John 3:16: A Bad Verse to Teach Kids

Posted on May 17, 2018


by David Ettinger

A Kids’ Verse?
john 3.16A favorite verse to teach children – particularly in Children’s Church – is John 3:16, which, of course, goes like this: “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.”

Of course, the reason why this is among the first verses children learn is because of the way it begins: “For God so loved the world.” This is true, God does love the world, and the verse, to a point, is about God’s love for the world.

But there is a “dark side” to John 3:16 which kids cannot fathom, and this makes John 3:16 a bad verse to teach kids.

The “Dark Side”
The “dark side” of this beloved “kids’ verse” is that it is talking about Heaven and Hell, specifically, that Heaven is the eternal home of those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and that Hell, the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15), is the eternal home of those who don’t. Hell can be described as “a place of eternal conscious punishment.”[1]

This comes through in the second part of John 3:16, specifically in the word “perish.” The Greek word for “perish” is apoletai, and can be defined as “a final destiny of ruin in Hell apart from God who is life, truth, and joy.”[2]

book of johnThe apostle John, who wrote this Gospel and the three epistles named after him, does a good job in stating the lost condition of the “unsaved” – i.e., human beings who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

He tells us in John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

And 1 John 5:11-12 seconds the notion: “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

Those who “will not see life” and do “not have the life” are those of John 3:16 who will perish.

Reckless Choice
I have never met a Sunday School curriculum I’ve liked, whether children’s, teen, or adult. I find them to be shallow and unchallenging. I much prefer to come up with my own studies.

For some reason, the men and women who formulate children’s curriculum more times than not see fit to include John 3:16. I wish they didn’t. Relegating such a crucial verse to the collection of “kids’ verses” strips it of its theological and life-altering significance.

kidsThis is not a verse that can properly be taught to children. Properly teaching John 3:16 necessitates first explaining what the second part means in order to grasp why the first part is so important. In other words, we must first understand what it means to “perish” before we can understand God’s love in giving us a way out from perishing.

Memorizing John 3:16 as a kid can cause Christians to neglect its full impact when they become adults. John 3:16 is a crucial verse indeed, and because of this, it shouldn’t be so recklessly flung at kids as memory bait. There are plenty of other “love” verses for such an occasion.

This is why I believe John 3:16 should be reserved until perhaps ages 12 and 13, when youngsters are old enough to start grasping just how critical and “deep” it truly is.

A Bad Choice

Yes, John 3:16 has a profound and deadly serious “dark side,” and I think educators associated with kids should begin realizing this. For this reason, John 3:16 is a bad verse choice to teach kids.

How about giving 1 John 4:7 a go? The kids will love it!

[1] The Moody Bible Commentary, P. 1,615

[2] The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, Page 282