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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"?

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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.

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    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
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    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
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    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". – Cynthia Avishegnath Aug 26 '12 at 20:30
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    @BlessedGeek, The μονογενὴς is best translated as 'only-begotten' (NKJV, NASB) than 'only produced' to cohere with the scope of parent-to-offspring relationship in which the word is used (cf: John 1:18, 1 John 4:9). To beget means to make someone have one's nature.Thus, the word μονογενὴς encapsulates the idea of 'only child' not 'only created' as its primary semantic locus. – Radz C. Brown Sep 13 '15 at 12:23
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    We shouldn't willy-nilly change the meaning of a word, or restrict its spectrum, just because we feel it is "best translated" that way. – Cynthia Avishegnath Sep 14 '15 at 0:02
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According to Dan Wallace:

Turning now to the Church Fathers, Ehrman emphasizes the early date of υἱός by listing three specific Church Fathers “who were writing before our earliest surviving manuscripts were produced” (Irenaeus, Clement, and Tertullian). Regrettably, he does this without acknowledging any Church Father supporting θεός around the same period (or P66). I, therefore, will equally list three here: Irenaeus, Clement, and Eusebius. One may quickly notice that the same names appear on both sides of the debate. This redundancy, though, reveals the fact that many Fathers (both Greek and Latin) use υἱός as well as θεός in their writings at John 1.18. My point is that their are many names that could be used to support either reading.

(Wallace, Jesus as Θεὸς, Textual Examination, John 1:18)

The following are the four textual variants (in transliterated Greek) of John 1:18b:

1.  ho monogenês  (The Only-begotten One)

2.  ho monogenês huios (the only-begotten Son)

3.  monogenês theos (only begotten, God)

4.  ho monogenês theos (the only begotten God)

The following manuscripts support huios (all include the article):

  • Greek witnesses
    • Codex A - Alexandrinus (5th C.)
    • Codex C3 - "corrector" of Eprhraemi Rescriptus
    • Codex Θ - Tiflis (9th C.)
    • Codex Ψ - Athos (8/9 C.)
    • 063 = 9th C. Greek uncial
    • f1, 13 - "families" of 18 Greek minuscle mss
    • 𝔐 = majority Byzantine text
  • Versions
    • Old Latin
    • Curetonian Syriac (5th C.)
    • Heraclean Syriac (18th C. edition)

However, the following supports μονογενὴς Θεὸς as the correct reading :

1) LECTIO DIFFICILIOR POTIOR

The copyist has more likely to change "theos" to "huios" than vise versa.In fact, μονογενὴς Θεὸς is a so-called hapax legomenon - a rare one-time occurrence in the NT. Even if it were a simple scribal error, the sudden appearance of a "difficult reading" in the manuscript tradition would likely be corrected back to the normative text.

2) NOT A GNOSTIC TRANSLATION AT ALL

Some say that it's a gnostic corruption of the text but if that were so then why do we find the Old Testament and Jesus' ancestry in the very MSS?

3) EARLY MSS ATTEST ITS VERACITY

μονογενὴς Θεὸς is represented in a great number of the earliest MSS, is prominent in the MSS that are considered to contain accurate texts, and is most probably what John actually wrote.

The following manuscripts support theos. This list conflates the evidence of those MSS which have an article (ho) and those without it (the latter is the text of Nestle-Aland):

  • Greek witnesses
    • Papyrus 66 [Papyrus Bodmer II] A.D. c. 200 (Martin), A.D. 100-150 (Hunger)
    • Papyrus 75 (A.D. 175-225)
    • Codex א - Sinaiticus (c. 330–360)
    • Codex B - Vaticanus (c. 325–350)
    • Codex C* - Eprhraemi Rescriptus (5th C.)
    • Apostolic Constitutions (A.D. 375 -380)
    • Codex L - Regius (A.D 701-800)
  • non-Greek witnesses
    • Bohairic Coptic [Codex Bodmer III] (A.D. 300)
    • Diatessaron ("Out of Four") of Titan the Syrian [Arabic version] (c. 160-175)
    • Syriac Peshitta (A.D 150)
    • Adysh manuscript (A.D 897)-Gregordian-Georgian/Iberian version
    • Opiza manuscript (A.D 913)
    • Tbet’ manuscript (A.D 995)
  • Late Greek
    • Minuscule 423 (A.D 1556)

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.

The Coptic versions is one of the earliest versions of the NT where huios is completely absent.

Wallace again:

... At the risk of sounding repetitive, θεός shows up again outside the Alexandrian tradition (e.g., early Latin Fathers in the Gospels are Western witnesses)76 with relatively strong textual weight (per Ehrman’s argument). (ibid.)

In sum, externally, both readings enjoy wide geographical distribution, even though υἱός is relatively stronger in non-Alexandrian forms of text. Both readings co-existed in the second century, although weightier MSS support θεός. As a whole, then, I believe θεός is more probable due to the quality, antiquity, and transmissional history of the witnesses listed above. (ibid.)

In retrospect, I conclude that μονογενὴς θεός is the best reading given all the evidence we have internally and externally. As a result, it is highly probable that the text of John 1.18 calls Jesus θεός. (ibid.)

4) EASTERN AND WESTERN CHURCH FATHERS AND HERETICS QUOTED IT

Irenaeus, Clement ,Eusebius, Basil, Cyril, and Origen, Didymus, Epiphanius, Eusebius, Gregory-Nyssa, Heracleon, Hilary, Jerome, Origen, Ps-Ignatius, Ptolemy, Serapion, Synesius, Tatian, Theodotus, Valentinius, and Arius.

5) FITS THE CONTEXT OF THE PROLOGUE/ JOHANNINE GOSPEL

John 1:1 - pros ton theon / theos

John 1:1 - pros to theon

John 1:14 - monogenes

John 1:18 - monogenes / theos

John 20:28 - theos

You'll notice how coherent the prologue is when Θεὸς is the reading.This is an internal argument for the authenticity of the reading Θεὸς.

Stylistically, θεός closes the inclusio begun in 1.1c; also possibly providing a parallel with 20.28 (the Gospel as a whole). (ibid.)


NOTES

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

adjective + substantive = only begotten God

substantive + substantive = only begotten , who is God or God only begotten

The μονογενὴς is best translated as 'only-begotten' (NKJV, NASB) cohering with the scope of parent-to-offspring relationship in which the word is used (cf: John 1:18, 1 John 4:9). To beget means to make someone have one's nature. Thus, the word μονογενὴς encapsulates the idea of 'only child' as its primary semantic locus.

  • @Davïd Aren't the quotes all from the source in the first quote? – ThaddeusB Sep 13 '15 at 18:10
  • What Koine lexicon says that monogenes means "to beget" let alone that "To beget means to make someone have one's nature"? That's "preacher Greek" - ie: ad hoc. – Ruminator May 11 '18 at 21:21
  • The word begat is always used in reference to children of parents scripturally. It is easy enough to do a simple word search to prove this out. Then when it comes to the son of god it means something different? To say begotten god means that this god is lesser that the unbegotten god he came from and in effect simply making him a son which is the whole purpose of the entire gospel of John - to say Jesus is the son of god. – JLB Dec 9 '18 at 15:33
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I too have pondered about the original version of John 1:18. In my mind there is one possibility that could explain the variations.

The advent of the versions can be reasonably attributed to understandable scribal interventions from the passing of time. If the original reading was as follows, it would support the criticism that later editors merely tried to clarify the passage:

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared Him.

My suggestion is to remove any qualifier of "only begotten"-(monogenes), which I am suggesting were all later additions. This would rationalize the existence of the textual variations.

Furthermore, removing the qualifiers would accord with John 1:14 leaving the matter up for later discovery.

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The OP 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.

  • P66 and P75 are given early dates...How much older was the source they used to make those copies? – Kenneth Piper Mar 16 '18 at 22:41
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I appreciate all that is said here, but I think the slight emphasis and attention paid to the 2nd century (ANF Vol 1 and 2) of the Early Church Greek Fathers, is why so many sit on the fence. Some posted comments above point out that some use both "only begotten God" and "only begotten Son", but I think many fail to recognize that: Soooooo many early church writers in the 10 volume ANF set, called the Father, the UNBEGOTTEN GOD and this CLEARLY implies that they have and believe John 1:18 which says "the only begotten God in the bosom of the Father) coming forth, infers Psalm 2:7 the Father that has the Word (Λογος) come forth from him, begotten not made, as the Nicene Creed says, and is therefore, being the begotten God, the Father is the UNBEGOTTEN God, and the begotten God, is the begotten Son of the Unbegotten God. Head spinning yet? This is how they all spoke that I have read. Relying on 2000 year removed Sherlock Holmes approach to textual criticism, and ignoring the ANF witness near the fountain head, or paying little heed, is why we cannot see it.

Again, as the gentleman pointed out above in Ignatius of Antioch's epistle to the Philippians, he called the Christ the "only begotten Son", well how do you know he was not uniting in doctrine John 3:16 with John 1:18? This is how Ignatius letters (longer versions) read in my view.

Irenaeus quotes John 1:18 as "only begotten God" in Against Heresies, Book 4, and also begotten Son, but as I explained above, it is reasonable to unite John 1:18 and 3:16 based on Proverbs 8 and Psalm 2:7 quoted in Hebrews, etc.

The Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed read as they do, because of this unified position seen in the ANF.

Bless y'all. Brett Hancock

  • Hello Brett and welcome to the site. Rather than just mentioning your sources can you please quote them? Thanks. – Ruminator Nov 6 '17 at 19:55
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Points to ponder:

http://www.academia.edu/31712575/Textual_Criticism_of_John_1_13_-_An_Inquiry_into_the_Authenticity_of_the_text

If so then referring to Jesus as "only begotten" refers to his incarnation and virgin birth and not to some mythical and nonsensical "eternal begetting" that has been made up whole cloth to support Trinitarianism. * the concept of "only begotten son" is appears often in John and appears elsewhere in the NT including 1 John whereas "only begotten God" appears nowhere else in scripture explicitly or in concept:

Joh_1:14  And the Word was made 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.

Joh_1:18  No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

Joh_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.

Joh_3:18  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.

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,

1Jn_4:9  In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. * textual variants in a Trinitarian bent are found in scriptural manuscripts with significant frequency that were found in the KJV but now considered so specious that they do not appear in modern English translations so yet another is not without precedent

The manuscript evidence is ambivalent but the scriptural precedent is not that "only begotten God (capital "G")" is a Binitarian corruption. I say "Binitarian" since the corruption appears centuries before the Trinity had been invented.

Update

The scriptures are protected from error by the presence of multiple repetitions of its message in various places throughout the scriptures themselves. It is an intrinsic application of "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established". Because there are multiple repetitions of "only begotten son of God" but nothing else to corroborate "only begotten God" it is, scripturally speaking, established that the correct translation is "only begotten son".

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    While I agree with your statement about it being conflicting in terms of sense(i.e. putting the cart before the horse as it were), I find your statements about 'the Trinity' to be likely 'off-topic'. – user21676 May 13 '18 at 3:42
  • Wait...what? I read through this several times, but it doesn't seem to answer the question at hand. In fact, the entire post seems incohesive and lacking a central idea. What are you trying to say with this? Should it be "son" or should it be "god"? Or are you trying to answer a different question that wasn't even asked? – Richard May 15 '18 at 12:30
  • @Richard I mistakenly put "punctuation" when I meant "capitalization" - fixed. I added a clarifying update. – Ruminator May 15 '18 at 12:40
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"only begotten God" is supported by P66, P75, Alef, B, C, 33; all from Egypt; all poor, dead-end manuscripts.

"only begotten Son" is supported by: A Cc Q 1 10 13 35 47 60 69 83 118 157 263 382 480 489 544 700 703 726 788 825 927 943 1005 1006 1023 1113 1190 1195 1200 1201 1217 1232 1242 1247 1251 1313 1319 1322 1341 1342 1355 1476 1478 1492 1582 2322vid 2372 2382 f-1 f-13 MT TR a b c e f ff2 q + E07 F09 G011 H013 K017 L019 M021 S U Y D L P Y W 2 21 28 178 229 399 461 475 565 579 669 944 1071 1191 1203 1220 1222 1235 1346 1424 1470 1514 2358 Wsuppsup + many more that aren't listed in the cntts database.

NT textual critics such as Aland, Metzger, Hort and others base their art on faulty assumptions, bias against the majority text, and principles that necessarily mean they will select the deviant texts rather than the mainstream. They overlook the fact the the New Testament was written in the midst of the Christian Community and propagated by that community. The Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit relegated the preferred texts of the critics to oblivion. --At least until people began digging through the rubbish dumps of Egypt.

John 1:18 is good enough reason to not use bibles based on the Nestle/Aland/UBS text. No where else in the Bible does the phrase "only begotten God" appear, but John often uses the phase "only begotten Son". To a normal student of the Bible that would indicate, together with the manuscript evidence that "only begotten Son" is the correct reading. But no, not to the 'scholars'! The errant (difficult) reading is to be preferred over the sensible one! (one of their faulty principles).

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    Please justify calling them "poor, dead-end manuscripts"! P66 and P76 are two of the most significant papyrus manuscripts we have, and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both very well preserved. Honestly you seem to be the one who is biased here. You have two substantial lists for both variants, but you dismiss one out of hand. And don't forget that Vaticanus was in, you know, the Vatican! I say all of that even though on this particular verse I think it's very possible that 'son' might be authentic. What I object to is your out of hand rejection of so many important manuscripts. – curiousdannii Jun 12 '15 at 10:23

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