John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 17:9

9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

It is commonly believed, among many, that the word world in John 3:16, indicates that God loves all men and offers them salvation. Yet in John 17:9 Jesus says "I am not praying for the world".

How are these two sayings of Jesus reconciled ?


7 Answers 7


The word "world" (κοσμος) can have a number of meanings other than "every human being without exception," which is how it is often taken. A.W. Pink maintained that there are 7 uses for the word "world" and John Own offered (I believe) 16. In John's gospel there are a few meanings present, ranging from "every human being without exception" to "all nations of the earth" to "non-elect humanity." In John 3:16, I believe John is referring to this first use, reflecting a real love of God for all that he has made, and to the universal call to repentance and faith in Christ. In John 17:9, however, he is speaking about the world which does not (and will not–John 17:20) believe in him for salvation, or "non-elect humanity."

The importance of this is that Jesus intercession and prayer are tied to his sacrifice. As the High Priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1), his prayers for his own will be as effective as his sacrifice for them. Jesus prays for his own, and not the world, and his prayer is heard.

To directly answer the question, I'd just say that we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements in John by examining their contexts. Upon doing so, I think the answer that emerges is that in John 3, Jesus is speaking about God's love for all mankind which moved him to send his Son as a real offer of love and salvation to all who would receive him. In John 17, Jesus is not praying for the world, that is, those whom he knows will not receive him because they are not his; they were not given to him by the Father and in that sense do not belong to him (cf. John 10).

  • @Daniel Stanley Yes Thanks for your time and welcome .! I believe the word that is often used as regards John 3:16 and the word "World" is the word Hyperbole a word you are familiar with no doubt. Hyperbole can be used as a figure of speech! The emphasis here, in John 3:16, is the Love of God. So great it is, that we cannot fathom its depths and no words can describe its fullness not even with the use of Hyperbole. That one sinner was saved would fully warrant the use of hyperbole in John 3:16. Another example... Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 12:30
  • 1
    @Daniel Stanley..I would argue, that the word 'World' in John 3:16. means the elect specifically. God did not love the world universally as seen by john 17:9 Given there is a definite sense, of a love to people in all nations, but this seemingly general terminology can only be defined by scripture which explains the purpose of God in Election. The 'world' here must mean the elect, as God cannot love any outside of Christ and His eternal purpose. The 'World' that God loved, was the 'World' of the elect, for which this world was created! Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 17:46
  • ... then what do you make of 1 John 2:2? and many other like it? See hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/52725/…
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 21:04

If we say the Japanese or sport's world we mean that only, not everyone. John 3:16 is one of the most misinterpreted verses which many say is to mean everyone inclusively. Now, in reality, the bible reconciles or defines itself. For out of the mouth of two or three witness let a fact be established (2 Corinthians 13:1, Matthew 18:16) Thus, I bring the Messiah of Israel, himself, who says, "I spoke openly to the WORLD, I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple where the Jews always resort and said nothing in secret." (John 18:20) The Prophet Isaiah said, "But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded, WORLD without end." (Isaiah 45:20)

Really, John 3:14 puts John 3:16 in context as it refers to an event which happened only to Israel in the wilderness as Numbers 21:6-9 explains. This event spoken of the Messiah being lifted up for Israel who needed a savior with living water, a rock striking Moses who will overcome the deadly serpents in a dry and thirsty land (the wilderness). "I am only sent to the lost sheep of Israel" the Messiah stated.(Matthew 15:24) For sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4) and the law was only given to Israel. (Psalms 147:20 and Romans 3:1-2). Israel due to sinfulness and slavery was considered both Jews and gentiles (Ephesians 2:11 and John 7:35).

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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Oct 24, 2015 at 17:22
  • Hi Ariel. Are you saying you believe the KOSMOS to refer to Israel?
    – Ruminator
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 20:07

I realize that I am alone in this but I'm convinced that John and Paul used KOSMOS not to refer to "the whole world" or even "the Roman empire" but to temple-centric Judaism.

If we understand KOSMOS as "Judaism" it becomes clear what Paul is on about in Colossians:

Colossians 2:20-23 English Standard Version (ESV) 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits [principles] of the world [Judaism], why, as if you were still alive in the world [Judaism], do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion [ceremonies] and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

This runs completely parallel to this:

[Mar 7:15-16 KJV] 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

Paul's words to the Galatians become meaningful and lucid when we understand KOSMOS as "Judaism":

[Gal 4:1-31 KJV] 1 Now I say, [That] the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; 2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world [Judaism]: 4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. 6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. 8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Was Paul's concern related to "regulations" and "ascetics" and "days and months..." from the secular world? No, he was dealing with Jews who insisted on gentile observance of the Torah AND Oral Tradition!

Notice how these run parallel:

[Gal 3:2-3 KJV] 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

[Gal 4:9-11] 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

So in my view it was God's great love for Israel that he gave his son. It was a covenant love. His son was the "death introduced by the testator (God)" to ratify the new covenant with the Jews.

John said "He came to his own". It does not say, "He came to everyone in the world". There are anecdotal contacts with gentiles but he clearly avowed "I was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

It was because of this new covenant that John the baptizer was sent and the spirit was poured upon all flesh. It was to raise Israel (IE: the remnant) from the dead and prepare the elect for the arrival of the kingdom.

It was because the leaders of the Jews were blinded by God as Isaiah had prophesied so that they would reject their king/messiah allowing the gentiles to "come in".

That God had a plan to bring in the gentiles was not known to John.

Jesus' disciples were part of Judaism but Jesus brought them out:

[Jhn 10:8-9 KJV] 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.


Confirming my understanding of KOSMOS in John is this context:

[Jer 11:14 ESV] (14) "Therefore do not pray for this people [IE: The Jews], or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.

[Jer 30:7 CSB] (7) How awful that day will be! There will be no other like it! It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.

[Jer 7:16 ESV] (16) "As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.

[Jer 14:11 ESV] (11) The LORD said to me: "Do not pray for the welfare of this people.

[Zec 14:11 ESV] (11) And it shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security.

[Mat 24:21 ESV] (21) For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world [IE: Israel] until now, no, and never will be.

Possibly related:

[1Jo 5:16 ESV] (16) If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

I am increasingly certain every time I look under that rock that in both John 3:16 and John 17:9 the referent of KOSMOS is temple-centric Judaism.

[Isa 54:8 ESV] (8) In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the LORD, your Redeemer.

[Jer 31:3 ESV] (3) the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

[Psa 103:17 ESV] (17) But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children,

[Isa 55:3 ESV] (3) Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

[Isa 61:8 ESV] (8) For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.


It is commonly believed, among many, that the word world in John 3:16, indicates that God loves all men and offers them salvation. Yet in John 17:9 Jesus says "I am not praying for the world".

How are these two sayings of Jesus reconciled ?

Yes the Cosmos which Jesus died for means the world of mankind , all human flesh.(John3:16,17) However as to the humankind which is estranged from God and hostile towards God, Jesus did not pray for them, but only for those that came out of the world and exercised faith in him.

John 17:8-9 (NASB)

8" For the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours."

Similar to the deluge, in which only faithful Noah and his family survived , whilst the wicked, corrupt and alienated from God ,and dominated by Satan world of mankind died, Jesus likened the great tribulation to that of the flood, when He said:

Matthew 24:21-22, 36-39 (NASB)

21 "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no [a]life would have been saved; but for the sake of the [b]elect those days will be cut short."

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not [b]understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be."

Thus having in mind Jesus words about his followers, " They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."(John 17:16). Recommend that you read Revelation 7:9-17,"The Multitude from every Nation. Link below.


  • +1, Good answer. You might have also quoted 1 John 2:2.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 21:01

The Greek word kosmos simply means "an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order, government". That is the first meaning according to The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon. The last definition is: "any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort" and the editor gives his examples: "the Gentiles as contrasted to the Jews (Rom. 11:12 etc) of believers only, John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17; 6:33; 12:47 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 5:19"

I noticed this entry puts John 3:16 in with "of believers only" but this doesn't seem to fit in with the overall spirit of the bible that God loved Israel. Therefore, it is my opinion that John 3:16's use of the word "kosmos" is referring to the people of Israel, the apple of God's eye (Deuteronomy 32:8-10 and Zechariah 2:8).

“For God loved [Israel] in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that every [Israelite] who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into Israel's world that He might condemn [Israel], but that [Israel] might be saved through Him. 18 Any [Israelite] who believes in Him is not condemned, but any who do not believe are already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God."

This makes much more sense within the context of verse 14 (which points back to Numbers 21:4-9) which ONLY Israel was affected by the venomous snake bites (not the entire population of planet earth).

Jesus couldn't be more clear when He told the Canaanite woman: “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24

  • What you say about the 'lost' is not incorrect, but you seem to ignore much that speaks of the gentiles being added into Israel - the two becoming one and 1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved...and come to the truth. Eph 3:6 through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. Israel + gentiles is all men.
    – Steve
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 20:58
  • How about 1 John 2:2 - kosmos is definitely the whole world there! Truth is not what seams right but what the Scriptures say.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 22:47

For God so loved the WORLD...Greek word is "kosmos" Short Definition: the world, universe Definition: the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment.

God loves ALL of His creation. To assume or believe anything different is from the devil...."devil" meaning your own wrong thinking.

Now let me explain John 3:16 the way it SHOULD be interpreted, based on the GREEK meanings of the words- not the twisted English version so many of you read in your bibles: "For God loved the world SO much that he created descendants in His likeness & anyone trusting on Him (God, not Jesus) will have abundant life"....This life Jesus spoke of is our PRESENT life, not future. We will ALL be reconciled to God after our flesh is gone. I know this will be hard to swallow, but THAT is from God & if more put their faith in the spoken WORD verses their corrupt bibles, they'd hear the same message from our heavenly Father :)

Ephesians 5:14-18 Yes, everything is made clear by the light. This is why we say, “Wake up, you who are sleeping! Rise from death, and Christ will shine on you.” So be very careful how you live. Live wisely, not like fools. I mean that you should use every opportunity you have for doing good, because these are evil times. So don’t be foolish with your lives, but learn what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, which will ruin your life, but be filled with the Spirit.

You see, the WORD of God is NEVER scripture. The "Word" (Logos) means Spoken message. Reading scripture is great but it is corrupt- as all things touched by man. BUT when you hear the voice of God you KNOW it is pure Truth poured onto you. Many reading this will not accept what I am writing & that is because you do not believe God can speak to you. So-oooo it's better to just listen to the millions of views on forums like this. But SEEK God & His Kingdom & humble yourself before Him & tell Him you may have Him all wrong & He may just speak back to you ;)

  • 1
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Believers that understand how important context is for any hope of garnering the truth and meaning of Scripture should agree to never address any verse without reading Scripture before and after a paticular verse or passage, until it becomes obvious the intended thought is exhausted. The entire 3rd chapter is in context to clarify Jn 3.16, imo. In addition, only by true Spiritual discernment will the Scripture open to man's understanding. For example, trying to understand Jn3.31-33 without the instruction of the Holy Ghost isn't possible. Jn 3.8 and .27 are needed to grasp .31-.33. We must pray for the grace to understand God's Word and drop the assumption that being able to read, write, and comprehend carnal, worldly speech is sufficient when addressing the Holy Ghost inspired Word of God. The Psalmist understood this concept clearly. Psalm 147.19-20
Jn3.16 becomes more clear when keeping in mind vs. 5-.12. This also renders "world" to mean "not just natural Israel.( Ref. also Acts 10.)

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