Who is speaking in John 3:16? Jesus or John? John 3 begins with Jesus speaking in the first person but in v. 13 there's a shift to the third person which continues until a change of scene at 3:22.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

There are no punctuations marks in the original Greek.

The NIV stops quoting Jesus at 3:15 but the ESV continues the quotation till the end of the monologue. Which translation is right?


5 Answers 5


Short Answer: Though it's difficult to say, the NIV is probably correct. It's the narrator, not Jesus, who is most likely speaking in John 3:13-21.

Here's why.

John appears to be establishing a chiasm between the first and second miracles at Cana. This third-person monologue (3:13-21) is paralleled with a similar monologue after the testimony of John the Baptist (3:31-36).

A - First Cana Miracle (2:1-12)

B - Temple Cleansing and events in Jerusalem (2:13-25)

C - Conversation with Jesus (3:1-12)

D - Third Person Monologue (3:13-21)

E - John the Baptist's Testimony (3:22-30)

D' - Third Person Monologue (3:31-36)

C' - Conversation with Jesus (4:1-19)

B' - Replaced Temples and events in Jerusalem (4:20-45)

A' - Second Cana Miracle (4:46-54)

Explanation of the Chiasm

A - A' First and Second Cana Miracles: More than simply linked by location and number, there's a common subject and sequence that ties these two stories together. (1) A mother implores Jesus, her son and a father implores Jesus concerning his son (2:3; 4:47). (2) Jesus rebuffs the request (2:4; 4:48). (3) Both mother and father continue to press (2:5;4:49). (3) Jesus commands action without evidence (2:8; 4:50). (4) The servants and the father obey the command (2:8; 4:50). (5) The miracle is revealed (2:9; 4:51). (6) The result is belief in Jesus (2:11; 4:53).

B - B' Events at the Temple in Jerusalem: In speaking to the authorities in John 2 Jesus refers not to the actual temple but rather His own body and to the woman Jesus declares all such earthly temples now superseded. Both conversations end with a brief summary of the crowds' response to Jesus' actions. The later also ends with a reminder of the formers events (4:45).

C - C' Conversations with Jesus: These are the only two sections in John where Jesus has a conversation with a single individual alone. Both conversations turn on the issue of water but antithetical parallels also abound: Time of Day (Night - Noon), Conversation starter (Nicodimus - Jesus), Gender (man - woman), Ethnicity (Jew - Samaritan), Identity (named - unnamed)... The list goes on.

D - D' The Third-Person Monologues: Both these monologues begin as narrative speeches in the first person and jump suddenly into the third person, making it difficult to tell weather or not the characters are still speaking or if the author has simply stepped in. In addition, these two discourses share a number of parallel phrases and related themes.

  • "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-the Son of Man. (3:13)." "The one who comes from above is above all (Jesus); the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth (John the Baptist). The one who comes from heaven is above all (3:31-32)."
  • "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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (3:16-18)." "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (3:36).

E John the Baptist's Testimony: Confined on either side by the third person monologues, John's testimony appears to represent this chiasm's pivot.

  • Interesting, I wouldn't have thought of a literary/structural approach.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 23:22

??? I always assumed it was John speaking of Jesus[3rdperson], explaining his statement and giving it some depth with OT explanation.

Then red letter appeared, I figured it an easy editors oversight, as "Jesus had not yet ascended". so John was expounding as he wrote the text some years later after the fact concerning 'heavenly things'

Verse 22 "After this", Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside...

"After this", may imply it was Jesus.

If so I am wondering if he considers Jacobs Ladder experience or the Joshua encounter and other such incarnations even his comment to Nathaneal, ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” Could this be what had in mind as he spoke of himself in the third person.

If it was Jesus speaking were his incarnations [theophanies]?? what he meant by ascensions and descensions.

So I not sure now, I inclined to believe it an editors error. AS the incarnations are not the mission as SON OF GOD,., but??

Any thoughts anyone, Where else does Jesus speak in third person.


It does not appear Jesus said John 3:16 but the author. Side note: John did not were John. He was well dead after this gospel was written which was about 100 years after Jesus death. The earliest gospel is mark, 50 years after.

  • Welcome to BHSE!. Make sure you take our tour. (See lower left) Thanks. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 21:29

What was he doing under the fig tree? Was he praying to God?, then did God acknowledged by 'Jesus'. That seems similar Jacob experience minus the wrestle and limp was his experience the same? I think you are right, that experience convinced him of who Jesus was and his response certainly implies it, but I don't think Nathaniel got invited to the mountain of transfiguration. No man can do... these miracles what miracles 'but God be with him'. water to wine? or did he recognize His authority in temple. I think you right and John filled us in on the depth of what seemed a brief out there conversation between Jesus Nicodemus. Did I just break all your rules by not directly answering?


Since John was filled with the Spirit of Christ, I know that it was Christ speaking His story through John. As Paul said in II Corinthians 13:3 "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me". My belief is that we have his words strait from the "horses" mouth. I take this as the words of Christ. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost"


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