John 3:16 or Austin 3:16?

John 3:16 or Austin 3:16?


Vickey Allen (she/her) is a Member in Discernment with the Middlesex Association of SNEUCC and member of First Church of Middletown, UCC, in Middletown, CT. She is pursuing her Master of Divinity at Christian Theological Seminary, a Disciples of Christ seminary in Indianapolis, IN. In her (limited) spare time, she enjoys knitting and learning tae kwon do (her kicks are more like flailing, but it’s still a lot of fun!).

Scripture: John 3:1-17 (NRSVUE)

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Reflection: John 3:16 or Austin 3:16?


The phrase “John 3:16” has become shorthand for athletes and companies to proclaim that they’re Christian. Whether it’s scrawled on Tim Tebow’s eye black or printed on the bottom of the shopping bag from fast fashion store Forever 21, you can be sure that these people and corporations are Christian-with-a-capital-C.
But for me, and I’m assuming many people who were also middle schoolers in the late 1990s, John 3:16 is more than a verse from the Bible; it was the inspiration of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s famous catchphrase “Austin 3:16.”
Back when World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was still the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Jake “the Snake” Roberts was fighting as a born-again Christian, even naming the snake he carried into the ring “Revelations.” When Austin beat Roberts in the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, he cut a promo, saying,

The first thing I want to be done is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring—get him out of the WWF. Because I proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore. You sit there and you thump your Bible and you say your prayers and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 — Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.

And thus a movement was born. Enough of my classmates loved the WWF that even I, a book-reading nerd who wasn’t interested in wrestling, knew “Austin 3:16.” The phrase’s popularity was so great that I still think of wrestling when I see “3:16.”
There have always been people claiming to be Christians who live according to Austin 3:16 instead of John 3:16, but it seems to be especially prominent these days. Political figures deride Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek, saying, “it’s gotten us nothing,” and joke that Jesus “didn’t have enough [AR-15s] to keep his government from killing him.” Crosses and homemade signs declaring “JESUS SAVES” could be found throughout the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. It doesn’t matter why Jesus came to dwell among humans; it only matters that these “Christians” beat their opponents.
While we can clearly see the ethos of Austin 3:16 in violent rhetoric, the desire to win against one’s perceived opponents is pervasive. Social media has exacerbated this impulse. We write in soundbites and mock those who disagree with us in comment sections. Asking questions is a sign of weakness; considering another opinion is traitorous to “the cause,” whichever it might be. Instead of inviting others into relationship, we turn everyone who thinks differently than us into a foe who needs to be conquered in the ring.
It's hard to disentangle ourselves from a culture that rewards winning instead of cooperating. No one’s going to pay to watch Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jake “the Snake” Roberts have a thoughtful conversation about theology; they want to see one beefy guy hit another beefy guy with a chair. The guy who used the chair is the winner, justified in demanding that the guy on the ground be kicked out of the ring, because he ain’t got what it takes.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to create a world where relationship is to be celebrated, not mocked. However, living into this call requires more than just scrawling “John 3:16” on eye black and shopping bags. It requires us to put away Austin 3:16 and instead embrace each other, all beloved children of God, in relationship and love.


Holy One, the world honors winners and shames losers. Give us the strength to walk away from the ring and towards relationship, with you and with one another. In Jesus’ name and all your many names, we pray. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the family and friends of The Rev. Dr. Barbara Smith of Stoughton, MA, who passed away on February 8, 2023.  Much of Barbara's life was dedicated in service to God as an inter-faith minister, ordained by the United Church of Christ.
  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war.
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the ~6,400 gun violence deaths that happened in the US since the start of the new year.
  • For those suffering due to the Turkey–Syria earthquake where ~46,000 people are known to have lost their lives, with thousands more injured, in a first earthquake, and who then suffered a second quake last week.

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

This Week in History:

March 3, 1887 (136 years ago): Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist.  [History

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

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Vickey Allen

Vickey Allen (she/her) is a Member in Discernment with the Middlesex Association of SNEUCC and member of First Church of Middletown, UCC, in Middletown, CT. She is pursuing her Master of Divinity at Christian Theological Seminary, a Disciples of ...

February 27, 2023
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