There’s something wondrous about the number 3:16 – and not only because it’s 14 minutes before the end of the school day, either.
Most of us are aware of the football game verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Some have referred to John 3:16 as the Cole’s Notes version of the whole New Testament, which is probably why it’s such a famous passage.
But a few months ago, while attending a men’s Christian retreat (www.cursillo.ab.ca), another Three-Sixteen verse came to the attention of my table group: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. – Colossians 3:16
That reminded me of another Trois-Seize I came across during a church-wide Bible study program five years ago: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:16
I mentioned this during the discussion, and my group and I had a bit of a mutual Goosebump experience. ‘What other treasures lay hidden in plain sight in verses numbered 3:16?’ we wondered. I put an investigation and blog on the subject on my to-do list and promptly left it there for several months.
God brought me back to it a few weeks ago, when I was listening to a sermon given quite a while ago by my friend Brad Huebert (bradhuebert.wordpress.com). The sermon discussed the idea that, whether we’re fully aware of it or not, people who have given themselves to Christ are no longer sinners, they’re saints-in-training (my terminology, not his). We still sin, but the sin is no longer what defines us! He mentioned the following verse without citing the chapter and verse. I looked it up and saw that I needed to write this blog sooner, rather than later: ‘Only let us live up to what we have already attained.’ – Philippians 3:16
OK, OK, God. I’m on it. Better late than never.
Clearly, there’s something interesting at work here in the Three-Sixteens.
A good way through this process, it dawned on me that I might not be the first person to whom this trend has occurred. (There is nothing new under the sun – Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Sure enough, I’m not. Donald E. Knuth wrote a book entitled 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated in 1990 that explores this very concept (http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/316.html). He appears to be a computer programmer by trade, and he’s written more than a dozen books on IT topics, so I’m not sure I’ll rush out to buy his Bible Texts tome – I just wanted to note that he noticed this trend before my group and I did. I’m sure he’s not the only one, either.
But I might as well add my two cents.
I had a look through most of the Bible, and found plenty of 3:16 verses that are famous, defining or profound (or all of the above). Here are my favourites.
- ‘As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.’ – Matthew 3:16
- ‘John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ Luke 3:16
- ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?’ – 1 Corinthians 3:16
- ‘But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.’ – 2 Corinthians 3:16
- ‘Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.’ – 2 Thessalonians 3:16
- ‘Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
- He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.’ – 1 Timothy 3:16
- ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- ‘For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.’ – James 3:16
- ‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.’ – 1 Peter 3:15-16
- ‘So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’ – Revelation 3:16
I could make comments on all of these, but each one is a blog (or a sermon, or a sermon series) in itself, so I won’t try to do them justice here. I’m also not a pastor or scholar, so my observations might do more harm than good. I invite you to read the verses and reflect on them. Look up the whole chapter, so you can get the context of them, if you like. See if you can discern what these verses mean to you, in your own life. Feel free to write to me if you want to discuss any of them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Now, you’ll notice that all of these are taken from the New Testament. I did look through the Old Testament, and got about halfway through before I gave up. It seems to me that Old Testament three-sixteens are nothing out of the ordinary (no moreso than the rest of the Old Testament, that is). At least, not for me.
Knuth’s book apparently delves into the Old Testament verses, too, but I think he’s more of a biblical scholar than I am (wouldn’t take much), and he draws from his extensive knowledge of the circumstances, context and ancient languages to explain the verses’ significance. I’m working mostly from the gut level – does the verse, pulled out of context (thanks, Bible Gateway), standing on its own, resonate? The above verses all do for me.
OK, so why? Why 3:16? Did God orchestrate this deliberately, or is it just a coincidence – assuming there’s such a thing as a coincidence in God’s Universe? Was there an insidious plan among the monks and scribes who assigned chapters and verses to the Bible to concoct this trend? Conspiracy theorists would probably say it’s a plot by the Catholic Church, the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, Bigfoot or Jimmy Hoffa, to make the Bible seem more mystical or exciting than it really is.
I’m not really concerned about the why. God either made it happen or allowed it to happen (is there a difference?), and I for one am wowed.
Again. (Or still.)
Peace be with you.