How Did God "So" Love the World?

For our Christmas Eve service this year, I'm planning to give the message from John 3:16. We were in the majestic John 1:1-13 this past Sunday and will continue in verses 14-18 this coming Sunday, so I thought John 3 would be a great compliment to those passages.

In studying John 3:16, I took some time to research a question that I've wanted to examine for some time now. We all know the traditional translation of the verse says, "...God so loved the world..." The question I've wondered about is how to translate "so" (houtos in Greek). A Greek dictionary will give you a definition something like this: "so, thus, in this way."

That means, depending on which definition is meant by houtos in 3:16, we could get two different senses from the verse. Here are the two options:

1. For God loved the world so much...
2. For God loved the world in this way...

The first option means that houtos indicates "a high degree" whereas the second means something like "in this manner". I believe most people assume option #1 when they read John 3:16 because that's the most natural way to understand the phrase "God so loved".

The word houtos (so, thus, in this way) occurs 208 times in the Greek New Testament—a fairly common word. I went through all 208 times and counted how many times it was used in each of these ways. It is only used to indicate "a high degree" in four of those 208 occurrences. There is one more where I'd say it's 50/50 and could mean one or the other. And there are two other places it's used and is possible, but I think unlikely that it means "a high degree". So, at most 7 out of 208 uses of houtos coincide with option #1. The rest all indicate a meaning like option #2.

In only 2-3% of times this word is used does it mean option #1. (See * list below)
In 97-98% of times
houtos is used, it means something like "in this way."

As I looked through the 208 occurrences, here are some of the ways houtos is translated:

in this way like this as follows
exactly in this manner and so it happened
this way just as in the same way

We know that understanding the Bible must take into account considerations besides lexical meaning. But there seems to be a pretty heavy weight just from the lexical data that we should be leaning toward meaning #2 when we get to John 3:16. I believe the context fits more appropriately with meaning #2 as well. The focus is not on the degree or intensity of God's love, but on the giving of the one and only Son.

This is why I believe John 3:16 would be better translated: "For God loved this world in this way, he gave his one and only Son..." The Holman Christian Standard Bible and the Net Bible are the only two translations I know of that use that translation. Most others use the traditional "God so loved..." (NIV, TNIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, KJV, NKJV). And one (eek!) actually uses "God loved the world so much..." (NLT).

*Instances of houtos that indicate degree: Definitely: Gal. 1:6; Gal. 3:3; Heb. 12:21 (houto); and Rev. 16:18 (houto). May or may not (50/50 chance): 1 Thess. 2:8. Possible, but doubtful: Mark 7:18 and 1 John 4:11.
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