Everybody says it. Possibly hundreds of times a day.

“So” may be the new “well,” “um,” “oh,” and “like,” writes NY Times columnist, Anand Giridharadas.  “So” is no longer content to provide hesitation before giving reply or to lurk in the middle of sentences. According to Anand, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things other than transition:

certitude, attentiveness, a major insight.

Raise you hand if you’ve ever heard the expression, “God loves you thisssss much,” displayed by a gesture of arms spread wide.

That’s how we have translated John 3:16. God loved us SO much that He gave us Jesus. We interpret the word “so” as an intensifier, indicating God’s deep, unfathomable love for us. Certainly, that is true of God’s love, but it’s not the intention of “so” in this text.

In the Greek text of John 3:16, the word for “so” is ou¢twß and is translated “in this way” or “thus.” It is the first word of the sentence in the Greek text, yet not in the English translation. ou¢twß refers to the previous verse, which reminds us of Moses and the Israelites:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16)

A quick recap of the Exodus: people grumbled against God, God sent poisonous snakes, which bit the people (who would have perished for their sins), but the people confessed their sins, asked for deliverance, and God directed Moses to place a bronze serpent on a pole, and if anyone was bitten and then looked on that pole, they lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Therefore, when the bronze serpent was lifted up, and people believed God and looked at it, they lived.

In the same way, when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and people believed, they lived.

For God, in this way, loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Certitude. Attentiveness. A major insight.

One little word. Such profound meaning.


* inspired by Dr. Stuart’s chapel message last week.


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