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. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 11, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  2. reason

    The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from stone age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.

    Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you lived your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Paul

      Yes you are right! Eternal suffering is not reasonable nor fair, and actually is not taught in the Bible. This is a teaching from other religions not associated with the God Bible Jehovah. These teachings were borrowed from these other religions and fused with Christianity to appeal to the pagans and control the masses.
      Now as to your, “stone age society”. If you care to look we have degenerated intellectually rather than improved. Sure we can fight disease but we produce mass destruction weapons to blow ourselves up many times over, hardly intelligent.

      So who is being deluded?

      March 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Chad

      @reason "Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you lived your life"

      =>It is absolutely true, there is a just God, and an afterlife, and you will be judged on how you lived your life.
      I dont know why you would hope for that though, given that Gods standard for that judgement is perfection and anything short of perfection doesnt get you in.. You and I are in deep trouble with out Jesus Christ.

      March 10, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • reason

      No just god would create imperfect humans then hold them to a standard of perfection.

      Tell one white lie and go to hell for eternity? That is about as rational as sending someone to hell because they believe in Allah or Jesus instead of Zeus.

      March 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Lorraine

      reason, & touche Paul, This is so true, yet do not fret, for YHWH says in Ezekiel 34, that all of His flocks will be saved from the misleading of the wicked, the greedy, in His time that is coming soon.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Elias Meeks

    Why not hold up a big sign that reads "Galatians 6:11"? (Look it up you'll see what I mean.)

    March 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Paul

      I read it, not sure what you mean??

      Paul said, "See with what large letters I have written you with my own hand."
      Paul was refering to the size of the individual letters as he had a possible eye sight problem. Did you think he meant the length of the letter? If so I see what you mean.

      March 8, 2012 at 3:35 am |
  4. Lorraine

    RD, Wayne dunham,does it really matter that I call YHWH Father, normally I say Creator, the Strong One, the Almighty, I just felt like saying Father, dang, people get so caught up on frivolous things trying to take away what is really important is that we know YHWH and who He is to us, and not to put anyone over Him, not nothing, and over His law of righteousness, and peace, is what is the subject matter. Mr. Dunham, yes I know of someone who is righteous today, and are praying towards Jerusalem, praying their soul out for our transgressions, and working hard at it everyday, this is his job, he is a servant of the most high. And, with what you say about YHWH only son being jesus, well this has been going on for over 2000 years, and people are still suffering and in mayhem, obviously this is not what YHWH said to us, for His only son, and firstborn is the chosen 'ISRAEL' there cannot be two firstborn sons sir. From which the seed of David has sprung from to serve YHWH said in all of these scriptures, Isaiah 9,49,53,Micah 5, Jeremiah 33v14-26, and on, and on is YHWHs faithful David, the child born in Bethlehem 1 Samuel 16,17. You do not see the name jc anywhere in these, this is why we are under the wrath of YHWH in Jeremiah 25, (idolatry), and will be until we come back as He says in Isaiah 44v22 and Malachi 3v7,back only to YHWH the true Savior, and Redeemer, Isaiah 49v26, Isaiah 60v16.

    March 2, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Lorraine

      Everyone the son, and the firstborn is written in Exodus 4v22,23, and it is the chosen 'ISRAEL' read it, and learn the truth, and that is there cannot be two firstborn sons. When Esau was born he came out first, then Jacob, so Esau was the 'firstborn' son, see how that works? People did this same thing in 1 Kings 17,18, preferably 1Kings 18v21, of the son of YHWH called Ba'al, he too, was born of a virgin, etc..read it, and Elijah told the people not to do this. Also, this is not the days of old, we are still doing it today, and is why we are still living in suffering for 2000 years now, so something must be wrong people, let go of your pride and learn the truth. So that we can all hurry up and get out of this mess that we made doing idols.

      March 2, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • Paul

      Hi Lorraine, Little confused! How is Jerusalem a centre for true religion? Since the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE it has never been a centre for worshipping YHWH. In fact their is another temple erected there, not for the worship of YHWH.
      If Christianity is not the true religion, spiritual Israel. Then why aren't the sacrifices still being carried out in Jerusalem in line with Mosaic law?

      March 5, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • Paul

      The truth is Lorraine, Jesus Christ lineage proves he comes in the family line of David. So he has the legal right to the throne of David his father.
      Since all records of the family lines were destroyed by the Romans in 70CE no other family can verify their lineage as coming from David. So I'm afraid you are stuck with Jesus. Read Daniel chap 9 and you will get a clear picture of why Jesus is the Messiah. That phrophecy was fulfilled in him, and so to the destruction of Jerusalem, never to be rebuilt.

      March 8, 2012 at 3:43 am |
    • Paul

      I read Exodus Lorraine and it is refering to the nationof Israel as being his first born nation, refer also to Deut 7:6. You will see they were a special people, the first time YHWH had taken a nation. So "first born" in that sense. Israel was never his first born son as in Father & Son relationship. The only one that could claim that would be his first creation in the heavens as a spirit creature, before all other things were created. This is the one spoken of by David at Ps 110:1, he was Davids Lord which is different to YHWH Because YHWH gave him a Kingdom. But David is not talking about himself, but his Lord.

      March 8, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  5. Wessic

    I can see CNN losing alot of their audience if they continue to post anti Christian articles such as this. This is the second such article I have read this evening and it has left me disgusted!

    February 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  6. kenny

    Faith and religion is to the beliver as drugs are to an addicted person ,just a way to distort real life and have a make belive life.

    February 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  7. cbinal

    What I love is the part of the article where he says a group tried to buy a Super Bowl ad "pushing" people to go to their website and learn more about John 3:16. I don't know about you but I've never been forced to go to any website. Why is it when people talk about Christians the terms shove it down my throat and pushing it are always used? You aren't pushed or shoved into anything, quit making it sound abusive. That does it, the next time Chevy or Papa John's pushes their ad on me to go to Facebook and Like them, I'm not going to take it.

    February 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Patty

      Priests have been pushing a lot into kids' orifices. Seems to be the Christian way so no wonder it gets flack.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • cbinal

      Patty you've got a point there. The only difference is I don't consider those pervs to be Christians. Christians are Believers, not just someone who belongs to the Catholic Church. I know very few Catholic Believers.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  8. shawn

    Go to Mathew Ch 6 where it tells the supplicant to go to his room, SHUT THE DOoR and then pray, not in some stupid public expression on a football field. There is a Latin expression; Nola tuba canere ante te. Loosely translated; Don't go blowing your own trumpte.

    February 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • cbinal

      Being an Alabama fan I have never liked Tebow but, the man has a right to pray anywhere he wants to. He's not hurting anybody, he's not asking people around him to pray, he just does it when he feels like it and has guts enough to do it no matter what others think. The media is the one blowing it out of proportion not him. I give him respect for that.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Question

    What is the point of the article? Random and really no point is made......Basically he says John 3:16 is a popular verse seen at events and a crazy person once used it all the time....

    February 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  10. Stuck in the Middle

    Frightened people clinging desperately to a bronze age myth in hopes that they can somehow avoid death.
    Grow up....you're goinng to die and there's nothing you can do about it so live your life the best you can.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • jn0224

      I think the point of John 3:16 is that physical death is not the end. Many people believe in some type of afterlife...the question for all of us is what does it look like, and how is it attained.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Praying for You

      What if believers are right and you are wrong? If you are right and we are wrong, there is no harm, but if you are wrong – SCARY!

      February 17, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  11. ModernMan

    Luke 6: 5-6.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  12. Bill Fitzgerald

    Belief means do what Christ said to do as in believe that we will be blessed if we do. Unfortunately the bible was changed so many times we only read about repentance a few times. Whereas the Book of Mormon has hundreds of references to repentance. The Second witness of Christ proves the first is true and thankfully Joseph Smith was commanded to retranslate the bible, with a third grade education mind you, and now we have the words back that were taken out by whoever had the record and felt like changing it.

    February 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Paul

      Bill please. The book of mormom has nothing to do with the Bible. Revelation said if you add to or take away from these words you are cursed. Be careful my friend in what you believe. I have spoken to many of your mormon missionaries and I have not meet one who would not go to war and kill his brother. In fact many of them join the marines after their stint at preaching. How do you think a God of love would tolerate a religion that kills their brothers?

      February 6, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • cbinal

      Bill thanks for pointing out that Joseph Smith only had a third grade education. He was also only 14 years old when he met an Angel of Light who revealed this stuff to him. The only Angel of Light mentioned in the Bible is Satan. It says he will appear as an Angel of Light and try to deceive you. Guess who got deceived?

      February 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  13. Michael M

    John 3:16 is probably the most misused and misunderstood verse in the New Testament. The word world here does not refer to mankind in the Greek mss. And it is the same word as used in John 3:19, although most folks who misuse 3:16 never bother to scroll down a few verses.


    February 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Paul

      I'm not sure where you get your information, but the Greek word here used is 'ko'smon' does actually refer to mankind as verse 19 indicates. However you are right in that is one of the most misunderstood verse in the Bible. It's just not believing, but involves exercising faith, literally "believing into him". So it involves being like Jesus, a Christian must follow in his footsteps. 1 Pet 2:21

      February 6, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  14. Dana Renee'

    No one is perfect, but the minute others admire & applaud a sports stars for having faith in something and moral values that he/she tries to live by, people get all offended and go out of their way to criticize (as shown in this article). On the other hand, it's perfectly fine to admire & applaud those living their lives like complete idiots with no regard for anyone but themselves and the game. Our priorities as a nation are so twisted. We put way too much faith in those in the spotlight as it is, regardless of the content of their character.

    February 6, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • mendrys

      What are you talking about? Peoples love and faith in celebrity is somthing that is centuries, if not more, old and cuts aross almost every culture that has ever existed so it's hardly a problem with just this nation.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Dana Renee'

      I see your point mendrys. My point wasn't to say that this isn't an issue in other nations; however, no one can deny that with the media as it is here (and taking into account the increased speed and availability of that media), these issues are significantly worsened when compared with many other countries.

      February 7, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  15. Ray

    Hilarious. God is a horrible invention humanity made.

    February 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Matt

      So humans and the universe just came out of no where? cant get a creation without a creator

      February 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  16. Ed

    Eddie 8:69

    February 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  17. Mark

    Did you know that the science developed by Einstein was used to create the Atomic Bomb? We should get rid of science.

    February 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ray


      February 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • cbinal

      Did you know that the Science developed by Einsteinm, and Einstein, were created by God? Col 1:16 and 17.

      February 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  18. Ben Moses

    OK, so now I get it. this is the verse that says that all Jews, Moslems, Hindus etc go to hell. What a wonderfully comforting thought that is. Yet more evidence that religion breeds hate and killing more than anything else

    February 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Meade21

      Hey Ben......that isn't what this verse is saying at all....it is saying that God love the world so much that he gave his son as a sacrifice for our sins and that all who believe in Jesus will not perish – but will have eternal life....that means that guys like you along with the entire world, whether muslim, jewish, or any other religion have the opportunity to accept Jesus as saviour and Lord.....to acknowledge him as the only way to heaven.....so what would on the surface sound exclusive is actually inclusive of all people.......believing in Jesus to save....now the choice and how you react to that is up to you.......

      February 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • mendrys

      @Meade21 If a Muslim or Jew accepts Jesus as their savior in order to get into heaven and not get sent to hell to be tortured forever they are no longer a Muslim or a Jew (in faith that is) but a Christian. The reply "Of course, that is not what it means, they still have the choice to change their religion in order to escape eternal damnation" is meaningless because the implication stays the same, If they continue to practice any other religion other than Christianity (and in some peoples views, only certain strains of Christianity) then they will be tortured for the rest of eternity.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  19. who's john?

    wow i never knew the origin of this john 316 bs. sounds appropriate tho. a fanatical, kidnapper who loves JC started it? perfect! religion is a fraud people!

    February 5, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  20. Oliver Sielski

    One day, I will end religion.

    February 5, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Header


      February 6, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Tanner P

      One day, you might get a boyfriend, if your lucky and don't show off you crazy atheist ideals. Some may agree to follow no path, blindly living a life that has no meaning, but all I have to say to those people is don't bring us down with you. It won't change our faith so you can stop spewing out nonsense about how you are going to end religion. Oh, and does that make you the prophet of atheist? Quite a bit of irony there.

      February 6, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Header


      February 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Comment2


      February 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Paul

      Hi, you are actually right, believe it or not. According to the Bible book of Revelation, Religion as represented by the Harlot called Babylon the Great will be destroyed by the political nations but at Gods instigation. That is appropriate as Religion including Christian has misrepresented him for centuries. Instead of loving their brothers as Jesus said they hate them and kill them. Instead of worshipping in spirit and truth they use idols. They have taken God's name from the Bible which is Jehovah if anyone is interested. They have also taught that a God of love will burn those he hates in Hell Fire. What terrible lies and not supported in the Bible. He will bring those who teach such lies to account and have them wiped from the face of the earth.

      February 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Rufus

      One day, your mom bore a moron.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:50 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.