Author: Ron Graham
Jesus the Only Begotten
—The O in GLORY
The PLACE of Jesus as God’s ONLY BEGOTTEN Son of God who has the pre-eminence in God's family.
The statement in John 1:14 which refers to Jesus as "the only begotten of the Father" is now the focus of our attention.
We will split the term "only begotten" in two. First and foremost, we will think of how Jesus is God's "only" Son. Then we will discuss the term "begotten".
1 The Only Son
The O in GLORY stands for Only. In the term "only begotten" it is the word ONLY, expressing uniqueness, that should be emphasised. Jesus has a unique relationship with God the Father. There is no other like him.
The Hebrew writer distinguishes Jesus from angels, by asking, "To which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you'?" (Hebrews 1:5 Psalms 2:7) . The writer is not saying that angels (or for that matter men and women) cannot be sons of God. What he means is that this Son is unique and unlike any other son of God.
In what way is Jesus unique as a son? The writer explains this further down when he quotes, "But to the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever'" (Hebrews 1:8 Psalms 45:6) . Notice that he addresses his Son as "God". No other son is ever addressed as God.
Reading on from that last quote, we come to another, along similar lines: "And, 'You LORD in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth...'" (Hebrews 1:10 Psalm 102:25) . Here God addresses his Son as LORD (which in Psalm 102 stands for that special name of God: Yaweh or Jehovah). You need to pay close attention to the fact that these quotes are both attributed to the Father addressing his Son. Note verse 8, "But to the Son he says..." after which follow the quotes that include the terms of address, "O God" and "You, LORD". As weird as it may seem to you at first, please satisfy yourself that the Father is quoted as addressing his Son as God and LORD. This is not just a curiosity.
In Philippians 2:9-10 it is claimed that Jesus has been given the name which is above every name. Only God has the name which is above every name. This was no novel idea. The prophet (Isaiah 9:6) had foretold it centuries earlier: "Unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given... His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Only one Son has a right to be called the very name by which his heavenly Father is addressed and worshipped. In that sense Jesus is the ONLY Son of God. He has that unique place in God’s family.
There are countless sons of God, but only one God the Son.
2 The Begotten Son
Now we turn our attention to the term "begotten" in the description of Jesus as the "only begotten" of God. There are three ways of approaching this...
1. The Anti-Arian Argument
Certain ideas concerning the "begetting" of God's Son led to the heresy known as Arianism. Arius was a fourth century priest in Alexandria who maintained that because the Son was begotten of God, then there must have been a time when the Son did not exist, for how could he exist before he was begotten? To rephrase the question, how can a begotten son be as old as his father? Arius reasoned that the Son must be a created being, not eternal God. People got bogged down in theories about how (or in what sense the eternal Word could be "begotten".
They made some clever arguments along the lines that the Son was begotten, not in the sense that he came into existence, but in the sense that his existence always depended upon the Father. They call it an "unoriginated relationship" in the sense that the Son was begotten from eternity, not at some point in time. Whilst these arguments are plausible, and they more than adequately answered the Arian error, they do seem somewhat contrived.
The anti-Arian creeds were careful to describe Jesus as "begotten not created" but they did little to remove the sense of contradiction that this confession engendered in some minds. In all of the debate, undue philosophy tended to confuse the issue, and some rather simple points of scripture were lost sight of. In hindsight, we can see these more clearly now. The debate did not sufficiently distinguish the two natures of Jesus Christ, as expressed in the two statements "the Word was God" and "The Word became flesh" (John 1:1,14).
2. The Incarnation Only Argument
Some think that the Arian debate may have missed the point. Isn't it more acceptable to apply the term "begotten" only to to Christ's incarnation and human nature , rather than trying to apply it to his divine and eternal nature? According to this view, the begetting took place when "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14), not when "the Word was God". (John 1:1-3).
Jesus was begotten as a human child not by his human father, but by God, since Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:34-35). So some people feel that it's easier to see how the Word, in the flesh, was "the only begotten of the Father", than it is to see how the Word, as eternal God, was "begotten". When applying the term "only begotten" to "the Word became flesh", one can still believe in the divine and eternal nature of the Son, without having to stretch the term "begotten" to make it fit that nature.
There is a danger with the above view however. The baby is easily thrown out with the bathwater. One might conclude that if the Word was not begotten until the Word became flesh, then the Word was not the Son until then. This is not a necessary conclusion, but likely to be drawn, and so people are understandably wary of the view outlined above.
3. The Unique-not-Begotten Argument
There is a third consideration, and this concerns whether the term "only begotten" is actually a correct translation. You will note that some translations, such as the New International version, have eliminated the term "only begotten" and replaced it with a term such as "unique" expressing the only one of his kind.
The reasoning behind this is simple enough: The Greek word in the text is monogenees, meaning one of a kind, not monogennees meaning only begotten. This is the simplest argument of all, because it eliminates the need to worry about how Christ could be both eternal and begotten, and removes the emphasis on Christ being a begotten Son. Instead the emphasis is on Christ being the Son of God who was unique in that he was both wholly divine and wholly human. No other Person or Being like that has ever been known.
For the purpose of our present studies, remember that the O in GLORY stands for Only (expressing the unique Sonship of Jesus Christ) and that's our main point. The term "begotten" is secondary. Whichever view we take about the term "begotten", we should emphasise, as of first importance, Christ's unique place as the Son of God. Discussion of the term "begotten" is beside the point. It's worth noting, but it's not THE point of our lesson. If adding it on has caused a distraction, then perhaps you would do well to disregard it altogether, and simply stay with what the O stands for in GLORY —Jesus is the ONLY Son of his kind, the unique Son who is God.
There is no other like the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He has first place in everything (Colossians 1:18) .