16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV

What does John mean by "believes" in John 3:16?

Note: I know this is a repeated question of one that's on hold, but I thought I would just ask it again on here instead of waiting for the old one to reopen (I also deleted the on hold one). Let me know if there is a problem with this.


4 Answers 4


The apostle John made it clear from the opening chapter of his gospel who this Son of God is and what, exactly, we are to believe about Him:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 12, 14).

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6.)

Elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus’ disciples explained what we have to believe about the Son of God, the Word, this Jesus:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved... Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”” (Acts 4:12; 16:21).

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day pin accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

This belief is much more than mere intellectual assent. After all, the demons believe, and shudder (James 2:19). It requires genuine faith, a faith that transforms lives. This belief in what God, in Jesus, has done to save sinners from the eternal consequences of sin, demands our all, our total surrender and obedience.

"If you love me, you will obey what I command... Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" (John 14:15, 21).

"If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:5-6).

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God... This is love for God; by loving God and carrying out his commands" (1 John 5:1).


To believe in Jesus Christ is to have faith that he is who he is stated to be in John's Gospel, namely, the eternal Word of God who is God, who became flesh as Mary's child. That is stated at the very start of John's gospel account.

John, having laid the foundation for belief by revealing just who this Jesus is, goes on to detail the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, concluding his account with this:

"But these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:31)

That is what 'belief' means, in John's gospel account - faith in Jesus' name, that will lead to life, and life eternal, as John 3:16 states. Such faith means trusting utterly in the power of Jesus' name because of believing him to be the loving gift of God to the world, to prevent people from perishing through unbelief.

  • you are promoting a dead, intellectual faith. Just acknowledging some facts does not make one a believer. One must follow Jesus by faith to be saved. Within the context, verse 21 further elaborates the faith required: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (3:21). Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 20:37
  • @Jesus Saves The question did not ask for anything other than what the word "believes" means in context of John 3:16. If the question had further asked for how such belief works out in action, I would have said a great deal more, and I would have agreed with your comments. However, the answer I gave was not a sermon, but a simple explanation of what the word "believes" means in context of John 3:16. It's important on here to stick to the actual question and not try to inject other 'stuff' we might be keen on. I never promote "dead, intellectual faith". Perhaps you could ask a question on that?
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 20:50
  • 1
    The word “believes” is a Greek present tense participle that denotes ongoing action. The one who is in a present state of belief “ (“believes”), “has” (possession of) eternal life. May God bless your studies. Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 20:57
  • @Jesus Saves Yes, the belief goes on, just as, once I believe that the earth goes round the sun and not the sun round the earth, I cannot stop believing that truth. I go on believing it till the day I die. Truth is what we have to believe about the One who is the Way, 'the Truth and the Life'. When such truth is a conviction given by the Holy Spirit, Philippians 1:6 applies, for God is working in that believer, "to will and to act according to his good purpose." Hallelujah! His promises are true and faithful though we stumble or even wander. The good Shepherd brings us back.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 15:57


The verse John 3:16 was originally spoken to Nicodemus who was having a hard time believing in what Jesus was saying to him.

Nicodemus’s response to the words of Jesus: “How can these things be?”

John 3:9-12 KJV (9) Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? (10) Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

Nicodemus was not receiving the Son’s witness who was sent by the Father to speak the heavenly testimony. Jesus: “we speak that we do know and testify that we have seen and you don’t receive our witness”.

(11) Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (12) If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Whosoever shall believe “in” ….that is, INTO (Greek: εἰς )…Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in (INTO) him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

The Son comes to give us an understanding so that we may know Him who is true (1 John 5:20). He opens the Scriptures to our minds as He speaks words of eternal life and spirit.....His witness....His testimony.

He speaks to us in the voice of the Spirit of Truth and we are to hear His testimony which comes from heaven.

He must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30) as we believe into Him…..as every argument within us is brought down as well as every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God until all thoughts are made captive unto the obedience of Christ. We must humble ourselves at the hearing of His voice in order to receive what is said and to enter into greater understanding.

As John the Baptist said in John 3, the Son testifies about what He has seen and heard ….and yet no man received His testimony. But those who stand still and hear Him rejoice greatly to hear His voice.

John 3:29-36 KJV (29) He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

He that speaks from Heaven must increase but we who are on earth and hear must decrease as we hear His voice speaking in the Spirit of Truth. Some will hear and rejoice while others will resist and not receive what He says. Those who resist His words will not "decrease"....not humbling themselves toward Him.

(30) He must increase, but I must decrease. (31) He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (32) And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.

The person who does receive (believing into Him progressively) His testimony has set to his seal that God is true.

(33) He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. (34) For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (35) The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.

He that believes into the Son has everlasting life and he that believes not (stubbornly resists in unbelief ofwhat he hears the Son saying) shall not see life.

(36) He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

At the revelation of Jesus Christ (as He opens up the Scriptures to our understanding), we are to gird up the loins of our minds and be “sober” and not found “drunk” on the wine of wrath towards what we hear Him saying. We must "decrease".

1 Peter 1:13-16 KJV (13) Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (14) As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: (15) But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; (16) Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Again, the Lord comes to open up our minds to the Scriptures and we are to hear His voice and put off the former behavior of the old man and be renewed in the spirit of our minds and to put on the “new man”. We must make an effort to be found of Him “watching” at the moment we hear His voice speaking.

Ephesians 4:20-24 KJV (20) But ye have not so learned Christ; (21) If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: (22) That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; (23) And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; (24) And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

The “new wine” (the heavenly testimony of Jesus that does not align with the private interpretations of men…the old wine) must be put into “new bottles” ….those who put on the “new man” in the renewing of the spirit of the mind.

Luke 5:36-39 KJV (36) And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.

The “old man” who will resist the testimony of the Lord….the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ…and will not be able to receive His witness as the “new wine” spills out and the bottles perish. Those that will not believe into the Son shall not see life and will not retain His words of life and spirit within them in their unbelief.

(37) And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.

But whoever shall believe into Him has everlasting life as they will receive and keep His testimony as both the new wine and the person who puts on Christ (the new man) shall both be preserved.

(38) But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.

We believe into Him as it is progressive for no man have drunk the “old wine” immediately desires the new. It is something that takes effort (doing well at the hearing of His voice).
Believing is doing. It is active.

*(39) No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better


Thanks for reading and considering.


1. Question Restatement:

In John 3:16 - what does the writer mean when he says "believe".

2. Quick Answer:

The writer uses a preposition after "believe/trust" that indicates that the believer is hoping FOR something FROM God, not just a simple belief in God. Specifically, people who trust that God is really does love them, and does not - at all - desire anyone to perish, not even the wicked.

3. A little about the writer:

The writer is incredibly familiar with Greek philosophy and Jewish law. But in my experience, it is usually never the case that commentators take this into consideration when trying to interpret this book.

Very specifically, the writer is addressing the Jewish laws of Kareth: the Mosaic and Rabbinic laws that can result in someone being "cut off" from Israel.

4. Personal Translation / Interpretation

John 3:14 - Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the same was therefore necessary for the Son of Man SO THAT all of the ones trusting in him [for his love for them] may have eternal life.
Note: Translators intentionally mistranslate "for" as "in" - even though it confuses readers and obfuscates what believers are trusting for, (that God really, really, does love everyone, (not just Israel), unconditionally).

John 3:15 - So in this way, BECAUSE God unconditionally loves, (agape), all creation (Cosmos, not just "World" or Earth"), God therefore offered [up] the Son [of Man], (the only heir), SO THAT all of the ones trusting for [this love] of God would not continue to be cut off [from God] but have eternal life,

John 3:16 - BECAUSE it was implausible that God would be sending the Son of Man to Creation in order to judge Creation, but rather in order that Creation could be rescued through him.

5. Clarifications

New Testament Translators are incredibly inconsistent when it comes to the words "Trust", "Faith" and "Believe". Specifically, they overload a word used very commonly with a ton of religious connotation - which wasn't present at the time.

For some insane reason, these translators choose to use three completely different words to translate one Greek word - even though historically, audiences would have interpreted the word in the most common-vernacular sense, "trust" - which is a product of experience, (see the entirety of Hebrews 11 for illustrations of trust throughout Scripture - which are not examples of blind faith. Every instance of this Greek word, (pistos), can be accurately translated into some for of "Trust", (Trustworthy, entrusted, etc.).

And on top of it all - John 3:16 is completely taken out of context as it obviously begins with a conjunction which indicates that it follows the beginning of the sentence. In context, it makes complete sense - though very hard to live by.

Ironically, this passage comes with several "So that, and because" explanations of its own so there would be no confusion:

Note: Sick with flu, but intend to edit with footnotes explaining the translation choices, (especially regarding the consistent use of the aorist tense, the preposition "for", etc... If anyone is familiar with those reasonings, I would appreciate the editorial help! (Even if you ultimately disagree!

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