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John 3:16 (chapter 3, verse 16 of the Gospel of John) is one of the most widely quoted verses from the Christian Bible, and has been called the most famous Bible verse. It has also been called the "Gospel in a nutshell", because it is considered a summary of the central theme of traditional Christianity:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The verse is part of the New Testament narrative in the third chapter of John in the discussion at Jerusalem between Jesus and Nicodemus, who is called a "ruler of the Jews". (v.1) After speaking of the necessity of a man being born again before he could "see the kingdom of God", (v.3) Jesus spoke also of "heavenly things" (v.11-13) and of salvation (v.14-17) and the condemnation (v.18,19) of those that do not believe in Jesus. "14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) Note that verse 15 is nearly identical to the latter part of John 3:16.
A representative sample of published Bible translations renders it as follows. (It is worth noting that since this is perhaps the best-known verse, many translations have tried to maintain a traditional rendering.)
|Century & distinctive features||Translation||John 3:16|
|C1, Greek||Original Koine Greek||Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν Υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς Αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.|
Houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho Theos ton kosmon, hōste ton Huion ton monogenē edōken, hina pas ho pisteuōn eis Auton mē apolētai all᾽ echē zōēn aiōnion.
|C2, Syriac||Peshitta Bible|
ܗܟܢܐ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܝܩ ܐܠܗܐ ܠܥܠܡܐ ܐܝܟܢܐ ܕܠܒܪܗ ܝܚܝܕܝܐ ܢܬܠ ܕܟܠ ܡܢ ܕܡܗܝܡܢ ܟܗ ܠܐ ܢܐܟܙ ܐܠܐ ܢܗܘܘܢ ܠܗ ܝܚܐ ܕܠܥܠܡ܀
Hāḵanā gér ʼaḥeḇ ʼalāhā lʻālmā ʼaykanā dlaḇreh yḥyḏāyā yetel dkul man damhaymen beh lā naḇaḏ élā nehwuwn leh ḥayé dalʻālam.
|C4, Latin||Vulgate||Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret: ut omnis qui credit in eum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam.|
|C14, Middle English||Wycliffe's Bible||For God louede so the world that he ȝaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that beliueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.|
|C16, Protestant||Tyndale Bible||For God so loveth the world, that he hath given his only son, that none that believe in him, should perish: but should have everlasting life.|
|C16, Roman Catholic||Douay–Rheims Bible, Challoner Revision||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.|
|C17, replaced Latin as a long-lasting standard||Authorized King James Version||For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.|
|C19, forerunner of modern translations||Revised Version||For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.|
|C20, formal equivalence||New American Standard Bible||For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.|
|C20, dynamic equivalence||Good News Bible||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.|
|C20, in-between approach, best-seller||New International Version||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.|
|C21, formal equivalence||English Standard Version (unchanged from RSV)||For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.|
|C21, paraphrase||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.|
|C21, "optimal equivalence"||HCSB||For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.|
(See also Modern English Bible translations.)
Recent translation scholarship has struggled most with the Greek adverb οὕτως (houtos) which traditionally has been simply translated as "so" as in "so loved" in the KJV.
A few modern translations translate this word as "in this way" instead of "so". But there is reason to believe that houtos must be translated as "so" in John 3:16.
Theologians Gundry and Howell believe that the sense and syntax of the Greek Οὕτως…ὥστε make it likely that the author of the Gospel of John is emphasizing both (a) the degree to which God loved the world as well as (b) the manner in which God chose to express that love—by sending his only son. Gundry and Howell write that the Οὕτως term more frequently refers to the manner in which something is done (see BDAG 741–42 s.v. οὕτω/οὕτως). However, they add that the ὥστε clause that follows Οὕτως involves the indicative—meaning that it stresses an actual but usually unexpected result. They conclude that the sense and syntax of the Greek construction here focuses on the nature of God's love, addressing its mode, intensity, and extent. Accordingly, it emphasizes the greatness of the gift God has given.
There are other scholars agreeing with this assessment. "The 'so' (houtos) is an adverb of degree which points toward the clause which follows and here serves to express the idea of infinity, a love that is limitless, that is fully adequate." "The Greek construction…emphasizes the intensity of the love."
This understanding of the intent in the original Greek is reflected in various scholarly commentaries and translations such as these:
Based on their analysis of the original Greek parallelistic structure of John 3:14–17, Gundry and Howell provide the following English translation showing the grammatical structure of that passage:
PARALLELISTIC STRUCTURE OF JOHN 3:14–17
MAIN CLAUSES (UNINDENTED)
SUBORDINATE CLAUSES (INDENTED)
- And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,
- in this way must the Son of man be lifted up
- in order that everyone believing might have in him life eternal,
- for in this way God loved the world;
- and so God gave the only Son
- in order that everyone believing in him might not perish; rather, might have life eternal,
- for God did not send the Son into the world
- in order that he might judge the world;
- rather, in order that the world might be saved through him.
Translations of this verse into various languages are a familiar part of the front matter of Gideon Bibles.
The text of the verse is incorporated into the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople, as part of a prayer said by the celebrant. This Divine Liturgy is still commonly used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in the Byzantine rite of the Catholic Church.
Various translations differ on whether this is a direct quote of Jesus or a comment of the narrator of the Gospel. For example, the Good News Bible ends the quotation marks after verse 13 after which there is a footnote 'The quotation may continue through verse 21.'
Computer scientist Donald Knuth is the author of 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated, in which he examines the Bible by an analysis of chapter 3, verse 16 of each book. Each verse is accompanied by a rendering in calligraphic art, contributed by a group of calligraphers under the leadership of Hermann Zapf. 3:16 was chosen because of this key passage in John. Knuth's Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About reproduces a lecture series that he gave at MIT, centered on his process of production of his book.
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