Teaching and Learning Greek - John 3.16
a previous post, I argued that rather than learning
how to read Greek, it is probably better for students who will not have
enough time to become expert in the language that they learn
how the Greek language works and how to use Greek resources
appropriately. Here is an example of the
approach I am suggesting using one of the most well-known New Testament verses, John
- A person has access to Bible software of some
kind. If you don't have BibleWorks or Logos or such, try one of these online
each of which allow for one click analysis:
- A person can distinguish what Greek words are
which in English. A (reverse) interlinear can be used if necessary.
- A person has some understanding of Greek
grammatical principles: the differences between tenses, the possible
implications of the cases, how various syntactical constructions work (e.g.,
conditionals, participial clauses, etc.)
- A person has access to lexical resources.
John 3.16: Before looking at the text, however,
think about it for just a moment. Does it say, "For God so loves the
world..." or "For God so loved the world..."? (Hover over
for responses to the questions.)
difference would that make?
- What would you look for in the Greek to see which is
the better translation?
Now take a look at the Greek text.
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.
- What is verb used for "love"?
- What tense and mood is it?
- What does this indicate?
Now let's look at a variety of English
translations. (This is easy with BibleWorks or Logos. For an online site, try BibleGateway
which allows up to five English translations in parallel at a time or the NeXtBible
which provides even more information.) These are arranged roughly from more
literal to more dynamic/paraphrastic. What we want to look for are differences
between the English and then check back on the Greek.
- KJV: 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.
- ESV: ForA God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should
not perish but have eternal life. [AOr For this is how God loved the world]
NET: For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
[I have not included the NET footnotes here, but you will need to
NRS: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
NIV: 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.
- CEV: God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.
NLT: For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
- 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.
Here are some questions that the English versions
- The NET Bible (and the footnote to the ESV)
offer a significantly different translation regarding God's love. Is it a
matter of so much or how much God loved? Or is it this is
how God loved?
What is the Greek word that is the issue?
What will you check to learn more?
- What exactly does God love: the world or the
people of this world (CEV)? What do you check?
- Only begotten or only or one
and only Son: What is the Greek and what do you check?
- Have everlasting life or have eternal
life or will have eternal life and never really die or can
have a whole and lasting life: What exactly is the idea here? I think
that there are actually two issues to be addressed.
What Greek word is being translated as eternal or the other options?
Does the Greek indicate that this life is experienced now or in the
Okay, this is still in development, but this
exercise hopefully would have students reflect on some of the important
implications of this well-known text. As you can tell, I really think the NET
Bible notes are exceedingly helpful, but this exercise would also require
students to use lexicons and conduct word studies--things that are quite easy to
do with the software at hand--as well as apply grammatical concepts.
So, what would need to be taught for students to be
ready to handle an exercise like this and work similarly with other texts on
- Need to know what resources (and Bible software
or online tools are going to be lots easier than paper tools) to use to
compile parallels of English translations.
- Need to know how to use a lexicon and how to
conduct a word study.
- Need to understand Greek grammatical principles.
Note that one does not really need to understand
all the vocabulary or be fluent in Greek. The point is not to create a new
translation on one's own but to use these resources to engage more closely with