by Mike Ratliff
16 οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. John 3:16 (NA28)
16 For thus God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that everyone believing in Him may not perish, but have life eternal. John 3:16 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
There are many great truths in John 3:16 such as God’s love (ἀγαπάω (agapaō)) for His own, and the eternal life that comes by faith (πιστεύω (pisteuō)) in Christ, it is strikingly unique because the apostle John is the only Scripture writer who uses the term μονογενής (monogenēs) to describe the relationship of Jesus to the Father. Several modern translations (ESV, NRSV, NLT, CEV, and GWT) replace “only begotten” with “only” or “one and only” (NCV and NIV). Such readings however, clearly do not mean the same thing as “only begotten,” so, which is correct, or does it really matter?
Monogenēs is a compound comprised of μόνος (monos), “only, alone, without others,” and γένος (genos), “offspring, stock.” The clear idea then is “only offspring,” “only physical stock,” or “only born-one.” In ancient Greek, this word was used to refer to a unique being.
So, to say “only son.” or worse, “one and only son,” is simply not so and is, quite frankly, serious error. Jesus is not the only Son of God, else Paul was wrong when he wrote that Christ is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Who are those brethren? We are! We, too, are sons of God by the sovereign act of God in adoption. Jesus, however, is “the uniquely begotten one.”
John actually makes this point earlier in his gospel when he writes that Christ is “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and is “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father (John1:18). He writes again in his first epistle “that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (John 4:9). Sadly, the above mentioned translations repeat their error in all three verses.
John here understands the concept of sonship in terms of begetting. For Jesus to be the Son of God is not just to be the recipient of God’s love. It is be begotten of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!