Friday, December 11, 2009

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son

Upon refuting the argument that Jesus' having been called "the firstborn of all creation" means He was the first being God created (Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son), the Christian may be asked by the Jehovah's Witness at the door to turn to John 3:16 which reads, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..." The argument continues in the Watch Tower publication, "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" in the chapter, "Who is Jesus Christ?" in the section, "Where Did Jesus Come From?":

There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. (

The word "begotten" comes from the word "beget" which means "to procreate or generate". The Jehovah's Witness, then, would argue from this passage that while Jesus created everything else, He himself was created by the Father, and thus is not eternal nor equal with God.


The Watch Tower's argument relies upon a misleading translation of the original Greek word here rendered "only-begotten". The Witness will claim that "only-begotten" means "only one born to", but that's not really what the word means. The word monogenēs means "single of its kind, only." It conveys primarily uniqueness, not someone's status as having been procreated.

Consider Hebrews 11:17 where the same word is used of Isaac when we're told Abraham "was offering up his only begotten son." Isaac was not the only son born to Abraham--not even at the time Abraham was offering him up! Isaac was born second to Abraham, years after Ishmael. Since the author of Hebrews applies the word monogenēs to Isaac, it simply cannot mean "only one born to"! To figure out what it really means, we must examine this word and its origins more closely.

The word monogenēs is comprised of two root words. The first half is straightforward and comes from the word monos meaning "alone, only, merely". It is seen in modern English words like "monogamy"--marriage with only one person at a time--and "monotheism"--belief that there is only one God. But the second half is a bit trickier.

One candidate for the root word from which the second half of monogenēs derives is ginomai, meaning "to come into existence" or "to be made". Indeed this is likely why many translations render the word "only-begotten". However, another candidate is the word genos, meaning "kindred," "family" or "kind". It connotes class or stock, a sort or a kind. It's where we get the word "genus" meaning "a class or group of individuals". If genos is the root word of monogenēs, a literal translation would be "alone in nature" or "one of a kind".

Which of these candidates, then, is the likely root word from which monogenēs derives? Again, since the author of Hebrews applies the word to Abraham's second son, monogenēs cannot convey the meaning of "only one born to" and thus ginomai is not likely the root from which it derives. On the other hand, Isaac was certainly unique among his father's sons in that he was the promised one:

God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year." (Genesis 17:19-21)

God promised that Ishmael, being the firstborn, would be blessed. However, it would be Isaac, the younger, with whom God would establish His covenant. While not "the only one born to" Abraham, Isaac was most certainly unique among his father's sons.

Thus, Jesus is not the Father's "only-begotten Son" in the sense that He was created by God. Instead, Jesus is "one of a kind". No created being--neither angels, nor humans, nor any other creature--can be called God's Son in the way He can.

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