It seems to me that although different dictionaries and lexicons are uncertain about the humble beginnings of this phrase, the Bible used it long before the 20th century, only not with those exact words. The apostle John introduces us to Jesus with the word, “monogenes” (mono-jen-ness) which has been translated in many versions as “only begotten”. John is the only Gospel writer to describe Jesus and His relationship to God the Father this way (Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9). Through these words John presents Jesus as the unique One (mono), the only one of His kind (genes), and since John only uses this phrase 5 times we are able to see how special this title is. There is only one other time in the New Testament where this phrase is applied. The author of Hebrews uses it to describe Isaac concerning Abraham’s willingness to offer his “only” son as a sacrifice to God (Hebrews 11:17). Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in that Isaac was the child God had promised him through Sarah. Isaac and Jesus are not only described with the same adjective, they were also both offered as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-19; Jn. 3:16).
How does Jesus demonstrate that He is the “only begotten of the Father”? To answer this question it is important to understand the thought behind two key words in John 1:14 and 18. The first is
“Theos”, “God” in our translations. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the Jewish scribes who took upon this task used Theos as the equivalent to Elohim. But to distinguish this name from the polytheistic way of thinking in Greek religions, the scribes did not attach the plural ending which was present in the Hebrew. “Why?” you might ask! In this way Theos was designated as the One True God, not a god among a pantheon of gods who appeared to have more human qualities than divine. The second word is “pater” (pah-taire) and is translated as “father”. When it is used in a special sense concerning God in relation to Jesus it always signifies the particular and specific relationship between the Two. “Like Father; like Son” applies here as it does in human terms. Though the analogy has its weak spots, John in essence writes the same can be said of Jesus. Jesus, like His Father, is God.
How does Jesus demonstrate that He is “the only begotten of the Father”? Three points can be made in response to this: 1) Jesus claimed this of Himself (Jn. 5:36-37; 10:22-39; 14:8-10; 17:1-11); 2) Others saw this quality in Jesus (Mt. 16:15-17; Mk. 8:28-30; 15:33-39; Lk. 4:40-41; Jn. 11:17-27); and 3) His actions and attributes confirmed the previous two (Mt. 8:18-27; 14:22-31; 21:12-13; Lk. 8:22-25; 40-42, 49-56; 9:12-17, 28-36). However, the greatest and most compelling demonstration of Jesus Christ’s “only-begotteness” was the resurrection. While people had been raised from the dead by prophets (1 Ki. 17:17-24; 2 Ki. 4:8-37) and also by Jesus (Mk. 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk. 7:11-17; Jn. 11:1-44), no one had ever raised themselves from the dead (Jn. 2:13-22; Mt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-9). Only God Himself had the power to do that since it was God Who created life in the first place (Gen. 1).
It stands to reason then, that if Jesus is unique in relation to God the Father, we ought to place Him in a unique position in our life. But He is often relegated to the same status as a knick-knack on our shelf. If Jesus truly is “one of a kind” (which He is!), it must compel us to honor Him as such in all we say and do. Where have you placed Jesus in your life? Is He first and foremost as the Only Begotten of the Father? Or is He buried somewhere between “this” and “that”? As the Only Begotten of the Father our life should be lived through Him (1 Jn. 4:9). It’s time for you to do just that.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 4/3/2016