Teaching and Learning Greek - John 3.16

In 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 3.16.

Some assumptions:

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.)

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.

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.

Here are some questions that the English versions should raise:

  1. 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?
  2. What exactly does God love: the world or the people of this world (CEV)? What do you check? 
  3. Only begotten or only or one and only Son: What is the Greek and what do you check?
  4. 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 future? 

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 their own?

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 the text.