Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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"?

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

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.

share|improve this answer
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

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.

share|improve this answer

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).

share|improve this answer
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 Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.