The title is the beginning words of what is perhaps the most well known verse in the entire Bible.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
To better understand the meaning of John 3:16 it is beneficial to begin by examining the word ‘world.’ The word is used throughout the Bible both in the Old Testament and especially in the New Testament.
In the Old Testament there are three significant Hebrew words which are interpreted ‘world.’
The most frequently used Hebrew word is Tevel which means generally all the people on planet earth. Its most common Hebrew synonym is Erets which does in fact mean the physical planet.
“But the LORD shall endure forever…He shall judge the world(Tevel) in righteousness…” Psalm 9:7-8a
The Hebrew Tevel finds its counterpart in the New Testament Greek word oikoumenetranslated ‘world’ meaning inhabited earth, or mankind.
The second Hebrew word translated ‘world’ is Olam meaning ages, endless time, or eternity.
Solomon used Olam in his wisdom writings.
“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world(Olam) in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 KJ
Interestingly, ‘world’ in this verse is translated ‘eternity’ in NKJV, NASB, and NIV.
When speaking of Jerusalem’s future, Isaiah uses the same Olam, (world) to describe eternity, or everlasting.
“Whereas you have been forsaken and hated…I will make you an eternal(Olam) excellence, a joy of many generations.” Isaiah 60:15
Corresponding Greek words in the New Testament are aion meaning an age, or a certain period of time, and aioniosmeaning everlasting, or eternal.
And the third Hebrew for ‘world’ is Cheledh with several interesting synonyms including lifetime, worldliness, transitory, and fleeting.
David used this Hebrew word to express the limitation of his days compared to God. In the following, ‘world’ is translated ‘age.’
“Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age(Cheledh) is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.” Psalm 39:5
The appropriate Greek word for ‘world’ to express the same as David’s thought is one of many applications of the Greek kosmos.
The specific intention of the writer using kosmos in the New Testament must be known. The application equaling David’s thoughts does in fact mean the present world and order of things, opposed to the kingdom of Christ. Kosmos in this context likewise represents transience, materialism, worthlessness, and evil.
Now then, with that brief introduction relative to the word ‘world’ let’s take a closer look at John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
‘World’ in this verse has multiple meanings: mankind in general which is the object of judgment, and the specific time, or age, that God was about to introduce to deliver mankind from aion to aionois: from limited years (death) to everlasting life.
Paul shed more light on this great new age and the Deliverer.
“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son born of a woman…” Galatians 4:3-4
As the Son began His mission, He clearly delineated between mankind in general and His Father’s chosen ones.
“I pray for them (disciples), I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” John 17:9
Jesus prayed for God’s chosen who were in the world, but not of the world. They were in the world to display God’s plan to deliver them from destruction to eternal life.
We’ll see that great animosity would arise between those who chose to remain in the world versus those delivered from the world.
It all began in the garden.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed…” Genesis 3:15