By “sacred” I mean those texts that are the most familiar to Christians. For some people, it doesn’t matter which translation you use, “as long as you don’t mess with____.” This can be challenging for any new translation or even a revision. The text is not only familiar but is so much part of a person’s Christian fabric that to change the text is to affect the deepest emotions, “my sacred text” overrides anything else. Our first “sacred” text is John 3:16.
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.”
God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.
As a starting point, let’s see how this verse sets within the context of John 3. Is Jesus saying this or is this John’s comment? As you look at the above translations, we see those two options:
1) ESV and HCSB affirm that the words are spoken by Jesus (also KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NAS 95, NLT, CEV, CEB, NIV 1984, NJB)
2) For NIV 2011 and GW, Jesus stops speaking at the end of v. 15 and this begins a commentary by John (also, NAB, NABRE, ERV, NET)
So, there is considerable discussion among translators on whether it belongs to Jesus’ speech or John’s comments. For the purposes of this overview, this isn’t a huge issue—after all, it is all God’s Word, whether spoken by Jesus directly or commented on by John.
The infamous “so”
How do we translate οὕτως (“so“ in KJ tradition or “in this manner” in HCSB/GW)? The word can be translated in several ways. According to BDAG:
“1. referring to what precedes, in this manner, thus, so… (ex: Matt. 6:30 and John 3:8)
2. pert. to what follows in discourse material, in this way, as follows… (ex: Luke 24:24 and James 2:12)
3. marker of a relatively high degree, so, before adj. and adv.… (ex: Gal. 3:3 and Rev. 16:18)
4. to the exclusion of other considerations, without further ado, just, simply” (ex: John 4:6)
BDAG places John 3:16 into the second category. While in the KJV style, “so” can be understood in that same way, in contemporary English “so” fits more with #3, “relatively high degree.” The footnote in the NET study edition contains the following that combines #2-3:
With this in mind, then, it is likely (3) that John is emphasizing both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which He chose to express that love. This is in keeping with John’s style of using double entendre or double meaning. Thus, the focus of the Greek construction here is on the nature of God’s love, addressing its mode, intensity, and extent.
Given this cross-over of meanings, it might be best to consider “in this way, so much.” But that doesn’t really help because no translation takes the double meaning.
But we might consider where else it is used in John’s Gospel. (Here is PDF of John3,16)
As can be seen, there is no consistency even within the same translation. Of course, it would be helpful to look at 1 John at least. But this at least gives a sense of what is going. I see advantages with both translations, but given the parallel with 3:14 where “in this way” makes more sense, I tend to favor “in this way” in 3:16.
This is only scratching the surface of one “sacred” text, perhaps next to Psalm 23, the most sacred of all.