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Inside Translation
Translating the Gospel (Part 3) :Translation and Interpretation
by Hart Wiens, CBS Director of Scripture Translation

"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."

“So” – such a tiny word! Surely it can’t present much of a challenge to the Bible translator!

The length of a word really has nothing to do with the difficulty a translator faces in accurately representing its meaning in another language. Also, the fact that this word is tiny in English obscures the fact that in the original Greek is a word of normal length and complexity. The structure of the English language, which tucks this tiny word between the powerful words “God” and “loved,” also tends to downplay its significance. In the Greek comes first in the sentence and establishes the context for what follows.

A paraphrase representing one meaning of this word might read something like, “God loved the world so much that ….” Many modern versions have done just that. We tend to see “so” as an adverb expressing how much God loved the world. Many Greek scholars, however, understand the word as an adverb of manner and most interlinear Greek texts render it as “thus.” Another way of paraphrasing it is, “This is how God loved the world ….”

Often the intended meaning is so rich that it is impossible to capture it fully in any one version. In this case, John may well have intended to express both the degree to which God loved the world as well as the manner in which that love was expressed. The challenge for the translator is to capture both thoughts in a way that is clear and natural.

I believe Dr. Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message comes about as close as possible to expressing in contemporary English what John intended. He accurately captures the complexity of the little word “so” when he says, “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.”

The Bible is like a precious multi-faceted diamond. The different versions are like the different surfaces that a skilled jeweller cuts into the gem to bring out the light. Reading the Bible in different versions helps to expose the brilliance of its eternal message.

In the next issue we will examine the challenges we face when translating the Greek term represented by the little English word so.

For more information and discussion on this topic, please contact us by .

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