Re: Monogenes

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Mar 13 1997 - 22:17:28 EST

I decided to send the main part on to the list, but to append a theological
discussion that is inappropriate to the list--in fact, I probably already
had too much theology in the main body of my response.

>Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 20:49:26 -0600
>To: b-greek
>From: "Carl W. Conrad" <>
>Subject: Re: Monogenes
>Bcc: "ÄB-Greek"
>At 1:38 PM -0600 3/13/97, lakr wrote:
>>> At 12:21 PM -0600 3/12/97, lakr wrote:
>>> >> Carl W. Conrad (
>>> >> Mon, 10 Mar 1997 08:33:41 -0600
>>> >> In reply to: Martin A. Childs: "John 3:18 and English article "of""
>>> >>
>>> >Or, perhaps given the definition in Thayers of alethinos as
>>> >
>>> > ["alethinos ... that which has not only the name and semblance,
>>> > but the real nature corresponding to the name ... in every
>>> > respect corresponding to the idea signified by the name, real
>>> > and genuine .. a. opp (oposed) to what is fictitious, counterfeit,
>>> > imaginary, ... Jn xvii. 3 ... it contrasts realities with
>>> > their semblances ... Heb viii. 2; the sanctuary, Heb ix. 24."
>>> > Thayer's lexicon, page 27.],
>>> >
>>> > "the only (one) who is by nature God". ?
>>> You are reading MONON as a second adjective; but (I think) the Johannine
>>> phrase for the notion you've just expressed is, in fact: hO MONOGENHS QEOS,
>>> the conjunction that appears (albeit without the article) in John 1:18.
>>> Carl W. Conrad
>>Carl, thanks.
>>I thought that I was making the MONON substantive, but if I understand
>>you correctly, the hO in this translation takes the meaning of 'hON'
>>and the MONON is an adjective.
>No, apparently I misled you. That MONON in TON MONON ALHQINON QEON is an
>adverb qualifying ALHQINON, not an adjective (I guess it's in the lexicon
>as an adverb;it's a neuter acc. of the adjective used in an adverbial
>sense): so it is "the one (who) alone (is) truly God."
>I don't understand what you're doing with hON; that would be an accusative
>relative pronoun--why would you bring that in? I think you're wanting to
>say that TON MONON ALHQINON QEON is semantically (or "dynamically")
>equivalent to something like hOSTIS MONON ALHQINOS ESTIN QEOS = "who alone
>is authentic God."
>>Even though I did not really understand what I was doing with this
>>are you saying that "the only (one) who is by nature God" is at
>>least a _possible_ translation of John 17:3 ?
>Well, yes, IMPLICITLY; I think there's something a bit fishy about that
>term "by nature"--if we hold that nature is created by God; to speak of
>one who "by nature" is divine is to speak in a Greek manner, where the
>gods are WITHIN the cosmos and evolve within it. My own feeling is that
>this Greek sort of theologizing about the metaphysical "nature" of God and
>Christ is barely getting under way in the process of the composition of
>the NT, and Judaism, except where, as in Philo, it embraced Greek thinking
>with open arms, was much more hesitant about getting into precise
>cosmological speculation about the "nature" of God; it would use metaphors
>and analogies freely but the question is whether even those metaphors
>about God's Wisdom openly conceived of Wisdom as something hypostatized.
>Apologies for the theological speculation, but it was all in reaction to
>the question how a NT text might legitimately be translated. But ALHQINOS
>could mean GENNAIOS, "true to one's generation," "not alien to one's
>inherent selfhood." But frankly, this sounds much more like the Nicene
>Creed, which may indeed be traditional and orthodox Christian theology,
>but which goes far beyond the sort of theological language overtly
>expressed in John's gospel.
>>Regarding the comparison of hO MONOGENHS QEOS in John 1:18, the use
>>of monogenes in John 1:14 would appear to have the same reference
>>as the use in John 1:14 where PARA PATROS is decisive for
>>I did a bit of research from some etymological examples in the article
>>in New Test. Stud. on monogenes, where it discusses the root -genes
>>which means "category" or "kind". The article also gives some
>>examples where this root also may carry the idea of derivation,
>>as in ghgenes(born of Gaia or earth-born), diogenes (Zeus-descended,
>>sprung from Zeus) eugenes(well born) and suggenes(born with).
>>Of course this is academic, as etymology does mean much with
>>regard to word studies, however even in this case it provides no
>>objection to the meaning 'only begotten'.
>I think that you will continue to hold to "only-begotten" as the real
>sense of MONOGENHS, while I for my part will remain convinced, until
>satisfied otherwise, that MONOGENHS means "unique in kind" or simply
>"unique." I would not dispute those etymologies, but as you say, it's not
>the etymologies that are determinative of the meaning but what can be
>demonstrated regarding the usage o the word within its traditional

Quite frankly, I've never been able to understand the intent of the term
"only-begotten" in theology other than as a metaphor. Nor have I ever
really been able to fathom traditional trinitarian doctrine except as a
metaphor. What does it mean to be an "only-begotten Son of God"? Unless one
understands it in the mythic sense that Jesus is QEOGENHS in the same sense
that Heracles is DIOGENHS, i.e., begotten by a divine father upon a human
mother. But I don't think Christian believers want to take that analogy
with Heracles seriously and I don't either. The only way the notion makes
sense to me is to say that while the historical Jesus is UNIQUE among all
the children of God, yet he shares with all the other children of God the
same humanity. That's a paradox, and so long as we leave it a paradox, fine
and good. But why is it necessary to anthropomorphize our conception of God
and attribute biological generation to him and claim that he has "begotten"
Christ. I've raised this question on other lists only to be sneered at as
theologically naive: oh, the church fathers never did understand the
"begetting" of Christ in biological terms--but somehow the Nicene creed
which claims that Chris was "begotten, not made" (I don't have the text
with me, but it's somehing like GENNHQENTA, OU POIHQENTA. To me all this is
an attempt to rationalize what is a paradox not to be rationalized.

If I put the matter thus frankly to the list, there'd be a terrible to do,
but I trust that OFF-LIST it's possible to discuss the matter without
upsetting anybody else. Of course, if you find this upsetting, drop it at
once, but I really would like to have it explained to me what essential
doctrinal content is conveyed by MONOGENHS as an adjective applied to Jesus
Christ if the adjective MONOGENHS is understood to mean "only begotten"?
What would "only begotten" really mean? I'm deadly serious, if terribly
naive. I just don't understand what it means.

Can you bear with me long enough to explain why it's important to you to
maintain that MONOGENHS means "only begotten"? -- and what "begotten" in
this conext really means? As I say, if it bothers you, just drop it. I'm
not trying to pick a fight or begin an argument; I just want to try to
understand what that assertion means to someone who holds it.

Regards, cwc

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