The Only-begotten Son

William John Hocking

(Various authors)

What is the meaning of the term only-begotten (Greek: 'monogenes') Son as applied to Christ (John 1:14.18; 3:16:18; 1 John 4:9)? The material below is well worth considering. It is made available here to help Christians grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. 

Brief extracts :

Each extract comes with a hyperlink to the source article. A fuller list of articles on the subject is provided below.

Max Billeter

"The expression only-begotten Son (John 3:16) shows us the wonderful, this unique, Son. This is the meaning of "only-begotten". It has nothing to do with being born or with being begotten, but with uniqueness: this special Son." (Read more)

J.N. Darby:

"The difference between only-begotten (monogenes) and first-born (prototokos), is that the first is His relationship to God eternally; the second is His relationship to other things." [Read more]

"First Begotten" is in reference to other children; "Only Begotten" is sole, absolute relationship with the Father. [Read more]

George Davison:

"No, we are not going to accept that in John 1:18 "Only-begotten" means begotten as we understand it in grammar". [read more...]. "One of a special kind is the idea." [read more...]

Leslie M Grant:

"Only-begotten speaks, not of His being derived, but of His unique, eternal dignity with the Father from eternity past. He has always been in the bosom of the Father. Only One who is Himself eternally God could possibly declare the eternal God." [ read more...]

"The great mistake some make is that they consider that since in human relationships a son comes after his father, then Christ as Son of God must have become Son. But the word "Son" does not imply derivation at all. The Lord Jesus was Son of the Father from eternity past, implying His place of dignity and unity and fellowship with the Father" [read more]

E C Hadley:

"But soon after the apostles' days the theory of eternal generation was brought out — that is that the Son of God as to His being exists eternally, but as a father is the source of a son he begets, therefore the Son of God exists as a sort of eternal or continual generation from the Father. This human theory, arrived at by introducing an element that has to do with the purely human relationship into their reasonings about the uncreated eternal relationship of the Godhead, actually deprives the Son of His co-equality with the Father and reduces Him to a derivative form owing His existence to the Father." [ read more... ]

W J Hocking:

"...the special association of this term [monogenes] with the manifestation of God's love determines its significance. The Only-begotten Son of God is the One peculiarly competent to be the Revealer of the eternal love of God. [ read more... ]

F B Hole:

"...the term, “only-begotten,” expresses the supreme and exclusive place He holds in God's love. The type of Abraham and Isaac helps us here. Hebrews 11:1-40 tells us that Abraham offered “his only-begotten son,” though as a matter of fact he had Ishmael at that time and subsequently many more sons. Isaac however stood solitary and alone in God's purpose and in Abraham's affection. After this striking fashion the term is used of the Son of God, and it is intended to enhance in our minds the greatness of God's gift. God gave the One supreme and unique in His affections." [ read more... ]

William Kelly:

"No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son," etc. Now, it is no longer a question of nature, but of relationship; and hence it is not said simply the Word, but the Son, and the Son in the highest possible character, the only-begotten Son, distinguishing Him thus from any other who might, in a subordinate sense, be son of God - "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." [ content.php?mode=7&item=253#obsread more...]

"JESUS is never called teknon but hyos. It would be derogatory to, and a denial of, His eternal glory to speak of Him as God's teknon (child).* But He is Son (hyos) in more senses than one. (*In the phrase, “Thy Holy Child” (Acts 4:27, 30, A.V.) pais not teknon occurs in the original, and therefore “Servant " is a more correct translation than “Child."). He is Son of God as born in time and viewed on earth in His predicted association with Israel as their Messiah and King (Psa. 2). He is determined Son of God in power by resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). And what is more important than all, and the basis of all, He is Son of God, Only-begotten Son in the Father's bosom, entirely apart from the time of His manifestation or the results of His work of redemption, Son of the Father in His own nature and personal relationship in that eternal subsistence which is essential to the Godhead and characteristic of it. [read more...]

A J Pollock:

"The Son of God was God, the Son, underived, eternally existing. [...] Can God be derived? Can there be an inferior God? There can be only one God, and if the Godhead has been pleased to reveal itself in eternal relationships, the Persons sustaining those relationships must in the nature of things be underived and co-equal. What then is the meaning of the expression, "only-begotten"? [...] It is evidently used as a term of strong endearment, and as setting forth a unique and pre-eminent position. Scripture forbids its being used in the case of the Son of God in the sense of derivation, or generation." [read more...]

It is interesting that Josephus used the term, "only-begotten" (Greek monogenes) in exactly the same way. [ read more...]

Arend Remmers

The eternal Son was never begotten. Even if He is called in English and in German the only-begotten Son, the sense is not any begetting , it is “ unique and the only one of its kind ”. [ read more...]

The meaning of the Greek monogenes is the only one of his kind - that is the sense. It was translated in a wrong way. Perhaps false thoughts were already existing right at the end of the 4 th century, when in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, the Greek mono-genes was rendered by uni-genitus. In this Latin word you have a participle which means generated or begotten. But the eternal Son has no beginning. There was not a day when He was begotten, He was not begotten in eternity, but He is eternally the Son as the Father is eternally the Father and the Holy Spirit is eternally the Holy Spirit. Otherwise there could be no Trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, if One had come forth from the Other. It is a contradiction in terms. Either God is eternal, or a part of the Godhead – forgive me to say so - is not eternal. He is the only Son, the only one of His kind, but He is the Son. There is no subordination, absolutely not. It is only showing us the relationship. [ read more...]

A H Rule:

Now as to the time relationship He was "begotten." Psa. 2 says this. But in the eternal relationship there is no scripture which speaks of the act of begetting. It only states what He was as Son with the Father, "an only begotten"-"only begotten in the bosom of the Father" - not one who was "begotten." I think this is important... The term "firstborn" expresses His position in relation to the creature, without any question as to the time of His birth. "Only begotten" expresses His relationship to the Father as Son, a place that no other has... It is, I believe, what He is simply, from eternity to eternity. [ read more...]

In the use of the term "only begotten" John brings out two things - first, the glory of the Son; second God's love in giving His Son. [ read more...]

Hamilton Smith:

"Does Scripture give any light as to the meaning of the expression "Only-begotten" as applied to the Son? It surely does. The expression occurs nine times in the New Testament, and on five of these occasions is applied to the Son (John 1:14,  18;  John 3: 16,  18;  1 John 4:9). One passage —  Hebrews 11:17  — is specially instructive as showing the meaning with which the word is used, There we read "By faith Abraham when he was tried offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son."

It is evident that the term  "only-begotten son" cannot mean that Isaac was the only son begotten of Abraham, for we know that he had other sons. It is equally plain that there was a special relationship between Isaac and Abraham which was unique, and belonged to no other son. It is surely this unique relationship that the term "only-begotten" is used to express. While Scripture makes very plain that there are distinct Persons in the Godhead, it also shows that the Persons of the Godhead are not independent but related. And, as with Abraham and Isaac, so with Divine Persons, the expression "only-begotten" is used to set forth the unique relationship eternally existing between the Son and the Father." [Read more]

H E Vine:

We can only rightly understand the term “the only begotten” when used of the Son, in the sense of unoriginated relationship. [ read more...]

Robert F Wall

The expression "only begotten" is a translation of the Greek word monogenes. This is derived from the Greek words monos, meaning only, or alone, and genos. Genos occurs 21 times in the NT [...]. It is rendered "offspring" (x3), "born" (x2), and "generation" (x1). But the Name "only begotten Son" cannot refer to the incarnation because this verse tells us that it was as the only begotten Son that He was sent from outside of the world into it. He was the only begotten Son before He came. What meaning then is to be attached to the expression "only begotten"? The word genos is also translated kind, kinds or kindred (x8) and the writer believes this is its meaning here. The only begotten Son of God is of the same kind as God. He is of the same kind as God because He has the nature of God. And He is the only Son like this. We know that others are called sons of God. The angels are called sons of God and believers during this present dispensation of grace are called sons of God, but the only begotten Son is alone in having the nature of God in all its fulness. As the Son He has not only the moral nature of God but deity too. [read more...]

W H Westcott:

Now this very John is the one who, in language more explicit than that of any other inspired writers, shows in his first and most prominent verses (John 1:1, 2) that HE NEVER HAD A BEGINNING. It is therefore more than obvious that when he used the word MONOGENES, it was never intended that we should understand it in the sense that the Son had a birth or beginning in Eternity past. [ read more... ]

"The only begotten Son" of the Father has been here to declare Him. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ not only exposes what man is, but He brought down into the world the full knowledge of what God is. [ read more... ]

Suppose we submit then the rendering of the words just as they stand. "We beheld His glory, glory as only-begotten with Father full of grace and truth." The meaning would then become apparent. There was glory in this unique Person, "Only-begotten with Father" previously existent, that had never been beheld until He became flesh but when beheld by His devoted disciples, that glory was presented to them in the form of the unlimited grace and truth that for ever bound them to Him. [read more... ]

J White:

The key element to remember in deriving the meaning of monogenes is this: it is a compound term, combining monos, meaning only, with a second term. Often it is assumed that the second term is gennasthai/gennao, to give birth, to beget. But note that this family of terms has two nu's, rather than a single nu, found in monogenes. This indicates that the second term is not gennasthai but gignesthai/ginmai, and the noun form, genos. Some scholars see the -genes element as having a minor impact upon the meaning of the term, and hence see monogenes as a strengthened form of monos, thereby translating it "alone," "unique," "incomparable." An example of this usage from the LXX is found in Psalm 25:16, "turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely (monogenes) and afflicted" (NASB). “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son (monogenes).” Hebrews 11:17 NIV. Hence the preceding references clearly demonstrate that monogenes does not mean generation, that Christ was God's firstborn or first creation. Rather it speaks of uniqueness, that Jesus' shares a unique relationship with God as Father from all eternity. This is true of Christ alone since no other person has ever shared an eternal filial relationship with God. [read more...]

Bible Witness:

"Hence, we must' of course reject such forced efforts as that founded on the very different phrases in John i. 15 or in John xvii. 5. Origin is not the point, but relation of comparison. 'Begotten' or 'born,' in relation to the Son in the Godhead, cannot be allowed to mean a point of time, or subsequence..., but simply the nearest relationship, or community of nature, between the Son and the Father. Was He or was He not Son from all eternity, as the Father was Father from all eternity? or are we to reason from manhood, and infer that, because a father precedes his son, so it is in the Godhead? This I believe to be Arianism [note (biblecentre): see Arianism - by W R Dronsfield], and as baseless in Scripture as in sound reasoning.... [read more...]

Hope's Reason:

In order for the Greek manuscript to warrant the translation “only begotten” the Greek term being translated would need to be monogennetos. To translate monogenes as “only begotten” is, without question, less than precise… [read more]