Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

What's the Proper Way to Translate John 3:16?

(You can watch the blog on YouTube)

I could really use your help on this. I am trying to come up with a translation of John 3:16 that accurately translates οὕτως but yet sounds enough like the traditional translation that it wouldn’t be too difficult for people to memorize.

The problem, if you are unaware, is that when the KJV says “For God so loved the world,” everyone I have ever asked what “so” meant responded “so much.” If you check BDAG, you will see that this is a rare and not possible meaning of οὕτως in this context. But you'd better be careful if you change people’s favorite Bible verse.

Here are BDAG’s first three definitions of οὕτως.

1. “referring to what precedes, in this manner, thus, so.

2. “pert. to what follows in discourse material, in this way, as follows” (which is where BDAG places John 3:16)

3. “marker of a relatively high degree, so, before adj. and adv.” At first glance this seems to support the KJV, except that in v 16 οὕτως is not followed by an adjective or adverb (οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον). BDAG lists these as illustrations of this meaning.

  • σεισμὸς οὕτως μέγας, “so tremendous was the quake” (Rev 16:18)
  • οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε, “Are you so foolish?” (Gal 3:3)
  • οὕτως φοβερὸν ἦν τὸ φανταζόμενον, “The sight was so terrifying” (Heb 12:21)
  • Θαυμάζω ὅτι°οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting” (Gal 1:6)

οὕτως in John 3:16 clearly has the meaning conveyed by the NLT (“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son”), the CSB (“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son”), and the NET (“For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son,”).

The problem with the colon is that it is difficult to read out-loud, although in the CSB the difficulty is somewhat mitigated.

I am playing with this as an option: “For God loved the world so he gave.” What do you think?

There actually is another issue, and that is the initial γάρ. It can have the meaning “marker of cause or reason, for.” However, it is a little difficult to see vv 16ff. as the reason for the previous verses (but not impossible).

γάρ also has the meaning “marker of clarification, for, you see,” and this is where BDAG properly places John 3:16. To my ears, it is hard to hear “for” in our verse in any way other than #1, which excludes using “for.” So the options are to say “for” or omit it, letting the paragraph marker carry it’s meaning.

Please take my poll. I am curious what the consensus is. Thanks.


Oh! Is that why “you see” appears so often in Tom Wright’s Kingdom New Testament? That is his translation of γαρ?

My only issue is that it still isn't obvious that it is referring backwards to the previous verses. Would likewise or similarly work? In the same way?

Bill, If the Friebergs are correct that Hoste is a hyperordinating conjunction, which I think they are, then certainly something like ‘God loved the world in this way’ makes sense. The way in which He loved the world would be by sending the Son. The quantity of God’s Love would not be addressed. Tim

I am interested in continuing to learn more and be challenged to grow in God's Word.

¶ I don't mean to be a pest or a self-appointed editor, but you have a number of English grammar and punctuation errors in your post. I am not a professional editor, just a homeschool daddy, so I am accustomed to teaching my children grammar and punctuation, as well as correcting them in both their speech and their writing. ¶ In the second paragraph, a close-quote is missing in the first sentence. ¶ Near the end of that first sentence, there should be a comma after the word "responded." The way it is punctuated, you would be quoting someone as saying that people responded a lot. With the comma, "so much" is what they responded. ¶ In the following sentence, "not" is misspelled "nto." ¶ In the sentence after that, "you better be careful" should be "you'd better be careful." ¶ In the fourth bullet point, you were not consistent with the previous bullets and capitalized the first letter, theta. ¶ After the bullet points, in the next paragraph, "CSB" requires a definite article preceding it. ¶ In the next paragraph "out-loud" should not be hyphenated. ¶ In the fourth paragraph after the four bullet items, there should be a comma after the word "meaning," because "marker of cause or reason for" is the "meaning." Otherwise, you are saying that it is a "meaning marker." ¶ Similarly, in the next paragraph, there should be a comma after "meaning." "So" is an adverbial conjunction, not an adverb, so it should have a comma after it. There might be some debate about this, but notice that you did put a comma after the word, "however," in the previous paragraph, so you should be consistent. ¶ I hope this helps. It pains me a bit to see such basic grammar and punctuation mistakes in the writings of a notable scholar, so I would urge a bit more care in writing since, after all, as a Greek professor you will certainly be meticulous about teaching proper grammar in the Koine Greek! ¶ I realize that any language slowly changes with time, and know that you have made this point. However, what we are seeing in this day and age is a rapid degeneration of the English language, due to plummeting academic standards and carefree social networking online. You are four and a half years older than me, so you have also certainly seen this. I also have been told that I tend at times to over-punctuate according to an older standard. I realize that I am not a professional editor, and that I do occasionally make mistakes, too. But we who are educated (and I am not even a language scholar, but an early-retired, degreed, career electrical/computer engineer!) should hold the bar as high as possible, as an example to those who have not been adequately schooled in spoken and written English.

Thanks. I made the changes I thought were correct. I must have forgotten to do my last proofing pass. Commas are hard, and I am not convinced there is any hard and fast rule about its use in many cases, so I punctuate according to meaning.

Dr. Mounce, I watched your YouTube video on this topic and it really intrigued me. I have been thinking a lot about what you said and I have a suggestion. Instead of the typical reading, "For God so loved the world that He gave....", I think a better English translation (one that is more accurate to the New Testament Greek) would be: "For so God loved the world that He gave...." The only difference is the placement of the word "so". I think the reading I have suggested is closer to the meaning of the Greek. I would like to know your thoughts. Thanks! By the way, I'm reading through the fourth edition of your textbook Basics of Biblical Greek, and it's a tremendous blessing! I am going through your workbook as I read the chapters in the textbook. Thank you so much for all the biblical Greek resources you have published!

Dr. Mounce, I think my suggested translation may be more clear if a comma is added. To be specific, I wrote the following on a 3x5 index card: John 3:16 "For so God loved the world, that He gave..."

Dr. Mounce, I'd also just like to say for those who may be unaware, that the translation that I've suggested is faithful to the Greek word order (which places οὕτως before ὁ θεὸς in the sentence), and also faithful to your vocabulary flashcard definition for οὕτως, which you have said means "thus, so, in this manner".

Dr. Mounce, And lastly, in regards to your question when you asked: "I am playing with this as an option: ‘For God loved the world so he gave.’ What do you think?" I would say that I think that is a pretty good translation, but it doesn't really solve the issue of οὕτως. It seems to me that in essence, you are basically taking the word οὕτως out of your translation because you are using the word "so" as a replacement or synonym for the word "that" (which is the Greek word ωστε, not οὕτως). So it has a different meaning (no pun intended). But anything, just my two cents. I am not a Greek scholar but I felt God wanted me to share these thoughts with you. God bless!

I have been told, by someone who believes they can lose their salvation, that the ver "believe" in John 3:16 should be translated with continuous action, since it is in the present tense. But I have been looking it up and someone said the verb is being used as a noun in that verse and therefore means something like "the believing one". So, does the one talking about the present tense have a point, or the one talking about the verb as a noun has a better point?