Arranged by Eusebio Tanicala, PhD
Question: Why is Christ called the “only begotten Son” in John 1:14; 18; John 3:16; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; Heb. 11:17-18 in the older English versions of the Bible? What is the meaning of ‘begotten’? Did the early Christian century church apologists fall short of their explanations?
Answer: It looks like that the so-called “Church Fathers” or early Christian writers failed to explain the New Testament verses where the phrase “begotten Son” as well as the phrase “only son” that is found as in Psalm 2:7; John 1:14, 18; John 3:16; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 11:17-18; 1 John 4:9.
Early Century Creeds View about Christ
1. The Nicene Creed of 325, revised at the Constantinople Council in 381 A.D. has this phrase: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds x x x x x begotten not made being of one substance with the Father. . .”
2. The Chalcedonian Creed of 451 A.D. says: “. . . begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead. . .”
3. The Athanasian Creed of the 4th-5th Century, item #22: “The Son is of the Father alone; not made, not created, but begotten.”
Early English Versions
Here are the phrases found in some older English versions/translations of the Bible made before the year 1950 A.D. We insert the Greek word after the term “only begotten”:
- Wycliffe Bible (1395 A.D.)
- Psalm 2:7 – “The Lord seide to me, thou art my sone, Y haue gendrid (Grk, egenesa) thee to dai.”
- John 1:14 – “as the glorie of the ‘oon bigetun (Grk, monogenous) sone of the fadir x
- John 1:18 – “. . no but the ‘oone begetun (monogenes) sone, that is in the bosom of the fadir. . ”
- Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible (1582/1609 A.D.)
- Psalm 2:7 – “I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten (egennesa) thee.”
- John 1:14 – “. . . the glory as it were of the only begotten (monogenous) of the Father. . .”
- John 1:18 – x x x v. 18, the only begotten (monogenes) Son who is in the bosom of the father. . .”
- King James Version (1611 A.D.)
- Psalm 2:7 – “. . . I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten (egennesa) you.”
- John 1:14 – “. . . (. . . the glory as of the only begotten (monogenous) of the Father,). . .”
- John 1:18 – “. . . the only begotten (monogenes) Son, which is in the bosom of the Father. . . ”
The Meaning of Begotten
The term “begotten” (genes in Greek) in its literal meaning is to biologically produce a child by a father, and the mother is said to bear a child. Perhaps this gave Arius of Egypt in the latter part of the 3rd century and early part of the 4th century the idea that God the Father produced or created the Son. Or that the Son was an emanation from the Father. So Arius insisted that the Son had a beginning, a creation, and similar but not the same in essence as the Father. Arius was opposed by Athanasius who insisted that Christ was begotten but NOT with the idea of bringing into existence Christ, the Son. The majority of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., believed that Christ came forth from the Father. Many older theologians viewed this coming forth as the “eternal generation of the Son from the Father.” But this phraseology would still create some problems as to the eternity (aseity) of the Son.
Also, the Greek term “mono” has the first common meaning “one, single, sole.” So the compound word “monogenes” (mono+genes) has been interpreted as “one begotten” or “only begotten” if taken literally. This created a big controversy about the nature of Christ. Even Muslims who consider Jesus Christ as a prophet are scandalized by the phrase “begotten of the Father” because that would make God having carnal relation with somebody to bring into existence Christ Jesus.
Was he created or brought into being or not? To prove his point, Arius cited Proverbs 8:24-25, “When there were no depths I was brought forth when there were no fountains abounding with water; before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth.”
The weakness of Arius’ stand was that he interpreted the terms in the phrase literally, taking the material and biological meaning as the basis of interpreting the scriptures. He did not consider the figurative shade of the terms. So let us analyze some background scriptures. Please read 2 Samuel 7:4-17 which was a message from Yahweh God to King David through the Prophet Nathan. Related to our topic, verse 14 says, “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men.”
Yahweh is the speaker here and Yahweh would become the “Father” of King David’s begotten son who will be his successor. Yahweh’s fatherhood to King Solomon is NOT to produce a child and bring him into existence. The fatherhood of Yahweh and the sonhood of King Solomon refer to the close relationship of the two parties. Yahweh would act as if He were the loving, concerned biological father who considers a natural son giving him provisions, protection, assistance, etc. As a biological father, King David did that to his son Solomon by anointing him as his successor and giving him all his gold and silver collections so that he could build a Temple dedicated to Yahweh (1Kings 5:1-18; 2Chron. 2:3-12). On the other hand, Yahweh granted special favor to King Solomon. Please read 1Kings 3:5-15; 1Kings 8:1-66. In the early years of King Solomon’s reign, Yahweh became the “Father” and Solomon became the “son.” God made Himself closely related to the King on the condition that God’s commandments were obeyed. There is the “begetting”. It is figurative. It is spiritual. It is not producing a child, not bringing into existence. It is a unique, beloved, close relationship.
The Meaning of “ONLY”
How about the term “mono” or “only”? The literal and first impression in our mind is number: one item or one person. Not two or more in the number of items. A limiting adjective.
Again, this term should not be taken literally in its first meaning. Not the singularity of item or person. For example in Genesis 22:2, 12, 16, Isaac is said to be the “only son” of Abraham. The reading is in verse 2: ton huion sou ton monogene; verse 12, ton huion sou ton monogene; in verse 16, ton huion sou, ton monogene sou.
Genesis 22 points to Isaac as the only son of Abraham is repeated in Hebrews 11:17-18, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac, your seed shall be called.” The phrase “his only begotten son” in English, and in Greek it is “ton monogene autou” Isaac was Abraham’s only son because Isaac was unique in that he was conceived when Sarah was 89 years old and gave birth at age 90 and Abraham was 100 years old.
Isaac was beloved because he was chosen as the heir of Abraham and Sarah’s wealth. And Isaac was chosen as Abraham’s seed through which the promised seed would be traced. Not through Ishmael who was driven away with his mother Hagar. Ishmael’s seed are the Muslims, the Arabs who are opposed to Christianity today.
But we should be aware that Ishmael is the first son of Abraham through Hagar. Genesis 16:15, “So Hagar bore Abram a son: and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.” Genesis 21:9, “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.” Genesis 21:13, “Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman because he is your seed.”
The term “only son” in English in Genesis 22:2, 12, 16 is monogene in Greek text. The term “only” in the Hebrew text of Genesis 12:2, 12, 16 is “YACHID”. This is proof that “Yachid” is not “absolute one” (meaning: strictly one, single item, or one person, not two or more) as some preachers are insisting. Isaac is said to be the YACHID son of Abraham. It is the uniqueness, close relationship, belovedness that is meant. Not the number of items or number of people that are referred to. Not “absolute one.” So please stop this argument about “Yachid as absolute one.” It has no authoritative basis.
Please wake up, brethren. Do not promote an argument that is not supported by sound scholarship and authoritative documentation. If you have a contrary view, please document your research and send me a copy.
Some Bible Versions after the Year 1950
Some Bible Versions/Translations made after the year 1950, because of modern research on the use of the phrase “only begotten son” (monogenes), wordings have changed. Here is NIV’s rendition of Psalm 2:7, “I will proclaim the LORD’S decree, He said to me You are my son; today I have become your father.” The wording is no longer “I have begotten you.” Observe the following versions made after 1950 on John 1:14 and 18:
- New International Version (NIV, year 1973) – John 1:14, “. . . the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father. . . ”, x x x ; v. 18, “. . . but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father. . . “
- English Standard Version (ESV, year 2001) – John 1:14, “. . . glory as of the only Son from the Father. . .”, x x x; v. 18, “. . . the only God, who is at the Father’s side.”
- Word English Bible (WEB) – John 1:14, “. . . such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father. . .”, x x x ; v. 18, “. . . The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. . .”
- New Living Translation (NLT, year 1996) – v. 14, “. . . Glory of the only Son of the Father. . .” x x x; v. 18, “. . . But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. . .”
- World Messianic Bible – John 1:14, “. . . such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father. . .”, x x x ; v. 18, “. . . The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. . .”
- Hugo McCord’s Translation (year 1989) – John 1:14, “. . . the splendor as of a unique one from the Father. . .”, x x x; v. 18, “. . . The unique Son, who is in the Father’s bosom. . .”
- New Century Version (NCV, year 1988) – John 1:14, “. . . the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father. . .”, x x x; v. 18, “. . . But God the only Son is very close to the Father. . .”
- Baro Naimbag a Damag Biblia (1996) – John 1:14, “. . . Nakitami ti dayagna, ti dayag nga inawatna kas kakaisuna nga Anak ti Ama.” x x x ; v. 18, “. . . Ti laeng Bugbugtong nga Anak, a kadua ti Ama. . .”