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All Scripture citations are to the King James (Authorised) Version (KJV) unless stated otherwise
Question: ‛God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . . ’ (John 3: 16). Jesus said this of Himself, so why does the text use the word ‛gave’, as though the action is in the past?
Answer: The KJV is not the only English translation to use the word ‛gave’. Most other English translations follow suit.
The occasion for Jesus’ statement was the clandestine meeting between Him and Nicodemus, the Pharisee who visited Him under cover of night. A brief account of their conversation is recorded in vs. 1-21. Nicodemus already believed that Jesus was ‛a teacher come from God’ (v. 2). Following Jesus’ short sermon on the nature and workings of the holy spirit of begettal, Jesus made what has become the ubiquitous statement of evangelical Christianity: ‛God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ The verse is usually cited without reference to the one who made it, and is now a popular quotation with a life all its own.
The Greek word translated ‛gave’ in v. 16 is didomi (pronounced did-o-mee) and its variants. It occurs in many texts, and has a wide range of applications, suggesting either a completed or a continuing action. The following texts are a sampling; italics denotes the translation of didomi:
‛If ye then, being evil, know how to give [how to be giving] good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give [shall be giving] good things to them that ask him?’
‛And he took the cup . . . and gave [or, gives] it to them . . . .’
‛And the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded [or, it gives] no fruit.’
‛They said unto him, Grant [or, be giving] unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand . . . .’
Acts 13: 20
‛And after that he gave [or, he gives] unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years . . . .’
Acts 20: 35
‛[R]emember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give [or, to be giving] than to receive.’
It is evident from these examples that the context determines how didomi should be translated. In most instances the clarity of meaning is not impaired.
We return to John 3: 16. There are two levels of emphasis here, one explicit – God had already sent His Son into the world; the other is implicit – Jesus was still alive, and therefore had not yet been given in death.
To put this another way, at the time that Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus, He was in the process of being given, or surrendered, to death on the cross. In another context, Jesus said to His disciples (Mark 10: 38), ‛can ye . . . be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’
The literal sense of His question, according to the Greek, is ‛can ye . . . be baptized with the baptism which I am being baptized to be baptized?’ Compare this with Luke 12: 50: ‛I have a baptism to be baptized with.’ [fn] This baptism which was to come evidently was not the water baptism which Jesus had received at the hands of John, at Jordan. Rather, it refers to the crucifixion sufferings and death into which Jesus would be immersed as a consequence of His faithfulness, and from which He would arise triumphant.
During His ministry on earth, from the age of 30 onward, Jesus was in the process of being offered unto death. It was not merely His advent on earth, the miracles that He performed, nor the things which He taught, that fully accomplished the mission for which God gave Him. Not until Jesus had relinquished His life on the cross would the ransom merit be available for the justification of the believers. Only with Jesus’ death, could it be truly said that God ‛gave’ His Son.
The literal reading of the Greek text of John 3: 16 would be: ‛For God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son.’ In this progressive and blessed sense, God continues to ‛give’ His crucified Son as Saviour for all those who will yet believe in Christ.
[fn] A companion passage to Mark 10: 38 and Luke 12: 50 is Matthew 20: 22, the pertinent section of which reads in the KJV, ‛and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ This portion of the Matthew text is omitted from many later translations, as it lacks manuscript support.
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