In a recent article it was said that the words of John 3: 16 were not those of the Lord. What are the grounds for such a statement?
The Apostle John in his gospel frequently passes comments on, or gives explanations of, events. Sometimes the author of these is in no doubt. For example John 18: 40 reads “They cried therefore again all, saying, Not this [man], but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber”. The last sentence, “Now Barabbas was a robber”, was not part of the cry of the Jews but clearly the comment of the inspired writer.
In John 3: 27 onwards we have the reply of John the Baptist to his disciples regarding the Lord. The question arises as to where his reply terminates. Clearly, as John speaks in the first person using the pronoun “I” several times, his reply continues to the end of v30. But does it continue on to the end of the chapter? The only way we have of judging is in the words used and the statements made as to whether or not they are more suited to the lips of the Baptist or the comments of the inspired evangelist. Let us take the last two verses of the chapter. Where in the Baptist’s ministry is he recorded as speaking of God as Father or the Lord Jesus as the Son? The answer is nowhere. Yet the Apostle John frequently uses those names in both his gospel and his epistles (see for example John 13: 3; 1 John 1: 3; 2: 24; 4: 14; 2 John 1: 9). Again, where does the Baptist speak about eternal life? The answer again is nowhere. Yet the subject is spoken of by the evangelist in his first epistle (see 1 John 2: 25; 5: 13, 20). The weight of evidence suggests that John 3: 35, 36 are not the words of the Baptist but the comment of the writer of the gospel. The section vs 31–34 is in the abstract using the pronoun “He”. This flows naturally from v30 and is how the Baptist has already spoken in John 1: 15: “He that comes after me is preferred before me, for he was before me”. Thus there are good grounds for concluding that what the Baptist said terminates in John 3: 34 and that the last two verses of the chapter form an inspired comment by the writer. This brings us now to the conversation with Nicodemus and the question of where the Lord’s conversation with him ended.
Looking at John 3: 1–21 we can only use the same principles to try and ascertain if and where the Lord’s words terminated. The last time we read of the Lord using the word “I” is in v12 where He says “If I have said the earthly things to you, and ye believe not, how, if I say the heavenly things to you, will ye believe?” Thus vs 1–12 were clearly part of the conversation. For some scholars, this is where the Lord’s words ended. They claim that the following words “And no one has gone up into heaven, save he who came down out of heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven” (v13) have a more natural reading if taken as descriptive of the Lord’s present position as man (see Acts 7: 56). This has some weight but as v14 views the cross as future, I think that v13 would then have to be viewed as a parenthetical comment by John. However, the appellation “Son of man” is the most common way in which the Lord referred to Himself. He used it over 70 times in the Gospels, and ten times in John (in addition to what we have in vs 13 and 14). It would seem likely therefore that these verses are the Lord’s own words. This now brings us to the verse in question.
Apart from John 3: 16, 18, the term “only–begotten” is used three times by John, describing the Lord, in John 1: 14, 18 and 1 John 4: 9. It is never used by the Lord in describing Himself. It is also never used by any other NT writer in describing the Lord but John. This suggests that v16 and the following verses are John’s comments and not the Lord’s own words. But there is more.
John 3: 16 is the only Scripture that I know of which says that God gave his Son. Paul speaks of “Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2: 6), clearly referring to the same sacrificial act. But I believe that only in John 3: 16 do we have the wondrous truth that God gave his Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now you will notice in v14, referring to the Lord’s death, the word is “thus must the Son of man be lifted up” where the event, as already mentioned, is viewed as future. However, in v16 the event is viewed as in the past. It is God gave His Son. This again suggests that, while the words of vs14, 15 may have come from the Lord’s lips, v16 is John’s comment.
One final point: v16 begins with the explanatory word “For” which John uses some 20 times in his gospel to introduce many of his comments such as “for it was cold” (John 18: 18), “for the place of the city where Jesus was crucified was near” (John 19: 20), ”for he was naked” (John 21: 7), etc. Thus I judge that the words of v16 and the verses that follow are John’s and not the Lord’s.