Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Does “Whoever” Mean “Whoever”?

I really appreciate the feedback you have given me so far. Last week’s blog was especially helpful as one of the comments emphasized that in some cultures, the uniqueness of Christ does need to be emphasized.

We are still working through John 3:16 in an attempt to clarify how we present conversion, making sure that we say enough, but not too much. And so we come to the phrase, “that whoever believes on him.”

Isn’t “whoever” a wonderful word? Jesus stands at the gate and opens his arms to all who would come. He wants “all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). “Whoever” enters through the gate will be saved. No one is beyond Jesus’ ability to forgive and to save. No one who enters the gate will be refused.

I have been in many conversations where this word is, in essence, being debated. Some of the debate is theological, and I have no desire to enter that particular debate other than to emphasize this fact (and it is a fact). Jesus says “whoever.” Any theology that denies that word of God is simply wrong. We may have different understandings, but each of us must ask ourselves if we can truly stand in the pulpit and cry out, “whosoever will may come.”

When I was writing my commentary on the Pastorals, I read material from the Antebellum South on the church’s defense of slavery. Disgusting. For them, the “whoever” was racially limited. I remember a story of a church in San Francisco that was praying for the hippies, but when the long haired, unshaven, recipients of their prayers started coming, they had to rethink whether “whoever” really included smelly people.

(As the story goes, a hippie walked down the aisle and sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the preacher. Many of the people were aghast, but one wise and compassionate man, dressed in a suit, walked down the aisle and sat down next to the hippie, showing that by “whoever” Jesus meant “whoever.”)

But perhaps one the largest groups of people who do not feel “whoever” means “whoever” are those who see their past sins clearly, and the horrific-ness of what they have done seems bigger than God’s love and the cross. They can’t imagine that God would or could actually forgive them.

If you feel this way, then you need to hear clearly the good news of this verse. As we say in older English, “Whosoever will may come.” If you cry out for forgiveness, if you believe in Jesus, then no matter what you have done, you will be forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to cover the sins of all who come. The gate will swing open for every repentant and believing traveler who stands before it, no matter what they have done.

This is the good news of the cross and of God’s love.


Beautifully written. Whoever, even if they don't look and act just like me, it still means them. Whoever, even those who feel too broken, it still means them. Thank you!

It's always good for me to remember that Jesus' capacity to forgive is much bigger than my capacity to sin.

It is true that all who come will be saved, yet are you not assuming that “whoever will” means “all have the ability?” Also, since the phrase “whoever believes” is a translation of the participle there, and is better understand as “each person believing,” the text is not emphasize the “anyone can come.” It’s emphasizing the fact that it is impossible for all of the believing ones to be lost.

It is a translation of πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, which is an indefinite contstruction. I think you are missing that the πᾶς means any and every. THat is the function of the indefinite use of the word.

I appreciate your comments about ‘whoever’ meaning what it says...I do understand how someone might feel s/he could not be forgiven, beyond one is beyond the cleansing blood of Jesus...I do not believe, based on my study that teaching ‘calling on his name’ is where conversion is complete...maybe I am missing something, because you did say you were trying to decide how much to share, possibly when as well...thanks for the opportunity of feedback.

Thank you! I found this very helpful and timely. I have had several people recently try to convince me that whoever here and other passages was limited to a small minority. As you said, whatever the theological assumptions, whoever means whoever. This word "whoever" opens the door to all. I find that profound and amazing.

Re. James Hodges comment: So, you would insert the words "has the ability" in the text to read: "Whosoever has the ability may come???""" Wouldn't this be adding to the Word???As written, the Word ASSUMES that the "whosoever" does in fact have the ability. Selah!

Hi Bill, Where does the doctrine of pre-election and pre-destination lead us from this topic? Thank you Ralph.

You are correct. It means any and every one no matter what condition one is in and where they come from. Some denomination have and still get besides themselves. For instance, God called me and told me he wanted me to learn more about him. He told me where to go for seminary. I applied to the seminary and was accepted where God told me to go. The denomination I was a member of told me that my education was no good to them because I did not attend one of their schools. I informed them that God called me and not man and he told me where to go to school and I will be obedient to the Lord.

I am beginning to appreciate humanness more and more. We tend to seek many self-centered things. It is simple, but hard....sounds contradicting. Truly and Humbly Surrender and Seek God's Truth about "all" topics. The Holy Spirit will illuminate scripture and teach us all things "God's Truth". Not self-centered opinions.

Yes, so important to apply this truth to everyday life! Thank you for making me think. Whoever also include enemies...

Two years ago our 41 year old son committed suicide on Christmas Day. Alcohol and depression destroyed his hope a normal life and quite frankly this time of year is hard, really hard. Your word today about hope is like a breath of fresh air. Thank you for this post. Thank God for his boundless love.

Indeed, Dr. Mounce, “No one is beyond Jesus’ ability to forgive and to save”. However, I become uneasy when someone says something like, “Jesus stands at the gate and opens his arms to all who would come”. One reason is that Jesus opened the way to God when He died on a cross (Matthew 27:51). Another reason is that it is dangerously close to a lie that has been propagated much: God has done all He can do, the rest is up to you. Small wonder people that are told their salvation rests upon themselves, who know they have sinned grievously against God, doubt God’s ability and willingness to forgive them. We cannot save ourselves. Nor do we merit salvation by our faith. Jesus Christ is the Savior and He ransomed guilty sinners out of the slave market of sin, and we may receive salvation THROUGH faith in Him (John 1:10). What’s the point? Faith is the conduit through which we may receive salvation, not the cause of it. Another reason is that the statement is only half of the truth. Majoring on man’s responsibility and ignoring God’s sovereignty is just as bad as majoring on God’s sovereignty and ignoring man’s responsibility. Both are taught in Scripture. In fact, Jesus taught them both to Nicodemus in John 3:3-15. God’s sovereignty in regeneration: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 NAS). Man’s responsibility to believe: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15 ASV). We should also acknowledge that our Lord did not pull any punches. He tells people what being His disciple entails. For example, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38 ASV). Jesus must be first! “Remember the word that I said unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20 ASV). Jesus’ disciples will suffer (in some way, to some degree) because of their faith in Him. John 8:31 is also worthy of our notice: “Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples” (ASV). Jesus’ true disciples adhere to Him in doctrine and in conduct of life. We may be on the same page, so hopefully I will not ruffle any feathers here, but I do not think that we should dogmatically say that Jesus says “whoever”. Our English Bible is a version of a translation. Jesus actually says “pas”. Some Bible translators made Him say “whoever”, and others made Him say “everyone”. But, as you undoubtedly know, “pas” may also be interpreted “all”, as it is in John 8:2 ASV. I, for myself, do not think that “pas” in John 3:16 is vague, “whoever”, but rather, that it is specific, “each and every one without exception”. In addition, I think that “hina” (that) in the phrase, “that whoever believes in Him”, should be explained. My thumbnail explanation of John 3:16 is this: For SO LOVED GOD [emphasizes on the intensity and quality of God’s love] the world [in context, Gentiles as well as Jews, reinforced by the result: “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9 NAS)], so that HIS SON, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN ONE [emphasizes the gift], He gave, in order that [“hina”: purpose/goal], each and every one without exception [it is specific] CONSTANTLY BELIEVING on Him [nature and quality of saving faith— not a once in a lifetime event such as walking an aisle or being sprinkled with water, but a lifetime commitment, as in John 8:31] may not perish, but may have eternal life. So then, we may see that John 3:16 is as much, if not more, about God's sovereignty as it is about man’s responsibility, for it speaks about the love of God, the gift of God, and the purpose of God. Now then, for anyone that thinks they have sinned so grievously that God is unable or unwilling to save them, I say (as I would say to any sinner), “Look at Jesus!” He suffered the wrath of God in the place of guilty sinners. Look at Him! He is tired, having been awake for more than twenty-four hours. He has been betrayed. He has been forsaken by His friends. He has endured unlawful trials. He has been humiliated: publicly stripped naked and mocked. The Scripture says that “they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?’” (Matthew 26:67-68 NKJV) My personal opinion is that the Jewish scribes and elders and the Roman soldiers had a good time abusing Jesus. Then they scourged Him. Scourging causes so much damage and trauma to the body that some individuals died from it. Look at Jesus! By this time He is a bloody mess from head to foot. They crucified Him. One of the cruelest means of execution devised by man— designed to produce the most amount of pain for the longest period of time. And even though these people did these things to Him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Look at Him! As awful as His emotional and physical sufferings were, they pail in the light of His spiritual suffering: “My God, My God, why ME [emphatically] have You forsaken!” (See Matthew 27:46, brackets mine) Look at Jesus suffering the wrath of God for sin, not His own sin for He had none (1 John 3:5), but for the sin of those He came to save. Look at Him and realize that He suffered all these things willingly to redeem guilty sinners like you and me for God. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ASV), and again, “I lay down my life… No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself” (from John 10:17-18 ASV). What an awesome Savior! Realize also that He loves His Father with an infinite and eternal love. Then hear Him cry out, “My God, My God, why ME have You forsaken!” Look at His Father suffering as He watches His Beloved Son suffering. It was undoubtedly awful for His human mother to see him suffer, but how much more for His eternal Father? I say, infinitely more! The relationship they had enjoyed for all of eternity past is broken by the sin of those God loved and sent His Beloved Son to redeem. Realize that the Father loves His Son, the only begotten One, with an infinite and eternal love. Think of how much God the Father must have suffered when He heard His Beloved Son cry out, “My God, My God, why ME have You forsaken!” Sinner, an eternity in Hell will not remove your sin, but Jesus is “the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ASV), for “Him who knew no sin, God made to be sin for guilty sinners, IN ORDER THAT we may become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, modified by me). I say, “Look at Jesus!” He “is able to save to the uttermost [completely, eternally] them who draw near unto God through him” (Hebrews 7:25 ASV, brackets mine). Having heard about God’s “great love” and awful sufferings for guilty sinners, how can you think that He is unable or unwilling to save you? Look at Jesus! Listen to Jesus! “Father, forgive them”: “them”, the people that abused and crucified Him. What is it that hinders you from receiving the salvation He offers? Jesus guarantees, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37 NKJV). For SO LOVED GOD the world, so that His SON, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN ONE, He gave, IN ORDER THAT each and every one without exception constantly believing in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Amen! So let it be! Mike

I realized this morning that I had not finished the Gospel message. Jesus Christ laid down His life for His sheep, and three days later He took it up again (John 10:18). That demonstrates that He has power and authority over death. It, moreover, demonstrates that God the Father accepted His atoning sacrifice in the place of guilty sinners. In addition, note that “when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 11:3 ASV, see also Philippians 2:1-11). Therefore, there is no logical reason to think that anyone is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Mike

this is me again, Mike Bonham: "For SO LOVED GOD", etc. Now I write concerning the administrative comment on "pas ho", "an indefinite construction". If i understand the comment correctly, "pas ho" demands an indefinite "whoever". Okay? Please look at John 8:2: "all the people came unto him". So then, it appears that "pas ho" does not always demand an indefinite "whoever". I, for myself, think "all the people" is pretty definite. and if the indefinite construction demands an indefinite "whoever" why doesn't it say "whoever the people"? i'm using the ASV, by the way. Please humor me a bit more and look at Mark 9:15: "all the multitude". Again it is "pas ho". why doesn't it say "whoever the multitude" if "pas ho" demand and indefinite "whoever"? There are arguments that simply cannot be settled by the grammar, Acts 2:38 is a prime example. my personal opinion is that the context overrules the grammar. Please look at Hebrews 12:17 now: "For ye know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place for a change of mind in his father, though he sought is diligently with tears". What does "it" refer to, the blessing or repentance? I think a grammatical argument could be made for the blessing, but a much stronger argument may be made from Genesis 27, by reading the account and noting verse 38, "And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept", we may know for certain that Esau sought the blessing with tears. i thank you for pointing out that "pas ho" is an indefinite construction, but i would rather rely on context than on grammar. So please allow me to ask a couple questions. i warn you ahead of time, that my intention is to put you on the spot. According to John 3:16 are there any people that possess eternal life that do not believe on God's only begotten Son? ____ According to John 3:16 are there any people that do believe in God's only begotten Son that perish? ____ I, for myself, choose to believe that God will save each and every one that believes on His only begotten Son! That the context of John 3:16 is specific: each and every one that is believing in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.

Hi Bill, Nice post. I would say that the sense of "whoever" is even stronger than you mention. The participle with the definite article can alone communicate a generic, conditional sense. So even without pas, it would be reasonable to translate "whoever". But then the addition of the adjective pas ('every, all'), which modifies the substantival participle, strengthens the generic conditional. It is as if the text says, WHOEVER believes, no matter who, . . "

Dr. M. Regardless of our theological position, this portion of John 3:16 is clear. Jesus’ came into the world with the ability, for lack of a better word, to wipe away the sins of the most egregious sinner. Jesus does completely save. I try to emphasize the individuality of ‘pas’, each one, Jesus can save any sinner,yes you and even me! Tim

The older I get the more I realize we need to constantly hear and be reminded of God's promises. Thanks for reminding us of the power of that word "Whoever".

An interpretation of texts that (rightly) trumps godly love over theological intellectualism.

Thanks so much for that beautiful comment. I am so glad to have studied Basics of Biblical Greek with you. I try to read at least ONE passage in Greek daily. Right now: I am working on memorization of the Psalms, and the LXX has really helped with my memorization. Have a blessed Christmas. Jonna L. Schmidt

You too, Jonna.

Mike Bonham here. I perceive that we are in agreement, that Jesus' followers are to make disciples of people in all the world regardless of nationality, gender, age, social status, etc. In other words, to make disciples unconditionally, unreservedly. However, we may disagree on who is sovereign in salvation. So may I use Romans 1:16 to make the point? "...for it [the Gospel] is the power of" who - is it the power of man, or is it the power of God - "unto salvation to every one that believeth? To put it another way, can a spiritually dead man believe the "things of the Spirit of God", which he is unable to understand? (1 Corinthians 2:14) Jesus made some startling statements, for example, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep" (John 10:26). Note that Jesus did NOT say that you are not my sheep because you do not believe. Coupled with the fact that faith is a gift (Philippians 1:29, 2 Peter 1:1), and there should be no doubt that "Salvation is of Jehovah" (Jonah 2:9). Perhaps the statement that most startled me is Matthew 11:27. I will not quote it here because one must read it carefully in the context of the entire chapter, both in what comes before it, such as verse 21, and the three commands that follow it in verses 28-30: "Come", "Take", "learn", and trust God to give the understanding, . How does this apply. Well, I cannot speak for anyone else, so I will apply it only to me. If someone's salvation depends on me, or them, which makes it depend on me inpart, I would be hesitant to speak the truth of the Gospel to them, fearing that their rejection would further condemn them, and it would be my fault! Dreadful thought! I would be continually second guessing myself and trying to hone my presentation, rather than spending time with God in His Word and in prayer. However, since God is sovereign, I, a poor, plain, peasant, may speak the truth of the Gospel to rich, handsome, kings. I need not confine my attempts to make disciples of only those who are like me...and only if they show an interest in the Gospel first.

The context of "Whosoever" is qualified in the rest of the Bible. You cant take a single verse apart from the rest of the Bible and define it in that context. The context for the ministry of Christ is given at Luke 1:72, to keep the promise to the fathers. Matthew 15:24 He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel ...and then if we go to the Judgement of Nations He divides by nation. Israel is the sheep. If you were standing in Britain and said "every man" or "all men" "over 18 are required to serve in the military" you would not be referring to the men of other nations, the "whosoever" is qualified by the context of the appeal. And we see that the context is also national in the Bible.