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I note that many modern theologians no longer translate monogenēs as “only begotten” but as “unique” or as "one of a kind." Most modern English versions have adopted this new understanding and translate the five Johannine uses of monogenēs as “only.”

However, "only-begotten" is a key concept in the Nicene Creed. The Creed interprets it as that the Son was begotten from the substance of the Father. Do such translations imply that the Nicene Creed is in error? Or are these translations wrong? Or is there a way of reconciling the absence of "only-begotten" in modern Bibles with the Nicene Creed?

Furthermore, the theory of Eternal General has been defined as an: (1) “eternal, (2) personal act of the Father, (3) wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, (4) He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, (5) by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, (6) without division, alienation, or change, (7) so that the Son is the express image of His Father's person, (8) and eternally continues, (9) not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son." (A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 182.)

This is, in other words, an explanation of the Biblical concept that the Son was begotten (generated) by the Father. But if the word only-begotten (for the Son) disappears from our Bibles, is the theory of Eternal Generation now redundant? Or are there other evidence in the Bible that the Father generated the Son?

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    Why would you assume theology is based upon the English translation specifically? The Nicene Creed was written in Greek originally where the question of how to translate monogenes doesn't occur since it's a native word per se.
    – eques
    Aug 22, 2023 at 11:27
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    Doctrines are based on synthesising all that the scriptures say on a topic, not the translation of individual words. A better understanding of μονογενής is good to have of course, but it no more eliminates the doctrine of eternal generation than the older understanding single handedly led to the doctrine.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 22, 2023 at 12:37
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    dennyburk.com/… This article sheds some light on the origins of the trend towards redefining monogenes as 'unique'. Aug 22, 2023 at 12:39
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    @Andries but that doesn't follow. The fact the English word preferred has changed doesn't necessarily mean anything about the original Greek concept. It might or it might mean that the English has shifted meaning. Furthermore, even if "unique" is more precise than "only begotten", it doesn't follow that eternal generation is mistaken. That's a far-fetched claim because it effectively reduces that doctrine to a single word/verse instead of a broader context.
    – eques
    Aug 22, 2023 at 15:17
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    @Andries It's absurd to think the early Christians who spoke Greek didn't know what that word meant in that context, but we're supposed to trust that moderns have disproved what the early Christians thought.
    – eques
    Aug 22, 2023 at 15:17

3 Answers 3

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A classical example of the confusion that has arisen with some modern English translations of monogenēs, is in John 1:18. Some translations state it is a position that is being described, (being at the Father's side, which is a position), not his relationship with God (which the full translation of monogenēs shows). The modern translations that say "one and only Son" or suchlike, have truncated the Greek word monogenēs, only dealing with mono, which means one, single. They just leave out the genēs part! They think that by repeating 'one' with the similar word 'only', they have translated monogenēs. But they have not!

Further, to say that Christ is the only Son of God is simply not true, for God has many sons. Capitalising the 'S' makes no difference here, because modern translations only show a special position of the Son, whereas John 1:18 and the other occurrences of monogenēs deal with the unique relationship of Father and Son.

Why are there Differences? The differences arise from which of two ‘pedigrees’ of Greek manuscripts are being used for the translation. Modern translations go by what is called “The Critical Text” that was collated and preferred from the late 1800s onward. All older translations go by “The Received Text” that was the only collection the Reformers and later Protestants had.

Is there a Problem? Most people cannot see any problem. Yet, when a few questions are asked, this becomes apparent. How can God be in the bosom of God the Father? How can the one and only God be at God the Father’s side? Is it true that God only has one son, who is a singularity? If the son is “the same as God” does that suggest the Father became the son, as some groups teach? If ‘the unique One is himself God’, does that imply that the Father might not be unique and thus not the same God? Is there a Big God and a little god?

Yet there is no ambiguity with older translations. The text states a clear distinction between Father and Son, whilst the integrity of their unique relationship in oneness of Being is maintained. The role of the Son was to become the One who declared the Father so that (as he said to the disciples who asked to see the Father) “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” John 14:9-10. Relationship is a feature of begetting; position is a feature of office.

Is Anything Being Undermined? Is the relationship between the Father and Son being undermined? And is there a confusion of gods taking place in modern translations? Further, if there are two pedigrees of texts, one that says ‘Son’ and another that says ‘God’, they both cannot be right because the Greek for Son is ‘uios’ and the Greek for God is ‘theos’. Does the text say that Jesus is the Son, or does it say that Jesus is the God? We know it says that the Word [the Son] is God in John 1:1 but if the Holy Spirit inspired John to say in verse 18 that Jesus is ‘the only-begotten Son’ and NOT ‘the one and only God’, there will be a critically important reason for that, namely, to stress the relationship of persons. The raft of questions that can be raised against modern translations that stress position makes this clear.

It is significant that both pedigrees of texts are agreed in saying the Son is the monogenēs, the ‘only-begotten’, while modern translation only deal with the first half of that Greek word, ‘mono’, which means ‘one, single’. But they ignore the suffix, ‘genes’! Why? Genesis has to do with origins and the Christian creeds are adamant that the Son was begotten, not created, so that there is no originating point in time when the Son came into existence. He is the eternal Son, but modern translations focus on ‘one, single’, the singularity – only – of the Son, that he is ‘single, of its kind, only, unique’ instead of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son in the begetting.

In Hebrews 11:17 the literal Greek reads “and the monogenēs he [Abraham] did offer up” (i.e. Isaac) yet Abraham had begotten a prior child, Ishmael. The text does not read ‘his monogenēs’ but ‘the monogenēs’. ‘The’ monogenēs in Greek scripture specifically refers to the generation of a person. The article in Greek is a matter of identification, and as Isaac prefigured Christ, then, in John’s Gospel THE monogenēs appears and receives the promises. In John 1:18 it is the perceived relationship of God to the other person concerned that is the key point. But by stressing the singularity of the Son, in modern translations, and speaking of his position at the Father’s side instead of his intimate relationship IN the Father’s bosom, the danger arises of losing sight of the eternal begetting in the Trinity. Monogenēs expresses personal relationship, not a solitude.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reveals God as he truly is: Father and Son in perfect unity, in an eternal begetting, in one Holy Spirit. Thus – and only thus – is God, One. God is Spirit, and only by eternal generation, in one spirit, can God have a Son. That is how the three relate in the One Being of God, as they subsist in the One Being of God. That is why, whenever the Bible uses monogenēs to speak of the Son, it must be translated ‘only-begotten’ and never ‘one and only’ or ‘single of its kind, unique’, for that is to detract from the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son is begotten, not created, and uniquely so because of this eternal relationship.

What Should be Done About This? Every time the Greek text has monogenēs with regard to Christ, we should read it as ‘only-begotten’ instead of the truncated ‘only’, or ‘single’ or ‘one’, as if Christ didn’t really have such an incredibly intimate relationship with the Father, as the Greek term uniquely conveys.

This means that this answer is saying that modern translations that avoid 'only-begotten Son' are just plain wrong.

This means that this answer is saying that the doctrine of Eternal Generation, which has been upheld by orthodox Christianity from earliest times is still sound, no matter how many liberties some modern translations take with the Greek word, monogenēs. "Only-begotten" remains a key concept in the Nicene Creed and that will never change, even if millions of people misunderstand, or deny it. After all, as the Bible states, "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." Romans 3:4 NWT

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Following are some excerpts from an article entitled "Deep in the Weeds on MONOGENES" regarding, in part, the mid 20th century shift in translation.

After reading the Creed in Greek, it immediately became clear to me that the Nicene Fathers’s interpretation of MONOGENES is in direct conflict with a near consensus among modern New Testament scholars. Since about the middle of the 20th century, it has become commonplace among New Testament scholars to reject the Nicene Fathers’s interpretation of this term and to say that MONOGENES means “only” or “unique” and thereby to remove this term as an exegetical proof for eternal generation.

New Testament scholars routinely dismiss the “only begotten” interpretation of MONOGENES. To be clear, this does not mean that they are rejecting the doctrine of eternal generation per se. It means that they are rejecting a scriptural basis for it that is cited in the Creed.

There are a great many NT scholars who reject a scriptural basis for eternal generation and a great many of those cite a single journal article published in 1953:

Dale Moody, “God’s Only Son: The Translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version,” Journal of Biblical Literature 72, no. 4 (1953): 213–19.

Moody’s article defends the RSV’s translation of MONOGENES, arguing that “only begotten” is an etymological, linguistic, and historical error. He certainly was not the first one to have made this case, but his arguments in particular seem to have influenced at least two generations of New Testament scholarship. I think this is due in no small part to the fact that Moody’s article is the first one cited in BDAG’s entry on MONOGENES...Many NT scholars view Moody’s article as the definitive word on MONOGENES, but I believe that Moody was wrong—really wrong. And here’s why.

This article goes on to explain that Moody overly limits the semantic ranges of both GENOS and GENES:

Moody is correct that the Greek suffix –GENES derives from the word GENOS. But Moody is wrong about the semantic range of GENOS and the suffix derived from it...in fact, in John’s one use of the term GENOS, it clearly refers to “offspring” or “one that is begotten from another” (Revelation 22:16). “Offspring” is the only attested meaning for this term in John’s writings!

Moody also claims that, if John wanted to clearly present "only-begotten" he would have used MONOGENNETOS:

The term MONOGENNETOS does not appear to be attested in ancient Greek literature before the second century (it does not appear in Liddell-Scott’s lexicon). If John were to have used the term, he would have to have been the one to coin it. But why would John coin a new term when MONOGENES was ready at hand? This is a term, after all, that means “only-begotten” in numerous texts across ancient Greek literature (according to Lee Irons’s recent research in which he has located 60+ examples of MONOGENES in non-biblical Greek before the second century).

There is much more in Mr. Burk's article and it is well worth a careful read. In responding to OP's question, "But if the word only-begotten (for the Son) disappears from our Bibles, is the theory of Eternal Generation now redundant?", Mr. Burk points to the context of the 5 Johannine uses of MONOGENES as extremely significant. Removing 'only-begotten' would destroy the contextual point that John is trying make by both comparing and contrasting the unique begetting of the Son from the Father with the new birth from the Holy Spirit of the Christian in Him:

In every instance that John uses the term MONOGENES, it follows a passage/context in which he uses the term GENNAO to refer to the “new birth”—every single instance (see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). That is no accident. John is intentionally drawing a distinction between the new birth that we experience and the Son’s unique begottenness from the Father. John seems to be saying that while Christians have been “begotten” by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the “uniquely begotten” Son of God. His “begottenness” is different from ours and indeed utterly without parallel.

The recent trend in 'downgrading' MONOGENES to mean merely 'unique' is, firstly, a human trend rooted deeply within the liberal scholarship of a single man (Dale Moody). It is, secondly, ignorant of the demonstrated semantic ranges of both the GENOS root and the GENES derivative in Scripture. Finally, it assumes a better understanding of ancient Greek amongst modern day scholars than that held by the writers of the Nicene Creed, who read and spoke it fluently in everyday life.

It turns out that the Nicene Fathers knew Greek really well—probably better than any of us reading the New Testament today. I think that the interplay between MONOGENES and GENNAO in the Creed shows that the Nicene Fathers noticed the interplay of those same terms in John’s writings. They were interpreting the Greek Bible in the Creed, and they were and are right. Jesus is the uniquely generated Son of God, begotten, not made, before all ages.

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To say that 'Eternal Generation' is a 'theory' and to say that it is 'now redundant' is a gross mis-representation, not only of truth itself, but of current developments in the expressing of this doctrine.

Great strides have been taken in regaining the full understanding and the complete setting forth of the wording which reveals the true Deity.

I have dealt with the translation mentioned above in my book 'The Only Begotten Son ', see my profile for the website, where the booklet, as with all my writing, is available free of charge and free of registration.

I also refer the reader to my previous question on the same subject which still awaits a proper response to the work of Denny Burk et al 'Retrieving Eternal Generation' Zondervan 017.


From 'The Only Begotten Son' pp13-15 :

It is commonly reckoned that the -genes suffix of monogenes comes from genos, rather than gennao, to beget. The Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon (1870) states that it is so.

My 1,700 page Special Edition of the 1854 American Edition of Liddell & Scott states that monogenes is derived from monos and genw, which they state was an obsolete fragment from which had come geinomai and gignomai.

Thayer (1896) states that monogenes is derived from monos and genos.

Genos, as used in the Greek scriptures, the apostolic writings, occurs twenty one times, as listed by Robert Young in his Analytical Concordance, the meanings - as translated in the Authorised Version - being : diversity 1, generation 1, kind 5, kindred 3, nation 2, offspring 3, one's own countrymen 1, stock 2.

And in the dative form : born at 1, born in 1, of the country of. Some (and it is interesting to notice who that 'some' is) say that the compound word monogenes - due to its originating from genos - must mean 'single, of its kind only' or 'unique, in kind'. It should be noted that those who prefer to render the word such as the above, also favour the grotesque and illogical intrusion of μονογενες θεος, monogenes Theos in John 1:18. Which owes its unwarrantable existence to the avid labours of Dr Hort. . But if one just examines the prefix -monos, for a moment, something becomes immediately obvious. . .Μονος, monos occurs 47 times (according to Young) as an adjective and 66 times as an adverb. Its meanings, as given by the Authorised Version translators, are : Adjective : alone 21, by one's self 2, only 24. Adverb : alone 3, but 1, only 62.

I ask just two questions :

Firstly, linguistically :-

If monos means alone/only and if monogenes is supposed to mean 'single, unique, one of its kind' then what has happened to the suffix -genes ?

And, secondly, spiritually :- If monogenes uios means 'the alone son' why does Jesus say : 'I and my Father are one', John 10:30 ?

They wish to rob the Deity of the intimacy of relationship - between Father and Son, in One Holy Spirit.

They strip the word monogenes of its suffix, -genes. And they seek to rip apart the Divine relationship of Father and Son.

And then they - grossly and crudely - patch their concoction back together again in the grotesque illogicality of monogenes Theos.

This relationship is (as the three Luke passages show) not a question of nature. It is not of nature, of gender, of natural conception, of flesh and blood, of carnal connection.

It is a relationship of person.

And, as the careful, meticulous and reverential expressions of the Holy Spirit - through Luke, John and the writer to the Hebrews, the specially chosen and inspired authors of holy writ - is sought out in the nine references (surely a supremely significant number) by the trembling spirit of the sincere seeker after God, then so will be revealed to the inquiring heart, by that same Divine Spirit, the everlasting relationship between Father and Son, in One Spirit.

The singularity of the one born of woman is expressed, but in another way and in another context - in the word arrhen, a single man, a solitary man, and it is expressed by John in Revelation as arrhen uios, the solitary son, as a precursor to the later expressions of the bridegroom of the bride - the Lamb who, later, by the provision of redemption in righteousness, has a wife.

This is seen in υιον αρρενα, huion arrena, Revelation 12: 5, She brought forth a 'man-child', as the AV translates it, or 'a son male' as EGNT renders the words, expressing sonship and male status, but failing to properly categorise arrhen and its meaning which is different from both anthropos (man, humanity or mankind) and aner (an identified male individual).

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