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Monogenēs: Only Begotten?

Monogenēs: Only Begotten?Arguably, one of the most critical words in Christology – the study of the person and work of Christ – is the Greek word monogenēs which has been translated, somewhat misleadingly in the past, as “only begotten.” The connotations of “only begotten” are ambiguous, especially as the word “begotten” is no longer a part of everyday English and is unfamiliar to modern readers.

The NIV translates monogenēs much more meaningfully as “one and only”, as in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his One and Only Son . . .”

The word monogenēs is used only a few times in the New Testament. Luke, and the author of Hebrews, used this word about sons, and a daughter, always to emphasise that the person being written about was an only child. The word is not used to emphasise, or refer to, the “begetting” of these children. See Luke 7:12 (the Widow of Nain’s son); Luke 8:42 (Jairus’ daughter); Luke 9:38 (a boy tormented by an evil spirit) and Hebrews 11:17 (Isaac).

John is the only New Testament author to use monogenēs to describe Jesus. He used the word to emphasise the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Like the other New Testament authors, John did not use the word to emphasise, or refer to, “begetting”.  (See John 1:14 & 18; 3:16 & 18 and 1 John 4:9.)

Monos means alone or sole; genos has a range of meanings including: offspring, family, relation, lineage, race, kind, species, etc. BDAG defines monogenēs as something “that is the only example of its category.”[1]

The real implication of this word is that Jesus Christ is God’s one and only, unique Son. And as such, Jesus fully shares divinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Col. 2:9 cf. Heb. 1:3).

Amazingly when we become followers of Jesus we too can share in his glorious inheritance as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:14-17).


[1] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker, 2000.  (Known as BDAG for short; an acronym of the four authors who have worked on it: Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich.)


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Posted July 26th, 2009 . Categories/Tags: Christian Theology, Christology, , , ,

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4 comments on “Monogenēs: Only Begotten?

  1. […] Monogenes: Only Begotten? […]

  2. Rob Callow says:

    “In the beginning was the Word” (The Son first existed only in the thoughts of God the Father.), “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (This Word of the Father became a facsimile of the Father, not a creation as such but another part of the Father, a new free thinking mind, but still with no conceivable beginning to our finite minds. This new mind became another person like the Father: The Father’s Son.) “He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him,” (through the Father and the Son’s pure and perfect love for each other they began creating everything whilst showing and giving that love to all who they created.) “without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3.

  3. Marg says:

    Hi Rob,

    I understand that according to the thinking of certain Greek philosophers logos tou theou “word of God” can refer to the mind of reason of God. I’m wondering whether “thoughts” adequately conveys this understanding.

    I have written about the Jewish and Greek understanding of “Word of God” here: http://newlife.id.au/bible-study-notes/johns-prologue-john-1v1-18/

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