How to respond to the Calvinist view of John 3:16 that God doesn’t love all people in the world?

How can we respond to Calvinists who say that John 3:16, doesn’t mean God loves all people in the world because For God so loved the world means cosmos, the physical creation, and only those He elected to be saved in Jesus , but the rest of people, the unelected, those He predestined for hell He doesn’t love?

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In the beginning, when God created mankind, He said it was VERY GOOD! God created humanity in His image out of love. We fell into sin, etc etc., but that wasn’t the original plan. That’s when Jesus came into place. For God so loved the world… <3

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Thanks for your reply. So does that mean God sent Jesus only for the elect and that his death on the cross was not for all people in the world that it was only for the elect people in the world?

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Hi Renuka,

This is a very good point. I think it should be said that every grand theology (such as Calvinism) should try to not just explain some given text (such as John 3:16) but also to

(1) Explain as much texts as possible
(2) Explain them well

So it’s not just “hey, I can explain this one reference, that means I am correct.” but rather “I have done my best to explain as much data (that is, texts from the bible) and done it well.”

Sometimes (1) is called “explanatory scope” and (2) is called “explanatory power”. We want both of these for our theology to be good and biblical.

That said, we can ask if the Calvinist explains not just John 3:16, but other key texts out there. I am convinced that the (5 point and Strict) Calvinist has issues with making sense of particularly plain texts about human responsibility. For this I refer you to books like “Determined to Believe?” (John Lennox) and, perhaps, also “The Only Wise God” (William Lane Craig), which is much more technical. But a kind of provisional (quick) answer will be to consider passages like this:

  1. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance . (2 Peter 3:9)

  2. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

Now, the Calvinist can try to force an interpretation that this “all” still refers to “some”. But I think the more we try to stretch this, the more we can remain reasonable in saying that this approach is really straining itself. The question is then why not stick to the natural reading instead of forcing such a strange way of interpretation?

Similarly, when I look at John 3:16, it is very plain that Jesus is talking not just on the elect. Indeed, in John’s letters when John speaks about the world, he tends to exclusively talking about the sinful people and even patterns of the world. I don’t know of any place else that biblical authors use the greek word kosmos as referring to the elect.

So yea, it seems such a reading is (1) doesn’t take into account as much texts as you hope and (2) doesn’t take into account John 3:16 particularly well - requiring a very forced interpretation.

So it lacks explanatory scope and explanatory power. And so, we can reject it, in favour of theologies with better scope and power.


So, I think when Jesus died on the cross, he did it for all - everyone - (theologians call this “unlimited atonement”), not just some. It is just that people refuse this atonement (theologians call this “resistible grace”). The reason why the Calvinist has to make these sorts of exegetical gymnastics (forcing their explanations in very unnatural ways) is because they believe grace is irresistible, and hence atonement must be limited.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:

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Thank you@clive.aw for your reply. Yes it helps a lot and I will have to reread it a few times so I don’t miss everything you packed in there :slight_smile:

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Renuka,

What a great and brutal question! The word elect/election occurs 18 times throughout the gospels and Paul’s writings. Beyond this the concept of election is also present in scripture. Thus, we cannot dispute that election is part of scriptural revelation. That being said, let’s look at one concept of election as seen in John 6:44 where Jesus tells the crowds, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Jesus then follows this statement up with one of His most difficult statements about how one must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Some of the disciples who followed Jesus up to this point said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus concludes in John 6:65 by saying, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”

We see in Jesus’ sayings the word “draw” and “granted”. These words carry the concept of election: Unless the Father draws a person, or grants that a person come to Jesus, that person will not approach Jesus. Though we see election, and the concept, in plain writing we also see God’s desire that no one be cast off from His eternal presence (Ez. 18:32; 2 Peter 3:8-9). The incarnation of Jesus is evidence that God the Father really does not want any to perish. Yet, how is a dead person supposed to respond to someone’s phone call? Ezekiel 36: 26-27 says, “26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

A heart of stone is not responsive, this is the natural state of humanity: we aren’t responsive to Jesus’ call. As God has made me more aware of the depths of my sin and how little I love Him, it has caused me to be grateful for election! If my heart is stone and not responsive to His call, this means I need Him to breathe life into me so I can respond. And this is what Ezekiel is saying, that God will cause (concept of election displayed again) His Spirit to come into me and He will give me a heart of flesh that will respond to Him.

In conclusion, I believe God really did send His Son to die for ALL the world. It’s just that we need Him to help us to respond to Him. Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3) and that this rebirth is conducted by the Spirit (Jn. 3:6). Man is responsible to respond to God, but God is sovereign (Phil. 2:12-13). How this works is a mystery to me. But God’s election is a grace, because if He had not done something in my heart I know I had no interest in approaching Jesus.

I hope this is of some help.

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Guys, loving this discussion. One thing I’m keen add: Christians fall on both sides of Calvinism. That makes this an intramural scrimmage, not a battle against the forces of evil! There are different perspectives on what the ultimate answer may be, but how we are to have these discussions is crystal clear (Eph. 1:3 ) After all, it’s no good arguing that God loves everyone while failing to love our Calvanist/Arminian family in the process.

But all that to say, I’m loving the solid intellectual discussion being brought to bear here. If you want even more, check out previous Connect threads on the subject!

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Hi @morgannix18 thanks so much for your reply so much in there to consider. I agree With you about God changing us because I grew up not believing. Then by God’s grace there came a day after hearing the gospel over a period of months the Powerful Word of God changed me and I found that I believed . That was the moment where I had the free will to reject it even though I now believed it was true. Thank God I didn’t reject it and chose to accept God’s gift of faith. Election still remains a mystery to me though. I still have family members I grew up with who still don’t believe. And I understand their position because I was in the same position growing up. But I am encouraged to share the Word of God with them because I have personally experienced how powerful it is to change people who are spiritually dead.

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Gushing compliments :clap:t4::clap:t4::clap:t4: @Kasey_Leander and the entire RZIM team!!! So grateful to you all for GAC2020. And yes I totally agree this question comes out of love for our Christian brothers and sisters who have Calvinist views. My question was sincerely out of the desire to engage with a brother in Christ in a loving not adversarial way.

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I am with you concerning the mystery of election! Practically speaking, you and I will never know who is elected this side of heaven. But if we can trust that God will draw people to Himself, this frees us up to be faithful in sharing the gospel and live the task of regeneration up to Him.

You said that after you heard the Powerful Word of God and that it changed you and that you then could choose to accept or deny God’s call. I know what you mean. It was if I became aware of a whole new world. Yet, I don’t know that I could have denied and thus rejected His call. It seems that what you, and I, experienced were the effects of election. But I certainly agree with Kasey that there are lovers of Jesus on both sides of the election debate. The beautiful thing is that God’s grace was poured out upon you and now your family is exposed to the love and mercy of our Lord. I pray that Jesus grants you the privilege of seeing your family come to saving faith!

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You know I said that there was a moment that I could choose to accept or reject because that is how I just heard it described in our Bible study yesterday. But honestly, I don’t think I could have rejected the gospel at that moment that I believed because even to this very day on really hard days when I want to just give up the fight I find that I can’t walk away from Jesus. Thank God for that. And thank you for your prayers for my family members I will continue to witness to them and pray they too will believe and come to a saving faith. And yes I agree with @Kasey_Leander this discussion is coming out of the hope to lovingly engage our brothers and sisters in Christ not battle them.

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@Renuka yes absolutely!! Haha love it. There’s no hiding the clash of ideas - real love comes when we’re both respectful and honest.

Loving the balance of both here guys, keep it up :slight_smile:

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