Here's a well written post by centuri0n (part of teampyro) on his personal blog:
... when John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world", it is saying "in this way God loved the world". The phrase is anticipating some action which demonstrates God's love; it is not a phrase which describes the scope of the action but the purpose or intent of the action.In my camp on spurgeon on calvin post, icf Tech Boffin is arguing that I must "believe that God actually created 1000000s of people throughout the history of humanity, with the specific premeditated plan of condemning them to eternal damnation in Hell?" This is the old pro-life v. pro-choice argument. That is if you are a pro-lifer, than the other side isn't "pro-choice", they are "pro-murder". If you are a pro-choicer, the other side isn't "pro-life", they are - well, you get the point ...
Now, before we go on, think about this: "For I loved my family so much that I worked 7 days a week in a coal mine." The love of my family was my purpose; the scope of my action is inside a coal mine. The coal mine is where the work is done.
In exactly the same way, John 3:16 goes on "that he gave his only Son". God's love for the world was the purpose of giving the Son, right? Nobody questions or denies that, I think. But is that the end of the sentence?
Of course not: the sentence ends "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Think on it: the Son was for the purpose of God's love, and also for the purpose of giving eternal life to the ones who believe." There is no way to make the words here say "for the purpose of giving eternal life to the whole world".
In that, the advocate for something other than limited or particular atonement generally hangs the rest of his argument on one English word: "whosoever".
[so] what's up with "whosoever"? It's like a universal translation in John 3:16, so all appeals to the Greek have to account for a somewhat-broad section of translation committees agreeing that the right translation of "hina pas ho pisteuwn" is "that whoever believes".
Let's start with the dictionary meaning of "whoever": "whatever person : no matter who -- used in any grammatical relation except that of a possessive". And that's fair enough, right? There's no reason to debate the fact that anyone who believes shall not perish but have eternal life. I believe that; any arminian would believe that. No questions asked."Well, hang on there you crypto-presbyterian pseudobaptist," ... "You're a 'calvinist', right? It's your view that none of the non-elect are able to believe. In that respect, you do not mean 'whoever' – or 'whatever person'. You mean only the ones God has already chosen. This verse doesn't say, 'only the ones God has already chosen': it says 'all that believe' – or as the translation committees have translated, 'whoever believes'. Those are not the same thing."
"Well, hang on there you crypto-presbyterian pseudobaptist," ... "You're a 'calvinist', right? It's your view that none of the non-elect are able to believe. In that respect, you do not mean 'whoever' – or 'whatever person'. You mean only the ones God has already chosen. This verse doesn't say, 'only the ones God has already chosen': it says 'all that believe' – or as the translation committees have translated, 'whoever believes'. Those are not the same thing."
Well, you're right in that this verse does not say specifically, "in order that all the ones God has elected from the foundation of the world." It says that the believers shall not perish. In fact, it says all the believers shall not perish. That's mighty strong talk if you ask me.
But mighty strong in what way? For the Arminian, what this verse also does not say is, "in order that all the ones who consider the options and choose based on free will shall not perish". To get there, you have to adopt a reading of the participle "pisteuwn" which changes the word from descriptive – that is, indicating a class based on a characteristic – to a word which is prescriptive. It also places a larger connotation on this word than is warranted by this verse, this passage, and frankly the theology of the book of John.
The strength of this passage is the scope of assurance it is offering. Jesus is discoursing with Nicodemus, and in speaking to this Pharisee he first gives an example of God delivering the Jews (and only the Jews) from the curse of the snake bite in the desert. But then Jesus says, in the same way when the Son of man is lifted up anyone (not just Jews) who believes in Him shall have eternal life.
The scope of salvation here is radically different than what Nicodemus is expecting, but it is also not the salvation of every person or even the atonement-in-potential for every person: it is the assurance that those whom Christ will save are saved in fact and saved without any doubt.
And those who are saved are the ones who believe – both Jews and Gentiles alike. One doesn't have to do grammatical contortions over the word "world" here to get that: one has to simply read the passage as it comes, in the manner which Jesus delivered it, and see the method of reasoning He was using with the Pharisee Nicodemus.
So as Wince wisely points out, the right way to look at this is to invert the question. This is about Christ's definite atonement. There is no chance that He died for no one and there is no chance that he died for everyone (we are not univeralists). In this Bible, there is in fact, no "chance" - only grace!