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.