Article No. 58

THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON

(John 1:14,18: John 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9)

In his article on To-day's English Version in the "Bible Translator" of July 1971 Dr. R. G. Bratcher, the translator, defends his rendering of the Greek MONOGENES by "only" instead of "only-begotten" as in the Authorised Version. He contends that the word is formed from MONOS "one" or "only", and GEN-, the stem of the verb GINOMAI "to become", and not from GENNAO "to beget". Many modern versions replace only-begotten Son" with "only Son".

Before accepting this opinion as correct a number of considerations should be carefully weighed. Professor Cremer's great Lexicon of N.T. Greek was considered one of the most important contributions to the study of New Testament exegesis in the 19th. century. The learned author states in his preface that, as Christianity fulfilled the aspirations of truth, the expressions of the Greek language received a new meaning, and terms hackneyed and worn out by the current misuse of daily talk received a new impress and a fresh power. "In the Bible it is evident that the Holy Spirit has been at work, moulding a distinctively religious mode of expression out of the language ... transforming; the linguistic elements which were ready to hand, and even conceptions already existing ...," a process which Cremer describes as the "language-moulding power of Christianity."

Cremer comments on MONOGENES - "ONLY-BEGOTTEN . A special preciousness and closeness of attachment arises from the fact of its being an only-begotten child, cf. Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb.11:17.... In John it is used to denote the relationship of Christ to the Father, John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9. The oneness of the relationship appears specially in the coming and work of Christ, gives to the revelation of God in Him its special worth, and must determine our conduct towards Him, As to the bearing of this term upon Christ's relationship to the Father before the incarnation, see HUIOS (Son)."

As Cremer wrote in German, it might be imagined that the English translator encountered an ambiguity in the German equivalent for "only-begotten", but the lexicon of Bauer translated and adapted by Arndt and Gingrich (Chicago University Press 1957) clearly indicates that if the word commonly signified "only" or "unique", the meaning; in John's Gospel and First Epistle is "somewhat heightened to ONLY-BEGOTTEN or BEGOTTEN of the ONLY ONE, in view of the emphasis on GENNASTHAI EK THEOU ("born of God") in John 1:13. To the alternative reading MONOGENES THEOS in John 1.18 Arndt and Gingrich attach the meaning "an only-begotten one, God ... or a God begotten of the Only One". If "begotten" is a correct rendering of the Greek word in the alternative reading found in a few manuscripts, it is not reasonable to reject it as an incorrect rendering of the same Greek word found in the majority.

The Greek-English lexicon of Liddell and Scott was also based upon a German work, that of Francis Pussow, and they give "only-begotten" as the primary meaning.

The lexicon of J.H. Thayer gives the meaning "single of its kind, only, (A.V. only-begotten), used of only sons or daughters." Moulton and Milligan's "Vocabulary of the Greek N.T. illustrated from the papyri" (Vol. 5) has, "literally - one of a kind - only-unique - not only-begotten, which would be MONOGENNETOS and is common in the Septuagint in this sense."

Bratcher has adopted this opinion, but it is certainly not the only tenable one. J.A. Bengel comments - "The Word is Himself the Only-begotten, There is hereby intimated the reality and unity of the Divine generation."

While it is true that Tyndale has "only Son" in John 3:16, he renders the identical Greek in 1 John 4:9 as "only begotten Son", and translates John 1:14 and John 1:18 in the same way.

In the series of "Sacred Latin Texts" E.S. Buchanan edited the Four Gospels from the Irish Codex Harleianus (Harl. 1023 in the British Museum Library). By way of preface Buchanan quotes from a letter he had received from H.C. Hoskier - "These pseudo-scientific folk attack our religion at its very roots, as did the old second-century heretics. Better away with Christianity as such altogether, than accept the heavily adulterated milk of the Word offered for our consumption today." Buchanan describes this ancient Latin copy in detail and presents its text with brief notes. While acknowledging that it is difficult to assign the actual copying of the manuscript to an earlier date than the 10th century, he asserts that it is "certain from its art, as well as its spelling and text, that it partially reproduces an Irish ancestor, not only older than the days of Patrick, but older even than the mid-fourth century, which is the earliest date to which our most ancient extant vellum manuscript of the Gospels can be assigned." Buchanan presents evidence to show the close affinity between this ms. and the ancient pre-Vulgate Latin.

Codex Harleianus renders MONOGENES as UNTIGENITUS

John 1.14 "... quasi gloriam unigeniti a patre ..."

" 1.18 "... unigenitus filius ..."

" 3.16 "... Filium suum unigenitum ..."

The Old Latin translation was made not later than the 2nd. century, and it is significant that the translators who were in a position to know how the word MONOGENES was understood by contemporary Greek Christians, rendered it "UNIGENITUS - "only-begotten", not UNICUS - "only". It is therefore clear that the rendering "only-begotten Son" in the Authorised Version is well supported by ancient evidence.

 

For more information write to:

Trinitarian Bible Society
Tyndale House, Dorset Road
London, SW19 3NN, England
Telephone: 0 181 543 7857
Fax: 0 181 543 6370
e-mail: trinitarian.bible.society@ukonline.co.uk
Website: http://biz.ukonline.co.uk/trinitarian.bible.society/contents.htm