I am a pastor and not a Greek scholar, but I had an interesting conversation with a Bible translator friend over this verse yesterday. The curiosity lies in the fact that basically all translations tie the οὕτως of John 316 to the subsequent ὥστε clause: ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν. It is interesting because it’s almost never how that construction works. Also, we have the classic καθὼς/οὕτως construction in verses 14 and 15, with an initial clause: καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ being followed by two parallel clauses:

οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ2 ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

If this is indeed the intended construction, then the train of thought is some thing like:

  • Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness
  • In the same manner (as the serpent), the son of man must be lifted up
  • In the same manner (as Moses), God loved the world by doing the lifting

It seems to be pretty straightforward, but I have never heard anybody connect the activity of God in v16 with the activity of Moses in v14, at least not so directly. And the translations certainly don’t do us any favors

  • God (Colossians 2:12) is seen as responsible for 'nailing' 'to the cross' (Colossians 2:14). In this passage what is 'nailed' is the 'handwriting of ordinances'. This is not quite as the question supposes but the initiative is, it is true, of God.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 14:16
  • 1
    Extremely good Question +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 22:22

4 Answers 4


The adverb οὕτως modifies the verb ἠγάπησεν (loved). If it pointed back to a noun, it would be the adjective οὗτος.

Note: καθὼς (just as) and οὕτως (in this manner) are connected in John 3:14. Besides, if one connects the two οὕτως, Jesus being crucified is connected with God loved. But, the connection is with γὰρ (For). If the οὕτως in 3:14 were compounded with οὕτως in 3:16 (thus also connected to καθὼς in 3:14), instead of γὰρ, the verses would be connected with the conjunction καὶ (and). Another issue is verse 3:15 is in between the two verses.

Translating this passage with emphasis on the connection.

And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, in order that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For in this manner God loved the world, so that he give his only son in order that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

"So that" because it is ὥστε and not ὅτι. Essentially, the before and after describes the same thing.

The conjunction for establishes a causal relation between this [3:16] and the preceding verse. -- Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 1, p. 139). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

See Is translating οὕτως in John 3:16 as "so much" valid?

  • I think it's fixed now. It's close to my bed time and a fumbled around some.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 23:29

I think the translator friend is half correct. However, I fully agree that these Greek conjunctions and little adverbs must be watched very carefully indeed.

The passage John 3:14-16 contains FOUR such pivotal words:

  • V14a καθὼς (in the same manner in which ...)
  • V14b οὕτως (thus, in the same manner ...)
  • v15 ἵνα (in order that ...)
  • v16 Οὕτως (thus, in the same manner ...)

The question here is whether the Οὕτως here points forward or points backward - semantically, it can do either. Since this adverb is effectively acting like a pivot word to connect an OT type (or metaphor) to its NT antitype it is behaving somewhat like a conjunction, or at least a connecting link.

I both reject and accept the translator friend's assertion for the following reasons:

  1. Jesus is portraying Himself as the Savior of the world to which people can look and be healed/saved - the bronze serpent did this to a much lesser extent but I do not believe that is the central force of the Jesus' comment.
  2. The second Οὕτως is actually linking the ζωὴν αἰώνιον (life eternal) of V15 to the same phrase in V16. Thus, Dottard's extreme paraphrase might read thus (with the above pivot words' translations highlighted):

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in the same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up (ie Crucified) so that everyone may have eternal life.

It is for the same goal of eternal life that the One and only Son was given by God so that those who trust Him might have that goal (eternal life).

That is just as the οὕτως in V14b links the ὕψωσεν (lifted up) of V14a to the ὑψωθῆναι (will be lifted up); so also the οὕτως in V16 links the ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (may have life eternal) of V15 to the ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (will have eternal life) of V16.

  • 1
    Isaac was both only and first from Sarah, Abraham's lawful wife at the time God had made the promise to Abraham regarding his seed. God's promise was to both man and wife, as God counts the "man" as both male and female, "one flesh." More than merely the child of promise, Isaac was Abraham and Sarah's only begotten son.
    – Polyhat
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 0:51
  • 1
    Great answer Dottard! I will share with my translator friend.
    – Robb
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 13:13
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    @Dottard The promise was made to "Abraham" at the time that Sarah was his only lawful wife, and God sees "Abraham" as inclusive of the man and his wife. The fact that Sarah offered him her maid does not make the maid his lawful wife. Even in those times Hagar would not have been called his wife, but rather his concubine. Most people reading the story will understand this.
    – Polyhat
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:23
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    @Dottard Are you wishing to believe there were no laws regarding marriage? If such be the case, why was the entire house of Pharaoh plagued because of Sarai, "Abram's wife" (see Gen. 12:17)? God made marriage in Eden, and He made it to be between one man and one woman. That the law was not yet written by Abram's descendants does not mean that it did not exist.
    – Polyhat
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:28
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    Here is the law you asked about: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) Matthew records how Jesus understood it: "And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:5-6) Notice that word "twain". It means "two".
    – Polyhat
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:37

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent so must the Son of Man be lifted up...

What Moses lifted up by God's command (the serpent fashioned of bronze) was a representation of the righteous judgement of God that was killing the people.

The question to ask is: In what way is Jesus lifted up on the cross a representation of the righteous judgement of God that is killing the people?

The Word of God in flesh dead on a cross and lifted up picturing the Word of God willfully and functionally dead in the hearts of unregenerate man.

Moses lifted up the serpent and those who looked (agreeing with God's judgement) lived.

Jesus is lifted up and those who believe (agreeing with God's judgement) will live.


John 3:

14 Just as [καθὼς G2531] Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so [οὕτως G3779] the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so [Οὕτως G3779] loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

οὕτως (houtōs)
Strong's 3779: Thus, so, in this manner. Or (referring to what precedes or follows).

The first οὕτως refers to Moses lifting up the snake.

The second οὕτως refers to its nearest precedent, i.e., God lifting up the Son of Man.

Two οὕτως's for two different precedents.

John 3:16 - Might οὕτως be a reference to Moses?

No. Moses wasn't the closest precedent.

  • Thanks Tony, but I'm not sure I follow. The first outws definitely relates Jesus to the serpent, not to Moses. The serpent was lifted up, and in the same manner he will be lifted up. The question regarding the second instance is: God's love/action is being correlated to what?
    – Robb
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:29
  • The outws here refers to a verb, not to a noun.
    – user35953
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:33
  • Yes, in this case the verb is “lifted up” in the first instance, which correlates the action as it relates to its object (serpent/Jesus). In the second case the verb is “loved” and God is the subject. The question remains, where is the corollary?
    – Robb
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:46
  • The corollary has to do with the verb "lifting" in both cases.
    – user35953
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:48

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