So, What? John 3:16 and the Lord’s Prayer
Scripture Zealot reminds us that the usual translation of John 3:16 is wrong. The Greek there doesn’t mean, “for God so loved the world…,” so the line shouldn’t read (NRSV) “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.”
Watch my “Exporing the Bible” video about John 3:16.
The translation used to be right, though, when “so” between a subject and a verb meant “in this manner.” The word “so” is meant to translate the Greek outos, and the point of John 3:16 is that “God loved the world like this….” or “God loved the world in this way….” or “This is how God loved the world.” (Don’t confuse “outos,” meaning “so,” with autos, which means something else.)
The word outos appears hundreds of times in the NT, including in the introduction to what has become known as the Lord’s prayer. Most translations get the word right in Matthew 6:9, as for example, “after this manner” (KJV), which is needlessly awkward but still generally accurate; “in this way” (NRSV); “like this” (ESV); variations on “this is how” (NAB, NIV); etc. (Outos doesn’t appear in the introduction to the “short Lord’s prayer” in Luke.)
So John 3:16 should read along the lines of, “for this is how God loved the world…”
The meaning of John 3:16 is not generally a disputed point.
The authors of the KJV knew what outos meant, but in their 400-year-old dialect (it wasn’t 400 years old then — but it is now), “God so loved…” meant “God loved in this way….”
The translators of the ESV knew it, too, and they even added a footnote to John 3:16: “Or For this is how God loved the world.” I can only guess that they didn’t change the KJV because in this case they valued tradition over accuracy.
The current translations are as wrong as it would be to render Matthew 6:9 as “you should pray this much….” instead of “you should pray this way….”
Other versions also seem to prefer tradition over accuracy when it comes to John 3:16, even when they do not adhere to the KJV translation tradition. The NLT rewrites the line, but their rendition, “For God loved the world so much that….” is a rewrite of the wrong meaning. The Message gets it wrong, too, with “This is how much God loved the world….” So does the CEV: “God loved the people of this world so much….” In other words, these three translations rewrote the wrong meaning to make the wrong meaning more accessible.
This pattern is interesting, and, I think, important for understanding the field of Bible translation. We see that in practice Bible translation is not simply translation applied to the Bible (though many people think that it should be).
Cases like these — where the Greek is easy to understand and generally undisputed — show us that even the most knowledgeable Bible translators can have trouble breaking free from their familiar, if wrong, translations.
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. (John 3.16)
John 3.16 is a popular verse in the Bible. For many Christians it is one of the first Bible verses that one commits to memory. This verse is embedded in a larger story of when Nicodemus sneaks in the middle of the night to ask Jesus a question. John 3.16 is Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ questions. This is a wonderful verse to reflect on, but can be challenging to find creative ways to engage in the message of this story.
Below are ideas for interactive prayer stations focusing on the story of Nicodemus and Jesus and more specifically John 3.16. It was also the second Sunday of Lent, so some of the prayer stations incorporate Lenten themes as well. The interactive prayer stations are meant to be intergenerational. There are also stations designed for ages 2-4. (For more specific instructions on layout, purpose, design, and more ideas, you can view previous posts: Interactive Prayer Stations and Interactive Prayer Stations on Leadership.) You can see more pictures of these prayer stations here.
Interactive Prayer Station #1: Finding a Source
Materials: Candle, Pencils, Paper
I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121.1-2)
Read this several times. Are they words you can or wish to affirm in your own life? Where do you tend to seek your help; self, vocation, possessions, self-medicating, etc. How do they fail you, though you continue to rely on that source? How might you be reminded daily of God as your help?
Adaptation for kids: Read this several times. Write how you need God to help you. Make this your prayer.
take time to let this settle into you now . . . invite God to place this in your faith journey.
Interactive Prayer Station #2: Ending Dead-Ends
Materials: Heat resistant bowl, Candle, Pencils or wooden skewers, Note cards
Write down your regrets or disappointments about the way you lived your life of faith this past year. Burn the paper in the bowl. Use the ash of the burned paper to draw a symbol on the card to remind you of a new pattern of living you’d like to begin in this Lenten season. Close with this prayer . . . God . . . forgive in me what has gone wrong, repair in me what is wasted, reveal in me what is you.
Adaptation for kids: Think of ways you could do better or when you have done wrong. Write them down. Have an adult help you burn the paper in the bowl. Use the ash to draw a symbol of love.
all this to become part of you now . . . invite God to add this to your faith journey.
Interactive Prayer Station #3: Starting on Empty
Materials: Colored Sharpies, Candle, Paper
Blank page – if you could start with a clean slate what would you draw? Using words, shapes or symbols .. .
Where would you like to begin?
Who would you invite along for your journey?
How might the Spirit give birth to your spirit?
What comforts will you accept and which will you lose?
What do you see in this city that Jesus would weep for and where you might respond?
As you take note of the world, where have you been silent about which you may now choose to speak?
no adaptations for kids needed
reflect on the significance of this now . . . invite God to add this to your faith journey.
Interactive Prayer Stations for Toddlers: Nic at Night
Activity one: Those who can’t see use Braille to read. Braille are raised bumps that stand for letters of the alphabet. To read Braille, run your fingers along the bumps. Using your fingers, read John 3.16.
Materials: Using a braille font, I printed out John 3.16. I posted it on corkboard and poked in each dot a “dipped head applique pin” that you can find at any fabric store. This gave a raised braille effect.
Activity two: Nicodemus came at night to ask Jesus a question. He didn’t understand Jesus’ message. When Jesus talked about love, a light came on in Nicodemus. He finally understood. Have a parent read the story. Every time you hear the word LOVE click the light on. When you read a word in BLUE click the light off.
Materials: I printed out “Nic at Night for Preschoolers (John 3.1-17)” by Carol Hulbert. I provided a couple circular battery operated lights that easily click on and off. You can purchase them at any hardware store.
Activity three: Make a special Valentine for someone, reminding them that God loves them.
Materials: Markers or crayons. I also printed out this coloring sheet.
This is so beautiful!!!
A little boy was selling newspapers on the corner, the people were in
and out of the cold.
The little boy was so cold that he wasn’t trying to sell many papers.
He walked up to a policeman and said,
you wouldn’t happen to know where a poor boy could find a warm place to
sleep tonight would you?
You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner there and down the alley
and it’s awful cold in there for tonight.
Sure would be nice to have a warm place to stay.”
The policeman looked down at the little boy and said, “You go down the
street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When they come
out the door you just say John 3:16, and they will let you in.”
So he did. He walked up the steps and knocked on the door, and a lady
answered. He looked up and said, “John 3:16.” The lady said, “Come on
She took him in and she sat him down in a split bottom rocker in front
of a great big old fireplace, and she went off. The boy sat there for a
while and thought to himself:
John 3:16…I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm.
Later she came back and asked him “Are you hungry ?”
He said, “Well, just a little. I haven’t eaten in a couple of days, and
I guess I could stand a little bit of food,”
The lady took him in the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of
wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn’t eat any more. Then he
thought to himself:
John 3:16…Boy, I sure don’t understand it but it sure makes a hungry
She took him upstairs to a bathroom to a huge bathtub filled with warm
water, and he sat there and soaked for a while. As he soaked, he thought
to himself: John 3:16 …
I sure don’t understand it, but it sure makes a dirty boy clean. You
know, I’ve not had a bath, a real bath, in my whole life. The only bath
I ever had was when I stood in front of that big old fire hydrant as
they flushed it out.
The lady came in and got him. She took him to a room, tucked him into a
big old feather bed, pulled the covers up around his neck, kissed him
goodnight and turned out the lights. As he lay in the darkness and
looked out the window at the snow coming down on that cold night, he
thought to himself: John 3:16 …I don’t understand it but it sure makes
a tired boy rested.
The next morning the lady came back up and took him down again to that
same big table full of food. After he ate, she took him back to that
same big old split bottom rocker in front of the fireplace and picked up
a big old Bible.
She sat down in front of him and looked into his young face.
“Do you understand John 3:16 ?” she asked gently. He replied, “No,
Ma’am, I don’t. The first time I ever heard it was last night when the
policeman told me to use it,”
She opened the Bible to John 3:16 and began to explain to him about
Jesus . Right there, in front of that big old fireplace, he gave his
heart and life to Jesus. He sat there and thought: John 3:16 — don’t
understand it, but it sure makes a lost boy feel safe.
You know, I have to confess I don’t understand it either, how God was
willing to send His Son to die for me, and how Jesus would agree to do
such a thing. I don’t understand the agony of the Father and every angel
in heaven as they watched Jesus suffer and die. I don’t understand the
intense love for ME that kept Jesus on the cross till the end.
I don’t understand it, but it sure does make life worth living.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have
If you aren’t ashamed to do this, please follow the directions .
Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before
my Father.” Pass this on only if you mean it.
I do Love God . He is my source of existence.. He keeps
me functioning each and every day. Phil 4:13 If you love
God and are not ashamed of all the marvellous things he
has done for you, send this on.
Take 60 seconds & give this a shot !
Let’s just see if Satan stops this one.
All you do is:
1) Simply say a small prayer for the person who sent you this,
“Father, God bless this person in whatever it is that You know
he or she may be needing this day
In Jesus Name
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