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If μονογενὴς Θεὸς is regarded as the correct reading, then, what would it mean?

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

John 1:18 (Westcott and Hort 1881)

What does μονογενὴς Θεὸς means in John 1:18?

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Please keep in mind that this is not a Christian site. Be sure to check out what makes us different from other sites that study the Bible. While you will undoubtedly hear Christian perspectives, we don't have any definition of 'orthodoxy' and welcome all perspectives here. If you would like an interpretation from a specific Christian perspective, you might try Christianity.SE. – Dan May 8 '14 at 13:28
But the reader should know that there can be no absolute certainty that μονογενὴς Θεὸς is the correct reading in John 1:18. The reader will then need to answer based on the assumption that it is the correct reading. – Simply a Christian May 8 '14 at 18:24
You chose to revert to the question about Christian theology after Dan removed that aspect of a prior version because it was not within the scope of this site. It is still not within the scope of this site. – Susan Sep 5 '15 at 9:02
@Susan, I edited my question. I think it is now way better because it is now within the scope of this site. – Radz Matthew Brown Sep 5 '15 at 9:20
All of that additional text looks to me like an answer to a different question. Anyway, the question was asked and answered over a year ago. Changing it at this point doesn’t make much sense. – Susan Sep 5 '15 at 10:09
up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. . . . No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God [μονογενὴς θεός], who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known" (John 1:14 and 18 NET Bible, my emphasis).

The word begotten, as the NET Bible's translation, above, implies, is perhaps an unfortunate rendering of the Greek word monogenes (μονογενὴς). One of my earliest memories from my upbringing in a conservative Christian denomination is the word begat, a variant of begotten, as in

"And Terah begat Abraham, and Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat . . .," ad infinitum.

Where would genealogies be without a host of begats?!

To beget, of course, means "to become the father of" in the normal way; namely, the husband contributes his seed, the woman contributes her egg, the seed fertilizes the egg, and a human being is created and then "knit, or woven, together" in the womb of the mother-to-be (see Psalm 139:13 ff.). Nine months later, a baby is born.

The "begetting" of Jesus, however, did not proceed in the normal way. As S. Michael Houdmann observed,

"So what does monogenes mean? According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD, 3rd Edition), monogenes has two primary definitions. The first definition is 'pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship.' This is its meaning in Hebrews 11:17 [where] the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham's 'only begotten son' (KJV). Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of the covenant. Therefore, it is the uniqueness of Isaac among the other sons that allows for the use of monogenes in that context." (Note: my emphasis.)

"The second definition is 'pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.' This is the meaning that is implied in John 3:16 (see also John 1:14, 18; 3:18; 1 John 4:9). John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), and he uses monogenes to highlight Jesus as uniquely God's Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to believers who are God's sons and daughters by adoption (Ephesians 1:5). Jesus is God’s 'one and only' Son." (Note: my emphasis.)

From the perspective of John the Evangelist, both definitions (i.e., unique within a specific relationship, and unique in class or kind) applied to Jesus Christ. A Latin phrase which perhaps provides an excellent synonym for monogenes is sui generis, which means one of a kind, unique, singular.

In His relationship to the Father, the Word is utterly unique. Just as Isaac, the child of promise, was utterly unique (though Abraham had other offspring), so also the Word of God was uniquely the child of promise. Countless millions human beings whom God calls his image-bearers have come and gone in human history, but only one person, Jesus Christ, was one essence with the Father.

Regarding the miraculous birth of Isaac, God appeared to Abraham in a vision, promising him a great reward. That reward was an heir,

"one who will come forth from your own body [, Abram]" (Genesis 15:4 ff.).

To ratify this promise, or covenant, God instructed Abram to shed the blood of animals (viz., a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon). While Abram slept the sleep of death, as it were, "a smoking oven and a flaming torch passed between" the animal sacrifices, and God pledged not only innumerable descendants to Abram, but also real estate, a land "from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates" (ibid., vv. 9-21).

Regarding the Word becoming flesh, the promise which God fulfilled was made not in time but in eternity past within the eternal counsels of God, the same God

"who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11 KJV).

Contrary to popular belief, God's plan of saving humankind from the penalty and power of sin was not "Plan B." From eternity, God had only "Plan A," and that plan is in the process of being fulfilled, until one day he will save us from the very presence of sin in his eternal kingdom.

The Word who became a flesh-and-blood human being was unique not only in His relationship to His Father, but He was also unique by being both the Son of God and the Son of Man in one person. Theologians call the oneness of the human and the divine in Jesus the hypostatic union. In short, the Word was the God-Man, the One in whom

". . . all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9).


". . . it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven" (Colossians 1:19-20).

That the very essence of God would reside in a human being was made possible because the child of promise (the "seed of the woman" in Genesis 3:15) who was born to the virgin Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18 and 20; Luke 1:35). Being both fully God and fully man, Jesus could then become the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind, the One whom John identified as the

"Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world" (1:29 and 36).

The uniqueness of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth comprises the foundation of Christian theology. Conservative Christians down through the centuries have insisted, even at the cost of their lives, that Jesus was and always will be "the one and only" Son of God. The Nicene Creed (with scripture references) states this bedrock confession as follows:

[We believe in ] . . . in ONE Lord Jesus Christ, (Acts 11:17)

the Son of God, (Mathew 14:33; 16:16)

the Only-Begotten, (John 1:18; 3:16)

Begotten of the Father before all ages. (John 1:2)

Light of Light; (Psalm 27:1; John 8:12; Matthew 17:2,5)

True God of True God; (John 17:1-5)

Begotten, not made; (John 1:18)

of one essence with the Father (John 10:30)

by whom all things were made; (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Who for us men and for our salvation (1Timothy 2:4-5)

came down from Heaven, (John 6:33,35)

and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, (Luke 1:35)

and became man. (John 1:14)

In conclusion, the answer to the question "Did Jesus have a beginning?" is both yes and no. As God's "one and only," no, Jesus is eternally God the Son. As Yeshua, the son of the virgin Mary, yes, Jesus "became flesh and took up residence with us" (John 1:14). Moreover, in becoming a human being, Jesus made God known to us. In other words, Jesus was literally the exegesis of the very person of God to a world of fallen humanity, whom God loves dearly (John 3:16).

Read more:

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Can you discuss Heb 11:17, where the word μονογενής appears (referring to Isaac), who was NOT the firstborn of Abraham? In other words, are there further nuances of μονογενής related to Covenant Promise (Abrahamic Covenant) when speaking about Jesus, who is μονογενής? – Joseph May 9 '14 at 23:14
@Joseph: From God's perspective, Isaac WAS Abe's firstborn--the firstborn child of the promise God made to Abe when he was 75 years old. God did not treat "firstborn" (according to the "flesh") Ishmael like chopped liver, however, and made some great promises to him and his descendants (Ge 17:20), even though he was not THE child of promise. Interestingly, God underscored the nature of the unilateral promise He made to Abe by putting him into a deep sleep, rather than walking through the sacrificial animals with Abe in "suzerain treaty" fashion. IOW, God's word alone was sufficient! – rhetorician May 10 '14 at 0:15
@Joseph: As for Jesus, the antitype of Isaac, He too was the "one and only" child of promise, the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). In love, the Father allowed the heel of His μονογενής to be bruised at the cross by the seed of the serpent, so that whoever believed in the Son would not perish but have eternal life through Him (John 3:16). In turn, the head of the serpent's seed was crushed at Calvary when Jesus cried "Accomplished!" – rhetorician May 10 '14 at 0:33
@rhetorician, Your answer is excellent! – Radz Matthew Brown Sep 5 '15 at 7:52
@RadzMatthewCoBrown: Thank you for your encouragement! Don – rhetorician Sep 6 '15 at 11:43

There are three ways to know the meaning of the Greek phrase μονογενὴς Θεὸς:

  1. Translation Θεὸς ( definite or indefinite)

  2. Translation μονογενὴς ( only or only begotten)

  3. Translation of μονογενὴς Θεὸς (Adjectival or substantive)

Translation Θεὸς ( definite or indefinite)

The Greek word Θεὸς in the phrase μονογενὴς Θεὸς is anarthrous.

From Trinitarian perspective, just like the anarthrous Θεὸς in John 1:18a, the anarthrous Θεὸς in John 1:18b should be translated as definite ('God' not 'god').

Translation μονογενὴς ( only one or only begotten)

The Greek word μονογενὴς is translated as 'unigenitus' (only begotten) as well as 'unicus' (only) in Old Latin MSS.

The Latin word 'unigenitus' (translation of μονογενὴς ) in John's gospel, is found in Codex Harleianus, a 10th century copy of the 2nd century Old Latin.

Irenaeus' (A.D. 130-202) 'unigenitus deus' in his Against Heresies IV, 20, 11 is probably a John 1:18 quotation from an Old Latin MSS.

Outside the Johannine Corpus, in the NT, the Greek word μονογενὴς denotes 'only offspring, only child' in association with sons/daughters (Luke 7:12;8:42;9:38;Hebrews 11:17).This clearly shows that the Greek word μονογενὴς does not only mean 'only.'

However, the Greek word μονογενὴς also means 'only' in the sense of unique/incomparable.

Either rendering is valid but in historic and creedal Trinitarian perspective, the sense of 'only begotten' is preferred in reference to Christ.

Translation of μονογενὴς Θεὸς (Adjectival or substantive)

There are two possible ways to translate the Greek phrase μονογενὴς Θεὸς (source):

  1. Adjectival usage. μονογενὴς modifies θεὸς.

adjective + substantive =

only begotten God (NASB)

only begotten god (NWT)

  1. As Two substantives in apposition.

substantive + substantive [in apposition] =

The only begotten God O.Cullmann (Christology 309)

The only-begotten one, God B. Lindars (John 98)

The only-begotten one, God BAGD (527b s.v.μονογενὴς)

The only begotten, who is God J.H. Bernard (John 1:32)

an only begotten, who is God K. Rhaner (1:137 n. 1)

Origen cites of John 1:18 in Contra Celsum 2.71: "kai monogenês ge ôn theos ...,"the only begotten [One], being God..." This is a clear early witness for the rendering of μονογενὴς Θεὸς as substantives in apposition (source).

Either rendering is valid but in historic and creedal Trinitarian perspective, the substantival rendering is preferred.

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