Only Begotten

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

“… he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

“God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).

The wording is familiar. Five times, in the King James Version, Jesus is referred to as the “only begotten” Son of God. What do these words mean?There is much controversy over the original word “monogeneses.” The first part of the word is without controversy. “Mono” meaning “one” or “only” or “alone”. The second part of the word is the controversial part. Some think that the word is derived from “gennaoo,” meaning “to beget”. Others think that the word is derived from “genos,” meaning “stock” or “kind”.

Those who object to the translation “only begotten,” some times argue: (1) All Christians are begotten of God (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). Therefore, Jesus could not be the “only begotten”. Answer—It is the true that all Christians have been “begotten” of God. However, such is a figurative usage of the term. We were not begotten as Jesus was begotten. (2) Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s “only begotten” (Hebrews 11:17). Yet, Isaac was not literally Abraham’s “only begotten,” remember Ishmael? Answer—Isaac was Abraham’s only begotten according to the promise. (3) It is pointed out that while John speaks of Jesus as “only begotten,” Matthew-Mark-Luke speaks of Jesus as the “beloved” son (agapetos) (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35; 20:13). Thus, the term has nothing to do with His birth. Answer—I do not see these terms as necessarily parallel. Moreover, I do not see how this helps matters, for we too are “beloved of God” (Romans 1:7).

Some suggest that what is actually being taught is that Jesus was a unique, one of a kind son. Hugo McCord’s New Testament renders this “unique son”.

Those who support the rendering “only begotten” point out: (1) The original term is used of those who had only one child (Luke 7:12; 8:41-42; 9:38). Thus, “only begotten” seems the most natural rendering. (2) The original term occurs nine times in the New Testament (Luke 7:12;8:41-42; 9:38; John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; Hebrews 11:17; 1 John 4:9). Three of these times refer to an only begotten child (Luke 7:12; 8:41-42; 9:38). Only one passage on the surface seems a difficulty in so rendering (Hebrews 11:17), and it can be explained. (3) The most reliable translations have rendered it “only begotten” — KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB. (4) Ancient translations—Robert Taylor, Jr., writes, “In 1879 Murdock gave the English-speaking world what he called ‘a literal translation from the Syriac-Peshito version.’ Only begotten, occurred in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; and 1 John 4:9. Murdock did not vary as much as a particle in dealing with this treasured term” (Studies in John, The 18th Annual Denton Lectures, edited by Dub McClish, p. 616).

It is evident that some translations have missed the mark on the original term. Some have rendered it “only” (RSV, NRSV, ESV), or “one and only” (NIV). These are half translations. They are translating “mono” but leaving “genes” untranslated. It must mean something.

The more I study this, the more I am convinced that the KJV got it correct. However, the Bible, clearly teaches—(1) Jesus was one of a kind. (2) He was (is) the God-Man (John 1:1 cf. 1:14; 17:5; 1 Timothy 3:16). (3) He was supernaturally begotten of God (Matthew 1:20; 1:23).

“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the spirit,

Seen by angels,

Preached among the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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