This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
Simple but powerful words. Deep theology, personal hope, subtle warning–there’s a lot packed in there.
The King James Version that I grew up with had the phrase “his only begotten Son.” That always confused me a bit as it sounded like somehow Jesus was created or produced.
The translators notes in the NET bible (bible.org) point out that “such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Antiquities 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God (τέκνα θεοῦ, tekna qeou), Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 1:18, 3:16, and 3:18).” That’s helpful!
It’s good to rembmer that the Greek text doesn’t have any punctuation marks or any quotation marks. (And of course the words of Jesus are not in red in the Greek!) So it’s difficult to tell where the actual words of Jesus end and John’s comments begin. Most of the scholars who spend time studying John 3 agree that this particular verse is most likely a reflection by the author, John, on what Jesus had told Nic at night–You must be born again!
So John here in his own reflection is continuing to build his case for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son and God, and that by believing in him we can have life in his name (cf. 20:31).
It never ceases to amaze me the way God has used these ancient words to transform multiple lives even today.
What is your reflection on what Jesus told Nicodemus? What place does John 3:16 have in your own faith story?