Tebowmania, John 3:16, and this Is Fun

By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2012
John 3:16 is by far the best-known verse in the Bible. This is the single most translated (and I’m certain) most quoted and spoken biblical verse on earth. It is the best known verse in the world because it expresses the core of the gospel. And God has chosen to use it frequently, even in unusual ways.

John 3:16 is by far the best-known verse in the Bible: “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.” This is the single most translated (and I’m certain) most quoted and spoken biblical verse on earth. It is the best known verse in the world because it expresses the core of the gospel. And God has chosen to use it frequently, even in unusual ways.

Denver Bronco’s stunning wild-card AFC playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8, 2012 offers a relevant illustration. Now famous Bronco quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow, according to Sports Illustrated, “the NFL’s most intriguing player,” is the latest sports sensation. Well-known for kneeling on the football field and giving glory to God for his accomplishments, Tebow provided a stellar performance on Sunday. He pulled off the longest overtime touchdown pass in the shortest overtime period in football play-off history. (The bets are for the Patriots this weekend in the NFL playoffs; we’ll see.)

And in the popular culture “316” dominated the game. God used a quarterback’s arm to help millions of people read the gospel. Consider some interesting figures:

First, Tebow passed for a season-high of 316 yards. What are the odds of that? Not too exciting by itself statistically (others have done it), but given Tebow ‘s commitment Christ; personal love for John 3:16, the importance of the game and what had happened previously (another story), it appears to be significant theologically.

Second, he averaged 31.6 yards per pass completion, setting an NFL record. What are the odds of that? A bit more out of the ordinary with the theological relevance increasing.

Third, CBS ratings for the game peaked at 31.6, in the final quarter-television rating. Now it’s getting interesting.

Fourth, during the second quarter, the one interception of the game was tossed by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and intercepted by Quinton Carter. The down and distance involved when Roethlisberger threw the interception was 3:16 – Third and 16.[1] Okay, now I’m paying attention and it’s getting a bit exciting.

This is fun.

Fifth, Tebow’s statistics for the first three quarters were 3-for-16 (316) passes. Now I’m engaged: God is up to something.

These statistics were literally spread across the globe by the Internet, at least the first three; last two are less well known.[2] What are the odds of that?

Dozens of online newspapers, sportscasters and blogs (not to mention twitter, YouTube, etc.), sources that would typically not quote a Bible verse in a sports story, were quoting the entirety of John 3:16 so readers could know what it says. All this made John 3:16 the “most searched item on Google” for several hours after the game – allegedly, with estimates ranging up to an incredible 98 million searches, and, one assumes, views.

The Los Angeles Times reported the morning after the game, “John 3:16 was the most Googled search term for much of Sunday evening and into Monday morning, as sports fans and non-sports fans alike tried to make sense of the statistical coincidences (and maybe brush up on the Bible).”[3]

And that doesn’t include what may have been tens of millions of additional viewings of John 3:16 in numerous Tebow-mania inspired Internet articles. In its commentary on the game, The International Business Times for January 11, 2012 actually gave the biblical background story of John 3:16.

The Title of The Los Angeles Times online article for January 9, 2012 read appropriately, “Tim Tebow delivers John: 3:16 message without saying a word.”

An apparently more religiously inclined reporter observed, “And thanks to Tim Tebow and a little Something-Something else, that verse is all over the place even though he couldn’t display it [it had been earlier banned from being placed on his eye black].”[4]

Significantly, something similar to this had happened before. In college Tebow sometimes painted John 3:16 on his eye black. During the 2009 BCS Championship Game this eye-painting had resulted in 92-94 million Google hits for John 3:16 in the subsequent 24 hours: “After the 2009 BCS Championship Game, 92 million people Googled ‘John 3:16,’ the verse Tebow wore [using eye black] during the game.”[5] This event had occurred three years (to the day) of Sunday’s most recent sensational comeback.

Okay, now that’s significant, statistical and otherwise – God is clearly up to something. A Quarterbacks arm (especially given all the facts surrounding Tebow) being used to perhaps have some 100-180 million people read John: 316. Only God does something like that, no matter what the skeptics say.

One apparently secular CBSsports.com national columnist observed, “What’s the NFL comparison to Tebow? There isn’t one. We’re watching a new reality unfold, right before our eyes, and what we saw Sunday strained credibility. It was incredible. It was fantastical. It was damn near a Bible story… this game will go down in NFL lore as Tebow: 316.”[6] (As an aside, something analogous had happened to Billy Graham to kick-start his career: to the best of my recollection, for whatever reason the head of a national newspaper chain told his reporters to “Puff Graham” during his first revival and the rest is history. In fact, God does things like this all the time, to greater or lesser degree, but we typically never hear about it. Wonderfully so, we will hear some pretty amazing stories in Heaven.)

Some have clearly seen only a coincidence with Tim Tebow’s John 3:16 phenomena and I read a number of insulting articles by skeptics. And I have no idea what the actual combined odds are of the five “316’s”, and surrounding phenomena and it might be interesting to have a statistician specializing in probability theory look at the odds. But to my mind there is little doubt that God was honoring Tebow’s faithfulness in his Christian walk (he clearly seems to be a stellar Christian), and in giving God the glory on the field before tens of millions of people, simply by arranging sufficient “316’s” to make John 3:16 become “the most searched item on Google” – twice in a row. After all, some eyeshadow and controlling a game’s statistics causing perhaps 200 million people or more to see John 316? Again, who does that but God? I would hardly be surprised if, as a result, many people were spiritually saved (regenerated) on those two days because of the inherent power of the word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Were hundreds saved? Thousands? Perhaps hundreds of thousands? I don’t know. But how many times has something like this happened in NFL history, in this particular context, to a committed Christian like Tim Tibow, who loves Jesus and loves John 3:16? Not once; not since professional football began on November 6, 1869, 143 years ago.[7]

As one reporter commented, “this stuff is just great.”

If you believe in God’s sovereignty, there’s no doubt about it.

But there is another twist: according to one version, “Tebow’s mom was told that he was dead in the womb and, to save her own life, she should have an abortion.”[8] That’s not quite the case as far as I can determine. While his parents were working as missionaries in the Philippines, his mother came down with a life-threatening infection while pregnant with Tim. The doctor anticipated a stillbirth, placing her life at risk, and therefore recommended an abortion. Her faith in Jesus ruled it out.[9] And as a result, Tim entered the world to fulfill God’s purposes for His glory. (In 2008 he recorded a pro-life advertisement for Focus on the Family based on his “miraculous” birth.) Truth be told, every birth is a miracle, no matter how normal. See note[10].) (For a poignant but related and important aside, see note[11].)

Regardless, Tebow has obviously caught the public’s imagination and is following in a long line of principled Christian sportsman such as Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry; Super Bowl XXXIV star Kurt Warner; New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera (four World Series titles); running back “touchdown” Shaun Alexander; Allyson Felix, perhaps the fastest woman in the world (three gold medals at the outdoor world championships in Japan; Olympic gold, 2008); heroic Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling who led the Red Sox to its first World Series victory in 86 years, despite bleeding from a sutured ankle wound; golfer Zach Johnson, who won the Masters on Easter Sunday, 2007, and last but not least, the devout Scottish Christian Eric Liddell, whose life was center stage in the hit 1980 film “Chariots of Fire.”[12]

Tebow has been called a one-man cultural blitz, a national phenomenon and lots more. Consider some facts.

Tebow, incidentally, was the first college sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. After the most recent game, he had a million mentions on Twitter alone. The tweets per second were the second-highest in tweet history, 9420. Earlier, he beat out the Dalai Lama in the annual USA Today Gallup list of most admired men in the nation at number 11. Mark Coppenger, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserted that Tebow is currently behind only Billy Graham as the best known national figure of evangelical faith.[13]

And of course, there’s more. The overnight television rating of the game was 25.9, the best for an AFC wild-card game in 25 years. Tebow’s autobiography, Through My Eyes was the best-selling sports book of 2011. “Tebowing” has become part of the global English vernacular. There’s even a website (www.tebowing.com) with pictures of people tebowing throughout the world, some apparently posed, many seemingly genuine and some quite poignant (such as the one before the majestic Statue of Liberty) – I stopped looking at pic #150. The official definition of tebowing is: “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.” In the yearly Zillow Celebrity Neighbor Survey Tebow actually beat out super-stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston to become the celebrity that most Americans would prefer to have living as their next-door neighbor. And the quarterback was recently voted America’s favorite athlete in an ESPN poll. God seems to have grand plans for Tim Tebow.

He is perhaps the biggest thing to happen to US sports in a long time – and, incredibly, he’s only 24.

God has graciously given Tim Tebow a tremendous and unique platform for ministry; indeed a global one, and we need to pray for him and those like him — because everyone remembers what happened to Tiger Woods, and sports and its fame are hardly the only spiritual battle such men and women are engaged in (Ephesians 6:12).

And while we’re on the subject of sports, it might be good to remember what the great apostle Paul declared about competition, using the Corinthian Isthmian games, providing an important spiritual application. As with Tim Tebow, if we are Christ’s, we need to run the race and finish well, especially because we receive “everlasting joy in return for but a day’s effort on earth”[14]:

“I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NLT, emphasis added )

The apostle Paul did everything he could, striving like an Olympian to win the spiritual race and finish well. He did this so as to not bring reproach upon the gospel and to not discredit his ministry in the eyes of men. He knew that he needed to preserve his evangelistic preaching ministry and not be disqualified through moral dishonor or any other means. And by God’s grace, he succeeded. Indeed, where would the world be today had the apostle Paul disbarred himself from his own ministry? By God’s grace, may his success come to each of us as well. Nor should we forget that every believer is in full-time ministry, whether secular or Christian, and that God’s glory is at stake. And therefore we must never forget the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ. “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; see: 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:16; 14:10-12 ). (See note[15].)


  1. End Notes “Denver versus Pittsburgh Full Play-by Play,” CBSsports.com; http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/gametracker/playbyplay/NFL_20120108_PIT@DEN
  2. For example, according to an online New Zealand newscaster, “On Sunday, US time, he threw for 316 yards. He also completed 10 passes, an average of 31.6 yards. And if that wasn’t weird enough for you, the Steelers-Broncos game was the most-watched wild-card game since 1988. In the final quarter-hour, the overnight rating was 31.6.” (“Video: Tim Tebow’s Tebowing Hits CBS Postgame Crew and John 3:16 Prayers Produce Divine Inspirations,” 3News.co.nz;http://www.3news.co.nz/VIDEO-Tim-Tebows-Tebowing-hits-CBS-postgame-crew-and-John-316-prayers-produce-divine-inspirations/tabid/415/articleID/238711/Default.aspx
  3. “John 3:16 Message Delivered by Tim Tebow’s Arm,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2012; http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2012/01/tim-tebow-john-316.html; According to Google Trends “Hot Searches” (USA) for January 9, 2012 John 3:16 searches peaked at 12 PM (PST); http://www.google.com/trends/hottrends?q=john+3+16&date=2012-1-9&sa=X
  4. Glen Levy, “Tim Tebow, John 3:16 and the Strangely Repeating Number 316”, January 9, 2012; Start Thinking Right; http://startthinkingright.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/tim-tebow-john-316-and-the-strangely-repeating-number-316/
  5. Ben Volin, “NCAA Trying to Ban Messages on Eye Black under the ‘Tebow Rule,'” The Palm Beach Post Sports, February 12, 2010; http://www.palmbeachpost.com/sports/gators/ncaa-trying-to-ban-messages-on-eye-black-232356.html; Kelly Whiteside, “As QB and VIP, Tebow Always Draws a Crowd,” USA Today, July 24, 2009; http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2009-07-23-notes-tebow_N.htm
  6. Gregg Doyle, “Love Him or Hate Him, but When It Comes to Tebow, Were All Witnesses,” CBSSports.com, Sunday, January 8, 2012, 10:56 PM; http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/16789332
  7. “Chronology of Professional Football”; http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/history/pdfs/History/Chronology_2011.pdf
  8. “Tim Tebow John 3:16 Broncos Celebration after beating the Steelers in AFC Wildcard 2012 Game Winner,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqt_IhcJg74 (blog)
  9. Critics have said this was never an issue because abortion is apparently illegal in the Philippines, neglecting two critical points. First, abortions can be secured anywhere if the desire is strong enough, just as they were illegally in the US prior to the catastrophic (not to mention unscientific, poorly argued and anti-biblical) Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision (which was pure liberal social engineering; see my When Does Life Begin?). Second, Tim Tibow’s mother was a devout Christian and as such, by definition, would never have procured an abortion even were it legal.
  10. Prominent biologist Lewis Thomas, M.D., President of the famous Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center wrote, quite appropriately, the following gushing praise about the miracle of just two human proto-cells combined, the fertilized human egg: “The mere existence of that cell should be one of the greatest astonishments of the earth. People ought to be walking around all day, all through their waking hours, calling to each other in endless wonderment, talking of nothing except that cell. If anyone does succeed in explaining it, within my lifetime, I will charter a skywriting airplane, maybe a whole fleet of them and send them aloft to write one great exclamation point after another, around the whole sky, until all my money runs out.” (Lewis Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail, (NY: Viking Press, 1979), pp. 155-157.)Dr. Thomas is quite correct. The ovum is indeed an astonishing miracle. After all, this single cell, in a short nine months, miraculously emerges into the 100 trillion-plus cells of the astonishingly diverse human body that actually becomes a human person. From that miniscule solitary cell comes the miracle of every one of the trillions of incredibly diversified and specialized cells in the human body: heart, ears, tongue, brain, lung, liver, eye, and all the rest. From that one cell emerges the miracle of us. Indeed if the DNA content of just a single human body were printed as chemical “letters,” and placed in a book, it would fill the Grand Canyon with books 50 times over!
  11. Unfortunately, the world has no idea of the hundreds of millions of people that would have contributed all manner of wonder, advancement and blessings to the earth had they been granted the gift of life instead of aborted. Among them would be brilliant scientists, innovative medical doctors, critical inventors, noble prizewinners, inventive technicians, persuasive peacemakers, essential farmers, computer and technology geniuses, child prodigies, gifted writers, talented educators, noble statesmen, great artists, exceptional musicians, nano-scientists, talented painters and other cultural icons, and on. But the world will never see these “once in an eternity” unique gifts – and how incredibly impoverished all of us have become because of our callousness and sin in murdering the unborn in the womb. To be sure, babies are widely and properly known as little “bundles of joy” – yet we slaughter them in their own mother’s womb by the tens of millions. Tim Tebow is only one of many that God in His mercy has spared, who have gone on to become blessings to the world – but who might never have been born. Consider the people who were adopted instead of aborted who clearly increased the earths riches immeasurably, such as Moses, Aristotle, the great evangelist John Wesley, Beethoven, Mozart, Ethel Waters, Art Linkletter, Faith Hill, George Washington Carver, James Michener, and president Gerald Ford. To be sure, were the dirt-poor Virgin Mary alive today with her fiancée not being the father of the baby, many people would have undoubtedly recommended she procure an abortion. Then where would all of us be?
  12. Patton Dodd and Dena Ross, “Top 12 Evangelical Christians in Sports Today,” BeliefNet.com; http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/2008/09/Top-12-Evangelical-Christians-in-Sports-Today.aspx?p=14
  13. Cathy Lynn Grossman, ” Tim Tebow: The Evangelical Christian Footballer Who Is God’s Gift to Sponsors and a US National Phenomenon,” Sydney Morning Herald, January 10, 2012; http://m.smh.com.au/sport/tim-tebow-the-evangelical-christian-footballer-who-is-gods-gift-to-sponsors-and-a-us-national-phenomenon-20120111-1pu6q.html?page=2
  14. In the words of one of the most brilliant men Europe ever produced, mathematician (e.g., developer of probability theory), philosopher, master of French prose, inventor, physicist and writer, Blaise Pascal, in perhaps the most famous scrap of paper in history, his “Memorial.”
  15. The Bema, a standard fixture at the center of Jewish synagogues, was a raised platform (like the pulpit in a church) or place of judgment, similar to how a judge sits above his court. It refers to the judgment seat of Christ that every Christian will experience (for contemporary Roman references in the Bible, see Matthew 27:19; John 19:13 Acts 25:10). God’s absolute sovereignty aside, what we choose, we choose freely and we are responsible for our choices and will suffer gain or loss accordingly, and obviously not just in this life. All our sins are forgiven forever, but we must still be judged for what we have done in the body “whether good or bad.” In one sense, although every believer (even the very least) inherits an eternal heavenly glory far beyond his comprehension (not to mention merit), and therefore wins eternally (experiencing an ever increasing knowledge of God, joy, and love – I emphasize again, the increase of the knowledge of God, of love and of joy occurs forever, throughout eternity, everlastingly) – it is also true that how we daily conduct our lives in this Earth, in a sense, determines how we experience our eternity. Our works will be tested and rewarded – or not. Imperfect works will be burned up and we will suffer loss and some will be saved as if by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-16; for discussions see Erwin Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ; Woodrow Kroll, Tested by Fire (Also: Facing Your Final Job Review: The Judgment Seat of Christ, Salvation, and Eternal Rewards); Randy Alcorn, The Law of Rewards: Giving What You Can’t Keep to Gain What You Can’t Lose (mostly excerpts from Money, Possessions & Eternity); Tim Stevenson, The Bema: a Story about the Judgment Seat of Christ; Chuck & Nancy Missler, The Kingdom, Power & Glory; Joseph Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings; Rick Howard, Jamie Lash, This Was Your Life!: Preparing to Meet God Face to Face). There is also a website devoted to the subject: http://www.thebemaseat.com/

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