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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.

Comments

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 redemption...no 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.

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

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.

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