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In Matthew 11:11 Jesus says:

Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist [KJV]

I understand that the relevant Greek words here (and in Luke 7:28) are ‘gennetos’ (born) and ‘gyne’ (woman). (Source: William D. Mounce ‘Interlinear for the Rest of Us’)

There can be no doubt that Jesus was ‘greater’ than John. Yet was not Jesus ‘born’ of women as John the Baptist was ‘born’ of women? Does Jesus exclude himself from the statement, “born of women”? Is Jesus comparing himself with John the Baptist? Surely Jesus does not regard himself as lesser than John!

Please note, however, that my question is NOT asking if or how John the Baptist could be greater than Jesus.

My question is asking about the meaning of the Greek word ‘gennetos’ in Matthew 11:11 and in Luke 7:28 as it applies to Jesus.

I welcome any insights into the Greek words that shed light on the differences between the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. Please note, however, that I am not a Greek scholar. The Interlinear I use could well be entitled ‘Idiot’s Guide to N.T. Greek’ (with apologies to W.D. Mounce).

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  • The previous question ... why does Jesus say ... did not deal with the word 'born' and the answers concentrated on comparisons between the greatness/lessness of Jesus and John. – Nigel J Feb 21 '20 at 11:34
  • Well spotted. I found three other similar (but not related) questions on B.H. None of them seek to understand the meaning of the Greek words to do with "born". – Lesley Feb 21 '20 at 12:22
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  • ‘Born’ and ‘Come’ of women

‘Born’ of women in Matthew 11:11, regarding the entering into the world of John the Baptist, his parents Zacharias and Elizabeth, is the translation of the word gennetois (see also Luke 7:28) which Liddell & Scott [American Edition 1854] say is derived from gennaw (the ‘w’ is omega, a long ‘o’). Bible hub says that gennetois is an adjective and is the dative, plural masculine.

Liddell & Scott gives the meaning ‘to beget’ for the verb gennaw and ‘begotten’ for the adjective gennetois. Thayer [2nd Edition 1958] agrees completely with Liddell & Scott in this regard.

Of Jesus, Paul says that he is genomenon of woman, Galatians 4:4. Bagster’s Analytical Lexicon says this is the accusative, singular, masculine and neuter, participle, aorist 2 of the verb ginomai, to come or to become.

Jesus, here in Galatians 4:4, is ‘come’ of woman but not, here, ‘begotten’ of woman.

  • ‘Begotten’ - naturally - of woman

Jesus says, recorded in John 16:21, that ‘a woman … in travail … hath sorrow … but as soon as she is delivered (tikto) of the child she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is begotten (gennaw) into the world’. Note : delivery first, results in a begetting.

Luke records the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57 ‘Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered (tikto) and she brought forth (gennao) a son.

In both the above cases the delivery of the child and the cutting of the cord result in a new, independent entity being in the world. This is called a begetting. Delivery first, results in a begetting.

  • The Only Begotten Son of God

When the concept of begetting is mentioned of Jesus, it is in connection with his Father in heaven.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (monogenes) [John 3:16 KJV]

Both Luke (2:7) and Matthew (1:25) record that ‘Mary … brought forth (tikto) the son of her, the prototokos. Neither evangelist states that this is a ‘begetting’.

Prototokos does not mean, intrinsically, ‘firstborn’. The root tokos means ‘usury’ see Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:23, and the translation of prototokos should reflect that root meaning.

Of Jesus’ conception it is heralded by the angel Gabriel that

… thou shalt conceive in thy womb … and bring forth (tikto) a son … [Luke 1:31 KJV]

… the conception … the begetting (gennao) holy shall be called Son of God … [Luke 1:35 KJV]

This second reference, Luke 1:35, describes the result of :

  1. … the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee

  2. … the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee

The result of these two divine influences and activities - is that a begetting is present in the womb of the virgin. And this begetting is prior to a delivery taking place.

A new individual entity is already present in the world, prior to the delivery of a child.

Likewise, in Matthew’s record (1:20), the angel informs Joseph in a dream that ‘that which in her is begotten (gennaw) of Spirit is holy’. Again, there is a new individual entity in the world, already. But she is not yet tikto, delivered.

This is not a natural birth. It is supernatural.

Luke records (2:1) that ‘Jesus having been begotten (gennaw) in Bethlehem …’. Now we know that Mary was already great with child, Luke 2:4 and 5, when Joseph and she journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Her conception occurred in Galilee.

There was a begetting within her, by virtue of her conception. This results in a begetting in Bethlehem. But it is still not attributed to Mary.


It is not said that Jesus is ‘begotten of Mary’, only that ‘having been begotten’ in Bethlehem. The wording is most careful. There is a definite avoidance, in all of these scriptures, of stating that Jesus was ‘begotten’ of Mary. It is just not there.

Nowhere is Jesus said to be ‘begotten’ of Mary.

He is ‘come’ of woman, Galatians 4:4.

He, himself, is the only begotten Son - of God.

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  • "Nowhere is Jesus said to be ‘begotten’ of Mary." ??? What of Matt 1:16, 20, 2:1, Luke 1:35?? Same verb as in (say) Matt 1:1-15 for humans. – Dottard Feb 21 '20 at 20:04
  • I've covered all of these in detail. The text never says 'begotten of Mary'. The language is very precise. – Nigel J Feb 21 '20 at 20:18
  • I think you are making a (very fine) distinction that the Scriptures do not. – Dottard Feb 21 '20 at 21:05
  • Further, monogenes (as per BDAG and others) means "only type" or unique. It comes from a different root: monogennetos means only begotten but not monogenes. – Dottard Feb 21 '20 at 21:17
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    Galatians 4:4 is interesting. The Authorised Version clearly says "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law." Luke chapter 2 is also useful in describing the sequence of events. – Lesley Feb 23 '20 at 9:33
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This is less complicated than it first appears. The phrase "born of a woman" or, "born of women" is a common Hebrew idiom for humanity generally. It is used:

  • Of John the Baptist, Matt 11:11, Luke 7:28
  • Of Jesus, Gal 4:4
  • Of humans generally, Job 14:1, 15:14, 25:4.

I note the following comments by well known commentaries:

Benson:

Among them that are born of women — That is, among the whole race of mankind in all former ages,

Barnes:

Among them that are born of women - This is an emphatic way of saying that there "had never" been a greater "man" than John. See Job 14:1.

Meyer's

among those born of woman. Intended to denote the category of men according to that nature which is peculiar to the whole race in virtue of its origin (mortality, weakness, sinfulness, and so on).

Bengel's Gnomen

them that are born of women An expression of universal extent.

The fact that Jesus is described similarly (Gal 4:4) is to demonstrate His humanity without diminishing His divinity. See below.

Now to the subtle differences between Gal 4:4 (about Jesus) and Matt 11:11/Luke 7:28 (about John the Baptist).

Matt 11:11 -

γεννητοῖς (gennētois = born from the root noun γεννητός gennetos derived from the root verb γεννάω gennao) is an Adjective Dative Masculine Plural; γυναικῶν (gynaikōn = of women) is a Noun Genitive Feminine Plural. It is only used in Matt 11:11 and Luke 7:28.

Gal 4:4 -

γενόμενον (genomenon = born or became from the root verb γεννάω gennao) is a Verb Aorist Participle Middle, Accusative Masculine Singular; γυναικός (gynaikos = of a woman) is a Noun Genitive Feminine Singular

The verb is used of the process of procreation most famously in Matt 1:1-20 of the progenitors of Messiah. It is also used of Christ Himself (via Mary and/or the Holy Spirit) in places like Matt 1:16, 20, 2:1, Luke 1:35, etc.

Thus, we find that the same words are used to describe Jesus' human origins as the rest of us to confirm His unity with humanity, again, without diminishing His divinity.

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  • . . . then I think you are left with a conundrum. If Jesus of Nazareth is (as you say) 'begotten of woman' is he then inferior to John the Baptist ? – Nigel J Feb 22 '20 at 8:54
  • Absolutely not! He is just as human as John the Baptist as both were born of women. However, Jesus was also Jehovah God Almighty. I do not understand your assertion at all. – Dottard Feb 22 '20 at 8:57
  • Then who is the greatest begotten of women ? – Nigel J Feb 22 '20 at 8:58
  • I think you need to stop applying Greek logic to a Hebrew text. Jesus clearly said John was the greatest Human and the greatest prophet. Jesus was also a prophet - so does that make Jesus an inferior prophet to John? Jesus was also human or do you suggest he was not human? – Dottard Feb 22 '20 at 9:01
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    It isn't a hebrew text. It is written in the Greek language. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. He possesses every attribute of Divine nature and he possesses every attribute of human nature. I ask again : Who was the greatest begotten of women ? – Nigel J Feb 22 '20 at 9:24
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Perhaps he was elevating women by drawing attention to the fact that its only by female, does mankind come into this world. The 'church' is also referred to as being spiritually female.

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  • Please note that personal opinions do not make for a well thought-out and researched answer. Biblical evidence is required to support claims. Please take our tour to find out how we are different to other sites: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour – Lesley Jun 1 '20 at 7:46
  • Please supply some Biblical evidence with this answer – Dottard Jun 3 '20 at 22:30

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