>Denny Diehl here
>with a question on MONOGENHS. In John 3:16 Jesus is
>described as "TON hUION TON MONOGENH". We have
>association with some who contend that should be
>translated: ONLY BEGOTTEN SON; and that it is wrong
>to translate it: ONE AND ONLY SON (NIV).
>?1) What is the derivation of MONOGENHS? And does
>that derivation help in understanding and translating this
(a) It is also found in Jn 1:18, MONOGENHS QEOS (of Christ) with a
variant reading hO MONOGENHS QEOS and in Jn 1:14 in the genitive hWS
MONOGENOUS PARA PATROS.
(b) Unless one endeavors to assign to the word in the text of John's
gospel a sense DIFFERENT from that which the word has elsewhere in
extant Greek literature, then "one and only" or "unique" would appear
to be the only appropriate sense of the word MONOGENHS in the passage.
LSJ (the latest edition, 1996) derives it from GENOS and says:
"generally <italic>the only member of a kin </italic>or<italic>
kind</italic>; hence, generally <italic>only, single, </italic>PAIS (in
Hesiod, Herodotus; cf. John 1:14, etc.); (2) <italic>unique</italic>
(Parmenides of TO ON, Plato of hEIS hODE MONOGENHS OURANOS GEGNONWS,
etc." There are a couple other senses cited that have no bearing on our
text. The sense "only-begotten" would appear to be derived from the
verb GENNAW or the older verb GIGNW; to be sure, these verbs derive
from the same root ultimately, GEN/GON/GN, but as I said at the outset,
to understand the word that way seems to fly in the face of other
evidence for the adjective's usage, and the sense "only," "unique" is
certainly applicable and intelligible here.
>?2) What are the theological implications in translating
>it ONE AND ONLY SON as opposed to ONLY BEGOTTEN SON?
I think one would have to go to a hair-splitting Patristic scholar for
an answer to this question, and I rather suspect that two or more of
them would split the hair in different ways. The Nicene Creed makes a
distinction between Christ as GENNHQENTA and as POIHQENTA (for
precision's sake, let me cite the whole thing from the liturgy of St.
John Chrysostom: "EIS hENA KURION IHSOUN CRISTON, TON hUION TOU QEOU,
TON MONOGENH, TON EK TOU PATROS GENNHQENTA PRO PANTWN TWN AIWNWN. FWS
EK FWTOS, QEON ALHQINON, EK QEOU ALHQINOU, GENNHQENTA OU
POIHQENTA,hOMOIOUSION TWi PATRI, DI' hOU TA PANTA EGENETO"). This is
certainly the point at which the interpretation of MONOGENHS as "only
begotten" enters definitively into theological tradition--but however
one weighs the authority of the creeds over against the authority of
the NT text, it would seem that there's a great distance between the
sense of MONOGENHS in the text of John's gospel and the interpretation
of MONOGENHS in the Nicene Creed.
I will add, against my better judgment, that the evangelist, who
certainly held a high Christology and unquestionably equated Jesus
Christ with God (whether or not he held a trinitarian doctrine as
such), probably intended by the use of this adjective to underscore the
distinction between the humanity of Jesus as God's son and the humanity
of all other human beings who are children of God in some secondary and
derivative sense (cf. John 1:12-13). And for what it's worth, I'll add
that trinitarian doctrine is complicated enough without making it
depend upon a questionable understanding of the Greek adjective
MONOGENHS as meaning "only-begotten."
>?3) In my Hatch and Redpath under MONOGENHS,
>Baruch 4:16 is listed as an occurrence of MONOGENHS,
>yet in my Septuagint that verse only has MONHN. Does
>anyone have MONOGENHS in that verse? (My copy of
>the Septuagint is Hendrickson, 1995 which came from
>Bagster & Sons, 1851).
Rahlfs has MONHN in Baruch 4:16; however, it indicates MONOGENHN (a
strange feminine accusative where the ordinary ending ought to be the
2-termination form MONOGENH) as a reading in mss. A and V. Even if a
form of MONOGENHS should be read in this text, however, it's sense
would have to be identical with that of MONHN--an only daughter.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
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