Monogenes reconsidered (was English "article")

From: lakr (
Date: Wed Mar 12 1997 - 14:14:45 EST

> Re: John 3:18 and English "article"
> Martin A. Childs (
> Mon, 10 Mar 1997 14:35:29 -0600
> I suppose my whole inquiry really centers around the translation of the
> word "MONOGENOUS" as "only begotten" in John 1:14 (and elsewhere) when
> contrasted with the ocurrance of "EGENNEQESAN," [transliterated correctly?]
> "born" in John 1:13. I was looking to other passages as a round about way
> of getting at this problem.
> The author seems to be trying to communicate something here by the
> juxtaposition that I'm not quite getting. My pitiful resources fail to
> distinguish these words sufficiently other than the obvious differences of
> parts of speech and the "MONO" aspect of the former.
> In other words, wouldn't an "only begotten" one be similarly "born" thereby
> precluding "only begotten" after identifying other similar "birthings"?
> Conversely, if these terms are semantically unrelated (which they do not
> appear to me to be) how should one distinguish them? Certainly some
> differentiation is required if only to support the sequence of the two
> verses.
> I realize that I am on the cusp of a full-scale theological inquiry in
> asking this, but I am really only seeking the same helpful Greek insight I
> have been graced with thus far. I am attempting to phrase my question so
> as to satisfy a lexical interest rather than to solicit a doctrinal
> preference.
> Martin

Martin, you might want to consider an article in New Test. Stud. vol. 29,
pp. 222-232, "The Johannine use of monogenes reconsidered". In it he
directly addresses the question you raise :

'' Each time monogenes is used in John and 1 John it is in a context in which
it is preceded by a prominent occurence or occurrences of gennaw in reference
to the 'spiritual birth' of men. (See John 1:13-18; 3:3-18; 1 John 4:7-9)''

The reason this is significant is that most modern scholars are convinced
that monogenes in these verses do not mean 'only-begotten' but 'only',
and 'one and only'.

He gives both sides of the issue in a manner that helped me understand
both viewpoints.

Some of the points he makes in favor of 'only-begotten' are:
( time does not permit a reference to everything in the article )

1. '' The meaning of monogenes when not used of persons ...
        Ps. 21 (22). 20 (21) LXX" ... may not be decisive when
        persons are being described ''

2. As to the usage in Heb 11:17 where Abraham offers up his
        'monogenes' Isaac, when he had another son Ishmael he
        quotes a number of sources including this one in Gen 21,
        ' In Izhak shall sons be called unto thee; and this son
        of the handmaid shall not be genealogized after thee. '
        and 'Uzhak said, It is right that I should inherit what
        is the father's, because I am the son of Sarah his wife,
        and thou art the son of Hagar the handmaid of my mother.'
        (Df. Gen. 21. 10.)

3. Regarding the claim that monogenes was not understood to
        include the idea of generation until the Arian debates :
        '' 1. When monogenes is used of persons, the context usually
        makes it clear that the descent ofthe person described by it
        are in view. Phrases like 'monogenes son' (Luke 7:12), and
        'I am the monogenes of my father (Tob. 6:14 Sin), are common.
        ... Apart from the few references discussed above, every
        occurence of our term with respect to persons is in a context
        in which the idea of descent is either implied or appropriate.
        Such phrases as 'monogenes brother' are notably non-existent. ''

He concludes (John V. Dahms) '' We have examined all of the evidence
which has come to our atention concerning the meaning of monogenes in
the Johanine writings and have found that the modern scholarship has
very little to support it. On the other hand, the external evidence,
especially from Philo, Justin, and Tertullian, and the internal evidence
from the context of its occurences, makes clear that 'only begotten' is
the most accurate translation after all ''

Larry Kruper

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