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. 13 year old Jesus Freak

    I am a Christian and I am proud of it.

    January 10, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  2. 13 year old Jesus Freak

    God is the king of kings, the lord of lords, he is our, Father

    January 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • The Phist

      god does not exist.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • ttwp

      The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Psalm 14:1

      January 10, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • think for yourself

      I see you know how to reproduce quotes. Care to do any thinking? I know my father very well, and he is no god. Wake up, sheeplings.

      January 10, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • ttwp

      I'm not reproducing quotes...just stating a fact. I've done a lot of thinking and it all leads me to one person...Jesus Christ. The one who loves me.

      Once you come out of your darkness and into his light...you will know the truth. But for now you think you know more than God. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Proverbs 14:12

      God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. Humble yourself before Him...He loves you...Christ was not sent into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.

      January 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    January 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • think for yourself

      Prayer = talking to yourself. Believing in fairy tales is is not healthy for adults.

      January 10, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  4. The Phist

    Jesus' casket along with his wife Mary, his mother Mary, father Joseph, and Jesus' son in a burial chamber:


    The resurrection never happened, and there's the proof. There was a show on the Discovery channel about it. there's still info on is on Discovery's site. All of the bodies are in their respective caskets. Bye-bye christianity. FLUSHED. DOWN THE TOILET.

    Where it belongs.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • The Phist

      Funny thing.... morons keep saying I'm making this up. Yet these idiots believe in the bible. Talk about irony.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • A18

      Quick question, have you actually read the bible?

      January 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • A18

      and throwing out biased words such as morons and idiots does not help you cause as well. I do not believe that you are either of these simply because you have different beliefs

      January 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • fred

      Has anyone not read it. Sheeshkapeesh.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • The Phist

      I've read it cover to cover 8 times. I've been studying it for years. Once a stupid believer, I became an atheist when I actually read the bible. The bible turned me into an atheist. It's what happens when one actually reads it, not skipping over the terrible parts, ignoring the atrocities and contradictions and misinterpreting everything. You know, what every good christian does.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  5. JewboyForJesus

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with TB's public display of christianity (PDC). Only he knows where his heart lies. The problem with declaring that his success is soley attributable to his faith is that you have to reconcile that statement with those whoe are not successful (did Roethlisberger lose because he is ungodly – maybe) or with others who are successful but not into PDC (Aaron Rodgers doesn't seem to need PDC and some would say that he is successful – maybe his discount double-check move is really a religious statement). Maybe TB's faith gives him the confidence to take risks which he has been on the favorable end of. If he doesn't win the Super Bowl, will it be that he just wasn't faithful enough?

    January 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • A18

      Excellent point, he is the only one who knows where his heart is. His actions on the field, i think, are admirable, as I know the pressure of the press against his religious views can be intense

      January 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • fred

      It will be what will be.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Antony

      TB??? I never saw Terry Bradshaw pray on the football field. You mean TT, right?

      January 10, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  6. A18

    Everyone is talking about why Tebow does these things, saying that his actions are simply to get the attention of people. And you know what, he gets it, even though that isnt his goal. His intention is to bring God praise rather than himself and is actually doing a good job at this if people would just sit back and look. Sure, he doesnt win ever game but do you see stop praising God when he loses? It is easy to say good things about tebow when he wins. Its much easier to say negative things when he even slightly slips up. Thats just human nature, and obviously noone is perfect. all i see is a man that is not ashamed of his faith and is willing to openly display it, regardless of the mudslinging he recieves

    January 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • fred

      Win or lose is not the question.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  7. Fr33th1nk3r

    CONFIRMATION BIAS: (also called confirmatory bias, myside bias or verification bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.[Note 1][1] As a result, people gather evidence and remember information selectively, and interpret it in a biased way.

    In other words, if you think the numbers "3" followed by "16" are relevant, then your mind will constantly recognize and pick out examples of that number appearing during normal everyday activities, and you will misinterpret it as a pattern, whereas it is normal coincidence. The number "316" comes up often, but nobody notices it any more than the infinite other numbers until someone makes it significant enough to start recording instances of its appearance.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  8. FoodforThought

    Here's some food for thought. How would America and the media be responding if Tebow was up on that pedestal preaching about Mohammed? Sadly, it would be a different story.

    But after the Patriots deal with the Broncos, Tebowmania will be over with.

    January 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  9. fda

    IM actually super amazed by this story. I cannot believe how awesome this is. Amazing.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • fred

      You are easily amawzed.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  10. bajadelmar

    For someone that is so confident in his "beliefs" he sure has to keep re-inforcing on a daily basis to the world that he still believes. Which IMO means he not that confident in his preaching.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      We don't really care what your opinion is on this. Good day sir.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • bajadelmar

      Who's we zippy, you and your imaginary sky fairy??? LOL

      January 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      I care what bajadelmar's views are, so your post is irrelevant. have a nice day.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  11. fred

    Haters gonna hate.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • streetsmt

      ...and sheep will continue to take it in th a@#.

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

      fake fred you are making a mess of the boards

      January 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • fred

      fake fred you are making a mess of your pants.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  12. fred

    What is hard to understand.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  13. Matt Damon

    He is trying to cover up the fact that he likes the sweaty sausage.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  14. SanFranRick

    This Egomaniac Brat Only Whines....there's your "Tebow" for you. Another dumb red-neck spouting Jesus. Yeah...exactly what the world needs. Right. Please pass the Pepto...

    January 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  15. Brownman

    God is not a myth!

    January 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Happy Jack

      It has as much evidence as Zeus. So I believe it as much.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • SanFranRick

      Oh...is he a mythster?

      January 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • bajadelmar

      Which one, sun, fire water, wind, zues, odin, etc...etc...etc. Your "god" today is only a "myth" of the future. Your religion was not chance, it was chosen for you based on where you were born. You could just as well be hindu or muslim or buddhist or etc...etc....etc, if you were born in a different country or city. Get a clue and wise up, you're draggin this country down with your ignorance.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  16. Bonafide

    OK, its the number after 315.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      Wow, so clever of you to think of that. A bonafide stupid remark...

      January 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      As opposed to you feeling the need to validate your existence by calling his post stupid? You must be very proud.

      January 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  17. xjdavid

    I wonder what Tim Tebow thinks about Matthew 6:5-6?
    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.
    But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Smathalath

      I am pretty sure that Tebow realizes, as do the majority of Christians, that those verses apply to a man who was seeking glory and fame for his generous giving and pious life. Tebow *seems* to be seeking to glorify God, which is one of God's favorite things. Jesus prayed out loud, in front of people.

      The difference being the man in those verses was glorifying himself, not God.

      It seems to me that Tebow is sincere in his thanks and wants to give glory to God, so no issue.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  18. Me

    Matthew 6:5-6 look it up and realize this tebow hypocrite is doing this to create a brand for his name so you will buy moreof his stuff.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      Uh...yea sure. What an idiotic statement, care to back it up with one single shread of real proof? You can't, we all know.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Eddie Hurley

      if you are wrong then you are braking the 9th commandment bearing false witness

      January 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • 13 year old Jesus Freak

      Have you ever read the Bible? The Bible it is the best thing you could read. If you read it with an open mind, then you may see why Tebow believes as much as he does. The Bible is no myth and there is historical evidence to support it. If someone made up the bible they would have to have the biggest imagination in the universe.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Have you ever read the Bible? The Bible it is the best thing you could read. If you read it with an open mind, then you may see why Tebow believes as much as he does. The Bible is no myth and there is historical evidence to support it. If someone made up the bible they would have to have the biggest imagination in the universe."

      please share the EVIDENCE you have for these blanket, absolute statements. No, bible verses are not evidence as they were written by MEN. It's obvious you are 13 and indoctrinated by your parents.

      January 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • claybigsby

      "If someone made up the bible they would have to have the biggest imagination in the universe."

      and it wasnt "someone" who made up the bible, it was 30+ different someones who wrote it over 1500 years. Research your religion.

      January 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  19. Cuervo Jones

    IF Jesus was fully God and fully human, then it was either suicide or human sacrifice. ewwww

    January 10, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Greg

      Nope, since God can't die, it would have been staged theatrics.

      January 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      I guess you both will find out the hard way...

      January 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  20. Alex

    God is a myth. Deal with it.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      Prove it.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @UhYeaOk- they'll probably throw a "proving a negative" argument out at you..though they would be very wrong to do that.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • bajadelmar

      @Uncouth Swain You're the one making the ASSertion that your magicial sky fairy exists. So prove that what you're saying is true or STHU. You people always CLAIM that you're all about truth and honesty, so prove it.

      January 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain


      1. I have made no assertion...I merely made a guess on what someone might do
      2. I have mentioned no (a) magic (b) sky fairy.....only you have done that
      3. I have yet to make a statement that I need to provide facts for

      Do you always try to win arguments no one makes?

      January 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • fred

      No one wins arguments.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      You would be surprised how many tries.

      January 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Lama


      Your retorts are akin to those of a 5 year old. "Prove it!" "you're gonna find out..." Blah blah blah. Bring some truth or some value to the conversation or just don't post. Just because you can post, doesn't always mean you should. Your notorious g.o.d. is as valid as the flying spaghetti monster. Both were created by MEN in order to sell swag. If you're so gung ho about your god, go meet him.

      January 11, 2012 at 10:23 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.