Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Only" or "Only Begotten"?

Probably the most well known Bible verse is John 3:16. This Bible passage contains the Greek word monogenh/ß, which the King James Version translates “only begotten.” Within the study of New Testament Greek, the meaning of this Greek word is debated. This is why the English Standard Version translates this word in John 3:16 as “only.” The reason for the debate is that scholars are divided on the roots of the word (i.e. its exact etymology). Those who agree with the KJV’s rendering argue that the word monogenh/ß is made up of the two Greek words, mo/noß, which means “only” and genna¿w, a verb meaning “to beget.” Hence the translation of the KJV “only begotten.”

Those who agree with the rendering of the ESV agree that monogenh/ß is made up of two words. They would argue that the second word is not the verb genna¿w but the noun ge÷noß, which means basically “kind.” Giving us the rendering “only” or “only one of a kind,” for John 3:16 as the ESV does (as well as the NASB and NIV). The standard New Testament Greek lexicon BDAG agrees with this second understanding of monogenh/ß. There are at least two reasons why the ESV rendering is to be preferred. The first is the fact that monogenh/ß has only one “n,” which seems to link it more closely to ge÷noß. And secondly, which is more persuasive, the term monogenh/ß is used in Hebrews 11:17 which states that Abraham “offering up his only (monogenh/ß) son” Isaac. We know from the Old Testament that Isaac was not the only begotten son of Abraham, since Abraham fathered other children. However, Isaac was the unique son of Abraham. Isaac was the son of promise. From these two reasons, “only” and not “only begotten” is the preferred understanding for monogenh/ß.


  1. Consider the LXX usage. It is certainly impossible to restrict the semantic range to "only-begotten".

  2. Josh you are wrong. It is 'only begotten'.

    You focus an great deal on external evidence, but not very much on internal evidence.

    Exegesis STARTS WITH internal evidence and works outward.

    In John's Gospel and his letters, JOHN is the writer (the apostle). We should think that he writes similarly in each letter. There in each case of using monogenes, John links it with LIFE.

    John 3:16, "that He gave His monogenes Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:18 is in close proximity in the same 'paragraph'.

    1 John 4:9, "that God has sent His monogenes Son into the world so that we might live through Him."

    We learn in John 1:4 that "in Him (Christ) there is life."

    John 5:26, "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;" This communicates the doctrine of Christ begotten (Eternal sonship), in the context of life.

    So in John 1:18 there is a unique discloser of God the Father and Son. Christ is the monogenes God at the side/bosom of the Father. The Son uniquely reveals the Father. If monogenes alone means 'only' then this language would not capture the distinction between Father and Son that John is making throughout his letters. Contextually (internal evidence, which is always stronger than external) shows that it must be 'only begotten'.

    Is 1 John 5:18 (JOHN WRITING) is that verb there from genos? Does it mean kind there? No, it is gennaw. And what does it say there, "We know that no one who is born (gennaw) of God sins; but He who was born (gennaw) of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him."

    But HE (JESUS CHRIST) who was BORN (GENNAW) of God (THE FATHER) keeps him. Can we say, "Indisputable evidence???" Yes we can. This is again, INTERNAL EVIDENCE. Not external.

    Tony is right cannot restrict semantic ranger to 'only begotten.' The Context determines what it is. So says TDNT.

    Context determines the meaning of monogenes, context of John says it is 'only begotten' not your puny 'only'.

  3. Andrew,

    Thanks for the lengthy response. Two quick things: 1) I did say in my post (I could have made it clearer) that monogenes can mean "only" or "unique," and 2) the only passage, to my mind, that "only" does not fit well in is John 1:18, however, "unique" does fit in that context quite nicely.

  4. Great topic. Thank you Josh & Andrew for both your insights. These are arguements (I prefer to call them discussions) that reveal, at least to me, deeper insights in Gods Word. They are not trivial, and make me smile because everytime I learn something new, as trivial as some may think it is, enhances my relationship w/ the Author of life. So, anyway.....just the both of you!!!


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