Bible Study 101 Part 3: Abbreviated Bible Study of John 3:16 Using Hermeneutics and Exegesis

Having discussed hermeneutics and exegesis in a previous blog, I thought it helpful to model an an abbreviated Bible study of 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” (NASB).  
 
Our guiding question is: What are implications of the phrase “only begotten Son” concerning someone’s acceptance or rejection of salvation? Our expositional approach is based on observation, interpretation, and application discussed in Part 2 of my blog:  Handle with Care.
 
What are some things we can say about John 3:16 based on observation (Who, What, When, and Where)?  First, Jesus answers Nicodemus’ questions about the new birth or salvation.  In addition, the verse begins with the word “For” which means it’s a declaration or conclusion derived from statements in previous verses.  We also notice four facts: God loves the world, God’s Son came to the world on behalf of Him, people who believe in Jesus will not perish, and people can have eternal life if they believe in Jesus.  Moreover, the verse contains three pronouns: “He,” “His,” and “Him.” “He” and “His” refer to God. “Him” refers to Jesus described as “only begotten” Son.  Another observation is that the “s” in “Son” is capitalized.
 
Next, let’s consider what we can learn about this verse based on interpretation (How)? The phrase “only begotten Son” stands out for several reasons.  “Only begotten” comes from the word monogĕnēs. 1 The idea of “only” involves that which is singular or unique; someone possessing traits that no one else does.  “[B]egotten” also relates to the birth of a child or genealogical connection to parents. The phrase “only begotten Son” is mentioned several times throughout the book of John in reference to Jesus:  John 1:14, John 1:18, and John 3:18. In total, it refers to someone who’s first in preeminence, authority, and promise.
 
We begin to see the full impact of this phrase by juxtaposing references to Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.  Galatians 4:22 says “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman [Hagar] and one by the free woman [Sarah]” (brackets added).  This distinction of heritage is important. Ishmael is Abraham’s first child born out of convenience with Hagar and outside of God’s will.  By the same token, Isaac is Abraham’s second child born  out of convent because he acted inside God’s will.  Quite frankly, Ishmael was not the child of promise even though he was Abraham’s first child (Genesis 17: 15-27 and Hebrews 11:17-19).
 
So why does this matter who was born first or second?  Moreover, isn’t the Bible in error when referencing Abraham having only one son?  Absolutely not!  The writer of Hebrew 11:17-19 includes an extraordinary phrase “only begotten son” regarding Abraham’s faith and obedience in God about sacrificing Isaac that’s also echoed in John 3:16.  
 
In Genesis 22:2, we see another apparent error when Isaac’s referred to as Abraham’s “only” son:  “And He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”  This is no error here either! Notice the progression of God’s reference to Isaac from Abraham’s perspective.  He goes from establishing a genealogical connection, an emotional connection, and a sacrificial connection.  Simply put, Isaac is “only begotten” because he’s the instrument through which God’s promise through the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled.  
 
So what are some things we can learn about this verse based on application (Why)?  Well, like Isaac, Jesus is the means through which God establishes His promise.  For us, it’s greater than the covenant with Moses: the plan of salvation is a covenant available to all (Romans 1:16-18).  John 3:16 matters to us today because we have a clear decision: either believe or not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only means through we can be saved (John 14:6).  Our response has eternal consequences!
 
1 Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible 2009: 49. Print.

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