, Verse 16 of "John" was written by a person who was likely not a lowly fisherman, nor was it likely written by a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. All one must do is to read the gospels as literature. You know – objectively, as we were taught to do in English 201-202 in college? Pick it apart and analyze the writing styles of all four evangelists. Then read "Revelation", it makes a great piece of fiction. Likely written during an opium trip (or "dream", if you will). John was "different".

    The concept of "eternal" life fits into the entire premise of religion and life at that time. Life was hard, and death would be a release from that hardship. An eternal life in paradise is a common thread in many religions. It is simply a fallacy, perpetuated by people who can't deal with the concept of no longer existing.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • BelieveDat

      you're the man

      January 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • tyler

      AGuest9, while I agree with the rest of your post, this part "It is simply a fallacy" (some sort of existence after death) is a very arrogant assertion. You don't, and could not possibly know this, just like everyone else. IMO you're just as bad as any religious nut who tells me that i'm going to hell because I don't believe in their God.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Russ

      @ AGuest9: interesting theory, but by your own standards it fails.

      John demonstrated knowledge of Jerusalem that only a firsthand eyewitness before 70 AD would have. Do a little research not the pool at Bethesda (only relatively recently discovered).

      That's just one of many examples that demonstrate a lucid, contemporaneous depiction of events in Jerusalem. Read Richard Bauckham's "Jesus & the Eyewitnesses" for a more thorough treatment.

      Bottom line: you can't dodge the claims of John 3:16 that way.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Bobs Friend

      A guest:
      Also refer to the navigational notes of Doctor Luke written in the Book of Acts. Archeological sites have be discovered based on his notes, even though until the discovery, historians thought Luke was wrong. Luke has been proven over and over again to be an accurate historian.
      Anyway, none of that matters.. just ask God; He will be happy to answer all of your questions about Jesus. God loves sinners, and he can open your eyes.

      January 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • sgtonestop

      Energy (which is our core ) NEVER dies , it changes form ... Not existing after death is not a option for any of us ... Its Physics son , get educated .

      January 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • derp

      "Energy (which is our core ) NEVER dies , it changes form ... Not existing after death is not a option for any of us ... Its Physics son , get educated"

      You need to go back to Physics class. Energy is not at our core. Humans, or any other animals posses no energy. We convert food into into energy, and then consume the energy keeping ourselves alive. Then we die. When you are dead, you no longer convert food into energy. You are just dead.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • noel

      Wrong dude. Many of the gospels have been traced back to a time w/in the life of some of the disciples (30-70AD), which keeps them from being mere legend. Again, another intellectual trying to outsmart the HOLY WORD OF GOD!!! BTW-OBAMANOS!!!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  17. Tran

    Indeed @Matt. Sad, lonely people cruise this site – and most are armed with just enough information to be dangerous, but not enough to be smart, or persuasive.

    January 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Wynn

      Yes, Matt. God so Impotent that he has to sent his only Son to do the Man's job, and he failed.

      January 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  18. Matt

    This blog is the land of "broken toys." Sad, pathetic souls, looking to connect to another human being through sarcasm, vitriol, and condescension. I'll leave you to it.


    January 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • AGuest9

      While you felt the need to post to it.

      January 16, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • derp

      Please stay, it's no fun without having some jesustards around to make fun of.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  19. Dbone

    What a scam, here we have a man whose invisible, granting wishes to all those who pay money to admire him. He can grant you all of your wishes, he can even save you from a death by fire. But, their is one thing he is not good at. Keeping money in his pocket. He can't seem to grant anyone, including himself, the ability to keep Money. He wants all of your Money, and many of you fools hand it over without question. Well, here is something that I can grant you, and that is; Do not give any money to anyone for a year, keep it all to yourselves and your families. At the end of the year, I'll promise you, you will have more fun, happiness and your children will love you more, than all the years that you kept giving this person, a percentage of your income. Try it for just one year and you will never be the same again, in a positive way! dbone.

    January 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Matt

      Imagine this! A selfish, self-serving, parsimonious dork advocating selfishness! Who'd a thunk it? And he promises happiness and fulfillment, to boot. Where have I heard this before? Yes, all you enlightened people, the key to happiness and a well-ordered life is to keep all your money, F the poor and needy, step over the orphan, just look out for you, and the world will be a better place.

      F, and I mean, "F" charity, and concern, and decency!!!

      January 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • TR in ATL

      I might consider your challenge if you would do one for me. Read a Bible for a year. Start with the book of John. Read how Jesus Christ offers to save your soul for all eternity. Read how lives are transformed by following Him. I have one guarantee for you. You may not believe in GOD or Jesus Christ today, but you will believe in them on the day you die. Unfortunately, you will have made your choice on where to spend eternity, and sadly, you will be eternally separated from every member of your family.

      January 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • derp

      "Why do atheists feel the need degrade others beliefs?"

      I believe that the universe is 437 years old. I believe that it was created by unicorns. I believe that the unicorns sent bigfoot here to die so that I can spend eternity drinking free beer and banging supermodels.

      Absurd? yes.

      Any different than christianity? no.

      See why we make light of you?

      January 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Fred

      Poor Derp. Thinks he's funny, thinks he's clever, but fails in both regards.
      I am not sure if he was held too much as a child or not held enough.
      All those years of riding on the short bus with his Uncle Dad has unhinged him, I fear.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • derp

      Poor Fred.

      He has no intelligent response to the fact that his religious beliefs are as absurd as the example I gave, so he resorts to kindergarten insults. Typical sky wizard believing intellect level response.

      January 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  20. Miss Football ;)

    All of you guys are stupid. Jesus is amazing , he tried to show yall none believers he was real by this football maham because most ppl watch football, even though he didnt have to prove anything to you guys. So shutup . If it bothers you .. dont post anything. When yall end up in Hell and im in Heaven.. Ill be praying...

    January 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by Miss Football is a common form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.


      January 16, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • TR in ATL

      @Fallacy... study Pascal's Wager before you reference it. Miss Football's comment has nothing to do with it. Your URL doesn't even reference it. Pascal's Wager is pure gold. Such a simple decision to make... and the GOD of the universe with bless you for all eternity.

      January 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • derp

      Oh yes, the old ""ll end up in heaven" bs.

      Seriously, do you really think you are going to spend eternity riding unicorns down gold lined streets drinking free beer and getting everything else you ever wanted but were not smart enough to earn here on earth?

      Yeah, I believe in martians too.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Feather

      SImply put.

      January 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Feather


      January 17, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • [i]Feather[/i]


      January 17, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • strip_tags('NCBI','')


      January 18, 2012 at 12:20 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.