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I was reading my New King James version of the Bible and found a footnote for this verse:

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

The footnote (found on the online version as well) says that another translation of this verse is "the only begotten God."

It seems that "son" and "god" are two very different words. Why was this footnote added? Was the original language showing "son" or "god"?

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This may is a duplicate: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/12836/… –  e.s. kohen Jun 11 at 23:49

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The footnote exists because textual variants exist (different manuscripts have different words). Although "son" and "god" seem different, μονογενὴς θεός (the only God) and ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (the only son) are actually not far off. In fact, in some of the manuscripts, they are contracted such that only one letter distinguishes them. We cannot be certain which was original, which is why the translators added the footnote.

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monogenes theos appears to be the best reading (due to a lectio difficilior potior), though, it would be more likely to take 'God' appositionally, to render something like "the unique and beloved one, [himself] God" –  Ray Oct 7 '11 at 23:29
The NET has much more thorough notes on this one: classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=John&chapter=1#n45 –  Soldarnal Oct 10 '11 at 21:58
You need to explain that the word μονογενὴς is mono-produced. So μονογενὴς θεός does not mean the "only god" but "the only produced god", "the only created god", or "the only begotten god". It can't be denied that this passage describes an entity that is produced/reproduced/created. So that the possibility exists that the passage says "the only reproduced/created god". –  Blessed Geek Aug 26 '12 at 20:30
Begotten came from the Gk. Word gennao that does not mean created but birthed. Only born God (monogenes theos) –  Radz Matthew Co Brown Aug 28 '12 at 14:46

John 1:18: theos is the original reading.

Wide Geographical Distribution

The following manuscripts support theos:

Papyrus 66 [Papyrus Bodmer II ](AD 200)
Papyrus 75 (AD 175-225)
Diatessaron ("Out of Four") of Titan the Syrian [Arabic version] (c. 160-175)
Syriac Peshitta (AD 150)
Adysh manuscript (AD 897)-Gregordian-Georgian/Iberian version
Opiza manuscript (AD 913)
Tbet’ manuscript (AD 995)
Minuscule 423 (AD 1556)
Bohairic Coptic [Codex Bodmer III] (AD 300)
Codex B- Sinaiticus (c. 330–360)
Codex A- Vaticanus (c. 325–350)
Codex D- Cantabrigiensis[ Greek-Latin diglot] (c.400)
Apostolic Constitutions (AD 375 -380)
Codex Regius (AD 701-800)

Existed in 2nd century

Used by church fathers (both Greek and Latin Fathers):

Irenaeus, Clement ,Eusebius, Basil, Cyril, and Origen, Didymus, Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory-Nyssa, Heracleon, Hilary, Irenaeus, Jerome, Origen, Ps-Ignatius, Ptolemy, Serapion, Synesius, Tatian, Theodotus, Valentinius, and Arius.

Earliest best and ancient mss: The Coptic versions is one of the earliest versions of the NT where huios is completely absent.

Unitarian objection: The reading "only birthed God" means there are two Gods, the one begotten and the other the begetter.

Refutation: The reading monogenes theos does not in any way disprove that God is one (monotheism).

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Hi Radz - you somehow ended up with two unregistered accounts here - I've merged them but I'd like to encourage you to register so this sort of thing doesn't happen :) –  Jack Douglas Sep 4 '12 at 14:38
Hi Radz. I am not one who thinks theology should be separated from hermeneutics, but this answer wanders rather far from the question. –  Kazark Sep 20 '12 at 1:36
I went ahead and removed the "Trinitarian Theology" section. It was very nearly incoherent to me and added nothing helpful to answering the question as far as I can see. Feel free to revisit this answer via an edit, but I suspect this answer is sufficiently complete. –  Jon Ericson Oct 8 '12 at 18:22
Sorry for all the edits. I was testing a bug that I discovered. –  Jon Ericson Oct 8 '12 at 20:27
Your codex names are mixed up here - B is Vaticanus, Sinaiticus is Aleph. –  curiousdannii Jun 12 at 10:25

Susan asked:

Was the original language showing "son" or "god"?

The original language of John 1:18 is unknown. Even some of the church fathers disagreed as to its likely wording. For example:

  • Alexander (d. IV CE) in his Epistles on the Arian Heresy wrote the phrase "the only-begotten Son" (9, 49). Note: Alexander died during the time that codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were written (see below).
  • Earlier, Clement of Alexandria (d. 210-219 CE) penned "The only-begotten God" (Stromata V-153).
  • Even earlier, Ignatius (d. 107 CE) alluded that the text he used read "the only-begotten Son" (Epistle to the Philippians 12).

Moreover, the different text types (both western and eastern) underlying John 1:18 do little to indicate the original wording of this verse. Extant mss. P66 and P75 (ca. 175-225 CE) both show ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΗCΘC (μονογενης θεος|only begotten Deity = a Hebraism) at John 1:18, as do codices B/03/Vaticanus (c. 325-375 CE) and ℵ/01/Sinaiticus (c. 375-425 CE).

But by the time of codex A/02/Alexandrinus (c. 450-499 CE), the wording was altered to read ΜΟΝΟΓΕΝΗCΥC (μονογενης υιος|only begotten Son = the orthodox, pro-Trinitarian, Christian spin).

What was the original wording of John 1:18? The answer seems to depend on which manuscript text one prefers.

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Answer: μονογενοῦς is used in Greek, as a term for the child with Birthright. It is a compound of two parts, μονο and γένος, literally, "One Offspring/Kindred/Race ... However, given the contexts, and extant literature, this term has a specific connotation--a sense of Birthright and Inheritance, not necessarily the "only child."

γένος, Greek: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=ge%2Fnos&la=greek

Flavius Josephus, Isaac the Only Begontten??

book 1, section 222: Ἴσακον δὲ ὁ πατὴρ Ἅβραμος ὑπερηγάπα μονογενῆ ὄντα καὶ ἐπὶ γήρως οὐδῷ κατὰ δωρεὰν αὐτῷ τοῦ

Now Abraham greatly loved Isaac, as being his only begotten and given to him at the borders of old age,

But, Abraham didn't have just one child, from his own loins--if we consider Ishmael.

Answer: Therefore, it must be inferred that there is a Connotation at work here, along with the Denotation--specifically the sense/connotation of the "First Born", or Birthright.

The Connotation of Kingly Birthright Can also be seen in Plato:

From: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/, Plat. Laws 3.691e

Laws, Book 3, [691ε]

.."ἐκ μονογενοῦς, εἰς τὸ μέτριον μᾶλλον συνέστειλε."

Laws, Book 3, [691d-e]

Megillus: "What?"

Athenian: "To begin with, there was a god watching over you; and he, foreseeing the future, restricted within due bounds the royal power by making [691e] your kingly line no longer single but twofold. In the next place, some man, in whom human nature was blended with power divine, observing your government to be still swollen with fever, blended the self-willed force ..."

Other Children being Born γενος of God, in this Context:

In addition, John speaks of other Children of God, those born of the Spirit, inheriting the nature of God--but he distinguishes the first son, as the heir with this specific Greek term.

First, it should be noted that "Theos," or "God," in Greek, is NOT a name, it is a Nature/Genus/Species, properly translated as "divinity." This "God nature," or rather, "Spirit," (for God is Spirit, John 4:24), is a nature handed down to Children, (that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit).

Psalms 82:6 - I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. John 10:34 - Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

John goes to great lengths to play on this root, to convey this idea :

John 1:12 - Ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν, ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ·

NASB: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

John 1:14 - Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν― καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός― πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

NASB: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 3:5 - Ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

NASB: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

John 3:6 - Tὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν· καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν. NASB: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

John 4:24 - Πνεῦμα ὁ θεός· καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν, ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ δεῖ προσκυνεῖν. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

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"only begotten God" is supported by P66, P75, Alef, B, C, 33; all from Egypt; all poor, dead-end manuscripts.

"only begotten Son" is supported by: A Cc Q 1 10 13 35 47 60 69 83 118 157 263 382 480 489 544 700 703 726 788 825 927 943 1005 1006 1023 1113 1190 1195 1200 1201 1217 1232 1242 1247 1251 1313 1319 1322 1341 1342 1355 1476 1478 1492 1582 2322vid 2372 2382 f-1 f-13 MT TR a b c e f ff2 q + E07 F09 G011 H013 K017 L019 M021 S U Y D L P Y W 2 21 28 178 229 399 461 475 565 579 669 944 1071 1191 1203 1220 1222 1235 1346 1424 1470 1514 2358 Wsuppsup + many more that aren't listed in the cntts database.

NT textual critics such as Aland, Metzger, Hort and others base their art on faulty assumptions, bias against the majority text, and principles that necessarily mean they will select the deviant texts rather than the mainstream. They overlook the fact the the New Testament was written in the midst of the Christian Community and propagated by that community. The Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit relegated the preferred texts of the critics to oblivion. --At least until people began digging through the rubbish dumps of Egypt.

John 1:18 is good enough reason to not use bibles based on the Nestle/Aland/UBS text. No where else in the Bible does the phrase "only begotten God" appear, but John often uses the phase "only begotten Son". To a normal student of the Bible that would indicate, together with the manuscript evidence that "only begotten Son" is the correct reading. But no, not to the 'scholars'! The errant (difficult) reading is to be preferred over the sensible one! (one of their faulty principles).

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Please justify calling them "poor, dead-end manuscripts"! P66 and P76 are two of the most significant papyrus manuscripts we have, and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both very well preserved. Honestly you seem to be the one who is biased here. You have two substantial lists for both variants, but you dismiss one out of hand. And don't forget that Vaticanus was in, you know, the Vatican! I say all of that even though on this particular verse I think it's very possible that 'son' might be authentic. What I object to is your out of hand rejection of so many important manuscripts. –  curiousdannii Jun 12 at 10:23

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