A missionary friend of mine explains how a Thai person would interpret the most basic and clear verses to the western mind. There are many difficulties and misunderstandings to overcome in order for someone to simply understand the Gospel, much less believe it!
Here is the most famous verse in the Bible broken down through the viewpoint of a Buddhist.
“For God” – When one talks about God, the computer screen of Western Christian’s minds automatically bring up his description. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, Omni-present, full of love, compassion, gracious, merciful, holy, etc. But to the Thai Buddhist mind, when God is mentioned, there is nothing that comes up on the computer screen of their mind, because in Buddhism, there is no God. As chapter 2 of this dissertation stated, it is quite possible that Thai Buddhists would interpret the “God” concept in light of their worldview which would cause them to interpret the Christian’s God as either cruel or stupid.
“so loved the world” – Love implies attachment; you love something or someone. According to the Four Noble Truths, attachment to things causes sin. The Thai Buddhist religion teaches them to “detach” from everything in order to enter Nirvana. So “whoever” this God is, to the Thai, he is full of unholy passion, because he loves and therefore, is a “sinner”.
“that he gave his only begotten son,” – There are three problems associated with this phrase. First, there is the problem of dealing with the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. Second, the Thai Buddhist does not believe in killing anything, so whoever this God is, he evidently is so attached to the world that he is willing to kill his own son for it. Therefore, he is a great sinner and not someone to be honored. Third, Jesus died such a violent death, that their Buddhist mentality tells them that Jesus was also a terrible person in a previous life to suffer such a horrible death.
“that whosoever believeth in him” – The Thai Buddhist is taught from day one to depend only on himself. He can only gain merit for himself. So the concept of trusting or depending on someone else for their salvation is a foreign concept.
“should not perish” – The Thai person uses the statement “perishing from this world” when they speak about breaking the cycle of reincarnation and entering Nirvana. So, if one believes on Jesus Christ, then according to their worldview, they will never get an opportunity to go to heaven.
“but have everlasting life” – Thai people believe they already have everlasting life, being caught in the cycle of reincarnation. They’ve already had thousands of lives and are trying to escape “everlasting life”. So if one believes on Jesus Christ, then according to their worldview, they will be caught in the cycle of reincarnation forever.
The people at Aloha Ke Akua Ministries summed up how a Thai Buddhist would interpret John 3:16.
Therefore, to a person with a Thai Buddhist world-view, this scripture says that this cruel or stupid Western God lusts after the world so much that he commits a sin by sacrificing his only son so that we will be caught in the Wheel of suffering, death and rebirth forever and never go to heaven.