". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love, Thus

I love it when the study of language leads to an increase of understanding.

The Gospel reading for today includes that most famous passage of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." The Office Hymn is Lutheran Service Book 571, "God Loved the World So That He Gave." Here's the first stanza:

God loved the world so that He gave
His only Son the lost to save,
That all who would in Him believe
Should everlasting life receive.

Note that both the reading and the hymn use the word "so." Now, I think when most people think of the word "so" we think of it as an intensifier--a type of adverb that emphasizes the degree or strength of another word. Some examples of intensifiers are "very," "extremely," "quite," "really," "hardly," and "so." Grammar handbooks generally condemn intensifiers as wasted breath and space, but that doesn't stop most of us from using them, and "so" is one of our favorites: "I'm so hungry . . . ." "She's so beautiful . . . ." "He's so smart . . . ." "That is so frustrating . . . ." "I love you so much!" So in John 3:16 and in the hymn above we may similarly interpret that "so" as a simple intensifier: "God loved the world how much? SO much."

But that's not what either the text or the hymn is saying. Because there's another use of the word "so," actually a more historical one. "So" means "thus," which means "in this or that manner or way." It's not that God loved the world so much; it's that He loved the world thus--in this manner--by giving His only begotten Son. It's not merely that His love made Him do this thing; it's that He loved us BY doing this thing. The giving of His Son is not just an expression of His love; it IS the love.

Not that my opinion matters. But I can't help wondering if a better translation of John 3:16 wouldn't be something like this:

"For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

HT for this blog post to my husband, whose sidebar note on the hymn in our bulletin started me to thinking.


Leah said...

This is why I love reading an "English major's" blog. I go away SO much more learned. ;) Yes, quite!

Gauntlets said...

I love this post. Eons ago, I had a mild debate with a fellow pastor's wife on this very topic. A summary runs thusly:

Me: No, no. God loves you because of Christ, and because of what Christ accomplished on your behalf. This is wherefore Baptism and Communion, and why we say there is no salvation outside of the cross. Not all dogs go to heaven, because not all dogs eat crumbs from the Master's table.

The Other: Uh uh! Because John 3:16 says that God loved the world and that's why he sent his son! He loved the whole world! So he loves everyone, regardless of what Christ did! Um ... Christ's work is important!

Me: le sigh.

Cheryl said...

Ooh, ooh, ooh! I just noticed something else! ESV adds a comma that NIV doesn't have, thusly:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that . . .

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that . . .

The ESV version sets off the middle clause, making it an appositive (explanatory) one, which further supports the meaning that "God so loved the world" means "God loved the world in this way."

Try reading both versions out loud and you'll see the difference. Don' you just love grammar?

Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

When Cwirla translates John 3:16 on the fly he says, "in this way" for "so". :)

Cheryl said...

Well, there you go, Dan--that settles it! :-)

Jane said...

Yeah, that was one of the first things I learned from Pastor Petersen.

Cheryl said...

Cool, Jane!