In John 3:16, it is written,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (TR, 1550)

Does it mean he loves the world (the lost)? Or that he loved the world once? Is it referring specifically to the giving of his special son?

1 Answer 1


The general sense of the aorist aspect is that is provides an external (rather than internal or perfective-stative) portrayal of the action.

[The action is] viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence.1

That is not to say you won’t find commentaries reading something of the internal make-up of the action into the aorist. In 1972, Frank Stagg was able to say,

To the grammarian it may seem like beating a dead horse to protest that the aorist does not necessarily reflect the nature of the action or event it covers. But the horse is not dead; he is very much alive and cavorting rather freely in the exegetical and theological pastures. The fallacy of the "theology of the aorist tense" stubbornly persists, even in the writings of distinguished scholars. 2

You’ll still see this sort of argument around. Generally the representation of the aorist is along the lines of “punctiliar” (momentary) or “once-and-for-all”. As Stagg points out, the actions thus portrayed are indeed punctiliar, but it is not the aorist aspect as such that makes them so. Applied to John 3:16, the aorist inflection of ἠγάπησεν does not indicate that he loved the world once or only once (nor does it indicate a past, present, or future orientation of the action). It simply provides the action, viewed from the outside, inflected for subject.

Of course, the verb and its aspect due not exist in a vacuum, and there is something to be said about the nature of the action based on the linguistic and narrative context. The most important part of the local context is the οὕτως....ὥστε construction in which it is situated. That may be roughly translated, “In this way [God loved]....such that [he gave]”. That construction emphasizes the effective nature of the love and “insists that the envisaged consequence really did ensue”.3,4

Is it referring specifically to the giving his special son?

Yes. The verb is contained within the οὕτως clause. The emphasis is on the effect of the action depicted in the ὥστε clause (ἔδωκεν...| he gave...) that follows. This is contained within a larger cause-effect structure (...ἵνα... | ...in order that...) describing the purpose of this action (πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων...ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον | all those believing...might have eternal life).

For more on verbal aspect in John 3:16, see In John 3:16, is the word believe a continous action for everlasting life? For more on the general topic of the aorist verb (note: off-topic here), see What Is The Aorist Tense Of A Verb?

1. Buist Fanning. Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, Oxford: Clarendon, 1990, 97.

2. Frank Stagg. The Abused Aorist Journal of Biblical Literature. Vol. 91, No. 2 (Jun., 1972), 222.

3. D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, (Pillar NT Commentary) Eerdmans, 1990, pp. 204ff.

4. English translations, following the KJV, often use “For God so loved....” which is interpreted by most modern (at least American) English speakers as “God loved so much...” Thi is not the type of “so” contained in οὕτως (rather, “in this way”). However, it turns out to not be far off given the larger structure of the sentence.

  • would you say that the construction suggests that the giving was the extent of God's love for the lost? That is, might is suggest that God does not have a perpetual or even ongoing love for the rebels, only that he did love at that time and expressed it and that is the end of it? As opposed to "God so loves the world..."? That's how it strikes me.
    – user10231
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:39
  • I don’t think it implies anything beyond the effects of the love given in the two clauses that follow: ...such that he gave....so that they might have eternal life. It neither includes nor excludes ongoing love at the time of the writing or thereafter; that is not the topic of the verse.
    – Susan
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:47
  • Perhaps that is what I'm sensing - the lack of any indication that the love persists because it doesn't use a present. It would not be appropriate for anyone to infer from the verse that God presently loves the world though it would be certain that he did then.
    – user10231
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:54
  • In a larger theological context of a doctrinal framework attributing immutability to God, I see no error in such an inference. But the verse in isolation does not say that, agreed.
    – Susan
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:59

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