“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16 (King James Version)
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16 (Christian Standard Bible)
Okay, let’s do a word study on John 3:16. If you read the two versions up above, you’ll see there’s a bit of a difference in the wording. The three words we want to focus on are “so”, “world” and “whosoever” in the KJV.
The first word is “so”. In the original Greek, the word used was “houto”, which means “in this manner”. So, the original translation is more like what the Christian Standard Bible has for that verse. Most folks read the verse as “For God SOOOOOOO loved the world”. The word “so” is not used to describe to what degree God loved the world (He loved the world sooooooo much), but it explains “HOW” he loved the world. Imagine showing someone how to do something like icing flowers a cake. You may say: “You put the icing in the bag, twist it closed, and then you squeeze it like so” (in this manner). So, in this verse we’re being told HOW God loved the world (by giving his one and only Son).
The second word is “world”. When people see the word “world”, they’re assuming this means that EVERY single person will be saved, but that is not the case. John’s epistle was written to the Jewish believers. This verse was controversial to the Jewish people because THEY were God’s chosen people and all others were dirty, filthy Gentile heathen and were not qualified to receive God’s promise of salvation. So, for them to hear that God extended His love to those outside the Jewish faith was a bit of a shock to them. But this use of the word “world” demonstrated that God intended for His free gift of salvation to be offered to every tribe, nation, and tongue, not just the Jews.
The third word is “whosoever”. In the original Greek, the word used is “pas”, which means “any, all, each, everyone”. When you read the verse as a whole in the Greek language is goes like this: “God loved the world in this manner: that he gave his one and only Son in order that all those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.” “All those who believe” are referring to God’s Elect.
The word “whosoever” gives people the impression that just anyone can believe, but that goes against Scripture when it says that only those who are chosen are those who will believe. Romans 9 talks about “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy”. Vessels of wrath are those who are “prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22) so we know that these are people who will never believe. That doesn’t mean they aren’t given an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. But it means they will reject the gospel despite hearing it preached to them. Matthew 22:14 says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This statement comes after the Parable of The Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) where the King sends out his servants to gather the wedding guests, but they all refuse to come, using different excuses as to why they can’t/won’t come. Then he sends his servants to those out in city to bring them in. When the king came in to inspect the guests, he found one not wearing wedding garments and he told his servants to throw him into the outer darkness. The “wedding garment” spoken of in this verse is referring to Christ’s blood that covers our sins. You could also say it is Christ’s Cloak of Righteousness that he imputed to us when he took our sins upon himself. Revelation 19:7-9 speaks about The Marriage Supper of the Lamb in which the Bride of Christ (the church) will gather and she will be arrayed in “fine linen, clean and white” and the fine linen is the “righteousness of saints”. So, you can see a parallel between the parable of the Wedding Feast and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
The gospel message is to be preached to everyone. But, not every person is going to answer the call of the gospel just like those in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22. Then there are those who, just like the guest not wearing a wedding garment, will THINK they are saved and try to get into heaven by his own works or by some other way apart from Christ, but will find that he was not “chosen” of God and will be cast into outer darkness.
We don’t know who the Elect are. Our duty is to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”, but it is the Holy Spirit who gives the lost sheep the ability to hear and respond to the call of Christ, and all those who believe will have eternal life.