christ salvation study text/language

A Literary View of John 3:14-16

When looking at John 3:14-16 I’ve encountered three major
views which expand, restrict or flatten the text. The labels which I will be
using are placed in an effort to categorize the interpretation not to refer to
any of them pejoratively. Note that there may be some intermingling of these categories
but this post isn’t concerned with that. Neither is this post concerned with
any theological framework that may be influencing the interpretation. My sole
purpose is to see if either of the interpretations handles the material
correctly and if it supports the subsequent thesis.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son
of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal
life. 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. (NKJV)

What is the Overview of interpretations?

1) Expand:
These verses apply to Everyone or Anyone

a. Moses
lifted Serpent for all to see; Son of Man lifted for all to see.

b. That
God loved everyone so much that He
gave His Son for everyone

c. Death
means something more than physical expiration (ie: punishment) but less than
eternal damnation.

d. Everyone will in the end be saved, but
some will be punished by “death” and those who believe will not suffer “death” but be rewarded with life

e. Therefore choose to believe now instead of
post-punishment belief


a. Moses lifts Serpent for any to see; Son of Man
is lifted for any to see

b. That
God loved everyone so much that He
gave His Son for anyone

c. Death
means eternal damnation

d. Anyone who chooses to continually believe
will have eternal life

e. Therefore Choose to continually Believe

2) Restrict:
These verses are restricted to only a certain group

a. Moses
lifted Serpent only for Israel; Son of Man lifted only for Israel

b. God’s
love restricted only for Israelites


a. Moses
lifted the Serpent only for a select
of people

Christ was lifted up only for a select group of people

b. God’s
love restricted only for a select group
of people

In both cases

c. Death
is a mark of being outside of that select
of people

d. Everyone of the select group of people
will be saved.

e. Therefore Only the True “Israelites” or
“Select People” will believe

3) Flattening:
These verses illustrate a truth—not an appeal to a truth

a. Moses
lifting the Serpent illustrates the Son of Man’s lifting up

b. Death
is an illustration of eternal damnation

c. Christ
illustrates a fact: whoever does X (believes) shall receive Y (eternal life)
with no explanation of how that belief comes about.

Therefore nothing.
This is a fact.

Therefore the normal reading of the verse draws key
information from the following parts of the verses (1) The Son of Man lifted up,
(2) God so loved the world, (3) Death, (4) Belief and Eternal Life

What is the Analysis of the Focal Points

A play by play of exegesis would bloat this post so I’ll
hone in on those points mentioned in the previous paragraph. Since point 2 (God
so loved the world) might be dependant on what the other statements mean, I
will save that to last.

The Son of Man Lifted Up

1) Seems
to read as a metaphor: Christ is lifted up like Moses

2) Verse
14 focuses first on Moses actively lifting the serpent then on Christ passively
being lifted. By swapping it and highlighting the way the lifting up is being
done (again, active vs. passive) we must wonder about the author’s intent

3) Verse
15 culminates in “eternal life” via belief and verse 16 culminates in “eternal
life” via belief. Verse 15 is still part of the original thought of Verse 14
yet in verse 16 we have God actively giving the Son with no mention of the
Son’s activity at that giving indicating multiple comparisons.

4) Multiple
comparisons with a metaphor is more the language of analogy

5) As
an analogy, Jesus is comparing two separate events by having the listener (Reader
or Nicodemus) look at the analogy details. Why use an analogy: the original
question stands (outside the scope of the post but have to refer to it: How can
a man be born again so as to enter the kingdom of God—how can these things be?)
therefore a problem solving method is offered. Moses actively lifted the
Serpent as God actively gave the Son. The Serpent didn’t lift itself just as
the Son didn’t lift Himself.


1) The
death statement resides in part B of a probable analogy. If it is an analogy
there should be a “death” statement in part A

2) Moses
lifted the Serpent in the Wilderness alone does not have a death statement

3) Therefore
either Moses lifting the Serpent in the Wilderness isn’t an analogy or Jesus is
asking the “listening” party to provide the missing parts of the analogy
(Numbers 21:4-8)

a. The
people all sinned

b. God
sent poisonous snakes to bite the people

c. Many

d. The
people needed salvation from death

e. Some
of the people asked for intervention.

f. God
had Moses build a Bronze Serpent that anyone who was bitten and looked could

g. Moses
lifted the Serpent in the Wilderness

h. Those
who looked, lived; presumably those who didn’t look died.

4) Jesus’
reference contains a death statement that reinforces the analogy. Death in Part
A of the analogy was a physical death from poison coursing through the veins.
Death in Part B of the analogy is also a death that is coming upon those who
need a cure.

Belief and Eternal Life

1) Seeing
that there are multiple points of convergence within the analogous statement we
would look for the same regarding “belief and eternal life”.

2) In
the Serpent situation there was no mention of belief only of people asking for
intervention and looking after they were bit

3) In
the Serpent situation there was no mention of eternal life only people living
after looking at the Serpent

4) Since
the Serpent appears to be pivotal in this situation (as the Son of Man is in
the later argument) it can not refer to the people requesting intervention.

5) Therefore
the analogy is expansive in Part B (as many analogies are).

a. Savior
Moses lifted a bronze item as the Savior God actively gave the Son of man to be
lifted up. The passive Serpent was lifted up like the Living Son of Man is
passive in his being given. Death came to those in the wilderness from death in
their veins just as death is coming for all those who have death coursing in
their veins. The ones who looked on the Serpent lived, the ones who believe on
the Son lived eternally. The ones who looked on the Serpent trusted that God’s
provision was what would ensure life and the ones who believe are the ones who
trust that God’s provision would ensure eternal life.

6) Therefore
belief in the Son resulting in eternal life is being compared to seeing the
serpent as the only hope resulting in physical life. Therefore some people will
definitely live eternally and others will die. Some will rely on the Son and
others will not—there is no mention here of how they will rely although in the
Moses situation it seems to imply that people could rely on the serpent simply
by turning and looking.

God so loved the World

1) The
original reads “In this manner God loved the world”. We’ve already established
that this is all occurring in the framework of an analogy so then “God so loved
the world” or “In this manner God loved the world” still fits within the

How does this view compare with the others?

1) For
the sake of categorization I’ll call this the Literary view simply because of
focus on a literary model (the analogy).

a. Just
as Moses did this with the Serpent in this situation resulting in life and not
death for those who looked; so God did with His Son in this situation resulting
in eternal life and not death for those who believe

b. In
this way God loved the world introduces a continuation of the analogy and not a
statement of the expanse of God’s love.

c. Death
is likened to that in Numbers (so that means at least physical) but is being used as a foil to the greatness of
“eternal life”

Although I think all the views properly touch on some of the
correct data, I do not think that they are completely sound. And in each case,
the appeal (or lack of appeal) be it to everyone, a community or no-one doesn’t
seem to follow from the discussion in John 3 and seems to draw for information
outside of the thought-flow of that chapter.The Flattening view is correct in that
those who have X have Y but have an odd position when they see no higher
purpose for the transmission of the information (to Nicodemus and to ourselves)
than stating a fact of how things work. If so, why bother using an analogy? The
Restricting view also has to ask itself why the author decided to include this
extremely restrictive discussion in his overall presentation of “that you may
believe” without a modifier like “Israelites” or “of the Church” The Expanded
View also faces some difficulties when it looks at the complexities of the

Just as Moses actively lifted the Serpent in the desert so
then the Son of Man must be lifted up in order that any person that relies in
Him will have eternal life. Because this is the way God loved the world; He actively
gave the only begotten Son that any person that relies on Him will not die but
have eternal life.

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply