victor christensen's blog

The False Doctrine of the “Only Begotten Son”

Posted in Uncategorized by victorchristensen on July 25, 2009

One of the false teachings that crepted into the Church very early was the Latin/Greco concept that Jesus is the literal “begotten” Son of God. The biblical reference to Jesus as the “Son” of God is a metaphor intended to do no more than cover a redemptive relationship created by the temporary conditions of Jesus’ earthly existence.

Jesus identified Himself as a “Son” in order to explain to the Hebrews in their language the intimacy of His connection to God. The Scriptures do not teach that Jesus’ came into existence as an emission of deity.

The idea that Christ is a replication of deity first appeared in the writings of Tertullian who declared ”we declare that the Son is a prolatio from the Father”. Tertullian’s prolatio (or emissio), refers to something that emerges from the substance of something else in the same way that fruit emerges from a tree.

Tertullian borrowed the term prolatio from Valentinus an influential Gnostic teacher in the second century.

Tertullian’s made use of prolatio to expresses the idea that Christ came to exists by means of an emanation from deity identified as a “begetting”. Tertullian’s preference for prolatio to express the idea of a begetting was rejected by Athanasius because the Gnostics made use of it in reference to the emanations of Æons’.

The Latin Fathers made the imagery of human procreation the cornerstone of their Christology because they were familiar with Zeus, “the god of the gods” and the notion a primeval deity begat other deities was endemic in their culture. The teaching that Jesus was “begotten” in eternity was unheard of prior to Latin Christianity.

If Jesus was “begotten” He could not be God for what distinguishes God from creation is He is “unbegotten.”

Ignatius wrote in A.D. 110 that Jesus was gennetos kai agennetos meaning “begotten and not begotten.” (Revised Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon p. 156) Ignatius meant that in reference to the incarnation Jesus was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) or “begotten” but in reference to His eternal status He was “not begotten.”

Ignatius’ formula gennetos kai agennetos has profound significance for contemporary theology. His statement Jesus was “not begotten” shows that in A.D. 110 it was against orthodoxy to teach He was “begotten” in eternity and that the church has not always thought of Jesus’ eternal condition as the “begotten” Son God.

What prompted Ignatius to reject the term “begotten” in reference to Jesus?

Because he saw that an “unbegotten” God replicating Himself in a “begotten” Son implied a qualitative distinction between Jesus and God where none exists. To be God requires an ontological self existence, a God who lacks this quality and is dependant for existence on a life sourced from outside of Himself cannot be God.

For Jesus to be “begotten” in ontological terms means He lacked an eternal past which defines who God is.

It is the conceptual distinction in Ignatius’ formula gennetos kai agennetos that supplies the imagery which determines whether Jesus is God or not.  The Latin concept of a “begotten” deity is madhouse reasoning.

Jesus was not referred to as “the begotten Son” in biblical literature until Jerome replaced the Vestus Latina or “Old Latin Bible” with the Vulgate and altered the Latin text. Four hundred years of silence strongly suggests that a doctrine not taught during the first four centuries of Christian witness should not be taught at all.

Scripture Affirms Jesus’ Complete Deity

Jesus is positively identified in Scripture as “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) and there is no disputing this fact. Since Jesus is “Mighty God” His existence cannot be measure because “Mighty God” has no end or beginning.

In John 8:58 Jesus claimed to be the God El Olam (Genesis 21:33) who met with Abraham. If Jesus is El Olam, He is the Old Testaments Supreme Deity. How is it possible for the God El Olam to have been “begotten”?

Paul declared that Jesus had “the form of God” and that He had “equality with God”. That settles the matter.

“Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6)

In speaking of the “form of God” Paul was borrowing imagery from Plato. In Plato’s writings “forms” in contrast to “shadows” represent perfection. If Jesus has “the form of God” then in terms of the contemporary meaning of the term Paul is saying exactly that Jesus is God in the perfect and eternal sense that God is God.

If Jesus is called a “Son” in one place it is no less true that He is called “Everlasting Father” in another. (Isaiah 9:6) Who ever heard of a son being his own father? In Scripture Jesus is represented as “Father” and the “Son of God.” These Father/Son titles represent redemptive roles and do not describe Jesus’ literal condition.

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as God’s “Son” only as a metaphor. The refusal by some to accept the fact that Scripture makes extensive use of metaphors in numerous redemptive formats is proof of wilful ignorance.

The God El Olam

According to a fundamental Hebrew confession God Himself is “invisible.” (Romans 1:20, Colossians 1:15-16, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:17) This invisibility does not mean merely that God cannot be seen, it confesses that He is beyond the range of human comprehension. The thought that God remains hidden from us except for the historical disclosures of His “invisible qualities” (Romans 1:20) is clearly implied in Job 11:7-8.

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave —what can you know?”

English translations of the Bible refer to God as “the Eternal God.” (Genesis 21:33, Deuteronomy 33:27) However, the Hebrew word “olam” does not mean “eternity” or “forever” as in endless time. It literally means “what is beyond the horizon” or “hidden”. When the Hebrews referred to God as olam they were not thinking of His endless existent but of the fact that God as He is in Himself perpetually remains “unknown” or “hidden”.

“The Hebrew word olam means in the far distance. When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam.” (Hebrew Lexicon Word Studies http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/27_eternity.html)

“[T]he connection that the Hebrews made between God and his “host” is that they can see the “sheet” of the skies but they cannot see beyond it, neither can they see or even speculate on what is beyond that sheet. The Ancient Hebrew mind did not concern itself with things they could not see, hear, feel, smell or touch. It is Greek thinking that delves into the philosophy of the unknown. The Hebrew word “olam” is usually translated as “eternity” or “forever”. This word literally means “what is beyond the horizon” or “hidden”. To the Hebrews God is olam, not eternal but “unknown” or “hidden”. (Biblical Hebrew)

Because God Himself is “invisible” (olam) the entire Hebrew knowledge of God was restricted to dynamic encounters connected with daily living. Their knowledge of God was limited to their personal experience of God’s “righteousness” manifested in His manipulation of natural forces, material prosperity and victory in battle. This existential knowledge defined the outer limits of the Old Testament understanding of God.

Jerome’s False Doctrine of the Only Begotten Son

The understanding that the Hebrew knowledge of God is based on personal experience rules out the Greco-Latin doctrine of Jesus’ literal begetting. It is not possible to claim a teaching is biblical if the core idea in that teaching represents concepts and speculations that are inherently contrary to the way the biblical writers thought.  The biblical writers wrote about their experience of God and avoided all speculation about deity.

The expression found in modern translations that Jesus was God’s “One and Only” (John 1:14, 18 NIV) is intend to express the thought that Jesus’ relationship with God was strictly one of a kind. On the other hand the teaching He is the “only begotten” Son of God is based on speculation concerning how He came to exist.

The concept of a literal begetting in eternity leads to the idea that before He was begotten Jesus did not exist.

John 3:16 and John 1:18 contain the Greek word monogenes which does not mean “only begotten but “one of a kind.” This distinctly Hebrew relational concept is reflected in modern translations which correctly interpret monogenes as “only” in reference to Jesus’ unique relationship with God rather than an imaginary begetting.

According to one authority on New Testament Greek “monogenos is literally ‘one of a kind,’ ‘only,’ ‘unique’ (unicus), not ‘only-begotten,’ which would be monogennetos (unigenitus).”(J Moulton, G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. pp. 416-417)

The false doctrine of Jesus’ literal begetting was given an illegal legitimacy by Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.

We are told,

“[The] KJV alternate rendering of the Greek monogenes [is “only begotten.”] (John 1:14, John 1:18; John 3:16, John 3:18; Hebrews 11:17; 1 John 4:9). Elsewhere the KJV rendered the term “only” (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38). The phrase “only begotten” derives directly from Jerome (340?-420 A.D.) who replaced unicus (only), the reading of the Old Latin, with unigenitus (only begotten) as he translated the Latin Vulgate.

Jerome’s concern was to refute the Arian doctrine that claimed the Son was not begotten but made. This led Jerome to impose the terminology of the Nicene creed (325 A.D.) onto the New Testament.  … The writer of Hebrews used monogenes of Isaac with full knowledge that Isaac was not Abraham’s only child (Hebrews 11:17-18). Here monogenes designates Isaac as the special child of promise through whom Abraham’s descendants would be named.” (Holman Bible Dictionary)

“Due to an unfortunate, although well intended, set of circumstances this crucial term (only begotten) has come to us in many of our translations in a form that suggests that the Son of God was actually begotten, that is, that he had a beginning. The Old Latin versions correctly translated monogenes as unicus (only), and so did Jerome (A.D. 347-419) where it was not applied to Jesus. But when referring to Jesus, Jerome appears to have been influenced by the Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 329-390) who, in discussing the eternal relation between the Father and the Son, spoke of the Father as gennetor “begetter” and the Son as gennema “begotten.” To answer the Arian claims that Jesus was not begotten, but made, Jerome translated it as unigenitus (only begotten), in these passages that were referring to Jesus Christ. The influence of Jerome’s Vulgate on the King James Version made “only begotten” the standard English rendition.” (Only-Begotten Son or Only Son?, http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/John_114.htm)

“[T]he Greek word “monogennetos” meaning “only-Begotten” is not found anywhere in the Greek New Testament. So what are the New Testament writers trying to convey by the use of the correct word monogenos? The first part of this Greek word monogenes is mono which means “only,” the second half of the word is from an adjectival form derived from genos, which means “origin, race, stock,” so the two words put together mean “one of a kind.” One of the main arguments is that the –genes suffix is related to the verb ginomai rather than gennao, thus acquiring the meaning “category” or “genus” (category of biological classification) instead of “to beget.” The word emphasizes the unique relationship that the Father has to the Son. It does not suggest the idea of begotten … Instead it suggests the unique position to the Father and thus His unique ability to reveal the Father.” (ibid)

Arius claimed that Jesus was “created” not “begotten”, Jerome attempted to settle the dispute for all time by incorporating “begotten” into his Latin text. In so doing he imposed on the Scriptures the false doctrine that Jesus is the only “begotten” Son of God. Jerome’s attempt to refute Arius’ by fiddling with the Latin text introduced serious error by creating a concept of “begetting” that allows for the belief Jesus had a beginning.

One Arian site correctly observes,

“Since the title “Only Begotten Son” implies that the Son of God had a beginning, it has proven to be a dilemma for Trinitarians.” (The Lord Our God is One, http://christiantrumpetsounding.com/Monogenes.htm)

The KJV translators had no biblical grounds for inserting the word “begotten” into the New Testament text.

Their mistake was that they endorsed the Vulgate’s substitution of unigenitus (begotten) for unicus (unique). The Latin term unigenitus describes how Jesus came to exist; a matter on which Scripture is totally silent whereas unicus describes Jesus’ one-of-a-kind relationship to God which is the central focus of the gospel.

In Jerome’s Vulgate John 1:18 reads,

“Deum nemo vidit umquam unigenitus Filius qui est in sinu Patris ipse enarravit,”

In the Old Latin Bible the text reads differently,

“Deum nemo vidit umquam unicus Filius qui est in sinu Patris ipse enarravit”

Altogether Jerome replaced unicus with unigenitus on six occasions (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Hebrews 11:17; I John 4:9) whereas the Old Latin text consistently translates all nine NT occurrences of monogenes as unicus.

“Scholars are divided over the legitimacy of the AV rendering ‘only begotten’ in the six passages mentioned above.  … The Old Latin MSS rendered ‘monogenes’ by the Latin ‘unicus’ (‘only’) rather than ‘unigenitus’ (‘only begotten’). In the Vulgate Jerome changed ‘unicus’ to ‘unigenitus’ for theological reasons. The Vulgate exercised a formidable influence on the AV and subsequent English translations. The LXX (Septuagint) use of ‘monogenes’ for the Hebrew ‘yahid’ and NT usage of the term in Lk. 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17 clearly support the meaning ‘only.’ The reference in I Clement 25:2 to the phoenix bird (which in mythology was neither born nor begotten) as ‘monogenes’ demands the meaning ‘only one of its kind.’ Although ‘genos’ is distantly related to ‘gennan,’ ‘to begat,’ there is little Greek justification for the translation of ‘monogenes’ as ‘only begotten.’ The word describes Jesus’ uniqueness, not what is called in Trinitarian theology His ‘procession.'” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3)

Jerome replaced unicus with unigenitus because he wanted biblical support for Origin’s concept of “eternal generation” and “proof” Jesus was of the same “substance” as God thereby refuting Arius’ denial that Jesus was “one in essence” with God. In refuting Arius on the communication of “essence” Jerome’s blatant abuse of Scripture provided conceptual imagery supporting Arius’ main claim that Jesus was a being with a beginning.

False Doctrine in the King James Version

Lewis Kash shows how pressure politics caused the insertion of error into the KJV version of the Bible.

“The translators of the King James Version (1611) were Anglican churchmen and theologians who subscribed to the doctrines of the 39 Articles of the Church of England (1563), which state that the Son was ‘begotten from everlasting of the Father’ (Art. II). ‘Begotten from everlasting’ is a clear reference to the doctrine of the eternal generation. In 1604, the same year in which the translators for the KJV were selected, all English clergymen were required ‘by His Majesty’s authority’ to pledge, ‘I … do willing and from my heart subscribe to the 39 Articles of Religion.’ When King James appointed his translators to revise the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, he gave them instructions to make as few changes as possible, [and] … to keep that ‘which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers.'” (Lewis Kash cited, http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx26.htm)

When the KJV translator’s translated monogenes as “only begotten” they were following the Kings orders by inserting elements of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (“begotten from everlasting” Art. II) into the biblical text.. Their presumptuous use of “begotten” was also influenced by Jerome’s unigenitus in the Vulgate.

The KJV translation of Hebrews 11:17 reads, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” Here is a question. How could Isaac be Abraham’s “only begotten son” when according to Genesis 16:15; 25:2 Abraham had a total of eight sons?

The answers is, Hebrews 11:17 is not identifying Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son” but as his “favourite” son. The Holman Christian Standard Bible correctly translated Hebrews 11:17 as; “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was offering up his unique (favourite) son.”

Hebrews 11:17 identifies Isaac’s special relationship to Abraham and not merely that Abraham was his father.

The KJV translators indicated their dependence on non biblical sources when they wrote in the preface that they had studied not only “the original Sacred Tongues” but also “other foreign Languages” (i.e. the Latin Bible.)

Although the translator’s of the KJV were not Arians they did borrow an erroneous concept of begetting from Jerome’s Latin text and inserted their own beliefs into the Bible by copying from Protestant tradition.

The KJV concept Jesus was “begotten” amounts to a rejection of His eternal- underived- inherent divinity.

In a complaint levelled at the KJV translator’s for their mistranslation of monogenes one writers says, “the phrase ‘only begotten’ not only fails to ‘enhance the deity of Jesus,’ but denies it, for deity is unbegotten.”

The correct Greek term for “begotten” is not monogenes but gennao (Mathew 1:2). The concept of Jesus being “begotten” is an invention of Latin Christianity. Is calling Jesus God’s “only Son” instead of the “only begotten Son” part of a New Age plot? Hardly, in the first translation of the Greek New Testament into English William Tyndale translated monogenes, (with minor exceptions) as “only sonne” without any reference to “begotten”.

Does anyone imagine that Tyndale was a New Age practitioner?

The KJV itself translated monogenes as “only son” in a number of places (Luke 7:12; Luke 8:42; Luke 9:38) so whose problem is it if the translators of the KJV were inconsistent? The KJV teaching that Jesus was a literal “Son” who was “eternally begotten” was lifted by the translators directly out of the Westminster Confession.

The translators functioned as committed Calvinists, their honesty is not in question but their accuracy is.

Summary

Arius’ complaint to Eusebius proves the main point in the Arian debate is the claim Jesus once did not exist.

“We are persecuted, because we say the Son had a beginning, but that God is without beginning. This is the cause of our persecution.” (Arius’ Letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia c 319 CE)

In another of his letters to Alexander of Alexandria Arius wrote,

“[T]he Son … was not before His generation … He is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginated.” (Cited Athanasius, De Synodis, 16. LNPF ser. 2, vol. 4, 458)

Can a being who once did not exist be called God? Can someone with a beginning be equal with God?

If we translated John 1:18 into Aramaic the word for monogenes would be ehedaya which in relational terms means the “sole heir”. Accordingly, if a first century preacher was reading from the Greek but translating for his hearers into Aramaic there would have been no reference in John 1:18 to the only “begotten” Son of God.

The Aramaic conversion would have emphasized Jesus’ special relationship not that He was “begotten.”

It is certain the early Jewish Christians who thought of Jesus in terms of ehedaya and not monogenes never once heard Jesus referred to, or thought of Him, as “the only begotten Son of God.” Their culture would not allow it.

“The key element to remember in deriving the meaning of monogenes is this: it is a compound term, combining monos, meaning only, with a second term. Often it is assumed that the second term is gennasthai/gennao, “to give birth, to beget.” But note that this family of terms has two nu’s, “vv,” rather than a single v found in monogenes This indicates that the second term is not gennasthai but gignesthai/ginmai, and the noun form, geno.”

The word translated as “eternity” is olam but the word itself in its Hebrew setting is not a reference to time but a reference to perception. Olam means “hidden from sight”, accordingly since the Hebrew language identifies the time before creation as olam or hidden from view it was not possible for them linguistically to construct a doctrine on events that are alleged to have taken place in what the Hebrews regarded as the unknowable olam.

When the Hebrews read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) they were observing the outer limits of their knowledge of God and recognizing they knew nothing about God back of day one of creation. Everything behind that point was olam an epoch defined by the absence of knowledge.

So, how can we have a doctrine teaching Jesus was “begotten” in eternity when olam means the unknown?

The Bible does not teach Jesus is the only “begotten” Son of God even if some translations of the Bible do.

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