Monogenes: Begotten or Unique?

“Begotten” wrong; “Unique, One of a kind” correct. That’s been around for some years now. It’s the latest theological response to defuse the obvious implications of the Greek word “monogenes” which is a compound of “mono-” (only) and “-genes” (generated or born or begotten).

In recent years the resourceful opponents of the literal Sonship of Christ (1John 2:22) have seized on what they think is a better entymology for -genes (pronounced “gan-nace” and which looks a lot like “genes” as in genetic, implicating a quality of inheritance, but which they maintain is really “genus” as in the “kind” of species). It all has to do with whether the -genes part is derived from the Greek verb gennao (to beget, to be born) or from genos (kind, offspring). For hundreds of years after the time of Christ, Greek speaking writers (who probably knew contemporary Greek of the time better than we do today), when translating into Latin, used the Latin equivalent unigennitum “only-generated”.

The eternal Sonship of Christ was held universally by Christians (except Sabellian Modalists) based on monogenes being related to gennao, and believers continued to sustain this belief until only the past few hundred years.

As in all such matters we are behooved to bring together all texts of Scripture on a subject before drawing any final conclusions. A doctrine should never be based on a single word or text.

The question that should be considered is this: How is the Greek word “monogenes” used in the Bible?
It occurs 9 times in the New Testament, five of which apply to the Son of God.
The other four all indicate an only child.

The only child of Jairus who was raised to life by Jesus; Luke 8:42
The only son of the widow of Nain who was raised to life by Jesus; Luke 7:12
The only son of Abraham who was on his way to be sacrificed like Jesus; Hebrews 11:17
The only son of the man at the foot of the mount of transfiguration. Luke 9:38.

In every case monogenes refers to an only child. If they want to say that is unique, it is.
But it does not preclude the fact that they are the child of that parent.

Ellen White well describes how Jesus, Michael, the Son of God is unique:

“Christ the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father,--one in nature, in character, and in purpose,--the only being in all the universe that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God.” GC p. 493.1

“Before the assembled inhabitants of heaven the King declared that none but Christ, the Only Begotten of God, could fully enter into His purposes, and to Him it was committed to execute the mighty counsels of His will.” PP p. 36.2

“Before the foundations of the world were laid, Christ, the Only Begotten of God, pledged Himself to become the Redeemer of the human race, should Adam sin.” Signs of the Times Aug 2, 1905

“Christ claimed to be the Only Begotten of the Father, but men encased in unbelief, barricaded with prejudice, denied the Holy and the Just One.” 2SM p. 271.3

“The Majesty of heaven, the only begotten of the Father, responds to Satan’s claims. ‘The Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee,’ ” RH June 20, 1893

“All who know the only true and living God will know Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, and they will preach Christ and him crucified.” RH, August 2, 1898

“Christ, the only begotten of the Father, was the express image of his Father’s person, the brightness of his glory, and he came to the world not to condemn the world but to save it.” Sabbath School Worker Nov 1, 1899

And she did so in plain English, monogenes notwithstanding.

Grace and peace be unto you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ
the Son of the Father in truth and love. 2 John 3

Gary Hullquist