John 3:16 shows up everywhere. At least everywhere if you watch sports. As I think about it, I’ve never seen the magicmarker-made sign at awards shows or a Broadway musical. Perhaps the carrier of the sign enjoys sports more than music or movies.
Certainly, that sign is in the background every time a crowd gathers to repeat the early creeds of the Christian church. As the players line up facing uncertainty, take a deep breath and repeat “I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ his only-begotten son”, there is a guy in the balcony holding up his John 3:16 sign: “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.”
You can’t talk “only-begotten” without John. The Greek word monogenes (μονογησ) only shows up five times in the New Testament when talking about Jesus, and all five of those are from John.
The relationship between God and Jesus is described at the relationship of father and son: parental, genetic, unique. There aren’t any other genetic kids, though there are adopted children.
But when does the begetting happen? Was Jesus God’s son at the moment of his conception, his physical birth, his baptism? Perhaps the creed is talking about essence rather than timing. Jesus and the Father in a parental relationship as far back as can be imagined, a relationship that becomes visible to humans when Jesus puts on a body.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this simply for a week. And I can’t. It doesn’t help that John doesn’t explain it much either. Or that Jesus doesn’t explain it, he just says it.
I hate to say this, but sometimes we can’t explain parts of creeds. We believe them.