So Much in this Way

Sorry for the nonsense title of this post. You’ll understand why shortly. Now on to the subject at hand. Have you seen the latest video from Wycliffe USA called “Translating for Understanding”?



You can easily understand why the creators of the video chose such a well-known verse as the example passage to be translated. I often employ John 3:16 as well when I’m speaking on Bible translation. but for different reasons. Yes, the verse is well-known, but the translation issues involved in translating John 3:16 are not.

First, a comparison of English translations shows the different ways in which the Greek word monogenes has been translated. We have, for example, “only-begotten” in the beloved King James but “(one and) only” in more recent translations like the English Standard Version, the New International Version and the New Living Translation (NLT, the version referenced in the video above). This change from begottenness to uniqueness reflects an evolution in the understanding of the underlying compound monogenes. John 3:16 most likely speaking of the Son’s uniqueness and not his begottenness.

Secondly, one encounters the issue of how best to translate the very first word in the Greek, houtos. This adverb may either be translated as an adverb of manner meaning “in this way” or as an intensifier like “so much.” You may have noticed that the video above (quoting the NLT) opts for the second of these, rendering John 3:16: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son…” while the Holman Christian Standard Version, for example, goes with “in this way” but adds the following footnote:

The Gk word houtos, commonly translated in Jn 3:16 as “so” or “so much” occurs over 200 times in the NT. Almost without exception it is an adverb of manner, not degree (for example, see Mt 1:18). It only means “so much” when modifying an adjective (see Gl 3:3; Rv 16:18). Manner seems primarily in view in Jn 3:16, which explains the HCSB‘s rendering.

I’m inclined to side with the translation “in this way,” but see also the value in translating houtos as “so” in this verse, given that it represents the ambiguity present in the original. I for one would not immediately think to translate houtos as “so much” like the NLT has done.

My opinions aside, the above video highlights–unwittingly I suppose–more than it’s designed to address in the world of translation.