|Only Begotten and
the Deity of Christ
A Review of Hugo McCord's paper
A discussion of the phrase "only begotten" is not of supreme importance in itself. Many
thousands of the Christians of the first three centuries went to their reward believing that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God, but who never heard that allegedly he was a begotten being. If Jesus
were a begotten being he had an origin, and so has not always been in existence. This means
he is younger than his Father, and means he is a creature, not the Creator (John 1:3). This is a
demotion to him who, like his Father, is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the
beginning and the end" (Revelation 21:6; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6).
It is true that a discussion of the English phrase "only begotten" is not of supreme
importance; but, it is also true that a discussion of the concept expressed by that
phrase, especially as it applies to Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, is of
supreme importance. Thousands, indeed millions, have lived and died as
Christians and gone on to their reward without hearing the English phrase "only
begotten;" but, they were not without the meaning of the phrase expressed in the
Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) in the word
If the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was begotten of God (as none other was before
or since) is not true; then the prophecy of Psalm 2:7 [I will declare the decree: the
LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee] could
not be fulfilled in him as inspiration clearly states (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5),
and he is not the Messiah, the Savior of the world; and, we are yet in our sins. If
the fulfillment of this prophecy (where God says he has begotten Jesus) and
applying the word "begotten" to Jesus demotes him to creature status and denies
his eternal existence because it states Jesus is "begotten," then God represents
him as so in the Bible. The Lord rebuke such a position. It simply is not true!
Therefore, if a demotion exists by the use of "begotten" in reference to Jesus, it is
presented by the word of God, not by the English phrase "only begotten." Thus,
brother McCord in his effort to get away from his perceived demotion of Christ by
the use of "begotten" in "only begotten" runs right into the problem in the
prophecy of Psalm 2:7 and its fulfillment in Acts 13:3; Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5.
The concept of a begetting of Jesus is prominent throughout the Bible. The
statement of God to the serpent after the introduction of sin into the world implies
begettal in the use of the word "seed" (Genesis 3:15). It is also inherent in the
promise made to Abram and those who followed concerning the Seed in which all
nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; etc.). The prophecy of
Isaiah implies a begettal of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The idea of begettal in all of
these passages, as well as its implication and statement in Matthew 1 and Luke 1,
refers to the physical lineage of Jesus as the son of Abraham, the son of David,
the Son of man. It is not a normal begettal, as Mormonism would teach; but, as the
angel declared unto Mary, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power
of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be
born of thee shall be called the Son of Cod" (Luke 1:35). This is the begettal of
Jesus of Nazareth: a begettal unlike any man born before or since. Thus, Jesus is
the only begotten Son of God.
This begettal of the man Jesus in no wise contradicts the pre-existence of the
personality of Jesus as the Word of John 1:1: a pre-existence of equality with the
Father (Philippians 2:6-7). Rather, this begettal explains the mystery of godliness,
"God made manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16); for Jesus was "made of woman"
(Galatians 4:4) "of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:4) and
simultaneously "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld
his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth"
Arius in the fourth century so reduced the Lord, time-dating him, affirming that Jesus was
homoiousios, like deity, while Athanasius affirmed that he was and is homoousios, of the
same essence as deity. The difference in spelling was only one letter, but the difference in fact
was deity over against non-deity. The Jehovah's Witnesses have carried on the same
depreciation of the One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9)
by calling him "a god" instead of "God" (John 1:1).
The Arian controversy takes its name from Arius (256-336 a.d.). "It denied that the
Son was of the same substance (Gk. homoousios) with the Father and reduced
him to the rank of a creature, though pre-existent before the world." (The New
Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I; Baker Book House:
Grand Rapids, MI; 1949; p. 278). Arius, and all true Arians, declared Jesus to be
of a different essence (Gk. heteroousios) than the Father. It was in reaction to this
heresy especially that the Council of Nicea was convened in 325 a.d. Following the
Council of Nicea, Eusebius of Nicomedia championed a modified form of Arianism.
"The Eusebians, or semi-Arians, taught that the Son was similar in substance
(homoiousios^ to the Father; while the Aetians (from Aetius, a deacon of Antioch
who revived Arianism) and the Eunomians (From Eunomius, Bishop of Cyzius in
Mysius) taught that he was of a different substance (heteroousios), and unlike
(anomios) the Father in everything as also in substance (hence the name
Heteroousiasts and Anomoians or Anomoeans)." (Ibid.; p. 28). Thus, brother
McCord errs in his historical reference to the difference between Arius and
Athanasius as being between homoiousios and homoousios; it was between
heteroousios and homoousios. The later controversy was between homoiousios
Brother McCord also errs in applying this controversy to the use of the word
"begotten" in reference to Jesus. The Nicene Creed, formed to combat Arianism at
Nicea in 325 a.d., reads:
"[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the
Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one
substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men, and for
our salvation, came down and was incarnate, and was made man; he suffered,
and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven; from thence he
cometh to judge the quick and the dead. And those who say there was a time
when he [the Son] was not; and he was made out of nothing, or out of another
substance or thing, or the Son of God is created, or changeable, or alterable; —
they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church." (Ibid.; p. 279).
Had the use of the word "begotten" in any way been supportive of Arianism, it
would not have found its way into this statement of the Nicene Creed.
It is true that Arius, according to Socrates, advocated the theory that "If the Father
begat the Son, he must be older than the Son, and there was a time when the Son
was not; from thus it further follows that the Son has his subsistence (Gk.
hypostasis) from nothing." (Ibid.; p. 278). However, the controversy was not over
whether Jesus was the "begotten" or "only begotten" Son of God (as the Nicene
Creed illustrates); but, over what was meant when it is said Jesus is the "begotten"
or "only begotten" Son of God.
And then many people besides the Arians (today, Unitarians) and the Witnesses unintentionally
have adopted the same error by using translations which make Jesus "only begotten." The
phrase "only begotten" is monogennes (a non-Biblical word), whereas the inspired John wrote
that Jesus is monogenes (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; I John 4:9). Again the difference in spelling is
only one letter, but the difference in fact is deity over against non-deity.
To charge those who utilize a "translation which makes Jesus 'only begotten'" with
"unintentionally" advocating Arianism has no foundation in the facts of history. As
was noted above, the Arian controversy was not over whether Jesus was
"begotten" or the "only begotten," both sides agreed to that fact; the controversy
was over what it meant that Jesus was the "begotten" or "only begotten" Son of
Brother McCord states: "The phrase 'only begotten' is mongennes (a non-Biblical
word)...." Since the word mongennes is not found in the Bible, where is it found? A
search of Biblical Greek lexicons or dictionaries leaves one without a reference to
the word. A search of classical Greek lexicons or dictionaries leaves one without a
reference to the word. A search of modem Greek lexicons or dictionaries leaves
one without a reference to the word. Where in Greek literature of any period is the
word mongennes found? Before the word mongennes is accepted as the word
which actually means "only begotten," it must first be proven that it is a word at all.
This reference to monogennes reminds one of the reference to mongennetos in
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. Ill; Abingdon Press: NY, Nashville;
1962). A search of classical, New Testament and modern Greek lexicons or
dictionaries did not turn up a single reference to this word either. When brother J.
Noel Merideth asked brother Jack Lewis "to produce his references in literature to
this word monogennetos" after repeating the claim of The Interpreter's Bible
Dictionary in the Gospel Advocate (May 1, 1986), brother Lewis replied: "In my
opinion (without dilligent [sic] search) monogennetos is a hypothetical word formed
on an analogy with gennetos from gennao." (Christian Light; March 1987; p. 10). It
is suspected that the answer to references utilizing monogennes will be quite
Reference to a non-existent word in order to establish the etymology and
definition of another word does not inspire confidence in the application of true
scholarship to the question at hand.
The question is not what would another word mean, if there were such a word; but,
what does the word used by the apostle John (mono-genes) mean when used in
reference to Christ? Even should there be such a word as monogennes or
mongennetos, and even should it be defined as "only begotten," that does not
mean that mongenes would not, could not, and does not mean "only begotten."
John W. Dahms points this out in his article, "The Johannine Use of Monogenes
Reconsidered" in New Testament Studies (April, 1983; pp. 222-232). The
argument based upon mongennes (or mongennetos) is "begging the question." It
is beside the point. The point is: What does mongenes mean?
But these people do not know they have demoted the Lord whom they love to creature status.
They steadfastly affirm his deity, and they rise in protest against the Arian and Witness heresy,
but their adopting the phrase "only begotten" about Jesus logically places them with the
Unitarians and Witnesses. From childhood they have become habituated to the phrase "only
begotten," and now rally around it, not realizing how it demotes the Lord whom they love so
dearly. I know, for from a youth I did the same thing.
Brother McCord states "adopting the phrase 'only begotten' about Jesus logically
places them with the "Unitarians" and "Witnesses." This is a very serious charge
against both those who translated the King James Version and those who utilize it.
The truth of the matter is, however, the use of "only begotten" only indicates the
position of the Unitarians and Witnesses when the validity of their argument is
accepted. Brother McCord has evidently accepted the validity of their argument.
However, I do not! It docs not logically follow! See the response made to the first
paragraph. Again, if the use of the word "begotten" logically indicates the position
of the Unitarians and Witnesses, what about Psalm 2:7? It would mean God
"logically" indicates the Arian heresy! The Lord rebuke such a position! That is
This statement by Brother McCord shows the seriousness of the discussion. He is
accusing the church wholesale of having advocated "logically" the Arian heresy
throughout the English speaking world for at least the last two centuries. He
charges the churches of Christ wholesale with heresy in their use of a translation
which uses "only begotten." That is a most serious charge. It is a charge that I
deny, and for which brother McCord needs to repent, and owes the brotherhood
I love those sincere Christians who have not learned what they are really doing to our Lord. One
of them whom I failed to enlighten responds to me in a loving way: I have written plainly about
monogenes just as you have to me. Though I strongly disagree with you on monogenes, and
have some lesser disagreements with you on some other points, yet I still deem you as one of
my warmest and best friends. And remember that one of the best definitions ever given of a true
friend is "one before whom I could think aloud." This I have done with you relative to this
Brother McCord's love and sincerity are not at issue. I have no reason to question
his love for those who disagree with him. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. I
have reason to question his position. I love brother McCord as a brother in the
Lord, and all those Christians who may accept his position. Every thing that is
written in response to him, and to those who would accept his position is done with
a tear in the eye and a cry in the voice. Indeed, a friend is one whom you love
enough to tell the truth to, even when you disagree. But, just because
disagreement does not lessen the love of the heart; it does not minimize the
importance of the difference; nor, does it allow the difference to be overlooked. It
makes the difference that much sadder: for it tears the heart and rips the soul
because of the estrangement it creates. It becomes the question of: Does the love
which is felt for the individual outweigh the love which you have for the truth and
for the Lord? Let us always love the truth, and the Lord, more than any person.
Also, let us remember the admonition of the apostle Paul, whether we are rebuking
others, or being rebuked ourselves: "Am J therefore become your enemy,
because 1 tell you the truth" (Galatians 4:16)? Let the truth never make us
enemies one of another.