If you’ve ever watched a football game, you’ve probably seen one. A team lines up for a field goal or an extra point and there it is, in the stands behind the goalpost. Someone is holding up a sign with giant letters reading “John 3:16”. Christians watching nod knowingly, while most non-Christians presumably ignore it or roll their eyes. The few curious souls who look up the passage read the most famous verse in all of Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. It’s as concise a summation of the Gospel message as you could hope to find. No doubt the person who holds the sign intends for you to read it and believe in the love of God found in Jesus Christ. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is so much more…
To many in the Church, particularly the evangelical Church, John 3:16 is all you need to know, the be-all end-all of Holy Scripture. I couldn’t help but think though: what if someone held up a sign that said, I don’t know, Ecclesiastes 3:16? It would certainly get people’s attention. And what might they learn if they read that? So that is my goal for the month of October. Inspired by a devotional I found that takes the reader through every chapter 3 verse 16 in the New Testament, I plan to take a journey through the Old Testament (you know, the first three-quarters of the Bible that Christians like to skip over) one chapter 3 verse 16 at a time. It’s a wild ride. Scripture is a much richer, stranger, and more fulfilling place if we don’t boil down its entire message to one verse. I will deep dive into each verse, taking that verse on its own terms, but also hopefully putting it in context of the passage and book from which it comes and the Bible as a whole. By choosing these verses based solely on number, I can’t just choose verses that I like or know well or that make me comfortable. It takes us on a journey through the Bible as it is rather than how we wish it to be.
A little background on me first. It’s important to acknowledge your biases and perspectives up front, especially when dealing with the Bible. I am not a Biblical scholar. I don’t know Hebrew or Greek. I did grow up the son of an Episcopal (later Charismatic Episcopal) priest father and a mother with a masters degree in religion from an Episcopal seminary. Dinnertime conversations were as likely to be about theology as about baseball (although my dad would argue that there is little difference there). I believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and contains everything necessary for salvation. That said, I don’t really consider myself an evangelical in the traditional sense, or, at least, not just an evangelical. The fact that the Bible is without error does not mean that it must be read literally or with such reverence as to remove all humanity from its stories. For example, I don’t believe that the world was created in six literal, 24-hour days. If you do believe that, I don’t think that you’re foolish to do so; I just disagree. Christians ought to get more comfortable disagreeing with each other about the inessential. In any case, I hope you don’t immediately agree with every one of my interpretations. I hope they are the beginning of a conversation informed by prayerful consideration and, hopefully, the prompting of the Holy Spirit. These are just the thoughts of one man as he encounters our infinite, ineffable, awesome God.
For those who like a road map, here’s the schedule: