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. Dave

    I love John 3:16! specially in the context of John 17:3 and 1 Samuel 3:7. Jesus said that eternal life is to KNOW God and the reason Samuel didn't KNOW God is that he had never heard Gods voice... Proverbs 2:6 says that God gives wisdom and out of His MOUTH come KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING... God so loves the world that He sent His only Son to die for us so we can KNOW Him!!!!!

    January 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • The Phist

      Jesus was making his mother cream hard while joseph fapped in the corner of their mud hut. Thanks for the info!

      January 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Timmy

      Yer god is kind of a di"ck. Why not just say, "ok you're forgiven", instead of holding a grudge for 4000+ years.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Dave

      nah, you just don't know Him yet 😉

      January 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  2. Baranga the Great

    I can't wait for the Patriots to destroy the Broncos and for all this silliness to be over with.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  3. jnab

    Don't Christians believe numerology a form of witchcraft?

    January 10, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Antony

      Yes, only when it doesn't suit their needs. Much in the same way they vehemently trash carbon dating, until they need it in hope of proving the authenticity of the shroud of turin.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • xjdavid

      Antony...that's ridiculous.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Antony

      xjdavid ... How so?

      January 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  4. Mark

    There are few religions in the world that have cause more hate, pain, suffering, and despair for their fellow men and women than Christianity. This John 3:16 supposed connection, show how desperate for a sign Christians are. It's similar to seeing the face of Jesus in a grill cheese sandwich, the grain on a cabinet door, or a dog's ass. I have a question for true believers. Why did your "loving deity", to using your description, let at least 250 million children die of small pox in the 20th century alone? I wouldn't worship a deity that could stop the pain and suffering of a small child, yet do nothing to stop it, and I certainly wouldn't call him "loving".

    January 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |

    And so, the story continues...

    January 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  6. WOT

    God has his owe way of getting his WORD to the MASSES! When this world's great earth quake the you will understand not only John 3:16 but all of his WORLD! An unwise man can not understand the acts of a true and living GOO.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Rob in Pasadena

      I do not know about the true and living God, but I can get into this true and living GOO. Both are probably about as real.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Phil

      In GOO I trust. god, not so much. Which one of the 2,000 gods do you worship? Zeus, Mohammed, Allah, Ra, Buddha?

      January 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • jnab

      Vodka breakfast of champions!

      January 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Burnz

      O Mighty GOO, please forgive us sinners for our solid state. We dream of oozing.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  7. Rob in Pasadena

    These people are what make me pray—pray that the gods would save our world from mindless stupidity.

    What is the fascination with talking to a Bronze age, bucolic, tribal deity that is obsessed with his own narcissism and killing everyone who rejects his existence. Do people not remember this is the same deity who ordered the God sanctioned genocide of an entire country (see the Book of Joshua)!

    Not only is this frightening, but to actually think this fairytale deity could leave the mirror long enough to care about a football game is even crazier.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  8. André

    Religion poisons EVERYTHING.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  9. Phil

    Books written by uneducated middle eastern farmers 2,000 years ago shouldn't really be taken seriously. We know that Noah or no one else ever lived to be 950 years old. Rainbows are not "gods promise to never flood the earth again", they're reflections of the suns white light through droplets of mist or water, thereby generating all colors of the spectrum. Until we remove ourselves from the shackles or religion, we will never really be free.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • André

      Well said.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Buddy Brinkley

      Have you ever studied what Jesus actually said in the Bible? Just read Matthew chapter 5 or John chapter 3. I know that a lot of people have done some really terrible things in the name of Jesus. But, Jesus didn't teach or do those things. Judge Jesus for Himself.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Timmy

      Jeebus is dead. Stone cold dead. 1,000,000 years from now humanoids will laugh at your foolishness, and say "what's a Babble ?" "Weren't they funny people who had to explain the world to themselves with a 2,000 year old book ?"

      January 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • neng

      Hirap kayamakarecruit ng kmalai ang entry.. you're wishing for the impossible..lalo na matagal na company.. tapos kung makarecruit ka mahihiya ka sa narecruit mo kasi alang nangyari sa kanya.. Sa VERA di ka talaga mapapahiya natutulungan mo talaga narecruit mo.100% me mangyayari sa lahat ng papasok saka di ka magsusuwapang dito na puro sayo ilagay narecruit mo kasi kahit ilagay mo sa kanila tuloy din sa'yo un.. nakatulong ka pa. BAYANIHAN talaga pilipinong pilipino

      March 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  10. iamacamera

    ...and your point is?.... Poorly written. How can we understand your point if you never make it?

    January 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  11. Richard Goldwater

    I prefer Lisa 38.22.26

    January 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. Observer

    As it says, all you have to do is to believe in God. It really doesn't matter if you are gay or straight.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Phillco

      The whole notion that 316 yards has to do with the bible verse is R to the I to the D to the I to the C to the U to the L to the O to the U to the S!

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  13. RichG

    What many simple minded people are thinking is that praying is getting him his wins. God can give a rats butt about sports, he doesn't grant victories to anyone, even if you're battling a bad sickness. Tebow just gives thanks whether he wins or loses, and that's great. But for you people who think that being a christian is going to get you victories in things other than life, then you're wrong.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Phil

      Why did god let Hitler kill those 6 million Jews? Which were his "chosen" people? One would think that he would intervene.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Phil

      And why does he let all those sweet little children at St. John's die of cancer, when he could just wipe it all away. Have the faith of a mustard seed and pray for that mountain to move. It's not moving, because it's not logical. It's a test you can perform yourself. Go out and pray super hard for a flashlight to fall from the sky and land right in front of you. Pray with everything you've got and let us know what happens. SPOILER ALERT: nothing.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • serially?

      to claim you can conceive the intentions of an all knowing being indicates your inability to objectively assess any situation...the odds of god being real are less than you being able to fly...the infinite possible explanations of our existence barely leave room for a god.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  14. Rob

    The art of saying nothing in a lot of words.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • André

      Exactly. And most believers are immoral people. Most non-believers are good and compassionate.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  15. dsptchr645

    I'd rather see John 3-16 on TV than hear the rude, crude, nasty remarks made by the so called comedians.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  16. Ben

    My opinion is "God doesn't necessarily give a hoot about football (or any sport for that matter), but he DOES give a hoot about the people playing and watching the game..."

    January 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  17. jonborg

    Read the four gospels – Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Jesus is portrayed rather similarly in the first three, but not in John. In John he is a self-centered know-it-all jerk. The four gospels don't go together, they are four separate accounts written by four, and perhaps edited and rewritten by many, different people. John is the one written by a crazy end-times evangelical haha.

    January 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      Sssshhh, don't point out their inconsistencies. They get really angry when you do that, and we all know there is nothiing more dangerous than a bunch of angry, delusional fanatics.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Sinister

    Screw John, I prefer Austin 3:16...

    January 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  19. Alexandria Lanai

    It's so funny, mainstream media and certain media elitists pushed hard to get John 3:16 out of their ad campaigns and promotions; NFL banned writing on black eye and called it the "Tebow Rule" because he placed John 3:16 on his eye mask. Yet, so many blogs are now talking about John 3:16; they're talking about it on the news and more people now are "googling" it, which is making John 3:16 more of an exposure...a blog on CNN quoted the scripture and explained what the scripture meant in detail.

    Point Being: No matter how hard you try to get God out, He's going to find a way to get in – the harder you push Him away, the greater the exposure of Him in the end. #devilGiveUpAlready

    January 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • serially?

      god is in your head....he is like santa only now you can prove there is no santa....when you believed in santa, did that mean he was real?...no...the evidence that he didn't exist was there, you just didn't know it yet. god is a figment of your imagination and lives only because humans (most) can't comprehend the concept that there may be no answers, no justification for your insignificant, minuscule existence. "christian values are seldom found, save for the non-believers"

      January 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • som

      Kind of like money in politics or violence on TV.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Dennis

      Thanks for stopping the momentum????

      January 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      " #devilGiveUpAlreadym" that's funny all by itself

      January 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  20. MarlboroMan

    You God-haters have given Jesus more free press by bashing Tebow for the past few years than any church could have ever paid for, as has always happened in human history. You never learn anything, do you? LOL

    January 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Phil

      "god haters"? Are you medically retarded?

      Atheists do not "hate" god. We simply do not believe in god. How does not believing turn into hating something that does not exist?

      January 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • serially?

      and who on earth made you an authority about jesus?...the MAN died thousands of years before you were born...i'm willing to bet you aren't the authority on most things you've actually experienced...mathematically speaking, the odds of god being real are not a probability...sod off marborman

      January 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • 5thApe

      Do you hate Santa Clause? When an Atheist questions the existence of your invisible sky daddy, all of a sudden we are haters.....

      January 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Alexandria Lanai

      Phil: Haha, sorry, I just had to share this! Did you know that even athiests need God? Yes, they wouldn't be atheists if it weren't for God, because they base their whole philosophical life on believing that there is no "God". You'd really wouldn't be athiests if there wasn't no "God" – because there'd be nothing for you to "Not Believe" in! Not everyone believes in God, but truth is EVERYONE NEEDS GOD! 😀

      January 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • MarlboroMan

      @ Phil, serially?, 5thApe: How pathetic, the entire sniveling lot of you. You are all hoisted by your own petards. LOL

      January 10, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      Alexandria Lanai: I can rebut your argument by saying "I do not believe in Odin".

      Taking your logic into account, one could say that Christians need Odin, because without Odin, they would not be able to say that they do not believe in him.

      Atheism is the belief that there is no higher power. It is not aimed at the Abrahamic religions. get over yourself.

      January 11, 2012 at 3:39 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.