THE MEANING OF MONOGENES IN JOHN

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by a SATS prof, Jan 3, 2016.

  1. a SATS prof

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    John applies the adjective monogenes five times to Christ: 1:14, 1:18, 3:16, 3:18, and 1 Jo 4:9. While two other NT writers employ the term also, none besides John uses it for our LORD.But the word's meaning is much in dispute. Is its focus birthing or uniqueness?

    Translations differ, eg, in 1 :18: KJV=only begotten, NIV = only. One translation references a begetting. The other only references a uniqueness. (NOTE There is a textual issue in 1:18 as to whether in the original the adjective is describing God or Son- IMO, while in the other four texts "Son" is original, , in 1:18, John wrote "monogenes God." The etymology of the compound word (prefix-monos- suffix--genes) is also debated. Monos likely here means "one" but is genes from the verb "I birth" or the adjective "kind"? Even the most complete NT Greek dictionaries disagree on the meaning of monogenes: The 10 vol TDNT IV:74 thinks "a begotteness '. The 4 vol NIDNTT II:722-725 rather understands a uniqueness (only one of a kind).

    If one in the first century says "He is my monogenes son" Should we understand that the purpose is to inform that the son was born? Isn't it obvious that this son was born? Might we not better understand that the son is the unique (only one of his kind) son?

    BUT does what monogenes means really matter? IMO, yes! The Word occurs in nine NT texts, and we are expected to understand the NT! Further, as Christ is the Center of our Christian Faith,, we need to understand inspired Scriptural teaching about Christ!.
     
    #1 a SATS prof, Jan 3, 2016
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  2. agedman

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    John's writing style, in comparison to the other gospel accounts, is consistently showing contrasts. As a result, (imo), John must be taken in both 1:18 and 3:16 as "one and only natural born" in contrast to all God's sons who are adopted.
     
  3. a SATS prof

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    The meaning of monogenes is especially important to the Christological debate about whether the Son's essence-AS GOD- and/or personhood is eternally derived from the Father OR NOT.Williams (Renewal Theology,107 and Dahms(NTS 29) -who both teach the eternal generation doctrine- assert that the meaning of monogenes (as birthed) proves that the Father in eternity begets the Son. But how should a word in the Bible be best understood save by examining its use in the Bible?!
    So, in your opinion do these texts likely mean a birthing or a uniqueness-AND WHY: Lk 7:12; 8:42; 9:37;and Heb 11:17.

    According to Girdlestone (Synonyms of the OT ) and Grassmick (Greek Exegesis) ,the NT writers much quoted from the Septuagint (LXX-a 3rd c BC Greek translation of the OT), BUT the LXX only translates one Hebrew word by monogenes: yahid. But yahid means only, only one, alone or precious (because only one) It DOES NOT mean begotten! (BDB, 402; NIDOTT &E, II:434). The Greek text of the LXX is provided us by Lancelot and a concordance of that is given by Brenton. So,it is a simple matter, if one uses Greek (mine is poor), to find the four places in the canonical OT where the LXX uses monogenes, These are:Jud 11:34; Ps 22:20 ;25:16 and 35:17 .In your opinion is the referent in these texts being begotten or being unique or precious because of being unique and why?

    IMO monogenes means that Christ is the only Son, not the derived Son. But maybe I'm wrong. I was wrong once in 1967 --or was it 68? :)

     
    #3 a SATS prof, Jan 3, 2016
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  4. a SATS prof

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    ---
    I would agree that the humanity of Christ was born. But IMO, His deity is eternal and uncaused possessing aseity.
     
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  5. JamesL

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    what I wonder is why Hebrews 11:17 isn't looked at more intently in this discussion. Considering that Isaac is probably universally accepted as a type of Christ, and he is called the monogenes of Abraham. In that case, shouldn't we investigate Genesis for a better understanding?

    Genesis 15:1-4
    God: "Great is your reward"
    Abraham: "what shall you give me, considering I have no offspring, and one born in my house shall be my heir?"
    God: "this one shall not be your heir, but one coming from your own loins shall be your heir."
    God: "your descendants shall be as numerous as the stars"

    Genesis 21:10
    Sarah: "cast out the maid and her son; for her son shall not be heir with my son Isaac"

    Genesis 22:2-16
    God: "take your son, your only son, whom you love...offer him up to Me"
    God: "I know that you fear Me, for you did not withhold your only son from Me"
    God: "because you have not withheld your only son from Me, I will surely bless you"
    God: "I will multiply your descendants so they will be as countless as the stars"

    Hebrews 11:17-18
    By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,”

    The primary components of a son were:
    namesake
    heir

    Hebrews 1:2-4
    2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world.
    3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
    4 Thus he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.
     
  6. Martin Marprelate

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  7. a SATS prof

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  8. JamesL

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    I read your article, and found this to be interesting:

    There is the obvious problem here that Isaac was not the only son of whom Abraham was the natural father. At that time he was also the father of Ishmael, and later he had various other children through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-4). So ‘only’ will obviously not really do as a translation, Gen. 22:2 notwithstanding. ‘Unique’ or ‘one-of-a-kind’ might be OK, since Isaac was unique in that he was the heir, both of God (Gen. 17:19) and of Abraham (Gen. 25:5). But for that very reason, I think that ‘only begotten’ works better since Isaac was Abraham’s legitimate son. Moreover, in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1, Keturah is described as a concubine (v.32) and only Isaac is described as being ‘begotten’ of Abraham (v.34). Nowhere in the Bible that I can see is Ishmael described as being ‘begotten.’ The term seems to be reserved, in the O.T. at least, for a legitimate heir.


    It's also interesting to note that Isaac is the only one of Abraham's offspring to be called "agapeton" or beloved in the LXX. It is also the same word used of Christ by the Father at His baptism in Matthew 3:14


    However, I was unimpressed at your concern expressed at the end. If you think the doctrine of the Trinity would be lost without the word "begotten", then it seems you don't see that doctrine all throughout the scriptures - but only as being propped up by one word
     
  9. Martin Marprelate

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    But if monogenes simply means 'only' or 'unique,' why is it only used to describe people and not things?
     
  10. Rippon

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    I can agree with you here JamesL.
     
  11. Martin Marprelate

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    I did not mean to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity stands or falls on this one word monogenes. My concern is that Christian doctrine may suffer a 'death of a thousand cuts' as modern theologians chip away at them. Hence my concern about Penal Substitution.
     
  12. a SATS prof

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  13. a SATS prof

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    Sorry for citing you thrice. I am just learning to use BB. In fact, if someone will tell me how to check my PMs (if I have some) I'd appreciate that. (1) Other terms are also applied only to persons in the NT. EG, agapetos occurs about 70 times in the NT. But only of people. A writer never says "My agapetos pet" or "My agapetos church." So that monogenes only in the NT is used of people is not evidence of it not only meaning unique or only one.(2) Outside of the Scriptures, monogenes is applied to things other than people. In the Greek classics the gods and heaven are called monogenes. And in the first century, a well known Christian writer/leader calls a bird monogenes.Birds are not born.
     
    #13 a SATS prof, Jan 4, 2016
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  14. a SATS prof

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    It has been argued that Patristic usage convincingly demonstrates that monogenes means a begetting. However, Athanasius says the Son is monogenes because He alone partakes of the Father. And Gregory of Nyssa asserts that monogenes means not having siblings. And Theodoret affirms that Christ is monogenes because He is the only Son.
     
  15. John of Japan

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    I'll take a shot at this. (By the way, it may get moved to the translation forum, where it probably belongs.)

    First of all, it doesn't have to mean one or the other. It could mean either one, depending on the context.

    Secondly, while it is usually a mistake to consider meaning based on etymology, in this case there is a strong semantic content in the word being a compound word made up of monos (only, alone) and gennao (give birth to). A first century Greek who did not know the word would immediately think of those two words, just as a modern American would immediately think of the two words making up "schoolhouse."

    An historical illustration of this idea of a strong semantic content is the Japanese word mokusatsu (黙殺), which was used by the Japanese prime minister Suzuki in response to the Potsdam Declaration in WW2. Suzuki apparently meant simply "silence," or that there would be no official answer yet, but the word was taken to mean "ignore," which is only natural since one of the two Chinese characters making up the word is "kill," which is a very strong meaning. Suzuki's poor choice of words prompted the Allies to drop the A-bomb.

    To sum up, I can see how the word could sometimes be translated "unique" or even "only child" as in, "My friend is an only child," when looking at the NT usage. However, in references to Christ I would translate it "only begotten," since there are other children of God, namely born again believers, who are children by adoption.
     
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  16. a SATS prof

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    But if the word can mean unique, is He not the unique Son whether by eternal generation or by virginal birth of the Spirit? As you say, others are but adopted; He is not.

    Thanks for joining in
     
  17. John of Japan

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    Simply because the word can mean "unique" doesn't mean it necessarily will in the contexts we are looking at.

    Having said that, I think that John 3:16 (and other usages about Jesus) is ambiguous and can carry both meanings. Jesus is both "unique" and "only begotten." A similar ambiguous usage of a word is anothen in John 3:3, where it can mean "the second time" or "from above." To be born again does mean a spiritual birth in addition to a physical birth, and it does mean to be born from above due to the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Unfortunately, the English language has no word that is similarly polysemous and ambiguous.
     
  18. a SATS prof

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  19. John of Japan

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    In modern semantics, any contemporary usage can inform the lexicographer. Therefore, the other NT usages can inform the meaning, remembering that the word is polysemous.

    Again, the LXX usage should help with the meaning. In Judges 11:34 and Tobit 3:15 the word is clearly delineated as only born child. Ps. 24:17 (25:17 in English Bibles) is more ambiguous, since David was obviously not an only child, so the meaning "unique" should be understood there in the sense that David was in a unique situation, all alone as it were.

    As for the patristic usages you mention, (1) They are from centuries later, and (2) they are usually commenting the Biblical usage, and so are not that useful in determining the first century meanings.
    By "only begotten" I take it to refer to the virgin birth.
     
  20. a SATS prof

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    I appreciate your thoughtful responses.

    IF you apply the term only to the virgin birth, why?
     

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