NKJV – New King James Version
HCSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible
NET – New English Translation
GW – God’s Word Translation
The most famous Bible verse is unquestionably John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV). It expresses the greatness of God’s love for us. But recent Bible versions (HCSB, NET, and GW) read differently. Here is John 3:16 in the NKJV and the HCSB.
|New King James Version||Holman Christian Standard Bible|
|Jn 3:16||For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting 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.|
Do you see the difference? The NKJV (agreeing with most modern versions) says that God so loved the word. That means that God loved it so much. But the HCSB replaces the word “so” with “in this way”, thus destroying the concept of the greatness of God’s love for the world. So which one is correct, and why the strange reading in the HCSB?
The Greek word behind the word “so” is houtos. Houtos has two definitions:
1. In this way
The way to know which definition fits the word in a sentence is fairly easy. Generally, if houtos is applied to an adjective or an adverb, it means, “so”. If it is not, it means, “in this way”. Since houtos doesn’t modify an adjective or an adverb in John 3:16, the HCSB assumes that it must be translated as, “in this way”, rather than “so”. It sounds reasonable.
While it is true that houtos means “so” when it is modifying an adjective or an adverb, it can also mean “so” when it is followed by the Greek word hoste. When hoste follows houtos, houtos must be translated as “so”. This actually happens in John 3:16. The hoste is translated as, “that”. Below is how this construction occurs in John 3:16, with houtos and hoste highlighted in the NKJV and the original Greek.
|New King James Version||Textus Receptus (1894)|
|Jn 3:16||For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.||Οὕτω γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.|
Because of this Greek construction, most scholars agree that houtos must be translated as “so”.
“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.” ~ George Allen Turner and Julius R. Mantey, The Gospel according to John, (The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible 4; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.) 98.
“The Greek construction…emphasizes the intensity of the love.” ~ D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 204.
The NKJV is exactly correct in it’s treatment of John 3:16, which confirms it as superior to the HCSB.