The Cosmological Strangeness of Hart's New Testatment: Part 3, "For God So Loved the Cosmos"

Here's how David Bentley Hart translates the famous verses John 3.16-17:

For God so loved the cosmos as to give the Son, the only one, so that everyone having faith in him might not perish, but have the life of the Age. For God sent the Son into the cosmos not that he might pass judgment on the cosmos, but that the cosmos might be saved through him.

This is one of those places where Hart's translation jars you. You reach a familiar text like John 3.16, and instead of the expected "For God so loved the world" you get "For God so love the cosmos."

But the Greek word translated as "world" throughout the New Testament is the word kosmos. And Hart translates it as "cosmos," not to be weird or contrarian, but to alert the reader to the cosmological strangeness of the New Testament. As Hart comments:

[T]he word "world" as we use it today simply does not capture what is most essential to the ancient concept of "cosmos," a word that most literally means "order" or "arrangement" or even "loveliness of design." For us, the "world" is either merely the physical reality of nature and society "out there," or it is the human sphere with all its attendant moral and historical contingencies. For the late antique cultures from which the New Testament came, the "cosmos" was quite literally a magnificently and terribly elaborate order of reality that comprehended nature (understood as a rational integrity organized by metaphysical principles), the essential principles of the natural and animal human condition (flesh and soul, for instance, with all their miseries), the spiritual world (including the hierarchies of the "divine," the angelic, and the daemonic), the astral and planetary heavens (understood as a changeless realm at once physical and spiritual), as well as social, political, and religious structures of authority and power (including the governments of human beings, angels, celestial "daemons," gods, terrestrial demons, and whatever other mysterious forces might be hiding behind nature's visible forms). It is a vision of the whole of things that is utterly unlike any with which most of us are today familiar, and that simply does not correspond to any meaning of "world" intuitively obvious to us. For the author of 1 Peter or of 1 John, for instance, to tell his readers to have nothing to do with the "cosmos" is to say something far more comprehensive, imponderable, and astonishing than that they should avoid vice and materialist longings, or that they should withdraw from society. It seemed better to me to risk oddity of expression [in my translation] than to risk losing sight of these truths.

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