B is for Begotten

Perhaps the most famous verse in American sports history is the King James Version of John 3:16.  How many times have you seen this on a banner or a huge sheet behind the end zone?  So much so that even non-Christians can recite it word-for-word.  It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This verse is packed with incredible spiritual realities. Too many for this post. The buzzword from the verse we’ll focus on here is the word “begotten.”

A question that you might ask is: why is “begotten” used when speaking of Jesus coming from God the Father when it is also used in Matthew 1 (and other places) of the KJV when it says, “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob” and so on? Was Jesus created like Isaac and Jacob? Was he born to God in heaven like Isaac and Jacob were born to their fathers here on earth?

The word “begotten” does not mean “birthed,” and “begat” does not mean “to give birth to.” In Greek the word used for “only begotten” is monogenēs, which means “single of its kind, only.”  To “beget” something, then, means to produce something of the same kind as itself.  Abraham begat Isaac because they are both human beings. In the same way, a dog begets dogs. Maple trees beget maple trees. Fish beget fish. God creates human beings, dogs, maple trees, and fish. But God begets God.

Jesus is the exact representation of God (see Heb. 1:1-3; cf. John 1:1-3, 14). He was not born to God in heaven, and he was not created by God like you and I were created. So when John writes, “God…gave his only begotten Son,” he means that God gave the world the only thing in the entire universe that is like him.  Jesus is of the same essence, nature, and being as God the Father.  He is God.

Is “begotten” the best translation for John 3:16 and other verses? Probably not for our 21st century minds. Most modern translations do not use this word. Whatever the case, we can rejoice and celebrate the fact that Jesus is not created and is not like you and me.

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