World – For God so loved the world – John 3:16

For God so loved the world – John 3:16

The word we translate “world” in this verse is kósmos. It has a wide range of meanings. Originally it meant ‘ordering’, ‘adornment’, a sense which survives in our word ‘cosmetic’. In the Bible, Matthew speaks of troubles not seen since “the beginning of the world” – that is, kósmos as the created order. It can mean the universe, which we see in the night sky, as in Philippians 2:15. It can mean the personal world, as in 1 Corinthians 4:9, where Paul defines the kósmos as “both angels and men”, in 1 Peter 5:9, “the brotherhood in the world”, and John 16:21 where he speaks of a person being “born into the world”.

Both Old and New Afrikaans versions render it with wêreld; both Xhosa translations say ihlabathi. The various translations do not capture the essence of kósmos, however. John could well have used a more common Greek word for world, such as oikouménē or aiṓn. Yet he chose to use a flexible word which through the course of his writing becomes loaded with meanings of ‘created order’, ‘inhabited earth’, ‘world system’, ‘world of sin’, such that in his first Letter John writes, “Do not love the kósmos or the things in the kósmos. If anyone loves the kósmos, the Father’s love is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

Yet the Father loved the kósmos such that he gave his only Son. He loves the kósmos because he is its holy Creator; we may not love the kósmos because it is sinful, we are creatures in it, and sin clings to us. The Father’s love for the kósmos reminds us of his transcendence, and his otherness as Creator, and as Redeemer through his only sinless Son.

Leave a Reply