For Google so loved John 3:16

The top Google Image result for "I so love you"

In this post I want to play with a technique for determining naturalness of English expressions in Bible translations.

Let’s begin with a question that came up recently on the Better Bibles Share page about John 3:16. Look at the comments there and you’ll see that we’ve mostly been looking at the Greek. But here I want to turn it around and look at the English translation and ask, “Is it natural English?” and “Is it communicating the probable meaning of the original text?”

At Better Bibles we often talk about “Biblish.” Biblish is what we call “Bible English,” a dialect of English found only in Bible translations. But how can you tell if a Bible translation is using Biblish? We can make an intuitive statement about a translation, “That doesn’t sound natural.” But that’s anecdotal rather than scientific evidence.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

“Judge not.”

This does not feel like natural English to me. We don’t say, “Enter not.” Or “Talk not.” But maybe my English is too limited. Let’s try out some search engines and see what kinds of results we get for “Judge not.”

As I type in the word judge on Google, I get these instant results:

  • judge
  • judge Judy
  • judgement
  • judge Mathis
  • judge Joe Brown

Now look at what happens when I add “not”:

  • judge not lest ye be judged
  • judge not
  • judge not that ye be not judged
  • judge not lest
  • judge not lyrics

Verdict: The phrase “Judge not” is Biblish since search results are predominantly referring to the Biblical translation.

A second test that I will often do for this kind of phrase is search news items. If the only exact word matches are literary allusions to the Bible verse then it’s further evidence that this is not natural English.

Now let’s have a look at “God so loved the world.” My question has to do with “so” preceding a verb and being used as an adverb of degree. In plain English, I’m asking, “Does ‘God so loved the world’ mean ‘God loved the world so much?'”

Instead of using “God” I’m going to substitute “I” and see if we can get a broader sample.

Results for “I” with a following space:

  • I like it
  • I like it on
  • I like it on the floor
  • I am not a human being
  • I

OK, that’s pretty weird. Let’s move on to “I so ”

  • I so hate consequences
  • I so hunt
  • I so don’t do mysteries
  • I so hate consequences chords
  • I so

These results are pretty obscure. “I So Hate Consequences” is a song by Relient K.

Now for “I so love”

  • I so love you
  • I so love you quotes
  • I so love this song
  • I so love this
  • I so love

Looks like we definitely have strong evidence of pre-verbal “so” being used as an adverb of degree. In my Oregon dialect of English, this phrase is often expanded to “so totally,” as in, “I so totally messed that up” or “I could so totally eat a taco right now, dude.” This goes back to “Valley Girl” and “Fast Times” stoner slang from the 80’s and is used in a mock ironic way. Whether that was the register that St. John was shooting for in his Gospel is an interesting question, dude!

What’s the verdict on this one? Conceding that it is natural English, I think we need to answer two questions:

  1. Is this an accurate translation of the original text?
  2. Is this the most natural way to express this idea?

Members of the jury, let your deliberations begin.


Here are some of the links to posts about this verse:

Scripture Zealout: “For God so loved the world”

God Didn’t Say That: So, What? John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer

Lingamish: So What?

Please let me know of others.

UPDATE 2: Comments are now closed. See Discourse considerations in John 3:14-17 for more on this topic.

All the posts in this series:

57 thoughts on “For Google so loved John 3:16

  1. John Hobbins says:

    This post reminds me of a joke genre that goes like this:

    “He’s so mean that . . .”

    As in: He’s so mean that he acts like a politician. He borrows sugar from his neighbor to bake a cake, only to sell a slice back.

    Or: He’s so mean that… if you kicked him in the heart, you’d break your toe.

    No one will deny that these examples instantiate natural English. Which is why

    “God so loved the world that . . .”

    is also natural English.

    But David, I judge you not.

    If you find “[subject] “so” [verb] “that” [clause] syntax too complex for your liking, can you simplify the syntax without suppressing the thought the syntax seeks to represent?

    That is the real test.

  2. David Ker says:

    Funny expressions. Wisconsin folk and Oregonians seem to have different ways of talkin’.

    But that’s a different grammatical phrase.

    I’m looking at ADV + VERB while “so mean” is ADV + ADJ.

    In answer to your question, I would say that it is possible to less ambiguously express the meaning of this phrase either by saying, “In this way, God loved the world” or “God loved the world so much.” Some pretty heavy-duty idiomatic translations fall on either side so the choice wouldn’t be easy.

    By the way, most Spanish and Portuguese translations have no ambiguity here, almost always choosing, “De tal maneira,” “In this way.” So this seems to be a quirk of historical English translations. What about Italian?

  3. Jay says:

    I so think this blog entry is irrelevant, not.

    I think the examples of the “so love” that came up on your Google search sound so like my teenage son. So I guess if my son is reading, “God so loved the world” he will understand it fine. I personally prefer, something like, “God loved the world so much…”

  4. CD-Host says:

    I like the technique for testing frequency. As an aside, Google actually publishes frequency data

    I so love you = 798,000 results
    I love you so = 585,000,000 results

    “David so loved” 35,500 results
    “David loved so” 9,310 results

    Frankly I’d use the frequency results.

    [Edited per request]

  5. Rich Rhodes says:

    There is an interesting problem here. One can make a good argument that the translators of the AV misread the Greek. They understood the ουτως as meaning ‘in this way’, rather than ‘so much’. For example, there are only a few so(adv) VERB examples in Shakespeare, and they read like this one:

    But God in mercy so deal with my soul,
    As I in duty love my king and country!
    (Henry VI, Part II, Act I, Scene 3)

    When so means ‘so much’, it either precedes an adjective (hundreds of times), or it comes at the end of a sentence.

    As sure I think did never man love so (As You Like It, Act II, Scene 4)

    It’s only an accident of language change in modern English that the AV wording comes to have something more like the original Greek meaning.

  6. Jay says:

    Google replies, “David so loved Bathsheba… .” Biblish again.

    “I so love you that I want to marry you”. 0
    “I so loved you that I wanted to marry you” 0
    “I so love you, I want to marry you.” 1
    “I love you so much I want to marry you.” 25,000

  7. David Ker says:

    That’s an interesting insight, Rich. But I do disagree with you about the meaning of the Greek. I think John 3:8 is a good example of how HOUTOS is not degree but manner:

    8 τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει· οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος. (John 3:8, SBLGNT)

    I haven’t looked at all the examples in the Gospel of John but 3:8, 14, 16; 4:6 and 5:21 are all manner not degree.

  8. Iver Larsen says:

    That is so cool, David 🙂

    You mentioned register. Do you think there is an age difference between saying
    (1) I so love my wife
    (2) I love my wife so much
    Which is more common or natural?

    And what about if we add a dependent clause:
    (1) I so love my wife that I will do anything for her
    (2) I love my wife so much that I will do anything for her
    Which sounds more natural to you English speakers?
    (Since I wrote this off-line, I can see that some comments already address the issue.)

    Concerning the Greek text, the two crucial words to look at are οὕτως (hOUTWS, so, like) and ὥστε (hWSTE, resulting in, so that).

    It is better to start with the simple one, ὥστε, which marks a consecutive and often a somewhat surprising and unexpected result. This is the only place in John, where this conjunction is used, since the normal consecutive connector in John is ἵνα (hINA), which can introduce content, purpose or result.

    οὕτως is more tricky. The BDAG dictionary gives four senses:
    ① referring to what precedes, in this manner, thus, so
    ② pertaining to what follows in discourse material, in this way, as follows
    ③ marker of a relatively high degree, so, … Before a verb – so intensely … 1J 4:11
    ④ to the exclusion of other considerations, without further ado, just, simply:… John 4:6; 13:25

    (John 4:6 is funny: Jesus was exhausted form the journey and was just like – οὕτως – sitting there at the well – it was about 6 p.m.)

    When people discuss this, they often ask the question: Is the word anaphoric or cataphoric (i.e. pointing forwards or backwards)? But that is the wrong question to ask, since in this case it is neither. It is like ignoring the last two senses above. It can hardly point backwards since 3:16 is a comment by John, while the preceding verses are a speech by Jesus to Nicodemus. Nor can it point forwards, because that would require another conjunction instead of ὥστε.
    There is an interesting parallel by the same author in 1 John 4:11: Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (NIV), Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. (NLT).
    We have the same subject (God), the same verb (love) and the same intensifier (so much – οὕτως).

    For some strange reason, both BDAG and the earlier edition, BAGD, the standard Greek NT dictionaries, chose to put John 3:16 under sense 2 above rather than sense 3, where it belongs. In their defense they make reference to B-D-F §391, 2; Mlt. 209; Rob. 1000.

    But these references do not support their choice. BDF 391, 2 says: “In Jn 3:16 a variant ὅτι for ὥστε is doubly attested, by Chrys(ostomos) (in many passages) and by Nonnus…. οὕτως could be taken as an exclamation= ’so great a love for men’ and ὅτι as ’[as one see by the fact] that’.”
    If the text had read ὅτι, then we would probably have had a cataphoric reference, but it does not.

    Robertson (p. 1000) has this to say:
    ”In the Attic Greek actual result was expressed by ὥστε and the indicative, while ὥστε and the inf. (‘so as to’) denoted a result naturally or necessarily following the preceding cause. In the N. T. there are only two instances of the ind. with ὥστε (as a hypotactic conjunction). They are Jo. 3:16, ὅτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υιὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, and Gal. 2:13, καὶ συνυπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ λοιποὶ Ἰουδαῖοι ὥστε καὶ Βαρνάβας συναπήχθη αὐτῶν τῇ ὑποκρίσει. Here the actual result is distinctly accented. Blass on the flimsiest grounds seeks to oust ὥστε in Jo. 3:16 by ὅτι and to put the inf. in Gal. 2:13, so as to get rid of this construction entirely in the N. T. Moulton rightly shows small patience with such “summary” methods in textual criticism. The construction with the ind. is not quite obsolete in the vernacular κοινή, but in the LXX it is almost absent. This classic idiom stands, therefore, in the N. T., but only to make the contrast sharper.”

    So, John 3:16 in BDAG should be moved from sense 2 to sense 3 to be with its sister from 1 John 4:11.

  9. David Ker says:

    Iver, thanks for a fact-filled comment. Is there any reason to read 1 John 4:11 as “so much.” It looks just like all the other HOUTOS examples to me, e.g. “If God loved us in this way then we should also love one another.”

    I’d need to see a lot more examples of HOUTOS clearly used as degree. Occam’s razor on this one. The simple answer is that HOUTOS never means degree. John 3:16 and 1 John 4:11 are marginal cases. Any other Gospel writers using it clearly as degree?

    And regarding the register of “so love,” it seems to be informal, conversational and spoken rather than formal and written.

  10. Will Fitzgerald says:

    Re so-called Google hit numbers. Search engine self-reports of number of pages for terms should not be considered accurate to more than, say, an order of magnitude. They may, or may not, include duplicates, spam pages etc.

    Bing and Google both provide ngram data, which is more accurate.

    Although I work for Bing, this is my personal opinion.

  11. David Ker says:

    Thanks, Will. I’d like to know more about ngram. While writing my post I also tested the instant results on Bing with similar results.

  12. David Haslam says:

    When I was a teenager, the modern use of “so” as in “so mean” was rarely heard in conversation. In our children’s generation, it is so much more in vogue.

    English colloquial speech has changed so much in the last fifty years. The English language has five times more words than it did in Shakespeare’s time.

  13. David Haslam says:

    How much does street slang use of phrases like “you’re so mean” reflect British comedian Harry Enfield’s Kevin character? His comedy sketches were a parody of teenagers, but the depiction has reinforced the reality.

  14. Donna says:

    My question is: why must this be an either/or distinction? Either “in this way” or “so much”?

    Surely when we think about the content, even if (let’s say) syntactially the “in this way” interpretation is correct, John (or Jesus, through John’s writing) is saying that God loved the world that he let his own son be killed! Surely semantically speaking – from what we know about God and the close bond between him and his Son – that a “so much” in English would not also not be incorrect.

    If I have understood the comments so far (and I don’t have much available attention, given I have two kids under 4) then I think I’m agreeing with Iver.

    How about this for a (rather syntactically free, though hopefully not inaccurate) English translation:

    “and this is how God loved the world: he loved it so much that he gave his own son…”

    (I don’t think the repetition is unwarranted since it does seem to be an emphatic moment in the Greek text).

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts as to why the above is or isn’t a good translation.

    On a related note, I wonder if the “God so loved” construction was deliberately trying to be ambiguous between the two different meanings?

  15. Donna says:

    You asked about naturalness.

    My feeling is that, at least in Australian English “I so love…” is informal, younger generation way to speak.

    The dependant clause marked by “that” is more formal, so it’s unnatural to pair it with “I so love”, since it mixes registers. You can say the same thing by omitting the “that” and just, for example, juxtaposing two sentences.

  16. David Ker says:

    @David, since I don’t know who that comedian is he hasn’t influenced people in the US. 😉

    @Donna, I think you’re very right. It could be ambiguous. Your translation nicely brings both meanings together. As I’ve argued in the comments above, I don’t personally feel that it was ambiguous. It could have an emphatic semantic component but the evidence before us seems to only have this indicating manner. It seems to me that finding that secondary meaning is a bit like when people say that a pronouncement by Jesus was meant to be ironic or sarcastic. It’s an intriguing possibility but very hard to prove.

  17. Iver Larsen says:

    Thanks to Donna and David for their comments to mine.

    To David, I would say you have the freedom to disagree with BDAG and say that their sense 3 should not even be there. But I would like to see better evidence. I accepted the four senses of BDAG as legitimate, but I do not consider John 3:16 to belong to sense 2. The reason is that οὕτως here cannot be cataphoric. It violates the function of ὥστε.

    NET and GW translate it with “this way”, and it forces them to completely eliminate the result connector ὥστε. That is an indication that they have made a questionable choice with οὕτως.

    For 1 John 4:11, I would be inclined to accept Donna’s suggestion that both ideas may be present. Here there is no “so that”, and the preceding verses 9-10 deal with the greatness of God’s love:

    “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”(NIV)

    Or in more natural and clear English:
    “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”(NLT)

    I think the reason that BDAG took it as sense 3 rather than sense 1 here is the grammatical break between verses 10 and 11, including the vocative.

    NET has a new paragraph at v. 11 and says: “Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another.” Why they retain the “so” rather than “in this way” I don’t know.

    John is very fond of using ἐν τούτῳ as a fronted, cataphoric highlighter. He has it both in verse 9 and 10, and the clause that is highlighted starts with ὅτι. It could not possibly start with ὥστε.

  18. JKG says:

    Rich rightly brings up “language change in modern English.” And David Ker helpfully looks to Googling.

    Google, for its Google Books, this week actually opened up its Ngram Viewer. I entered in “so loved,loved so” for now-digitized books published between 1800 and 2008. The data show that after 1865, “loved so” overtook “so loved” in book usage. Then in 1997, “so loved” outpaced “loved so” again briefly, until 2005. It’s so clear now that since 2005 “loved so” is gaining (ever so slightly) on “so loved” again. So does this mean our grandkids and great grandkids will be so confused that they don’t know what’s up?

  19. John Hobbins says:

    I had so hoped that people wouldn’t confuse the issue by bringing in the Greek.

    In any case, I’m skeptical of distinctions like “degree” vs. “manner” in reference to ancient Greek adverb usage. Is this an emic or an etic distinction? That is, is it a distinction a native speaker of ancient Greek would have been comfortable with, or is it a distinction that latter-day philologists chose to make in order to confuse their students?

    @David. The traditional diction of this verse in Italian goes like this:

    Poiché Dio ha tanto amato il mondo, che ha dato il suo unigenito Figlio, affinché chiunque crede in lui non perisca, ma abbia vita eterna.

    I so love the resonance of biblical Italian and biblical English that I would argue in favor of retaining the traditional wording in both cases. Just as NIV 2010 chose to do, in what I continue to believe is natural English.

    But I agree with you thus far, that [subject] “so” [adj} “that” is a more frequently used grammatical expression than [subject] “so” [verb] “that.”

    Here’s where we differ: frequency in my book has *nothing* to do with *naturalness.* If they were the same thing, a poet, who by definition traffics in new coins, by definition composes in unnatural language.

    I smell a hippo.

  20. David Ker says:

    @John, I’m guilty of going to the Greek although I told myself when I was writing this that I wanted to avoid Greek in this post! Alas, hippo-crisy!

    You wrote: “I’m skeptical of distinctions like “degree” vs. “manner” in reference to ancient Greek adverb usage. Is this an emic or an etic distinction?”

    You’re quite right. They are etic distinctions and very prone to bad linguistics.

    @JKG, yay for ngram. I’m going to go play with it.

  21. David Ker says:

    That ngram stuff is freaking me out. I’m unsure how to interpret the data exactly but it proves without question that the phrase has been in continuous use for 200 years. I was trying to think of how its use struck me in the examples I browsed through and the word “affectatious” came to mind which is a glorious old word and is itself “affectatious!” Now the more modern usage as several commenters have pointed out is more of a “slacker slang.”

    This brings me back to my original two questions for the jury:

    1. Is this an accurate translation of the original text?
    2. Is this the most natural way to express this idea?

    If I might summarize, it seems that we don’t have consensus on point 1. Quite a lot of you are disagreeing with me on this one so I’m going to have to at least be open to the possibility. With regard to point 2, it seems improbable that John the Evangelist was trying to sound either like either a writer of purple prose or a pot-smoking slacker. In 1611 this might have been acceptable prose but nowadays it is not.

    Do people tend to interpret this rendering correctly? If you think the meaning is “God loved the world so much” then I’d say they normally do.

  22. JKG says:

    At the BBB Share page, I’ve already suggested I agree with John Radcliffe and David Ker on 1 (the Greek). On 2, I have another question: is John the evangelist quoting and translating Jesus in John 3:16 or is this the gospel writer’s own commentary? If the former, then is John trying to preserve how Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus? Or if the latter, then is he trying to write and comment in his narrative as himself with a consistent authorial voice?

  23. John Hobbins says:

    Jeff Oien posted on the same topic in February:

    If I understand Jeff’s train of thought, his premise is that if people like Jonathan Edwards misunderstood John 3:16 based on KJV diction, then the traditional diction should be thrown out.

    HCSB, NET, and ISV in fact throw it out. NRSV, ESV, and NIV retain it.

    Here’s where I differ with Jeff: I think Edwards understood John 3:16 quite well.

    That’s because the adverb in the source text IMHO is generic whereas the various English paraphrases thereof specify – degree, manner, or temporal. Specify it in any of the three ways, and it’s still right.

    But I prefer a translation that allows for more than one particularization of the sense, since I think the diction in the source text is non-particular.

  24. Scripture Zealot says:

    John, NO I believe Edwards understood it correctly! I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, which is often the case.

    Even though I’m not proficient in Greek, which is an overstatement, I believe KJV/AV correctly translated it. As John says, it’s the English we’re talking about. “For God so loved” means something different now than it did 400 years ago or even in the time of Edwards. He understood what it meant and put it in different words.

    From what I understand NET, HCSB, ISV, GW and NJB get at the meaning better. I can’t say if each Greek word is represented correctly, but aren’t they expressing it in modern English? This is why I lament that some modern translations are such sissies when it comes to translating popular verses in modern English. ‘You know who’ wants accurate translations that they can trust. Those same people want tradition. I don’t think you can have it both ways in some situations. (Psalm 23 – valley of the shadow of death)

    Does this make sense?

  25. Scripture Zealot says:

    Please excuse me for a third comment in a row.

    I don’t believe that the valley girl language of “I soooo hate this!” is relevant. To me that’s a third variation. I first heard this on the show Friends in the US and thought they originated it. I don’t know, I’m not that into popular culture (although I did watch that immorality filled show).

    And I wanted to say Iver’s comments were great, as are the rest.

    As for Donna saying it might not matter. Maybe that’s the case, but I’m a stickler for getting at the “real meaning” (sorry for the term) if possible. It may seem like no big deal, but in some cases getting the wrong meaning can snowball and really get out of hand which we’ve seen with so many other verses you see on plaques.

  26. Doug Chaplin says:

    For what it’s worth, the KJV amends an earlier text, and for traditionalist Anglicans (or those of an older generation) and those who have had to minister to them, the older translation controls the interpretation. That is the order in the prayer book, originally in the 1552 version and continued in the 1662 version. There the quotation is “So God loved the world …”.

    I’m less persuaded than some that there is a huge difference of meaning between “in this way” and “so much”: given the following content it is hard to think of any interpretation of “this way” that does not imply a “so much”.

  27. Scripture Zealot says:

    I’m less persuaded than some that there is a huge difference of meaning between “in this way” and “so much”: given the following content it is hard to think of any interpretation of “this way” that does not imply a “so much”.

    I never though of that. Maybe that goes along with what Donna said. And there must be a reason that the NLT translators emphasized the “so much” even more than just about any other popular translation. I wish I knew why.

    I still don’t understand 400 year old English though and wish they would get past that, whether or not it makes doctrinal difference.

  28. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for the clarification.

    I want to get back to the question of bad linguistics raised by David K. How does that apply to adverbs or, in this case (since it is the two together that constitute a grammatical construction), an adverb + complementizer construction?

    Answer: “so” … “that” in [subject] “so” [verb/adjective] “that” [clause] constructions do not have meanings, real or unreal, so much as they serve grammatical purposes.

    Well-formed linguistic questions include: what is the purpose of this construction? How does it work, what are its variations?

    You can’t get at these questions by googling, frequency counts, or field testing. Careful linguistic analysis is necessary.

    Two additional topics: register and traditional vs. “blank-slate” translations.

    Register: neither the Greek nor KJV in the Johannine literature is written in high-falutin prose (something NEB/REB occasionally provides) or slang (something Peterson’s The Message occasionally provides). Both make repetitive use of a compact set of key terms in immensely creative ways, and make use of hypotaxis at key junctures. There is a precision about the style which needs to be respected. In other words, John 3:16 and 1 John 4:11 need to be translated in concordant fashion. NIV and ESV are superior in this sense. ESV:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

    Traditional vs. blank-slate translation: I would make a case for using a KJV-based translation such as ESV as “the translation of record” from the pulpit, in Bible study, and for close reading purposes, and “blank-slate” translations for comparative purposes at the levels of exegesis and exposition.

    For example, I preach from a translation of Psalm 23 which has “valley of the shadow of death” even if I make sure to broaden this (helpful and inspired: I am a creedal Christian [credo unam sanctam ecclesiam]) specification so as to embrace the wide sense of the original in exposition.

  29. John Hobbins says:

    The traditional diction of John 3:16 goes back to the Coverdale Bible (1537):

    For God so loued the worlde, that he gaue his onely sonne, that who so euer beleueth in hi, shulde not perishe, but haue euerlastinge life.

  30. Peter Kirk says:

    John, you quote the Italian here, which has “tanto” for houtos and “affinché” (with the subjunctive) for hoste. Now I don’t claim to know as much Italian as you, and certainly not as much as your wife and mine. But I think I can comment on what is meant here.

    “Tanto” basically means “so much”, but it is also used at least colloquially for “much” – my wife says “tanto” a lot more than “molto”. In that variation it is rather like English “so”. But I don’t think it can mean “in such a way”. So this tradition is different from the Spanish and Portuguese one.

    “Affinché” is literally “to end that” (cf. French “afin que”), and so introduces a final clause, meaning “in order that”. So I think the Italian translators have translated hoste as if it were hina – whereas English translators have taken it as the same as hoti.

  31. Peter Kirk says:

    Just realised I was confused about the Italian. “Affinché” correctly renders hina later in the verse. The Italian rendering of hoste is simply “che” with the indicative, i.e. the equivalent of the English “that” clause.

  32. John Hobbins says:


    Try this phrase with your beloved,

    “Quanto mi ami?”

    She will answer, “tanto.”

    You can then reply: “Ma tanto quanto?”

    She will then answer: “Tantissimo!”

    Italian is sweet. Fuddy-duddy English is lame in comparison.

    I cited La Nuova Diodati above: the grammatical construction is the same in the Riveduta and the Nuova Riveduta.

    Note however the LND at 1 John 4:11;

    Carissimi, se Dio ci ha amato in questo modo, anche noi ci dobbiamo amare gli uni gli altri.

    See my comment on the value of concordance above.

  33. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life….

    “Wouldn’t it “because God loved us in this way…”?

    >>>Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

    “If God loved us this way, we also ought to …”

    Why perpetuate the “really big love” idea rather the scriptural “singular gracious act” idea?

  34. John Hobbins says:

    Because the “really big love” idea is no less scriptural than the “singular gracious act” idea.

    If Scripture in general and the gospel of John in particular are read holistically, there is fullness to the grace and truth of which are witnesses, not just singularity.

  35. David Ker says:

    @John, you wrote, “See my comment on the value of concordance above.” Are you saying that HOUTOS should always be translated the same way? If that were so then John 3:16 and 1 John 4:11 would be better translated “in questo modo” since in the more than 200 uses of this word in the New Testament they are the only ones that I’ve seen making sense with “ha tanto.”

  36. Scripture Zealot says:

    Because the “really big love” idea is no less scriptural than the “singular gracious act” idea.

    That sounds like it could be a slippery slope kind of thing. Isn’t reading holistically letting this verse say what it really says and others what they really say and then putting it all together instead of translating based on what other verses say?

  37. Iver Larsen says:

    Sorry for going into the Greek, but I don’t see how we can talk about an accurate translation without looking at the Greek text.

    In practical terms, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference to the meaning. God showed his great love by giving his Son for us, while we were yet sinners, as Paul says.

    Having said that, I consider the NLT and GNB the most accurate and clear translations of this verse.

    John Hobbins said:
    “I want to get back to the question of bad linguistics raised by David K. How does that apply to adverbs or, in this case (since it is the two together that constitute a grammatical construction), an adverb + complementizer construction?”

    But this is where I disagree. First the adverb is connected to the verb. Second and more crucial, hWSTE does not introduce a complementizer construction. It never does, and it does not do so here. If you disagree, then show me examples. I have not found any example in any dictionary. It introduces an actual (and in this case intended and even surprising) result. The connection between the main clause and the dependent clause is one of reason-result. It was because God loved the world so (much), that he gave up his one and only son.

  38. David Ker says:

    Jeff, I think a Bible translation consultant would consider either rendering as permissible but as you can see there are pretty strong opinions on which is the preferred rendering.

  39. JKG says:

    Can we go back to your original proposal, David? You know, that one from your “post way back in the day,” from “way back in the stone age”? You were trying to emphasize verses 14-16 as an interrelated unit by translating thusly:

    “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” And in this same way, God loved the world by giving his only Son so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

    Can we play a bit more with this to make John and your English clearer? My apologies for running so far with your language. Notice, however, I’m not even bringing in the Greek and still do want to stress the repetitions in this little paragraph. Can’t we, in fact, emphasize the repeated non-verby grammatical particles so that the same ones repeated function in more or less the same ways to demonstrate the new info introduced? Isn’t John making comparisons, old to new, plus implications? And where might that get us? I kinda like this, as pretty accurate and as a pretty natural way to express what’s going on with John 3 here:

    Well, just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert,
    in this same way the Son of Man has to be lifted up,
    so that everyone who believes in him is going to have eternal life.
    In this same way, in fact, God loved the world,
    by giving his only Son,
    so that everyone who believes in him isn’t going to be destroyed,
    but is going to have eternal life.

  40. Joel H. says:

    I agree that “God so loved the world” in modern English means “God loved the world so much.”

    But the problem is that the Greek means something different.

    The Greek means “God loved the world in this way” or — to be a little more formal — “God loved the world thus.” In other words, John 3:16 answers the question “how?” not “how much?” (We see the same Greek word in Matthew 6:9 to introduce the Lord’s Prayer, where the point is “pray this way,” not “pray this much.”) The KJV translators got this right, because in their day “so” could mean “in this manner.”

    I have more here.


  41. David Ker says:

    @JKG, I’m with you. The wider context helps clear things up and I like your rendering. We’ve got lots of nice Johannine dualism going on in this encounter with Nicodemus. The focus isn’t God loving the world so much. It’s connecting Old with New, Snake with Son, Sinai with Golgotha…

    @Joel, that’s my take as well but some pretty big guns are staring us down on the other side of the HOUTOS corral. 😉

  42. iverlarsen says:


    I have looked at your link. Why are you and so many others ignoring the hWSTE connector?

    There is no problem with Matt 6:9. hOUTWS is commonly used in a cataphoric sense, but never when it is followed by hWSTE.

  43. Mike Sangrey says:

    In 1 John 4, John reflects on a comparison (as he does in John 3). This alone may or may not tip the scales towards an “in this same way” reading. But, there’s more. And this “more” flows from the comparison.

    1 John 4:12 (the next verse) ends with καὶ ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν τετελειωμένη ἐστιν. I translate that as: Among us his love obtains it’s intended result. The NIV2010 has and his love is made complete in us. The NASB has and His love is perfected in us. I bring in the Greek since I think it is important to highlight τελειόω (TELEIOW, make perfect, make complete, make mature). The idea here does not focus on the quantity of love, but on its quality. And this quality must reach maturation by being fully constituted within the body of his followers. The point is not that believers are to also have large love.

    This “completion” is where John has been heading in this paragraph. In fact, one could argue that there are two paragraphs: 1 John 4:7-10, and 11-12. Paragraphs meant to be interpreted through their conceptual connection. That is, these two can easily be thought of as one, one section at the very least.

    In 7-10 we have a description of God’s love.
    In 11 we have the sentence in question.
    In 12 we have the intended result (or purpose) of 7-11.

    John 3 is very similar.
    In 14-15 we have the reference to the bronze serpent.
    in 16 we have the sentence in question.
    In 17-21 we have statements reflecting the intended purpose: no condemnation, but forgiveness to all who publicly accept the reality of their utter failure (exactly like the bronze serpent).

    In other words, the “in this same way” or “so much” must connect the comparison to the main point. The semantic structure of the paragraphs requires this.

    “In this same way” makes the most natural connection, as I read it. However, “so much” could be semantically right if we could argue for new information.

    That is, the question then really boils down to this: Is οὕτως adding new information (that is, it’s a large amount of love), or is it a somewhat redundant word which smooths and reinforces the concepts already within the interpretive context? That is, it reinforces the comparison.

    Personally, I think “in this same way” does a much more coherent job. While God’s large love for us is certainly true, and it’s certainly a healthy thing to think about, and it’s certainly taught in the Bible, it seems to me that new information needs to be introduced by nouns and verbs and clauses. I don’t think it’s communicatively sound to introduce new information via a single word, a specific type of word that is always meant to support what’s already there.

  44. Wayne Leman says:

    JKG suggested:

    Well, just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert,
    in this same way the Son of Man has to be lifted up,
    so that everyone who believes in him is going to have eternal life.
    In this same way, in fact, God loved the world,
    by giving his only Son,
    so that everyone who believes in him isn’t going to be destroyed,
    but is going to have eternal life.

    I like it, Kurk. The repetitions do reinforce cohesion and parallelism in this passage. Could it be that John 3:16 has been taken out of context by many people?

  45. WoundedEgo says:

    I also like the JKG reading.

    About “snake” (OPHIS)… KOINE seems to use one word for both “snake” and “viper” but in English, a “viper” is specifically a venomous snake:

    In the Numbers acccount, to which John refers, these are obviously serpents:

    Num 21:6 And the Lord sent among the people **deadly serpents**, and they bit the people, and much people of the children of Israel died.

    So would “viper” be a more accurate translation than “snake”?

    Either way, though, it is an unexpected figure, given the general identification of the snake with the adversary.

  46. veryrarelystable says:

    iverlarsen: I have looked at your link. Why are you and so many others ignoring the hWSTE connector?

    There is no problem with Matt 6:9. hOUTWS is commonly used in a cataphoric sense, but never when it is followed by hWSTE.


    If you look at the other thread on this topic, here:

    you’ll find that I haven’t ignored this, and indeed given an example of a cataphoric οὕτως ὥστε combination.

    BTW, are there any instructions available on how to format text on this blog e.g.(indicate quotes, use italics, insert urls etc)?

  47. John Hobbins says:


    I was using the term “complementizer” incorrectly, but in any case, I was referring to the English, not the Greek.

    The chief problem with this thread is that what began as a discussion about the naturalness of the traditional English translation of John 3:16, and what that diction might be understood to mean, morphed into a discussion about what the Greek means.


    Usage patterns tend to follow bell curves. So what if John 3:16 and 1 John 4:11 are located, ex hypothesi, in the tail end of a bell curve rather than in the hump? Just because Americans and Brits usually marry their fellow citizens is not an argument against the possibility that Peter and I married Italians. IMHO you are not making good use of statistical data.

    For the rest, I would repeat: the incessant attempt to make adverbs like “so” specify either manner or degree or intensity in individual cases is really dumb if you ask me.

    The peculiarity of “so” in John 3:14, 3:16, and 1 John 4:11 is the way it straddles a functional fence. If that is so, concordance across the passages is an imperative if the sense of the inter-texts is to be respected and on the assumption that the passages are actually inter-related.

    Function words in languages “straddle” more often than pigeonholers and disambiguators like to admit.


    The whole and particulars of a given text cooperate in the creation of meaning in the following counter-intuitive way: meaning is not built up from the ground up, brick by brick, but in a continuous feedback loop in which Gestalt perceptions count more than hypothetical meanings of individual items within the whole taken on their own.

    As we would know if we were more self-aware of our own language – think again of the way the construction “so … that” is actually deployed in English – manner, degree, and intensity are easily fused and vehiculated by one compact construction.

    O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous language is! O brave new world, that has such tagmemes in’t!

  48. Gary Simmons says:

    One thing I don’t think anyone has addressed directly yet: extent/degree is sometimes a component of manner. So, not just would the distinction be etic, but it’s a hair that can’t always be split, anyway.

    Kurk: I like your rendering, but I’d suggest changing the “well” to “so then.” “Well” as a discourse marker indicates nervousness, or at least a less than full level of conviction in the statement made. Just my two cents.

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