Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

19. DID GOD THE FATHER BEGET JESUS CHRIST?

In some Bible translations, the words “only begotten” appear in reference to Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).  This seems to imply that Jesus Christ is a created being and, therefore, although He may be of high stature, He would not qualify as a coequal member of the Trinity.  This seeming conflict can be traced to a defective translation of the Greek word monogenes and should have, by now, been removed from the “puzzling issue” list associated with Christian Theology.  Nevertheless, after centuries of contemplation, the idea that Jesus Christ is a created being has persisted from Arius to Charles Taze Russell and beyond. 

Church fathers of the fourth century, in the heat of the Arian controversy, took the word monogenes to be a union of mono, which means only, and the verb gennao, which means to generate or beget. Thus, the English words only begotten are derived from fourth century usage.  As explained by Buswell, “When the orthodox church fathers were challenged by the Arians, who said that Christ was a created being and who pointed to the word monogenes for their evidence, the orthodox fathers did not have the facilities to prove that the word has nothing to do with begetting, but they knew that in the light of other Scriptures, Christ was not created: ‘There never was a time when He was not.’  They therefore accepted the word begotten but added the words not created.”

However, careful lexicographical studies prove beyond question that the word monogenes is not derived from the root gennao (to generate or beget) but is derived from genos which means type or kind.  The word monogenes, therefore, means one and only or unique!  For example, the French Bible correctly reads son fils unique for the English his only begotten Son.

While the mystery of begetting has been resolved, it gives rise to a second question.  If Jesus Christ is, in fact, a distinct, transcendent, immanent, infinite, eternal and immutable person who is coequal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, why is He called God the Son?  Such a name would seem to relegate Jesus to a subservient position.  However, the Son is not presented by Scripture as generated, as a subordinate, or as an inferior in any sense.  When Jesus called Himself the Son of God and claimed that God was His own Father, this was, in the language in which it was understood, “making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).  The words Father and Son convey a type of personal relationship in the eternal Trinity without, in any sense, involving the thought of generation or any essential subordination.