|Only Begotten and
the Deity of Christ
A Review of Hugo McCord's paper
II. The Word MONOGENES
[Hugo McCord's Paper is in the smaller type.]
II. THE WORD MONOGENES
Monogenes consists of two words: mono, "only," plus genes (from ginomai), meaning either
"offspring" (Acts 4:6,36; 17:28) or "kind" of things with no begetting in the meaning, as "tongues"
and "voices" (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:10). Thus by etymology mono-genes can mean "only
begotten," or "only one of a kind."
Monogenes is derived from monos and genos: genos meaning either "race, stock,
family" or "offspring, even a single, descendant, a child" or "a race in regard to
number" or "sex" or "a class, sort, kind" (Liddell and Scott; p. 254). Thus,
monogenes means "only begotten" or "one and the same" (Liddell and Scott, p.
919), or as brother McCord notes "only one of a kind." But, as brother McCord
fails to note: monogenes means "only begotten" in reference to persons, and "only
one of a kind" in reference to things. It depends upon whether it is a person or
thing spoken of. In the case in question concerning Jesus of Nazareth, it is a
person spoken of — not a thing; therefore, it is "only begotten," not "only one of a
kind" or "unique" in reference to Jesus.
Brother McCord here correctly notes monogenes can mean "only begotten." But,
are we to believe his statement here on page two of his paper when he says
"monogenes can mean 'only begotten,'" or his statement on page one when he
says '"only begotten' is monogennes (a non-biblical word), whereas the inspired
John wrote that Jesus is monogenes" which he further emphasizes on page three
when he invited the reader to compare "mongenes with a word that decisively and
unequivocally means 'only begotten,' monogennes, from monos, 'only,' and
gennao, to 'beget'?" Which definition of monogenes offered is to be believed?
"Only begotten" or "unique?" ONLY BEGOTTEN!
Since the etymology yields two meanings, one rums to the usage of monogenes to determine
what a writer meant. An example is seen in the phoenix, an Arabian bird of brilliant plumage,
mateless and without father or mother, about the size of an eagle, with a life span of some 500
years. According to Herodotus' (c. 430 B.C.) account of Egyptian mythology, the phoenix senses
its time to die and builds a nest of sweet spices as a funeral pyre; then it sits there and sings
until the sun ignites the nest. The bird is then burned to death and is completely consumed,
following which it arises from its ashes and starts another life. Clement of Alexandria (215 A.D.)
described the phoenix as monogenes huparchon, "absolutely unique, the only one of its kind"
(Epistle 1:25, cited by B. F. Westcott, THE EPISTLES OF JOHN, 170). Thus in Clement's mind
monogenes in regard to the phoenix does not have a begetting in its meaning.
Etymology is the inexact study of the derivation of words. Etymology does not give
meanings, but possible meanings. Usage is the only means whereby definitions
can be determined. [A study of A DEBATE BETWEEN REV. A CAMPBELL AND
REV. N. L. RICE ON THE ACTION, SUBJECT, DESIGN AND ADMINISTRATOR
OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM; ALSO, ON THE CHARACTER OF SPIRITUAL
INFLUENCE IN CONVERSION AND SANCTIFICATION: AND ON THE
EXPEDIENCY AND TENDENCY OF ECCLESIASTICAL CREEDS, AS TERMS OF
UNION AND COMMUNION: held in Lexington, KY, from the fifteenth of November
to the second of December, 1843, a period of eighteen days (A. T. Skillman &
Son: Lexington, KY, 1844) on the Action of Baptism is excellent on this subject.]
Clement of Alexandria represents the phoenix as "the only begotten, the only one
of its kind." If it is the only begotten bird of its kind, it is the only one of its kind.
There is no damage done to Clement's account, nor violation of the text to refer to
the phoenix as "only begotten." There is nothing in Clement's usage to destroy the
concept of "only begotten." Besides, is a bird a person, or a thing?
A second example of the use of monogenes is in Hebrews 11:17: "By faith Abraham, when he
was tried, offered up Isaac: and he who had received the promises offered up the monogenes."
The equivalent OT word for monogenes in Genesis 22:2 is yahid, and like its Greek counterpart,
means either an only begotten (Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10), or an only one
situation with no begettal involved (Psalm 22:20; 25:16; 35:17; 68:6).
The LXX translates yahid in Psalm 22:20; 25:16; 35:17 as monogenes, but often mistranslates
yahid as agopefos, "beloved" (Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10), and in one
instance it defines yahid as both monogenes and agapete, "beloved" (Judges 11:34).
What does yahid mean in Genesis 22:2? Factually, one has to eliminate "only begotten," for
Abraham fathered seven sons besides Isaac (Genesis 16:15; 25:2), which shows that Jerome
and the KJ and the ASV introduced a contradiction in their rendition of Hebrews 11:17. The
meaning of yahid and monogenes in regard to Isaac appears to be that he was an only one,
one of a kind, a sui generis. He was the only son of Abraham to inherit Abraham's promise: "in
Isaac shall your seed be called" (Hebrews 11:18; Genesis 21:12).
The question of the definition of monogenes is to be found in its usage, especially
its usage in the New Testament, along with its usage in the Old Testament, as
translated especially in the LXX (the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old
Testament cited many times by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament).
Did "Jerome and the KJ and ASV introduce a contradiction in their rendition of
Hebrews 11:17?" Brother McCord admits: "The meaning of yahid and monogenes
in regard to Isaac appears to be that he was an only one, one of a kind, a sui
generis. He was the only son of Abraham to inherit Abraham's promise: 'in Isaac
shall your seed be called' (Hebrews 11:18; Genesis 21:12)." Thus, Isaac is the
only begotten son of promise. None of the other sons of Abraham were born in
fulfillment of the promise. Isaac was the only born son of his mother. The Classic
Greek Dictionary, prepared by George Ricker Berry, Ph.D. (late professor of
Semitic Languages at Colgate University and the University of Chicago) [Follet
Pub. Co.; Chicago; 1962] defines monogenes: "only-begotten: born from one and
the same mother." Isaac fulfills this definition in the Epic and Ionic Greek: the
periods of 500 B.C. to 283 B.C., according to Sophocles. The Septuagint was
known to circulate in the days of Ptolemy Philadelphos (285-246 B.C.). Isaac truly
is the definition given by Mr. Berry. Therefore, there is nothing in Hebrews 11:17 to
call a contradiction by translating mono-genes as only begotten. It is a correct
A third example of the use of monogenes is in regard to Jephthah's daughter, which in her case
means "only begotten." But translators do not render monogenes (or yahid) about her as "only
begotten," apparently because in her case the phrase "only begotten" says no more than the
It is true that in reference to Jephthah's daughter, the use of "only" conveys the
same sense as would "only begotten." But, the question becomes: in the case of
Jesus of Nazareth, does the use of "only" in referring to the Sonship to the Father
in heaven mean the same as "only begotten?" If it did, brother McCord would not
so vigorously object to the use of "only begotten." That is why, although "only" can
be acceptable in reference to Jephthah's daughter (while "only begotten" may be
preferable), it can not be acceptable in reference to Jesus' relation to the heavenly
A fourth example of the use of monogenes (or yahid) is in David's prayer, "Turn to me, and have
mercy on me, for I am monogenes" (Psalm 25:16), but he was not an "only begotten" son, for he
had seven brothers (1 Samuel 16:1-16). The translators settled on the non-begettal word
"desolate" as appropriate in this instance.
David also claimed that he possessed a monogenes, apparently speaking of his most
precious possession, his life. The translators settled on the non-begettal word "darling" as the
best rendering: "Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog" (Psalm
The word yachid (yahid in brother McCord's paper) in Psalm 25:16 shows the
feeling of being alone or solitary. Yachid means "only, only one, or solitary"
(Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament; edited by Francis Brown,
S.R. Driver, and CA Briggs; Clarendon Press: Oxford; 1974). Remember, the
Psalms are poetry.
Yachid is translated "darling" in Psalm 22:20 (as also in Psalm 35:17) where it is in
the feminine gender referring to his life. Brown, Drive and Briggs say this
substantive use (that is, use as a noun) is defined "my only one, poet, for my life,
as the one unique and priceless possession which can never be replaced" (Ibid.).
Notice, however, this use is: 1) in the feminine, and 2) poetical in nature.
Therefore, Psalms 22:20 or 35:17 cannot be used as examples parallel to the
statements concerning Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament to establish
monogenes as meaning anything other than "only begotten."
A fifth example is Solomon, as he declared he was a "son to his father and yahid in the sight of
my mother" (Proverbs 4:3). But the meaning "only begotten" is manifestly wrong, for Bathsheba
was the mother of at least three other sons (2 Samuel 11:27; 1 Chronicles 3:5).
Solomon is the "only beloved in the sight of my mother" (Proverbs 4:3). Solomon is
the favored son. He was chosen (I Chronicles 29:1). It does not say Solomon was
the yachid; but/that he was yachid in the sight of his mother. Surely, such a
situation existing when there are actually other children in the family is not unheard
of in our day. I can name some examples.
A sixth example is described by David, "God sets the yahid in families" (Psalm 68:6), where
again the meaning "only begotten" cannot be considered. "The translators settled on the word
Psalm 68:5-6 reads: "A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God
in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary [yachid] in families: he bringeth out
those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land." This
usage of yachid is parallel to that in Psalm 25:16.
A seventh example is of three children (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38) who might be classed as "only
begotten." However, as i the case of Jephthah's daughter, the phrase "only begotten" says no
more than the word "only," which word the translators use.
The three children — "the only son of his mother" in Nain (Luke 7:12); the "one
only daughter" of Jairus (Luke 8:42); and, the "only child" possessed with an
unclean spirit (Luke 9:38) — although described as monogenes are not called
"only begotten" in the KJV translation. Yet, is there any difficulty from the context in
determining that "only begotten" is meant? Again, as in the case of Jephthah's
daughter, the terms used convey the entire sense of "only begotten" (which again
may be the preferable translation). However, does "only" or "unique" give the
same sense when used of Jesus as with these three children of whom it obviously
means "only begotten?" If brother McCord agreed that it did, there would be no
reason for him to have written his paper, and no reason for this reply. Brother
McCord thus answers his own implied inquiry as to why a translation other than
"only begotten" is acceptable of these three children, but is unacceptable in
reference to Jesus: people just don't see the same implications in "only" in
reference to Jesus as in reference to others. It is necessary to translate
monogenes "only begotten" in reference to Jesus for people to realize the same
implication for Jesus in the word monogenes as for the three children.
The eighth example in which monogenes describes a person is Jesus (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; I
John 4:9). In the case of the three children mentioned by Luke the begetting is understood
without the necessity of the translators writing in the two words "only begotten," and so they use
one word, "only." But in the case of Jesus, his being begotten in heaven before he was begotten
by Mary is unthinkable and demoting.
I would not advocate Jesus' "being begotten in heaven."
If he is "God" (as John 1:1 states), he had no beginning, and so actually he was never begotten.
The N1V gives him a plurality of origins (Micah 5:2), whereas if he is God he did not have one
origin. The Jehovah's Witnesses misuse Revelation 3:14 to teach that Jesus is the beginning
thing that God created, but the word "beginning" in John's citation (arche) is also used of the
Father (Revelation 21:6). The truth is that God the Father and Christ the Son are the ones who
began the creation process, but neither one had a beginning.
Both of them are the Alpha and the first and the beginning of all things (Revelation 21:6; 22:13;
Amen: Jesus was not begotten in the beginning; but, he was begotten of the virgin
Ignatius in 110 AD. wrote to the Ephesians about Jesus, gennetos kai and agennetos,
"begotten and unbegotten" (cited by BGAD, 156). Physically Jesus was begotten (Luke 1:35)
about 5 B.C., but he was not the only begotten either of Mary (Mark 6:3) or of God (John 1:13; I
John 2:29; 5:1). Figuratively he was begotten (Psalm 2:7) on his resurrection day, April 9, 30 AD.
(Acts 13:32-34), and on his coronation day, May 28, 30 AD. (Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). But actually he
was unbegotten, agennetos, as stated by Ignatius.
Jesus is, as Ignatius stated, "begotten and unbegotten." If there is a difficulty in
saying Jesus is "begotten," as brother McCord intimates on page one of his paper
[see the reply on pages 3-7], brother McCord recognizes the answer here in
saying "Physically Jesus was begotten."
It is true that Jesus was not the only begotten of Mary; but, he is never referred to
as the only begotten son of Mary: Jesus Is the only begotten Son of God. Brother
McCord denies this with reference to John 1:13; I John 2:29; and 5:1.
John 1:12,13 states: "But as many as received him [the Word— rlr], to them gave
he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but
of God." Jesus' begettal of God was physical. The begettal here of believers is
spiritual. Verse 13 clearly states this is not in reference to the flesh. The spiritual
re-birth of these believers did not change the fact that one other than the Father
in heaven was their physical father, Jesus still remains the only begotten Son of
I John 2:29—3:1 reads "// ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one
that doeth righteousness is born of him. Behold, what manner of love the Father
hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the
world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." Those who do righteousness are
called the sons of God because of the love of God. God sent forth his only
begotten Son, his only Son "made of a woman" "that we might receive the adoption
of sons" (Galatians 3:26—4:7). This clearly shows the relationship with God as
sons of the born again, in our begettal, is spiritual. The believer is adopted. He is a
son of god; but, Jesus of Nazareth is and remains the only begotten Son of God.
I John 5:1 states: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God:
and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
Again, the re-birth of believers is spoken of. It does not change the special
relationship Jesus of Nazareth sustained in the flesh to the Father in heaven, he is
the only begotten (in the flesh) Son of God.
Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten thee," speaks of the
relationship which exists between Jesus and the heavenly Father. The statements
made by the voice from heaven at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17), and at the
transfiguration on the mount (Matthew 17:5), demand the begettal of the Son took
place before these events. The most reasonable time would be at his physical
begettal. Thus, Psalm 2:7, without a double or triple meaning and/or fulfillment,
can be interpreted in all passages where it is quoted. Acts 13:32-34 being a
verification that "God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus"
(v. 23). Hebrews 1:5 comparing the relationship between Jesus and the Father
with that of the angels and God. Hebrews 5:5 merely being a reference to the fact
that the statement of priesthood was made to the same individual who was the Son
Monogenes, though having a begettal connected with it in the cases of Jephthah's daughter and
the three children mentioned by Luke, is impossible and eliminated in the cases of the phoenix
and of Isaac and of David and of Solomon and of Jesus. The context determines whether or not
monogenes describes an only begotten or one of a kind. Just as "kinds" of tongues or of voices
(I Corinthians 12:10; 14:10), though based in ginomai and genos, as is monogenes, are free of
the begettal idea, so our blessed Lord is free from that idea.
Monogenes is "only begotten" in reference to persons, and "only of a kind" in
reference to things. Which is Isaac? David? Solomon? Jesus? As has already
been seen, there is nothing in the context which hinders monogenes from being
The begettal idea in reference to Jesus is found wanting if one compares monogenes with a
word that decisively and unequivocally means "only begotten," monogennes, from monos,
"only," and gennao, to "beget." The only difference between the unequivocal word and the
ambiguous one is one letter "n." Notice the precision with which the inspired John wrote one "n"
in reference to Jesus in three chapters (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9), but two "n's" in
reference to ordinary people in the same three chapters (John 1:12-13; 3:3,5,6,7; I John 4:7). I
do not believe that John accidentally spelled the words the way he did, neither in his own
composition in chapters one and four, nor in his quotation of Jesus' own words in chapter three.
Brother McCord invites the reader to compare "monogenes with a word that
decisively and unequivocally means 'only begotten,' monogennes...." This would
be welcomed if he would give us an instance of its use, or even of its reality. In
referring to the difference between monogenes and monogennes as being only
one "n," and stating "I do not believe John accidentally spelled the words the way
he did," one would expect to turn to the Greek New Testament and read mono-
gennes in the seven verses referred to. Yet, one turns to each verse in
expectation, to meet with disappointment. Not one of these verses contains the
word monogennesl But, then one remembers brother McCord's statement on the
opening page: "The phrase 'only begotten' is monogennes (a non-biblical word)";
and wonders how brother McCord could invite the reader to "Notice the precision
with which the inspired John wrote one 'n' in reference to Jesus and two 'n's' in
reference to ordinary people" when he never uses the word with two "n's." Thus,
when brother McCord states "The only difference between the unequivocal word
[monogennes—rlr] is one letter 'n'," one other description, a more apt description,
comes to mind: one is imaginary and the other is real. Again, monogennes is not
only a non-biblical word; it is not to be found in any other lexicons consulted:
classic, New Testament, or modem!
One wonders why one of brother McCord's obvious learning and knowledge would
resort to such a word in his argument, misrepresenting monogennes as appearing
seven times in the New Testament in the writings of John, when in reality (as he
himself had already admitted) it is not to be found in all of God's word. It is left to
him to explain.
The application of the begettal idea to Jesus has led to theological nonsense, for learned men
write of "the eternally begotten Son." The word "begotten" is such an expression forbids his
being deity, and the word "eternally" implies that a begetting is still going on and will never be
Theological nonsense has been found many places; "the eternally begotten Son"
is one of them. However, Jesus being "begotten" of God in the flesh does not
forbid his deity.
Furthermore, the translations (RSV, NIV) that omit the word "begotten" and say that Jesus is "the
one and only" Son (John 1:14; 3:16,18; I John 4:9) or "the only" Son (John 1:18} are also
inaccurate, for God has many sons (Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; 38:7; Psalm 29:1; Luke 3:38; John 1:
12; Romans 8:16,19; D Corinthians 6:18; 1 John 2:29; 5:2; Revelation 21:7). All Christians are
sons of God (Galatians 4:6), though none is in a class with the "firstborn among many brothers"
Some urge that in reference to Jesus the phrase "only begotten" is raised to a "heightened
sense." That imaginary "heightened sense" is real only by a case of special pleading, not in the
words "only begotten." Use of the invented phrase "heightened sense" is an admission that
such a sense cannot be found in the Greek word monogenes and has to be added by a
commentator. Such is eisegesis, not exegesis.
An "heightened sense" is rejected. The natural, normal physical begettal is
pleaded for. The natural, normal sense of the word mono-genes is contended.
Jesus, being then one of a kind, a singular person, I have in the five places where Inspiration
called him monogenes called him "unique."
Jesus is more than unique. Each son of God is a unique son of God, even as each
son of my earthly father is a unique son. There is no more accuracy in "unique"
than in "only" in a translation of monogenes in reference to Jesus.