CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

[Note: you may return to the harmonization index here.]

A Prologue of Prologues

In the beginning (sings the Evangelist) was the Word;
and the Word was (acting) toward God;
and the Word was (emphatically) God.

This one was (acting), in the beginning, toward God.
Everything came into being through Him,
and not one thing came into existence without Him.

What comes into being within this one was life,
and the life is the Light of men,
and still the Light is shining in the darkness!
--and the darkness seized (or understood) it not.

There did come a man,
sent with a mission from God;
his name was John.
This one came for a testimony,
that he might bear witness of the Light,
so all might believe through him.

That man was not the Light,
but, he came to bear witness of the Light--
this true Light
Who is enlightening every person who comes into the world!

He was in the world,
and the world was made through Him;
but, the world did not know Him.

Unto His own He came,
but those who are His own did not accept Him.

Yet, to everyone who did receive Him,
He gave to them authority
to be heir-children of God!
--to those who trust into His name,
who have been begotten not of bloods,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor by the will of man,
but of God!

So the Word became flesh (the Evangelist sings),
and dwells, as in a holy tent, among us;
and we behold His glory!--
the glory of 'Only-Begotten' from the Father,
full of joy and reality!

The witness of John is still going on,
for he has cried out, saying,
"This was He of Whom I myself have said,
'He Who is coming after me,
comes to be before me!'
because He was First, before me!"

For we all received (the Evangelist sings),
from that which fills Him,
and joy for joy!

For the Law was given through Moses;
but joy and reality came into being, through King Jesus!

God, no one has ever seen;
the Only-Begotten God, Who is in the heart of the Father,
He reveals and explains Him.

John 1:1-18

[Next time: the Messengers of the King]


Jason Pratt,

What is you view on other interpretation of "monogenes" in verse 18? Is "unique" comparable with "only begotten" when talking about god's own essense?



Incidentally, I don't call Thor thor, or Buddha buddha, or even Satan satan. Nor do I call you peter, Peter. Proper names are capitalized in English, even when the proper name is built from a noun. (Jason is Greek for healer, or from a healer, for instance.) And in English generally, a decapping of 'god' for sake of entity-description, is used for describing an entity that is derivative of some higher and distinctly separate power; which is different from the theology you're talking about. Thus, the god Thor, but the God Allah or Brahma.

So there is no reason other than to be intentionally offensive, to decap 'god' in English when talking about an entity commonly named 'God'. Possibly you weren't aware of that, but if not then now you know. When you decap God like that in English, people are less prepared to believe you mean to have a serious discussion on issues and are more likely to think you’re only trying to flame or troll. (I have an expectation from previous discussions that you’re different than that, but other readers may not have my experience with you to go by.)

On, then, to the serious question.

{{Is "unique" comparable with "only begotten" when talking about god's own essense?}}

Actually, it isn’t altogether clear from the usages in verses 14 or 18 (where cognates of monogenes appear), that the Evangelist is talking in terms of God’s own essense. He might be talking about the Incarnation instead. (He is certainly talking about an essential identification elsewhere in the prologue, but doesn’t use Son references in those places.)

The words in question (monogenous v14 and monogene_s v18) are grammatic cognates of monogenes (as noted). Mono is obviously a word for single or singluar or one, and is adjectivised in NT Greek as monon; typically translated into English as “only” (since that’s how the usage often corresponds.) Had the Evangelist only meant ‘unique’, he could have used monon or perhaps built a special noun (or referenced a known one) from the adjective. Instead, he used a term already known for talking about an only-child: monogenes. A little more literally this would be single-born or single-generated. (‘Create’ would be ktizo_ and cognates. ‘Make’ would be poieo_, or ‘do’. Poieo_ and its cognates are used very frequently in the NT; ktizo_, rather less so.)

Interestingly, the only NT author to use monogenes to refer to Jesus is the Evangelist; while the only NT author to use monogenes in its more expected meaning is the Scholar (i.e. Luke, in GosLuke) plus the Hebraist (Heb 11:17, Isaac being the only-begotten of Abraham--which strictly speaking isn’t true of course.) Thus Luke describes the son of the widow of Nain, and Jairus’ daughter (both of whom are raised from the dead, incidentally) as monogenes. The boy cured of being demented, after the Transfiguration, is described by his father in GosLuke as only-begotten, too. (Lk 9:38)

Two of the Evangelist’s four uses in his Gospel, are found here in the prologue. The other two are found in and nearby the famous commentary (once and perhaps still popularly believed to be the words of Jesus Himself to Nicodemus, though I and many others tend to think this is the Evangelist offering commentary and foreshadowing on what’s happening in that meeting) in arguably the most famous verse from the Christian Scriptures: John 3:16 (with v 18 in followup.)

There are a couple of curiosities, one of them concerning textual transmission history, in the uses of the term here. One of the things I noticed, was that in verse 14 it seems to have been presented as a title or name (or even nickname, as it were). This gets obscured a bit in English translations, probably because it wouldn't flow as smoothly in English. However, another possible translation could be “And we beheld the glory of Him, a glory as of an only-begotten from a father.” (Koine Greek doesn’t have indirect articles like English ‘a’, and can omit direct articles like English ‘the’, or use them in what we would think of as weird ways for emphasis, such as with proper names; though a proper name can be used without the article, too. So lots of fun and headaches can occur when the article is ommitted, as it is here. {wry g})

The other curiosity involves the textual transmission of verse 18. Is it monogene_s theos? Or ho monogene_s huios?! (Notice the presence of the direct article ‘ho’ in the latter variant.) Once upon a time, the textual weight would have favored the latter reading; but with recent acquisitions of papyri 66 and 75, the UBS (for both their text and the Nestle/Aland) believed the weight of external data has shifted toward the former usage. In either case, the grammar is more difficult with (no article) monogene_s theos than with ho monogene_s huios (‘the only-begotten Son’); but because the article is missing from from the chunkier theological statement, it isn’t very probable that a scribe beefed it up from an already-existant ho monogene_s huios. More likely some scribes, suspecting a previous modification, tried to ‘correct’ the reading back in line with GosJohn 3:16, 18 and 1Jn (the epistle) 4:9. (This, btw, is one of those cases where the surrounding context points toward an equivalent to “the” usage in English, even though the Greek version of “the” is missing.)

There is a very minor textual tradition of a briefer phrase ho monogene_s (no subsequent noun), which is certainly attractive as a grammatic solution (since monogene_s can be used as a noun in this grammatic relation, though that would be unusual) and could explain the variants theos and huios as attempts to emendate by commentary (later mistaken for attempts at ‘repairing’ a dropped word and so inserted by scribes). Unfortunately, the external data for this reading is too poorly attested (at this time).

Metzger (in his commentary to the fourth revised edition of the UBS textual analysis) notes that several high-ranking 20th century commentators (e.g. Abbott, 1906; Bernard, 1929; Marsh, 1969; and in effect Raymond Brown, too, 1966) punctuate the sentence in order to make a list of three distinct designations--which would make v18 another instance of titular usage from the phrase, notice. Thus the translation would be: “God, no one has ever seen; Only-Begotten, God, the One Who is in the heart of the Father--He (Who can be called these things) reveals and explains Him.” I thought this was clever, but maybe a little too clever, since it ends up using mere equivalent titles (God, God) for the distinct Persons, and the Evangelist’s style elsewhere in the prologue is certainly more creative and poetic than that.

It seems probable that the phrase, as it stands, is the result of a transcription error of some kind, but the balance of reasoning (I think) currently leans toward reconstructing along the line that I’ve given. It does make a great example of some of the interesting issues in translation and reconstruction, though!

(Verse 18 is perhaps the most interesting external textual problem in the prologue; but my vote for the most interesting internal textual problem is the question of where to punctuate and how to grammatize the connection between verses 3 and 4. I’ve gone with the more unusual rendering here, which used to be the usual rendering before the Arian debates at the Council of Nicaea, but the grammar makes it squoochy in either direction. I suspect, from this, that the author was aiming for a double-meaning phrase: i.e. he couldn’t decide himself which meaning fit better and so set it up so that it could be read both ways; but he couldn’t do this and also make the grammar smooth.)

Anyway, thanks for the question Peter!


Trivia addendum: an example of the shift in external-source texting can be seen when comparing all this to a Bible (even a modern one like Jay Green's translation) that tries to be primarily based on the Textus Receptus. That text, which was one of the first modern reconstructions, was rushed into production based on well-attested but textually inferior data (mostly late, only a handful of sources), in order to beat another critical text to the printers. Then it was overmarketed by its publisher (and by its author, if I recall correctly), as being THE RECEIVED TEXT reconstructed to autographic perfection--which had the desired result of simply killing the competitor's chance to market his better researched product. Some people (such as Green, as mentioned) still try to base their texts off a modified version of the TR--and, y'know, it's a free country, so that's fine and all, though I wouldn't personally recommend it. {g} (Besides which the differences are still fairly minor, and his product is actually very helpful in many ways.)

Anyway, the end result in this case is that if you compare Green's (for example) with the Nestle/Aland (for example), Green will be found using the phrase "the only-begotten Son" whereas the Nestle/Aland and the UBS will be found using the phrase "only-begotten God". (Ironically, one would have supposed that between the two Green, who is very gung-ho about a religious use of the scripture, would have preferred the reference to God!)

While most of the UBS editing crew agreed to rank the printed variant as a {B}, Allen Wikgren dissented strongly enough in this grading (he thought it should be ranked no better than {D}) to warrant a special referrent note in Metzger's commentary report on the group's analysis. (AW's reasoning was that since the phrase as it stands has to be almost certainly the result of some kind of scribal error, which cannot at this time be reconstructed with sufficient surety to the original, it shouldn't be ranked higher than {D}, even though it's still the best option to go with.)

Just thought readers might find that interesting, too. {s!}


Jason Pratt,

Thanks for the lenght explanation and the spelling clarification. I think you made a strong case for "begotten".

Luke translation of "monogenes" in most Bibles seem to be "only" or "only child" when talking about humans (I guess literally, "one of a kind"). When talking about Jesus it is "begotten". Isaac seems to vary in the different Bibles.

Do you think the selection of this word "begotten" was influenced by Jerome who tried to respond to the Arian claim when writing the Latin translation or because theological issue when OT also talks about other "sons of God" in Job 1:6 and Genesis 6:2?


What is you view on other interpretation of "monogenes" in verse 18? Is "unique" comparable with "only begotten" when talking about god's own essense?

I think it is. It means the only one like him. But Jesus was begotten. God was not.


As far as I can tell from a study of the word, using the term 'begotten' would be quite applicable to Luke's references regarding the children. There is no relevant variance in the Greek (aside from immediate grammatic suffix changes necessary for a sentence to be made in Greek of course), that I have found so far, compared to the Johannine uses, here or in chapter 3.

Out of curiosity (it had been a while since I looked over the translation in those chapters), I just went and checked to see what I had done in those three Lukan references. In each case, as it happens, I did use only-begotten. {g} (One of these can be found back the first entry of KoS that I put up for Lent season this year.) But I could understand a translator wanting to help keep some kind of distinction there, for either of two reasons which I will discuss in a minute.

Anyway, the selection of the word 'begotten' in translations would follow the actual normal usage-referent of the term in the texts, and so would precede Arian controversies. If anything, using 'begotten' in reference to Jesus would look (at first glance) to be in favor of Arian or (in a more modern theological controversy) Mormon claims. An orthodox exponent could be more tempted to get away from that, than otherwise, depending on the immediate challenge.

So, for instance, I can see an orthodox translator who wants to emphasize the only-begottenness of the Son, muffing the use of the same adjective/noun (monogenes) in the Lucan references. On the other hand, I can see an orthodox translator who wants to protect against Arian or Mormon-ish uses (the two would not be identical theologically, keep in mind) trying to get away from the ‘begotten’ language and sticking with ‘unique’ or something like that: essentially shaving off the ‘genes’ part and retaining ‘monon’.

(On the other hand, a Mormon theologian might be inclined to retain the ‘begotten’ term and shave off the ‘monon’ qualifier! So there are inclinations in various directions across the board. Ironically, I expect that neither an original Arian nor a subsequent Imperial/Feudal neo-Arian, would have much theological trouble with any variation of translation there, be it ‘only/unique’ or ‘begotten’ or ‘only-begotten’. Their problem would, among other places, be back in 1:1, with the essential identification of the Word with God and/or vice versa. They would have just as much disagreement with the Mormon interpretation as the orthodox do, but for different reasons and toward a different theology again.)

The "sons of God" references in Job 1:6 (which I happen to be particularly fond of, though not for any immediately obvious reason {g}) and Genesis 6:2, do not have reference, so far as I can tell, to the concept of ‘begetting’ (except insofar as the sons of God begot the Nephilim among humans! But the term per se is still missing, and the concept isn't connected to the sons themselves there.)

So any distinction to these (and similar OT references) introduced by making use of the term mongenes, would have been the Evangelist's doing, not Jerome's or anyone in the Nicene orthodoxy disputes. I suspect the OT background for the reference, is to a Messianic Psalm anyway (e.g. 2:7. Though monogenes or its Hebrew/Aramaic equivalent isn't used there either, if I recall correctly. But "I have begotten you" is used.)

Thanks for the question!


Jason Pratt,

Thanks for the great answer.

If anything, using 'begotten' in reference to Jesus would look (at first glance) to be in favor of Arian ... claims
Good point!


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