What does it mean for one to say that the Son of God is “begotten”? As it is used of the Son of God, the term “begotten” (Greek, monogenēs) has been variously understood throughout church history. Even today, stemming from the etymology of monogenēs (mono = one; genēs = begotten), translations vary for this word. For example, from 1 John 4:9, as the Father’s Son, Jesus is described as the “only begotten” (KJV, NKJV, NASB), “one and only” (NIV, HCSB, NET Bible), and “only” (ESV), as seen in the passages to follow. In answer to our question, below is a survey of the 9 NT uses of monogenēs, and a brief explanation of the meaning of monogenēs as it describes the Son of God in 5 of these 9 uses.
The term monogenēs can describe an only child (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38) or a unique child among multiple children, such as Abraham’s son Isaac (Heb 11:17) who was unique in that God’s promises to Abraham would be fulfilled Isaac and not his other son Ishmael (cf. Gen 17:18–19). As the term is used of Jesus 5 times, it is by John alone, typically translated “only.” Jesus’ glory was the “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). Jesus, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made Him known” (John 1:18). The Father “gave His only Son” (John 3:16). Condemnation is for the one who “has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). “God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).
To these uses we should add that the related verb gennaō (“to bear, beget, or give birth”) is used 97 times in 65 verses, 3 of which refer to Jesus’ physical birth (Matt 2:4; Luke 1:35; John 18:37), and, helpful to our study, another 3 referring to what was declared of the Son from Ps 2:7 (see Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5; cf. Ps 2:7), namely, that He is indeed the Son of God, implying that has been so for all eternity, and is still as such now being both God and man in the person of Jesus.
As it describes the Son of God, the meaning of monogenēs or gennaō is said by many to mean that the Son of God is a unique Son to the Father (similar to Isaac above). Without beginning or end, the Father and the Son are both God in who they are, but the Father does not share what He does in His paternal and preeminent functions. The Son is wholly God and yet distinct from the Father as Son. Being both God and yet related to the Father in this way, Jesus can perfectly display divine glory (John 1:14), make the Father known (John 1:18), and be given and sent into the world as the Son of God who died for us so that we might live through Him (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).
Pastor regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our staff page.