Only Begotten or Only Unique Son?

The misinformation regarding Jesus as the “only begotten” or “only unique” Son of God stresses a need for the issue to be clarified. One Muslim apologist said the word “begotten” used in the Gospel of John “has been thrown out from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as an interpolation and a fabrication.”

While the Muslims hate to see “begotten” in the Bible, some Christians (“KJV onlyites”) luridly accuse modern Bibles of “eliminating every single reference to Jesus as God’s only begotten Son.” Their conclusion: it’s a New Age agenda. Sometimes it’s intriguing to see how much ignorance people have managed to gather. I intend to answer these indirectly by rebutting the Watchtower Society’s misuse of the “only begotten Son” to also peddle their errors:

Trinitarians say that since God is eternal, so the Son of God is eternal. But how can a person be a son and at the same time be as old as his father? (Should You Believe in the Trinity? p. 15).

Where to begin? The title “Son of God” as used by Jesus means the “likeness of the invisible God” and “the express image of His person” (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). Jesus has the same essence and attributes of the Father. Since God has been a Father from eternity, and not at a point in time as JWs suggest, both He and Son are eternal and have no beginning.

Micah 5:2 says of Jesus “whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting.” The word “everlasting” here is “olam” which is used to describe God the Father’s eternal existence (Ps. 41:13, 90:2, 93:2, 106:48, Is. 40:28). If “olam” means eternal and uncreated when applied to God, it must also mean the same when applied to Jesus.

Trinitarians claim that in the case of Jesus, ‘only-begotten’ is not the same as the dictionary definition of ‘begetting,’ which is ‘to procreate as the father.’

Trinitarians don’t need to say this, it’s a matter of simple logic. Since the New Testament was written in Greek and not English, referring us to an English dictionary to understand what “begotten” means is moot. It’s like appealing to a French dictionary to define “death” and forcing that definition on Scripture. The Greek word for “begotten” is monogenes which according to W. Vine “does not imply a beginning of His Sonship…in the sense of unoriginated relationship… [Jesus] eternally is the Son. He, a Person possessed every attribute of pure Godhood.” (An Expository Dictionary of NT Words, 1940, “Only Begotten”)

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states that the term “only begotten” came from the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome. He used the term to counter the Arian claim that Jesus was not begotten but made – though his understanding of it doesn’t imply procreation. The word made its way into the Bibles used during the Reformation. Monogenes was derived from “monos” (one) and “ginmai” – which is NOT related to the verb “gennao” (begotten), but to “genomai” (to be). Hence, the “genos” from monogenes means “kind or type.” It has nothing to do with “begotten” (Murray Harris, The New Testament Use of Theos, Baker Book, 1992, 84-87).

This is why newer Bible translations render monogenes as “one of a kind,” “one and only” “of sole descent” or “unique.” Standard Greek Lexicons agree: Bauer, Danker and Arndt define monogenes as “only, unique.” Louda and Nida: “what is unique in the sense of being the only one of the same kind or class.” Moulton and Milligan: “one of a kind, only, unique.” Grimm/Thayer: “single of its kind, only.” A Greek scholar says:

“Thus it is seen that monogenes does not mean generation, that Christ was God’s first born or first creation. Rather it speaks of uniqueness, that Jesus shares a unique relationship with God as Father from all eternity. This is true of Christ alone since no other person has ever shared an eternal, filial relationship with God” (James White, The Forgotten Trinity, Bethany House, 1998, 201).

Furthermore, why does the Bible use the very same Greek word for ‘only-begotten’…to describe the relationship of Isaac to Abraham? Hebrew 11:17 speaks of Isaac as Abraham’s ‘only begotten son’ (p. 16).

The Watchtower writer was doing well until now. That “only-begotten” was used of Isaac actually shows that it is a mis-translation, because Isaac was not the only son Abraham had; he also “begetted” Ishmael. Thus, “one of a kind” or “unique” son would be a better rendering of the verse. Aside this, the use of monogenes in Hebrews differs from apostle John’s use. Even in the LXX, it was used to mean “solitary” (Ps. 25:16).

The reference works often appealed to by JWs do not really support their views. For example: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance on monogenes (#3409): “one-and-only, one of a kind – literally, ‘one (mono) of a class, genos’ (the only of its kind).”

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (G. Kittel, 1967, 4:737-741):

“Monogenes is stronger than [Greek], for it denotes that they never had more than this child. But the word can also be used more generally without ref. to derivation in the sense of ‘unique,’ ‘unparalleled,’ incomparable … John emphasizes more strongly the distinction between Jesus and believers and the uniqueness of Jesus in His divine sonship.'”

So Jesus, the only-begotten Son, had a beginning to his life. And Almighty God can rightly be called his Begetter, or Father, in the same sense that an earthly father, like Abraham, begets a son (Ibid).

Jesus is eternal like His Father, so the Arian heresy of Him having a beginning is false (Jn 1:1). His immutability stated in Hebrews 13:8 also shows this. Greek scholar, A. T. Roberston notes that: “Forever (eis tous aionas) is eternity as well as the Greek can say it. Jesus Christ is eternally ‘the same’ (1:12) and the revelation of God in him (1:1f) is final and is never to be superseded or supplemented” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, 5:447).

Nowhere in Scripture is God called a “Begetter” for the reasons already explained. To compare a spiritual, eternal relationship of God the Father with Jesus to that of Abraham and his son reflects either a poor understanding or gross ignorance of Biblical language.

When one considers that Jesus was not the only spirit son of God created in heaven, it becomes evident why the term ‘only-begotten Son’ was used in this case (Ibid).

The word “son” (Gr: huios) can be used symbolically as in “son of God” (Lk. 3:38), “sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17) or “sons of God” (Gal. 3:26), so to imply that a person is “created” by another because he is called his “son” is fallacious. Jesus’ position as the “unique Son of God” differs from that of the created beings called the “sons of God.”

In His address, Jesus’ use of the word “I” in contrast to the prophets who only spoke in the second person (“the Lord says…) in Matthew 5:18, 20, 22, 26, 28 etc prove that He is God, as He only can speak as thus. In his address to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, He spoke as God in contrast with the angels (Rev. 1:17-3:22). In Matthew 23:37, He said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gather her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Only God can say (or do) this: “Gather to me my consecrated ones” (Ps. 50:5) “he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south” (Ps. 107:3) “He gathers the lambs in his arms” (Isa. 40:11) “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered” (Isa. 56:8) “I myself with gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them” (Jer. 23:3). Therefore, Jesus Christ as the Only Unique Son of God is the God-Man.

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