Does The Bible Really Say “Only Begotten Son”? Buckle Up, This Might Ruffle Some Feathers!
Everyone knows John 3:16. And everyone knows that it says Jesus is the "only begotten son" of the Father. Right? Actually, it might not! Stay with me, this isn't heresy! In fact, I think you're really going to like
Everyone knows John 3:16.
And everyone knows that it says Jesus is the “only begotten son” of the Father.
Actually, it might not!
Stay with me, this isn’t heresy! In fact, I think you’re really going to like what it ACTUALLY says in the original language.
So here’s the verse in the familiar NASB translation using the word “begotten”:
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
First of all, “begotten” is a word most of us don’t use in regular conversation and we probably don’t know what it actually means.
The dictionary definition is: “brought into existence by or as if by a parent”. In other words, created by the parent, from the parent as the source.
That’s a good definition for Jesus, except some people like the Jehovah’s Witnesses take the definition too far, claiming that Jesus is not eternal. They claim he had a starting point – the time he was “begotten”. That, of course, is heresy and flies in the face of Christian teaching that Jesus is a co-equal member of the Trinity and he has no starting or ending point.
Here’s more, from GotQuestions:
The phrase “only begotten Son” occurs in John 3:16, which reads in the King James Version as, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The phrase “only begotten” translates the Greek word monogenes. This word is variously translated into English as “only,” “one and only,” and “only begotten.”
It’s this last phrase (“only begotten” used in the KJV, NASB and the NKJV) that causes problems. False teachers have latched onto this phrase to try to prove their false teaching that Jesus Christ isn’t God; i.e., that Jesus isn’t equal in essence to God as the Second Person of the Trinity. They see the word “begotten” and say that Jesus is a created being because only someone who had a beginning in time can be “begotten.” What this fails to note is that “begotten” is an English translation of a Greek word. As such, we have to look at the original meaning of the Greek word, not transfer English meanings into the text.
So we have to look at the Greek word that gets translated as “begotten”.
The word is “monogenes”.
You may have heard of Dr. Michael Heiser. If not, you really should check him out.
The man is a brain, there’s no other way to put it. Incredibly smart. He has advanced degrees coming out of his ears. But in the midst of all of that, he’s actually an amazing communicator and he is easy to understand.
He takes really complicated issues and explains them in a way that you and I can understand.
So I loved it recently when I heard him talking about what “monogenes” really means.
From his book “Unseen Realm“, which I HIGHLY recommend, he says this:
“Only begotten” is an unfortunately confusing translation, especially to modern ears. Not only does the translation “only begotten”seem to contradict the obvious statements in the Old Testament about other sons of God, it implies that there was a time when the Son did not exist—that he had a beginning. The Greek word translated by this phrase is monogenes. It doesn’t mean “only begotten”in some sort of “birthing”sense.
The confusion extends from an old misunderstanding of the root of the Greek word. For years monogenes was thought to have derived from two Greek terms, monos (“only”) and gennao (“to beget, bear”). Greek scholars later discovered that the second part of the word monogenes does not come from the Greek verb gennao, but rather from the noun genos (“class, kind”). The term literally means “one of a kind ” or “unique” without connotation of created origin. Consequently , since Jesus is indeed identified with Yahweh and is therefore, with Yahweh, unique among the elohim that serve God, the term monogenes does not contradict the Old Testament”
What an awesome explanation!
So “begotten” is actually a bad translation, which is why it leads many to false teaching.
The accurate translation is “one of a kind”. How perfect! The Bible talks frequently about the “Elohim” and “sons of God” (a topic for another day), so it is essential that the writer (John) had a unique way to describe Jesus as much more than just one of the “sons of God”. I’d say “one of a kind” is a great way to do it!
Other writers agree. From Margmowczko.com:
Arguably, one of the most critical words in christology—the study of the person and work of Christ—is the Greek word monogenēs which has been somewhat misleadingly translated in the past as “only begotten.” The connotations of “only begotten” are ambiguous because the word “begotten” is no longer a part of everyday English and is unfamiliar to modern readers. Furthermore, “begotten” may not be the sense John intended.
The NIV translates monogenēs much more meaningfully as “one and only”, as in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son . . .” The CEB, NLT, HSCB, and the ESV likewise have “one and only Son”, or simply “onlySon”.
The word monogenēs is used only a few times in the New Testament. Luke, and the author of Hebrews, used this word about certain people always to emphasise that the person was an only child. The word is not used to emphasise, or refer to, the “begetting” of these children. See Luke 7:12 (the Widow of Nain’s son); Luke 8:42 (Jairus’ daughter); Luke 9:38 (a boy tormented by an evil spirit) and Hebrews 11:17 (Isaac).
John is the only New Testament author to use monogenēs to describe Jesus. He used the word to highlight the unique relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. Like the other New Testament authors, John did not use the word to emphasise, or refer to, “begetting”. (See John 1:14 & 18; 3:16 & 18 and 1 John 4:9.)
Monos means alone or sole; genos has a range of meanings including: offspring, family, relation, lineage, race, kind, species, etc. BDAG defines monogenēs as something “that is the only example of its category.”
The real implication of this word is that Jesus Christ is God’s one and only, unique Son. As such, Jesus fully shares divinity with the Father and with the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:9 cf. Heb. 1:3).
Amazingly when we become followers of Jesus we too can share in his glorious inheritance as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:14-17).
Here’s more great teaching on the topic, from Str.org:
Consider when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering. God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only [monogenes] son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Of course, before Abraham can carry out this command, God stops Abraham and says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only [monogenes] son, from me” (Gen. 22:12).
The author of Hebrews picks up on this expression and writes, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [monogenes] son. . . .” (Heb. 11:17 KJV). We know that Isaac wasn’t literally Abraham’s only begotten son. Isaac was the second son. Ishmael was Abraham’s first-born son. If you understand monogenes as a literal begetting, then God clearly got His facts wrong. However, if you understand monogenes as a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship, then God can accurately describe Isaac his “only” or “only begotten” son. Isaac was the only son of the covenant.
Likewise, Jesus is God’s unique, one-of-a-kind Son. You can call him the “only begotten” Son if you like, but remember, this word isn’t about procreation. It’s about a unique relationship between the Father and Son.
For those of you who are visual/audio learners, here is Dr. Michael Heiser explaining this teaching and so much more:
I really loved this teaching!
I know it will rock some boats and ruffle some feathers, but as Dr. Heiser says, he’s done protecting people from their Bibles. He’s doing nothing more than teaching what’s actually in there.
And the amazing thing is that the more we get back to a supernatural understanding of the Bible, the more so many different parts of it connect and make sense! We don’t have to ignore those weird parts because now we have explanations!
I’d love to get your comments on this article or the video…..sound off below!