The Authorized Version has the word "begotten" in

John 3:16 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. ( AV )

I heard a Bible teacher say that the word "begotten" in the scripture is a problem that causes confusion when establishing the Deity of Christ as the word begat is found many times in the scripture and refers to earthly procreation of humans in time.

His way of dealing with the problem was to point to different Greek Texts used by the translators of ESV which were discovered much later which does not have the word "begotten" in them.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ( ESV )

Some enquiry about the Greek Texts used by ESV shows that they have more errors and inconsistency in them that the Greek Texts used by AV.

So my questions are:

  1. Is the word "begotten" in AV a real problem that causes confusion when establishing the Diety of Christ? or Is it a ficticious problem?

  2. Is it a sound practice to point to less accurate texts to establish accuracy in doctrine about the Diety of Christ?

  3. On the flip side, does omitting the word "begotten" give advantage in diminishing the Diety of Christ or either in diluting or confusing the nature of Christ in any way? Is the word "begotten" in any way important for establishing the nature & Diety of Christ?

  4. What could a bible teacher or christian apologist do to clarify the supposed confusion caused by the word "begotten" before those Greek Texts that has this word missing in them were discovered?

  5. Is not this problem solved by properly translating the more accurate Greek Text used by AV? as in the following explanation?

Only begotten or Monogene means "uniquely begotten".

Christ is the begotten of the Father as He proceeded forth from the Father

John 8:42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.

But He is the "uniquely begotten" one due to the following 2 factors:

A. Our earthly begetting was not a begetting as Christ proceeded forth from the Father having the same essence of our earthly father. Our being is derived both from our earthly father and mother.

B. Our spiritual begetting was by giving us the Spirit of adoption to dwell in us and not by us proceeding forth from our heavenly Father with the same essence of our heavenly Father as Christ is.

Romans 8:15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

  1. Or is there a better way to clarify the use of the word "begotten" in AV ?
  • 1
    A related issue is μονογενης υιος 9 [TR] John 1:18 (only begotten Son) which the W&H/NA Greek text changes to μονογενης Θεὸς o ... . This was introduced principally by George Vance Smith the Unitarian Reviser.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 14 '19 at 18:13
  • You have now made this a much more complex and very theological question that is NOT a matter of hermeneutics. The answer revolves around monogenes Not begotten.
    – user25930
    Jul 15 '19 at 11:52
  • 2
    I think you should break this down into smaller chunks - one question per entry.
    – user25930
    Jul 15 '19 at 11:57

Greek Text

First, there is no difference, as far as the Greek word μονογενής (monogenés) is concerned - it occurs the same number of times and in the same places in all the main GNTs such as NA28, UBS5, TR, Byzantine text, etc. Therefore, the difference between the ESV and KJV as far as "only begotten" vs "one and only" is NOT the underlying Greek Text.

μονογενής (monogenés)

Monogenes is a word of the Greek New Testament that occurs 9 times, whose meaning is contentious because of the Arian vs Trinitarian controversy. The contention is best illustrated by its translation in the earliest version, Jerome’s Vulgate of 400 AD.

  • 3 times it applies to a parent’s only child (Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38) and is translated “unicus”, unique.
  • once it is used to describe Isaac (Heb 11:17) and is translated “unigenitus”, only begotten.
  • 5 times it is used to describe Jesus (John 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9) and is translated “unigenitus”, only begotten.

Thus, the Vulgate (both Jerome and Clementine texts) adopted an uneven practice when rendering monogenes which was followed by Tyndale, the KJV, NKJV and many more until the late 20th century. Many modern versions since the late 20th century including NIV, NRSV, ESV, etc, uniformly translate this word as “only”, “unique” or equivalent.

The point at issue here is the cognate root of the second part of the word – is it related to gennao (beget, bear), or to genos (class, kind)? Modern linguistic analysis is firmly of the view that the latter is correct. Indeed, if the New Testament writers had intended “only begotten” then they would have used the word, monogennetos; but they did not. This conclusion is further shown in other instances of monogenes in the LXX such as Ps 21:21 (LXX)/ 22:20 (NASB), Ps 24:16 (LXX)/ 25:16 (NASB) where the meaning (in those cases) cannot be “only begotten”. The correct meaning is thus, "only one of its kind within a kind or class or relationship" (BDAG).

Further, the correct meaning of monogenes is clear from its use in Heb 11:17. Isaac was neither Abraham’s first nor only child; however, Isaac was, by virtue of his miraculous conception and birth, and being a progenitor of Christ, unique among Abraham’s numerous children.

Theological Significance

Some Creeds say that Jesus was not made but begotten. I have never understood this idea because the same word, begotten is used of humans as well! In Heb 1:5 Jesus is described as begotten but this word is different word from the second part of monogenes which is literally "only kind", NOT "only born". Whether, this is significant or not depends on how it is interpreted. If Jesus' begetting is regarded as His beginning, then that is a problem for what is supposed to be eternal God. If it does not mean begotten then words have lost their meaning and so many understand Heb 1:5 as referring only to Jesus' human existence. However, the problem evaporates if the correct translation of monogenes is "unique" or "one and only" is used as per most modern versions.

Finally, in places such as Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38, Heb 11:17 and Judges 11:34 (LXX) which use monogenes in relation to an heir/son/daughter, BDAG simply (and correctly) says that the meaning is "pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only"

Begotten - updated to try and accommodate the greatly expanded question scope.

As stated above, according to BDAG, Barclay, Friberg and many others, the operative word above, monogenes, does not mean "only born" but "only type". But let me say a little something about "born" (or "begotten" as per old English usage). The basic verb is γεννάω (gennaó) which is simply to become the parent of. However, the NT uses the Perfect Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular form, "begotten", in a somewhat technical way to indicate that someone that is "begotten" is like the one who begets. Here is a sample:

  • 1 John 5:1 - "and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." This is discussing humans and their reflection of the character of God.
  • 1 John 5:18 - "but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." This is again discussing humans born of God.
  • Phil 10 - "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." Timothy is spoken of as Paul's begotten son.
  • 1 John 3:9 - "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God." Again, discussing humans begotten of God.
  • 1 Cor 4:15 - "For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have you not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" Here, Paul has begotten many Christians.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection" God has begotten many Christians because they are like Him.
  • Heb 1:5 - "For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? This meaning is just the same - Jesus came to reveal God as per John 1:18. It is in this sense (at least) that Jesus is begotten of God the same as Christians are.

In all the above, "begotten" does not mean the actual physical birth (it can mean that as per Matt 1, but only when the verb is used in the indicative active sense), but when used in Perfect Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular form it means to be like the one who begets - to be a spiritual child of, eg, Paul (eg Philemon). I presume that it is in this sense that the creeds (but not the Bible) declare Jesus "eternally begotten of the Father". Understood this way, "begotten" does not interfere with the eternal nature of Jesus.

However, this meaning, as shown above, does not affect the usage of monogenes, meaning, "only type".

  • 1
    And what of the LXX's use of 'monogenes' in Judges 11:34? You haven't given then in your answer a complete picture of the use of the word in the LXX. Also lacking is any mention of Hebrews 1:5, and its etymological relations with the 'second half' of the word.
    – user21676
    Jul 13 '19 at 13:38
  • 1
    I don't buy the "unique" interpretation of "monogenes" especially when coupled with "Son." It clearly refers to "only-begotten" in these instances; and if in one, then in all, theologically. Jul 13 '19 at 19:14
  • 1
    @SolaGratia - I merely quoted BDAG. Barley Newman says exactly the same thing. And what do you make of Abraham's Isaac being "mongenes"?
    – user25930
    Jul 13 '19 at 21:43
  • 1
    @Mac's Musings To which passage do you refer specifically? Jul 13 '19 at 21:53
  • 1
    @SolaGratia - I refer to Heb 11:17 as noted in the original answer.
    – user25930
    Jul 13 '19 at 23:57

Letting the Word Teach Us

Υἱὸν Huion - son

Monogene uses the prefix Mono

Mono (as stated from the dictionary)
A combining form meaning “alone,” “single,” “one” (monogamy); specialized in some scientific terms to denote a monomolecular thickness (monolayer) and adapted in chemistry to apply to compounds containing one atom of a particular element (monohydrate).

From here the translators substitute the word "only".

gene / genos
The NASB has translated as: birth (2), countrymen (2), descendant (1), descent (1), family (2), kind (3), kinds (3), nation (1), native (1), race (3). Notice the commentary says the Word Origin came from from ginomai.

Starting Matthew 1:1 Biblos geneseōs Translated as Genealogy. Notice the commentary says the Word Origin came from from ginomai.

Ginomai - HELPS Word-studies
1096 gínomai – properly, to emerge, become, transitioning from one point (realm, condition) to another. 1096 (gínomai) fundamentally means "become" (becoming, became) so it is not an exact equivalent to the ordinary equative verb "to be" (is, was, will be) as with 1510 /eimí (1511 /eínai, 2258 /ēn).

Here is why the translators use the word "begotten".

However notice that the Word Origin comes from the prim. root gen-

Combining form - Greek genos birth, race, kind — more at kin

In noun form defines - the basic physical unit of heredity; a linear sequence of nucleotides along a segment of DNA that provides the coded instructions for synthesis of RNA, which, when translated into protein, leads to the expression of hereditary character.

As it is clearly visible the concept of "begotten" was formed from the concept within the word Ginomai carrying the form of become, however onlykin / onlykind (as it is used as an adjective) holds closer in translation. However it is true that he was begotten, everything that God made was begotten that is simply another way of saying we got it from God.

John 1:1 NKJV

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The words of God
As we can see from the above reference the writer is establishing two categories.

  • God
  • God's word

John 1:14 NKJV

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Again we can see how the translators translate monogenous (different because of how Greek uses words).

Even the Quran supports this

Verily, His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, “Be!”– and it is!) [Surah Yasin:82)

Keeping inside of the supported categories. The Quran is saying that God uses Jesus to make things. He (God) says to it (Jesus).

Hence the usage of the term Father John 6:57 NKJV

As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak. (John 12:49-50 NKJV)

The categories

  • God (Father)
  • God's word (Son)


Matthew 28:18 NKJV

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

This is saying God's word has been given all the authority in heaven and earth. The Deity is God and he establishes "his authority" through the word. The word states clearly "I have not spoken on My own authority".

The Deity controls the authority. If the word speaks and needs given authority, the word itself is not the Deity, but given the power of Deity through the Deity.

Ask yourself how does one do God's will except through the followings of God's word?


Whether begotten is included in the translation or not makes no difference. Nowhere in the bible does it say "God became flesh", but his word becomes flesh, in fact his word made all flesh, and even all things (Through the authority given).


It odd to think of words becoming flesh, but that is something God can do. You, me, and all people are flesh and God made us through his words. It does make me curious as to why God would form flesh and speak directly through this flesh, and expect us to not think the body of flesh speaking his words was actually him, but the body of flesh consistently and continually pointed at the "Father". And even so far as to say:

John 6:46 NKJV

46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.

Obviously seeing the flesh of the word declaring no one has seen the father except He who is from God?

Secondary Conclusion

So the word of flesh did not even look like the father. Weird huh.

  • You've done a bit of sleight of hand... genos = family, offspring, from ginomai = to come into being. "only begotten" is an appropriate translation of monogene. The word "son" comes from a different word in the text, huion.
    – 習約塔
    Jul 19 '19 at 11:44
  • And Ginomai comes from the root Gen. Gen + o (stem) + s (declention) = Genos. Additional reference: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%CE%B3%CE%AD%CE%BD%CE%BF%CF%82#Greek
    – Decrypted
    Jul 19 '19 at 17:22
  • "everything that God made was begotten" – That is the problem. Is Jesus a created being, like humans or angels? Or an eternal being, like God? Some people have a problem with Jesus being a created being.
    – 習約塔
    Jul 19 '19 at 18:08
  • Let's chat here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/96401/…
    – Decrypted
    Jul 19 '19 at 18:48

Edited and resubmitted:

No, The AV1611 translation of John 3:16 as "only begotten Son" is correct. However, the question appears to assume a literalist perspective which should not constrain the scriptures. The word of YHVH encompasses figures, types, similes, metaphors, poetry, and at times huge hyperbole. This does not imply that John 3:16 is using hyperbole, but that there is more going on with "only begotten" than the mind of man at first pictures. We see the word "begotten" and automatically think of the virgin birth in relation to Christ.

As has been pointed out in the other answers here, the translation is of Strong's Gr. 3439, "μονογενής", transliterated as "monogenes". The definition supplied at Biblehub from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is from root of G3441 "monos" meaning "alone, solitary, desolate", and from G1085 "genos" meaning offspring, or stock, which is also from G1096 "ginomai" defined as "be, come to pass, be made, be done, come, become,... arise, have, be fulfilled, be married to, be preferred". (1) (2) (3) (4)

There is much to choose from in the root words of "monogenes." Context must determine which meaning should be given in the translation. We have some help in that the Hebrew writer also used this word in speaking of Isaac at Heb. 11:17.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son," (KJV)

But the thought does not end in vs. 17, and goes on to qualify and specify Isaac in vs. 18.

"18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:" (KJV)

We know that Isaac was not literally Abraham's only son. Ishmael was also Abraham's son, but Ishmael was not the son of the promise. Only Isaac was the son promised by God through whom Christ, the seed would come. Isaac was therefore distinguished from Ishmael by the promise, the relationship to the Father's will.

So the Holy Spirit's use of "monogenes", as "only begotten" in Heb. 11:17 denoted a special relationship - the covenant relationship of the promise.

So it is appropriate to understand this same relationship status in John 3:16, which was not being used to limit Christ's relationship to the Father as a son of the flesh, but a chosen and promised seed.

The attempt of "modern" English translations such as the ESV, ERV, and NIV to simplify meanings for "easy to read" texts is stripping the full meaning and context of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures. The text does not mean "only Son", nor "one and only Son" as that clearly contradicts the scriptures for the other sons of God (John 1:12, Rom. 8:14; Phil. 2:15; 1 John 3;1-2) which we can also become.

But, the attempt by academics to strip the meaning down to the strict definition of the root words is also stripping the full meaning of their use in the context of the scriptures. The scriptures must be understood as a whole, and a full definition cannot be based upon just one verse.

Then Christ's relationship to the Father as the "only begotten Son" must also be bounced against all of the other scriptures concerning the promised Messiah, the promised Son. There is not sufficient space here to fully develop all of these, so some are just quickly referenced from the KJV.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end..." (Rev. 1:8,)

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" (John 1:1)

"2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:2-3)

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6-8,)

Christ, the Word, the Messenger, the Angel of the Lord was with God from the beginning. He existed with God. The change from the preexisting Word to the form of a man was a change in status. It was not a creation event. Being born physically into the world was a temporary step down from His heavenly position with God in order to accomplish a task which God delegated to His Son the sake / salvation of all mankind (John 18:37).

The question of the begotten state then is when was He begotten? When did the status change again from that of a man to the begotten Son relationship of the promise?

"33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." (Acts. 13:33, KJV from Psa. 2:7)

"..when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?" (Heb. 1:3-5, KJV)

"This day".. a particular time in which Christ became, was brought forth, raised to a higher position....

"14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:.... 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Col 1: 14-15, 18)

Since Christ preexisted the creation, and He was with God in the beginning, then the context in Colossians is the first born from the dead... the first resurrected!

Christ Yeshua was begotten when our Father in heaven raised Him from the dead. But, He was also begotten when He was crowned King of Kings; and He was again begotten when He was ordained as our High Priest.

Excerpt from Hugo McCord's post "Only Begotten" :

"1. Begotten on his resurrection day. In heaven, a thousand years before Jesus died on the cross, he was already rejoicing that he would not stay dead, saying, "I will celebrate the decree of Yahweh. He said to me, 'You are my Son. Today I have begotten you'" (Psalm 2:7). The apostle Paul explains why Jesus was so happy, writing, "God raised him from the dead...as it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son. I have begotten you today'" (Acts 13:30-33). So we learn that the "today" of his resurrection (April 9, A.D. 30) was figuratively portrayed as his being "begotten." As the word "begotten" points to the beginning of new life, so the resurrection of Jesus pointed to the beginning of Jesus' new life as a king and as a priest.

2.Begotten on his coronation day. In God's wisdom, the "today" prediction of Psalm 2:7, of Jesus being "begotten," not only referred to Jesus' resurrection day, April 9, A.D. 30, but also to his coronation day as "King of kings and Lord of lords," on Pentecost day, May 28, A.D. 30 (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). On that day, after "he had made a cleansing of sins, he sat at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven," and listened as the Father said to him, "You are my Son! I have begotten you today" (Hebrews 1:3, 5). In the coronation ceremony in heaven, the Father even called Jesus "God," saying: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity. Therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows" (Hebrews 1:8-9).

As the word "begotten" points to the beginning of new life, so the Father used the word "begotten" figuratively when he crowned Jesus at the beginning of his kingdom, which Jesus also called "my church" (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:13). Not only did the Father use the word "begotten" non-literally when he said to Jesus, "I have begotten you today" (Hebrews 1:5), but he also used the word "oil" non-literally: "Therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows" (Hebrews 1:5). Literally, "Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed" David as king (1 Samuel 16:13), but certainly "the oil" God used in heaven in anointing Jesus was not literal olive oil.

  1. Begotten on his ordination day. Similarly, in God's wisdom, the "today" prediction of Psalm 2:7, of Jesus being "begotten," not only referred to his resurrection day (April 9, A.D. 30), and to his coronation day (May 28, A.D. 30), but also to his ordination day as high priest (May 28, A.D. 30)." (Source: here)

The problem is in recognizing that the preexistent nature cannot have a beginning point. But, the actions that completed and fulfilled the plan of salvation - the resurrection, coronation, and ordination - did have beginning points.

And, at the time Christ was resurrected (approx. AD 30-31), and later when John wrote his gospel, none of the other sons of God who were waiting in Hades for Christ's return had yet been resurrected. This happened at Christ's return to judge Jerusalem, and destroy that temple in AD 70. (See "The Burning of Jerusalem, And The Hadean Death" at my blog ShreddingTheVeil.)

"That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, ..." (Acts 26:23, KJV).

"But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." (1 Cor. 15:23, KJV)

The other sons of God were also begotten at their resurrection to eternal life in heaven. See the post at my site, "The Resurrection in Three Parts" here.

So, Christ's deity is maintained in His status and position being the preexisting Word, the Son sent to be our Savior, our everlasting King, and our everlasting High Priest. The translation in the AV1611 as "only begotten Son" is correct when understood in context with all of the scriptures as the promised seed, the promised Messiah of the covenant relationship.


1) Strong's G3449 "monogenes"- Biblehub

2) Strong's G3441 "monos" - Biblehub

3) Strong's G1085 "genos" - Biblehub

4) Strong's C1096 "ginomai" - Biblehub

  • This is a strange post as you never quote an authoritative lexicon in support of your assertions. Further, the word used in places like Acts 13:33 is a different word from John 3:16.
    – user25930
    Jul 18 '19 at 11:30
  • Never quoted ? Authoritative Lexicon? So, if I reference the same definitions of the previous posts, I still have to provide that same authoritative Lexicon again? Acts. 13:33 begotten is Strong's Gr 1080 - "gennao" means I beget, to bring forth, begotten - Thayer's Gr. Lexicon "2. metaphorically..c.(a) a. formally to show him to be the Messiah (υἱόν τοῦ Θεοῦ), viz. by the resurrection: Acts 13:33." When was Christ shown to be the Messiah - "begotten" when He was resurrected. It is only strange in that you have not considered it before.
    – Gina
    Jul 18 '19 at 11:46
  • Yes - that is the point - gennao is different word from mongenes
    – user25930
    Jul 18 '19 at 11:51
  • Even Strong's: 3439 monogenḗs (from 3411 /misthōtós, "one-and-only" and 1085 /génos, "offspring, stock") – properly, one-and-only; "one of a kind" – literally, "one (monos) of a class, genos" (the only of its kind).
    – user25930
    Jul 18 '19 at 11:54
  • @Mac'sMusings According to both Thayer's and Strong, μονογενής is from μόνος (G3441) and γίνομαι (G1096) not 3411 (servant) and 1085 Jul 19 '19 at 4:58

μονογενής is only begotten but not in the sense of normal procreation. This is obvious from the text: the μονογενής is begotten γίνομαι, not begotten γεννάω1. It is also obvious from the context. John, who alone calls Jesus μονογενής, states one must be γεννάω again to become, γίνομαι a child of God. Thus a critical difference between the μονογενής who is the Son of God and another μονογενής, is that the Son is from the beginning of God where all others begotten γεννάω or only begotten μονογενής, must be begotten γεννάω again to be, γίνομαι of God.

The essence of μονογενής in John is on future ancestors: the Son of God, the one who is and by whom all will become children of God; not a μονογενής like Isaac, unique because past ancestry.

The Greek Text
Ignoring those translations which have purposely chosen an approach such as an amplified or paraphrased reading, here are reasons translations of the New Testament have different readings:

  • Assumption of which text best represents the original
  • Translate a word differently into English
  • Translation philosophy (i.e. word-for word or thought-for thought)

As there are no original copies, translators must first choose a text from which to work. The three main choices are Textus Receptus (TR) used by the King James family, the Majority/Byzantine Text (MT) used primarily by the Orthodox Church, and Novum Testamentum Graece (GNT) used in most modern translations. Generally there are only minor variations and that is case at John 3:16:

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. (AKJV)
Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (TR)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-born Son, in order that everyone believing in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life. (DLNT)
οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν [-------] τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον (GNT)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (MEV)
ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον αυτου τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον (MT)

The only difference is the omission of αὐτοῦ (his) in the GNT, which as the DLNT shows, is implied and so is added. Essentially there is no conflict in the Greek texts. Additionally, it is significant that Jehovah Witnesses, who reject the divinity of Jesus, have the same understanding of the verse:

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (NWT)

Therefore, if there is a question on the divinity of Jesus arising from John 3:16, it stems from how μονογενής is translated.

Only "Begotten"
Only "begotten" is how the AKJV and others translate μονογενής, which is from μόνος ("only") and γίνομαι ("begotten"). It is used in context with Jesus 5 times, all by John: 4 in the Gospel and once in the first Letter. The issue is deciding how γίνομαι should be translated. According to Thayer's, it is a verb meaning to become, most often translated as "be" (KJV). Before first using μονογενής, John shows the distinction between the two verbs "begotten" γίνομαι and "begotten" γεννάω:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:12-13) [AKJV]

ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν

The only-γίνομαι, is not only-γεννάω. Rather, humans who were already born (γεννάω) either of blood(s), or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man may become (γίνομαι) children of God. John 3:3-8 describes this as being born again, or born from above. (See this related question Why is it that in John 3:3 the ESV translates "be born from above" to "is born again"?).

In the NT μονογενής is also used to describe Isaac, a widow's dead son, a dying 12-year old girl, and a demon possessed boy. Yet, regardless if a person is simply begotten or called an only begotten, all have the same requirement to become children of God. On the other hand, the Word who became flesh is the μονογενής of the Father: enter image description here

John describes the family of God as made up of people who were "begottens" or "only begottens" but have been begotten again and one who is different from all others. The unique one is called μονογενής. In other words, in the family of God only the Son of God is the μονογενής. It may not be correct linguistically, but as it pertains to Jesus, John's use means the only begotten is the "only begetter" of children of God.

To eliminate confusion, I believe the best approach is to leave the word untranslated when used to describe Jesus. This would preserve the unique nature, transliterating as Monogenēs in the Gospel and Letter. In fact, this may be what Jesus is saying in His final use of μονογενής:

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18 AKJV)

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name, of the Monogenēs, Son of God.

"Name" (ὄνομα) can be "used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is roused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i. e. for one's rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds, etc."2 For Jesus, Monogenēs is His position and is synonymous with "Son of God."

Unlike contexts where μονογενής is used to describe a human being and should be translated, Monogenēs, defines Jesus. Therefore, μονογενής should be treated just as is Χριστός and Μεσσίας:

Transliterations in John:
מָשִׁיחַ ---------> Χριστός
Χριστός ------> Christ
μονογενής ----> Monogenēs

The Monogenēs
The meaning of γίνομαι must also consider John's initial uses of γίνομαι:

All things were made (ἐγένετο) through him, and without him was not any thing made (ἐγένετο) that was made (γέγονεν). (John 1:3)

"Only begotten" is misleading because the Monogenēs, who became flesh, made all things, including those who become children of God. John's use of the verb "to be" and the aspect of "being" evokes God's revelation of Himself to Moses:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” [a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)


The reason either I AM WHAT I AM, or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE are equally correct is Hebrew does not have a word for the present tense of the verb "to be." In other words, there is no Hebrew word for "am" or "is" or "are."3 Greek, however, does not have this limitation:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν καὶ εἶπεν οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραηλ ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς (Exodus 3:14)

And God said to Moyses, "I am the One Who is." And he said "Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, 'The One Who is has sent me to you.'" (NETS)

The Hebrew AM or WILL BE was rendered as IS. In his essay, Robert G. Hall notes how John 1:18 may be read in light of how the LXX renders God's self-identification to Moses:4

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο
(John 1:18)

The phrase, μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν which taken literally as "...[the] only begotten God the [One] being..." may also be read with the divine name: "...[the] only begotten God, the One Who is..." Transliterating μονογενής and using Gates' alternate reading yields this translation:5

"No one has ever seen God; [the] Monogenēs God, THE ONE WHO IS, has himself led out into the bosom of the Father."
θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο (GNT)

The TR text which the AKJV uses has a variant reading of υἱός (Son) in place of θεὸς (God). However, when μονογενής is transliterated as Monogenēs, this variant has no impact on the meaning:

"No one has ever seen God; [the] Monogenēs Son, THE ONE WHO IS, has himself led out into the bosom of the Father."
θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο (TR)

Both state the Monogenēs is ὁ ὢν, THE ONE WHO IS and affirm His divinity.

English translations of μονογενής which use "begotten" evoke an image of human birth and procreation. This image, reinforced by phrases such as "Son of God" can lead to a distortion of the meaning of the original language. However, these images are not consistent with the Greek, regardless of which text is used as the best representation of the original. Unfortunately, any decision to translate μονογενής will fall short of capturing the essence as it pertains to Jesus. In this regard, the AKJV is neither better or worse than any other translation and one's choice of which English translation is best should be based on other considerations.

To avoid creating a misleading image, μονογενής can be treated like Χριστός and transliterated, Monogenēs. This will help avoid the potential of misunderstanding the Greek and preserves the uniqueness as it pertains to Jesus. This treatment will not found be found in any translation. Therefore, the reader must be aware of those places where μονογενής is used as a title or position and mark up or otherwise note the best treatment is the transliteration, Monogenēs.

1. The English "begotten" throughout the OT to describe human ancestry is γεννάω in the LXX. It is not γίνομαι, the component of μονογενής.
2. Thayer's Greek Lexicon
3. Dennis Prager, Exodus, God, Slavery, and Freedom, Regnery Faith, 2018, p. 44
4. Robert G. Hall, "The Reader as Apocalyptist in the Gospel of John," John's Gospel and Intimations of Apocalyptic, edited by Catrin H. Williams and Christopher Rowland, Bloomsbury, 2013, p. 268
5. Ibid.

  • This analysis ignores the times that monogenes is applied to humans as well such as Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38 & Heb 11:17. Why not just take the considered advice of respected lexicons like Barclay Newman and BDAG?
    – user25930
    Jul 17 '19 at 22:18
  • @Mac'sMusings I say: "Unlike contexts where μονογενής is used to describe a human being and should be translated...Therefore, just as Χριστός, which means "anointed" is always transliterated as "Christ," μονογενής can be transliterated as Monogenēs." For example Lev 4:5 καὶ λαβὼν ὁ ἱερεὺς ὁ χριστὸς ὁ τετελειωμένος τὰς χεῗρας ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ μόσχου καὶ εἰσοίσει αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ μαρτυρίου is And the anointed priest who has been consecrated having received of the blood of the calf, shall then bring it into the tabernacle of witness. χριστὸς is translated not transliterated. Jul 17 '19 at 22:43
  • That avoids the issue at hand. If "christos" were consistently translated "anointed" no meaning would be lost. In any case, "monogenes" is not used as a title but a descriptor and the meaning is consistent between Christ and humans - unique.
    – user25930
    Jul 17 '19 at 22:56
  • @Mac'sMusings I am making the observation the word functions either as a descriptor or a title just as anointed does. The decision to translate or transliterate depends on context. When used of Isaac or of individuals as in Luke, it continues to be translated; when used of Jesus it is transliterated. Just as the Orthodox Bible translates anointed in the OT and transliterates the same word in the NT. My point is the meaning when used of Jesus is not the same as human beings because of 1) virgin birth 2) the Word became flesh 3) μονογενής when used of Jesus also means God Jul 18 '19 at 0:21

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