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 KJV]

I don't see how most Christians define the word "whosoever" as "anybody" and "all." If the word does mean "anybody" and "all," why did the Lord Jesus Christ said in John 17:9 that He is not praying for the world, but for those whom the Father has given Him? John 17 speaks of a people whom the Father has given to the Son and to whom the Son gave His life for their eternal security (verses 2-3, 6-7, 9, 11-12, 24).

Is it rather appropriate to think of the possibility that "whosoever" means all nations and that salvation is not only for the Jews but also for all kinds and sorts of people, since Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, a Jew and a Pharisee at the same time.

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    The statement 'whosoever believeth' excludes nobody from believing. Nor does the statement 'I pray not for the world' exclude any individual from believing. That the redeemed of the Lord are secured, still excludes nobody from believing. We must strive to enter in the strait gate, for many prove themselves unable to do it. There are many good questions in this area, but you will need to form your query in accord with site requirements in order to have it accepted and answered. Welcome to BH.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 22, 2018 at 10:16
  • And to put the cap on Ruminator's note, to ponder this question you can go to Christianity Stack Exchange. Sep 22, 2018 at 12:24
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    @LukeSawczak . . . as long as it is borne in mind that Christianity SE has the motto "we can't handle the truth" which conveys that the site is not set up to examine 'truth' questions.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 22, 2018 at 18:21
  • I have edited your question heading and added the relevant text in order to bring the question within the scope of this site. You have hinted at an answer, yourself, in your last paragraph. Please feel free to re-edit if you wish. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 23, 2018 at 11:53
  • I am confused by your question. On the one hand you seem to be saying that, based on John 17:9, Jesus must not be referring to "anybody" or "all" (your first paragraph), but then you seem to say that it is correct to interpret John 3:16 as referring to all. Maybe I am not reading correctly.
    – user33515
    Oct 26, 2018 at 22:57

6 Answers 6


“Whosoever believeth” is translated from πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων. It is πᾶς with the singular participle ὁ πιστεύων. So, instead of all it is translated every; thus “everyone who believes” or “whosoever believeth.” Note, “that … should not perish, … have” translates ἵνα along with the subjunctives verbs. This Greek grammatical structure expresses purpose. Thus the purpose of God giving “his only begotten Son” was “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 3:18 gives the limitation: “but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (ESV) It is true that verses such as John 17:9 and in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (ESV) are confusing to our human understanding, but we also have John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (ESV)

Jesus’ wording in John 6:37 alludes to Jesus’ illustrations about sheep, such as John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (ESV) Here’s some background to this verse:

It is not unusual for shepherds to give names to their sheep just as we do with dogs, cats, horses, fish, etc. Every sheep recognizes his own name, and comes when called. Travelers in lands where old-fashioned sheep herding methods are still used, have noticed the readiness with which the sheep of a large flock will recognize the shepherd’s voice. Though several flocks are mingled, they speedily separate at the command of the shepherd, while the command of a stranger would have no effect on them.

Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (p. 518). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Jesus essentially said in John 6:37 that all the sheep (people) the Father has put in his care will come to him, but he also said he will not reject anyone who comes to him. In other words all who choose to come to Jesus are chosen by the Father.

The question of free will is a philosophical problem that isn’t addressed in the Bible, probably because the answer is beyond human understanding. It was a bigger problem for the Rationalists who were Naturalists by the simple fact that cause and effect gives no room for free choice. Problems with Rationalism like this led Naturalism to deny absolute truth and move from Modernism to Postmodernism. But, the Bible does teach that people are responsible for their actions and decisions. Basically, all Christians accept this, but the Rationalists, who are fixed on cause and effect, view people as not responsible for their actions.

Absolute truth exists with God, but we do not know truth completely and our knowledge is limited. We know God is sovereign, but do not completely understand God’s sovereignty.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Co 13:9–12, ESV)

God’s revelation in the Bible tells us we are made in the image of God and responsible for our decisions and actions. From the human standpoint we have the freedom to choose. From God’s sovereignty he has chosen us. We don’t understand that, but that’s what we have in the Scriptures. Whoever is everyone who believes. What believe means is another discussion.

  • In John 6:37 God does not "give" his sheep as a gift but instead "commits them to Jesus' care". The background is that YHVH had a flock of sheep (believing Jews) which he committed to the care of Jesus. Basically, YHVH has taken a sabbatical from being shepherd (and sick of his lousy hirelings) and so set up "David" as the one shepherd. See Ezek 34. The "elect" are always Jewish remnant.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 23, 2018 at 21:54
  • @Ruminator Study the word δίδωσίν. John 6:37 does allude to John 10.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 23, 2018 at 22:15
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    I labor very hard to not make assertions that I have not researched thoroughly. This is from BDAG on δίδωμι: ⑤ to put someth. in care of another, entrust ⓐ of things entrust τινί τι someth. to someone money Mt 25:15; Lk 19:13, 15; the keys of the kgdm. Mt 16:19; perh. Lk 12:48. W. εἰς τὰς χεῖρας added J 13:3 (cp. Gen 39:8; Is 22:21; 29:12 al.) or ἐν τῇ χειρί τινος 3:35 (cp. Jdth 9:9; Da 1:2; 7:25 Theod.; 1 Macc 2:7). Of spiritual things J 17:8, 14; Ac 7:38. ⓑ of pers. τινά τινι entrust someone to another’s care J 6:37, 39; 17:6, 9, 12, 24; Hb 2:13 (Is 8:18).
    – Ruminator
    Sep 23, 2018 at 22:28
  • @Perry Webb From my human point of view, We choose; we choose on the basis of who we are; we do not choose who we are.
    – C. Stroud
    Feb 18, 2020 at 17:57

The Greek text uses a participle, so a more literal reading might be everyone believing in Him ...

In the phrase:

πᾶς / ὁ πιστεύων / εἰς / αὐτὸν
Pas / ho pisteuōn / eis / auton

the ho pisteuōn literally means "the believing [one]" - it is in the singular. Pas means "every". The perfectly literal Greek is clumsy - "every the believing [one]".

The verse does not specify any particular person or race. It refers, as the text said, to everyone believing in Him. This is reiterated in verse 36 (following KJV):

He that believeth on the Son
Ho pisteuōn eis ton uion - "The [one] believing in the Son"
hath everlasting life:
echei zōēn aiōnion - "has life eternal"

And he that believeth not the Son
ho de apeithōn tō uiō - "but/and the [one] disobeying the Son"
shall not see life
ouk opsetai zōēn - "shall/will not see life"

It is interesting to note here, I think, that, contrary to many translations, the Greek text does not say:

He that believes in the Son has eternal life
And he that does not believe in the Son shall not see life

but rather

He that believes [pisteuōn] in the Son has eternal life
And he that does not OBEY [apeithōn] the Son shall not see life


“…each/the one who believes…”. Pas is singular to emphasize that faith is singular in that the person who believes shall not perish. Singular in number grammatically may include a totality but the force of the word “pas” always begins with the individual who believes. It is not correct to interpret this text suggesting a hint to universal collection of individual believers nor the idea of all as a totality either. The referent is the one who believes. Theologians can take it/and have taken it to mean too much over and above the simple statement “each one” who believes.

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    Nov 23, 2021 at 3:04

I believe in Romans it says he Foreknew, therefore he predestined. So that would mean on his foreknowledge, he predestined people who would be saved based on the decision he knew they would make.

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    Feb 10, 2022 at 17:54

The word translated "whosoever" in John 3:16 is πᾶς which means that "ALL who believe should not perish but have unending life".


However, the context refers to "the world" (KOSMOS) that God loved. This seems to be the word that limits the scope of "all". So "all [of the world] that believe in him...".

I'm aware that KOSMOS is taken by some (IE: "Calvinists") to refer to God's elect/chosen out of all the world. However, that constraint is certainly not indicated in the text anywhere so I consider that very forced.

However, I've come to the (apparently unique) perspective that the KOSMOS is referring to the contemporary Jewish temple-based theocracy. John, like Jesus and the twelve apostles was a Jew and his concern was with his own world of Judaism. Recall how difficult it is in Acts to convince anyone that gentiles too were invited into the soon-to-arrive kingdom of God.

Suggestions that "John" in John 3:16 intended κόσμος to refer to "the elect" are special pleading. BDAG lists 8 different extant usages of κόσμος and none of them refer to "the elect". And while John uses κόσμος 79 times in 58 verses it very frequently if not most often refers to the lost. Also, in that gospel the "chosen" come out of the κόσμος:

Joh_15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world [εγω εξελεξαμην υμας εκ του κοσμου], therefore the world hateth you.

And for "John", being "elect" just means to be chosen for a purpose, good or bad:

Joh 6:70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? Joh 6:71 He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

So we can and must eliminate the view John 3:16 referred to a Calvinism styled "elect".

Also I would like to point out that the Greeks mentioned in John 12 are Jewish but not Judaeans and even that caused a ripple and a buzz of concerned discussion because they wanted to see (meet?) Jesus:

NIV John 12:

20Now there were some Greeks [Hellenized Jews] among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.


"Whoever believes". Whoever walks into the sea will get wet. Whoever believes in Him will not perish. Here one thing, belief, results in another, salvation. But who are those that will believe? They are the ones given by the Father to the Son John 17v2.

  • Thanks for your answer! What are you trying to say by citing John 17:2? Are you claiming that "whosoever" is the chosen/elect that Jesus quotes in predicting the end-times? I'm a little confused and would like more clarification. Thanks again! Dec 4, 2018 at 4:00
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    @phil-al-sophy I am saying that my understanding is that the ones given by the Father to the Son are a fixed quantity. As a result of their having been given they will be the ones who believe. As a result of that belief they will be saved because that is what happens to those who believe.
    – C. Stroud
    Dec 5, 2018 at 10:32
  • How did you come to understand this? Could you cite more evidence in your reasoning within your answer as support for your conclusion? Thank you. Dec 5, 2018 at 15:52
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    @phil-al-sophy Nothing has its absolute beginning in us as John 1v3. Christianity is monotheistic; there is only One first cause. If we could create faith we could create. "Whoever believes" are those given faith by Jesus "that in everything He might be preeminent". Col 1v19
    – C. Stroud
    Dec 10, 2018 at 23:13

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