A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Clarify the Meaning of 'Only Begotten'? Can the Dropping of this Phrase Ever Be Defended?

What does the term 'only begotten' mean as used in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9. Many modern theologians deny that the Greek word, 'monogenes' carries a derivative meaning, rather it means 'one of a kind,' or some other non-derivative meaning.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, the Greek word 'monogenes' (word G3439 in the Strong's concordance system), traditionally translated into English as 'only begotten,' actually has both meanings. It is obviously derivative and means 'only child,' but some commentators are not wrong to state that the word has a strong sense of uniqueness or being a favoured, or special one. Several modern translations now translate the word differently. The NIV, for example, translates John 1:14 thus:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I think that 'one and only son' there is very good and is faithful to the Greek. However, 'begotten' or 'only begotten' has come to have a certain status and is an affectionate term to most Christians but it is actually a word, or expression, no longer used in modern conversation. The use of the word is also derived from how the old Latin Vulgate Bible rendered 'monogenes.'

We should just note that the word 'monogenes' occurs nine times in the KJV but only on five of those occasions does it refer to Jesus, for example consider Luke 7:12 or Luke 8:42 both of which use the word 'monogenes,' that shows us that the use of this word in a special way when applied to Jesus ("only begotten"), is not required on account of the Greek but is influenced by a Latin Bible of the 5th century. By the way, 'only begotten' is also used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17 in the KJV.

So I don't think we can blame modern theologians for 'going liberal' in pointing out that 'only begotten' is not a strictly Greek-inspired phrase but, rather, is an old English word and its use here is influenced by Latin.

Robin A. Brace. December 12th, 2014.