Tim Tebow-John 3:16 Connection Not The Only Biblical Message Revealed In NFL Passing Statistics

As you’ve no doubt been told by dozens of Facebook friends, people you follow on Twitter, co-workers, and bloggers, Tim Tebow threw for exactly 316 yards in the Broncos’ overtime playoff win over the Steelers on Sunday evening.

316 yards is a career high for Tebow, besting the 308 yards he passed for in a late-season win over Houston last year. And it’s fitting that America’s most popular Christian athlete, in the biggest win of his professional career so far, threw for 316 yards, bringing to mind John 3:16, perhaps the best known Bible verse and a verse Tebow referenced in his eyeblack during the 2009 BCS Championship Game.

In the hours following the Broncos-Steelers game, armchair numerologists and symbolists mobbed the Internet, presenting evidence of God’s presence in Tebow’s performance and identifying other 316s. It turns out that Tebow averaged 31.6 yards-per-completion and that one 15-minute block of the Broncos-Steelers game did a 31.6 rating.

Are these numbers proof of divine intervention, part of an eerie coincidence, or products of confirmation bias?

I’d say the latter.

For one, both numbers are 31.6, not 3.16. (12 books of the Bible have a 31:6.) Yards-per-completion is a football statistic, but it isn’t one that people use very often. The NFL passing stat sheet that you’ll find at NFL.com (or at Fox Sports or ESPN or Yahoo Sports or any number of other sites) doesn’t list yards-per-completion. Instead, it includes yards-per-attempt, which is a more telling statistic. As for the TV rating, when you cite the rating of a 15-minute segment of a 4-hour football game to prove your point, you’re trying too hard.

(And the rumor that the game’s officials were named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Not true. Chad Ochocinco made that up on Twitter.)

"Rockin" Rollen Stewart began the trend of hoisting "John 3:16" signs at sporting events. (You can read all about him in my book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports.)

For that matter, 49 books of the (Protestant) Bible have a chapter 3, verse 16. Why should we assume that 316 refers to John 3:16 instead of, say, Nahum 3:16 (“You boasted more traders than the heavens have stars. The locust sheds its skin and flies away,” CEB)?

The easy answer is that John 3:16 is the only 3:16 or 31:6 that is so familiar that, when people see the numbers 3, 1, and 6 in succession, they think of a Bible verse.

Sports fans have encountered John 3:16 since the Rainbow Man, “Rockin” Rollen Stewart made the verse the focal point of his “Jumbotron evangelism” in the early 1980s. Since then “John 3:16” signs and banners have popped up at all sorts of televised sporting events. Others have likely noticed the verse on billboards, bumper stickers, or the inside of the bottom rim of a soft-drink cup from In-N-Out Burger.

I doubt that Tebow’s 316 will start a trend of looking for biblical messages in yards-passing numbers. (After all, Aaron Rodgers passed for exactly 316 yards in a Week 6 win over the Rams and no one even noticed.) But if it does, here are some other passing numbers with scriptural implications.

Let’s start with Tebow himself.

John 1:43: Tim Tebow, 143 yards, Broncos at Chargers, November 27

The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
—John 1:43 (CEB)

Some on Twitter (and elsewhere) have argued that Tebow’s 316 yards on Sunday referred specifically to John 3:16 because Tebow has two bosses named John: head coach John Fox and executive vice president of football operations John Elway. Well, Tebow has been playing for 2 guys named John all season. So maybe some of his other passing numbers point us to verses in John’s Gospel.

In a November 27 win over the San Diego Chargers, Tebow passed for 143 yards. In John 1:43 Jesus tells the disciple Philip to follow him. Philip just happens to be the first name of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Is it just a coincidence that Rivers’s quarterback rating nearly doubled the following week?

John 6:9: Tim Tebow, 69 yards, Broncos at Chiefs, November 13

“A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
—John 6:9 (CEB)

Here’s another one from John. Tebow threw for 69 yards against the Chiefs back in Week 10. John 6:9 is part of the story in which Jesus feeds a multitude of 5,000 (one of the few stories that appears in all four Gospels). Jesus’ disciple Andrew doubts that five barley loaves and two fish can feed such a large crowd. But Jesus makes it work.

Against the Chiefs on November 13, Tebow completed only two passes. Conventional wisdom says that a team can’t win an NFL game when its quarterback completes just two passes. But much as Jesus fed a crowd with two fish, Tim Tebow beat a division rival with two completions.

2 Timothy 1:2: Tim Tebow, 12 passing touchdowns in his 2nd season

While Tebow reports to men named John, his name is Timothy. There are two books of the Bible named Timothy: The First Letter to Timothy (1 Timothy) and the Second Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy). In his second season in the league, Timothy Tebow threw exactly 12 passing touchdowns. So what does 2 Timothy 1:2 say?

To Timothy, my dear child. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
—2 Timothy 1:2 (CEB)

Well there you go.

Matthew 18:3: Matthew Stafford, 183 yards, Lions vs. Falcons, October 23

On October 23 the Lions lost 23-16 to the Atlanta Falcons. It was the team’s second consecutive loss after a 5-0 start. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 183 yards, a season low. Stafford shares a name, Matthew, with a Gospel. Since there is no Matthew 1:83, let’s check out Matthew 18:3:

“I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
—Matthew 18:3 (CEB)

Clearly Stafford and the Lions had to turn things around if they were going to make their first Playoff appearance since the 1990s. But who is the “little child”? Maybe Stafford, in his third year in the league, needed to emulate the spirit and work ethic of a younger player, perhaps second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh or first-year wide receiver Titus Young.

2 Kings 2:25: Eli Manning, 225 yards, Giants at Jets, December 24

From there Elisha went to Mount Carmel and then back to Samaria.
—2 Kings 2:25 (CEB)

On Christmas Eve the Jets and Giants faced off in Met Life Stadium, the facility that the two teams share. Met Life is the only stadium ruled by two different franchises, which brings to mind the book of 2 Kings.

No? Try this. The Jets are coached by Rex Ryan. Rex is Latin for “king.” Ryan may be derived from the Gaelic for “king.” There you go, 2 Kings.

In the Giants’ victory over the Jets, quarterback Elisha Manning threw for 225 yards. 2 Kings 2:25 just so happens to involve the prophet Elisha. The verse tells us that Elisha was on his way to Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel is best known as the site where Elijah faced off against the prophets of Baal to determine whose God was the true God. After his win over the Jets, Elisha Manning headed into a game against the Cowboys to determine which team was the true champion of the NFC East.

After going to Mount Carmel Elisha returned to Samaria, his home. After beating the Cowboys, Elisha Manning returned to his home stadium where the Giants hosted an opening round playoff game against the Falcons. Eerie, right?

The Prophet Elisha. He even looks like a Manning.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who found Tebow’s 316 yards inspiring. I’m the sort of person who believes that God speaks to people in all sorts of ways and that we see glimpses of the divine in all sorts of unexpected places. But let’s not get carried away.

Sports give us an abundance of numbers to play with, and if we go looking for a hidden divine message, we’ll probably be able to find it.

About Josh Tinley

Josh Tinley writes the Away From The Action column at Midwest Sports Fans, covering all aspects of sport aside from what actually happens on the field, court, or track. Josh grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of Evansville and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports and the managing editor of LinC, a weekly curriculum for teens that explores the intersection of faith and culture. Josh lives outside Nashville with his wife, Ashlee, and children, Meyer (7), Resha Kate (5), and Malachi (3). He will not allow himself to die before the Evansville Purple Aces make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @joshtinley or send him an e-mail.


  1. Great post Josh. And for the record, Eli Manning's given name really is Elisha. I had no idea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eli_Manning

  2. Yep, I love Mr. Tebow's passion for His Lord & Savior, and no doubt he's the best thing that ever happened to football/tv ratings (as in last play off game most watched ever) and I pray God keeps & protects him from the haters of the world (amazing how many people froth at the mouth when you mention Tebow, and not in a good way), but the 3:16 thing may be a God thing, or may not be. Only God knows :)

  3. Bart Lower says:

    Divine or not…the bible is getting a whole lot of attention right now. Having said that, I'm going with Divine.

  4. pretty hilarious that your god is more interested in football than saving people for real. Guess those kids in Africa just have to go without as god plays with numbers for Americans.

    • Its crazy how you say such a thing…but if you truly knew GOD has already been taking care for Africa because he sends his servants and worshippers to help…Our GOD Is A LIVING GOD trust me I have experienced Amazing Blessings and WONDERS…that only he can do….and im only 15….We ALL have Problems But those troubles are not to hurt us but TEACH us to rely and DEPEND on Him!! GOD BLESS My LOVELY Brother may the Love and Joy Follow you ALL your LIFE!

    • Hi Hexi,
      Whether this particular event is divine or not, you’ve hit on a question that lots of people wonder about. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that just because there’s suffering in Africa (and elsewhere) doesn't mean God isn't there or doesn’t love them. But we're on earth, not heaven. God made the world good, and human beings turned their backs on Him, so we hurt and neglect each other. God is trying (through various ways) to bring us back to having faith in Him and loving our neighbors like ourselves. People also have a tendency to turn to God in hard times, when pride would hold them back otherwise. Sometimes I think having nowhere else to turn is good for us, because we realize that even after we run the other way, ultimately we need Him.
      Just my thoughts :) Sorry this is long.

    • Also if God IS trying to get Americans' attention through a football game that tons of people will see or a committed Christian football player, it doesn't mean He somehow gets distracted or forgets about Africa; He’s everywhere and, unlike us, can focus on more than one thing at once. And by the way, I think spurring members of a wealthy and powerful nation to follow Jesus’s teaching and love and give to others could be a pretty awesome way to help poor Africans at the same time as He is rescuing people here.

  5. Tim Tebow wore John 3:16 under his eyes. There were 10 completed passes. J is the 10th letter of the alphabet. 10 signifies John. The 316 yards is of course 3:16. It’s as simple as that.

  6. Tim Tebow wore John 3:16 under his eyes. There were 10 completed passes. J is the 10th letter of the alphabet. 10 signifies John. The 316 yards signifies 3:16. It’s that simple. God doesn’t love the Broncos more. He just wants to tell people He exists through a religious man.

  7. Our God saves people everyday throughout the whole world. Pretty hilarious, Hexi, that you haven't educated yourself with the millions of stories that span thousands of years. I will pray for you to witness His love and compassion.

  8. You could play this game with anything. Lets look at the Chiefs Game. He had 6 completions, 6 rushes and threw his 6th interception. I could even loosely use the stat he threw for 60 yards. So his stats come up 666.

  9. Perfect. Someone is out there that is at least making people stop and wonder about God, and those like you supposedly in our own ranks are throwing jabs from the sidelines.

  10. I believe in God. With that being said I really hope if he is interviening he has better things to do than hang out at a football game.

    • What better person to use than someone who is looked up to (especially by children), who is respected, who is popular, who is religious, and who is seen by tens, if not hundreds of millions of people at once?

  11. How stupid are you people for believing that God helps Tebow? Are you 15? Oh, some of you are. Hilarious. You are a discredit to your own religion. Read what actual educated people have had to say about it.



  14. No matter what anyone believes, what Tebow did is bringing people to Google John 3:16, he is bring people to Christ……..that's all that matters. <><

  15. The Purveyor says:

    Forget Occupy Wall Street and North Korea….John 3:16 and Christianity are in the national discussion right now. Tim Tebow gets the ball rolling, then his Focus on Family uses a national pulpit to air a John 3:16 commercial during the big game…and now the "John 3:16" song by Cindy Tucker is becoming a up trender on YouTube and share sites. I say lets keep John 3:16 in the spotlight where it belongs. Thank you everyone.

  16. Thinking Out Loud says:

    Thank you that nobody even swore during these exchanges. This in itself is a rare treat in the public sector now days.

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