Jesus as Monogenes

The years following the death of the Apostles were rather turbulent times. All sorts of philosophical ideas were in the air. The meaning of Scripture was being distorted by these. A true understanding of the Person of Jesus was unfortunately affected by a number of speculative ideas.

Arianism and Semi-Arianism

No doubt one of the most successful of these ideas was what eventually developed into Arianism. This became a 4th century heresy sponsored chiefly by Arius a priest of Alexandria. This teaching intends to take away the absolute Deity of Jesus. First of all it was said that Jesus was created by God but later semi-Arianism promoted the belief that He was born of God. The conclusion of Arianism is that Jesus is not eternal but that He had a beginning. A key word in their vocabulary was MONOGENES which they translated "Only Begotten." It was not long after the first century that the early Church favored the teaching that Jesus, at some time in the mystical past, was brought forth from God. However, their concept differed from that of the Arians in that they believed that this process was continuing and eternal. Jesus, they said, was eternally generated from the Father. This is a very difficult theory to grasp. I have been unable to embrace it as truth as a study of this paper will make clear. Therefore, I will not attempt to further elucidate it now. Scripture has convinced me that Jesus has always existed as a Member of the Trinity along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The Arians presented Jesus as a kind of lesser god. The Jehovah's Witnesses are probably the chief exponents of Arianism today. Really, the idea that there is more than just one God is a form of Polytheism – a belief in a multiplicity of gods. One of my main objections to the Arian view is that the word MONOGENES does not mean "Only Begotten."

Unfortunately, we have in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today a small number of members who have fallen into the trap of Semi-Arianism. It is my prayer that they will see the futility of trying to save the concept of Jesus being begotten of the Father and that they will appreciate that He is Eternal Deity full and complete. They will then surely abandon the heresy and again accept the truth of the Biblical Trinity doctrine. This paper therefore, is devoted to a study of the word MONOGENES and matters associated with its understanding.


The history of the interpretation of this word is quite fascinating. Prior to and during New Testament times the word clearly meant something like "unique" or "only." However, quite fascinatingly, and without warrant, the meaning was changed to "only begotten" in the early Christian centuries. The distortion of the word in the Latin Vulgate and the subsequent perpetuation of the error in the King James Version of 1611 A.D. make fascinating reading. It might appear that we have all the ingredients for a fictional thriller here but we are not dealing with fiction and the material we need to review is too much of a serious nature to be considered as suitable for a thriller. All that I have said is elaborated on in this paper so please read on.

Linguistic studies have shown that genes is not related to the verb gennao (to beget), but rather to the term genos (class or kind). So the word means something like "unique" or "only." If the Bible writer wanted to say "only begotten" he would have used the Greek word monogennetos (see Moulton and Milligan). The fact that monogenes does not mean "only begotten" can be easily seen by reference to Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is referred to as Abraham's monogenes. Isaac was not the only son of Abraham who had also begotten Ishmael.

A study of the usage of the word prior to and during New Testament years confirms exactly this understanding of the word. Newman and Nida in their A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of John, United Bible Societies, New York, 1980, were able to confidently state on page 24:

There is no doubt regarding the meaning of the Greek word used here (monogenes); it means "only" and not "only begotten."

Writing in the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute paper, The Only One Unique, Angel Manuel Rodriquez states "When the term is used to describe Jesus, it simply means "unique" or "one and only."

For those desiring a fairly recent treatment of the subject I would recommend Gerard Pendrick New Testament Studies, Volume 41, 1995, pages 587-600.

The following is from an informative Adventist publication:

MONOGENES is used in the Septuagint Version (LXX – the translation of the Old Testament into Greek) to translate the Hebrew adjective YACHID. It is translated in the KJV as "darling" Psalm 22:20; "my darling" in Psalm 35:17; "desolate" in Psalm 25:16; and "solitary" in Psalm 68:6. This information was obtained from Problems in Bible Translation, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C.1954, page 197. It then states that "In harmony with the last two examples, see the Apocrypha, Tobit 3:15; 6:9; 8:12; 'only' meaning dear, beloved."

In addition to this Problems in Bible Translation states on page 202:

"The word monogenes, as we have seen, is generally used of an only child, the emphasis being on monos - only - rather genes - kind. Thus we find Plato writing of monogenes ouranos - the only heavens - Timaeus, 31. English translation by R. G. Bury, The Loeb Classical Library. A reference, one believed to be a contemporary of the apostle John, might be in place in this connection. Clement of Rome describes the legendary bird, the Phoenix, as monogenes. 'There is a certain bird which is called a Phoenix. This is the only one of its kind [monogenes].' First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chap. XXV. It should be noted that the Phoenix being a legendary bird, was certainly not born or begotten, but it could be monogenes, the only one of its kind, unique."

So what does the evidence require us to conclude?

All of the evidence, which is quite extensive, is against MONOGENES meaning "only-begotten." It is solid evidence from the time of the New Testament and prior thereto. It is therefore most relevant and conclusive. A definition of a word that precedes New Testament times would naturally be expected to flow into New Testament times. There is not one instance where something like "unique" or "only" is not a suitable translation of the word in the whole of the New Testament. Accordingly, most modern translations render it in all instances in such a way. A definition that arises after New Testament times that is different may indicate a change of doctrine – some tampering with the facts - in this case it surely does.

Seventh-day Adventist Semi-Arians

These people are very dependent upon the rendering of MONOGENES as "Only Begotten" for they present Jesus as having been born of God at some time in the mystical past. They deny the absolute Deity of Jesus and make out that He is a sort of lesser god. Some have referred to Him as a demi-god. In the light of the above, their attempt to reduce Jesus from being God absolutely and part of the Trinity, fails miserably.

They appeal to the writings of early Christians, some of which do contain reference to Jesus as "only begotten" in the copies available to us. However, the authenticity of these writings is questionable in some instances and the evidence is that they may have been tampered with. Take for example Ignatius:


Ignatius wrote in the early years of the second century of the Christian ere. The Introductory note to his writings provided on pages 45-48 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 1., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1969, reports that there are 15 Epistles which bear the name of Ignatius. "It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignation letters are spurious."

That is much more than interesting and surely says something about the confusion that existed in the early Christian centuries. But that is not all! I quote again:

Of the seven Epistles which are acknowledged by Eusibius (Hist. Eccl., iii. 36), we possess two Greek recensions, a shorter and a longer.

The shorter of the two is accepted as the authentic version. There are references to Jesus as being "only begotten" in the longer version, but it is considered to be spurious. The shorter version contains none of the "only begotten" references. The question is, "How and why did the disputed words appear in the longer version?" It seems obvious that someone was attempting to support the rendering of MONOGENES as "only begotten," and slyly tried to support their case by tampering with these writings written at an earlier time. The writings of some other early Christians (as we have them today) also speak of Jesus as "only begotten."

My conclusion on all of this

It is evident to me that somewhere along the line MONOGENES was provided with a changed meaning. It was distorted to mean, "only begotten" and this was apparently filtered back into the writings of Ignatius and probably into those of others also. It seems clear to me that these writings were fiddled with.

Somewhere around the year 230 AD Origen promulgated the "eternal generation" of Jesus concept. This eventually became the common belief in the Church of the time and it has remained with us until recent years. Modern Scholarship has revealed the true meaning of MONOGENES and the "eternal generation" view has slipped right out of favor in the minds of all but those who follow tradition. Maybe the change of the meaning of the word MONOGENES and the tampering with previous writings resulted from Origen's thesis becoming popular? We can only guess. We must also be aware of the fact that Greek philosophy and Gnosticism were being embraced by some Christians, at least to some degree, in those developing years of early Christianity. These were instrumental in corrupting many Christian truths in the minds and teachings of some Christians. There were a lot of theories related to the Person of Christ being promoted and being considered. Uncertainty was in the air.

IT IS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE TO UNDERSTAND that the 2nd century Old Latin version of the Bible faithfully translated the nine New Testament occurrences of MONOGENES as UNICUS which means "unique." Please take special note of this point. This contradicts the falsified long document which presents itself as a writing of Ignatius. It also contradicts the false renderings of MONOGENES found in the other writings of early Christians. The later Latin Vulgate, the work of Jerome, revised the translation of MONOGENES to UNIGENITUS (only begotten) when it is used of Christ. Jerome continued to present MONOGENES as UNICUS when it is not used of Christ. Surely it is clear that a change was made and that it was widespread. What a sad state of affairs.

I insist that it is quite out of order to use the writings of some early Christians to provide support for a false meaning of what MONOGENES meant in Bible times and prior thereto. Of course MONOGENES continued to mean something like "unique" or "only" even in the times following the New Testament despite the fact that some writings contained distortions of its true meaning. Unfortunately, the King James Version translators were greatly influenced by the Latin Vulgate and they followed the practice of translating "only begotten" when MONOGENES applied to Jesus (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9) but "only," when the word is used of others in Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38. MONOGENES is also used of Isaac in Hebrews 11:17 and I have commented on this verse on page 1 above. It should be noted that there is not one New Testament reference, where the word is used, that requires that it be translated other than something like "unique" or "only."

A lot of things were going on in the early centuries of the Christian Church, the Canon of Scripture hadn't even been finally settled. I can only suggest what the reason likely was for the fiddle with the word MONOGENES in those troubled years. We can see that a fiddle took place and that this should have no bearing on the correct translation of the word MONOGENES in the New Testament. We must not be deceived by it. I will say however that LeRoy Edwin Froom was very likely correct when he wrote on page 304 of Movement of Destiny:

"This tendency to understand monogenes as 'only begotten' appears to gain momentum with the increasing need for defending the faith against heretics, who in this period were particularly prone to question the nature and person of Christ as presented in the Gospels and the Epistles."

By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. there was a lot of background for the translation of MONOGENES as "Only Begotten" but it must be clear that it still remained an error. Wayne Grudem has suggested that "it is not impossible that the Nicene fathers in A.D. 325 and 381 would have understood monogenes to include the idea of 'begetting,' since the word is used several times elsewhere to refer to someone who is an 'only' child, and the idea of begetting could commonly be assumed to be present." Systematic Theology, IVP, Leicester, 1994, page 1233.

As charitable as we might try to be I still cannot escape the conclusion that, at least early on, there had been a fiddle. Later Christians may not have been aware of this and may have been fooled by it. We should not be.


Bethe forms of Arianism are a definite distortion of truth and have been rightly labeled as heresy. Arianism was dealt a decisive blow by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., but unfortunately Semi-Arianism survived and thrived. It is amazing the amount of dust modern day Semi-Arians have been able to throw up in their endeavors to depreciate the value of the Council (Despite the fact that it supported the idea of "only begotten"). The important thing to remember is that no amount of dust should be allowed to obscure the fact that MONOGENES never did truly mean "Only Begotten." This fact is conclusive and plain as can be. The later Athanasian Creed offers a very good statement explaining the Trinity doctrine except for its comment that Jesus was begotten (see my book Understanding the Trinity, pages 13, 14).

In addition to the above there is a massive amount of true Scriptural evidence for the full Deity of Jesus and my book contains an abundance of this. If you want to be a Semi-Arian you unfortunately finish up with two gods – a Big God and a little god. Scriptural facts show that Jesus is no depreciated god but is a Member of the Almighty Trinity. He said of Himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." – Revelation 22:13. Any belief that has two gods must be branded a heresy on this point alone!

Forms of Arianism, like all heresies, have enjoyed a resurgence now and again, but they can only thrive where ignorance prevails. It is the hope and prayer of the writer of this paper that its contents will inform those who are sincere but have been caught up in the distortion of truth.

The Bible warns that there will be many false teachers peddling their wares in the last days. Every wind of doctrine is blowing today and there seems to be a tendency on the part of some to run off with every new heresy. Really though, there aren't any new heresies – they are only old ones done up in modern dress.

The Trinity doctrine is a wonderful truth. Jesus has always existed and He is coming back soon to rescue those who are faithful to Him. May you and I dear reader be found among that company. Let us praise God for His unbelievable patience with us.