Ducks, dogs and hogwash in John 3:16

I think this will be the final post for right now on John 3:16.

What I want to do here is summarize some of the major insights that I gained from this collaboration. Please share things you have learned in the comments.


A number of great resources have been mentioned in these posts:

  • Google Search and Instant Search: If the only hits are from Bible verses, well then you’re probably looking at “Biblish.”
  • Google Ngram Viewer: ( This is a far more powerful method. Compare “I so love you” to “I love you so much” and get a feel for relative frequency of these expressions over time.
  • Greek Lexicons and Concordances: Louw & Nida and BAGD/BDAG. See here for some discussion and lots of links: I find that even a really old fashioned lexicon like Vine’s Expository Dictionary can be helpful not for definitions but for showing where a word occurs in the New Testament. I did some of my research using the much-maligned Strong’s Concordance. It’s free on many of the software programs available and can help you bring up lists of occurrences.
  • Lots of translations! Looking outside of English helped us see that the “so” problem is not much of an issue in Romance languages.
  • “Grammars” and Commentaries: As you see I can’t even bring myself to write it without scare quotes. Grammars are notoriously deceptive. Scholarship tends to be old. They frequently engage in more theologizing than linguistics. Proceed with caution. BDF was mentioned. I often use GGBB. Commentaries are normally written by theologians rather than linguists. This isn’t to say that they are valueless, just that insights are often more devotional than exegetical.
  • B-Greek, BBB and blogs: B-Greek is old-school, it’s a mailing list and kind of clunky but it is stuffed with really smart people talking about these kinds of issues. Dive in and try to keep your head above water! ( Better Bibles Blog has a lot of stuff but I especially want to draw your attention to the many blog posts mentioned in these two posts. Many of the commenters have blogs of their own and post smart stuff on Bible translation with regularity.
  • Open Text has discourse charts for many New Testament books (
  • Perseus is the first place to go if you want to search for Greek outside the New Testament. ( Use Classical Greek examples with caution when trying to build your case for a New Testament analysis. Hundreds of years separate most of the Classical texts from the New Testament.
  • Scholarly articles. Much was made of an article by Fedukowski. While it isn’t available online there are many other sources for scholarly papers. Bloggers often tend to reference them and summarize them so that can help if you don’t have access to protected content.


  • Compare translations! For the non-expert this gives you a wealth of information. Translators spend hours going over verses like John 3:16 (Trust me, I’ve been there). Don’t think of translations in terms of “right or wrong” but rather ask, “Why did they choose to translate it this way?”
  • Read the footnotes! The best translations give alternate renderings in the footnotes or explain unusual or controversial renderings. NET Bible is the first place to go for a bibliography of commentary on thousands of verses of the Bible. (
  • Do a word search. Find every occurrence of the Greek word (not the English) and scroll through them. If possible, look for the places where an English translation has rendered the Greek differently. By doing this you will establish two things: the default usage of this word and any marked usages. hOUTWS in John 3:16 is a marked usage.Notice how Rich Rhodes’ use of Perseus employed this method with Classical Greek.
  • Chart the text. In my second post I did a very simple chart of John 3:14-17. Essentially line up everything with one clause per line. The verb phrase goes in the middle, put in a noun phrase slot before and after the verb. Seeing everything as a chart is the best thing you can do for gaining control over an unruly text. The reason Greek scholars don’t know if Koine is SVO or VSO is because 1. They don’t understand the difference between default and marked usage, 2. And they haven’t charted enough texts.
  • Rely on the experts. (You’re only human.)
  • Don’t trust the experts. (They’re human, too.)


οὕτως (hOUTWS), Adverb, occurs 206 times in the New Testament.

Note there is also a demonstrative pronoun (nominative, singular, masculine) that looks similar.

Default usage

As an adverb, οὕτως modifies a verb phrase with a basic meaning of “in this way” or “thus.”

John 3:8 

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. (SBLGNT)

The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (NET)

John 3:14

καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, (SBLGNT)

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (NET)

There are almost 200 examples of οὕτως being used in this way.

Marked usage

When used with ὅστε, it expresses degree of the verb with a basic meaning of “so much” or “greatly.”

John 3:16

Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλὰ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (SBLGNT)

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT)

This is the only case I know of in the New Testament where these two words are taken together to have an adverbial function of degree. Please help me out if you know of other cases. As Rich Rhodes mentioned, there are many clear examples from classical Greek. In New Testament Greek it is either exceedingly rare or if you don’t admit this as being a case of degree than hOUTWS plus hOSTE is unattested in the New Testament.


Three main ways of translating οὕτως in John 3:16

  1. 1. so
  2. 2. in this way
  3. 3. so much

Below I’ve listed a small number of the most popular translations in English. For a massive list of 68 versions of John 3:16 see here:

1. SO


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


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



For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.


For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Douay Rheims

For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.



God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.


For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.

The Message

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.


This is really a bare-bones examination of the John 3:16 controversy. I especially commend to you the discussion in the comment section of the second post for a lot of detailed discussion of this topic.

So where do I stand on this one? At the end of the day, I have to say that I believe that οὕτως in John 3:16 simply means “in this way.” While Iver and Rich have made convincing arguments for the marked usage of οὕτως together with ὅστε, I suspect that the “degree” component of the phrase resides solely in ὅστε. Kudowski in her paper doesn’t mention John 3:16 and never mentions an example of οὕτως and ὅστε together having a joint meaning of “so much.” If I saw a number of examples of this construction in the New Testament without an adjective such as “amazed” or “surprised” that seemed to clearly show οὕτως being used to mark degree I might revise my conclusion.

I would appreciate any corrections of errors in this post as well as suggestions for expanding it. I would like to write more in the exegesis section but I’m on vacation and supposed to be heading out the door in a few minutes for a hike!

And what about the ducks, dogs and hogwash? Well, we’ve employed a lot of barnyard imagery to talk about this verse. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” That’s the case here with οὕτως, it quacks like a duck so don’t try to turn it into an eagle. Dogs are four-footed animals that hold their owners as practical slaves to their bodily necessities. But a dog can also be someone who is working hard, an ugly woman, or a tough boss. This is difference between default and marked usage of language. οὕτως in John 3:16 is just a dog. And hogwash? Well, I’ve been guilty of it, but I claim that grammarians and lexicographers are especially prone to it. Protect yourself by doing linguistics. Koine Greek is a language and can be studied just like any other without the need to insert fanciful theological notions into our analysis.

Finally, Merry Christmas! What God did in the Old Testament by saving his people through Moses and a serpent on a stick, he did in the New Testament by sending his only son. May you look to the Son in this season, find faith in his story and be saved.

All the posts in this series:

17 thoughts on “Ducks, dogs and hogwash in John 3:16

  1. Iver Larsen says:


    Shouldn’t the Douay Rheims be in group 1 rather than 2?

    The reason that Donna Fedukowski does not discuss John 3:16 is that her article is entitled: On The Use Of ὥστε With The Infinitive”. We don’t have the infintive in 3:16. Her point is that ὥστε refers to result in contexts that indicate a somewhat unexpected result. Since you mention markedness, it is marked result, whereas ἵνα is an unmarked result.

    Although you still think in this way at the end of the day, there is still a day tomorrow 🙂

  2. JKG says:

    I would appreciate any corrections of errors in this post as well as suggestions for expanding it. I would like to write more in the exegesis section

    Well, first, thanks for writing this post and the series! I believe it’d be good to remember how John Radcliffe started the discussion on the BBB Share page with two fairly simple but largely yet-unanswered questions:

    “(1) Can a colon (“:”) be considered an adequate translation of ὥστε?
    (2) Could οὕτως be looking back to v15 rather than forward?”

    In your Exegesis section, you say:

    οὕτως (hOUTWS), Adverb, occurs 206 times in the New Testament…. When used with ὅστε [sic], it expresses degree of the verb with a basic meaning of “so much” or “greatly”…. This [John 3:16] is the only case I know of in the New Testament where these two words are taken together to have an adverbial function of degree.

    What you might also add here is that the οὕτως (hOUTWS) count can actually go up to 221 if you include all extant MSS; that the ὥστε (hWSTE) count is only 86; and that the very common “οὕτως X, ὥστε Y construction” count in the NT is actually 0. It’s zero unless, of course, we read John 3:16 as having the one and only instance of the very common construction in all of the NT. The ratio is 221:86:0 or 1. (In the LXX, which you may consider the OT, the οὕτως [hOUTWS] count is 788, the ὥστε [hWSTE] count is only 181, and the count of the “οὕτως X, ὥστε Y construction” is just 8, once in the Pentateuch and the other seven in the Maccabees. The ratio is 788:181:8 for LXX and therefore, for the entire Greek biblical corpus, 1009:267:8 or 9.) All that to say, a ducky “οὕτως X, ὥστε Y construction” in John 3:16 would be extremely marked indeed. Loud quacking ducky, :). There is, as we all know, another way of reading the Greek of John 3:16 in the context of the Greek of the entire NT and even the whole of the LXX; and such a reading answers John Radcliffe’s respective questions No and Yes respectively.

    An aside: with all the discussions of animals around the “Only Son,” how about we look at the LXX translation of what we call Psalm 22:20 – ῥῦσαι ἀπὸ ῥομφαίας τὴν ψυχήν μου καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς κυνὸς τὴν μονογενῆ μου? In English that goes something like, Rescue from the sword, my soul; and away from the paw of the dog, my Only [Child].

    Happy hiking and vacation and Merry Christmas.

  3. John Hobbins says:


    This summary post is absolutely excellent. I concur nonetheless with Iver’s qualifications.

    Merry Christmas to you. As for hiking, I’m supposed to be skiing in the Alps above Turin with my two oldest kids in a few days. But, since I am far better at falling than skiing, I suppose “hiking” is not a bad description of what I will be doing.

  4. EricW says:

    John 3:8 

    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. (SBLGNT)

    The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (NET)

    So is this verse saying that everyone who is born of/from the Spirit moves around like the wind, and no one knows where such a person comes from or where such a person is going; they only see the effects of a person who is born of/from the Spirit?

  5. David Ker says:

    @Iver and John, I wasn´t quite sure how to interpret the Douay Rheims but I thought the the “as to give” was unusual. Since you both see it as having the other I suppose that shows the power of “so” to confuse interpretation of this verse.

    @JKG, love those statistics! You can’t teach an old dog to duck. I really wanted to jump the fence but hogs can’t fly. As for John’s original question…I’m sure there’s an answer in there somewhere! 🙂

    P.S. On our hike, the two slowest hikers were a Greek scholar and me. The kids and wives seemed to bound up the cliffs like gazelles while we just plodded along talking about John 3:16 among other things.

  6. David Ker says:

    Regarding the subject of whether οὕτως is anaphoric (referring back) or cataphoric (referring ahead), my answer is that it can be both. I only had to look as far as Matthew 1:18 and 5:12 to find both possibilities.

    In John 3:16, I think either interpretation is possible:

    anaphoric: For in the same way that God loved his people by sparing them through the serpent, he loved them by sending his son.

    cataphoric: For in this way God loved the world: He sent his son.

    I favor anaphoric because of the context. I’ve just woken up from a post-hike nap so I might be mixed up. I’ve only today thought of a mnemonic for keeping anaphoric and cataphoric straight:catapults shoot forward.

  7. David Ker says:

    @EricW, that would be a case of anaphoric οὕτως, connecting the clause to the preceding one. But your question is firstly about the simile. I would analyze it as: the referents are the movement of the wind and the action of the Spirit. The point of comparison is their unpredictability.

  8. EricW says:

    @David Ker: I know most Bibles translate it to mean that this is how people are born of/by/from the Spirit, but the Greek does seem to say that it’s the people who are born of/by/from the Spirit who move and operate like the Spirit moves and operates (i.e., like the wind), and not that the Spirit births people the way the wind moves. It doesn’t seem to say that this is how people are born of/by/from the Spirit; it seems to say that this is what Spirit-born people are like – i.e., they’re like the wind. Maybe an idiomatic Koinê speaker would understand it perfectly and differently.

  9. David Ker says:

    I suppose it’s a possible interpretation. The Greek word for wind and Spirit are the same so it seems more likely that this is a comment about the Spirit’s “animation” rather than the human’s.

  10. EricW says:

    It makes no sense to me as an interpretation, but it seems to be the most straightforward reading of the Greek. If it’s true, then I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has been born of/from/by the Spirit. 🙂

  11. Mike Sangrey says:

    @EricW. You raise an interesting question. I think it would be great if you re-asked your question on the Share page. The answer(s) would get us into several linguistic and translation issues.

  12. Mike Sangrey says:

    I really wanted to jump the fence but hogs can’t fly.

    I’m trying to find where I first saw this, but, in any case, there are T-shirts, if you’re interested.

    “With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine.”


    Excellent and very helpful summary. Also, thank you everyone for the discussion. I think everyone grew here.

    Also, may I echo David’s statement. Merry Christmas!

    May the John three story find a home;
    an eternal life story: your own.

  13. Iver Larsen says:

    It was an excellent summary, David.

    I am the only non-English person on this blog? You are very right on your point 4. The problem with understanding 3:16 is not so much caused by difficulties in the Greek as it is caused by interference from English and the ambiguities that a literal translation adds to the text. The two English words “so” and “that” are much more ambiguous in English than the Greek words they are meant to translate. What I am saying is that the controversy over the legitimacy or correctness of various English renderings is primarily caused by ambiguities that have been introduced in the course of literal translations instead of being present in the Greek text. But I suppose one needs more or less to think in Greek to appreciate that.

    Be careful with dismissing grammars and dictionaries just because they don’t support your thesis. A linguist does not have all the answers, and as you know, linguists can disagree with each other as much as theologians can. I am not saying dictionaries are without faults and cannot be improved, but you really need strong evidence to say that they went astray in a particular place. We also should distinguish between details and general meanings. Sometimes a dictionary will place a construction or a passage in the wrong sense in an entry, but that does not invalidate the general thrust of the entry. For instance, οὕτως can be either anaphoric or cataphoric, depending on context. But it does not have to be either. BAGD lists three other possibilities so that the entry has 5 potential senses for this word. Number 1 is anaphoric, number 2 is cataphoric, the rest are neither. BDAG has reduced them to 4, but they still recognize that the word does not have to be anaphoric or cataphoric. There sense 3 is: “marker of a relatively high degree, so, … Before a verb so intensely.” I have said this before, but many people seem to cling to the idea that 1 and 2 are the only two possibilities. The Classical Greek dictionary (LSJ) has 5 senses of which number 3 is the one that is most relevant for John 3:16: “III. to such an extent, so, so much, so very, so excessively”. If you claim that οὕτως cannot have this meaning, the onus is on you to prove it. Can I trust you to know Greek better than the Greek scholars who produced the dictionaries? You would need to refute all the evidence listed in the dictionaries and also come up with evidence to support your position.

    I have argued that BAGD made a mistake in assigning John 3:16 and Acts 14:1 to sense 2, because οὕτως (or οὗτος) cannot be cataphoric when the following clause starts with ὥστε in the same way as it can be when followed by ὅτι (or no connector or even ἵνα). No one has given any evidence that the result connector ὥστε is ever used in this way in Greek. That is why JKG/Kurk correctly answered John’s first question that a colon is not a possible translation of ὥστε here or anywhere else for that matter. Any translation which uses a colon for ὥστε does not represent the Greek text accurately. The answer to John’s second question is “Probably not”, but I think he knew that already.

    Some people still think that οὕτως is anaphoric here. That is definitely a minority opinion, but I don’t think it is necessary to repeat all the reasons why this is a very doubtful interpretation. I could add that this interpretation does not appear to be found in any dictionary or in any translation, so it must be a very novel idea.

    Enjoy your Christmas holidays. I won’t hike in the snow, but then I am living very near the equator.

  14. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…I did some of my research using the much-maligned Strong’s Concordance. It’s free on many of the software programs available and can help you bring up lists of occurrences…

    The problem comes when people mistake Strong’s for a Lexicon. What Strong’s does is show the different way (and number of each way) a Greek or Hebrew word was translated **within the KJV**. If the KJV had an LXX OT instead of the Jewish scriptures, this would blow all other tools out there in terms of general usefulness. It would also be greatly improved if it parsed the usages by + dative, + accusative, etc.

    Even as it is, though, it is quite useful, or rather, the numbering system that drives searches in computer tools.

  15. Gary Simmons says:

    Though it’s practically unheard of these days, Iver, we did at one point say “quote” to introduce direct quotations, and “end quote” to conclude them. I would guess that was back in the ’30s when people sent telegraphs, since the intended audience would only be hearing the message instead of reading it. Nowadays, yeah, “that” is all we’ve got.

    I’ve wondered on occasion how awkward it would be to translate hOTI as “quote” for introducing direct speech. If understood properly, it would get across that the Bible is an oral text. On the other hand, it would completely confuse the register. Oh well.

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