In Hebrews 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,

The "his only begotten son" reminds me of 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.

In both cases, the term monogenēs is used.

Considering Isaac carrying out wood for his sacrifice can relate to Jesus carrying out His cross AND Isaac's submission to Abraham parallels with Jesus' submission to His Father, is this term usage aiming to convey more than just "single of its kind"?

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    The word is quite common for a one and only son/daughter, so I see no reason for the word in and by itself creating any link. But there are clear parallels between Jesus and Isaac in other ways as you have mentioned. The death of an only son/daughter was naturally more serious than if there are many children, I think the word is used to emphasize that aspect. Jan 11 at 9:51
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    As edited, the possibility arises that it could mean "single of its kind" as being "his only begotten son/Son of promise". In that manner, the linkage between the two could very well also be considered reasonable Jan 12 at 2:49

A reference from John to Genesis based on the Tanakh?

It is curious to consider whether there may be an intended link here. In the LXX the term 'μονογενὴς' only appears in a handful of Psalms, and once in Judges:

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his μονογενὴς; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. (Judges 11:24, ESV / LXX)

So going with the general assumption that the LXX was widely known/referenced in Jesus' day, I'd rule out that the recipients (Nicodemus, or the recipients of John's Gospel) would commonly take the term μονογενὴς as an explicit call-back to Abraham and Isaac based on the Tanakh alone. The term is so otherwise rare that there's no clear link inferred purely by Jesus' use of this phrase in his discourse with Nicodemus.

A reference from Hebrews to John based on the New Testament?

Assuming an understanding of John to have been written/circulated earlier, I'd say it's more likely that there was an intended reference here. With Jesus having used the term earlier it would then be more likely the author of Hebrews who could have intended a linked usage, or observed a clear parallel with Abraham and Isaac.

If Hebrews 11:17 was the only verse to go on here, I'd perhaps be asking whether there was an intended link to Jesus at all, as the author of Hebrews does not commonly draw parallels to Jesus in the text. However, verse 19 follows the verse rather explicitly:

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:19)

At face value, in the telling of Abraham and Isaac - where nobody actually died, it seems almost a touch strained to suggest that Abraham's faith was in God resurrecting Isaac rather than saving or replacing him. The author seems to be invoking the raising of the dead as an explicit reference to Jesus, in which case it should not surprise us that they should also use μονογενὴς to reference Jesus' own phraseology about himself. A link here seems possible.


I'd suggest that this Question orders the passages incorrectly, asking whether Jesus was intending to use the term in light of a parallel with Abraham. More likely, the author of Hebrews was drawing the parallel between the cases, and may have drawn on the phraseology used by Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus.

This passage is part of a sequence of patriarchal stories, in which the author does not tend to draw explicit parallels with Jesus, despite the significant number of contemporary parallels many interpreters have since recorded. The author does not seem to prioritise the drawing of such parallels, but here in v17-19 between the usage of μονογενὴς and the resurrection reference, there seems to be sufficient cause to suggest there was an intended parallel.


There are more in the NT that are described with the word monogenes.

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 (eg, see BDAG) 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 cannot be “only begotten”.

Lastly, 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.

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