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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Only Begotten

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1. Meaning.—There is no doubt that the term ‘only begotten’ indicates a nuance of the Greek μονογενής which is very seldom emphasized. As H. Schmidt proves, the word γίγνεσθαι has in general usage entirely lost the early sexual sense of the root γεν. It means simply ‘to arise,’ ‘to become.’ It signifies ‘that that which previously was not there and had no existence comes into being’; μονογενής is ‘what alone acquires or has existence,’ it is merely a fuller form for μόνος (as πρωτογενής = πρῶτος, ὁμογενής = ὅμοιος, ἀειγενής = αἰώνιος). When we have to do with living beings—men or animals—the meaning ‘born,’ ‘begotten’ is, of course, congruous, but there is no emphasis whatever attached to this side. When Christ is designated μονογενὴς υἱός, the emphasis is laid not on the fact that He as Son was ‘born’ or ‘begotten’ (in contrast to being ‘created’ or ‘made’), but that He is the ‘only’ Son, that as Son of God He has no equal. The Latin translators were quite right when originally they rendered the expression υἱὸς μονογενής simply by filius unicus, not by filius unigenitus. It was the dogmatic disputes as to the inner essential relations between Christ and God, especially those raised by Arius, which first gave occasion for emphasizing the point that Christ as the Son of God was a ‘begotten’ Son, i.e. that He did not form part of the creation. After that it became a general custom to render μονογενής by unigenitus, ‘only begotten.’ In the original form of the so-called ‘Apostolic Symbol’—the ‘Old Roman Symbol’—we read: καὶ εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν; and in the Latin text, which in all probability belongs to the same date (i.e. in any case some time in the 2nd cent.): ‘et in Christum Jesum filium eius unicum dominum nostrum.’ In the Latin, there is nothing to distinguish whether ‘unicum’ is to be connected with ‘filium eius’ or ‘dominum nostrum.’ The present writer, in an exhaustive inquiry into the historical meaning of the original form of the Apostolic Symbol (see Literature cited at end), has defended the hypothesis that the latter combination is the correct one. Then, of course, the τόν before μονογενῆ in the traditional Greek form must be an interpolation. Such an interpolation could easily arise in later times, because the title υἱὸς μονογενής was well known from the Johannine writings as an honorific designation of Jesus, whereas in the NT the title κύριος μονογενής does not occur (only εἷς κύριος occurs, 1 Corinthians 8:6). As far as the language is concerned, there is absolutely no reason why Christ should not be designated μονογενὴς κύριος; and the thought, which then finds a place in the Symbol, is a particularly pregnant one. The combination of μονογενής with κύριος, not with υἱός, is favoured by two considerations: first, that in the Symbol there is nothing that recalls Johannine ideas (much, on the other hand, suggesting Pauline thought); and, secondly, that there are a number of Latin texts where, undoubtedly, ‘unicum’ is connected with ‘dominum nostrum.’

2. NT usage.—In the NT the expression υἱὸς μονογενής is used only of Christ by John (John 3:16; John 3:18, 1 John 4:9). The passage John 1:14 is a contested reading, and in any case comes only indirectly into comparison. Elsewhere in the New Test, the expression occurs in Luke 7:12 (the young man of Nain), Luke 8:42 (the daughter of Jairus), Luke 9:38 (the demoniac boy), Hebrews 11:17 (Isaac). In the LXX Septuagint μονογενής is frequently the translation of יָחִיד, especially wherever the idea of uniqueness or aloneness seems to be emphasized: Judges 11:34, Psalms 22:20; Psalms 25:16; Psalms 35:17; (cf. also Tobit 3:15; Tobit 6:10; Tobit 6:14; Tobit 8:17). The expression μονογενής acquires a qualitative secondary meaning from the fact that what is ‘unique’ is naturally of special value. An ‘only son’ is a specially beloved son. This secondary meaning belongs in all likelihood to the expression υἱὸς μονογενής in Jn. also. Cremer compares with it the term used by St. Paul in Romans 8:32υἱὸς ἴδιος. In the LXX Septuagint , where this secondary meaning is emphasized, the rendering ἀγαπητός is chosen for יָחִיד: Genesis 22:2; Genesis 22:12; Genesis 22:16, Jeremiah 6:26, Amos 8:10, Zechariah 12:10. In the Synoptics (in the narratives of the Baptism and the Transfiguration), where Christ is called υἱὸς ἀγαπητός, μονογενής could hardly be substituted. The expression here corresponds to the בָּחִיר of Isaiah 42:1 [LXX Septuagint ἐκλεκτός] (for ἀγαπητός in Luke 9:35 Cod. אB and other Manuscripts give ἐκλελεγμένος). In all the passages in Jn., with the exception of John 1:14, it seems we might substitute the expression ἀγαπητός for μονογενής.

John 1:14.—This passage is of interest because the question arises whether instead of υἱὸς μονογενής we ought not to read θεὸς μονογενής. Hort strongly supports this view with a brilliant display of learning, and has proved that the latter reading was very widespread in the Ancient Church. It is to be found in a number of good Manuscripts of the Gospel: א BCL 33 and in the Pesh. and Coptic versions. He also argues, in support of it, that ‘the whole Prologue leads up to it, and, to say the least, suffers in unity if it is taken away.’ Supposing that we have to accept this reading, it appears to the present writer probable that St. John, in applying this predicate to Christ, was influenced by regard to a non-Christian religious employment of the notions of μονογενής and θεὸς μονογενής, and that the expression υἱὸς μονογενής has thus in his writings a special secondary meaning in addition. For the term Μονογενής occurs in the Valentinian (Ptolemaic) system as the name of one of the aeons (Irenaeus, i. 1 ff., ed. Harvey). Wobbermin, however, has shown that the term was of special significance in the Orphic mysteries, seeing that it occurs there as the personal name of a powerful incomparable divinity. Just as St. John took over from the Hellenistic philosophy the title ‘Logos’ for Christ, in order to remove from the minds of Christians the fear that there was beyond Christ a higher mediator between God and man, so he might have taken over from the highly important Orphic cult the title ‘Monogenes,’ in order to show Christians that they knew Him who is in reality the θεὸς μονογενής. We should then have to suppose that St. John has invested the expression with a meaning which was foreign to general and popular usage, but which probably corresponded with the use of the word in Orphic circles. That is to say, it is possible to interpret the term μονογενής as designating Christ as ἐκ μόνου γενόμενος (cf. αὐτογενής—a name of an aeon in the Barbelognosis [Iren. i. xxix. 1], γηγενής—a description of mankind in Clem. Rom. [Note: Roman.] [First Ep. to Cor. xxxix. 2] etc.). Christ would then be the ‘God’ who proceeded from the ‘only,’ i.e. from the ‘true God,’ the Son who sprang from the ‘unique One.’ In that case the idea of ἀγαπητός, noted above as the secondary meaning which per se everywhere best suits the context, would recede into the background, But the present writer does not regard it as likely that St. John knew anything of Orphism. In the whole Gospel there is nothing else to suggest this. It might, indeed, be said that the conception of the Logos in the Prologue is the only trace of Hellenism in the Fourth Gospel. But in the first place this is not quite correct, and again in itself it is much more likely that John [the author of the Gospel is unmistakably a Jew] knew the philosophy of Philo than that he was acquainted with the Orphic system. Thus the present writer believes that it was persons like Clement of Alexandria who were first reminded of the Orphic titles of the aeons by the predicate μονογενής applied to Christ as Son of God. He further holds that the Church so far thought she was acting wisely in making out of the υἱὸς μονογενής of John 1:14 a θεὸς μονογενής, in order to be able with more assurance to meet both Orphism and Gnosticism.

Literature.—F. J. A. Hort, Two Dissertations, i. ‘On μονογενὴς θεός’; B. F. Westcott, The use of the term μονογενής in the Epistles of St. John, p. 169 ff.; H. Cremer, Wörterbuch der neutest. Graecität; J. H. Heinrich Schmidt, Synonymik der griech. Sprache, ii. p. 530 ff.; F. Kattenbusch, Das apostolische Symbol, ii. p. 581 ff.; G. Wobbermin, Religionsgesch. Studien zur Frage der Beeinflussung des Urchristentums durch das antike Mysterienwesen, p. 114 ff.; Beyschlag, NT Theology (English translation ), ii. 414 ff.

Ferdinand Kattenbusch.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Only Begotten'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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