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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Begetting

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BEGETTING. The idea of begetting, as applied in the natural or in a metaphorical or spiritual sense, is expressed in the Gospels by the common words γεννάω ‘to beget’ (which occurs in the LXX Septuagint as the equivalent of the Heb. יָלַד, meaning either ‘to beget’ or ‘to bear,’ and is similarly used in the NT); γεννητός, properly ‘begotten,’ but which, like the verb, is also found in the sense of ‘born’; μονογενής, ‘only-begotten.’ The common word γεννάω. with its derivatives, is, as might he expected, used to express natural begetting and natural birth. So μονογενής, used in the Fourth Gospel only of the relation of Christ to God the Father, occurs in Luke 7:12 of the son of the widow of Nain, meaning simply ‘only son’ (cf. Luke 8:42 Jairus’ daughter, and Luke 9:38 the demoniac boy); and γεννητός in the sense of ‘born’ in Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28 (‘among those that are horn of women’). In Matthew and Luke again, τὸ γεννηθεν and τὸ γεννώμενον are used to describe the miraculous conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin Mary; Matthew 1:20 has ‘that which is conceived in her (AVm [Note: Vm Authorized Version margin.] ‘begotten’) is of the Holy Ghost,’ and Luke 1:35 ‘that which shall be born of thee ((Revised Version margin) ‘is begotten’) shall be called the Son of God.’ In both cases obviously the expression will hear the rendering ‘which is begotten’ or ‘which is conceived,’ according to the ordinary sense in which the verb is known to occur.

The Messianic and the spiritual uses of the words for begetting are those which alone call for remark in connexion with the Gospels and the NT generally. In the Gospels, and there particularly in the Gospel of John, we find them applied to Christ and His relation to God the Father, and, in connexion with that reference, to the case of believers who, receiving Christ by faith, are, in virtue of the new principle of life thus imparted to them, born again, become children of God. This latter thought is suggested in the Gospels, and dwelt upon at length in the Epistles.

We may regard as the locus classicus of the theological or spiritual application of the idea of begetting, as we find it in the Gospels, the well-known passage in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son (ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός),* [Note: WH read μονογενὴς θεὸς, following א*BC*L.] who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’ (John 1:18). Here the use of the term μονογενής in this connexion at once raises the question as to the precise sense in which it is applied to Christ, whether it refers to His being by Divine nature and essence Son of God, or merely to His manifestation in time as Messiah, as one specially chosen to reveal to mankind the will of the invisible God. A little study of the history of the term ‘only-begotten’ shows that it is by no means peculiar to the Gospels, but is rather a familiar Messianic term, which depends, for a clear understanding of the thoughts denoted and connoted by it, upon what, we may gather from other sources, was the national belief as to God’s self-revelation in the history of grace. We are reminded, for instance, that Israel (Exodus 4:22, Hosea 1:10), the kings of Israel (1 Chronicles 28:6), and the Messiah (Psalms 2:7), of whom the latter were types, were successively called sons of God, or God’s firstborn. Again, St. Paul (in Acts 13:33) and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5) quote Psalms 2:7 as a Messianic prophecy which had been fulfilled in the mission of Jesus: ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee’ (σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε).

In view of this Messianic, spiritual application of the idea referred to, the words of Psalms 2:7 have been supposed to allude to some typical king like David or Solomon, and the expression, ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,’ to denote an act performed by God on the person addressed, as by constituting him king, He had moulded his life afresh and set him in a special relation to Himself. Applied to Christ, this might be taken as referring to such an event as the Resurrection, with reference to which St. Paul says in Romans 1:4 that by it God ‘declared him to be the Son of God with power.’ This might be accepted as a fairly adequate account of the Messianic ideas held by the early disciples, and of the interpretation which they were likely to put upon the passage in the Second Psalm, when they studied it, as St. Paul did, by the light of the Resurrection of Jesus. They must have been largely influenced by traditional opinions on the subject of the Messiah, and would therefore interpret the words, ‘This day have I begotten thee,’ as referring not to any event in a past eternity or to any period prior to the Incarnation of the Son of God, but to some definite point in the history of His manifestation to the world, as, for example, to the period of the birth of Jesus, or of the Baptism, when the voice from heaven declared Him to be God’s Beloved Son, or, as St. Paul appears to teach in his discourse in Acts (Acts 13:33) and in his Epistle to the Romans, to the period of the Resurrection.

Such an interpretation, however, of the passage referred to as we find in the teachings of St. Paul and of the Epistle to the Hebrews, does not adequately explain the language of the Fourth Gospel or the author’s allusions to the pre-existence of Christ as Logos, and to His relation to the Father as the Only-begotten Son. The Evangelist speaks in such a way of the nature and mission of the Logos or the Son of God as plainly to assume the eternal pre-existence of that Logos or Son. When John, speaking for himself, says in the Prologue (John 1:14), ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among as, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father,’ the subject of the sentence is He of whom he has just spoken as having been in the beginning with God, and as having been God’s agent in the work of Creation. Again, in John 1:18 ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,’ the expression ‘which is in the bosom of the Father’ is apparently meant for a further explanation or definition of the expression ‘only-begotten Son,’ the present participle ὁ ὤν signifying, as Alford puts it, ‘essential truth without any particular regard to time,’ while the peculiar construction εἰς τὸν κόλπον, literally ‘into’ not ‘in’ ‘the bosom’ (as might have been expected—ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ), is, as that commentator again points out, ‘a pregnant construction, involving the begetting of the Son and His being the λόγος of the Father,—His proceeding forth from God.’ ‘It is a similar expression on the side of His Unity with the Father to εἰμὶ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ on the side of His manifestation to men.’ The meaning of the passage is that Christ, who is by nature the Son of God, begotten before all worlds, is He who alone could and did declare the nature and the will of that God whom no man hath seen or could have known apart from such a revelation. Here it is evident that the begetting referred to by the use of the word ‘only-begotten’ (μονογενής) is different from that which is spoken of in the Second Psalm.

Again, in His discourse to Nicodemus, Jesus Himself alludes clearly to His pre-existence and essential Sonship when He says that God ‘gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’; and in the next sentence it is added, ‘For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world’ (John 3:16-17). There the words ‘gave’ and ‘sent’ imply pre-existence on the part of the Son. Similar references occur elsewhere in the discourses of Jesus as recorded in the Fourth Gospel, for example, that of John 6:46 ‘Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God (lit. ‘from God,’ παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ), he hath seen the Father,’ with which cf. John 6:38 ‘I came down from heaven,’ and John 6:62 ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?’ passages which, as H. Holtzmann points out, ‘connect the historic with the preter-historic being of the pre-existent Logos—the Son of God, that is, in the theological, not the Messianic sense.’

A comparison of these passages in the Fourth Gospel with Psalms 2:7 shows that the thought of ‘begetting,’ as it affects the relations between the Father and the Son, has more than one meaning. Dorner notes even in the Synoptic Gospels three senses in which it is applied—the physical, the ethical, and the official. If we extend our view so as to include the Fourth Gospel, a similar division suggests itself: the theological, or, as it is sometimes called, the metaphysical; the official or Messianic; and the ethical or spiritual. Jesus as Logos is Son of God by nature. Essential Sonship, eternal generation, is predicated of Him. Then, in a special official sense, His setting apart to the Messianic office is, according to a familiar Scripture figure (cf. Psalms 2:7), regarded as ‘a begetting,’ that is, the inauguration of a new vocation or a new order of things. This notion of begetting is practically the idea conveyed by the word ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ itself, and by what Jesus Himself says, according to John 10:36, ‘Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?’ Lastly, the thought of begetting is applied in the sense of a Divine communication of life, as when the Spirit of God descended and abode upon Christ. Thus when the Baptist saw the sign, the dove from heaven alighting upon Jesus, he tells us, ‘And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:34). This third aspect is important as illustrating the point of connexion between the Sonship of Christ and that of believers, the Divine Sonship based on a generation, that is, a Divine communication of life. Each of these aspects has its own significance.

1. The theological is associated with the apologetic aim of the Fourth Gospel. It was an important part of the object of the Evangelist to enable the Church to rid herself of the influence of the mischievous speculations of the time, of a humanitarian Ebionism on the one side, and of Gnosticism on the other. That Jesus is God from the beginning,—eternally God,—was his answer to those who would detract from the Divine dignity of Jesus. Again, by his doctrine of Sonship, the application of the thought of generation to the relation of God the Father to Christ the Son, St. John gave a new meaning to the expression ‘Logos,’ which represented a well-known philosophical conception long current in the East and among the later Platonists and Stoics, while the speculations of Philo and the Alexandrian School had brought it into still greater prominence. According to the Fourth Gospel, Christ as Logos is the Revealer of the Father, not as Philo and others imagined, as being an ‘emanation,’ an outflow from the Inaccessible Deity, a shadowy existence to be described only by analogies and metaphors, or by mere negations, but as being the Son of God, who shared the Divine nature and glory, One who came at the Father’s bidding to do the Father’s will. What that mysterious ‘begetting’ meant, in virtue of which the Son of God was Son of God, John did not attempt to explain. To him it was a Divine mystery which none could penetrate. It was enough for him that God so loved the world as to send forth His Son, sharer of His Divine nature, for that world’s salvation. Thus, according to the testimony of St. John, Jesus ‘is μονογενής, the Only-begotten, as Logos; He appears as μονογενής through the Incarnation’ (Beyschlag).

2. Again, in all four Gospels the idea of begetting is applied in an official or Messianic sense in connexion with Christ’s actual appearing among men and with His redemptive mission. The three Synoptists record the Divine proclamation with which, at the Baptism, the first stage of Christ’s ministry was solemnly inaugurated: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17 ||). The same Evangelists testify to the events of the Transfiguration, when again the voice from heaven addressed the disciples in similar language, as if to inaugurate the final stage of Christ’s ministry (Matthew 17:5 ||). In the latter case the addition of the words ‘hear ye him’ to the original form of the Divine testimony would naturally suggest to persons familiar, as the disciples probably were, with the current Messianic interpretation of Psalms 2:7, the thought of the Divine decree there spoken of, which constituted the subject of the prophecy King of God’s people, having a Divine right to their loyalty and obedience. In the Fourth Gospel this official aspect of the idea of begetting in connexion with Christ is expressed in those passages in which Jesus speaks of Himself as One sent of God, and by that mission brought into a new relation to God and to mankind. That ‘sanctification’ and that ‘sending’ of which He speaks (John 10:36) correspond to the begetting referred to by the Psalmist, though in this case they point to the Incarnation, and not, as in Romans 1:4, to the Resurrection. In illustration of this we may compare with the passages already quoted in another connexion (John 3:17; John 6:38; John 6:46; John 6:62) such utterances as these: ‘I proceeded and came forth from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me’ (John 8:42); ‘Ye have believed that I came out from God … I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world’ (John 16:27-28). ‘Sending forth’ and ‘coming forth’ appear, according to the Fourth Gospel, to have been favourite expressions in the mouth of Jesus with which to describe His Messianic commission, and that act of Divine grace which was, as it were, the genesis of the New Dispensation—the reign of ‘grace and truth’ inaugurated by Christ as Messiah; as St. John himself laid special stress upon the Incarnation of the Logos as an event which meant the manifestation of that ‘life’ (John 1:4) which ‘was the light of men.’ The thought is the same. The idea—coming from heaven, being sent of God—is practically identical with that of ‘became flesh.’ In this Messianic sense, then, the thought of ‘begetting’ may fitly apply to the beginning of Christ’s manifestation in history.

3. The third aspect is the spiritual or ethical. In Christ, as the Only-begotten, the proofs of the Divine Sonship are found in His absolute sinlessness (John 8:46), in that He did alway those things which pleased God (John 8:29); that there was perfect harmony between Christ and the Father in all things, in willing and in working, and in the fact that Jesus was habitually conscious of the Father’s presence, so that during the season of His sorest trial, when He was deserted by His disciples, He was ‘not alone, for the Father was with him’ (John 16:32). This aspect of the doctrine of the Divine Sonship of Jesus is of great interest and importance in connexion with the idea of ‘begetting,’ being the point at which the doctrine of the sonship of believers is linked on to that of the Sonship of Christ Himself. It is in this connexion that St. John introduces at once the conception of Christ as the Word made flesh, and that of the regeneration of believers. The two thoughts are indeed, in the Prologue and elsewhere, so closely related that the one almost imperceptibly shades off into the other. Thus (John 1:12) we read, ‘As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’; (John 1:13) ‘which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ At this point the Evangelist proceeds at once to state the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos. As has been remarked, ‘the subject of the μονογενής is introduced only after we have learned what is involved in the thought of believers becoming children of God.’ The same idea of the relation between the Divine descent of Christ, the Only-begotten of the Father, and the sonship of believers, is noted and emphasized in the First Epistle of John (in which the teaching of John’s Gospel on this subject is worked out in greater detail), as when we read, ‘If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him’ (1 John 2:29); and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God’ (1 John 3:9). The relation of the Son to the Father, His Divine setting apart for the accomplishment of the Father’s will, the absolute oneness of Father and Son in respect of will and of work, and the mystery of Christ’s miraculous entrance into the world, being conceived by the power of the Divine Spirit, are, throughout the Gospel of John, treated as analogues of the regeneration which must be wrought out in the heart and life of all who would enter the Kingdom of God. Thus those expressions which, in the case of Christ as the Incarnate Word, or in the case of believers who share the life and the grace of Christ, speak of a Divine begetting, of a birth from above, of regeneration by the Spirit, ‘denote a new commencement of the personal life, traceable back to a (creative) operation of God.’

Literature.—Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lexicon, s.vv.; H. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der Neutest. Theologie, i. p. 436; commentaries of Alford, Meyer, etc.; Beyschlag, NT Theol. i. pp. 68 ff., 242, ii. p. 46; Dorner, Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, Div. i. vol. i. p. 53 ff.; Reuss, Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age, i. p. 162, ii. p. 416 ff.; Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms, ad loc.

H. H. Currie.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Begetting'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/b/begetting.html. 1906-1918.

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